I started my MARDEK RPG series when I was a teenager, and in many ways I've been writing the same story over and over for many years. MARDEK is full of characters who I came up with long before the series, and I salvaged many plot elements from abandoned projects like 'Deliverance' and others. As I grew and learned, I saw how I could improve upon what I'd made before, and that's exactly what I did.
It's been several years since I released the three MARDEK RPG chapters that earned me basically all of my fans... And as I look at them now, after having developed many skills and learned new ones, I see a lot that could be done much, much better.
I am interested in continuing on with the MARDEK series! In fact I've barely slept over the last couple of days, as I've been madly writing down notes and ideas about what I could do with it at this point.
However... How would you feel about having to continue something you started almost a decade ago, with a much younger, less developed mind? (Like that story you started eight years ago...) Perhaps you'd feel trapped. How about if you were to salvage the main ideas, but you rewrote the structure and the less important details? Or changed other things now that you knew better? That might be exciting!
I want to 'reboot' the MARDEK series. I want to abandon the idea of making immense RPGs that take like three years to build and 50 hours to play through, in favour of making bite-sized 'episodes' that I can release once a week (or every two weeks or every month or whatever I can manage), telling a story over time not much different to a webcomic. It'd still be a game at heart, with dungeons to explore and battles to fight, but it'd develop gradually and you'd be able to look forward to 'next week's episode' rather than having to wait forever for a sequel that might not ever even come.
I'm hoping that producing regular content like that will encourage people to support me through Patreon... I really do hope that they will, and that I can earn a regular and comfortable salary while providing people with what they want frequently.
I did say 'reboot', though, and... well. I'm bracing myself for a whole ugly slew of ∞ They Changed It, Now It Sucks ∞
reactions. People who've developed an emotional connection with something react badly to changes with that something... It's understandable, of course, but it sort of limits the creator's growth as an artist.
I have some big, big changes in mind for MARDEK, if I'm to make it an episodic series like this... I'm hoping that even if people approach it with seething rage and a burning desire and intention to hate it simply because it's changed, when they see the changes I've made, they'll understand why
I've made them, ultimately realising that the rebooted result is better than the original.
Of course, 'better' is always subjective and not everyone will feel that way... But I'm hoping that many will.
Oh, and I may call it MARDEK IV (to be HILARIOUS of course; the justification would be that Mardek's grandfather was called 'Mardek III', so he himself is technically called 'Mardek IV'), or simply 'MARDEK'. I don't know yet.
That's the gist of what I'm doing and what I'm planning, anyway. I'll talk a bit now about the sorts of major changes that I'm making, both story-wise and mechanically.
The setting is Alora Fane
The story now takes place in the 'Belfan province' in the Bronze Archipelago; home to the 'Bold' race. Most of the characters are of that race, then, though several are of other Alora Fane races (Bold, Meek, Mhandisi, Sindrels and Varnyn).
Mardek himself is a Bold/Mhandisi hybrid, which is interesting as it means that he has brown skin and such.
Sentiments replace elements
Both in battle and characterisation. Mardek is now Bliss rather than Light, for example, while Deugan is Fear rather than Earth. This change was surprisingly easy to make, and it leads to emergent characteristics that almost write themselves.
Most of the cast return
Characters such as Mardek, Rohoph, Deugan and Emela are all still present and they haven't been changed all that much.
However, some have changed...
A couple of the male characters have been changed into women!! That's a fairly big thing. Others have had their backstories slightly - or in a couple of cases, massively - altered, and they're all Alora Fane races (though with quirks).
In particular, I wanted to make some characters more interesting than just being 'strong warriors!!' or whatever. Enki, for example, is mentioned more and he's more of a Carl Sagan / Christopher Columbus figure; a big dreamer, someone who spoke with passion and wonder about the world and others beyond it... An inspirational intellectual explorer, rather than some big strong fighty man guy who hit monsters over the head with a big sword until they died. He's also a Mhandisi, and as such is black. These changes are far from arbitrary, though; I've thought them out in detail, and how they link to other key events and themes.
One has gone
I've cut one of the least important and probably least popular playable characters, and while this may sound alarming, I get the feeling that he won't be missed. It'll allow me to focus more on the other characters.
Some are more prominent
Some characters appear earlier in the story or have more of a role. Elwyen and Gloria join the party during the chapter 2 parts, for example, and are only a couple of years younger than Mardek. A certain chapter 3 character joins the two boys during the chapter 1 bits.
Some characters have different roles
I've removed some 'minor' characters and replaced their roles with more important characters, or merged a bunch of smaller characters into one which fills all of their roles.
For example, there's no Social Fox anymore, and his roles in the plot are filled by different characters.
The GdM have changed a lot
But hopefully for the better. There are still seven of them, with basically the same personalities, and Rohoph still possesses Mardek and all that, but they represent sentiments rather than elements now, and their backstories, purpose and motives are entirely different. Not so different that EVERYTHING changes... I suppose it's more like I feel I've improved on the rough concept that was already there and made it hopefully more thought-provoking. I don't mean that I've replaced the humour with stuffy seriousness though!!
Most dungeons will return...
...but not all of them, and some are in a different order. For example, the Goznor sewers are gone completely, and the party splits in two to explore the tainted grotto and catacombs separately and simultaneously.
Exploration is more limited
Due to the fact that I'll by trying to pump out an episode a week or two and each one must be fairly small to make that possible, it's likely that each one will only allow you to visit one single dungeon. It won't be that rigidly specific (it's more accurate to say that each episode will have 'about one dungeon'), but the point is that the plot will be more on rails than it was before. I'm hoping that the pros will outweigh the cons, though, and I will at least make efforts to let players revisit old areas to talk to NPCs and stuff, who'll all have silly new dialogue in each new episode.
Character-driven, not plot-driven
Much of the old version's story bothers me because it's events-driven; there's a whole lot of 'go here because that's your mission' stuff, and the characters are basically just along for the ride rather than... driving the train... or something. You know. I'm trying to change that, by having characters' feelings, desires and personal motivations drive their actions instead of impersonal 'orders' and 'missions' and such.
Each episode will be fairly short; the events of chapter 1 have been split into two episodes, and chapter 2 has been split into six (I've yet to tackle the non-linear behemoth that is chapter 3). Each has a single dungeon, usually, plus several plot events and interactions and stuff. For example, episode 1 is the fantasy sequence at the start, ending when the boys go to sleep for the night, while episode 2 starts with the 'star' falling and ends with the 'GdM' scene. Episode 3 ends after the gem mine mission. And so on.
Parties are locked; each episode focuses on a party of up to four characters and you can't change them. I know that this is unfortunate, since changing around your party can be really interesting, but I feel that it fits the format much better, and it's MUCH easier to write AND I can write each character with much more depth. It's tough to write a character-driven plot when you aren't even sure what characters the player actually has.
"Replay value" won't be too much of a factor anyway if episodes are released frequently. How often do you go through webcomics' archives?
I've yet to decide on aspects of the battle system, but there are likely to be a few changes. I'll explain what I've got in mind so far, but keep in mind that this is the result of like two hours' worth of brainstorming and note-making (during which I've been MONSTROUSLY TIRED due to excitement-induced sleep deprivation), and it's likely to change once I make prototypes and actually test what it's like to play, or as new ideas come to me. I just thought it might be interesting to see it develop as it develops, starting from basic, uncertain ideas.
You'll probably still have four people on your party - as will monsters - and the battles will most likely still be turn-based.
Characters may not have levels, though, to make balancing easier (with an indeterminate number of episodes, preventing the levels from growing too high would be a nightmare). Instead, a character's performance and stats and such are based almost entirely on their equipment.
There may be a limited number of monsters that you can battle in each episode. Each dungeon might have a 'miasmal chalice' (similarish to the chalices in the original), which fills when you defeat monsters. When it's full, no more battles occur; as such it's possible to 'complete' an episode fully. I may change this, though; we'll see. (The reasoning was that players might be less inclined to just run away from every battle if they knew that there was a 'goal'; a certain number to defeat before some achievement was reached.)
Battles don't yield exp, but they do yield currency which can be used to buy equipment. So either you could rush through an episode with the bare minimum equipment, or spend your time collecting currency to buy all the stuff that was available.
Physical and magical attacks work very differently to eachother, rather than simply dealing damage using different stats. They work based on the nature of the Alora Fane world.
Spells are 'sentimancy'; essentially emotions erupting as bursts of energy. They tend to affect the hearts/minds of people rather than damaging their body physically.
Monsters are physical, soulless illusions made of miamsa, and so rather than 'killing' them, you must 'dispel' them.
Monsters and characters have a 'Composure' value which is directly affected by magic; it's essentially HP, and when it hits 0, a person is overwhelmed by emotion and passes out, or a monster is dispelled and disappears. Only magical abilities affect this stat.
Everyone also has a 'Fatigue' bar, which is depleted by physical attacks, though it restores by a bit each turn. If emptied, the person or monster is stunned for several turns, at which point they can't act and magic damage is significantly increased.
The point then is to have physical attackers stun and distract monsters, while spellcasters finish them off. Physical attacks might draw 'aggro' to reinforce this idea.
Characters have three basic stats:
Power: Affects the offence (and possibly also defence) of physical attacks.
Spirit: The same, but for magic.
Speed: Determines turn order.
They're based on the character, and only change from equipment (or temporary alterations in battle).
I don't really see the point of having a ton of arcane stats that are used in complex formulae... I've been trying to simplify my battle systems to make them easily understandable for years now.
Characters and monsters also have resistances or weaknesses to sentiments or physical/magical attacks. Something that hits hard but is easy to damage might have high Power but a weakness to Physical, for example. Or it might simply have lower Composure and/or Fatigue max values.
Characters have a single weapon, which doesn't increase stats, but it has a basic 'passive ability' and a 'reaction ability'. The passive one is always active, while the reaction has to be triggered manually as the character strikes.
For example, a sword might have 'Damage + 10%' as its passive ability, and 'Inflict Poison' as its reaction ability. Or 'Damage +10%' for both (resulting in a 20% boost for a successful reaction).
Most characters can also equip a shield, which also has a passive and reaction ability. It's used to defend against physical attacks only.
Characters that can't equip a shield because it would ruin their 'image' (Elwyen for example) are able to dodge attacks instead, maybe, though this is made up for by the fact that they're physically fragile.
Characters have an Outfit in their equipment screen, too, but it can't be changed; instead, it grants them specific boons or handicaps unique to their character. Outfits would change due to plot events rather than the player's customisation.
Characters are also able to equip four 'Mementos'... These are little trinkets that contain associated memories, and as such are able to provoke emotions in their holder. They are the main way that characters have access to skills, though unlike in the original, skills cannot be mastered; instead, you choose which ones you want to equip on a character and customise your build this way; similar to Meraeador with his two inventions. Some mementos might boost stats without granting any skills.
I chose this way instead of the skill-mastering thing because a finite number of monsters would lead to frustration if you were unable to master a skill... and I feel that making skill choices like this would make up for the fixed parties and lack of levels. I imagine that few people would use more than four of a character's skills anyway.
Mementos would likely be acquired through plot events more than they'd be bought or found... so they truly would have associated memories, even for the player.
Reactions only apply to physical damage; spells use an 'emotion gauge' instead, which represents how 'worked up' the character currently is. This gauge is a simple percentage modifier that is applied to all magic damage received and dealt
. If a character's emotion gauge is at 0% (completely calm), for example, they'll be immune to spells but their own will do nothing also. This is because in the Alora Fane world, sentimancy is based on opening the heart and letting emotions flow. At 100%, they'd deal full damage but take full damage too.
Each character has a unique 'sensitivity' stat that determines the starting value of their emotion gauge in battle, as well as the rate at which it fills. This would be determined by the character's personality, and it would be affected by plot states too; if something particularly devastating had happened to the character recently, then their sensitivity would probably be quite high. If they were depressed and zoned out, it'd be very low. I like the thought of actually merging story with battle mechanics in this way rather than having combat just tacked on impersonally.
The emotion gauge would charge when a person was damaged, and it could be reduced with various skills. Elwyen's music, for example, might be able to reduce or charge up the emotion gauges of the whole party, and monsters' skills could make people more or less emotional too.
So basically, I've taken several aspects of the old version and reworked them to something that makes more sense for a long-duration project such as this. A straight port of the old battle system would have too many problems; design just doesn't work that way.
Oh, and if you're wondering about how Legion might learn skills, well, apparently being hit by a monster ability would result in you acquiring a special 'program' memento for that skill, which Legion could equip up to four of.
Also, since only spellcasters can dispel monsters, and not all characters are spellcasters, as an anti-frustration feature I've decided that KO'd characters (but not monsters) would revive after three turns. The warriors could distract the monsters or defend while they waited.
Due to the finite number of monsters - and therefore currency - there are no expendable items like potions! Gasp! Instead, potions work more like Zelda; you can collect empty bottles, and you'll encounter various potion springs where you can fill them up. So essentially the supply of potions is simultaneously very limited and freely infinite. I think the 'what potions should I carry?!' planning could be interesting, and each individual one would have more value too; you wouldn't have an inventory clogged up with 99 of things you never even use.
Also, buying weapons and shields and mementos and stuff will likely be a one-time-only thing; merchants will only have one of each of their items in stock, allowing you to 'complete' an episode's (probably single) shop once you've bought everything.
Oh, and speaking of items, you have an infinitely large shared inventory now, instead of the individual inventories from the original. Clutter will no longer be a problem!
No doubt readers are picking out all the faults and problems with this proposed system, but as I said, it's only a few hours old, and it's likely to change over time. All my games' systems start like this, but grow as I work on them more; I imagine that this will be no different.
I am VERY EXCITED about this new MARDEK! I'm going to continue working at it, and hopefully I'll have some concept art and stuff to show soon.
I know that changes mean that there's a risk of things becoming worse... but there's also a chance of becoming much better too. I hope that people will at least give the idea a chance rather than rejecting it out of principle.
(Also: It's either this, or years more depressive dilly-dallying...)