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Chronicles of Elyria

Chronicles of Elyria is the first MMORPG where your character ages and dies, encouraging you to think beyond your character to their role in a larger story. Fearless in its design, it embraces a character's ability to impact other characters. A closed economy, finite resources, non-repeatable quests, and a fully destructible environment means the world is experienced differently for every character.
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Chronicles of Elyria aims to provide a fantasy world with immersive and dynamic content, with the fact that your character will actually get old and eventually die in the game, the environment is destructible, and the quests are designed to be non-repeatable. The plan sounds cool, because there are not many MMOs deliver these features and make them enjoyable. How about this game? It all remains to be seen.

Anyway, each time you log in the game there is always something for you to participate in, the developer says. Local, regional, and national conflicts are continuously unfolding, giving birth to repeated opportunities for you to change the course of history.

Your character will get old and die

Each time you get killed in the game your soul's connection to Elyria gets weaker, and therefore, each time you respawn you get older — that sounds new. Eventually, your character will come to the end of your lifespan  and it will be gone forever, and yes, that's permanent death.


You can play the game in your own way

While many players try to play as unsung heroes, you may want to write your name in the world, and the game allows it, with a system with which you work your way up from a humble adventurer to a landed vassal, develop your dynasty, and work your way to King. For most players who don't bother to claim the throne, they can customize their character's skills based on their perference thanks to the classless system. 


There's the RTS element you can expect

If you purchase land and start building a town it takes on more sim-like elements. Running a county or duchy will feel a lot more like an RTS, and for the Kings, it plays more like a kingdom/resource management game. At each level of play new user experiences become available help make managing your new role easier. And unlike in most RTS/Kingdom Management games, in CoE, your units are the other players.


Family system - As part of character creation you pick a family. This impacts everything from where you start, to which possible skill bonuses you begin with, to what physical attributes such as hair color you can select.

PvP system - Kingdoms go to war, assassins wage their silent battles in the night, highwaymen lay wait in ambush on the unsuspecting passer-by. However, except in times of war, PvP is illegal, and the penalty is stiff. So while PvP is possible everywhere, it's highly unlikely around civilized areas.
 

• Character aging - technical preview (video)

• Permadeath system revamped (hint: it's about Souls continuing your progress)

In most MMO's today killing is the de facto way to handle problems ranging from the magnificent to the mundane. Ancient evil taking over the world? Kill it. A band of highway robbers stealing precious items from travelers? Go slaughter them. The local blacksmith has been shaving gold ingots and keeping the extra gold for himself? Go rip out his entrails.

People are encouraged to use capital punishment for everything. This type of behavior inherently leads to a sense of lawlessness and encourages griefing and other anti-social behaviors. PvP becomes less about achieving objectives and more of an automatic reaction to seeing other characters in the wild. In a world where every quest involves killing someone and all characters neatly respawn without consequence, what other conclusion can players draw than killing (even repeatedly) is acceptable? As usual, Chronicles of Elyria is different. In this week's design journal we're going to talk about how CoE discourages actual killing, the different meanings of the word "death," and the different loot rules associated with unconscious or dead characters.

Figure 1 - Concept Art of the Astral Plane

Versions of Death: Incapacitation, Spirit Walking, and Permadeath

In most games death is what happens when your health reaches zero. Generally once dead you are teleported to some nearby recall point and have the opportunity to live again, usually without consequences, so you can continue your quest. In Chronicles of Elyria, there are actually three different things which most games would classify as "dying." Each of them comes with varying degrees of consequences for all players involved.

Incapacitation

Incapacitation in CoE is the most common form of what other games would call "killing." Incapacitation happens during any combat or event in which a person's health is dropped to zero. This renders the character unconscious for a short period of time. While unconscious, the incapacitated person's screen goes black and they'll see a little timer telling them how much longer before they regain consciousness. Note that while they can't see anything, they can still hear what's going on around them. There's no reason for this, we just felt it was a nice touch, as it's often believed those who are unconscious or in a coma can still hear/sense those around them.

It's also important to note that incapacitating someone, unless legally done, is still a crime and typically comes with a small amount of jail time if arrested. We'll talk more about the legal forms of incapacitating someone in a later journal.

While you're unconscious other players can do things such as "Quick Loot" your person, bind you for capture, or tow your body around a short distance. One of the things I want to call out here is that while being incapacitated leaves you unconscious, it doesn't actually result in any long-term penalties. There's no loss of Spirit for being incapacitated and it doesn't reduce your total life span.

Coup De Grace & Spirit Walking

The second form of "death" which we'll talk about during this article is Spirit Walking. Spirit Walking is what happens when someone takes the initiative to first incapacitate you, and then while you're unconscious, performs a coup de grace. A coup de grace is a killing stroke which results in your soul being forced out of your body in a process we call Spirit Walking. It's also highly illegal and comes with severe punishment. In general, most beasts and NPCs will simply incapacitate you, however especially evil humans or creatures may aim to kill.

When someone performs a coup de grace you'll hear your unconscious self scream, and then your screen will transition from black to a vision of another world known as the Astral Plane. (See Figure 1.) This is the plane of existence between the mortal world and the world of the gods. When you enter the astral plane you'll see a small silver cord which goes from your soul, travelling some distance, to a highly saturated version of your mortal body that has manifested on the Astral Plane. This is your connection to the physical world.

As time passes, and your soul is separated from your body, your connection to the physical world grows weaker and weaker. If enough time passes and you cannot return to your mortal body, your body will become uninhabitable and your soul will be forced to make its way back to the Akashic Records. This is permadeath and is the subject of next week's design journal.

Making it back

How easy it is to make it back to your body is a function of two things: Spirit & character age. First, the strength and visibility of the silver cord, as well as how close you spawn to your body in the Astral Plane, is determined by how much Spirit you have. If you've got a lot of Spirit you may spawn within sight of your body and with a clearly visible cord. If the bond between your body and soul is weak (you have a lower Spirit score) you may find yourself having to travel huge distance in order to re-enter the mortal world. Also, without a clearly visible cord you could potentially become lost in the Astral Plane, unable to find your body.

Second, how long you have to return to your body before it becomes uninhabitable is determined by your character's age. The older your character gets, the less time you have to make it back to your body before it begins to decompose.

This combination of Spirit and character age means that you'll initially have no trouble finding your way back to your body. But, as you continue to play, and your body and spirit succumb to the passage of time, there will eventually come a point in which you're soul isn't strong enough to make the return trip.

While being incapacitated comes with no long-term penalties, Spirit Walking does. Each time your soul is separated from your body you lose a fixed amount of Spirit. This reduction in Spirit makes it that much harder the next time you're forced to Spirit Walk. In addition, when you finally return to the physical plane you'll find your body now has a permanent scar, a constant reminder of the weakening bond between your body and soul.

Spirit Loss

One of the main reasons for permadeath in this world is to create a fluid, believable story. In most books or other media when a secondary actor dies you may not even notice it. But when a main character dies, or someone otherwise important to the story, it's noticeable. Chronicles of Elyria follows the same principle. If you're a lowly peasant, a town blacksmith, or otherwise insignificant, Spirit Walking will likely come with very little Spirit loss. This is also true if you're killed by an NPC or die in such a way that nobody knows about it.

In contrast, if you're a well-known character with a large amount of Fame, you become an integral part of the story. As a result, Spirit Walking as someone who's established themselves in the story comes with an extremely high Spirit cost, potentially enough to prevent you from making it back to your body. As a general guideline, the more famous or well established you are, the more likely you are to encounter permadeath. For example, a King is really famous. If the King is killed, "Long live the Queen!"

Figure 2 - Thandrus, The Bearded King

Permadeath

The final form of death in Chronicles of Elyria is permadeath. This is what happens when you Spirit Walk and are unable to make it back to your body. We'll talk about this form of death exclusively next week.

Spirit Bonuses & Talents

Spirit Walking can be a scary experience. You've spent the last 8-10 months developing your character and now, for one reason or another, you find yourself wandering the Astral Plane. You know that your ability to continue playing this character is predicated on your ability to find your body, and to do so quickly. Fortunately, there's a few things you can do to help guarantee your success.

While it doesn't shorten the distance you have to travel to your body, having your family around you gives you a reason to live and strengthens your bond to the mortal world. From a game mechanic standpoint having family within close proximity of your body while you Spirit Walk provides a small boost in the amount of time you have to make it back to your body and increases the visibility of the silver cord, making it easier to find your way back.

Also, as mentioned in a previous design journal, having your soul mate close by creates a permanent connection between you and your body, as your soul mate still resides within the mortal world. While it doesn't increase the amount of time allowed to get back to your body, it does make it so your connection remains strong and the cord will remain extremely visible. So long is your body is strong enough and you have sufficient time to return to your body, there's little risk of your soul getting lost in the ether.

In addition to the spirit bonuses that make it easier to find your way back to your body, there are also those that can provide additional aid through the use of a couple Talents. First, Mediums can talk to you through the process of Spirit Walking. If a Medium is brought to your body within a reasonable amount of time they can make a remote connection to your soul, strengthening the cord that connects you to the world and helping you find your way.

Finally, there are Planes Walkers. Planes Walking is an extremely rare Talent and hasn't been seen in several hundred years. Those with this Talent have the ability to transport themselves into the Astral Plane when near someone who is Spirit Walking. While in the Astral Plane they can guide you and aid you in any obstacles you may encounter.

Looting

A question people often have about being incapacitated or Spirit Walking is how that affects other players looting their body. There are three different types of looting in Chronicles of Elyria, each corresponding to a different type of death. The first, Quick Looting, is what you can do if someone is simply incapacitated. The second form of looting, called Inventory Looting, becomes available whenever someone is the victim of a coup de grace. The final form of looting, Corpse Looting, becomes possible any time the soul is unable to return to their host and the body becomes a corpse (permadeath).

It should be noted that looting a body, whether alive or dead, is a crime. If caught and arrested you'll face charges for your actions. For your typical mundane items it may prove difficult to prove someone stole something from you, but more rare/valuable items or family heirlooms often have a sigil or mark on them identifying who the real owner is.

Quick Loot

In the short period of time while someone is unconscious you have only enough time to grab a few quick things. In specific, you can cut the unconscious person's purse and take any money they had, or you can take any items which they might have been carrying in their hands. This includes any animals they may have been guiding by the reins or riding (including pack animals).

What you won't have time to do is unbuckle anything (this includes the belt & scabbard), remove any armor, rummage through their backpack, or otherwise search the body. Anything not in the coin purse, or held in their hands remains the property of the owner.

Inventory Loot

When someone is Spirit Walking you have a bit more time to grab items off their person. In addition to anything you could take while Quick Looting, you can unbuckle their belt to take their sword and scabbard, remove any rings or other jewelry they may be wearing, or take or rummage through their backpack to see if there's anything of value.

Corpse Loot

The final form of looting is called Corpse Looting. Whenever you come across a corpse, you can take all items from the corpse. This isn't just limited to items the corpse is wearing.

What's next

In next week's design journal we'll continue where this one left off by taking a look at permadeath. In specific, we'll talk about why permadeath is essential in Chronicles of Elyria, the situations that can result in permadeath, and what happens to your stuff after you return to the Akashic Records.

• Offline player characters (OPCs)

The Passage of Time

When designing Chronicles of Elyria I did so with a pre-defined set of goals in mind. The first of which was "the world must feel truly dynamic." To help make that happen, we're building mechanics into Chronicles of Elyria so that players experience the passage of time in real and meaningful ways.

The Life of an Adventurer

When we think of an epic fantasy story we all conjure up a lot of the same imagery. We think of the main characters prepping their belongings for a long, arduous journey. We read about the band of heroes taking shelter in a cave or hovel to protect themselves from snow or sand. We imagine characters making camp and setting up a watch to protect themselves from those things hidden in the darkness. And we imagine the heroes returning home from their journey exhausted, tattered, and unshaven.

We really wanted to bring those same experiences to Chronicles of Elyria and have spent a lot of time adding mechanics which will result in similar situations and elicit the same emotional responses. For example, whenever you leave the city walls things like fatigue, hunger, temperature, and thirst begin to have an effect on your character. Leave unprepared and you could end up with insufficient food, water, or clothing and be forced to either turn back or push on and risk repeated spirit walking.

Next, we've introduced creatures into the world, both mundane and magical which only hunt at night. This, combined with the fact that fatigue affects you differently during the day and night means players grouped up for a few hours will likely need to stop and rest at some point. Make sure you light torches. They won't necessarily protect you from what's hunting you, but at least you'll see the light shining in their eyes before they attack.

Finally, time spent out in the wilderness should be worn like a badge of honor. It should be clear not only to you but also to others that you've been on a long journey. When out in the wilderness your character's hair will grow, your face may get dirty, and if your soul does get separated from your body, you'll return to find permanent scars to remind you of the price you've paid. But don't worry, if you don't like the "I've been to Mt. Doom and back" look you can always stop at a barber shop and get cleaned up.

The Life of a Farmer

While it is true adventurers must keep a keen eye on their sundial, they're not the only ones affected by the passage of time. Those who choose a simpler life will still need to periodically check their almanac.

In Chronicles of Elyria, four Earth days corresponds with a single Elyrian Year. Like our own world, Elyria years are divided up into four distinct seasons, with each season corresponding with one of our real-world days. If you're a farmer wanting to plant certain seasonal plants, you may find you need to wait a couple days before you can do so. This doesn't apply just to plants and trees though. Every good breeder knows that different animals are more likely to reproduce at different times of the year.

At this point you may be thinking "this system sounds great, but it doesn't apply to me. It's for farmers and I plan to be a soldier." Yeah right, ever tried marching in the snow in plate mail? Plan accordingly.

Up until this point we've been talking about how the passing of time is visible around your character. Now let's see how the passing of time effects your character.

Figure 2 - Character Model at age 25 and 35

The Effects of Aging

Chronicles of Elyria takes places in another world, with fictional characters you create, in a completely different timeline, but at its core is still about the Human Condition. It's about the full cycle of life including birth, aging, conflict, our own feelings of mortality, and then ultimately death. It's about connecting with others, having shared experiences and adventures, and then watching as the current generation gives way as the next generation takes its place, ready to begin anew with renewed vitality.

But, no matter how much we attempt to recreate the Human Condition in video games it's meaningless without both the promise of death, and the constant reminder of aging.

Lifespan

When creating characters in Chronicles of Elyria you enter the world at either age 12, 15, or in some cases over the age of 18. These three ages correspond with different play styles and cater to different overall objectives. We'll talk more about the differences in a future design journal when we explore Families. In the meantime, it's important to note that while there are NPC children running around in the world, players always control a character at least twelve years old.

As we discussed in the previous section, Elyrian time passes at a rate of roughly one Elyrian year every four real-world days. This means that there are approximately 90 Elyrian years per Earth year. By default, characters will live a random age somewhere between 80 and 120 years (approximately 10-16 real-world months). While alive or dead may be a Boolean operation, aging is not. Aging is a process that every character goes through that has both visual and gameplay effects.

Visual Indications

We spend the vast majority of time playing an RPG looking at our character. As a result, it's arguably impossible to create a dynamic, immersive world if your character remains static. With that in mind, we wanted to give players a visual indicator that their character was growing, maturing, getting stronger, and yes, approaching the end of their life. While the character difference in Figures 2 and 3 may look dramatic when placed side-by-side, it's actually a very subtle effect when drawn out over a lifetime.

As you can see from the images, your character's physical appearance changes as they age. Hairlines recede, bald spots appear, their skin will tighten and develop liver spots, and in the later years their height will even change. It is the attention to detail here that really makes you feel like your character is a living, breathing person.

Before you ask, NPCs are effected by the passage of time as well. NPC children you are introduced to will, within a little over a month, become young adults. The apothecary you frequent for your reagents will age into retirement and will instead be found working her loom. And thus over the course of a year, you'll become attached to multiple generations of NPCs. Ever promised to take care of an NPC's family line in an RPG before? This puts it in a whole new perspective.

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• Bolstering to enable play with higher level friends

With Chronicles of Elyria, we've attempted to address this problem in a couple of different ways. One of the ways is by making sure people with different amounts of free time are still able to play together in an equitable and rewarding way.

A peasant and his farm. Not every role in CoE needs to be risky Figure 1 – A peasant and his farm. Not every role in CoE needs to be risky.

Bolstering

Before we talk about our solution, let's take a moment to look at the problem in a slightly different way. Any time you play a game solo it's possible to choose your encounters and set your difficulty based on what you're comfortable with. If you think about your favorite dungeon crawler or hack 'n slash you know what I mean. You just set the difficulty of the dungeon or encounters to suit your particular tolerance and away you go. You naturally find the right challenge and so you get the most enjoyment possible from your successes and failures.

The problem comes about when you try and play with friends who have more or less free time than you do. Whoever has the freest time is forced to sit passively by and wait for the other to sign on, or inevitably advances more quickly, making it difficult to play together.

Going back to the previous example of your favorite dungeon crawler, whenever one person is a higher level than the other, one of two things happens. Either the higher level person is forced to play down to the level of their weaker ally, quickly getting bored, or the lower level person is forced to walk around in a higher level area trying not to get one-shotted while they're carried. Again, getting bored.

Regardless of which happens, someone isn't enjoying themselves to the full extent possible from a shared experience.

In Chronicles of Elyria we've addressed this problem through a new mechanic we call Bolstering. Bolstering is that feeling you get when hanging out with people who are better than you and challenge you to do your best work. You naturally rise to the occasion and quickly find a place within the circle that allows you to play an active role.

In terms of game mechanics, Bolstering is what happens any time you're partied up with members of your in-game family. While bolstered, most of your character attributes (except Stamina) are elevated to a level that is equitable with those in your family with you.

It's important to note that only Stamina is raised to the maximum of everyone else in the family-party. The rest of the attributes are brought up to a level that is equitable with everyone else's maximum. Let me give you an example. Please note, these values are on a scale of 1 to 10 for reference purposes and don't correspond with actual values.

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• Families, genetics, heirs & dynasties

Families are vital to the land and kingdom management systems as it is more often than not families that build up their land, form towns, and establish growing dynasties. Families that get powerful enough may become nobles and play the Dance of Dynasties - the process of arranged marriages, intrigue, assassinations, lies and manipulations necessary to work their way up in the governing system to become kings and queens.

That being said, the family you select has a huge impact on your social experience, and not just when interacting with other family members. Your choice of family (and their social class) impacts how other NPCs, OPCs, and players interact with you. The family you select will also determine things like what type and how big your starting house is, and how much land your family has for farming, mining, breeding, and other land-based activities. Finally, there's a set of game mechanics tied directly to the family system.

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• Survival mechanics, including snow (video)

• Player-created dungeons

Land Ownership

First, much like in our world all land is owned, if not privately by individuals, by the highest government in the land. In Chronicles of Elyria, those governments are (initially at least) the kingdoms. That means that at game launch all parcels of land are be owned by the kings. As a king, however, it's impossible to either defend (or benefit from) such a huge amount of land. So in exchange for taxes or other resources, the kings appropriate land to citizens through one of two methods.

Obtaining Land

Land Purchase: A family or organization of sufficient wealth can take ownership of land by purchasing it from the local Count or Magistrate. Count, in the case of unincorporated land, and Magistrate or Mayor in the case of land incorporated into a town or city. The benefit to this method is it's safe, easy, fast, and gives you the ability to gain access to a large amount of land all at once. The drawback is that land can be expensive.

Adverse Possession: If you lack the financial resources, but still want to own land, you can find a parcel of land which is currently unoccupied (or abandoned) and can take ownership of it. This is done by building a structure on the land and then defending it for a full month. Defending means preventing the actual landowner from destroying your structure. Note that the landowner (King), someone appointed by the king (Duke, Count, Sheriff), or someone given a bounty to do so are the only ones that can legally attack/destroy your structure.

It's also important to note that this mechanic works the same way whether the existing owner is a king, or another citizen. So if someone buys a parcel (or several) and either doesn't log in for several months or just doesn't pay close attention to what's happening on their land, this is a viable way to reclaim land which was previously appropriated to another player.

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• No mini-map or world map (but cartography is a skill)

Maps

Maps in Chronicles of Elyria are small, stackable objects which sit in your inventory like any other item. They can be bought, sold, traded, destroyed, stolen, and like most other items in the world - crafted.

Unlike in many other MMOs, if you don't have a map on your person you have no way of pinpointing your precise location. Even with a map it takes a skilled navigator and a high quality map to know your exact location. Of course, if you're moving around in areas you're already familiar with there's no need to look at your map.

The Map View

When looking at your map you'll transition to a first-person perspective and view your map as though through the eyes of your character. Unlike in other MMOs there is no user interface that shows the map and it's rather impractical to look at your map while moving. Not least of which because having your map in your hands means you don't have your weapons. Encounter anything dangerous and you'll have to drop your map or stow it in your backpack before engaging the enemy.

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