I’ve been playing Elminage Gothic lately (wonderful game if you’re a fan of the older Wizardry titles. Basically the same gameplay, except with some additional races, some additional classes, and stats go up more often than they go down). I’ve been absolutely loving it, and it got me thinking.
One thing I really like about the older Wizardry titles, and something that has been largely abandoned in modern games (and didn’t play a big role in the Wizardry titles either) is the passage of time. Theoretically at least, the adventure could take decades to complete, perhaps even requiring new adventuring parties that are mentored (i.e. taken to lower levels by their higher-level colleagues) to take up the torch when the original party gets too old.
However, time passed so slowly in those games that it wasn’t really a concern (at least the PC version, I’ve heard that the original Apple version, you aged six weeks or months everytime you entered the Labryinth). Furthermore, while in theory the idea is cool, in practice it would make very grindy games even grindier.
But I really, really liked the idea. So I got to thinking: how would you craft a game whose main conceit is that the adventure is too big for one party to complete? How do you capture the feel of a massive industry spanning decades of adventurers exploring a dungeon?
This is what I came up:
First, time. Every time you enter the Labryinth, time passes one year. Furthermore, this game would have challenge on par with the Wizardry games, meaning there could very well be forays in which you only fight one battle. In reality, your characters wouldn’t be only going into the dungeon once per year. Rather, the player only sees one foray each year. That foray could be representative of the forays that year, or a particular important one, or whatever. The experience from one foray then represents everything your character’s have learned over that year. Obviously if you have multiple parties, they should each be allowed to enter the dungeon once per year, so that time doesn’t pass three times as fast when you have three parties. But that’s not important right now, so I’ll set that aside. Instead, I’m going to focus on the consequences of such a rapid time passing.
Early in the game especially, this means that it might take several years before your characters gain a level, or even venture out of the first corner of the dungeon! Clearly, if this rate of exploration keeps up (and it would) there’s no way a party will complete the adventure before they get too old. However, the thought of manually splitting your party in half between experienced and inexperienced, and taking the inexperienced adventurers down to build up their levels fighting monsters you’ve already fought on levels you’ve already explored sounds boring. So we need some sort of mechanic for training adventurers.
For that, I propose an apprentice system. Note that this is only an initial proposal, things would probably have to be tweaked to ensure balance. Ideally, apprentices should make battles hard enough that you don’t want one unless you’re actively looking to replace a character (or prepare a new party), but not so hard that apprentices _stop_ your exploration. They should only slow it.
Basically, once your characters have been adventuring a certain number of years (say 10), they gain the ability to have an apprentice. Apprentices provide a slew of benefits and drawbacks. First, they don’t take up a party slot. So, you don’t have to split your party to train the next generation. Second, apprentices cannot enter the dungeon without a master. Third, any character that has an apprentice suffers a penalty in combat. The lower the apprentice’s level, the higher the penalty (because the adventurer has to keep an eye on the apprentice and protect him/her). The apprentice will however, attempt to mimic the adventurer’s action with a weaker, apprentice version of the same action… which has a chance of failing or even backfiring (not sure about that last one. Might be more frustrating than it’s worth. Though it does keep players from just taking apprentices for the free action). Apprentices gain levels at twice the rate as regular adventurers, but their level can’t exceed the level of their masters. Furthermore, apprentices improve less on each level. So a level 35 apprentice won’t have as high stats as a level 35 adventurer. However, when an apprentice class changes into the class they are training in, they suffer no stat/skill penalties and start at level one in their profession. So a level 35 apprentice fighter turned level 1 fighter will be much stronger than a level 1 fighter made cold.
Adventurers can only take an apprentice in a class that the adventurer’s class contains. So fighters can only train fighters. However, a spellsword (fighter-mage mix) could train a fighter, a mage, or a spellsword. Furthermore, apprentices cannot take damage in battle, unless their master dies (in which case they take their master’s place in the party). So you don’t have to worry about High Level Mage casting Super Explosion and murdering your level one apprentice.
In between forays, you also have the ability to give your apprentices lessons (sort of Princess Maker esque activities). These lessons are important because they will influence the character’s stat gains when they become full-fledged adventurers. For example, while fighters might gain dexterity easily (so they can swing a sword with little problem), they will have a hard time gaining magic. This is problematic because you need a high dexterity and magic to become a spellsword, and it’s highly unlikely that a fighter will naturally gain a high enough magic to become a spellsword. However, you can make your apprentice take lessons in magic, counteracting some of those magic growth penalties. That way, when your apprentice becomes a full-fledged adventurer, they have a higher chance of class-changing to a spellsword. Naturally, their success at the lessons will depend on a variety of factors: how much they respect and/or fear their master (though respect works better than fear), their own personality, how much success they’ve had in the past, and their class.
In short, in order to unlock the more sophisticated, hybrid classes you need to take apprentices. Furthermore, in order to get adventurers that are strong enough (while still being young enough) to challenge the lower levels of the Labryinth, you’ll have to take apprentices.
Now, once an adventurer grows older, you can also retire them into teachers. Teachers then give a fraction of their experience to newly made apprentices of the appropriate classes for as long as they’re alive. So if you have a level 10 fighter as a teacher, you can create say level 2 apprentice fighters instead of level 1 apprentice fighters.
By using a combination of teachers and masters you can build across generations tremendously powerful parties that you could never hope to build cold.
You can of course make this as complex as you want. Maybe characters have personalities, and those personalities influence their success. As crude examples, you could have a jock personality that exceeds at physical training, but not mental training. A nerd personality that exceeds at mental training but not physical, and a jock-nerd that can do reasonably well at both. Furthermore, you could also have a relationship system, so that your adventurers can build friendships/hateships/relationships, which in turn affect their stat gains (if the fighter is friends with the mage, the mage is more likely to help give the fighter some pointers on resisting magic than if they were enemies). Apprentices’ relationships would be changed more easily than masters. So you could get two apprentices adventuring together who become thick as thieves, or hate each bitterly. These relationships could then influence the training events (Beth the Apprentice Barbarian threw the spell book across the room and started crying in frustration. Her close friend, Maggy the Apprentice Mage walked in, picked up the book, and helped calm Beth down. Then she helped Beth work through the concepts Beth was having trouble with. Beth successfully studied magic!).
Furthermore, you could also have the dungeon change as time goes by. Maybe at certain year marks the monsters grow more powerful, or the city burrows deeper. Or the dungeon expands, and engulfs the town, forcing you to retreat to a different town, and the old town becomes just another level in the dungeon. You could even have technology advance as time goes by. So maybe you start with medieval weapons and classes, but then eventually end up with futuristic weapons and classes.
In short, the story wouldn’t be one of a single dungeon and a single adventure, but of a society. A society that grew up around this font of chaos and destruction. A society that waxed and waned and changed over time, the one constant being this Labryinth slowly spreading across the face of the earth.
One thing I really, really like about this idea is that it captures the _real_ reason humanity is the dominant species on the planet: learning. We are better at passing information from one generation to the next than any other species on the planet. It’s how we went from fists to stone-tipped spears to crops to computers. And in this game it would be how you go from some 18 year old brat with a sword who can’t hit the wall of the Labryinth to save her life to a power-armored super warrior with a laser rifle in one hand, and the wrath of the gods in the other, who warms up by slaughtering dragons.
As for the spanking fetish, well you have two possibilities. You could have spankerific monsters and traps in the dungeon itself and/or you can have spanking events related to the apprentices. You can give an apprentice a spanking when their attack backfires. Or if you tell Beth the Apprentice Barbarian to study magic, maybe she’ll tell you where you can stuff that book. You could also have events where apprentices bicker if they don’t get along very well. Or events where they decide to skip out on their lessons and go party if they do get along. I’d lean towards solely the second one myself. That way, you can have the Labryinth be a legitimately dangerous place that could very well spread out and consume your home without that jarring with the spanking tendencies of its inhabitants. Of course, there’s no reason why you couldn’t have underground humanoid races living in the Labryinth who use corporal punishment in their societies with whom your characters could interact for better or worse. You could also have events with other adventuring parties that may end (un)pleasantly. The Labryinth should ideally be a living, vibrant ecosystem in its own right. Just one filled with bloodthirsty monsters and twisted magic in addition to exotic societies.