Cult of the Turtle

Joe Tortuga's musing on life,tech and gaming

From Zelda, through D&D, to Amaranth

January 08, 2010

Let me say up front, that I love designing worlds, particularly ones where I’m going to tell stories within them.  Usually that means game worlds.  My favorite game system of all time (that I never played) is Aria, which won’t let you create a character until you’ve created the world, his nation, his city, and his heritage group and profession.  So I’ve never managed it.  I always got stuck up in the details (incredibly interesting details) of world creation.

I used to be very much in the simulationist camp, which mean I built a logical world with people and pressures in it, and dumped the characters and/or players into it and let them see what happened.  It’s interesting, but the players always warped the world around them, which frustrated me as a simulationist.  They were part of it, not the point of it, right?  Well, no.

I mean, why does the world exist if not for the story teller, reader or player to enjoy it? Certainly a fleshed out world is more interesting, but much like a play, the only things that need to be right are the things that face the player.  Knowing more is good, as it gives you flavor and feel and intuition to tell more, but it doesn’t all have to be perfect or told.  Video games and taught me this: games like Zelda reflect their game design and mechanics in the world itself.

The world I am creating for this game will be different than those, it is created to be a place for the players to be heroes.  It will enable and challenge them to become heroes, and while it will have a history and (presumably) a future, it exists primarily as a place for the players to be and become awesome.  Just as Hyrule is largely that place for Link, so will Amaranth be for our players.

Hyrule is for a solitary hero, though, and Amaranth needs to be ready for a group.  It needs to reflect the game mechanics for the game we’re playing and our plot needs to allow us to get into Zelda-like cycles and fractals.

Zelda is largely focused on the number three (despite the later game’s use of the number 4), and that’s implicit in the Triforce.  Amaranth has the Tetraganon (which is both a Zelda reference and a play on the number 4).  Why the number 4?  Well, several game mechanic-y reasons.  D&D 3.x is designed around a four-person party.  There are four basic styles of class: fighter, rogue, wizard, and priest.  So Amaranth is divided into fours.

Zelda usually has a regular world, and a shadow world. Much of D&D has a “Shadow Plane”, so Amaranth will have one as well. We can add two more planes, one of spirit and one of material, to mirror the Astral and Ethereal plans from D&D.  This is somewhat important, as we want to enable a full palette of choices from the D&D books, and make sure spells work logically without doing a lot of modification to the rules of the game.

There are four Goddesses/Great Spirits, which represent four virtues (Strength, Courage, Wisdom, and Wit).  Those don’t map directly onto the character classes, but that’s a good thing.  The Kingdom of Amranth is divided into four duchys, the city into four quarters.

Also, standard D&D has 20 levels, so the party should gain a certain number of levels per area, as they work through the whole story, capping out at 20 when they enter the Shadow realm and defeat the final enemy. Or enemies. There might be 4.

Four is a good working point, and gives a feel for how big things will be and what the cycles will be that we’ll use.  I don’t want to go into too much detail, things will change as I move forward on the world design.  But there are guidelines here, and that helps.  I’m documenting it all on our wiki.  A good place to start is with the Amaranth page itself, which uses another bit of influence, the Aesop’s fable of the Amaranth and the Rose, which gives me a bit more theme to work with.

I’ll write more about Amaranth as the design fleshes out some, and as I can write things that aren’t integral to my plot ideas.  That’s not a huge concern, as the cycles and fractals will give the players a feel for the shape and size of the plot, and it’s rhythm.  The next part is how to make the players care about and feel a part of the world.