In last week's design journal "Player Housing - Architecture & Construction" we talked about how player housing interacts with the survival, crafting, nobility, and family systems to create a real purpose for player housing. We also talked briefly about how player housing interacts with the inventory system - or rather, the notable lack of inventory space, to create a safe haven to store your personal treasures. But what really makes player housing "safe?"
In this week's design journal we're going to talk in-depth about ownership, barriers to entry, hidden chambers, defense mechanisms, and finally damage and demolition of structures. By the time this design journal is complete it should be clear that player housing in Chronicles of Elyria isn't just a neat place to hang family portraits. It's a sophisticated system of player-created dungeons, and ultimately, one of the most innovative sandbox elements in an MMORPG so far.
First, much like in our world all land is owned, if not privately by individuals, by the highest government in the land. In Chronicles of Elyria, those governments are (initially at least) the kingdoms. That means that at game launch all parcels of land are be owned by the kings. As a king, however, it's impossible to either defend (or benefit from) such a huge amount of land. So in exchange for taxes or other resources, the kings appropriate land to citizens through one of two methods.
Land Purchase: A family or organization of sufficient wealth can take ownership of land by purchasing it from the local Count or Magistrate. Count, in the case of unincorporated land, and Magistrate or Mayor in the case of land incorporated into a town or city. The benefit to this method is it's safe, easy, fast, and gives you the ability to gain access to a large amount of land all at once. The drawback is that land can be expensive.
Adverse Possession: If you lack the financial resources, but still want to own land, you can find a parcel of land which is currently unoccupied (or abandoned) and can take ownership of it. This is done by building a structure on the land and then defending it for a full month. Defending means preventing the actual landowner from destroying your structure. Note that the landowner (King), someone appointed by the king (Duke, Count, Sheriff), or someone given a bounty to do so are the only ones that can legally attack/destroy your structure.
It's also important to note that this mechanic works the same way whether the existing owner is a king, or another citizen. So if someone buys a parcel (or several) and either doesn't log in for several months or just doesn't pay close attention to what's happening on their land, this is a viable way to reclaim land which was previously appropriated to another player.
We'll talk more about this in a future design journal on townships, but in the mean time, in addition to owning land it's also possible to lease property from another player. Leasing is similar to purchasing but has a few differences. First, when you lease land you're bound by a Lease Contract rather than a Deed and are generally limited in the types of structures you can build on the land. In addition, leasing generally comes with rent or other dues in addition to taxes, but doesn't have the up-front cost that purchasing does. The trade-off here is that people who purchase a large amount of land can utilize your services to work the land or pay taxes on it for them so the land doesn't go to waste. Also, by having someone lease the land it's less likely to be squatted on and taken via Adverse Possession.
Home ownership is a closely related, but slightly different subject than land ownership. In general, if you own a parcel of land you own the structures on it. This gives you the freedom to both build, as well as destroy things on the land.
Similarly, you can say that if you own a building, you own all the rooms inside of it. However, just as you can lease land, you can rent or lease rooms. Leasing rooms is done similar to the way land is leased, using a special Housing UI. Within this UI, which looks like a floor-plan of the house, you can do things such as assign names to the different rooms as well as grant/limit access to different identities or groups of people.
The main purpose of this system is to provide rooms in your house for your children, as well as for running establishments like inns. Once you've updated room access, it's possible to create a Lease Agreement which contains a copy of the floor-plan so the leaser knows which room is theirs and what permissions they have.
As with many of the systems in Chronicles of Elyria, this is handled with contracts and it’s up the parties involved to negotiate the terms of the Lease Agreement. Will the rent be a fixed amount per in-game year? Will it be a percentage of your total income? What happens if they break something? As usual, it’s up to the individuals to enforce the contract.
In addition to residences and inns it's also an obvious system for creating guild halls. You can use the access system to control who can legally enter which rooms, giving you the opportunity to have private libraries, armories, or other things which some guild members shouldn't have access to.
That's all well and good but it begs the question how do you keep people out of rooms in the first place?
To begin with, Chronicles of Elyria uses a system of keys and locked doors as a way to control access to buildings and rooms. Much like our currency system, keys are physical objects in your inventory. And, if you're carrying your keys around in your pocket and someone knows where you live, they can lift your keys in order to get into your room or residence. Note, that doesn't make it legal, it's just another means of gaining entry that doesn't mean picking the lock, shattering a window, or breaking down a door.
Stealing's not the only way to get access to keys however. The owner can also make copies and gift them to people for easy access. Again, having the key doesn't make entry legal, nor does granting someone access automatically give them a key. That's usually done as part of signing a Lease Agreement.
While keys are all well and good, and do a decent enough job of keeping people out of your room or residence in more civilized locations, in less populated areas or at night, those of a more deviant nature may still be inclined toward unlawful entry. To mitigate this, there's a number of other things that can be done to either protect your valuables, or to discourage entry outright.
As seen in the previous design journal (and in Figure 1), it's possible when architecting your home to create space for hidden safes and rooms. This won't stop those motivated (and perceptive) enough to spend time looking for them, but it will keep your things out of sight when you've got company over. As well, hiding things in back rooms, behind hidden doors, and inside locked objects adds more opportunities for the next type of deterrent!
Traps ranging from simple pit traps, to tripwires, to pressure plates, all the way to mechanical door traps can be used by homeowners to help them protect their valuables. Traps make entering a home illegally extremely dangerous because not only do you either need to know where the traps are, or be fairly perceptive, but you also need to have the skills to disarm them! This limits those who can successfully rob you to those with an advanced skillset. In short, someone has to really want to enter your residence if they're going to go through that much trouble. If they do, only the last type of defense mechanism is likely to dissuade them.
Having the skills necessary to successfully detect hidden doors, as well as recognize and disarm a trap requires a specific type of character. However, that type of character has usually spent the majority of their time training up their deviant skills and may not (read hopefully not) have spent much time in advancing their combat-based skills.
If that's the case, purchasing or taming an animal to guard your residence can go a long way toward discouraging unlawful entry. Nothing says "stay out" like a "Beware of Dire Wolf" sign. The more dangerous the animal, the more discouraging they're likely to be.
Of course, even animals can sometimes be soothed if you have the necessary knowledge of how to do so. Heck, it may even be possible to train an animal to attack their master. That's why, when worse comes to worse, nothing's quite as good as a trusted companion who can guard your house while they're offline. Barring that, a sell-sword may be willing to offer their services for a reasonable amount of coin. But beware, they usually ask for hazard pay.
Up to this point we've been talking primarily about how to discourage people from entering your residence and what you can do to protect your valuables inside. But what if that's not the objective at all?
In Chronicles of Elyria, it's possible instead of entering a home, to simply destroy it. When designing this feature we thought long and hard about how easy or difficult we wanted this to be. In the end, we decided that the time and resources required to build a house, guild hall, etc... should make the process of destroying a building you don't own either equally expensive, or equally time-consuming.
As a result, we've designed housing so that aside from doors and windows, which can be destroyed easily enough (if you don't mind the noise), the process of destroying walls and structural supports generally requires some form of siege equipment. While it is possible to chop at a wall with a mundane item long enough to put a hole in the wall, doing so would take 10 minutes or more - plenty of time for someone to come and stop you.
We did this because we didn't want people running around towns whacking on buildings and leveling the whole thing in a matter of minutes. We felt like destruction of a civilized area should be a planned, organized event with plenty of advance-warning and enough resources gathered to do so.
So the most effective way to bring down a town is to build siege equipment at an off-site location and then move it into proximity of the town. Then, fire away!
Speaking of fire, fire is a force to be reckoned with and unchecked, has the potential to destroy entire counties, let alone entire towns. As a result, we decided that while we did want fire to be a siege mechanic in Chronicles of Elyria, burning a house or forest down isn't something that can be done accidentally. You can't set a village ablaze solely by tossing a torch on a thatch roof. It requires siege equipment with some kind of flammable fluid to use to toss flaming projectiles.
But just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. One of the primary reasons for sieging another town or village, aside from invasion, is as a way to loot the debris or pillage for salvaged resources. However, when you use fire, there's no resources to salvage, and no wreckage to be pillaged. When a building goes up in flames, everything above ground is destroyed. But below ground...
While we know there's more than enough land for everyone in Elyria, we also know that you can't always purchase the land you want to within a specific area. Sometimes you buy a parcel of land and then before you can expand out to the neighboring parcels they're snapped up by other interested homesteaders.
As a result, we decided to add a mechanic for building cellars and basements. This gives players the opportunity to not only build out above ground, but also to build out below ground.
This has a ton of uses. First, as alluded to in the last section, if you've got a basement or cellar and your village is ever destroyed, you can feel confident whatever you had underground will remain intact.
In addition, building down instead of building out makes it that much harder for keen observers to recognize there's a hidden room from the exterior of your home. You can buy a plot of land, put a small house on it, and then build an entire labyrinth underneath with nobody the wiser. While you may have to put up the occasional structural support, there's virtually no limit to how far out you can tunnel so long as you use good, sturdy resources. It should be understood that this allows you to dig tunnels even underneath parcels which are not your own. But be careful, you never know who - or what - may also be digging tunnels.
At long last, we've come to the conclusion of this design journal. Rather than use this opportunity to talk about another game mechanic or feature, I wanted to use this opportunity to provide you with a narrative which will, if the rest of the journal hasn't already, lead you to an ultimate realization.
You've just started playing Chronicles of Elyria and are at first frustrated with the limited inventory allowed by the survival mechanics. But, before long you realize that you can mitigate the problem by storying the majority of your stuff in a bank box.
However, at some point during your time playing CoE you gain access to something so valuable that you no longer trust it in the hands of a bank. For example, let's say you're one of the rare few who discover the secret of becoming a Lich, and you've trapped your soul in a phylactery.
You wouldn't want to just put your phylactery in a bank box. The owners of the bank could recognize you as a Lich, illegally go into your bank box, find your phylactery and destroy it. No, that won't do.
So instead, probably in preparation for your transformation you buy a plot of land and put a house on it. However, you don't want it to be destroyed by fire, so you make sure to build it out of a nice hard stone. But since your castle is on the outskirts of town, so as not to draw too much attention to it, it could become a target of invading kingdoms. Even having your castle attacked by catapults could put your precious phylactery in danger.
So you build your castle, and then build a basement underneath to make sure it can never be destroyed. Once you dig your basement you realize that the more rooms and hidden areas that are down there the more difficult it will be for people to find your phylactery. Next, you realize that having multiple storage containers would make it difficult for players to determine which chest actually has your phylactery in it - especially if the basement and chests have traps of varying types.
Next, you realize that a good rogue could work their way through your traps and so you decide to either tame yourself, or hire someone to tame some wild beasts for you. Next, since you know those can be bypassed, you hire a gang of thugs to defend your basement, working in shifts to make sure it's protected around the clock.
Finally, since you know nobody can protect your phylactery better than you can, you create a sleeping chamber with a large locked chest somewhere in the basement.
At night, when you're offline, you make sure to log out in the special room, lost in the basement only you fully know the map for, surrounded by traps that only you and a few others know are there, guarded by sell-swords and wild beasts, inside the basement you created so as to avoid being destroyed during a siege, beneath the stone castle you created so as not to have it burned down, on the outskirts of town so as not to draw attention to yourself.
Congratulations, you just created the first dungeon, and you are, for better or worse, the game's first raid boss! This is just one of the many ways Chronicles of Elyria brings player-created content to a whole new level.