Design Journal #1 – Introduction to Souls

Hi Everyone! I’m Jeromy Walsh, Creative Director of Soulbound Studios and I want to welcome you to the first Design Journal for Chronicles of Elyria. When I decided to write weekly design journals I found myself suddenly faced with the daunting task of deciding which feature to write about first.

That’s harder than it sounds. There are a lot of compelling systems in CoE; most of them never seen before in an MMO. So I asked myself which feature is so important that it merits being number one? Is it aging and dying? What about the skill-based crafting system? Survival? Maybe permadeath? In the end though it was an easy choice. A glimpse at the company logo reminded me it needed to be the Soul System.

But why? Because it’s at the very heart and… wait for it… soul of Chronicles of Elyria. Pun aside, the Soul plays an important role in many elements of the game. For instance:<

  • Souls are integral to the lore
  • They’re our answer to the permadeath conundrum
  • They’re vital to skill advancement and end-game character balance
  • They contribute to the dynamic story engine
  • Soul Selection is the very first step in Character Creation.

In fact, there is so much to talk about with respect to just Souls that what started out as a regular weekly Design Journal has turned into a three-part series. No joke.

For the next few design journals I’ll be going in-depth about different element of the Soul System. In this journal I’ll be talking about what a soul is and isn’t and how it’s used in character creation.

A soul during character creation

What is a Soul?

First and foremost a soul is the complete set of memories, experiences, and past lives of a character. When transferred from one character to another, the soul brings with it Talents, Achievements, and accelerated Skill Development, providing a feeling of continuity and progression.

A soul is also the link between a living character and their physical body. In most cases, the Spark of Life cannot exist in a body without a soul. Without a soul, the body will die.

What isn’t a soul? A way to make the game seem fair. In addition to the aforementioned, the soul brings with it a degree of randomness, as not all souls are created equal. Some have special Talents not present in others, while some have experienced more past lives, making them inherently more powerful.

Souls make dying a requirement for advancement

Since the beginning of Chronicles of Elyria we’ve known we needed permadeath. Permadeath is vital to so many mechanics of Chronicles of Elyria that without it, it fundamentally changes the game. But we were faced with the question of how we can kill a character, while still allowing players to feel a sense of progression. The answer came in the form of skill ramps.

There are a vast number of Skills in Chronicles of Elyria, divided up into multiple categories including Fighting Skills, Crafting Skills, Survival Skills, Deviant Skills, etc… Over the course of a character’s life they will advance some or all of those skills to varying degrees. But if you were to spend every moment of your character’s life, they’d still cap out at some maximum before they eventually died of old age. Training skills takes time and, put simply, there are just too many skills to advance them all within a single lifetime.

Fortunately, the memories of your souls’ past experiences carries on with them in the form of a skill ramp. A skill ramp isn’t the same as skill points. If you had 50 skill points in one life, you won’t begin with 50 in the next. Instead, based on the aptitude gained in previous incarnations, your character will re-learn past-life skills at an accelerated rate. So if it took you a week of active playing to get a skill to 50 points in your previous life, you can expect it to take significantly less in the next life.

So how does this effect the permadeath system? By leveling some skills faster, you’ll attain a higher total number of skill points than was possible in a previous life. In this way, the process of life, death, and rebirth is essential to enabling characters to reach their full potential.

One thing to point out is that with each passing life, the skills you gained in your first, second, third, etc… life will have less and less impact. However, if you continue to develop those skills with each successive life, the benefits will be compounded.

Figure 2 - A concept for the Akashic Records

Once Borns and more powerful souls

It’s believed that when someone dies their soul returns to a great library called the Akashic Records. The library is filled with books and scrolls containing all of the deeds of every life a soul has lived. It’s in these chambers that a soul can read over their past lives and learn from their mistakes in preparation for their next life.

It’s also said that every soul is born with a purpose. That they choose the precise time and place in which to be born so they can learn the lessons needed to attain enlightenment.

Anara Starsong – Keeper of Chronicles

As we just discussed, souls in Chronicles of Elyria participate in a process of reincarnation. After each incarnation the soul’s potential is increased through skill ramps, leading to higher potential. Therefore the more lives a soul has lived, the older it is, and the more powerful the soul is said to be.

While a somewhat derogatory term, souls experiencing their first incarnation are referred to as “once borns.” Upon launch, the majority of souls given to players will be on their first life with fewer and fewer having lived additional lives. The result will be a heavy distribution of younger souls, with a few players being given slightly older souls, and an even fewer number being given souls that are three or more lives old. Note, these older souls will be handed out randomly, and even the developers will not know who the older souls are.

While we recognize this might seem “unfair” to some people, it’s no different than our world. I mean, maybe we have souls, maybe we don’t. But everyone agrees that individuals have existed throughout history such as Plato, Aristotle, The Avatar, Einstein, Hitler, Voldemort, Newton, and Da Vinci that were arguably ahead of their time and improved our understanding of how the world works, as well as our ability to recognize good and evil. The players who receive souls older than one life will be, for good or ill, some of the most influential characters of their time.

So far this all sounds great right? But what about the players who join the game a year, two years, or even longer after the game initially launches. A system of advancement that rewards people, without bounds the longer they play, encourages a barrier to entry. I’m looking at you, EVE Online.

To counteract this problem, we’ve determined that souls available to players during character creation will naturally age over time. Characters created a couple years after launch will use souls that are a few lives older. This makes it so players who come late to the party can continue to be competitive.

Figure 3 - Early in-game render of the Akashic Records

Talented Souls

Thus far we’ve been talking about skill ramps which are available to all players. But one of the things we wanted to do with Chronicles of Elyria is create asymmetric player experiences. By making the world naturally unbalanced, it creates opportunity for conflict, drama, and memorable world events.

One of the things that creates a truly unique player experience is that some, but not all the souls in CoE, will have latent abilities known as Talents. These are, for lack of a better way of describing them, supernatural abilities which have been granted to a soul to fulfill some destiny. We already have a large and growing list of Talents, and we’ll be soliciting more from the community. Some examples might be Magic Use (this is one of the more common ones), the ability to Travel, Shapeshifting, Healing, Animal Speak, Planes Walking, and many other things.

We recognize that some players may be put off by the fact that their soul doesn’t have a Talent. We’re sorry about that, we really are. However, we urge you not to let that deter you from adventuring out into the world. More heroes are created from those that overcome adversity than those with an inherent advantage.

With that said, if you opened your character creation screen and saw a list of souls, some with Talents and some without, you’d probably pick one of the ones with a Talent wouldn’t you? Yeah, we would too. That’s why the presence of a Talent isn’t displayed on the character creation screen – nor on the character selection screen – at least not until the Talent has been activated.

In order to use a Talent a character must activate it. To do this, the character must experience some trigger. Triggers can be anything from killing a specific type of beast, to coming in contact with their soul mate, to falling from a great height, to being crushed to death, to drowning, etc… The more severe and unusual the trigger, often the more powerful the Talent will be. And a player won’t know they have a Talent until it’s activated the first time.

Once activated, a Talent follows a soul from life to life, with no need to re-activate it. As well, a Talent generally doesn’t manifest in its most powerful form the first time. Repeated use, completing specific quests or rituals, or just being reborn can cause a Talent to develop into a more powerful version of itself.

Figure 4 - Another in-game view of the Akashic Records

What’s next for souls?

Thanks all! That wraps up the introduction. In the next design journal we’ll continue our coverage of souls by examining some of the exciting ways souls interact with other game systems. In particular, we’ll take a look at Soul Mates, Achievements, Past Lives & Déjà Vu, and how souls participate in your character’s Destiny.

10/29/2015 1:06:55 AM #1

Is the talent of "Travelling" you mentioned by any chance inspired by the WoT series?

11/10/2015 4:01:26 AM #2

I like the idea a ton but.. I'm worried about talent-less people becoming a problem, maybe if more incarnations led to chances to gain talents? or If you die a certain way you could manifest a talent instead of revealing it?

11/10/2015 9:08:48 PM #3

This sounds super rad!! Just traveling one day... and BAM, Werewolf!

You won't see me. You won't hear me. You will merely feel the faint touch of steel running across your neck, then I am gone.


2/3/2016 11:18:42 PM #4

That would be awesome!

3/5/2016 4:20:25 AM #5

THIS. IS. F**KING. AWESOME! I really liked the talents thing, and the realism of the soul system. Pretty good ideas devs!

3/18/2016 7:52:15 AM #6

I actually really love the idea. It hasn't been seen before, and I think it would do well. The talents section intrigues me, and with every journal entry I read, I become more and more excited to play!

4/11/2016 7:49:45 PM #7

This seems like a neat system. I even like the fact that not everyone's soul has a hidden talent at start. I do however feel that at some point there should be a way for people whose souls do not have talents to gain one, maybe on a reincarnation or something.

4/27/2016 12:30:45 AM #8

yeah i feel like some talent-less people will gang up and start killing and or kidnapping people with talents. basically i think it might go all 'legend of korra season 1' on the talented people. and yes thats what im calling them. talented.

4/27/2016 12:32:27 AM #9

Are the beta testers who get talents have their talents carry on into the full release? And are beta testers/people with more influence more likely to get talents?

4/30/2016 6:19:52 AM #10

Bloody Awesome! I can now see myself gaining a talent in farming and becoming the greatest potato farmer ever!

Or, there's the chance that I will become untalented. In that case, I'm excited to have an adventure that's sort of like "The Misadventures of Karty the Unfortunate" or something, hahaha!

Once, I bore the title of the Potato Devourer. Once, I had been the Greatest Wartato Lord to ever grace the Universes.

Like you, I had once dreamed to do something great with my life. But then, I took a potato to the knee, and everything.. changed

5/4/2016 10:38:04 AM #11

While I like the concept of "unfair" distribution of talents at the beginning, I completely agree that it would be nice to be able to somehow get a talent (maybe a chance after permadeath based on your previous lifestyle/gamestyle?) as it would kinda suck if you got your soul and couldn't "evolve" at all after several lifetimes - e.g. it doesn't make much sense to be able to speak to animals when every life you want to be a blacksmith and don't care about animals one bit. Then there's the question whether your soul adapts to your way of life (your soul developing talents to match your play would make sense then) or whether your way of life is determined by your soul (and inherent talent) - which I find would be a bit restricting.

5/5/2016 3:46:15 PM #12

Brilliant idea, the whole game looks my cup of tea, but with the talents you really have to figure out something else other than "not being fair because real life isn't fair either". In real life if I have a talent for something I'm happy with it, but for example if I have no talent for music I don't feel that the world is unfair with me. But in an mmorpg I like to use characters that use magic, that is my preference. Do you know what I mean? Your concept is absolutely amazing, you just gotta figure out the talent system a little bit more.

5/7/2016 2:35:15 PM #13

The talent system sounds really interesting. On one hand I like the inherent conflict that having these abilities be so rare and special will bring. Furthermore, the fact that they remain with the soul throughout its lives creates a lot of opportunities for story and heroic (or infamous) bloodlines. On the other... having them 'soulbound' and thus giving 'talentless' players little or no chance of ever achieving one of these awesome skills no matter their dedication is disappointing. I'd love to see some means (though they should be pricey and/or difficult) of transferring these skills (either willingly or forcefully) or rare chances of picking them up through game play.

5/8/2016 12:44:26 PM #14

After reading the kickstarter page, I had to have more information about this game. Currently reading through all of the design journals and I'd be lying if I said I didn't get chills down my spine while reading about manifestation of talents. Absolutely brilliant and the next 18 months are going to crawl by in anticipation.

5/8/2016 1:24:40 PM #15

Thinking about this some more, I'm wondering if it would be possible to go into the fortune telling business? I think it would be profitable and rewarding to be able to help people find their destinies.