Dev Diary #4 – The Jewel of Alet Zhav

August 17th, 2011 at 10:51 am

Hi there! I’m Dorian Hart, one of the game designers helping to make Card Hunter a reality. In “real life” one of my primary hobbies is being a Dungeon Master for a long-running D&D campaign; I’ve been doing it for over 15 years, so I’m no stranger to creating fantasy adventures.

That’s what I’d like to talk about for a bit: adventures, as they pertain to Card Hunter. There are two different ways I think about them, and I’ll share something here about each.

One is as the internal scaffolding of our single-player campaign. To take a brief step back, the fundamental building block of the game’s campaign is the battle, which is probably exactly what you think it is. There’s an old-school grid map, with monsters and terrain features and maybe bubbling pools of acid here and there. Your heroes start out somewhere on this map, and the battle begins, with both sides (you and the AI) playing cards that Do Cool Stuff. Play with skill and luck, and you win, and get some loot, some XP, and a glowing feeling of accomplishment. Play with incompetence and misfortune, and a bunch of goblins or minotaurs or wyverns will chew on your femurs. Assuming you come out on top, you’ll move onto the next battle.

But the Card Hunter campaign isn’t just hundreds of disconnected battles. They’re grouped together into thematic adventures. We don’t know the exact numbers yet, but an adventure will likely consist of between 5 and 10 battles, which you play one right after another. These battles are strung together by a narrative that serves as connective tissue. Taken as a whole, they encompass some larger quest or goal. One of my recent tasks has been to create our very first sample adventure, to see how this would feel in practice. I’m happy to report: it feels great!

Our very first adventure, I’m proud to announce, is the chilling tale of “The Jewel of Alet Zhav” – eight battles, starting with an uprising of zombies in an outdoor graveyard.

“Legend has it that the entrance to the Crypts of Alet Zhav is through a coffin-bottom, in the Black Mausoleum of Nazg Hodeth. A pall of unnatural gloom lies upon the bone-yard, and as you approach the mausoleum, the ground erupts! Zombies, fresh from the earth and emitting tortured groans, shamble forward to attack!”

Once you’ve dispatched the zombies, you’ll get the narrative beat that precedes the next battle:

Having dispatched the graveyard zombies, you slowly open the door to the Black Mausoleum. If the rumors are true, the stairway down to the crypts lies in the bottom of a large coffin. But no sooner have you stepped inside than a pair of stone gargoyles flex their granite wings and uncurl fists to reveal sharp crystal claws…

Where the zombie battle was in a large graveyard, this one takes place in the constricting confines of a small burial chamber. From there you’ll proceed to battle against various flavors of skeletons, some demons, more zombies, some animate swords, until your final confrontation with the long-dead sorcerer Tvericus, surrounded by his trusted minions. Each battle features different terrain and a different monster mix, but taken as a whole, the adventure tells the story of your descent into the musty undead-ridden depths in search of the legendary Jewel of Zhav’s Eye.

So, that’s one way to think about adventures. Here’s the other way:

When you look at our world map, you’ll see these adventures scattered all over it, each one beckoning, each giving you that same feeling as a 12-year-old kid tearing the shrink wrap off of a new module.

We want our adventures to hearken back to the days of old-style fantasy role-playing, with its wonderfully earnest presentation of classic pulp fantasy. If you can’t help but think of sprawling maps and character sheets and heaps of dice while playing Card Hunter, then we’ve hit our mark.

We hope you enjoy it.

10 Responses to “Dev Diary #4 – The Jewel of Alet Zhav”

  1. Well, I was already keen to lay my hands on Card Hunter. Reading this has only made me even more so! Keep up the good work guys!

  2. *drooling*

    Cant’ wait to be playing the SEQUEL of Card Hunter, because just the first game won’t be enough, I know already.

    (congrats on your long run campaign, it takes awesomeness and enjoyment to a new level)

  3. While I find the idea of having these adventures excellent, it does rather starkly point out the fact that Card Hunter has only battles to offer, with none of the NPCs, puzzles, home towns or moral conundrums which are staples of P&P RPGs…as far as I know of, at least.

  4. @zipdrive: true, but I guess (and hope!) that new content will be introduced with time, as other social media games often do. Puzzles and NPC interaction would be a great direction for improvement.

  5. In response to Zipdrive. I really dont feel that the operation between NPC’s this day and age to be all that immerseive. normally you just get what you need and get out of town to go back into the fights. A sweet streamlined method of running down a list of options (Buy, Sell, Trade) is all i really need, with maybe some additional info page to see what the different adventures look like or maybe how difficult they are.

    Also you have to keep in mind that this is a video game first, and things related to town usually take a backseat anyway because of the amount of time to create the perfect town representation can be costly and time consuming in order to create that immersion.

  6. I agree with zipdrive. I’m hoping for a little more depth in the story and will be disappointed if there’s nothing more than a few paragraphs between battles. Still excited though.

  7. I can assure you, Dorian, that when the time comes, it will be *I* who chews on those goblins’ or minotaurs’ or wyverns’ femurs, and not the reverse.

  8. I drool with anticipation at this. I never got to play too much D&D due to not having sufficiently nerdy friends but always wanted to. I do remember ambling around games shop lusting at all the shrink-wrapped modules. Card Hunter really looks like it’s going to scratch an itch I’ve had for a long, long time.. keep it up and bring it on…

  9. I like the idea of a icon on a map and a adventure cover.
    I can see both used together where you click or walk onto the icon
    and the adventure cover pops up with the adventure description.

  10. ahhh…….the sweet aroma of simple dungeon crawl circa 1970’s combined with ccg…….personally it will be nice not to have to convince the city watch the mayor was evil …….thats what my other games are for!

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