Stories are like treasure. The best ones are buried deep.
Below is a narrative dungeon-delving RPG card game you can play in your web browser. It combines the old-school delights of exploration, looting treasure and subterranean peril with a contemporary approach to storytelling. In Below your life in the world above is as important as your adventures underneath it. Only a fool risks their life for a fistful of gold. But to protect your family, realise your childhood dream, gain revenge at any cost?
After all, who would explore the terrible places under the earth without a good reason? Below’s heroes are everyday people driven to exceptional things. The Barefoot Friar. The Landless Lady. The Masterless Apprentice. Its dungeons are terrifying, mysterious places rooted in the land’s history. By exploring them you will uncover the world’s secrets and piece together its lost stories. Players of our other games - Fallen London, The Silver Tree, Machine Cares, Night Circus and Cabinet Noir - know that we believe in telling mature, powerful stories driven by choices that you, the player, make.
For Below, we're drawing from the sources that inspired the grand tradition of dungeons in gaming. The grim halls of Moria. Beowulf’s grisly battle in Grendel’s lair. Theseus daring the Minotaur in the Labyrinth at Knossos. Le Guin's Tombs of Atuan.
Real people. Deep dungeons. Powerful stories.
To expand the prototype into an actual game, we need funding to pay for custom art (what's in there is placeholders) and the huge body of content we need to write to make the experience properly varied.
Below plays like a card game crossed with a choose-your-own-adventure story. The BELOW deck is the dungeon; the ABOVE deck is the memories of your life above.
The contents of your decks are determined by the choices you’ve made so far. Each card represents a chunk of story. Clicking on a deck fills your hand from it, showing the stories available to you. To give you an idea, here’s what Tales of Fallen London: The Silver Tree, another game on the same platform, looks like:
When you play a card from your hand, you’re presented with an event and the choices you can make in response. What you choose will shape your character, the world around you, and the direction of your story. Here’s how the story interface looks:
But the best way to decide if you want to back Below is to play it! We’ve built a proof-of-concept prototype here. This is a prototype! It doesn't have final art, the difficulty level isn't tuned, a number of gameplay systems have yet to be incorporated, and it represents only a fraction of the final game (just one character, and a subsection of a single dungeon) - but it gives a good indication of the atmosphere and gameplay we’re aiming for. As the Kickstarter campaign runs, we’ll expand this prototype to show more characters, more gameplay systems and more of the first dungeon.
Below will be a free-to-play game. Its core content can be played by everyone, but additional dungeons and characters can be purchased in-game, allowing you to delve into the world’s deepest secrets and experience new abilities and stories. Our pledge rewards grant pre-purchased access to these extra stories and characters.
We like to tell sophisticated stories that stay with you— stories that unfold over time, that you can immerse yourself in. To support that, our games are played sporadically, in short, meaningful chunks. You have a pool of actions, and spend them to draw or play cards. You get an action back every 10 minutes or you can purchase action refreshes if you’d rather not wait. Our £30 and above pledge levels include a number of free action refreshes so you can control the pace at which you play.
Death and Consequences
Exploring the bones of the earth is dangerous. Your character may die. If so, you can start a new one, or - with an in-game purchase - make a pact with the White-Handed Lady who watches death’s door. She will let you return, but always asks a price. Perhaps she will expect you to trade another life for your own, or bring her a rare treasure from the lightless places. Our pledge rewards of $15 or more grant a number of free resurrections that will allow you to take death’s deal without paying real-world money.
Failbetter is a London-based indie developer - a team of seven people. We've been building storygames for three years: Fallen London, Machine Cares, the Night Circus, Cabinet Noir, the Silver Tree. We also built StoryNexus, a toolkit for other people to create storygames. We tend to the nocturnal, the sinister and the delicious.
We've got some great rewards for backers, including:
Backers will receive an invitation to Below's living beta. See the game develop in response to your feedback! See new gameplay and content first, hot from our developers' fingers!
Our pledge rewards include pre-paid access to purchasable stories and backer exclusive in-game items, pets and stories. Items and pets modify your stats or have a story card dedicated to them - so they’re not just for show! Some of our reward levels also include items in our hugely successful, entirely enormous game Fallen London as treats for our long-term fans. Fallen London content will include social actions allowing you to show off your special belongings to your friends!
Three high-quality, 10” by 8” prints of Paul Arendt’s concept art for Below. Paul will sign one of the prints before we mail them to you, too!
The Opportunity deck consists of 40 high-quality, 400gsm, matte-finished cards with beautiful art from Paul Arendt and words inspired by settings, incidents, and characters from our games. Use them as a creative tool for inspiration! As a stylish prop! Build elaborate card-structures from them to amaze your friends! We can’t help you with the construction, but we can provide quality materials. Here’s what they look like:
The Below Expansion Cards
Ten exclusive cards to supplement your Opportunity Deck with words and images drawn from Below. Each expansion set includes a very special card signed by Chris Gardiner - Below’s lead designer and writer - and Paul Arendt, its artist.
This is the second of our Kickstarter-exclusive expansion sets. If you already have an Opportunity Deck and the Expansion from our previous campaign for Tales of Fallen London: The Silver Tree, there’s a special backer level that will let you purchase the Below expansion without paying for an extra deck. We plan to fund more projects through Kickstarter, and to produce a new exclusive ten-card expansion as a reward for each game. So pledging on future projects would let you expand your deck!
Have you ever wanted to star in a game as the Rambunctious Librarian? Or the Silver-Tongued Writer? Or the Devilish Raconteur? Now’s your chance!
£150 backers will have an item named after them in the game. You’ll send us a brief description of yourself and our writers will create an item inspired by your and incorporate it into either Fallen London or Below. Immortalise your pet! Be the first wielder of a Doom-Marked Blade! You’ll get a free copy of the item in the game, too.
The £200 and £450 rewards allow you to appear as a character in either Fallen London or Below. We’ll ask you for a brief description of yourself then send you three identities to choose from, tailored to the the description and the game. You tell us which is your favourite and we’ll write a story card featuring that character and their misadventures. This card will appear as a random encounter in the appropriate game, to be played by our tens of thousands of players!
£450 backers will also send us a photograph of themselves, and once you’ve chosen your identity from the three we provide, our amazing artist, Paul, will create a character portrait inspired by the picture to appear on the card. See your face in Fallen London or Below!
Hesperidean Cider may just be the secret to immortality, and it’s the most expensive item in Fallen London. Currently, only one person has a bottle. This is the chance for one more lucky soul to acquire a bottle of this miraculous drink.
Your Fallen London character will acquire a bottle of Hesperidean cider. With it in your possession you need never fear Death again - waltz from the Boatman’s clutches and back to London in a single action! Are your friends suffering from wounds? Then invite them over for a tipple! See their injuries miraculously close! Don’t worry about the dreams. We’re sure they’re entirely normal.
Be the talk of the Fifth City. Be a Hesperidean.
Our highest pledge level allows us to write a unique story just for you. We’ll ask you to tell us what type of story you’d like (a romance, a mystery, an adventure?) and which aspect of the game you’d like it to explore (a tale of intrigue at the King’s palace? A tale of the Masters’ squabbles in Fallen London?). We’ll then go away and build it. Let our talented writers surprise and delight you!
The story will be about ten story-cards in length. You’ll be able to replay it as many times as you like, trying different approaches. If your story is in Fallen London, you’ll also be able to grant access to the story to your friends, so they can play through it!
Risks and challenges
The technological risks are very low. We're using StoryNexus, a platform on which we've already built five games (www.fallenlondon.com, www.nightcircus.co.uk, www.machinecares.com, cabinetnoir.storynexus.com, and silvertree.storynexus.com). There's nothing new about the technology - only the content.
The logistical risks are very low. We've already delivered one Kickstarter, stretch goals and all, by the predicted delivery date (the Silver Tree, by October 2012 - http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/elizabethsampat/tales-of-fallen-london-the-silver-tree ). We're using a similar approach for this, but refined and improved with the lessons we learned, and the team is the same.
The remaining risk is story, and game design. We've been building these kind of texty, story-driven games for three years, full-time and professionally, so we have a good idea what we're doing - but Below is a little more game-y and a little less story-y than most of our previous work. It's important we get the balance, and the emergent elements, right. So what are we doing to mitigate this risk?
- We have planned Below carefully, and we've been testing the core loop internally, with the resource we can afford to devote, for nearly a month.
- We've developed a minimal prototype on the StoryNexus platform, which you can play from a link right here on the Kickstarter page. This will give you some sense of what it might be like to play the game... although the final version will have many more features and much more content.
- We'll be tweaking the prototype as the Kickstarter runs, and gathering feedback - right out in the open. This is a slightly scary thing for us to do - like changing the engine in a car while it's running, in front of an audience - but it's open, transparent and rapid.
- If we get funded and can afford to devote development and writing resource to it properly, we'll stick with this public approach - releasing regular updates so you can see what's going on, and iterating based on feedback. There will be a point at which we'll stick a flag in the ground and call it done - but right up until that point, you'll be able to see how we're spending our time and your pledges.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)