The Lamplighters League Developer Diary #3 and Previews
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We already had a chance to learn a thing or two about the agents we'll be recruiting and leading in Harebrained Schemes' upcoming tactical RPG The Lamplighters League, but now, the game's latest developer diary shares the background stories for some of these agents, plus some additional details on the team's approach to designing them.
Here are the text bits:
Well hey there, all you scoundrels, rogues and misfits. I'm Jill Scharr, Lead Narrative Designer for The Lamplighters League, and today I want to introduce you to just a few of the Agents you'll encounter, recruit and lead to victory. You'll meet a cheerful sniper with a no-nonsense approach to killing; a swordsman whose technique and training borders on the supernatural; and a field medic who is as quick to inflict wounds as to heal them.
The Cheerful Sniper
Purnima Rana is a member of the elite assassins' guild known as the Sanguine Club, where the rich and powerful go to take out hits on each other. She didn't mean to get mixed up in this Tower at the End of the World business. In fact, she was working a job for the League's enemies, the power-hungry Banished Court, when something horrible happened. She realized she had a scruple:
Blackballed by her guild and hunted by a cult on the verge of world domination, Purnima has little choice but to join the Lamplighters League. But, ever the consummate professional, she treats it like any other job, bringing her peerless marksmanship and her unflappable good cheer to bear for the cause.
Some of Purnima's teammates will wonder: Where does that good cheer come from? And how has it survived a career built on lives ended through the scope of a rifle? But Fedir Volchymorda—you met him in last week's developer diary—doesn't wonder. He knows all too well.
Fedir is an ex-mob enforcer; he's the guy you send to put the fear of god into the people who owe you money. Unlike Purnima and her posh guild, his work was brutal, messy, and close to home. He worked for one man for years; she has a new client every few weeks. Yet if you take the two of them on missions together, not only will you get killer combat synergies—set her to soften up targets from a distance while he soaks up damage on the front lines—the two will find out they have a lot to say to each other.
The rogues, scoundrels and misfits of the Lamplighters League all come from very different circumstances, but as the campaign unfolds many of them find common ground with each other—sometimes in surprising ways. That was my goal: to build the characters' worldviews, speech patterns and emotional resting states both distinct from, and complementary to, the other voices in the ensemble.
The Supernatural Swordsman
Fedir and Purnima may find their way to the start of a beautiful friendship, but some of your Agents will never get along. Like Fedir and… well, almost anyone else, really. But especially Zhang Jianyi.
You met Jianyi in Dev Diary #1, where he and Fedir sized each other up. You see, as Fedir pointed out, Jianyi is a traitor. It's a bit rich coming from a brutal mob enforcer whose only good turn in life—fighting for the League—happened entirely by chance, but he's not wrong: Jianyi was a brother of the martial-arts monastery Thousand Snow Mountain, where he learned to surpass normal human limits of speed and strength. He repaid their kindness by stealing the monastery's most powerful artifact and slipping away in the night.
Jianyi has something to prove, and the Lamplighters League is his ticket to proving it. But he doesn't care what Fedir or anyone else thinks of him. Let them have their misgivings. He doesn't owe them an explanation. Arrogant, brooding and standoffish, he knows exactly how good he is with both sword and pistol, and never hesitates to share his opinion, no matter how scathing or brutally honest. Take him on enough missions, and you'll discover the worst part: he's got his reasons for all of it.
That was another guidepost in the concept phase: in the words of Jean Renoir, "The hell of life is, everyone's got their reasons." Our characters are scoundrels, not heroes. Each of them has done horrible things, but they all had their reasons for doing it, and we wanted the player to empathize with, or at least understand, their choices.
On paper, Jianyi was born from the desire to add a swords-wielder to the player's combat toolkit, just as wanting a sniper Agent was the starting point for Purnima. We asked ourselves, what might it look like to fight with a sword in a world of hidden but powerful supernatural forces, and still be able to keep up with bullets and bombs? A swordsman inspired by wuxia stories—full of supernatural feats, conflicting loyalties and characters who push past the limits of human ability—was the perfect fit for the subtle magic and globe-trotting adventure of The Lamplighters League.
The Angel of Death
We've now introduced you to an assassin and a traitor in addition to the mercenaries, burglars and vigilantes you met in previous Dev Diaries. It's time to talk about the exception that proves the rule, the "good one" in the League: Ana Sofía Rodríguez.
Ana Sofía is a supernaturally gifted field medic, thanks to the training she received while a member of the Magdalite Order, a group of mystics who practice healing magic and swear vows of strict pacifism. A Magdalite would rather die than harm any living thing, even in their own self-defense.
Ana Sofía started out as a Magdalite sister. She isn't one anymore.
When the Banished Court raided her convent, stealing medical supplies intended for the poor and needy, Ana Sofía fought back. With the pull of a trigger her world turned upside down: an apostate to the Magdalites and a fugitive from the Court's vindictive justice, she fell back on the stories one of the older sisters used to tell her: stories of the heroic exploits of the Lamplighters League.
Here's a pro tip: take Ana Sofía and Jianyi on missions together. Not only does Jianyi's up-close-and-personal fighting style sometimes leave him hurting for some healing—the two also have a lot in common. Both were raised within close-knit occult orders and trained to perform supernatural feats.
And both of them left those orders in disgrace.
Always Pulp, Sometimes Noir, Never Camp
You may remember these words from the first development diary, by Game Director Chris Rogers. For the narrative team, this means that the characters are always grounded and sincere, even when the plot becomes occult and uncanny. It means The Lamplighters League won't wink at you or undercut the stakes with genre-savvy or self-referential jokes.
We know our players are familiar with the archetypes, aesthetics and tropes of 1930s pulp adventures—but our characters aren't. For them the monsters, magic and ingenious new machines are happening in their real lives, with real stakes, and at any given moment, whatever happens next is far from guaranteed.
Just because camp isn't part of the game's DNA doesn't mean we don't have a sense of humor—far from it. Just that the humor comes from the characters' perspectives—not from the way we tell the story.
What we've told you is just the start of Purnima, Jianyi and Ana Sofía's stories. To experience what happens next, as well as meet even more scoundrels, including an occult scholar who prizes knowledge over morality and a young but talented gentleman-thief, consider adding The Lamplighters League and the Tower at the End of the World to your Wishlist.
Want to keep the conversation going? People in our alternate take on the 1930s communicated via letters, telegrams and psychic visions, but most of you only have access to two out of the three, so you can drop by the Forum or the Discord to talk to Harebrained Schemes developers and other fans about The Lamplighters League. The bravest among you may even venture to follow us on Twitter.
Lead Narrative Designer
And if you'd like to know more about this project, a hands-off demo was showcased during this year's GDC, and so now we can check out a number of previews, some of them featuring quotes from Harebrained Schemes' Mitch Gitelman and Chris Rogers.
Individual or small groups of enemies patrol the map or stand guard, each emanating an awareness ring that represents Lamplighters' light stealth system. "Each of our characters has a limited number of real-time takedowns that they can use to sort of soften up the enemy," says Rogers. Choosing which troublesome enemies to pick off is part of the opening phase, as is the work of scouting and positioning your trio. Sometimes there'll be environmental actions you can take, like smashing through a crumbling wall to open up a flank. You're setting the table for the turn-based fight to follow, a twist I like.
The game has a lot of procedural generation when it comes to the placement of enemies or patrol routes, making the missions replayable. You can hide in tall grass. You can set traps, like tossing a firebomb into a pool of oil. You can distract enemies, but when you go hot, they will converge on you.
The size and type of an enemy group is only one part of the puzzle, though. Each enemy also has their own individual armour and stress levels, which you'll need to break both of to do mega damage. Some of the guards onscreen have an armour of 18 or 20, so we already know they're going to be tough to takedown, but stress is only accumulated when they're attacked - and when they reach maximum stress, they're effectively staggered for a turn so you can really lay into them. You'll need to be careful, though, as the same rules apply to you, so you'll need to keep your weaker characters out of harm's way behind a plentiful supply of full and half-height cover.
The spy theming pairs with that idea naturally. One of my characters, for instance, is a “sneak” named Lateef whose able to instantly knock out enemies if he can sneak up on them before being spotted. It’s a basic ambush idea that’s standard in a lot of tactics games, but its given a natural thematic flair here. Lateef has a few more special abilities too, like the ability to stay invisible in cover and nimbly clamber up walls. It helps that I can split the party up at any time during exploration too, allowing me to sneak into an area with just Lateef, take down an enemy or two before an encounter starts, and get out.
In a hands-off demo shown at GDC 2023, The Lamplighters League combines multiple genres together. While the game primarily features turn-based combat on a grid like X-COM, it has sections of real-time infiltration, a character-driven story, and a deck-building mechanic for extra skills. It also makes several nods to tabletop games like Pandemic and Arkham Horror, in that you have a limited amount of time to prevent several evil entities from ending the world. Specifically, you have around 35 weeks to stop three groups of the Banished Court — Nicastro, Marteau, and Strum — by stealing their treasure.