Sneaking is a largely viable way to get through a lot of the game, even if all agents aren't skilled in it. Prancing around with skull fractures and lungs filling with bile can take its toll, and unless you're armed to the teeth, slipping away under the cover of shadows or jumping into a duct is a bit more predictable. We’ve made sneaking a combination of simulation and dice rolling, giving characters and enemies the ability to hone various aspects of stealth.
Enemies can be alerted to your presence from your noises, including footsteps, throwing items, jumping, doors and gunshots. As you get closer, you are more likely to be heard, although if there is a wall or some other obstruction between you and the enemy they receive a negative modifier to their roll.
This one is obvious, but the player is detected from a certain distance away via a vision cone from enemies. Crouching is a good way to hide behind smaller objects if you know an enemy is coming your direction. Being in light gives a positive hit modifier in combat, and being in a darkened area gives a negative one.
In the game you won't see any vision cones, but this is a visual of what's going on behind the scenes.
Once detected, enemies will engage in combat. They instantly roll for initiative after seeing you, and if they can will call for backup. Their call can be interrupted with an attack. If they can’t call for backup, either by word of mouth or radio, they’ll begin to engage in combat.
If you run out of combat your enemies will remember your last known position and pursue you. Remain hidden long enough (or continue to outrun your opponent), and they’ll give up and enter an alerted patrol stage.
If more than one enemy is engaging you, they’ll attempt to flank you. They’ll also utilize their abilities and equipped weapons responsibly. This is a large part of the engagement combat system we’ll be working on for your alpha for testing! In a more simulationist system like this, smart AI is paramount, so we aim to have scripts for enemies that are lethal and appropriate. Enemies will have wide ranges of intelligence, including flushing you out with grenades, suppressing fire to stall you for other enemies to get into position, and mind-hacking your crew to fire on each other or walk out into the open.
Enemies don’t have a hive mind vision, so you can also be sneaking or have characters waiting to ambush enemies giving chase. Toying with their senses is part of the fun, and challenge of encounters. Some enemies have enhanced senses and abilities to combat player savviness, such as giving chase with enhanced jumping or running speed.
Enemies have various states of being alerted to your presence. They’ll either be patrolling as normal, running to these patrol points in a panic, or searching in random locations near the sound or location they heard a noise.
An example of a patrol route.
If an alarm is sounded or backup is called in a high-security syndicate controlled building they’ll come from outside and go through a sweep of the entire building before calling it off. If it’s the Mayflower Initiative (the most powerful syndicate on the Island) they can have a tendency to leave behind a Copper Face or two sneaking around. Better to hope not.
When an enemy hears something but hasn't seen you, a question mark will appear over their head.
Normally you get a red arrow indicator for hearing targets outside a character’s field of view. This is a player advantage system, as in something the enemies don’t also get (they roll to hear you when you're moving). We originally had this only appear when you actually rolled to hear footsteps, like they do, but it was visually clunky, popping in and out constantly. Instead the red arrow is permanent for enemies in your hearing range unless they are sneaking, in which case you’ll roll the same way enemies do for detecting, otherwise they’ll be completely invisible until they’ve rolled initiative and have a bullet headed toward you. Even then you’ll need to detect them — if that was suppressed they may have rolled well against your character’s Observance and remain hidden.
All these sensory mechanics are done in and out of combat, so you’ll be able to manipulate and hide from enemies whether engaged in a firefight or sneaking through a building.
For the Burning Candle ruleset we’ve removed the traditional use of XP as a means of character progression — instead there are both short and long term progressions that happen in different ways. The traditional CRPG way of gaining XP (the D&D method) is meant to reward a character for overcoming obstacles. Often in RPGs an obstacle is defined very simply: if it moves, kill it, and if you do a quest, you win. House-rules aside, that’s the basic guideline, and that’s what is usually done. For an open-ended game that has a fairly big flaw, it dictates what's actually meaningful for your character, which we think stifles a player's exploration. We needed to remove that from the Burning Candle ruleset and wanted to give you an idea on our thought process.
Changing the focus to surviving gameplay instead of searching for XP
Having a focus on stealth (and manipulating enemies) begs the question of how you actually reward that. A simulationist method, at least pen-and-paper wise, usually nets growth of a skill by use — something like Burning Wheel (or Mouse Guard, if you've been so lucky to play that). This works great when there aren’t reloads, you’re not spamming abilities, and there are limited uses with consequence. In a CRPG that has an immediate, obvious drawback: it fundamentally boils down to spamming when there is an abundance of content to use them on without consequence. Fire a gun to gain a gun skill? You’re finding the nearest pack of rats or unsuspecting bandits and unloading until you're the best gunslinger around.
There’s certainly ways you can mitigate these types of loopholes, but the problem would remain: your progression is dictated by how much you can use something. Unless there’s a very limited amount of times you can use something or do something, maybe in a choose-you-own-adventure type way, this ultimately ends up as a grind. For many types of games this method of gaining XP works perfectly fine when combat is predominantly what you’re engaging in, and there’s a massive level range of enemies and obstacles to constantly be using these abilities against to practice on.
Normally games just reward you for some combination of combat, skill use or completing quests. While this gives a very D&D-like moment-to-moment purpose for character progression, this also dictates how you play the game, especially in a CRPG when that's just calculated simply by a computer. Netting XP for only quests, for example, means meaningful player progression is only done by grinding quests, same with combat or skill usage.
While that has merit if those obstacles are the primary focus of the design, it also detracts from less tangible things that don’t give you XP — discovering puzzles, secrets, avoiding combat in clever ways, or using skills that don’t give XP or only low amounts of it. Gaining XP in this way also requires scalability to last — if you’re netting XP and levels constantly, things need to be scaling with you or spread out how their difficulty is scaled, but that often boils down to rolling larger and larger pools of dice at one another.
That doesn’t work well with a simulationist system where survival and tactics are more important than level or stat blocked challenges. We don't want to push certain ways of getting through combat, we just want you to be able to play the game however you want and be rewarded equally for it, assuming you're playing it well.
The “Oregon Trail” method
The Burning Candle ruleset focuses on survival and adventure RPG systems, and isn't intended to selectively award XP with one hand and encourage the player to have total freedom with the other.
A player's character growth instead is determined by thematic gameplay intervals when completing open ended missions that your employer has given you (not dissimilar to finding pentagrams in Wizardy IV). We internally called this method the Oregon Trail method of leveling up. It gives you stat progression when you reach a milestone (like resupplying at landmarks in the DOS game) so you don't have to worry about selectively gaming XP during gameplay, rather just surviving, outfitting your crew effectively and solving puzzles (having fun any way you want). It’s very simple, but rewards any type of play style equally. Someone who completes a mission bloodlessly receives the same benefit as one who takes down every enemy in sight.
How this all works
Completing one of the large missions from Wolffz Bay is essentially hitting a level up milestone. This nets your characters stat points to distribute amongst your Virtues, Aptitudes, and Proficiencies. Missions can vary either subtly or drastically depending on how that narrative has branched, but there’s a set amount of primary ones that span the game. The stat points you receive can be distributed at any time.
To improve your party in the short term between these level up milestones, your exploration and various jobs around town will be rewarded as you collect chits (currency) to trade for new items, find or buy better hardware for your characters, and purchase cybernetics. You'll also be able to train for new abilities for your items (like new weapon uses) during rests, which require anything from favors and chits, to the rare (untraceable) US dollar.
Loot is a whole new topic, but besides some specifically requested trainer/artist items, most gear you pick up isn't able to be sold for chits or used as currency. It can be bartered for other equipment though, so a combat-focused character will be losing money firing ammunition and degrading weapons, but the loot picked up can potentially reimburse that with trade for replacement weapons and medical supplies to fill up holes in their body on-the-go. A sneaky character isn’t losing blood or bullets, and then wouldn’t have the need for constant loot recycling. Characters focusing on certain items or skill will fall somewhere in the middle, though generally your crew will fill different roles and a balance will need to be found. The way you play is then compartmentalized in how it’s rewarded — none of which net you XP, so as long as it’s working for you it’s a valid way of playing depending on how you outfit your crew. You can spend your time hacking for chits, solving puzzles, chatting up the town, finding rare items, getting new equipment and reporting back to Wolffz Bay how you’d advise expansion in Calitana without worrying what is getting you XP and what isn’t.
We talked about the three kinds of stats (not including weapon training for new action buttons for certain weapons or cybernetics enhancements) and wanted to give just a list of what we have planned for those as well.
You choose your initial Virtues as well as three backgrounds during character creation, which can influence starting points for Proficiencies and Aptitudes. Backgrounds are various careers or ventures you pursued back on earth after your time serving in the United States' Second Civil War. Your military past is the main reason you have a job on Calitana. Your records are sent ahead of you, indicating you'll be a valuable asset to their operations once you land, worth recruiting instead of being left to the slums or eaten by cannibals.
Character creation will definitely be an update in the future, we’re having our wonderful voice actor play a bureaucrat briefing you on your future and finding out what kind of life your citizen had led up to that point, interjecting plenty of colorful commentary on your choices.
These are subject to change, as we’re constantly tweaking what works best with the game and ruleset, but the current stats are:
When upgrading an Aptitude you receive a choice of a sub-skill for it, which acts as sort of a general perk. When you upgrade Chemistry you can choose a chemical you’d like to be able to now create, or when you choose Bio-Hacking you can choose how you’d like to refine your skill in manipulating other characters. For Aptitudes that have a “to-hit”, you always gain a d8 to add to the pool of dice you’re using to hit as well as a sub-skill.