Fantasy setting without the hack-and-slash

Several months ago, LJ user fadethecat posted a request for help identifying a dimly-remembered video game. In passing, she mentioned that

Unfortunately, all the games I’ve found with that scale of now direct your dudes to go chop down trees are inextricably linked to some tedious Also, you have to fight off enemies game.

And, frankly, if I want to fight off enemies, I’ll go play Starcraft or something. I like my city-building separate from my fighty games, thank you very much. But they seem to always come hand in hand. No, I can’t just build my dairy farms for cheese and my lovely little castle, I need to deal with frickin’ knights and invaders…

Whereupon it occurred to me that this is one of the big reasons I don’t play Dwarf Fortress anymore. The parts of DF that I enjoy are city-building, prospecting for minerals to make stuff out of, and trade. Manufacturing is too much of a micromanagey pain in the ass, and everything to do with building up an army bores me to tears (it doesn’t help that that is also far too micromanagey for my taste, and depends on manufacturing). Further, all the development since the first 3D version has been focused on precisely the parts I don’t like. But it’s a damn shame, because I really enjoy the city-building and the mining.

At about the same time, Minecraft had just started making the big news. I tried to get it to run, discovered that this would require more than zero messing with a Java installation, and gave up. But I watched a bunch of the X’s Adventures in Minecraft Let’s Play videos, enough to get a pretty good idea of what the gameplay is like. It seems like I’d have much the same opinion of it that I do of DF: yay exploring, yay building, boo micromanagement, boo having to fight monsters.

And this was also about the time I gave up on Lord of Ultima, which was a massively-multiplayer territorial competition game that billed itself as allowing a purely economic strategy—but it turned out that past a certain point everyone has far more resources than they need, so the only remaining thing to do is fight; I have absolutely no interest in PvP army duels, and guess what? Also with the way too much micromanagement! (You can pay for UX enhancements that mitigate this, but it didn’t appear that they improved it enough, and the only way I’ll pay for a premium game is if I’m already having tons of fun with the free edition.)

Finally, longtime readers will remember that the last thing I said about that roguelike I’m not writing was that perhaps the world does not need another game where what you do is kill the monsters and take their stuff. But I’m still interested in the notion of a game where you’re exploring an otherworld that’s coming apart at the seams, and maybe trying to put it back together again. So here’s a set of design elements, that feel like they add up to a game:

  • Gameplay is about exploration, construction, manufacturing, and trade.
  • Multiplayer interaction, if any, is all about the trading.
  • Micromanagement is to be avoided with extreme prejudice.
  • No fighting.
  • No crafting of legendary weapons or armor, either.
  • Like reality unless noted applies to geology, biology, and technology.
  • Magic is not tame.
  • Magic is not only for special people.
  • It might be nice to try to subvert Our Dwarves Are All The Same but then again, there’s a reason why that characterization works so well.

The tricky part is finding a source of conflict, since we’ve taken out all the fighting. Perhaps the coming apart at the seams thing is enough of an issue to hang a plot on? If not, there is always politics and diplomacy, particularly if we make it hard for a settlement to be entirely self-sufficient. Not all minerals are found under the same mountain; not all biomes are suitable for subsistence farming.

I think this would work well with a zoom level roughly the same as DF fortress mode: player sets goals, individual simulated characters carry them out to the best of their ability. Simulated characters push back on the player to fulfill their desires and carry out their agendas, but (unlike DF nobility, for instance) there is a way for the player to say no. Which has consequences, of course, but less-bad consequences than what happens if you ignore a production order in DF.