16 December 2016

Fragments of principles of prop design in LoSt


Props (and skills) are slightly stylized representations of a characters resources. This stems from back when LoSt (Boot Hill RL, at the time) was a cardgame/RL hybrid. I didn't want the player to become too much like a "paper doll" with assorted inventory. Some learnable skills may assume you to have the necessary tools at hand, as some props assume you possess the necessary skills to use them.

Encumbrance, inventory space

All the dead dudes …
I never much cared for detailed weight systems. Instead, LoSt sets a fixed limit to how many props a critter is allowed to carry. Inventory is capped at six slots, which is just enough to get by. To simulate encumbrance, some items are tagged as "heavy" or "stackable" (light). Heavy items impose a penalty on your initiative, making them practically impossible to carry during combat. Stackable items are consumables and commodities: If you're holding a stick of dynamite, you might as well be holding five. Stackable items only take up one inventory slot (per item type), regardless of how many you are carrying.

I'd rather a sledge-pick.

Wearables, containers, more tools and actions …

… building houses, skinning animals, modifying items and mailing them to your future incarnations, gambling, rail laying, light landscape gardening … Who can tell if and how they will appear?

Lead slugs

Lead (♄) is the most important prop in LoSt, doubling as money and ammo. As a symbol of prosperity, it could even be used as a stat akin to karma. Instead of a food clock, a system where the player spends 1♄to rest each night?

Current list of props in LoSt

Glogious death awaits!
Salt crystals, emeralds, rubies, corpses, heads, lead slugs, spirit stones, dynamite, bricks, barb wire, smoke bombs, adrenaline shots, the beads of poverty, prayer books, ladders, lynchers' marks, dice, loaded dice, sledge picks, bowie knives, kiri knives, swords, whips, chainhooks, cats o' nine tails, javelins, spear throwers, sixshooters, pepperbox guns, pistolknives, triguns, game rifles, sniper guns, periscopes, field glasses, rubble, gravel, smithereens, dust, timber, splinters, shards, cigars.

Wishlist and ideas

Shotguns (fire several buckshot i randomized directions), punt guns (like a shotgun, but ten feet long; perhaps for crowd control or safaris), gatling guns (mounted mayhem), stockmarkers (burnmark cattle and people), tripwire and fuses (detonate dynamite from a safe distance), booze and drugs (it all starts with an innocently puffing cigar; fancy becoming an amphetamine addict or ingesting the poison seeds of holy plants), chloroform, tonics, poisons and antidotes, sandbags (why not?), ropes and lassos (for sure!), badges, books, lanterns, pliers, lead ore, caltrops, instruments, stilts, bear traps, nets, eggs, mummies, letters, mirrors, chain and tackle.

All that stuff.

As always,

6 December 2016

Released: LoSt #10 (Bloodshot Vista)

All hope was not lost!
Development is snailing along. LoSt#10 is the interrim release I had hoped to achieve before summer. It will probably be the last alpha release, before the meat of the game will start appearing. I'm still getting all basic systems in place, but #10 is still a big step forward from #9. NPCs have started to speak, and there are shops dispersed across the land, as well as a very basic bounty system (finding it can be considered a kind of an easter egg at present). There are also world building routines that will place the occational settlement, although these culture centers are still very flimsy, with not much to really see or do.

In any case, please try it out if you are interested. All and any comments are welcome.

Upcoming ...

Some features I hope to work on for the next few releases:

Perform steps in random order
* AI: I need to settle some basic AI needs. Proper pathfinding will be in place, letting people use doors, walk around ponds. They'll also be picking up stuff, objecting to theft, and adhering to other defined causes and states of beings.

* UI: Tidbits of UI are planned, and will become necessary. Scrolling menus is one thing, but also some kind of game log to track your character's progress. Also in the works is a zoomed-out view of the map to allow quick travel in explored areas. If I get inspired, I might start working on a mouse interface, but I think it's better to focus on gameplay at the moment.

* Settlements: The big thing in LoSt #11 will be to breathe some life into the settlements. It ties into several features that need to be finished. First of all, I need to streamline the map generation a bit, and define some good settlement blueprints/templates. Second, there must be places of interest, and the locals should feel a bit more alive. In addition to at least a few plot hooks (available bounties/questlines), there must be some shops and etstablishments (randomly including gunsmiths, pharmacists/medics, oracles, assassins, pawnshops). Also, something like a saloon where you can rest, furnished with a bar and perhaps a self-playing piano (depending on how complex the bias/reputation system becomes, we can whistle for features like emergent bar brawls down the road). The town can be seasoned with interesting places and encounters. There might be a village green with a park or pond, a church/shrine, a post/mining/police office, soldiers in barracks, gardens and animal pens, animal baiters who take bets, maybe even baiting animals against humans, (mad?) scientists/naturalists who want rare specimens, landscape photographers who stray into the wild, some random person has a treasure map, or is a junkie, or secretly wants to kill someone else in town, or has the habit of entering empty houses to burgle them, or loves dogs, or hates children.

* Factions/reputation: The Land in #10 is pretty war-strifed. Goons and settlers skrimish. One task ahead will be to make the map a bit more settled, with settlers mostly staying in their towns, and bandits camping in the wild. It will be possible to interact and gain reputation with any factions. If you gain a positive reputation with mudfaced goons, the settlers and law-kids might want to lynch you, but you can still get trade, healing etc. in scattered bandit camps across the land. Further down the road, more factions will come. Law and crime factions will have more organized structures, in addition to various societies, from scientists to monks to queers to carnies to cults. The current AI supports factions quite well: recognizing which factions another being belongs to, liking/disliking beings which belong to certain factions or act in a certain way. As I add more sophisticated behaviour patterns, I should be able to model some interesting semblances of drama and tidbits of story. Engine-wise, I still have to add a detailed system for fluctuating reputation. More time-consuming will be to write the content, defining and balancing achievements/bounties and other trickeries hidden behind the rosepot.

* Bounties: There must be a few bounties to be had in the starting settlement, and some others spread across The Land. They range from petty (templates "my <puppy> got lost in the <cave>", "100Pb for the head of Luci Borges") to more involved stuff later on (kill the four desert masters to become the undisputed champion of The Land, prevent/perpetrate genocide on a group of humans or animals, discover what really lives beneath the lead mines, act as a mediator/monger between settlers and natives …) I'll have to start with something simpler, basic fetch/bring/escort quests, and all that. Some bounties can be pretty open ended, with many moving parts (randomly mix elements like locations, NPC templates, and other special conditions: "Defeat the mad barber in the abandoned sawmill, who has kidnapped the mayor's uncle"). Others may be more handcrafted, but allowing for story emergence. You may get hired to protect an establishment against an awaited attack, and might solve the task by barricading and waiting out the attack, or sneaking into the enemy camp. Hell, you should even be allowed switch and aid the bandits in the robbery, triggering a favorable (or backstabbing) response, with many interesting adjustments to your reputation. To provide reward/encouragement, I've been thinking about tying up bounties with skill/character advancement, instead of a traditional system with experience points. Different types of quests and quest givers yield different rewards (more "moving part" that can be randomized on each playthrough). A hermit might tell you about herbs, or a banker gift you with a very fine pistol, or a master duelist teach you the art if you just prove your worth first. I have been thinking about modeling this around a time system that I believe to be pretty unusual.

* Time: An important feature in LoSt is that wounds tend to be very deadly, and with no available source of healing. I want to add a system for resting, for which the basic template will be "staying in a saloon". In a way, resting is my idea of something instead of a food clock. To rest, you have to pay a certain amount of cash (or fulfill some other criteria, depending on where you're trying to lodge), and the game world fast forwards several days, at the end of which you start out with all wounds healed. Depending on how grievous your wounds are, and the status of all pending bounties, the game might calculate an effect/event that occurs during the period you spend resting. The event could be just a simple string, and could often just gloss over a period of quiet, or provide the player with options to advance the plot or character. If you come back triumphant with barely a scratch, you might be rewarded with a skill advancement of your choice. But if you come back with 0Pb and a gun wound, you might develop a bad reputation or foible. What's worse, the guy you set out to kill in act I might come back in act II, with a plan for vengeance. Since the player must rest to heal, they'll want to make each rest count. The yardstick pace for a starting character should be to win one bounty, then rest, and then head out for a new adventure. Longer streches of time could also be passed doing seasonal work, training with a master or living in the underground city of fools.

If you think this sounds convoluted, you haven't heard the half of it. The art will be to keep the story suggestive and the system open ended, connected with factions and all the other "moving parts", to achieve a semblance of direction action/plot.

As always,

11 March 2016

sense of place (ii. out of the dungeon)

Welcome to the second installment of this article series about map generation in LoSt. Part I covered the basic anatomy of a place. The topic of this post will be climates, and some things to consider when creating an overworld-based Roguelike, such as my game is set out to be. The rant that follows may please some in part or in its entirety; there's no "tl, dr", in any case.


├że olde labyrinthe
Let's start with a digression, namely the topic of labyrinths, in a meandering attempt to reach the actual topic at hand, as it were.

Early European culture distinguished two main types of labyrinths: "unicursal" (with a single path leading circuitously to the center) and "multicursal" (having branching paths, only one of which leads to the designated goal)1. In modern times we typically include a third category of "network labyrinths"2.

We might attempt to establish a fourth kind of labyrinth here. Let's call it a "deterministic maze": It has several paths, all of which lead to the same endpoint. A curious specimen in academic labyrinthology, deterministic mazes are quite frequent in video games3. Consider how the exemplary level designs of Zelda are structured as deterministic mazes: In addition to a (meandering) main path, there are shortcuts and detours available. These, however, are carefully constructed to ensure the player's passage through certain waypoints (culminating with the boss). Likewise, story-driven games tend to gravitate towards one fixed ending (or a few), like a stream might bifurcate around a great rock, only to converge on the other side.

The traditional Roguelike dungeon falls under this category of deterministic mazes. All roads lead to Yendor. And yet, procedural generation shines at its brightest when behaving more like a network labyrinth, which is to say, when the completely unexpected occurs. After all, what could be more like a network-maze of thematic associations than Dwarf Fortress?

I'll make one last point concerning historical labyrinths: The maze King Minos had Daedalus construct for the Minotaur, served as a prison, to keep the monster trapped within. Conversely, the labyrinth is also a fortification, built to keep trespassers out. Most Roguelikes emphasize this last aspect of the labyrinth, as an impenetrable stronghold to safe-keep the universally coveted MacGuffin. The motif of descending and ascending with the amulet, as featured in games like Rogue and Nethack, is actually a quite striking image. However, it was clear from the outset that I wasn't going to take LoSt in that direction.

Out of the dungeon! (screenshot: LoSt #7)

In part, I wanted a less clearcut world than provided by the genre classics. Instead of the player vertically piercing a main dungeon, I wanted plots with broad horizons, unfolding around different locations on the map: inside houses, atop steep ravines, deep within thorn forests, on the makeshift streets of desert settlements … Rather than the concentric circles of some "Caverns of Chaos", I envisioned a network maze, like the myriad connections of a root system, or perhaps even that megalithic mythic maze, but splintered, turned microlithic by erosion or earthquake.

So, I bid you farewell, unending fields of nadir … for now … Fun fact: Versions 5-7 of LoSt did play out in a dungeon (the goal was to break out of confinement), and I am planning to reintroduce caverns and mine shafts at some point. But when that day comes, the underground biotope will only serve as one of several climate types, not the center of the world (as is literally the case in most RLs).

Drawing the line(s)

Turning away from the dungeon level as the measuring stick of map generation entails leaving behind a kind of thinking one finds in for instance Andrew Doull's Unangband Dungeon Generation. And yet, rereading Doull's articles after all these years, they still inspire with their zen-like attention to fundamental design principles. Much like the pilgrim who must traverse the maze before reaching that vantage point where he finally achieves overview of its many winding paths, I find myself prompted to reexamine the inner workings of deterministic mazes, as I try to extricate myself from their manifold confines.

Games use deterministic mazes for a number of gameplay-related reasons. Globally and locally, the structure can grant the player a sense of agency whilst keeping the designer in charge of the game's progression. Some important aspects that a typical RL might contain in deterministic mazes, include:

  • Scaling difficulty: The player descends ever deeper into the game world, and is faced with ever more challenging obstacles. Most RLs simply assign a numerical danger level to different monster types. The danger level of a generated level typically depends on the current depth, the player's level, or a function of both.
  • Pacing progression and loot distribution: Just as the dungeon gets more dangerous, so the hero grows in strength, acquiring experience and better equipment. Some games design early levels to teach the player certain skills, or supply the character with certain props/abilities, which will be needed later on. In RLs, where each challenge might have several solutions, it is often a question of keeping the character appropriately powerful at any given time. Features like side-quests can also be used to ensure that the player has access to particular artifacts and resistances. This not only serves to balance difficulty, but even provides the player with an incentive to move on. After all, unearthing shiny loot is a core experience in most Roguelikes.
  • Keeping the story in line: The world is organized so as to preserve narrative coherency. Granted, most Roguelikes skimp on the story, but let's take ADoM as an example. Before reaching the elemental temples, you are guaranteed to speak with the dying sage (who blocks your passage at an earlier level). This dialogue provides your character with an incentive to raid the temples and retrieve the orbs. In Rogue, and many successors, the vertical dungeon is presented as a goal in itself, with a storyline consisting of nothing more than a text snippet ordering you to head for the center of the labyrinth.
  • (Surely, I'm forgetting something here …?) 

early experiment with "deep" climates
Some of all this must be emulated in an open world. In particular, the difficulty curve must be scaled by making sure that the top-tier baddies (and assorted goodies) won't show up too early.

When it comes to "keeping the story in line", the construction of an open world must strike the balance between narrative linearity on the one hand, and a more, if you pardon my French, "rhizomatic" narrative structure on the other4.

Keeping that in mind for later, I was presently more concerned with making an open map that also provides meaningful thresholds in the game space.

Currently, the world generator in LoSt starts out by dividing the map into roughly hexagonal zones and designating a climate type to each zone. The method is really quite blunt – I am very little interested in huge topological maps that make sense from a geological viewpoint5 – world generation begins by setting a climate for the centre zone, and basically flood fills from there, calculating a climate for each new zone on the basis of its preexisting neighbors. During this phase, zones can also be prepatched to contain specified "places of interest"; a feature which will be used to situate settlements, special locations, boss fights, etc. The world generator is stored as a data kit, so it can easily be expanded and judiciously randomized. It will be able to choose between many small templates (for climate map generation, water distribution, locations …) and combine them into unique composite themes for each world. As the game progresses, each new zone is generated on the fly, and put to sleep once the player reaches a certain distance.

what was the thread, again?
Regarding the looming question of how to put thresholds in an open gameworld, the examples of games having already done this in various ways are too numerous to start listing.

In LoSt, I'm experimenting with what I call "deep climate" types. A deep climate is a derivative of a basic climate, spawned in pockets within the bigger region. In their basic layout, deep climates provide a threshold by hindering the player's movement somehow: "Deep deserts" might be an area overgrown by thorns, or just a deadland with a looming ziggurat in the middle. "Deep plains" might be wild groves, oases ruled by ferocious animals and plants, understood in part by native people, but where no life-lovin' settler treads. The idea is to use these deep climates to set up barriers between the opening and the mid-game. Overgrown areas can be constructed as half-way mazes, with uneven "corridors and rooms" dug through an otherwise dense carpet of vegetation. Different kinds of deep climates will offer different kinds/degrees of impenetrableness. You can always wade through thorns at decreased speed, but it's harder to trick your way around a narrow mountain pass.

Deep climates zones will also spawn more dangerous encounters than the basic climates. They will feature fiercer cousins of the critters you find in the basic climate, or larger packs with more and tougher alpha individuals, in addition to particularly nasty critter types exclusive to the deep climates. I hope to use these deep climates  as antechambers/buffers/passages to "vaults" and other special locations. Should I succeed in that venture, I may actually have done little more than replace the concentric RL dungeon with a slightly more loose network of glorified "deterministic mazes". And yet, that's still a place to build from, I guess.

Did I go a full circuit with this whole labyrinthine post, and end up about where I started? I should probably be content with that tiny advancement, a whiff of something slightly ellipsoid.

As always,

1 As Penelope Reed Doob points out in her study The Idea of the Labyrinth: From Classical Antiquity Through the Middle Ages, unicursal designs were curiously used to illustrate texts describing the multicursal labyrinth of myth. The earliest labyrinths were unicursal, and seem to have been something like fertility rituals, where the devout would pass through a spiraling maze – much like we organize airport waiting lines today. In any case, the kind of multicursal designs we know from children's comics and coloring books, is a modern phenomenon.

2 The very idea of the "network labyrinth" implies a winding maze in itself. The term was coined by Umberto Eco, who described it as "a tree plus an infinite number of corridors that connect its nodes." (From the Tree to the Labyrinth) This kind of maze connects with a multitude of modern concepts, from data clouds to deconstruction, whilst retaining an aspect of a particular medieval idea of the labyrinth as a metaphor for laborious/hard-gotten knowledge (even if substituting medieval "circuitousness" with modern "rupture" as the source of epiphany).

3 Streching the definition of a deterministic maze, we could hold Pacman as an early example: A maze with no center has as its endpoint the state of depletion after Pacman has covered all its corridors, gobbling up all the pellets. Pacman's concept of "covering the entire area" is really borrowed from the ancient unicursal mazes, but set instead in a maze of branching paths.

4 I'm not implementing bounties (quests) yet, but keeping some of this in mind: hoping to opt out of fixed quest lines, perhaps by implementing bounties as part of the factions found within the game world. Let's say you're assigned a mission to capture a criminal. The task should be solvable in different ways, but it should also be possible to ignore the mission, or join the baddies instead, or fail, yet live to see another day. I expect finalized versions of LoSt to have no win condition (but several possible plot hooks to get you started). This will ideally make it possible to recover, at least story-wise, from committing a blunder such as making your intended ally your lethal enemy.

5 A tiny bit of topology is high on my todo-list, but it will pay more attention to the rules of drama than the rules of science. I am thinking of adding an intermediate step in map generation, after the climate zones have been defined, but before quest locations are placed, where the game will put natural borders in the form of water and cliffs. Rivers and lakes will be straightforward enough, simply continuous bodies of water patterned across the land. Cliffs will be implemented as a map feature, so the game won't keep actual track of relative elevation etc. A cliff hex will be defined with a slope in one direction. It has the property of sliding everything that lands on it in this direction. Barring any special skills or equipment, if you try to scale a cliff from below, you'll just be thrown back where you started, but it'll be possible to jump down the cliff from above. Cliffs will also provide special cover, giving advantage to shooters on the high side. Once the functionality of cliffs is sorted out, they can be distributed around the map, both in "encounter-sized" chunks, and in great walls that form an initially impenetrable barrier: to reach that summit, you have to take the winding mountain road, crawling with baddies.

7 March 2016

sense of place (part i)

One of the features I'm working on right now, is map building. There is a lot to be done here. I need locations, starting with a small frontier settlement. I need the different biotopes to stay more distinct, as well as blending more seamlessly together. I need a map that makes sense, which can be used to tell a story.

So to clear my mind, perhaps, throw out some ideas, I'm going to write a bit about map generation in LoSt. I'll be covering some of the game's principal design decisions as I go along. In this series started in the midst of the 2016 7drl frenzy, let's hope for a modest first article, just to lay out some basics and get the ball rolling.

Kitting up

The data is stored in homebrew module files of what I call kits. Each defined kit can spit out an instance of a certain class (eg. a critter or a place template). An important feature of kits is that they can look up and invoke other kits semi-randomly.

On the implementation part of things, most classes share certain functions and features, by inheriting a basic class that I call FlagThing. I suck at OOP, so bear with me. FlagThings are used to keep track of everything, store things like variables (a house may store a $dweller1 and $dweller2, its inhabitants, who in turn know that house as their $home). "Everything" is a FlagThing, from place templates to skills to critters, and even kits in themselves. They make up a kind of network of parents and children, emanating from a "world" FlagThing at the root of it all.

What's in a place?

Regarding the grid, suffice to say that it's hexagonal, and that, in addition to single coordinates, I keep track of "superhexes" (clusters of ~16 hexes; and then of course you get your hyperhexes and ultrahexes).

Speaking to world generation more specifically, the world consists of layers of places: The map as a whole is treated as a single place, containing several smaller places, called landscapes. Each landscape is a continuous field of hexes which share one climate and one name. They in turn contain smaller places: a house, a cluster of plants, a circle of totem stones, an animal or human encounter … Some of these places even contain within themselves subplaces or encounters (a wandering desert animal, a family seated to dinner in a house). Basically anything that spawns a being on the map when it is generated, is understood to be a place.

When a new place is generated, the first thing it does is to find and occupy some open space within the confines of its mother place. While some places use blueprints, most places are circular at the moment. Upon generation, they can fill parts of their interior to percentage values, like a basic house or a lake, put instances of inhabitants and subplaces, and do other interesting stuff.

   place bungalow template
shape "circle"
size (4,6)
get $wall ['dirt wall']
get $gate ['closed door']
room_fill {'wood tile':100}
edge_fill {'$wall':100}
edge_put {'window'(0,2)}
edge_put {'$gate':(1,1)}

   place salt pond
shape "circle"
size (2,5)
edge_fill {'water tile':50}
core_fill {'water tile':99}
brim_fill {'water tile':75}

   place hermit house
inherit "bungalow template"
get $hermit (['cri'],['persons'])
get $thing (['prop'],['loot','tools'])
core_put {'$hermit':(1,1)}
core_put {'$thing':(0,2)}

The routines for place generation are sound enough. Next steps include establishing more meaningful relations between places. That's a topic I hope to cover in my next post.

As always,

Some experiments are
just pure failures

29 February 2016

slow shot

With a phantom gun in an empty hand he has bluffed Mike into violating a basic rule of gunfighting. TYT. Take Your Time. Every gunfighter has his time. The time it takes him to draw aim fire and hit. If he tries to beat his time the result is almost invariably a miss. …
– William Burroughs, The Place of Dead Roads

not a release candidate
I'm tinkering on and off with LoSt. Release #10 will probably take a while to arrive, though. I received enough helpful comments to the last few versions that it doesn't seem necessary with another desert pastoral. Instead, I will wait until I have something more gamey before I publish the next snapshot. I'm envisioning something light, with a temporary win condition (like versions 5-7 had), at least in time for ARRP 2016.

The basics are still being laid down, both engine-wise and game-wise. I'm humaning up to adding hovering text for speech bubbles and other messages (maybe sound effects like "BANG" and "click", maybe status updates and the like). That also has me finalizing other parts of the graphics engine, and so the process meanders its way on.

Game development (like so many creative endeavors) is an activity where meticulous planning is necessary – not because you're likely to execute your original plan in the intended order, but because it will help you tackle the unplannable, which is sure to crop up.

Content-wise, I've begun work on a starting settlement. It will probably just be a few houses of different builds and a dirt road, but at least a place for restocking and getting ahead on the latest news. I'm thinking of a main story revolving around 3-4 semirandom bosses located around the map. But there may (should) also be other minor quests (let's rather call them "missions" or "bounties"). Something like a robbery might be an interesting example: The player should be able to choose sides and form alliances.

I already have the bare bones of a faction system. Each critter adhers to certain Causes, which affect behavior/goals, reactions, and initial bias towards other critters. When I should add NPC templates like "lynchin' judge" (with law as a major Cause) and "livestcok rustler" (with a criminal Cause), they will automatically be hostile to each other, because of their opposed Causes. As I fine-tune this, I can add a reputation system where the Player gains fame/infamy with followers of different Causes. Building a reputation must be a central part of a screaming wild frontier RPG as LoSt is aimed to become. I'm still spawning ideas on exactly how and how much to track the Player's behavior, and I guess I'll be implementing a little of that in upcoming releases.

For LoSt #10, I'm concentrating more on making the map itself more interesting. It's mostly a question of adding and balancing content, and tweaking the world building engine a bit as I go along. There will still be exploring around the landscape to reach the different locations, but focus will probably lie with a few major shootouts/fights, which the player has to prepare for. Combat (especially with guns) is very deadly in LoSt, so people and animals will be nudged towards neutral/shy behavior, with possible interactions other than fighting. Of course, you'll still run afoul with the occasional angry ursine or get ambushed by renegade soldiers or a crazy lead digger. Encounters should be generated to be interesting in themselves. An ambush shouldn't be completely random, but occur at a strategic position in the map (eg. shooting from the hills or a barricade). And of course there must be gambling, learning skills, hearing rumors, taming/riding/herding animals, digging for lead to get by … I'm still considering if and how it could be cool to implement survivalist mechanics (including food) and item crafting, further down the road … Hah, it's easy to think big, but the devil is in the details. Let's just hope the final version of LoSt is released sometime before the singularity/rapture/what-you-will.

In the interim, I already mentioned that speech is the next big feature to add. It's a prerequisite of "making the map interesting". In addition to tactically interesting positions, we need goals and paths for the player to explore the map. Collecting bounties/reputation and trading will be important, and are to be added in the next release (at least the basics). I often find conversation trees to be a big turnoff, so I'll start with simple lines of dialogue, printed in the message log and as speech bubbles on the map. The player should largely be able to react by performing actions (for your fetch quest: drop the item you were sent to get, pick up the reward). Maybe there'll be the occasional Y/N prompt.

Bounties ("quests") can be set up as wanted-posters anywhere semi-official, or through NPCs offering odd jobs and favors. Instead of traditional experience points, I'm planning for bounties to play a role in pacing character development and the passage of time. There must be an option to resting, since lost health levels don't regenerate by waiting in the map, and I don't want "med kits" that instaheal you between battles (but maybe something like adrenaline syringes to use in the heat of it). Maybe resting will take several weeks in-game, and also be the game phase where you digest your recent experiences, and so to speak level up. If you're forced back with the tail between your legs after being stabbed over an animal baiting contest, you'll have to pay for housing and medical bills, and maybe all you get out of it is a pesky war wound, a minor skill advancement, or the news that Slim Jim Bonney, who you were out to get, has slipped town. On the other hand, returning with the head* of Slim Jim nets you loot and fame and other auspices. (* I do mean the head, by the way. In The Land, it is customary to decapitate one's victims to prove their identities. It provides an easy interface to collect a bounty on someone, by literally carrying the head back in your inventory.)

For trade, I'm thinking of "traveling saleskids" wandering the map as well as permanent shops at different locations. Shops will definitely be nethack-like, with items that can be picked up, and paying by interacting with the shop keeper. Traveling saleskids will probably carry an inventory of up to 6 items for sale, which they drop in a circle around them when bumped. Currency will be lead (♄), the same with which you load your iron.

So the next release will have a bit more direction: some people to talk to, places to go to and missions to perform, some character development, hopefully some stuff like that …

As always,