Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 18, 2011
Many computer role-playing games (CRPGs) have a concept of a “home base” for the player – a safe location to return to in order to rest, heal, trade, advance, acquire and complete quests, and so forth. The actual location may change as the game advances, but these safe spots (which may literally be “save spots” in games with limited save points) get returned to again and again by PCs.
While not universal (especially in modern CRPG design), I’m hard-pressed to think of another genre that commonly features this kind of mechanic.
It originated, as many things CRPG, as a feature of dice-and-paper Dungeons & Dragons. In earlier editions of D&D, starting player characters were so weak that an adventuring foray was rarely expected to be more than a battle or three before retreating for rest and recuperation (and trading treasures for equipment and alcohol) back in town. Adventure modules and the core rulebooks themselves suggested this type of ebb-and-flow, and even spoke of what kind of changes might occur in the dungeon in between forays by the party.
Earlier CRPGs strongly reflected this kind of gameplay. Oftentimes you could not even save the game except while safe in town or in the tavern (Boo!). While it was possible to rest and regain needed spells and hit points in the field, a hike back to town was necessary to do so safely. One rarely “cleared a level” on a single foray into the dungeon. Every venture past the safety of town (even stepping outside the tavern, in early Might & Magic games, The Bard’s Tale titles, or the recent retro indie RPG Sword & Sorcery: Underworld) carried risk, and there was a cost associated with returning to “base” – in terms of time, and in respawning enemies on a return trip. But return trips were absolutely necessary, as spell points, hit points, and other resources steadily diminished out in the field and could only be reliably (and cheaply) replenished back “home.”
Other games – particularly modern CRPGs – have diminished or rid themselves of this mechanic. It still exists in some jRPGs as a save point (which sometimes automatically heals the party, or at least allows the party to rest safely). There usually remains a need to find a place to trade in treasure for new equipment and supplies, although it may be less centralized and require minimal cost. In Torchlight, you can send your pet to go sell unwanted items for you, and the only cost being without the animal for a short period of time. Dungeon Siege went even further, allowing you to convert unwanted items directly into gold with a spell. I went even further in my RPG-in-a-week experiment, Hackenslash, where I converted unequipped items directly into their gold value equivalent with no spell required – partly because I didn’t have time to implement a merchant.
Like traditional action games, the player can often expect to ‘clear a stage’ before returning to a home base – which is then done more for bookkeeping: Buying, selling, restocking gallons of healing and mana potions, updating quest status with NPCs, and so forth.
Then you have games like FTL’s Dungeon Master and SSI’s Eye of the Beholder, with no real home base whatsoever except for previously cleared areas of relative safety.
The ease of returning back to “home base” is another aspect that provides a subtle but significant impact on the flavor of an RPG. The availability of “combat teleports” back home in games like Diablo, Torchlight, and Depths of Peril promote a more aggressive style of play, as there’s always a low-cost, and deceptively low-risk escape available – often resulting in frantic, desperate jumps through a portal from overwhelming hordes.
Contrast this with a deep dungeon foray in early Wizardry games or (so far as I can recall, it’s been a while) the old Gold Box D&D games. Resources had to be measured, as a return trip back home could be a dangerous undertaking on its own. A rest in dangerous territory could be interrupted with a surprise attack by monsters, so it was always necessary to keep something in reserve just in case. Knowing when to pull back was a dearly-earned skill, especially with the punishing death penalties in the first Wizardry.
Din’s Curse is an interesting hybrid. First of all, the home base no guarantee of safety. You are never very far from a quick trip back to the surface (every level has a teleporter back to town), but it may not always be accessible as an escape point. You may not know where it is (especially if you just arrived in the middle of a level due to a teleport trap), or the way may be barred by enemies and traps. It’s quite possible to push through an entire dungeon without a trip to safety (especially if you find merchants who have set up shop in the dungeon), but in practice that rarely happens. And sometimes, in a role reversal, the home base becomes far more dangerous than the dungeon itself.
The presence, function, and accessibility of a “home base” exerts a powerful influence over the gameplay and character of a CRPG. There are many variants that I’ve skipped over here, particularly when it comes to teleport and other movement spells. And I’m sure there are many other possibilities and subtle variations yet to come.
But – note to indies, in particular – please avoid making those “home bases” the only place you are allowed to save your game anymore, ‘k? It was annoying in 1981, and it hasn’t gotten more forgivable with age.
Filed Under: Design - Comments: 23 Comments to Read