So, TERROR. I’ve been thinking a lot about it, both because it has a huge impact on play and because it’s something newsposts have talked about maybe rebalancing on account of STEEL. Thus, it feels fair to talk a bit about it and throw out some ideas.
Anyways! As I see it, the following seems like a pretty good picture of how Terror currently feels:
[ul][li]It’s really finely (and really well!) balanced for a player who charts out an efficient course and hops cautiously between landmass and light-buoy, spending as little time as possible on the open zee.
This fits the "trading simulator" side of the game really well: if everything goes well you’ll only pick up a few points of Terror between islands, and you’ll be able to offset most of that with stuff along the way. But if something goes wrong (or you plotted an inefficient course), the cost of therapeutic shore leave will cut into your profits.
The "balance" seems really good, since Terror is a big enough deal that you have to pay attention to it and is punishing if you screw up, but you can keep it under control if you play well.
[/li][li]On the other hand, zailing off into the wild black yonder on the premise that there’s probably something interesting in that direction will inevitably net you huge bucketloads of Terror. Since Terror gain is balanced around an optimal light-hopping course, while exploring tends to be more a matter of "zail in this direction, then bear towards an island when your zee-bat finds one."
This also probably contributes to why it’s so hard for new players: our first impulse is to just set out and explore, and it takes a while to figure out that light-hopping is really important to Terror management.
[/li][li]It’s easy for a new player to feel like they’re just stuck with high Terror, constantly coming back to London with Terror +50 and picking up the attendant Nightmares…which cause more Terror. Resolving this appears to require a huge heap of cash. (Experienced players, on the other hand, are less likely to get stuck there in the first place and will probably tend to save Clathermont and the Sisters for when they need them.)[/li][/ul]
My impression is that the people who are currently putting a lot of time into the game tend to be doing a lot of trading runs. (Not necessarily goods trading, but doing, like - circuits of the Salt Lions and Godsfall and the surrounding islands, depending on the map configuration.)
On the other hand, as someone who came from (and really likes!) Fallen London, I tend to be more about the joy of…stuff? Like: finding stuff! Doing stuff! Nosing around and seeing all the things! I do quite like the sense that Sunless Sea is Fallen London with the plot armor turned off, and it seems totally appropriate and perfectly entertaining to find something on an island that so horrifies my crew that they mutiny before we can return to port.
But the Terror cost definitely makes exploration feel really expensive. I keep cringing at the thought of attempting to push back the boundaries of the map, and finding myself thinking "Well fine, but I need to do a bunch of Salt Lion runs first so I have cash in case there’s nothing valuable there. Or in case I get paid like a hundred echoes but have to spend three hundred calming down my crew."
And that feels kind of sad, because I want to go poke around places! I don’t think it’s broken, but it does feel like it’s balanced for the economic game rather than the exploration game.
. . .
Aaaaaand I have an idea about how to deal with this. It probably involves rejiggering some content and might count as a new mechanic? And it would definitely need balancing. But it seems (in my head, at least) to make Terror much more interesting to deal with, and builds upon themes and content that you’ve already got going.
Anyways, here it is:
[ul][li]Formalize Shore Leave as a specific type of action, and make it much more effective. The idea is to use them as narrative beats between legs of a voyage: like, you travel to the Khanate or Polythreme or the Iron Republic, and then the Terror/Shore Leave mechanic encourages you to stay a while before heading back out.
Specifically, I’m thinking of having them reduce Terror by a percentage - removing 30% or 50% or whatever of your current Terror level, depending on their quality. This would encourage players to for longer stretches between rests – if they stop to vacation at every island they pass, after all, they’ll run up a huge bill and never get anything done! (Unless they’re a cruise ship or something.)
This would also let you flesh out islands a little more, maybe offer a couple different choices of accommodation! Maybe you’re high on Terror and need some kind of Shore Leave urgently…but do you want to stay in the expensive, luxurious, and probably safe inn? Or take the cheaper and riskier option? Or maybe you’re getting hints that resting on this island is a really bad idea if you have Nightmares, and that you should probably risk carrying on to the next one.
This also seems like it would provide a good structure for random or periodic events, since Shore Leave represents an extended stay at a place rather than just stopping ashore to do a thing. Knowing that Shore Leave on an island will cause something island-related to happen or trigger some persistent condition can make where and when to rest a much more significant decision.
[/li][li]Have Terror increase slowly, but constantly, while at Zee. I’m picturing the base rate being a little slower than current, but light zones would only slow it down further, not stop it entirely. The idea is for it to function as a "time since last Shore Leave" counter, and thus more about how long your trip has been rather than how optimal your course was. So you can stray off the well-lit path without it feeling like such a big deal, but if you’re making a long voyage you’ll probably need to stop and rest at some point, probably on some strange island full of people who want to either rip you off or eat you.
[/li][li]More random events based on Terror levels! Sort of how Hunger works now: it’s not so much that high Hunger is an instant lose condition, as that things tend to get…difficult when you’re out of supplies. The idea is to encourage people not to linger at high Terror levels, even if they aren’t worried about them being fatal – and I dunno, maybe positive events can even accompany high morale? That’d help support the ‘story beat’ thing, with a nervous and paranoid crew landing on an island only to leave in cheerful good spirits.[/li][/ul]
I’m not actually sure how much work that would be to implement - or if it’s even something you’ve already bandied about, and decided against! But it’s a thought that’s hopefully helpful in some way.