In Path of Exile: Expedition League, we introduced the Kalguurans, a group of hardy adventurers from a distant continent. Our narrative designer, Matt Dymerski, has written an overview of creating them from a lore perspective. This League, I was presented with a unique challenge in terms of creating Path of Exile content. The premise was fairly simple, but it was something we've never done before: there would be four entirely new types of merchant. We started with a Gambler, a Dealer, a Haggler, and one wildcard who would serve as the leader of this merry band. At that time, the design team had also determined these NPCs would be bombing the terrain to uncover items and monsters.
The question became: why are a group of merchants risking themselves in this manner? These are not the typical divas that stand around in town posing while the Exile saves the world. These are men and women on a quest. They're battle-hardened true believers in a cause. That also meant they couldn't be doing this for money, as one might otherwise expect from a merchant. The currency uncovered in this process had to mean something else to them. As it already had to have the qualities of being ancient, buried, and mysterious, their currencies became relics with cultural significance.
At that point, we had a group of dedicated warriors looking to explore the past for cultural reasons that were very important to them. For a brief time, this fit Ezomyte lore quite well, and we almost went a direction where these NPCs were Ezomytes looking to complete Sagas of their ancient heroes whose tales had been wiped away by the Eternals out of spite. However, we soon realized that introducing an entirely new culture was more intriguing and had opportunities for new mysteries within the scope of what we were trying to do for this particular League. Sagas became Logbooks instead. It was decided that the NPCs would in fact come from a distant continent—one we've actually mentioned before in obscure ways.
A bit of Norse flavor was injected into the process around this point, both from the initial Sagas idea and the concept of an incredibly long oceanic journey for a quest. That Norse flavor gave our NPCs a unique appearance, as well as a format for the stories they uncover over the course of the league. I wrote those stories—which players uncover piece by piece when they find ancient texts—in a way that emulated the sometimes-odd manner of storytelling from real-world Norse sagas. There's an emphasis on heroic characters, martial and economic actions on an individual scale, and lineage. That quickly characterized the culture that was soon named 'the Kalguur.' But here's where the league got really fun to work on: being from another continent and thus far from the Beast under Mount Veruso, the Kalguur could not have virtue gems. We asked ourselves: what else are they missing? No virtue gems meant no sockets on gear. No sockets meant their equipment was likely fundamentally different. No armour, no evasion, no energy shield... the designers came up with two new defense types, and one made the cut: Ward. Not only was it on found Kalguuran gear, but the monsters themselves would have it, too. Equipment was just one piece of the puzzle.
The Kalguur took a different path to civilization and conquest, so we touched on the Norse underpinnings again by emphasizing runes. The special factioned monsters became 'Runic,' and Kalguur lore expanded to include blacksmiths and artificers who specialized in using runes as a much different form of magic from the virtue gems we know. Astute players might have also noticed that the Kalguur have 'never heard of gods,' but they somehow still have priests. Rog obliquely mentions that Kalguuran priests are more like spiritual engineers than clergy, and thus we end up with a very different culture from any we've yet seen on Wraeclast. The exotic Kalguuran architecture in Olroth's arena and various revealed sub-areas at Expedition sites also hint that their continent is dramatically different from what we know at home. It was about this time in development that the merchants' UIs were solidified, and I had to shift over to intensive mechanical work. We've never had any real interaction during trading with NPCs, so I had to go back and forth with the design team repeatedly to build a framework that would convey the personality of the trader through dialogue without being annoying. In the end, we over-recorded in some areas, so dataminers will have a field day extracting snippets for item filters from unused dialogue.
Gwennen's dialogue was cut down quite a bit until she ended up only commenting on uniques, special rares, and failed attempts at buying a Headhunter. For Rog, I didn't do extra dialogue 'variations,' so that his deterministic single line per offer type can be used as an audio cue for players who are dealing with him regularly. Tujen lost a few tiers of dialogue as his mechanic was refined as well. After that torrent of lore work and mechanical work, there was one crucial thing left: the bosses themselves. Olroth, Vorana, Medved, and Uhtred had much less dialogue than the modern-day Kalguurans, but they were tightly integrated into the underlying history of the League, so every line had to fit. In some cases, their attacks were actually written about in the found texts, so their 'callout lines' had to contain allusions as well. In the end, though we do discover the entirety of the tragic tale of the Kalguuran expedition to Wraeclast, there's a major ominous mystery left in the wake of those events. Listen carefully, because no words are wasted.