Project Update: Spirit Reveal: Wandering Voice Keens Delirium
Hello all 9741 of you and welcome to the penultimate Spirit reveal! Thank you to the 212 of you who joined and welcome back to those of us who have been here from the beginning! We’re closer and closer to the end of the campaign, but it’s not over yet! Creator of Spirit Island R. Eric Reuss and dev team member Ted Vessenes are here again to tell us about this spine chilling and madness inducing spirit. With, of course, a bonus blight card at the end to tell you a little bit more. Here is R. Eric Reuss to start us off!
Many Spirits break bodies. This one breaks minds.
Whether it really intends harm to humans is a hard question to answer, as it itself is also somewhat broken: it is a great Spirit’s voice, torn away but not destroyed, erratically roaming the island. It can be heard from a far distance, and its sound is many things: sometimes an eerie keening, sometimes a direly fascinating song, sometimes a brain-numbing resonance more felt than heard - most often all of these at once, forming strange and perilous harmonies.
(It may be argued that its song is entirely in the minds of those who hear it, for it does not ripple water nor shake trees. But this is hard to prove; it may simply be that Spirits of water and plant have learned not to heed it.)
Over its long existence, Wandering Voice Keens Delirium has gathered up moonlight and sunlight, twining them together with strands of breath and mind to create a sometimes-visible form for its voice: its Incarna - while it leaves faint echoes of itself hither and yon across the island, that voice is always the primary locus of its existence, its primary tangle of power and reality.
Fortunately for the Dahan, that voice is much less deadly than it was before it was separated from its owner. They have figured out a number of ways to avoid the worst of its effects; while individuals may sometimes be caught unawares, it is quite rare for communities to be. Stopping one’s ears helps a bit, as do certain line-patterns, but neither is generally sufficient on its own. Small Spirits with affinity for air, sounds, thought, or journeys can assist a fair bit, however; there are stories of long-ago days when someone might sacrifice themself to try and attract the attention of Finder of Paths Unseen or its assistants in hopes they might help, though thankfully such drastic measures are no longer needed. Also more reliable is singing certain types of songs together while working on cord-making, hair-braiding, sewing, and weaving; retreating to a fastness covered with vines or living earth; or both together.
Perhaps the biggest mystery around Wandering Voice Keens Delirium is that it has chosen to focus on the Invaders. Perhaps it has been convinced by other Spirits - it can be communicated with, by some - or perhaps the Invaders simply call to its nature in some fashion.
I designed Wandering Voice Keens Delirium right after Breath of Darkness Down Your Spine, as another Incarna Spirit. Some discussion on the Kindred Spirits podcast had highlighted that there were notably fewer control Spirits (counter Invaders by moving them) compared to direct-offense Spirits (counter Invaders by destroying them), and at the time this expansion was heavy on direct-offense Spirits, so “more control Spirits would be nice” was on my mind, and Ted had mentioned there was room for a High-complexity one. I couldn’t tell you exactly where the concept of a disembodied voice singing a mind-shattering song across the land came from, but once the idea got in my head it felt pretty compelling.
Just as there are a variety of ways to do direct offense, there are different ways to do control. Wandering Voice does it by not by physically moving the Invaders against their will, but by messing with their minds - adding Strife:
Its Incarna is moderately mobile - not quite as much as Breath of Darkness’, but definitely more so than the other two Incarna Spirits. Moving its Incarna lets it add a Strife - and if that’s added to a Town/Explorer, to Push that piece - so Incarna movement is really really good, and especially during early-game can be extremely helpful in preventing Builds or creating safe zones. You can see how the Presence tracks carefully make getting a consistent 3 Air/turn tricky (if you power straight to 3 Plays, your Energy income isn’t likely to support actually playing 3 cards every turn): you can take Growth 3 for a one-turn boost to 3 Air, but then you only get 1 Presence down.
Also worth noting is that its Incarna always counts as a Sacred Site, which means you can always target Mind-Shattering Song (its second Innate) from it, as well as any Sacred Site-requiring Power Cards you happen to pick up.
(Several of the Strife-adding Minors require a Sacred Site. Over half of them grant Air, its primary element, and all the rest except Gold’s Allure grant Sun or Moon, its secondary elements. They’re not necessarily instant picks - sometimes the board state really wants something else - but they’re extremely compelling since they stack bonus control atop the Strife and enable targeting for Mind-Shattering Song to boot.)
Some early versions of the Spirit also added Strife to Dahan, which seemed like it ought to be conceptually simple - it would prevent them doing Damage in a single counterattack - except there were some thematically odd and rules-complicating cases: what about Dahan-requiring Powers or Dahan Events which did Damage? What about Dahan-requiring Powers or Dahan Events which did useful non-Damage things like Defend or Pushing Invaders? The rules overhead was more than would be worthwhile for a single Spirit, so it metamorphosed into a static rule that required the Incarna not be nearby for Dahan to counterattack. (During handoff it was “Dahan don’t fight back”, but in development it changed to the much kinder “Dahan don’t participate in Ravage”.) The Dahan should be generally better at coping with hostile Spirits than the Invaders are - even Dahan-hostile Spirits tend to have more ways of Damaging Invaders than Dahan - so this worked thematically.
At handoff, Wandering Voice’s second innate was an “even more control” innate with a mere side order of damage at higher levels - it let you Gather with Moon+Air and Push with Sun+Air. This proved both to be too much control and not enough ability to close out a game, as well as kind of brain-breaking: it was often targeted from the Incarna, which was mobile, and trying to figure out where to move it in order to use the Gather+Push effectively while also considering the benefits of adding Strife (and Pushing) where it moved to was a bit much.
Dev Notes, by Ted Vessenes
Back when we still thought this would be a four spirit expansion, I told Eric we had room for a high complexity control spirit. The plan was to get Relentless Gaze of the Sun and Hearth-Vigil to Medium complexity (though Gaze actually landed at High), and print Dances Up Earthquakes as a Very High complexity spirit. None of those spirits have a control focused gameplan, so a high complexity control spirit was a good way to round out the set. Eric used the Incarna idea from Breath of Darkness to make Wandering Voice.
Wandering Voice’s core gameplay is the same as the first design: Push your Incarna around, adding Strife to Invaders and incapacitating them. This is Strife-based control. The only major change was that the original version let you push Cities when they were Strifed! In retrospect that’s clearly overpowered, but it survived several months of testing until we finally decided it needed to go. We made sure that one of its Uniques, Twist Perceptions, could still Push a City when adding Strife, as this is an effect the Spirit thematically is allowed to do.
A major development challenge for Wandering Voice was not about adding strategies but removing one of them. When a Spirit is built around Strife, the gameplay focus quickly becomes about setting up Dahan counter-attacks. However, this is thematically out-of-character for the spirit. Dahan avoid Wandering Voice when possible. Additionally, we wanted this spirit to spit out a lot of Strife. By making counter-attacks worse, that lets us increase how much Strife the spirit can generate and still be balanced. This is also why the Spirit has no way to move Dahan in its starting kit. We didn’t want players even thinking about positioning the Dahan. Wandering Voice is not the sort of Spirit that thinks about that, and we wanted players to think about the island the way the Spirit would, focusing primarily on Invaders.
Another challenge we had to handle was finding the right amount of early game invader control. Like Breath of Darkness, if this Spirit can contain the Invaders too much in the first two turns, the remainder of the game becomes both easy (because the Invaders aren’t doing things) and boring (because the Invaders aren’t doing things). But too little control makes the Spirit feel overwhelmed almost immediately. In this expansion, we learned that there’s a very small range for how much early control a Spirit can safely have, and that range is significantly more narrow than the amount of early offense, defense, or Fear that a Spirit can have.
This is why the bonus Air element is relatively late on the Energy track: it unlocks more Incarna movement, which is a big source of Invader control. This track is also a good example of another development lesson we learned: Spirits tend to play better when they unlock secondary elements before primary elements, because it still encourages drafting primary element cards. This same pattern shows up on most Horizons of Spirit Island and Nature Incarnate Spirits. And contrast with Sharp Fangs and Wildfire, both of which end up encouraging players to focus on Plant over Animal and Fire, respectively.
Blight Card: The Border of Life and Death
Nature Incarnate includes some new takes on Blight Cards, including Still-Healthy Island cards. Here, the island is on a thin line between health and Blight: there’s more Blight to work with, but the Spirits are strained to maintain this balance, as badly as they would be under some Blighted Island cards! Sometimes, maintaining this careful balance is more trouble than it’s worth.
A big thank you to Eric and Ted! We appreciate your insight into these Spirits so much!
We’re gearing up for the end, with lots more information to come. We’ve got an adversary, a few bonus cards, and one more spirit before we’re through! We’ll see you all on Monday!