Game Release: BELOW, a folkloric fantasy

[color=#ffffff]Below began life as a Failbetter game, but it’s been my personal project for a while now. Many late nights and early mornings have been sacrificed to its hungry tunnels! I hope you enjoy it! You can learn more at its G+ community or its website.

What drives you to descend,
To these deep places.

Below is a story-driven, dungeon-delving game of folkloric fantasy. Brave the horrifying dungeons under Gallowmoor on desperate quests.
Play Below cards to explore the dungeon. Play Above cards to renew your spirit and marshal resources. But beware: the Sea-Kings raid your homeland in their serpent-prowed ships. The more you rely on the Above Deck, the more your people suffer, and the more your quest complicates.

Play Below here!

Its inspirations include Beowulf, Moria, the Tombs of Atuan, and a whole pile of folklore. You can learn the Giant-Tongue, sway the judgements of the Althing, battle a Sea-King deep beneath the earth, forge a Lion-Helm, outwit a Troll-Wife, and leave legacies for those who follow you (like a Streak of White Hair, Words of Caution, or Family Secrets).

Below Features:
[/color][ul][li][color=#ffffff]All-new, custom art by Yasmeen Khan, illustrating the gloomy horrors of the dungeon and your shining memories of the world above![/color][/li][li][color=#ffffff]Explore the Bellringer’s Tomb, where a saint’s rest has been despoiled by dark powers. Face a Wolf-Lord, navigate the Scarrows’ pantry, and retrieve the saint’s bell and its one last miracle.[/color][/li][li][color=#ffffff]Play a stalwart Barefoot Friar or a resourceful Smith’s Daughter, each with their own distinct playstyle, advancement tracks, and Above cards.[/color][/li][li][color=#ffffff]Your deeds will unlock reputations that grant valuable abilities for your character. Have you gathered so much treasure you are called a Gold-Shepherd? Are you Moon-Wise? Fire-Hearted?[/color][/li][li][color=#ffffff]Form bonds with your Father, Sister, and Tutor to unlock new items and stories. Watch them become drawn into your quest. Is anyone safe?[/color][/li][li][color=#ffffff]Explore the Above Deck to learn your character’s history. Discover Gallowmoor’s secrets. Unlock potent new Prestige cards to improve your chances. [/color][/li][li][color=#ffffff]Unlock the Treasure deck to acquire powerful new items and lost lore.[/color][/li][li][color=#ffffff]Bargain with the White-Handed Lady who is sometimes called death. Perhaps she will release you. Be careful what you promise.[/color][/li][li][color=#ffffff]Build a legacy: your characters will fall, but when they do they will leave something for those who come after: experience, and powerful Legacy Items. Nothing’s forgotten. [/color][/li][li][color=#ffffff]Establish and improve waypoints as you travel. Unlock their hidden potential.[/color][/li][li][color=#ffffff]Fallen Heroes: if your character dies, send their remains into another player’s game. If they find you, perhaps they will find treasure. Perhaps they will just learn a valuable lesson.[/color][/li][li][color=#ffffff]The Outlaw: hunt wily outlaws in a randomised quest that can be played in any dungeon. Choose a difficulty, and the game will match a quarry with a complication to provide an unforgettable challenge.[/color][/li][li][color=#ffffff]Purchase a second dungeon, the Sea-King’s Grave, for 30 Nex. The grave includes three extensive new quests and randomised dungeon challenges to add variety to your visits. It also unlocks new treasures and new Above cards! Return a barrow-blade to the smith that made it, face down the smiling Crimson, and rouse the Restless King for one last bloodshed.[/color][/li][li][color=#ffffff]Purchase a Bond with your Cousin for 10 Nex: meet your firebrand cousin! Acquire and improve his Whittled Charm and Bitter Knife. Follow him into the woods to discover ancient secrets on a new, lore-rich Above card.[/color][/li][li][color=#ffffff]And much more! [/color][/li][/ul][color=#ffffff]
edited by Chris Gardiner on 4/11/2015
edited by Chris Gardiner on 4/11/2015

This was already a wicked and beautiful thing when I last checked it out, and it seems to have grown a lot since!

I’m going down.

[color=#ff9900]I should mention I’ve relaxed the actions limits as much as StoryNexus allows, so you should be able to play to your heart’s content. I think it works best in lunchbreak-sized chunks, though.[/color]

Fun :). What’s the best way to send bug reports (for instance, the card that promises Oracular incense actually gives a Hallowed Handbell)?

It’s really swell so far! I love it!

Using the Contact creator link in the StoryNexus menu is the best way. Thanks!

I just finished the first adventure, and I really enjoyed it. The writing is superb, all the core mechanics seem really solid, and sense of atmosphere is lovely. I’m very much looking forward to exploring further!

Thank you! Really glad to hear you’re enjoying it!

Initial feedback, figured better made public in case it attracts any comment.

Writing is really great: atmosphere is solid, objectives are clear, sense of progress to harder objectives is really, really good.

Biggest flaw, in my opinion: it’s hard-to-impossible to increase abilities, which means that I get increasingly frustrated on anything but the very easiest quests (and even there, often). It seems that only items can increase above base stats; but (i) they’re only equitable in camp, no outfit swapping, and (ii) almost all have a net zero effect, increasing one stat but lowering another.

I’m on my third character. The first made it down to level 7 but never had a chance of survival; she did manage to take care of two Sea King quests, though. But never any decent gear, and the one helm she eventually got was not inheritable.

The second and third, both male, have struggled even with the easiest bandit quest, to the point of death and/or bankruptcy

Am I missing something obvious? :)

In a shorter summary of how I agree with Ewan, yes, it’s hard. It’s not very instinctive and everything feels thrust upon you in a powerfully complicated manner, which makes it hard to get started, especially.

A great game with great writing and great art, though!

Below is a challenging, slightly baroque game, because… well, because I like hard, baroque games, It’s built to stop you from getting comfortable - so it should feel like tough going! Here’s some tips, though:

[ul][li]Depth is effectively a difficulty slider, which you can adjust moment to moment. Use it to your advantage and don’t go deeper than you need to until you’re ready. Early quests don’t require to you go past Depth 3. Depth 7 is a bad, bad place for early characters![/li]
[li]Stats are almost entirely determined by equipment. Only the most basic equipment subtracts as much as it grants, though. Improve your equipment in camp using Memories of Home. When you can build up some Treasure, purchase more powerful items from the Treasure Deck. The Smiths Daughter has an easier time improving her stats because she can craft her own items.[/li]
[li]Make camp and juggle your equipment to best suit the demands and dangers of the current region and quest.[/li]
[li]When you’ve got some Experience, return to town to spend it on skills and Reputations. Reputations don’t increase your stats, but they give new abilities: better Depth control, more efficient resource gathering, healing, etc. Note that failing at tasks grants more Experience than success does, so if you’ve been having a rough time you’ll be able to improve your character more quickly.[/li]
[li]Get to know the Above Deck. Use it to gather second chance items, Memories of Home and Inspiration to improve your chances at a region or quest. [/li][/ul]

Hope this helps!
edited by Chris Gardiner on 4/12/2015

OK, all functioning as intended, good :). [Also, thanks v much for the responsiveness!]

My experience has been that even the very earliest quests (Ymma, the bandit fleeing trial) require at least level 4; and yeah, that’s a scary place.

I initially went for the Smith’s Daughter for exactly the reason of available crafting; but even though I learned how to make I think a leaf-bladed sword, I never found the chance to do so. This is likely down to me missing something - maybe I should be more actively seeking Gear and making camp?

I did look at using Memories to generate equipment, but they were all the +1/-1 type. Are you saying that having made an item, I will then later be able to improve it? If so, that might need to be made clearer some place. I’ll try to give it a shot.

Progress update for me: managed to snag a Relic, and the Red Book. Keeping Ymma as a companion right now because (and I suppose this is a minor gripe) ending a Quest feels like a punishment because everything gets zeroed out. So the incentive is to hang around in the dungeon long after the quest is completable - is that also intended? Anyway: both Wits and Boldness are at 4; despite this being way higher than any previous char, Depth 5 still feels very scary. Currently trying to hang out long enough to collect 25 Treasure and find another hoard, so that I can get a weapon upgrade…

…tips from me (take with large quantities of salt): use second chances liberally, because they cap at 3 so can’t be hoarded. Cycle through the Prestige Above cards, but maybe skip the Summer Fair one - hard to control the impact of a social action when I have another 80 actions or so to play and no likelihood of hearing back from a friend in that time. I have sent a bunch of invites and I like the interaction text and framing, but it’s not something to usefully rely on for gaining Spirit.

And thanks again, Chris: this is carefully crafted, polished, and highly enjoyable.

Definitely - and acquiring Skills and Reputations that increase your Gear gain.

Also yes! Whenever you craft something in camp, you’re taken back to the crafting menu so you can see the other things unlocked. Most Keepsake items have three levels of improvement.

There are some cases where this is a good idea (if you’re after certain deeds, say), but it’s quite an inefficient way of gaining Experience (because quests grant such big chunks). It tends to increase the Sea-Kings’ menace too. After completing a quest you get a chance to spend leftover resources on stuff for the next quest (including some things you can’t get other ways, like reducing the threat of the Sea-Kings).

Yes! Most of the multiplayer content is on the Summer Fair card to make it opt-in. If you don’t have friends playing you can pass on it without missing anything vital.


So, if we pay Nex to unlock things in this game, are they lost if we die?

Nope! All Nex purchases endure across characters.

Even the cousin? If so, that’s pretty great, I might actually do those!

Yes, the cousin too! Pay once, and they’re available for all your characters.

Has anyone worked out how to start speaking Giant-Tongue yet?

Also, update to say that the learning curve, um, curves. So same character has been to depth 10 (briefly!), has one stat at 7*, just rescued a relic, etc.

I did get hit by losing all my expensive Hidden Ways when ending a quest - that hurt!. So I am back in the state of hanging out accumulating due to being unwilling to lose all those - and the Moments of Peace, and so on - by ending a quest.

In a moment of sadness I crafted the relic hand weights, but they don’t appear to be upgradable; and I have been unable to unlock a Warfare slot so my equipment looks to have maxed out unless - which is my current mini-goal - there’s something neat available from the treasure deck at depth 10; we’ll see :).

(*I find it better to focus on one stat - then even at depth, some challenges are doable, and many of the cards offer options to pick which stat you’re testing. Otherwise having everything at 3-4, many cards were almost auto-fail. Some still are!)

Also - can you tell I’ve been playing this a lot? - I would advise that of the three main reward-items, Gear is MUCH harder to acquire than either Secrets or Treasure. I can get hundreds of Secrets, and a hundred Treasure, in about the same time it takes to get maybe 15 Gear.


Currently, no treasure items are available at depth 10: they’re locked to 4/5/6 and 7/8/9. So I just hoarded treasure and two picks from the treasure deck, went down to 10, and eagerly awaited my new riches… only to find that I couldn’t actually use any of the cards I drew :-P. [Well, I could use the Fortune-check to gain more Treasure, but I was really hoping for one or more good kit pieces… foo :P]