Doesn’t it just make you feel all warm and fuzzy to think about the cute little squirrels, rabbits, raccoons and foxes scampering around the world of Hearth? Don’t they just liven the place up and bring a little more joy to the world?
And isn’t it just gut-wrenching when a sandstorm carves a path of slaughter straight through the family of friendly critters around your walls, or new construction causes the forest inhabitants to disappear because their invisible spawn zones have been obliterated?
And isn’t it just odd how placing a trapper’s zone on top of existing critter spawns yields no benefits to placing the zone in an unpopulated area of the map?
That’s why I propose a new mini-feature: critter dens. After all, even goblins and undead make time to build camps*, surely the critters would have few greater priorities than securing a warm place to sleep and a source of food?
*ok, so with the undead it’s more that they had the foresight to be buried in long-lasting structures to await the day they return to feast on the living, but still, point is that everyone needs a place to get out of the rain right?
Instead of randomised spawns of a few critters around the map, at map creation there would be a handful of appropriate dens/burrows created. They might be simple encounters the same way enemy camps spawn, or if it’s simpler they could even just be decorations the same as bunny statues are which work as “target locations” for future encounters to trigger on – my thinking here is that it might be more performance friendly to have periodic events which create spawns at otherwise static items, rather than adding a new event which continues for the entire game, because it’s less for the game to keep track of long-term.
Either way, the idea is this: the dens spawn in at map creation, and critters spawn from the dens; keeping around a set limit (probably 3-5 per den by default.) So each critter has a home den, which it can interact with – scurrying home to sleep at night, exploring the local area during the day, and giving it a place to hide in inclement weather or when enemies march nearby. A really cool option would also be to have some of the critter’s food source spawn close to the den – so if you find a rabbit rabbit burrow expect to find wild carrots/wax plants nearby, if you find a raccoon den then there are probably berries/prickly pear cacti around, and if you find a fox den… well, keep an eye out for rabbits in the area. If this option is implemented alongside the basic dens system, it adds another layer of realism/story for players to discover; but it also makes early-game settlement and exploration a little more interesting. Finding a fox burrow with rabbits nearby and thus some useful plants nearby too becomes a significant find, and doubly so if the next sub-idea comes into play.
I talked before about trappers not interacting with critters at the moment, and I think that a simple option is to give trapping fields that contain a critter den a significant boost (e.g. 25-50% improved lure power for traps.) A more complex, but much more rewarding IMO, option is to improve the critters’ AI so that they seek out food sources (they wouldn’t have to actually do anything there, just play an animation… so bunnies seek out their food plants and act like they’re eating, foxes pounce at bunny dens and scamper away, etc.) This would make an improvement to trapper mechanics quite logical: traps have a “lure value” slightly higher than normal food sources, with trappers of a higher level getting bonuses so their traps become more appealing (IIRC there’s already something along these lines anyway, I know there’s also toothier traps to increase the chance of a lured animal being caught) and lure from a further distance.
The down-side of this for players is, of course, they can only trap critters when there are critters to trap; and quite frankly I don’t see this being such a bad thing. Currently, the trapper’s job is either in extreme demand or virtually none; once you build a stockpile of hides and jerky you quickly run into a surplus as your trapperr just gets faster. The change I propose would mean that when you first promote a trapper you’d get several hides fairly quickly (let’s be honest, 90% of the time most of us want a trapper for the hides/leather and the jerky is just a bonus), there would be a lull while the trapper resets the traps, and then there would be another round of spawns which would gradually be lured in and the cycle would keep going. As the trapper levels up the stream of loot becomes more reliable, without cluttering the trapping zone or keeping your haulers busy in one area.
But the more important place that the player gets to interact with this improved system comes in with town banner buffs – now it’s not just a matter of getting more from trappers as the current relevant buff offers, but having higher spawn rates/numbers from dens to begin with (so the land around the town looks more alive too.) This allows the town to support more trappers at a time, drawing the game more towards a specialisation/play style – with the current implementation that buff makes the player less likely to use extra trappers rather than more likely, whereas the version I propose turns trapping into a more viable industry.
And one last facet of this system: what happens when animals settle their den right where the player wants to build? Well, just like IRL, someone has to chase them away! I would propose that the dens can be “broken up”, yielding a couple of resources dependent on the den type and probably a little of the animal’s food as well. Any remaining critters from that den will wander to a nearby food source and the first one to find a location will establish a new den (alternatively it might be that every critter has the chance to settle a new den but dens can only exist outside a certain distance from each other), so getting rid of one den doesn’t start a slow extinction process. Of course, if a player wants to cause the extinction of a species (or eliminate it from an area), they can trap all the creatures from a den and then destroy it… but players could also scatter a den while providing a food source nearby so that they can take advantage of the den in a better location, or possibly even cause multiple new dens to be settled (depends on which of the previous options is chosen re: settling new dens.) I suppose a logical extension is for one of the crafers to be able to craft a new den to place, although that seems a bit redundant given that shepherds can do a better job… unless perhaps the player really wants a lot of critters around? This would really make the system into something players can interact with, although frankly it might be too much. Simply having the den re-form away from town might be the best option, but I’ll leave that debate up to others.
I think that even if only the first part of this suggestion were implemented, it would add a lot of story to the lives of the random critters and make them feel a bit more real within the world of Hearth. If we also got the changes to trapping mechanics, it would further make the scattered critters really matter to players – no longer a cute decoration, but a resource to consider and try to protect.