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like you've never seen it before
ESOTERIC EBB is an isometric narrative-focused Disco-like CRPG. It contains complex interactive dialogs, impactful choices, and a hand-painted world full of ridiculous myths.
You play as a CHAOTIC CLERIC ON A DIVINE MISSION. Unravel a political web of incompetency during the first ever election in a satirical fantasy city. Roll dice and perform miracles through the 5E SYSTEM, in classic pen and paper fashion.
What is your Political Affiliation?
You're a hero. Defender of the innocent. No one knows this more than you. So you'll be voting for the old regime: The Party of Norvik. Those who held the reins since URTH's fading, through this tumultuous and straining Post-War Era.They are theocratic nationalists. An electorate of high priests and noble families rule along with seven city magistrates and palace cardinals. They carry on the will of their founding god. Nothing else.
They've liberated a dozen city states already. Each through rigorous diplomatic relations. Norvik is next. Their fleet already floats in the harbor. Their coin already pocketed by every guildmaster.They've already won. The Revolutionary Freestrider Party will always win - no matter the outcome, for their only goal is to bring democracy to every bay along the Coast. Their republican dream cannot die.
They built this city. Now they want to rule it. Fair enough.These godless dwarves were exiled from their vast undersea realm. After URTH's reconquest of the troll infested ruins, it was dwarven labor that raised it to the metropolis of today. The Azgal Worker's Party makes that point very clear.But would the dwarven social-democratic model work on the coast? Many believe this to be the case. The fall of Vyz-Kha Peaks seems to indicate otherwise.
Become the meaning of
SET-PIECE COMBAT SEQUENCES. Clerics in Norvik are taught to use violence as a last resort only, although not everyone follows the mantra so strictly. When need does arise, a roll of the dice determines life or death.
DEEP CLERIC CUSTOMIZATION based on the 5E ruleset. As a government employee, a helm and uniform is required of course. But no one said anything about accessories! Customize the look and abilities of your cleric as you choose how to engage the many tense encounters in Norvik.
WARP REALITY TO YOUR WHIM. As an expert in arcana, your cleric can learn powerful spells during his QUEST. Heal wounds! Detect evil lurking around every corner! Speak with the dead! Speak with cats! They might even respond if you're lucky!
A STRANGE FANTASY SETTING. Based on a homebrew 5e campaign of weird fantasy, Esoteric Ebb takes place in a world where mythological creatures sell newspapers at corner shops and ideologies overtake the ramblings of dead gods.
THE CITY OF NORVIK is holding its first ever election. The tension on the streets is sizzling, and somebody just blew up a tea shop. Great. Since no one else wants to touch it with a ten-foot pole, it's up to you and your goblin companion Snell to unravel the political web of intrigue and shine a light on the secrets hidden within this ancient city.
AN OPEN-ENDED QUEST. The tea shop on Tolstad blew up just a week before the election, and nobody is doing anything about it - except you! Solve this mystery in any way you want by exploring the streets, towers, and dark tunnels of Norvik.
CONCEPT. The original concept for project 'EBBRPG' was born in 2018 as this: use the 5e mechanics to simulate of a tabletop RPG campaign run by me.
DEVELOPMENT. After being reworked during multiple prototyping periods, the homebrew setting of JOR was assembled into 'A FREESTRIDER'S GUIDE TO ASKAN' in the fall of 2021.
THE DEMO. With a new unique art style, the development of a full length demo began in 2022.
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The FAQ is still under construction.
What's the current state of development?
In December of 2023 I released the Second Draft Demo of Esoteric Ebb. This was a broad vertical slice -- a proof of concept -- containing ten unique characters, 50k words of dialog, two short quests, and three encounter. I am currently looking to pursue a full production of Esoteric Ebb.
Who am I?
I'm Chris! I'm a writer and game developer from Sweden. I've worked on a handful of titles in my career as a freelance writer and I wrote my master's thesis on the topic of agency in dynamic dialog choices in interactive narratives. Don't look it up, it's terrible.
Why call it a 'Disco-like'?
The development of EBBRPG (as it is known internally) began in 2018 as an attempt to make another spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment. When Disco arrived in 2019 with its sexy vertical dialog box, open-ended interactive design, and talking skill system, I knew I wanted this to be a future path for the genre. So I took my old design and merged it with elements of Disco.So then I've been calling Ebb a 'Disco-like'. Will I keep calling it that? Who knows. Using a trendsetting game to codify genres has been a staple of games since... Pong? Doom? I don't know. It's old. But I honestly don't care about labels, Disco-like is just catchier than 'Non-combat focused text-heavy talking skill system RPG'. For now at least.
Isn't it a Point and Click Adventure game?
Oh, yeah! Right, I mean, sure. Esoteric Ebb is a Point and Click adventure game. Or an RPG. Or both. It's a mixed genre type of situation if you ask me.
Will you release the DEMO?
It's out RIGHT NOW!
What platform are you developing EBB for?
Primarily PC as of now. I'm very interested in bringing the game to consoles, and mobile devices as well.
Will EBB support Ultra Wide Monitors?
I'm using one right now, so you're damn right it does. In fact, it supports a wide variety of weird aspect ratios. So go nuts!
Minimum Spec Requirements?
Check the steam page for an up-to-date suggested spec sheet. But it shouldn't be too heavy on the average computer.
When will EBB be released?
No clue! Or well, I could make a number of very distinct guesses, but they would most likely be wrong at this stage. Let's say 'more than a year'.
What languages will EBB be available in?
English is the only language EBB is developed for as of now. I would love to translate it to as many languages as possible, but considering we're aiming for over half a million words for the final product, such as undertaking would be massive. But if the game is successful enough, anything is possible! I'm specifically looking at wishlists to see which regions are most worth in localization - so if you want it in your language, go wishlist!
Will EBB have full voice acting?
Just like with translations, the answer is: I would love to. But. BUT. It is a terrifying undertaking to voice an entire game with this much dialog in it. Currently EBB is aiming to have partial voice acting. That means introductory and important lines will be voiced. But if the game is successful enough, anything is possible!
How long will EBB be?
Who knows! Okay, I do have some strong guesses. But the problem is this: most of the game is spent reading. If you read quick (like me!) then the game won't be nearly as long as someone who likes to take their time (which is VERY fine). So I'll leave this open for now, but I'm aiming for a sizable single-player experience. So while I won't be specific, let's say the game will be under twenty hours. Unless you like to write footnotes for every dialog option.
What engine is EBB made in?
How did you do the environments?
I UVmap simple geometry from the fixed orthographic perspective used in-game. Then I project a hand-drawn texture in-engine with real-time lighting. All dynamic objects, including characters, are cell-shaded/outlined, and I use grease pencil for extra details.
What do you use for the dialogs?
I use ink script. I love it.
The BIG question: Does Ebb have combat?
Encounters in Esoteric Ebb are handled in a modified version of the dialog system. This allows for turn orders, hit points, and character abilities to matter. But when it's your turn, instead of just attacking you get to choose between a number of intricate roleplaying actions, usually some kind of tactical choice.
Do you run or stand your ground? Do you help your companion or go for the potential killing blow? This allows for a freedom that simulate how a real D&D encounter would play out. In Ebb you can cast GREASE to make the group of bad guys slip and fall off the side of a building. A single well placed spell can end any encounter.
Since these encounters are both deadly and intricate, there's a limited number of them. And if you're smart of course, you can avoid the majority of them.
Is this game political?
Yes, it is very political. In fact, it is set during ELECTION WEEK. Right before the first ever election in this metropolis called Norvik. So if I wanted EBB to not be political I really screwed myself, didn't I?So why is it political? Mainly because I like writing political conflicts. It's such a wonderful setup for character development - because in the days leading up to an election every conversation becomes a battlefield.The catchphrase I've given my dear Cleric is 'What will you vote in the election?', which is such a great conversation starter. You can very quickly show deep character fundamentals, even with characters that normally wouldn't be so open with a random RPG protagonist. And having major factions in the story that you can align yourself with is a typical RPG trope for a good reason: it gives an immediate call to tribalism. Us vs. them. What are you, anti- or pro-skub? Pick a side, asshole!
What's your POLITICS?
TBA (Play the demo and try to figure it out)
What does the title mean? It's kind of weird.
The meaning is very esoteirc (sic) and deeply rooted in the setting. Plus it sounds cool. But in short, it essentially means something akin to: 'somebody popped the fucking balloon and now the party's over'.
What are some of the inspirations for EBB?
Planescape: Torment and Disco Elysium, primarily! Both in design and gameplay, as well as the wonderful 2e sourcebooks and modules of the Planescape settings itself. I highly recommend reading DEAD GODS. It's great.Then there's Troika, with Arcanum in particular being a game that really opened my eyes to RPG design (you're damn right you can 'speak with dead' on every corpse in EBB!), the style and comedy of Terry Pratchett (Discworld in particular), the wonderful (and objectively perfect) fantasy design of Heroes III, and many more I can't seem to recall at the moment.
Is EBB set in a medieval fantasy world?
Not quite. Ebb is set in a homebrew setting I call JOR. When I first started playing with it, I think I pitched it to my players as something like, 'what if we skipped the industrial revolution with magic, and then had a world war.' (or Low-tech Eberron maybe?)But then why does the character speak like they're from the 21st century? The general tone of modernism came to when I actually started playtesting it a lot. Since, you know, unless you have some damn fine roleplayers in your group, most D&D play is kind of ridiculously anachronistic. At least when it's not focused on being a too 'serious' of a campaign. So when I wanted the players' tone to match the setting, the setting became really weird.You have this world where, thanks to easy access to magic, most people around the JOR'S OCEAN modernized from a typical early medieval D&D setting to early 20th century in just a hundred years or so. But then the Coast War happened. In the aftermath, magic very quickly ebbed (see?) around the coast, so people then had to rely on old tech once more. That's how you get a city like Norvik with several active printing presses pushing out newspapers alongside a port filled with early medieval longboats. Or a bucket-helmed holy warrior rushing past on a bicycle because he's late for filing his tax returns.It's supposed to ride that line between stupid and engaging. Does it succeed? We'll see.
I like the style of it. It's classic trope in the CRPG genre. Plus it allows for some really sweet hand-drawn background art.
Can I change the look of the player character?
Clerics employed in the City of Norvik are required to wear official uniforms. And for personal (and deeply idiotic) reasons you just can't remove your helmet.So you'll have to accessorize! Equip various barely functional weapons, esoteric trinkets, and weird coats. They can change your baseline stats and grant advantage/disadvantage in various encounters.
Is this just like playing 5e?
No. I've taken elements from 5e, and I'm following the basic rules and core mechanics. But I'd describe it more as playing one-on-one 5e with a very strange DM (me!). Spells are homebrewed to fit the gameplay better. Temporary ability score changes are MUCH easier to get your hands on. The definition of encounters lean more towards the Monkey Island variety.It's very different.
What is the QUESTING TREE??
It's a mental map of your quests. It works like a normal mind-map styled quest journal with the added bonus of being able to discuss each quest with your ability scores once it's completed. In those discussion you will then be able to unlock this game's version of FEATs, that give unique dialog options, crazy bonuses, and customize your cleric's mind.It's originally very inspired by the legendary 'thought cabinet' obviously. But currently the design leans more toward it being a straight up skill tree mixed with the aforementioned quest journal.And it's called a 'tree' because of the shape of it. Each quest branches off into various directions, reaching farther into the unknown. Follow the red thread to the top of the tree.There you'll find the TRUTH.
What about character creation?
You get to pick your ability scores at the start. That's it.It's funny, I've spent two years researching this exact subject for my thesis, and I've found some divisive results. Obviously being able to make any character you want should be ideal in an RPG. But the problem comes with granting positive agency to those choices. Especially in narrative form. To successfully provide strong agency to choices you need to be able to provide meaningful feedback. And to do that for a completely customized character in a digital product is...Very difficult. There's a reason why the digital RPGs generally regarded with the 'best story' or 'good writing' have various degrees of predetermined characters.So for EBB I decided to focus on SIX choices: the six ability scores you choose at the start of the game. A method directly inspired by Planescape: Torment.EDIT: Although I did eventually add 5e-styled proficiency and backgrounds to help boost the starting stats. I found this made the player feel a hell of a lot more competent, which helps in a world controlled by d20s.
Where are the 5e SKILLS?
They're in here somewhere. Just not directly interactable. Obviously you can still persuade someone, it'll just be handled directly with Charisma.I basically removed the idea of skill proficiency and put them straight onto the ability scores. It's less choice, sure, but it also allows me to design the game to be more reactive to those choices. Like I said before, this game uses a very homebrewed version of 5e.
What kind of character can I play?
THE CLERIC. AND YOU'LL LIKE IT.
Can you die in EBB?
Yep.Your hit points are your most valued resources in Ebb. There are tons of items that allow you to heal, and the only spell you have when you start out is Cure Wounds (the basic healing spell). Playing the game, even with perfect rolls, will eventually eat away at your HP. The main gameplay challenge in Ebb is surviving this balancing act. This also allows me to design higher level areas based on how much damage they dish out on average.However, when you reach 0 HP you don't die immediately. You get to roll Death Saving Throws (like in 5e!). If you fail, you die. Meaning, you have to reload and try an alternate solution.If you succeed in your Death Saving Throws, you spring back to life, and get to continue playing. But each time you do, you get more and more stacks of Exhaustion place on your cleric.Get 10 stacks of Exhaustion and you die.It's essentially another mechanical layer to interact with, giving some more depth to your resource juggling. Some feats will interact with this system as well, allowing you to build a unique cleric that might handle Exhaustions much better than others.
How many characters are in the game?
Somewhere around 30-50.
How do the dice rolls work?
You can roll in and out of dialogs. Depending on variables and your equipments the DC of checks will be altered. For example, if you manage to piss off ALFOZ, then it'll be easier to trick him into punching you. The DC will be lowered by -2 if you piss him off, and another -3 if you manage to really piss him off.It's sort of the same way I try to handle DCs in my campaigns so that even minor choices make an impact.I'm still working to make the RNG as fair as possible. Digital RNG can be, as any VTT user would know, very shady sometimes.Just trust the machine. Right?
How does the day night cycle work?
Once it gets dark you can choose to long rest for 8 hours. The later you choose to long rest, the shorter your next day will be of course. You can also skip out on sleeping, but once the sun rises you'll get Exhaustion stack.You do not want to have Exhaustion stacks. Although it would be pretty funny if I added an achievement for completing the game without ever going to sleep.Characters will switch position during the day and night. Most doors will be locked at night, and other will open. You'll have to use the time wisely as the election is just around the corner...
How many companions are there?
No comment. For now.
What's this about a tea shop?
In Norvik, a tea shop is a place for young people to gather and exchange exciting radical ideas.Somebody blew up a tea shop at the heart of the city, just a week before the first ever election. That's the inciting incident of the game. Who blew it up? Why are those in power trying to cover it up?Only YOU can find out in the wacky RPG, Esoteric Ebb!Now go wishlist it! And here's a cat:
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