Tuesday, 29 April 2008

A Need For Motivation

I have been feeling somewhat demotivated over the last couple of weeks, for obvious reasons if you have been following the blog. I have also just learned that one of my regular players can no longer make the sessions, which is always a shame, but he had important life issues to deal with and must prioritise. There are other issues as well, not least my health, but the bottom line is, they all take a toll on my ability to concentrate and motivate myself to do anything creative.

So I thought I would make a post that might encourage people to make comments about what they like or dislike in a module. I know I have asked this kind of thing before, but time has moved on and there may be new readers of the blog who have something to add or say, as well as any regular players who might wish to post comments. I want to be able to concentrate my efforts in the right direction and try to focus on events and plot lines that players enjoy. To this end, I have chosen a few areas with my own questions that may inspire comments. If I have anything to say about the questions myself, I have added a Bard Comment.

Durations: Assuming the term campaign stands for a chapter of a story, which itself is made up of several scenarios, please comment on the following:

1) How long do you like a scenario to last? (How many minutes or hours?)
2) How long do you like a chapter (campaign) to last? (How many hours?)

Bard Comment: My current working is to have most scenarios last many hours, but I recognise how this may detract from the overall pace of the main story. As time appears to be a low resource for many players, I am now considering reducing scenario times to only a couple of hours at most, so that one may be fully playable in one or two play sessions.

Resolutions: Some people may like short stories, whereas others may prefer epics. While scenarios help define short sections within an overall larger story, some people may still prefer to reach a resolution before others. Therefore, along the lines of the previous questions:

1) How long are you prepared to follow one story line before reaching a resolution? (Months? Years?)
2) Do you prefer many campaigns = one story or one campaign = one story? (*)

(*) NOTE: The difference is that the world and PC being used can (if preferred) remain the same, but a different story line would be used.

Bard Comment: The scale of the main story is a hard one for me to judge. As a builder, I quite like "epic" story lines, but hindsight has proven not all players have the stamina to see it through to the end. Part of the problem in the past was my preference to have the PCs develop their full number of levels over one story line. However, this goal meant more scenarios were required to develop a PC before the final outcome was met. And the higher the level the PC, the bigger a scenario would need to be to give the PC enough experience to develop - unless the DM wanted to artificially exaggerate XP rewards to compensate, which I was not prepared to do.

However, NWN (compared to PnP), allows a quicker PC development simply because of real time combat. It is far easier to have more combats and generally move forward in an evening session (and gain more XP) than when played in PnP and, consequently, PCs can develop more quickly in a shorter span of real time. This, in turn, means scenarios can be more focused and allow pacing to be more easily controlled. In such a case, it can be argued that it would be better to have one campaign be a complete story and allow the same PCs to move onto a new story in the same world, even if it is at a new location.

Previously, slower turn-based combat and my desire to have the PCs fully level over the course of the entire story required the story to cross many campaigns, which I now believe has had a negative affect on its overall pace. For this reason, I am proposing a change to one campaign for one story, which would mean players would reach a resolution at the end of a chapter (campaign) irrespective of their level, which would, in turn, then allow me to add new dimensions and stories for their PCs to encounter within the same world. However, I await comments.

Design: Scenarios and campaigns come in all shapes and designs, but each player has their own preferences. Some prefer wilderness, some cities, others dungeons and some prefer other planes of existence. Each design affects the style of play and experience for the player. While a campaign will often come with a mixture of these, it is good to know what people like about each.

1) How much NPC interaction do you like or expect in each environment?
2) Which type of scenario style do you prefer and why?
3) How important is "eye candy" and "prettiness" for an environment?

Bard Comment: Here, I am trying to determine what attracts or excites players about a module "visually". Does every detail need to be included for every environment, including every NPC? How much does the player like to have to "work" for their information, and how much do they like to be based on what they actually see.

Companions & Other NPCs: Some players like to have companions, others don't. Some like them to be an independent personality with things to say, while others prefer them to keep silent. Some like NPCs to ramble on about the world about them, while other players like them to stick to the point.

1) How interactive do you like characters? (Often have something to say, sometimes, never?)
2) Do you prefer background chat or just to the point? (Verbose or plot points only?)
3) How many companions is a good number to have? (None, one, as many as possible?)
4) Does it matter to you if a village has "static" characters rather than wandering or changing?

Bard Comment: In the days of PnP, all NPC interaction would be an on-the-fly response by the DM to any player comment. While this is still manageable when a DM is at the helm and is what makes a DM'd game more enjoyable, there are still some minimum's that I believe should be automated for the player. It is these minimums that I am asking people to comment on ... or more if they expect more.

Mechanics: Some players like the NWN mechanics unchanged, exactly as they come out of the box, whereas others prefer the House Rules tweaked to resemble PnP rules, where such things as resting, attrition, dying, potions and spells all have to be carefully considered.

1) Which House Rules are important to you? (None, some, as many as possible from PnP?)
2) What is your opinion towards mechanics or rules? (They add to your experience or not?)
3) Are there any rules or mechanics you really don't like?
4) Are there any mechanics you believe should always be in place?

Bard Comment: I know most players probably like rules and mechanics to appear as little as possible in a game, preferring more of a role-play style of game. However, D&D is based upon stats and rules and therefore must make reference to them, even if it is behind the scenes most of the time. It is with this in mind, I have asked the above questions and how would you like certain "rules" or "mechanics" to have an impact on your game. Once implemented, of course, these types of changes are not made reference to until they have a direct impact on the PC during play. Then, have they become a nuisance or a fair state of play?

The Story: Players fall into different categories according to the style of gaming they prefer. Some like to see their PC develop in their attributes and skills, while others like to develop different characteristics of their PC in other ways, like their personality or having a specific goal in mind. Whatever the player prefers to do will change their approach to the main story and affect the type of story they like to follow. With this in mind:

1) What style of story do you prefer? (Quick and simple? Long and complex? Mixture? Other?)
2) Do you like stories that allow long conversations or succinct ones?
3) How would you like to have an impact on a story?
4) How would you like a story to have an impact on you?

Bard Comment: No matter if a story is complex or simple, some players may be expecting a different end result from it to what the builder had in mind. While plot twists can be exciting, they may also be off-putting to a player if they feel the effort they put into the module still did not compensate them in some way. For some, it is the story alone that drives the player on, but for others, it may be the desire to improve their PC's skills and attributes, or to another player, a different aspect of their PC. These questions are trying to discover what it is players like to come away with after playing a scenario (module) or reaching the end of a story.

I invite all visitors to this blog to comment where they can so that it may help me focus on some of my own ideas and, hopefully, give me motivation to get involved again. While I am reasonably certain I will become motivated again without any comments, your input may be what I need to start again sooner. Thanks.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

A Narrow Escape (ADV)

As those of you who follow this blog will know, my wife's and my pet rabbit, Anakin died last Monday and so this week was always going to be hard for us. Therefore, I cannot let this first post after his loss go without another brief mention to him. While Jennifer and I will continue to live our lives without him as best we can, there will always be a hollow where he is missing from anything we do. This evening's play was no different, and that while I believe everyone had a "good" time, Jen and I were simply grateful that their were those present who understood our grief. I would also like to take this opportunity to say thank-you to those who have passed on their condolences and kind words, which have helped us a great deal at this time. Jennifer and I both hope that we will will continue to offer friendship and hospitality, even in our sad times.

There were no bugs encountered tonight. Everything played as it should have done, even when it looked like Karasten was being picked on again. ;) Another concern raised at one point was the inability to target a creature, but this had been down to the location of the PC and being out of a line of sight of the target. The only other concern raised was one to do with the Toxic Shield spell, but I cover this in more detail next.

Toxic Shield Soul Spell

During gaming, Karasten cast the Toxic Shield spell and entered a toxic area to recover some items. After leaving the dangerous area, the spell eventually ran out and Karasten started to take damage. This was raised as an issue on the night and requires a little more detail from me to explain what actually happens in these circumstances: When a PC enters either a toxic or Negatron area, toxins or Negatrons start to build up on the soul of the person, like layers or levels of toxins or Negatrons upon the soul. These levels gradually fade over time and is reported back to the player as the number of toxin or Negatron levels that remain. If any remain at a round end, then the PC will still take damage if they have no means of protection.

In the example of toxins that built up on Karasten, he was able to resist their effect all the while he had a Toxic Shield in place. In fact, if he continued to cast a Toxic Shield spell, then he could make his shield last longer than it takes the toxins to dissipate, and thereby not take any damage. Alternatively, (as he did on the night), he could take an anti-toxin potion to help remove remaining toxin levels that are still upon his soul and causing him damage. NB: Depending upon the number of toxic (or Negatron) levels that the PC suffers from, it may require more than one anti-toxin (or Positron) potion being required to remove all the remaining levels upon a soul.

The description of the Toxic Shield spell indicates that the PC is immune from all toxins while they are in the toxic area and while the shield is in place. What was probably not clear, however, was that toxins "cling" to the PC and add as "levels" of toxicity from which the PC will suffer after their spell runs out. I hope this explanation helps explain how toxic (and Negatrons) affect a PC now - and that all players are aware of how to deal with them in future. I apologise for any confusion, but at least it made for an exciting discovery on the night. (The evening synopsis covers this discovery from the perspective of the PC.) The Walk through also has this:

TOXIC AREAS: These are very harmful to your character and can have a cumulative damaging effect all the while they are within its area of effect.Therefore, only enter toxic areas if you have a good stock of healing potions, anti-toxin potions and/or a means of resisting toxins. The best way to deal with toxic build-up is to take anti-toxin potions one after the other until you get the message “ALL TOXINS REMOVED”. All the while the PC has toxic build-up, they will continue to take damage unless they are resistant to the toxins in some way.

SYNOPSIS SNIPPET: (REALM LEVEL: Third) REALM TIME: 7 Hours 45 Mins

"On the other side of the force-field, the heroes spied a Clinker Alarm post, but there was no Watcher guarding this one. Instead, there was a ring of pulsating light encircling the post that appeared and disappeared every few seconds . Cautiously, Grimbold stepped forward as the rest of the group waited to see what happened. At first, nothing did, but after a few seconds of silence, the dreaded alarm they feared sounded to life, going straight into the intruder alert sound." Read the full synopsis here.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

A Treasure In Heaven

It is with a very sad and heavy heart that I make this post today, as yesterday, my wife's and my pet rabbit, Anakin, passed away. He was an adorable little bunny, who was our substitute child and very much one of the family. I know this may sound strange to those who don't have pets, but I hope there will be those who understand how his passing has affected us very deeply and we are both mourning for his loss.

He appeared a little tired and listless on the Sunday evening and on the Monday morning, he died in my arms as I held him. While he was at least seven years old, his death still came as a shock to us because he seemed so full of life only a couple of days ago. Yet, it was time for God to call him home and even as much as it breaks our heart to have him go, we accept God's Will and pray that Anakin is now one of our treasures in heaven.


Anakin was a house bunny, but often went outside whenever he wanted to play and have some fresh air. My wife, Jennifer, would spend up to two to three hours sometimes, playing with him and keeping an eye on him as he sat outside, to make sure no harm ever came to him. When he had had enough, he would come bounding back indoors for a treat before settling down for an evening of love and attention, which could easily last another couple of hours. He never went without attention, and was always given as much time, care and love as was needed and we could give.

We actually only had Anakin for just over four years and three months, as we took him from a friend of my wife, who suffered from cancer and could no longer take care of him. She, in turn, had found him at a Rescue Home, where we believe he had been part of a litter that had been passed on to them. However, both Jennifer and I have always believed he was destined to become part of our family, and we are thankful that he spent the majority of his life with us, running free in a Christian home, where he received as much love as anyone could give their "little boy".

God bless you Anakin, we will miss you deeply. Love Mummy and Daddy.
Matthew 6 v 19: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Friday, 18 April 2008

Captured Spell Books

A few days ago I was contacted by Dwight Kubach (aka kgambit), content editor of the great Thieves Guild website about a project I might consider for my Readable Books. He asked if it was possible to make a spell book that contained spells for wizards to find and copy. My first reaction was that it should be fairly straight forward and I decided to give it a shot. After I started, it soon became obvious that the project was not going to be as quite straight forward as I first thought, especially as my knowledge of XML coding is still quite basic. However, with the knowledge I do have, I managed to hit on a workable solution. It may not be the best way to do it, but at least it works.


I had to make some design choices, such as the maximum number of spells that could be found in any one book, but after some more communication with Dwight, I believe I have found a combination of random spells per wizard level that should do the job well. However, for those who like to tweak the spell books themselves, I have added some parameters that can be set at build time that can tell what limit of spells the book will have in it, and I hope I will eventually code in variables that allow the builder to specify the exact spells found if they wish to. I hope also to code a value system for the book, representing the spells that are in the tome, gradually decreasing for each spell removed.

Lastly, I have added a DM's tool to add some global switches that can make the wizard only be able to learn one spell a day, and/or even make a DC roll to see if they successfully copy the spell or not. If I get the time, I will even add an option that allows a DM to create a spell book according to variables they select dynamically available during a gaming session. This part, however, does involve a great deal of repetitive coding for the way I want it to work, and so it will all depend upon how I feel about it at the time. (UPDATE: This has been added and is available with the final product.)



Copying In Practise

To make the system work with what is available in NWN2, I had to assume a successful copy produced a scroll of the copied spell, which the wizard could then either scribe into their own spell book or cast. Therefore, if the wizard was successful in copying the spell from the spell book and acquired a scroll, they would still have to be of the right level to be able to scribe it into their spell book according to the engine rules. Therefore, no balance is lost in the game. Furthermore, as another measure to ensure game balance is not upset, I have made it so that once a spell has been successfully copied as a scroll, then it is removed from the spell book. In other words, there is only one scroll produced per spell in the spell book. (Picture shows greyed out spells already copied.)

I think there could be a lot of potential for this item, especially if I can get the coding to allow a DM dynamic control within a gaming session. My thanks go to Dwight who helped encourage me to look at this idea, as now that it is underway, I can see it will be very useful and hopefully well received in my own campaign.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Captured Souls (ADV)

I felt that this week was a strong one for character development of the PCs. They managed to find the Rest Area key and added quite a few Soul Fragments along the way, giving them plenty to exchange at a Soul Forge to help start to prepare themselves for the areas ahead. They also came across a Soul Prison for the first time, which, after realising that their weapons could not destroy it (or stop the screaming), they decided to interact with it instead. Then they quickly learned the neat rewards to be had for releasing a trapped soul.

There was another minor bug to report that has now been fixed in patch v1.03. It was an erroneous check in place to see if a PC carried enough Spirit Fragments to sustain a weapon. As only a smith hammer is required to sustain a weapon, this was obviously a bug and is now fixed. Note: The code never actually removed the Spirit Fragments, but would simply not allow the PC to try to sustain a weapon if they were not carrying at least 30 Spirit Fragments.

Multi-Player Teamwork

When playing Soul Shaker, it is very tempting to develop all skills that you would like your PC to use. However, in a multi-player game, this desire needs to be curbed. When there is more than one PC present, skills are best developed around the group so that each can excel in an ability, rather than have a few PCs each with the same skills, but poorly developed.

As the game has progressed, it has become obvious that Karasten (a natural Influencer) has continued to develop this side of his character and for this reason should be given all the help to acquire spells and mana potions. Myara, on the other hand, has developed her sustain, restore and amend skills, and so anybody who wants work done with a weapon should give her the job to do rather than try to develop the skills themselves to do the job. Then there is Grimbold, who is very much the Affector of the group, who should be given the best weapons if and when found. While it is possible to develop the skills you need individually, you will miss out on acquiring the highest scores in abilities that will set you apart from others.

SYNOPSIS SNIPPET: (REALM LEVEL: Second) REALM TIME: 6.5 Hours

"The group had finally made it to the Rest Area, but what was that awful screaming they could hear? Somewhere nearby, a dreadful wailing, as if souls in torment could be heard. It did not take long for the group to discover the source of the disturbing cries: In a large chamber just off the passageway was a hovering sphere that appeared to tumble in mid-air. The screaming was coming from here and both the sounds and sight disturbed the heroes." Read the full synopsis here.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

The Great Crucible of Life

"As time passes within the known planes of existence, junctures occasionally occur when the Great Crucible of Life requires attention. In such a time, the Gods that attend the Great Crucible work to remove any undesirable elements and those parts that have risen to the surface and threaten to spoil the perfect purity of the melt. Yet, these parts are not destroyed, but are made subject to greater forces that break them down into new elements that can still be used in the Recipe of Life. When ready, the Gods slowly reintroduce these new elements, carefully watching for further signs of changes that would threaten to spoil the perfect melt once more...."

As players of the campaign and readers of this blog will know by now, such a time is now upon the worlds of the campaign in which Althéa resides. Certain "elements" have caused the Gods to re-examine the balance of power and magik that runs through the planes of existence and bring about a change, much like the Debacle once did in the world of Althéa. Ultimately, this will mean sudden changes for the peoples of the worlds, who suddenly discover things they once knew and took for granted are no longer known to them, or beyond their current ability. For some, this will mean an end to their striving for achievement, as they accept their own inability to cope with the changes, but for others, especially those that know no different, it marks the beginning of a new age, where the slate of achievements has been wiped clean, allowing any who are prepared to make the effort, have the chance to make something new of their lives in a way that the old era may have worked against them.

The changes will be obvious to the PCs who survive the current adventure and manage to return to the world of Althéa:

1) Skill and feats once honed and useful, are no longer the case.
2) The system of Colour Magik no longer exists.
3) Faith for the gods has become more personal.

The changes throughout the world have also brought changes in the shift of power, but unlike at the time of the Debacle when the actual people who desired power were destroyed, this time they are left alive. And while some have drifted into obscurity, others, with greater desires, have picked up from where they left off and have even enhanced their positions by using the Changing (as it became known) as a means to work peoples' fears and manipulate them to their own needs.

Practical Changes

Any surviving characters of the old era begin in the new era at level 1 unless the great God of Balance, Vol, deems otherwise. All skills and feats known from the old era will have been forgotten. Only basic attributes will survive the Changing. Everyone must begin afresh.

Magik/Magic Changes

Most magik in one form or another will have lost its power, be it in the knowledge of spells, prayers or magik equipment. These are some of the main "elements" that were drawn out of the Crucible of Life and made subject to greater forces before being returned. Now, it is up to the peoples of the worlds to rediscover those Gifts of Life that help them to grow and to build again.

While the basic elements of the magik of the old era have been altered, reconstruction of many spells and magik equipment will come into being once again, after the peoples of the worlds unlock the new formulae that works it. Of immediate note are the more obvious new elements that have appeared in place of the old: Essences. Somehow, their arising is tied to the disappearance of the old magik, and is of immediate interest to those who would learn of constructing enhanced weapons like those of old.

The World of Althéa

Upon the world of Althéa in particular, there has come into being an essence not found upon any other world yet: The Life Essence. As its name implies, its power is somehow tied to life, and of all the essences, is the most mysterious force. Believed to be part of the very fabric by which life and true magik flows, its new presence upon Althéa has brought about some changes in the way spells can be cast.

Arcane Spells

In the old era, to cast a Colour Magik spell, the wizard was required to either ingest Moon Rock of a certain colour or acquire a material component or focus to aid in casting the spell if it was "foreign" to them. Since the Changing, however, the formulae for many spells has changed and it has been discovered that those spells that once required such components are no longer required. The presence of the Life Essence upon Althéa has somehow replaced the need for Moon Rock and/or material components/foci - at least for Arcane spells.

As the formulae for some spells have remained lost, new era wizards have suggested that the "lost spells" are part of what may be behind the power of the Life Essence and of some of the new formulae (spells) that have been discovered. So that while some spells from the old era may no longer be available, many have argued that the presence of the Life Essence may actually prove to be of greater value.

Divine Spells

The devout peoples of Althéa see the Changing differently. They see the Changing, or what they would also call the Darkening, as a time for a need of greater personal faith in a time of darkness. For them, their faith to their god comes first and should be renewed with greater vigour and determination, involving a throwing away of old attachments to the world and recognising an inner strength given to them by their god to do what must be done. To these people, their Holy Book is the only thing they need. While the carrying of a holy symbol may be useful as a means of recognition, it is no longer required in any prayers as a divine focus. So, much like their wizard counterpart, they too no longer require any focus other than their faith to be able to pray to their god for help in answering of the most common prayers.

Below is a list of the Arcane and Divine spells that once required material components, foci or a divine focus that have survived to the new era and no longer require them. Note, this is not a complete list of available spells, but only those that once required material components or some kind of focus to cast:
CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE


Even though most spells or prayers no longer require a form of focus, there are still a handful of spells or prayers that do require extra materials or cost in their casting due to its nature. Those that survived from the old era to the new and meet this criteria are in the table below:

CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE


Note, spells that are found and powered by Arcaene Lore (even if listed above) do not require these components. However, special case incantations (neither memorised nor Arcaene Lore spells, but usually specially written scroll spells for an unusual situation or event) can still be found and their circumstances may still require other Material Components, Foci or other costs, such as XP to cast. To find out more about extra components required, please refer to the spells section of the D20 website.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Block After Block (ADV)

This was the third week for the group playing Soul Shaker, and while we still had the mixed tokens problem and Karasten appeared to be the main focus of the attacks, the game otherwise played quite smoothly. I have looked at the code again and patched the game to v1.02a to include the following (hopeful) fixes:

  1. Altered monster HB AI seek to try to make target more random. (v1.02)

  2. Fixed Death Runner to wait until required. (Another waiter issue.) (v1.02)

  3. Altered code in an attempt to prevent mixed tokens again. (v1.02)
  4. Fixed a couple of soul spell scripts that used INSTANT instead of PERMANENT parameters. (v1.02a)
Playing a module like Soul Shaker, with all its differences to take in, can be quite difficult to organise and understand when first encountered. However, once the player adapts to the gaming differences and better understands their PC's roles within the Realm, then so the gaming becomes easier. In particular, knowing how and where to find the various bits of information is a key to best play and so I offer the following advice:

  1. Always use the Main Menu whenever you want to do anything other than combat with your PC.

  2. All communications, (scrolls, telepathys, knowledge) are accessed from the Messages & Information Menu.

  3. Any critical Keys found, are added to the Realm Keys Acquired Menu.

  4. All objectives are added to the Journal.
Most of the time, the other menus are for information only and are there for a player to understand at what level their PC's are and where they may need to develop them with Soul Fragments at Soul Forges. The only other exceptions, are the extra menus that appear for PCs that have extra skills or abilities to use outside of combat, like Restore or Sustain for weapons, or Soul Magik for those with the ability to cast soul spells. In fact, a player can ignore all menu information until they have a need to check something like a scroll found, or if they need to remind themselves what their immediate objective is. If ever in doubt of what to do, the first place to look in is the journal.

Handling Dispersals

One of biggest puzzles within the Realm is the way the soul reacts upon a dispersal. A number of different factors are involved when a soul is dispersed and are subject to such things as the number of spirit or soul fragments carried and whether or not a Soul Regenerator has been turned on or not. Below is a quick outline of what the heroes have learned:

Soul Regenerator: OFF

A) If a player carries 5 or more Soul Fragments, then they will be reborn with full HPs at a slightly earlier safe location at the cost of 5 Soul Fragments.

B) If the player does not carry enough Soul Fragments, then their souls are left at the same location as they are dispersed and they must wait until Soul Fragments fall upon them at which time they are reborn. Alternatively, if another PC carries a Soul Gem, then the PC can (at the sacrifice of a few of their own Soul Fragments) bring the PC back into existence. The PC is reborn with only a basic few HPs in both circumstances.

Soul Regenerator: ON

A) If a player carries at least 10 Spirit Fragments, then they will be reborn at the area's Soul regenerator. They will only be reborn with a basic few HPs.

B) If the PC does not carry enough Spirit Fragments to use the Soul Regenerator, but does have enough Soul Fragments to be reborn at an earlier location (like A above), then they will do so.

C) If the player does not carry enough Soul Fragments or Spirit Fragments, then their souls are left at the same location as they are dispersed and must wait until Soul Fragments fall upon them at which time they are reborn. Alternatively, if another PC carries a Soul Gem, then the PC can (at the sacrifice of a few of their own Soul Fragments) bring the PC back into existence. The PC is reborn with only a basic few HPs in both circumstances.

Note that (B) in the first option is the same as (C) in the second option, and that while losing 10 Spirit Fragments is not too much to pay for a rebirth, losing 5 Soul Fragments is quite a penalty and is why a player must be careful that they do not put their PC in a position where they have stockpiled a number of Soul Fragments and may die. The best advise, is always be sure to have used Soul Fragments as early as possible and carry no more than 4 if you have not yet turned on a Soul regenerator for the area. However, the advantage of being brought back by a Soul Gem (if achieved), is that the PC does not have the dispersal count against them at the final XP award for the module. The risk and option is left to the players to decide.

SYNOPSIS SNIPPET: (REALM LEVEL: Second) REALM TIME: 5 Hours (Approx)

"The heroes walked across the hallway to the nearby elevator. This was their prime goal anyway and so the heroes looked for the control that would send them to the courtyard level as Terrell had suggested. There were many apparent levels to this large building, but one was clearly marked as the Ground Floor. When Karasten pulled the lever, however, it was obvious that the mechanism was jammed." Read More here.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Vigour & Resting Charts

On the back of the post I made earlier today, here are a couple of charts that hopefully make things easier to see how the system works:

Toolset Tip

Also today, I learned how to recover a tab after accidentally closing it in the toolset. The program has a really frustrating point of not easily being able to reopen tabs after you do something like this. I found the solution inthe FAQ for the toolset, which read as follows:

Q: Help! My toolbars are gone!

A: Click on the View menu and choose Options.... On the left side, choose Windows. Click the Reset button, then click OK. Close the toolset, and reopen it. If this doesn't correct the issue, or if your menu bar is gone, close the toolset. Open up Windows Explorer, and paste this text into the Address bar:

Windows XP: %USERPROFILE%\Local Settings\Application Data Windows
Vista:
%USERPROFILE%\AppData\LocalHit Enter.

From there, delete the folder named NWN2 Toolset. That will reset everything for when you next launch the toolset.
I had to do the latter. I also received a post from Sunjammer, who, among his post, advised the following method to remove the close crosses from the tabs completely:

To help avoid a recurrence go to your %USERPROFILE%\Local Settings\Application Data Windows\NWN2 Toolset\[lang]\ folder and open the WindowConfig.xml file in your text editor of choice. Then find and replace all instances of CloseButton="True" with CloseButton="False".
Just to be on the safe side, I have also made a backup of the WindowsConfig.xml file now as well.

The Hunger & Vigour System

This is a continuation of the Resting & The Passage of Time post.

As you should know by now, control of resting and the general flow of time within the new era of the Althea campaign will be directly in the hands of the players. In theory, there is no need for the DM to be involved in any flow of time, as even in the most unusual cases, where several years may pass, well even that can be a decision made by players in answer to a script to do so. However, I don't expect the need for the passing of years or even months or weeks for the time being (if you pardon the pun), and so the new rest system takes care of all time movements directly from the player's actions. Related to the flow of time, is eating and resting, and this is where the new Hunger and Vigour system come into play.

Hunger & Vigour Overview

There will be a standard 15 minutes real time to one hour game time in the new campaign. This is a simple way of truncating and morphing time to allow for less important activities (where nothing actually happens, like sleeping or waiting around) to be swallowed up in the whole flow of time. Within this main parameter, players may allow their PC's to either rest fully (sleep and recover spells etc.) or simply wait around for a few hours (until dawn or dusk). When they are not resting or waiting, they are "adventuring" and using energy, which gradually decreases their vigour level.

Hunger and vigour share a close relationship to each other and also to resting. In general, as you adventure, your vigour level will slowly decrease, representing a loss of energy and a gradual succumbing to fatigue and exhaustion. This is represented by dexterity and strength decreases as time passes beyond eight hours adventuring. You can eat food to help keep vigour levels higher and fatigue at bay, but eventually, for one reason or another, you will want to rest properly to become fully refreshed.

Vigour Rate

A fully rested and fed PC has 100% vigour. Approximately every 15 minutes game time (approximately 3.5 minutes real time), a PC loses 1% vigour. The first penalties do not come into effect until the PC drops to 65% vigour, which equates to roughly 8 hours adventuring (game time) or after roughly 2 hours of real time playing. This means a player does not need to spend unnecessary amounts of time caring about the PC's vigour levels during each gaming session, as the likelihood is that they will only need to address any such issues once per session.

The player is updated in the chat window with the vigour score every percentage change. It is shown as a progress bar and its current percentage, as in the picture to the left. This shows a vigour score of 66% for the PC called Adaur.




Vigour Effects

Below is a chart to help explain how a PC is affected as time passes. NB: Even though the penalties are not cumulative initially, continued passing below these values (after eating and dropping below them again) will have a cumulative effect. See "Improving Vigour & Avoiding Exhaustion".


Improving Vigour & Avoiding Exhaustion

Vigour can be improved by either eating food rations or fully resting. Fully resting differs from waiting for a few hours to pass and so I will distinguish between these two options as Resting (sleeping) and Waiting (awake).

EATING (Exhaustion Still Possible): If a player chooses to, they can use a food ration and target a PC they wish to feed. UPDATE: Rations target self only now. (No force feeding.) Any targeted PC will then have their vigour level restored to 85%. This is the highest vigour score that eating food alone can take the PC to. NB: If the PC drops below the above penalty percentages again, then they will take further (cumulative) attribute penalties, representing exhaustion because of not resting.

RESTING (Removes Exhaustion): A player can only rest if they have at least one food ration among the PCs that they control. If none of the PCs carry a food ration, then resting to recover from low vigour penalties and recover spells is impossible. Recovery of any sort cannot be done on an empty stomach. If the player has an equal number of rations (or more) than they have PC's, then they will have vigour scores for all PCs restored to 100%. If, however, the PCs had to share the ration(s) due to their being too few to go around, then even though they do still rest (recover spells and have exhaustion penalties removed), they awake with only 70% vigour.

WAITING (Vigour Unchanged): A player can choose to wait around and the vigour score of their PCs does not change, as they are not actively doing anything to lower their vigour score. However, the passing of time can still have an impact if they do not carry any food and more than 3 hours pass, as they can still suffer from hunger. See "No Food (Hunger Damage)".

Zero Vigour

If a player ignores the vigour score of a PC and it reaches zero percent, then the PC will automatically eat a food ration if there is one available within the player's PCs. If this automatic process occurs, then the food ration only restores vigour to 70% as opposed to 85% for a player paying careful attention to their PCs condition and manually feeding them beforehand. If, however, there is no food to eat, then the PC will start to take hunger damage with every hour that passes.

No Food (Hunger Damage)

If a PC cannot find any food among the group of PCs that the player controls, then they begin to take hunger damage for every hour that passes. NB: This hunger damage is NOT temporary damage and must be recovered through rest or healing. However, the survival skill helps reduce the amount of damage taken, and can sometimes even stop it altogether.

WAITING (While Hungry): While a PC cannot rest without food, they can still wait for time to pass. In this case, the PC does not have their vigour reduced (as they are not actively doing anything), however, with each hour that passes, the PC will take extra damage from hunger if they do not have access to any food.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Shattered Souls (ADV)

This week witnessed the first dispersals of the heroes, or what are considered temporary deaths while upon the demi-plane. However, I have to confess that there was an error in the code that caused them to have a harder time of events than they should have. Basically, three times the amount of Death Walkers spawned than should have done, and as an average of three deaths per player occurred in this one battle, I have amended the players "death counts" by two to account for the error so that the final death count was reduced to one rather than three. Furthermore, I allowed all XP gained in this battle to remain as it is as a compensation.

This obviously led me to work at another public patch for Soul Shaker, and as the fixes are aimed more at a multi-player game than a single-player one, I have updated the version number to start from v1.00 and, importantly, all patches now only work from this level of the module or the last version from the earlier series (v0.18), which is the version we are playing. Furthermore, after examining the code that caused the initial "monster overload" error, it drew my attention to a number of other multi-player issues that needed addressing. So, even though I released v1.00 on the Vault to address the initial problems, I have been fixing other multi-player issues today and have already released v1.01. Just to give you some idea of the fixes included, check out this list:
  1. MP Monster AI Fix: Improved Aggressors Target/Aggression AI for MP.
  2. MP Monster AI Fix: Improved Passive Sentinel AI for MP.
  3. MP Monster AI Fix: Improved Spirit Guardian AI for MP.
  4. MP Monster AI Fix: Reduced Death Walkers ability to reach invalid targets. (TMI)
  5. MP Monster AI Fix: Ensured monsters would turn hostile for every player when disturbed.
  6. Fixed waiting Death Walker code to prevent it from wandering.
  7. Gave a slightly longer pause between menu opening to prevent mixed PC tokens.
  8. Fixed an annoying HB pause when a PC was not carrying a valid weapon.
Ones that players noticed during the last session in particular were: #5 when a zombie would not turn hostile immediately for all players; #7 when players would sometimes see each others tokens by mistake; and lastly # 8, was one that I noticed during testing and found very annoying: A PC would stop during a heartbeat for no reason if they were not carrying a weapon. All these fixes have now been put in place for our own game, and I hope the extra fixes have nipped problems in the bud before we get to them.
EXTRA INFORMATION: I had thought that this next piece of information was available in the game manual, but, after checking, found that it was something I had covered in the Walkthrough manual instead. Therefore, if I come across something that was raised during a session and where a player can benefit from this extra information, I may at times (like now) quote parts of the Walkthrough manual . NB: AT THIS TIME PLAYERS SHOULD NOT REFER TO THE WALKTHROUGH MANUAL BEYOND WHAT IS COVERED HERE.
"BOOKCASES & LORE BOOKS: Some bookcases will drop lore books that will aid the PC through the Realm by offering bonuses to certain skills. If playing in a MP game, care must be taken not to pick up a book that may be useful to another PC in your group. If a book is of the same or lower level than you have already studied, then the study of the lore book will be abandoned."
There is also this bit of information from the Walkthrough Guide:
"LORE BOOKS: It is worth remembering that acquiring Lore Books can sometimes allow a PC to use a skill when they otherwise may not have been able to. E.g. If a weapon requires an Amend skill of 4 or higher and the PC only has Amend skill of 2, but also an Amend Lore of 2, then the total score of 4 will allow them a chance to amend the weapon. They will be at the minimum chance of success and the cost of trying will be high, but it may be worth the attempt. The skills do not always add in the same way as this, and so experimentation during play is the answer."
SYNOPSIS SNIPPET: (REALM LEVEL: First) REALM TIME: 3 Hours 30 Mins
"Myara had strayed from the group as they made their way and was attacked by some wandering Death Walkers, which overwhelmed her and caused her to be dispersed once more. She was the first to discover the price paid when her soul was restored at the Soul Regenerator: Ten of her Spirit Fragments had been lost in the process. Eventually, Myara managed to catch up with the other two, bringing chasing Death Walkers in her wake."


Read More here.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Baking Me A Bridge

I have been looking into designing another area close to where the first module of the campaign begins. I always find starting areas difficult, but once they begin to take shape, things get a little easier. However, in this area, I had the need to place a small bridge crossing over a stream. This appeared straight forward at first, but I soon found that because of the way the game handles the z-axis, creating a walkpath that crosses over an elevated area is not as straight forward as I first thought. At least it was, but I did not realise I had to bake the area for the process to work fully. I knew at some stage that "baking" an area was important, but only now do I realise what impact it has in these sorts of situations. When I first placed my bridge and I tried to walk over it, the PC simply walked through the bridge and into the water beneath, before coming back up the other side! In the end, after consulting the forums, I learned the best method to sort this was to:


  1. Turn all my "bridge pieces" (planks of wood in this case) into "Environment Objects". Right click on the placeable and choose the option from the menu.


  2. Add a "Walkmesh Helper". I found one that fitted the description of what I needed: A wooden one that gives the sound of footsteps on a wooden surface. This could then be rescaled to fit over the surface of my bridge as an invisible object that would help determine where the walkmesh would go.


  3. BAKE the area! This is where I did not know it would make a difference, as I was struggling with the first two stages for quite some time before I decided to actually do the baking. After I did the baking, the desired effect was achieved.