Laurion Studio - Innovative Fantasy Role-Playing Games in the Faerie World of Parhedros!

Designer's Notes and FAQ – Parhedros: The Tunnels of Sethir

What Goes into Making a Great Game?

We designed Parhedros: The Tunnels of Sethir to be unlike any other computer role-playing game that you have ever played! We wanted to take the very best of classical, old-school role-playing, and refresh it with some of the most innovative story-telling and gaming techniques that exist today. The following paragraphs explain in some detail why we have implemented certain of the ideas and novel features that you will encounter in Parhedros: The Tunnels of Sethir.

Contents

  1. Is this game really worth playing?
  2. Parhedros is a funny word; what does it mean?
  3. How does story-telling work in Parhedros?
  4. How do I talk to the NPCs?
  5. Isnít a text-based dialog system kind of retro?
  6. Why not use a menu-driven dialog system?
  7. The rule book is over 100 pages! How complex is this game?
  8. Why did you use turn-based combat?
  9. Why is making a character so much work?
  10. Why are there EIGHT Primary Attributes?
  11. What are the sources of the Magic System?
  12. What is the approach to magic in Parhedros?
  13. Why are all the player characters capable of performing magic?
  14. Why arenít there more damage-causing spells?
  15. Authentic magic? Does that mean you believe in magic?
  16. How long is Parhedros?
  17. How many different types of monsters are there?
  18. Did you say puzzles?
  19. Where did you get the riddles in Parhedros?
  20. Why donít you rate your game with the ESRB?
  21. Eeeew! A few of the characters are nekkid! I saw boobies!
  22. But what about the children?
  23. What language do the monsters speak?
  24. Can I use any of the art assets in Parhedros: TOS for my own projects?

Is this game really worth playing?

Well, we think so, of course. But here's an interesting thread we found about the game on the RPGWatch forums, where some people who really know their role-playing games discuss both the good points and the bad points of Parhedros: The Tunnels of Sethir. Beware: there are a few minor spoilers!

Parhedros is a funny word; what does it mean?

Parhedros is the ancient Greek magical term for a familiar spirit. We chose to use that word because this game is very much about summoning familiar spirits to assist you in battles. And also because it sounds cool.

How does story-telling work in Parhedros?

Parhedros: TOS represents an innovative experiment in interactive fiction. We set out to merge the best of the fantasy novel with the best of role-playing games, using the conceptual tools that are available today. Essentially, we have written a highly interactive, quasi-hyperfictional fantasy novel, and embedded it within a set of very sophisticated chat-bots with AI personality structures, which we then encapsulated in a set of game-ready NPC objects. This means several things to the gamer.

First, the main NPCs are much, much more complex and interesting than in any other game you have ever played. Sure, like in any other role-playing game, they are dispensers of items, information and hints. But they would much rather tell you their own stories, and the story of the Tunnels of Sethir, and in doing so, enrich and advance the main story, which is of course the story of your own player character exploring the Tunnels and encountering these very same NPCs!

Secondly, it is nearly impossible to predict exactly what experience you will have with the story in any given game you play. The Main Quest, or frame story, varies depending on which race, gender and vocation you have selected for your character. More importantly, the delivery of the story depends entirely on your cooperation and input: you have to spend a bit of time actually chatting with the main NPCs, actively listening to what they have to say, and responding with intelligent comments and questions of your own. This is interactive fiction taken to a new level!

Finally, because Parhedros: TOS is a fully "intelligent" and interactive novel delivered within the medium of a game that stresses adventure and brutal tactical combat, we came to really question the suitability of using any one rating standard to try to inform people, and especially parents, of the sorts of material in the game that might be offensive to some viewpoints. I mean, do you rate the textual fiction content by standards that have emerged in the gaming industry? Or do you rate the game content by the much less formal standards that prevail in the print publishing trade? Or do you rate both separately? Our approach in this instance is one of rejecting a formal rating scheme, and instead offering full and detailed disclosure of the various sorts of content that various people of differing backgrounds might find offensive.

How do I talk to the NPCs?

Itís really quite easy. Put your cursor over an NPC, and press the Spacebar to open the Dialog Interface. Then, simply type something intelligent, and press the Enter key. The NPC will take it from there. The main NPCs can talk about just about anything that exists in the game world.

Now, if want to have a good conversation with the NPC, use the sort of common-sense rules you use in real life. That is, listen actively to the NPC, and ask questions or make comments about the topics that he or she has raised. Or, start a conversation of your own on some topic that is likely to interest the NPC.

Isnít a text-based dialog system kind of retro?

Yes, but it is also necessary. As it is, the knowledge file of each of the main NPCs exceeds 75,000 words. That would represent a huge amount of spoken dialog!

Whatís more, there is a stylistic matter of matching NPC output to the playerís input. How else could we currently have the player communicate with NPCs than using a text-driven method? Would it be an annoying disjuncture for one party to a conversation to use text, and the other to use verbal speech? We thought so.

Finally, the main NPCs exist to tell a richly nuanced set of stories. There is still no better medium for conveying complex fiction than via the written word. Thus, we chose to implement the dialog system as a sort of interactive fiction.

Why not use a menu-driven dialog system?

Well, let me admit that there have been some GREAT games that used menu-driven dialog. In particular, I think of Planescape: Torment, which was one of my all-time favorite RPGs! Games like Arcanum also did some fine things with menu-drive dialog systems. But, sadly, most games that use menu-driven dialog are really not all that good at using the NPCs to tell a subtle, sophisticated, and always flexible story. In particular, they tend to force the pace of the story, and they tend to clip the imagination of the player.

Parhedros, on the other hand, uses the most advanced techniques in interactive fiction, along with some solid inspiration from hyperfiction and the world of chat-bots, to deliver NPC dialog. We think this makes the NPCs far more realistic, and that it actively encourages the player to participate in the story, and to suspend his disbelief a bit more readily. It also gives the player far more control over the way the story elements are delivered, and when they are delivered.

The rule book is over 100 pages! How complex is this game?

Wherever possible, we have worked hard to make Parhedros: TOS as detailed and even ďrealisticĒ as possible, bearing in mind that we are dealing with a fictional land teaming with the likes of faeries and demons, and sparkling with magic and living myths. We have an excellent core rules system, and it could work just as well for table-top gaming as it does for computer gaming. We wanted to document those rules in such a manner that you can follow them and master them, if you so desire. What's more, we expose what's going on behind the scenes to the player when it really counts, such as showing the player the die rolls during combat. But always and foremost, we have ensured that the game system is fun, and not too strenuous to manage once the characters are generated, and up and running. You can play this game quite successfully without reading the rules manual, simply by intuition and by using the very thorough in-game help documentation. The choice is yours, really.

Why did you use turn-based combat?

Did you know that the very earliest role-playing games were actually a subset of rules for war-gaming with miniatures? In fact, rules sets like Dungeons and Dragons were first written to let miniatures gamers indulge in fantasy-themed campaigns, and to take the heroes of their armies of tiny lead soldiers aside for individual or small-team adventures in dungeons and other settings that would not permit the deployment of the whole army.

Parhedros joyfully returns to those roots of role-playing, in which combat is all about such things as sound tactics, the correct use of firepower and support (such as spells), balanced unit mixes, and good maneuver. We want to exercise your mind, and not your mouse-clicking finger! And the best way to achieve this is by using turn-based combat, which gives you a chance to think before you act.

Why is making a character so much work?

For those who are fairly new to role-playing games, permit us to make an initial remark on the central importance of character generation. At its best, a role-playing game is a lot like a theater performance. You stop being yourself for a while, and act out the part of a mythical hero in a fairy-tale adventure. Thus, you must not think of your character as merely an extension of yourself, or an interface through which you can interact with the game world. Rather, your character should be more of a mask, through which you can escape from yourself, and from your own ego and sensibilities, in order to be someone completely and intoxicatingly different.

To fully support you in dreaming up this new person that you will bring to life, we have given you nearly god-like powers to create and mold your character. Players who are new to role-playing games, played either on the computer or around a table, may find generating a character to be a bit daunting. In this game system, we have front-loaded an awful LOT of decision-making and even some number-crunching, into the character generation process. All we can say is that you should persevere, and try a few different characters until you find one that you really, really enjoy. The advantage of our system is that it allows you to fully customize your character, and make him a genuine expression of your own, very personalized fantasy persona. Whatís more, once you get into the game itself, youíll find that your characterís statistics more or less take care of themselves.

If you are an experienced aficionado of RPGs, you may find our Character System is a bit out of the ordinary, especially in regards to the distinct variations between the varying races and genders. Why have we done this? Well, quite simply, we got tired of playing Single-Player games in which all of the viable characters were pretty much homogenous clones of each other, built around a handful of cookie-cutter prototypes. In this game, you will get DIVERSITY and even MORE diversity! If you play the game through twice as two different races or even genders, odds are you wonít play the same game twice!

Why are there EIGHT Primary Attributes?

Mostly because we wanted to really encourage players to accept and use and grow to love "imperfect"characters. Most games use about six such attributes, and with a bit of patience in rolling, it's easy to get an ‹bermensch sort of result. That's really bad role-playing.

Also, we wanted to try a few new things in Attributes. For instance, we really wanted to distinguish physical appearance from charisma. Why? It goes to the root of a divide in ancient conceptualizations of magic and giftedness. Some of the ancient Greeks, for instance, viewed physical beauty as a sign of divine approbation and grace. On the other hand, the later Hellenistic view, encapsulated into Christianity, was that divine giftedness, or "charisma" is a more subtle, interior, and essentially spiritual quality. So in this game, red magic or glamour is driven by the idea that beauty is the index of power, while white magic derives from charisma.

What are the sources of the Magic System?

The Parhedros Magic System is a playable adaptation of certain real-life beliefs and practices regarding magic, such as modern neo-pagansim (e.g., Aradia), and such antique beliefs as expressed in Finnish (e.g., The Kalevala), Welsh-Irish (e.g., The Mabinogi), Icelandic (e.g., The Prose Edda and The Poetic Edda), and Greco-Roman (e.g., The Argonautika) texts.

What is the approach to magic in Parhedros?

Parhedros is a game that is very much about MAGIC: all of the major quests revolve in some way around magic, magical initiation, and gaining new powers. For that reason, we felt we owed it to our players to deliver a really rich and authentic, but always fun, balanced and playable magic system.

Now, magic functions essentially as a persuasive art of renegotiating reality. When stripped of its romantic facade and the hocus-pocus mummery, magic remains at its core an archetypal language, consisting of gestures as well as words, that flows only from those who are able to stand on the brink of the spiritual boundaries that mark the point of transcendence between life and death, mundane and spiritual. The power of the magician derives ultimately from his intuitive understanding of the way in which the semiotic power of rituals can give shape and context to the interactions between man and the divine, and especially the way that man perceives his fleeting encounters with the spiritual powers that influence him. The magician has, quite simply, mastered the transformative power of ritual to alter reality.

But how do you portray such rituals in a game? We think the answer is two-fold.

In the first instance, you role-play such rituals by means of playing through the magical quests and the grand movements of the story arc. Exploring the Tunnels of Sethir is ultimately an initiatory quest that carries the player character into the otherworldy realm of magic.

But while that is a fine thematic approach to ritual magic, it is not a sufficient ludic approach. In the game world itself, magic has to be useful and fun, without becoming too abstract. There must always be an immediate payoff that helps the player overcome the challenges and obstacles that confront him along his grand journey. Such is how magic is most often deployed in the classic fairy tales, after all! So, we also chose to represent the rituals of magic by focusing on the implements used in those rituals. We let the player discover and figure out how to use all manner of magical objects, such as grimoires, alchemical schemata, runes, sigils, fetishes, and ancient tomes.

This is to say, you will quickly discover that in Parhedros, the magic is quite item-based. As a magician, your character will come to rely on the various authentic tools of magic.

Why are all the player characters capable of performing magic?

This game recognizes that most SINGLE-PLAYER computer RPGs are actually handicapped by the traditional character generation concepts which arose out of a need to balance the parties in MULTI-PLAYER pen-and-paper games. What made for exciting and dynamic games with friends around the kitchen table lends, unfortunately, to muddied and sometimes frustrating experiences when playing solo on the computer. Invariably, in todayís generation of so-called single-player RPGs, which are usually grounded in the traditional party-based concepts of the classic rule sets, the most viable character is always the fighter-mage, who is capable of hacking and slashing his way through almost any situation, after he has softened the foe up with a fireball or two.

The Parhedros rules stand this problem on its head. Here, all Player Characters are assumed to have a certain magical aptitude. The Parhedros games are very much about coming to terms with the opportunities, challenges, and even heart-breaking costs of possessing latent magical powers. But this does not mean that every PC must be a ďpure-mageĒ or even a ďfighter-mageĒ. Indeed, any PC can all but ignore his magical calling in order to pursue more mundane skills. However, magic is always a unifying theme in the story line, which thus emerges as a series of more or less interwoven, shamanistic journeys to self-understanding and greater power for the PC.

Why arenít there more damage-causing spells?

Itís a question of historical authenticity. In the vast majority of classical systems of magic, most of the truly great works were done not by the thelemic will of the magician, but rather by the familiar spirits the magician is able to control. Thus, in this game, summoning a powerful familiar is the best way to inflict lots of damage on your foes!

Now, that said, there were some very authentic damage causing spells in some historical magic systems, and we have included them. Most notably, we have runic charms that simulate the concepts of Druidic fire, and the ever-present elf-shot of the Celtic fairy tales. There are also various damage-inducing curses that are based on authentic magic, such as some of the binding curses found in the Hellenistic magical papyri.

Authentic magic? Does that mean you believe in magic?

Well, thatís a loaded question. We have seen the powerful ability of some of the esoteric traditions to teach people to expand their minds, and learn new ways of asking the important questions about life and its meaning.

We have seen first hand the powerful impact that various spiritual and transcendent experiences can have on a person, and the way that various religious and magical rituals can help induce those experiences. And we have seen the subtle ways that such spiritual experiences (and thus rituals) can profoundly alter the way a person, and even entire groups of people, perceive reality.

But we have also seen the sheer amount of mummery, quackery and outright fraud that permeates the worlds of religion and especially modern magic. Let us be completely and perfectly honest, then: the magic system of Parhedros: TOS constitutes a ludic parody of modern magic beliefs and practices. The more you have been exposed to these beliefs and practices, the more readily you will appreciate the parody.

How long is Parhedros?

Parhedros: The Tunnels of Sethir has twenty-one levels, although in any single game you will get to explore no more than 11 of these maps. There is a great deal of orderly randomness, if you will, governing which maps appear in a given game. Additionally, the monsters, treasures, puzzles and even the location of the NPCs, will change significantly from game to game. We have done all of this, of course, to maximize replay value. With eight character races, five character vocations, and multiple main-quest story lines, most people want to play more than one.

Now, all that said, we were fanatical about making your first game of Parhedros: The Tunnels of Sethir beatable within 15-to-20 hours. On subsequent play-throughs, you can defeat the game in under ten hours. Why did we design the game to support relatively short game sessions? Simple! Most adults today have busy, insanely hectic lives, and a game is meant to be a relaxing, enjoyable diversion, and not a second career!

How many different types of monsters are there?

A lot. There are 87 different types of monster and familiar characters, all lovingly rendered and animated in full 3D of course. You can play a game all the way through without encountering them all.

Did you say puzzles?

Yes, even though Parhedros: The Tunnels of Sethir is primarily an action-oriented RPG, it contains a number of diabolically clever puzzles. Now, we are very well aware that bad puzzles nearly ruined the adventure gaming genre in the late 1990ís, and so we have committed ourselves to a code of good puzzle design! In our games, the puzzles will always be fun and clever, of course, but they also will always make perfect sense within the setting and the story, and will work directly to support one dimension or another of character development. We should also point out that the puzzles are always completely optional: if you donít like puzzles, you can completely ignore them, and still have a great deal of fun playing the game.

In Parhedros: The Tunnels of Sethir, the puzzles are primarily of a linguistic nature, and draw from the traditions of esoteric and medieval gnomic literature. As you might expect, then, we have integrated the puzzles into the story as a means of enabling your character to gain magical items, powers and knowledge. Solving puzzles becomes a part of the grand story arc of the magical initiation of your character.

Where did you get the riddles in Parhedros?

You might find some of the riddles in our game a bit obscure. Thatís a good thing, too! We wanted to keep them fresh, and have something interesting for even experienced puzzle-solvers. In general, we drew our riddles from four broad sources.

First, we scoured all the books on classical riddles we could find, and tried to adapt those that were still usable. Sadly, many of the great riddles from times gone by are just too culturally obscure for city-dwellers living in the 21st century. Second, we drew a lot of our riddles from Old Icelandic and Norse literature, such as the Hervarar Saga... these are vintage, authentic Viking riddles! Third, a few of the riddles are taken from Victorian-era literature and parlor games, such as charades. And finally, we made up some of the riddles ourselves.

Remember that the Riddles change from game to game; unless you play a great number of characters, you are unlikely to see all of the riddles. Also remember that the riddles are entirely optional; if you hate riddles, then just donít do the riddle chests!

Why donít you rate your game with the ESRB?

We do not rate our games with the ESRB for several reasons. One is pragmatic, and one is idealistic.

As for the pragmatic reason, it is this: while the ESRB is arguably good for the giant corporate game publishers and retailers, we feel that it is arguably bad for smaller, independent game studios like us. Why? Quite simply, the ESRB is traveling at a break-neck speed down the road of becoming yet another barrier to entry in the game writing and production business. You see, we are a small business, and we canít afford to spend many thousands of dollars in fees and costs to get our games rated, particularly when retailing our games through major stores like Wal-Mart or Target is not a part of our business model anyway. Instead, weíll just describe the content in each game that may offend you, or lead you decide that it is not appropriate for your children. We trust you to make your own decisions!

There is an idealistic reason as well. We think that the rating structures that have emerged are having a chilling effect on innovation in computer gaming. Computer games could be so much more than they are today, if they continue to seek successful means of blending the story-telling principals and mechanisms of fiction in other media (i.e., novels, graphic novels and film) with the interactive and ludic qualities of a game. Indeed, with advances in AI and pseudo-AI, we as game-makers can even beat the Ďold-fashionedí media hands-down by making stories that interact back with you as you interact with them! But the rating system as it exists today subtly encourages pigeon-holing and risk-avoidance far more than it does innovation, creativity and pushing the envelope of what is normal. We, as creative game makers and players, simply cannot let a climate of hand-wringing political correctness cripple the most promising medium for expressing creativity since the Gutenberg press! We simply cannot allow moral crusaders to condition us to treat computer games as a second-class citizen in the realm of free expression. Even if the preachers and politicians are afraid of games precisely because they represent such a potent medium of communicating powerful ideas and emotions, we must not fear to forge ahead.

Eeeew! A few of the characters are nekkid! I saw boobies!

Yeah. We really struggled with this as an artistic design choice. We set Parhedros in a fantasy world that represents the era in which historical Greco-Roman, Celtic and Germanic cultures came into contact, roughly in the latter half of the first millennium B.C. We thus turned to the art of these ancient peoples for inspiration, and learned that nudity figured prominently in their depictions of fantasy characters, and particularly in classical Greek art.

As we continued to research this game, we encountered even more startling facts. We found that ritual nudity plays a huge role in certain modern approaches to magic, particularly in the Gardnerian and Arician branches of the Wiccan tradition. We also found that some of the best modern representations of fairies and other fantasy characters, such as the now classic work of Brian Froud, are adept in the use of nudity to establish the essential nature of such creatures (for example, as being innocent and close to nature).

But the final straw came after reading three books back to back. The first was Edgar Rice Burroughsí classic tale A Princess of Mars, in which an entire race of people wears no clothes. Then we read Harry Turtledoveís fun novel Thesslonika, in which the author did not shy away from depicting centaurs and a satyr in their original Greek artistic style: naked and, in the case of the satyr, ithyphallic. And finally we read Neil Gaiman's Sandman series of grapic novels, in which nudity is often used to powerful effect to define a character or a state of mind or soul. We had to ask ourselves: if authors and artists in other media can use nudity as a symbol to express ideas, why can't video game designers?

So, hereís what we concluded: the people who make video games are being cowardly and asinine to avoid nudity as an artistic and thematic statement. And moral crusaders are being idiots to try to separate games from other artistic media. If certain fairy creatures are supposed to be naked, then letís stay true to our calling as artists and render them naked Ö albeit tastefully naked. So yeah, a few of the characters in Parhedros appear naked or partially naked, and the menu art uses some nudes after the manner that Frazetta nudes graced the covers of sword-and-sorcery novels in the 1970s. And the satyr is ithyphallic. But none of this is gratuitous or salacious. Itís not even sexy. After you do your first double-take, youíll find yourself forgetting all about it as you accept the characters for who and what they are supposed to represent. But if it really bothers you, donít play the game!

But what about the children?

Thatís what we asked, too. We're parents after all, and we have six kids we are trying to raise. Then last winter we took our children to Manhattan, and visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Since we were at that time working seriously on the character meshes and textures, we made a point of visiting the splendid Greek pottery exhibit for inspiration. We looked on as our children viewed at case after display case filled with visual depictions of naked people and fantasy creatures (to include scads of ithyphallic satyrs chasing maenads and nymphs) ... and then rushed off to look at the arms and armor exhibit again without seeming too badly traumatized. In fact, they seemed ... a bit better educated. And little troops of school children were marching through all of these exhibits as well.

So what about the children? If you as a parent believe that artistic representations of naked fairies will harm your children, then donít let them play this game. And be sure to keep your children away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art!

What language do the monsters speak?

Once in a while, you may have the chance to speak to a monster that has decided not to attack your character. If you've wondered what strange language they speak, it's Ausonian. If you remember your Vergil, you'll recognize that Ausonian is just another way of saying Latin. Actually, the monsters have a lot of interesting things to say, and you can have a blast trying to track down the literary citations and allusions, if you're into that sort of thing.

Can I use any of the art assets in Parhedros: TOS for my own projects?

That depends on the asset you want to use, and how you want to use it. If you want to post screenshots, concept art, wallpapers and splash-screen art to non-commercial web-sites or social networking sites, you have our permission to do so if you credit us and link to this web-site. We would love to help you decorate your site, and we would love the publicity as well!

Now, say you want to use some of our art assets in your own projects, such as a game or a flash video, or what have you. For example, you might want to use some of our character portraits, or perhaps some of our meshes or textures. Contact us by e-mail, and tell us what you want to use, and how you want to use it. In most cases we are more than willing to share art assets with the indie development community, but there are a few distinctive assets that we want to keep for ourselves to use exclusively in future games.

And if you are writing a game of your own and are curious how we implemented anything, feel free to ask.