Friday, 27 November 2009

Down At The Store

This week I have been going over some of the items a PC will be able to buy at the stores. A simple endeavour you may have thought, until you take into account certain items you may have added or altered for some reason. For example, I wanted to add the possibility of buying one or two plot items. (i.e. A toolset term meaning items that cannot be destroyed as opposed to items that pertain to the story.) However, as I alluded to in my last post, this prevents me from being able to set them at a certain price for sale, and so I had to write some code to effectively allow me to reset the plot flag after the item had been purchased.

Another area where there was a problem was when I added ammunition to a weapon store. In Better The Demon, ammunition is sold in stacks of 20 as opposed to 99 due to an overhaul of the economy system. Unfortunately, due to the way ammunition stacks by default (in quantities of 99), I found that an exploit was introduced because the player could buy a proportion of the the stack at a skewed proportional cost. To get around this problem, I had to alter the stacking limit of ammunition (and throwing weapons by the way) in the baseitems.2da to the same as my shop stack quantities of 20. This turned out to equate to the PnP definition of a number of arrows in a quiver, so I was not disappointed about the lowered slot figure. Furthermore, as NWN automatically restocks arrows into the arrow slot as they are used, I did not see it as a problem. If anything, it simply reflects a more realistic ability to carry this type of item.

What! No Magic!

One of the first things a player will notice when they play Better The Demon is that by comparison to the official campaigns, the world of Althéa is a low magic world. There will be hardly any magic items for sale at stores at all. In fact, the only items that will be available are scrolls and potions (and then only by a few people). Weapons, armour or other wondrous items will not be available from any stores. As an example, the most expensive item currently available in a sundry store is a gold necklace at 100 gp. A Healer's kit (+3) comes in second at 68 gp. In the local arms and armour store, the most expensive item is masterwork chainmail at 168 gp. The idea reflected here is that magic is not an everyday item that the local population can afford to buy, so items generally afforded are stocked instead.

That said, crafting items, recipe books and new recipes can be bought at reasonable prices for those with the skills and/or extra gold to make them. The problem is, there is hardly anything to be made from selling magic items as they cost a great deal to make and there are not enough people around who can afford to buy them. The odd item of magic will still be bought from a PC (if they acquire one and wish to sell it), but the store keeper will normally cap their costs and only purchase it if they have a buyer in mind. In other words, once a magic item is sold to a store keeper, it will be sold on shortly afterwards to a special buyer, thereby effectively removing it from the world.

Appreciation Note

Some of the items on sale include Amraphael's Light Sources and the chalk that was found in his Zork Adventure. Amraphael is a wizard at making custom content and I fully acknowledge the wonderful contributions he has made to help make my own module the way I wanted.

No Cart of Gold!

Another thing players will soon discover is that they will no longer be able to carry items and gold around with them as if they had an invisible All-Terrain Cart of Huge Carrying Capacity. As I have already mentioned above, ammunition will now take up more inventory slots, larger items have more weight than the default values and gold is now carried in bags of 500 gp at a time. (NB: A PC is allowed to carry less than 500 gold without any weight restrictions.) Take a look at the screenshot below to see the gold bag description and how it will impact the PCs. The idea behind this is that the player will now see there are other benefits to having greater strength and/or someone to help them on an adventure, even if it is just to help carry back any treasure they might find.

PLOT PREFERENCES: Do Not Forget To Vote!

Just a quick reminder to ask for your vote (and feedback?) on your gaming preferences as requested in this post.

Friday, 20 November 2009

A Room At The Inn (Economy and Rest Considerations)

According to the 3rd edition PHB, poor accommodation is nothing more than "a place on the floor near the hearth". This came at a PnP (pen and paper) price of only 2 sp (silver pieces). A point to note, however, is that while this cheap accommodation price reflected an area where a PC could rest, they were unlikely to get much peace and quiet appropriate for study. And according to the PHB again, wizards and clerics require uninterrupted rest to be able to learn their spells or prayers for the following day. Otherwise, they must spend extra time to gain sufficient rest before being able to learn them fully. (More on this in a moment.)

A More Expensive Economy

In NWN, gold is the main currency and does not leave any room for the lesser coinage to be accessible to players. This is not a problem though, as it is easy enough to balance the economy around the gold piece as the lowest denominator available for most adventurer transactions, and to leave the lesser coins as hidden transactions for the masses. However, this method does mean that a normal economy in such a world is still somewhat more expensive than a traditional pen and paper one. For example, it works out that even the cheapest accommodation has to be charged at five times a PnP cost at 1 gp per person instead of 2 sp. To keep this figure balanced to the general populace, it means we have to assume a world with the gp as the standard coinage must be five times more expensive/richer than a traditional PnP one.

I mention this for two reasons. The first is to show that even the local populace will carry gold coins with them, even if we are to assume they also carry coins of lower value. Secondly, that a player is assumed to only be interested in gold coins as far as gaming transactions are concerned. (We can even make the assumption that a player still acquires coins of every metal type as long as they are worth at least 1 gp.)

However, there are times when certain items cannot be realistically said to cost 1gp, even in an economy that is five times dearer than a PnP one. In these circumstances, I have adopted a package buy approach. Or, to put it another way, the adventurer would not buy single quantities of items of low cost if they are buying them at all. In such circumstances, it is assumed the adventurer buys at least 1 gp value of the item. E.g. If buying a pint mug of ale cost 4 cp in PnP, even at five times the cost, it would still only cost 2 sp. Therefore, we could expect at least 5 pints for our 1 gp in a NWN world. In fact, I have allowed 1 gp to purchase 10 pints of ale in my own module, meaning when the PC "buys an ale", they are in fact buying sufficient to last the night for themselves or buying a round or two for the party. The following screenshot shows some prices of drinks available in Better The Demon.

Accommodation Costs

Having established a NWN world is five times more expensive than a traditional PnP one, we can now start to put a price on different accommodation. Prices must still range from cheap to expensive, but understanding the relative economy and the minimum costs the game world provides now helps us to establish the cheapest price for accommodation as 1 gp. From here, the module builder can adjust more expensive accommodation accordingly. It is possible, of course, that an inn may not be able to provide the more expensive accommodations, in which case the adventurer must make do with what is on offer and what they can afford. A screenshot below shows the new Accommodation GUI that comes with Better The Demon. Note also, the better the accommodation, the better the chances of peace and quiet for studying. The player is offered the following GUI when they enquire about accommodation at an inn or tavern: UPDATE: I have increased the HP recovery by a factor for some accommodations to a maximum of 3x and for those PCs with the Trance feat or Cocoon spell. (All screenshots show the old values.)

Disturbed Rest

As different quality accommodation can affect the PCs ability to study, I have introduced two new features into Better The Demon to help the player overcome the problem. The first is the feat called Trance and the second is a 1st level spell called Cocoon. As most outdoor resting comes with a potential penalty for disturbed rest, then having at least one of these abilities will help the PC to learn their spells and recover more efficiently. The same abilities will even help overcome the disturbances from the cheapest rented accommodation. (See screenshot below.)

If a PC does not have access to the above feat or spell and rests in an area subject to disturbance, then with each rest they will only recover a number of HPs equal to their level and suffer a chance of failing to recover each spell they are trying to learn. At an inn, the player can choose to rest immediately again and does recover their full complement of spells as another 8 hours is said to pass. On the open road, however, rest will not be permitted until another 8 hours has passed from the first rest.

NWN Tips

I learned a couple of things this week that may be of interest to people:

1) If your PrintScreen fails to store images in your NWN directory, try using SHIFT-PrintScreen instead. I use Windows 7 now and the normal PrintScreen failed to work as it did before.

2) If you make an item plot and add it to a shop, then it can only be sold at 1gp.


Don't forget to add your vote to the poll (to the left) based on last week's blog entry.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Plot Twists By Player Freedom (POLL: Plot Considerations)

I am not talking about the normal twists one might expect the module builder to include, but I refer to the twists that players may add of their own. You know the type I mean, when they manage to do something completely unexpected and "break" the module. The difficulty for the builder comes as they give the player more freedom, and the player eventually uses that freedom to get around a plot "choke" point in a way the builder may not have first thought of. A simple example may be when the player discovers a way into an area before they are supposed to. On the face of it, that may be a fairly easy thing to fix, but "fixing" it so the player does not feel cheated or forced in a certain direction is a much more difficult task to pull off.

In the next few sections, I have tried to discuss various aspects of PC freedom and what might be done to help overcome the type of problems I mean both for the builder and, therefore, the player as well. And because when we design a module we tend to have the outcome in mind, I will start off by giving my overall conclusion to act as a governing point to all those I am making, but will include individual suggested solutions for each problem along the way as well.

Plot Considerations Poll

As a result of my pondering this week, I thought I would submit another poll to find out what other builders and players alike thought about the problem. Please submit your answer and add any comments that you think might be useful. (Top left of the page and entitled, "How Much Freedom do You really Want?")

Overall Conclusion

In the end, I concluded that it all depends on how much the module builder wished to prevent the player "messing things up" whether deliberately or unintentionally. BUT, to the defence of the player, the more we (module builders) try to do this, the more the player may feel they are not playing the game the way they want to, but may feel railroaded down a certain path. Therefore, I recognised the builder needs to carefully weigh the level of freedom they offer the player in their module and then ensure the players recognise and accept to co-operate within the limit before they start playing it. However, once the terms of the gaming have been accepted, it is the responsibility of the builder not to backtrack on what they have offered, or, to put it another way, not to forget what a player might like to try to do within the capabilities you have allowed them.

For my own module, Better The Demon, I have set the level of freedom quite high (too high?), which has forced me to look at these points differently as I have gone along. I share them with you now, hoping they may help other builders.

To Plot Or Not To Plot

Does the builder make items "plot" or not? Doing so ensures the player cannot destroy an item and can always work with it (cannot sell it), but does that always make for fair/free play? For example, if a player casts a fireball in a room, should it be allowed to destroy the frail ancient book that holds the answer to the quest they have been working on or not?

Suggested Solution: Personally, I prefer to remove this particular "freedom" from the player and make the book indestructible, simply because I like conclusion in a game. However, are there any "purist" players or builders who think they would prefer otherwise? Furthermore, I like to change the state of this type of plot item after it has served its purpose. Once the PCs no longer need the ancient frail book, maybe it can crumble, burn or even be sold.

Other Points: What if the book represented the start of an adventure? What if it is only one book in a collection of books? Should a plot item be made undroppable as well?

A Key Is Required

Are there times when only the key will unlock the door? The player starts the game and finds a locked cellar door. They start to pick it, only to be told that only the key will work. The wizard tries the knock spell and likewise cannot get past. The fighter tries to bash it down, but the door refuses to budge. So the party walk away from the inn's cellar door mystified and disappointed. The point I am trying to make here is to avoid misuse of this facility.

Suggested Solution: I find this one of the more difficult problems to overcome within reason. My own conclusion is that most (if not all) doors should be possible to pick, knock or bash and that requiring a specific key should be reserved for special fortified entrances and exits only. However, this can be difficult to govern as there are a number of variables that a clever player can add to their chances to bypass a lock. It only takes one miscalculation by the builder and the player suddenly has access to an area before they should have. There is no easy answer to this one, except for the builder to be ready with a very good reason as to why a door is impassable without its key (E.g. The cellar door actually led to a wizard's dungeon and was protected with magic.) or be prepared for a change in the story and events if the PC is resourceful enough to get through to an area before events would have otherwise transpired. To make a plot still work requires a greater number of plot status checks (as I have discovered). Even using a monster as a guardian comes with risks.

Other Points: In my opinion, there really should be no reason for relying on a required key within a fantasy environment in most circumstances. Furthermore, difficulty settings should not be unreasonable for the door in question. After all, how many doors have super locks? For Better The Demon, I have used other reasons why PCs cannot bash at a door or even enter certain areas after picking it, like using witnesses and NPCs who prevent the PCs from doing so. However, even this method can come with potential issues. (See next.)

Attacking Neutrals

Why can't the PC attack the NPC who holds the key? The NPC in question does not have to be holding a key specifically, but can be said to have anything the PC requires but won't part with it until the PC has performed a certain task, or are preventing a PC from doing something just by their presence. Would not an evil or impatient PC just simply want to attack the NPC and take the item from them or get past them?

Suggested Solution: Make it so NPCs can be attacked by enabling the option in the campaign settings. This, however, is easier to enable than it is to support. For example, the PCs meet an innkeeper who has a number of tasks for them, but a "twitchy" assassin gets a little frustrated with the innkeeper's lack of co-operation and decides to kill him before all tasks are delivered and met. Now, in this case, I believe the player should "suffer the consequences of their actions" and perhaps miss out on certain quests and results. That said, however, I would recommend having a backup plan to help the player achieve any main quests. Good writing may even allow the player to achieve even minor quests, but this would involve a lot more effort from the builder. The main issue one is trying to offer to the player here is freedom of choice once again. Here, however, it is the ultimate freedom of choice of whether to co-operate with people and society or go against it and risk becoming an outcast.

Other Points: Balance and plausibility are the key factors to account for here, and even the player must co-operate to a degree. After all, while they may potentially end up being able to kill everybody in the module, what would be the point of it? The odd discreet assassination or random kill reflecting the role of the PC is one thing, but even the best written module must reach a point where it recognises a maniac PC who must be destroyed by the world's inhabitants at all costs. There must also be recognised limitations with respect to killing traders. If achieved, a player should not expect to recover all store items, and even find themselves short of a way of trading items. However, a builder must be ready to consider allowing plot item drops that they may have only otherwise created at a conversation time. Lastly, systems need to be taken into account that can restore factions between PCs and targets if attacked by accident or if accidentally damaged by spells.

Pick A Pocket Or Two

Should plot items ever be pick-pocketable? The player knows the NPC carries the key they need and decides that they want to pick-pocket it rather than do the task asked of them. (They have learned that attacking the NPC is a bad idea.)

Suggested Solution: This one really depends on the item more than anything else in my opinion. Not just from a perspective of size, but also of relevance to the NPC and where the NPC is likely to store the item on their body. E.g. The key to the NPC's treasure chest is likely to be very well concealed on their persons in a place that cannot be pick-pocketed. Whereas, a few gold coins in the outer pocket may be easy to reach. NB: Some NPCs will ensure even this may be too well hidden to pick pocket, subjct to their own values and character. Things like armour and swords should never be pick-pocketable in my opinion.

Other Points: What happens when a PC pick-pockets in public? Does the victim stand mute if they discover the theft or shout for help? Does every potential victim have anything worth pick-pocketing? After all, what is the point of having the skill if the module does not cater for potential benefits of that skill?

What About You?

The plot points raised above are the ones I consider the most important. However, there may be more I have missed and if so, please let me know. And don't forget the poll!

BUILDERS: How do you plan your plot paths and balance that with freedom for the player? Do you prefer to write more streamlined interaction for your players or have other ways of offering an illusion of freedom?

PLAYERS: Do you prefer the DM to restrict certain aspects of reality to ensure a plot can be resolved. (E.g. Prevent a plot item being destroyed.) Or do you believe that every action should bring about its own consequence? How much "freedom" do you really want as opposed to a tighter story? It's an age old debate, but maybe in the light of a builder's problem, it may have you re-evaluate your own previous decision?

The Module

I managed to do some more conversations this week to do with a side quest. It was while writing this quest that I discovered the potential issues I raised above, in particular the problem of a player working their way into an area before I had originally planned. In the end I added many more checks and story paths to accommodate the player freedom of overcoming the challenge, but even so, I eventually had to reach a "stop point" to manage the coding. (From all the paths, I imagine this final point will never be found.) It does mean that the module's completion percentage could be upped. ;)

Friday, 6 November 2009

A Desperate Week

Unfortunately, sometimes real life just seems to be against you and all the best laid plans go awry. I suppose I could have just left any post this week, but decided writing about it might be a cathartic experience and help move things on so I can get back to doing more on the module. That said, I imagine many readers will be investigating the newly released Dragon Age to be reading many blogs (mine included) at this time.

So what has happened? Well, to myself, I have had an appeal against a health insurance claim declined again, which means having to spend more time appealing and chasing up hospital reports. And all the while this is being declined (18 months now), it simply adds stress, which is only compounding my current health problems.

Then, I have my mother being conned out of thousands of pounds and not having the backbone to do something about it. And when I try to help, being told I am only scaring her into action. Meanwhile, due to her lack of taking responsibility, she is being threatened to be taken to court for more thousands of pounds. Believe me, I am trying to be very patient and helpful, but to be told all I am doing is scaring her and then having my own sister (who has not had to deal with the problem) yell in my face for doing so (when they should both know all I am doing is trying to help) is very frustrating.

So, this week, my wife and I decided (as much for my own health and sanity) that we would have to leave my Mum (and sister) to their own self-destructive lives. As much as it breaks my heart to say so, the last few months have shown my mother (and sister) to not be the people I thought they were. Obviously, there is a lot more to it than what I have said, but I don't want to place every piece of dirty linen out for all to see. Thankfully, before coming to this decision, I was able to have my mother's sister get involved and (what appears to be) a reasonable and competent solicitor. Unfortunately, I don't see any room for reconciliation for ourselves due to too many lies from my mother being said. (She says she forgets.) What can one do when a person holds back truths and is afraid of taking responsibility for what they do - and then blames others who are only trying to help?


As far as doing work on the module, I was unable to do much more than finish a cutscene I was working on. I can say that I recommend using the SetCommandable function over a SetCutsceneMode function when making cutscenes, as the former prevents a weird "view the top of the PC's head" after coming out of a conversation, which you get with the latter.

I am also hoping to meet up with Geoff (Quillmaster) this weekend to discuss all things Neverwinter Nights and modules, so hopefully, I will be able to put last week behind me and try to do more relaxing things, like work with the module. Geoff's own NWN1 module is nearing completion and I hope to help him finish a little scripting with some items (Soul Stones) that act in a similar manner to my own Life Essence, so that should be straight forward enough. In return, I am hoping he may be able to help with some artistic touches to my own module, or at least secure some time in the future for such.

However, to end my week, I have to visit the dentist later on today for a toothache problem that was not cured the last time I went only a few months ago!