Friday, 25 December 2009

Power To The Player!

Although I am still tied up doing a fair amount of beta testing for people, I was still able to do some coding for my own mod in between sending back test reports. It was E.C. Patterson's Trinity that grabbed most of my play testing last week, which I hope to have finished early next week. First impressions show an extremely well put together mod with only a few glitches that need ironing out before release. Trinity is a story based mod with great scenery and areas that will keep the player wanting to play more. And while it may not push every hard core D&D fan's buttons due to lack of certain things like crafting and overland maps, it will thrill and excite those players who like to follow a good story and be bestowed with rewarding cutscenes, various style quests, exciting encounters and some interesting differences to play, like being able to climb in certain areas. I have yet to finish it, but the inbuilt timer says I have played five hours already and I reckon it will take at least another 2-3 hours more to finish.

Ranges & Feedback

One of the differences in Better The Demon will be the changes in range settings. Too often when playing I have found my PC running forward to cast a spell which I thought was quite well within range. And I miss the ability to be able to release a fireball at one side of an area to course across its width to the enemy on the far side. To this end, I have set the following distances for the known ranges (for both spell and ranged weapons):
  • TOUCH: 7 Feet (Unchanged.)
  • SHORT: 50 Feet (Increased from 26 Feet.)
  • MEDIUM: 130 Feet (Increased from 65 Feet.)
  • LONG: 410 Feet (Increased from 131 Feet.)
Furthermore, to help the player calculate the distance of an object from them for the purposes of casting a spell (or using a ranged weapon), I have amended the examine GUI to show the distance (and range factor in parenthesis) when a player examines a creature, placeable, door or object. As an addition, I have also increased the height of the examine window to help reduce the amount of scrolling to read an object's description. (Check the screenshot, although the item examined was not the best example as it does not have much description in this case.)

Multi Player Combat Assistance Tool

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I am writing Better The Demon to cater for multi-player play as well. This is no easy task, as there are always many other aspects of coding to consider even when you think you have a piece of code written and working. Another aspect of a multi-player game is the ability for players to be able to communicate to each other, especially when not in the same room, and to this end, I have included a small tool that every player receives in a multi-player game.

This tool allows a player to target an object, which then highlights the location with an effect to another player. This allows simple communication when trying to explain what they are targeting. Furthermore, the same tool also gives distance feedback in the chat window to the location selected, for ranged weapon and spell distance considerations. (See the screen shot.)

Lastly, this same tool allows the player to add lines (of red, white, green or blue) into the area, again to aid in player communication and discussion of player tactics in combat. The tool allows up to 9 markers to be set that the have beam effects join each marker so that the player can section off an area in question. This facility does not have to be used just with combat, but whenever the player may want to describe something to a fellow player across a WAN. However, it was primarily designed to help support combat tactics and complement the unique combat auto-pause system I have implemented within the game. (Optional use.) (*)

This image shows one blue line (two markers) already set and the player setting a third marker (beam from their head) to mark the point where the beam from the second marker will attach to.

After the target for the marker has been selected, the player can choose to set the marker or change the colour of the new beam before setting the marker.

The player has a choice of four beam colours to help represent different things.

Once the third marker has been set, a beam appears within a few seconds extending from the previous marker to the newly placed one. A player can set up to nine markers this way to draw a tactical zone if required.

(*) I have already uploaded a very basic version of the auto-pause combat system to the Vault for use with other modules, but the one that comes with Better The Demon will be more dynamic in that it can also be set to auto-pause on encounter and I am planning to have it give round number feedback to help casters determine when spells may be about to run out.

Rallying The Troops!

Finally, I have just finished working on another system to allow players to alter their party at certain locations during the game if they have a change of mind about the PCs they are currently using. I aimed at flexibility for the player, but have also kept in some limitations to ensure the game does not become unbalanced. To this end, the module only allows a party size of 6 characters in total. (Including other players, created PCs or companions. UPDATE: This is the limit for MP and SP games now.) As an aside, I do not allow the following anachronistic classes to be available in Althéa: Harper, Red Dragon Disc, Shadow thief Amn, Neverwinter Nine, Red Wizard, Arcane Scholar, or Doomguide. This is because they make mention of backgrounds that do not exist in the world of Althéa.

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Saturday, 19 December 2009

Divided Time

By Divided Time, I am not talking about anything new for the module here, but just the fact that I am spreading my energies across a number of projects at the moment, simply due to the number of modules being released at beta (testing) stage:

I have been following these projects for quite some time, so I would like to do them the honour of at least trying to give them some of my time to look at, play and offer feedback.

My Teeth Hurt!

Then I have also been spending time taking care of "Honey", our upstairs bunny, who has been taken ill yet again with teeth problems. I cannot concentrate much on anything when any of our rabbits are ill. She had to have an operation yesterday and I had been anxious about it all week. She is home again now, but still looks a little down, and still not eating as well as she should be. When she improves, I know I will also become more productive. (This picture of her is when she was a bit more relaxed.)

You can also find more photos of our "family" at this link, where you will see "Bud" and "Daisy" frolicking around in some snow we had yesterday; the day we had to take "Honey" to the vets for her operation. What should have been a 15 minute drive took up over an hour to get there through the snow!

Module Progress

Because of the above, work on my own project has been slowed again. That said, I did tidy up some conversations to a side quest (nearly finished that now) and did some more work to a cutscene. I also started work on a player tool (requested by a player) that will allow them to determine the distance they are from an object. It can also be used in a MP WAN game for pointing out to fellow players potential targets. Finally, it also allows players to draw non-interactive lines on the ground to once again help discuss tactics with fellow players not in the same room. I struggled a bit with this last part at first because the function EffectBeam no longer accepts the basic integers I had intended to use. Instead, I had to define my own effects to duplicate the beam effect I wanted to use to be able to draw lines onscreen. Thankfully, I got this to a working template at the moment.

I had intended to do more today, but I had a strange "corrupt" script (my module's on load) that kept on returning a runtime error whenever I tried to do anything with it: save, open, close, copy and paste into another file, anything! In the end, I had to run a scandisk on my hard drive as the errors were pointing to an issue outside of the software itself. Thankfully, that fixed the problem, but took up an hour just scanning. :(

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Friday, 11 December 2009

Law & Lore

Some weeks feel more productive than others, and this week was one of them. (Makes up for last week!) And although I did not manage to do much on the quest I am currently working on, I did manage to complete a number of peripheral projects instead, complementing work I have written about in previous weeks.

Law Enforcement
In last week's blog, I mentioned a player could launder items that they may have "acquired" illegally. There are two purposes for this: (1) The player can then sell the items at any store that buys such items (as opposed to black market stores only), and (2) If approached by an officer of the law, they will have nothing to hide when searched.

Wherever the law is upheld, there is always a risk of being searched from time to time. There may even be some places where one is searched more often, and being caught with stolen goods is obviously not beneficial. When approached by an officer, the PC (party) can choose to be up front (and play innocent) and turn over any stolen goods without any further issues. Alternatively, the party can choose to try to conceal the stolen goods (or risk the guard will not be aware certain goods are stolen) and get away with them. Any items the guard recognises, however, will be confiscated and a fine will have to be paid, unless the party decide to defend the goods by attacking the guard(s) instead.

Some guards will be more observant than others and the same guard may be more or less observant at different times. Furthermore, a PC has better chance of concealing a stolen item according to their sleight of hand skill. Even if caught with stolen goods, the party have a chance of talking their way out of the situation and keeping the goods or not paying a fine according to their conversation skills. This is just another aspect of of the real life system I am trying to design with the campaign, which also enables a player to make better use of their PCs' skills.

Arcaene Lore

I mentioned this nearly two years ago, but have only now managed to put together the first batch of spells that make use of the system to be available in this module. A unique system of magic use, based upon the history of the campaign, Arcaene Lore offers the spell caster a way of accessing spells that have not been learned for the day.

This system has always been one I have intended to include in this era of the campaign, and even from the days of playing pen and paper D&D I have always included a way for players to be able to cast any spell that they have in their repertoire. The reason for this is to help prevent the need for players to having to rest and relearn a certain spell for a one-off situation. E.g. The wizard has not learned the Knock spell and the party come across a locked door. If the wizard had the Arcaene Lore spell Knock, then they would still be able to cast the spell as long as the wizard had another 1st level spell memorised to sacrifice in its place. Without the Arcaene Lore version, the wizard would have to rest and learn the spell as usual.

Thinking about this practically, I don't believe the PC would normally sit around eight hours just to learn a spell to get past a door, and so returning to my real life approach to the game once more, I felt the Arcaene Lore system was something the game had to include to overcome this illogical and impractical aspect of the whole D&D game.

Players from the PnP days will be used to this style of play anyway, as the Colour Magik system offered a similar style of play. However, as this module is both a first as a new era for Althéa and a first to be played by those not familiar with such a magic system, Arcaene Lore will be introduced more gradually, with only a few spells being available at a time. Hopefully, I will start with the more obvious spells that a spell caster would desire, but, in time, a PC should hopefully collect enough to help free them of the kinds of frustrating bonds of learning and practical use I mention above.

Spell Alterations: (Knock Spell)

I am gradually working my way through the spells, altering certain aspects as I see fit. Many have additional lines already added to allow for a more dynamic crafting system and some for longer durations or other minor alterations. All changes will be noted in the spell descriptions if examined, and so it is worth a player's time just to quickly examine each spell as they gain them to note any differences.

A spell I altered this week was the Knock spell. This has been made to work more closely to the 3rd edition, targeting a single object only (but short range). I edited my tlk file and the spells.2da to reflect new descriptions and targets possible. I have also made it clearer when a target resists the magic and when a target may have limited benefits only, like when targeting my own new Combination Chests.

On the subject of spell alterations, I would like to quickly raise the question: Has anybody noticed any spells that do not work properly with respects to saving throws? This problem was highlighted to me when I was playing the final battle in SoZ with my friend and our wizard was always failing a saving throw against mind spells, even though she was immune to such. See this forum post. I traced the problem to a missing GetIsImmune check for the condition it was dealing out. You will see in the post that I noticed a PC had a better chance of saving against the condition if they were *NOT* immune to the condition in the first place. I want to correct any spells that may have this problem prior to any release and so any information about this problem is appreciated.

Picking Locks (The Open Lock skill)

You may have picked up a common theme in this week's post: bypassing locked items. Using the skill Open Lock is another way to bypass a lock. However, in my tests this week, I noticed that picking locks has become a past-time that any class of PC can achieve even with a modicum ability in the Open Lock skill ... as most lock DCs are set at the moment.

Call me a traditionalist, but I liked the fact that Pick Locks was originally a class ability of the Thief class (now called Rogues) only. In other words, if you weren't a thief, you could not pick a lock. That said, I am not too traditional not to recognise the fact that any class of PC could *potentially* pick up the ability to pick locks, and from that point of view, I like the fact that any class of PC can have the skill Open Lock.

Having established my standing, I decided to look closer at the DC value to open a lock and the way the skill worked. Closer examination revealed that the Take Twenty rule kicked in more often than not. Added to this is the PC's skill rank and any dexterity bonuses. Furthermore, this figure can be boosted by any Thieves Tools they may be using, offering a +1 to +10 bonus. Assuming a 1st level PC with a dexterity of 18 has trained as high as possible in the Open Lock skill, they could potentially open a lock of 38 DC with the right equipment!

To cut a long story short and to spare you the math, I ended up calculating the new DCs for locks at the following values:
INFERIOR LOCKS: 1-30 DC (E.g. Failing or rusting lock.)
SIMPLE LOCKS: 31-40 DC (E.g. Working bolt lock.)
GOOD LOCKS: 41-50 DC (E.g. Complicated tumbler.)
STRONG LOCKS: 51-60 DC (E.g. Combination locks.)
AMAZING LOCKS: 61-70+ DC (E.g. Multiple Locks. Possible Magic.)

Using these new DC values, it now moves the ability to pick locks back to those PCs who are going to spend time investing skill points into the Open Lock skill. It also means that even a failing inferior lock may still require a PC with the Open Lock skill to acquire some tools to do the job! And considering most locks the party (the pilfering rogue in particular) encounter should be simple or good locks, then it can be seen that the PC now needs to specialize in this ability if they want to get anywhere with it.

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Friday, 4 December 2009

It's That Time Of Year Again

This time last year I felt the winter slow down - and I think it's back. The dark days and cold nights tend to sap what little energy I already have and everything slows down as a process. (As if it wasn't going slow enough already!) That said, I am still working on the module as the inspiration takes me and slow progress is better than no progress. :)


This week I did more towards stores and items that can be bought and sold. Once again, my goal is to arrange unique shops that allow the player to buy and sell according to the NPC they are trading with. E.g. Armour and weapons will not be sold by an alchemist and black market items will not be sold by the healer. Common sense really, but in each case I am also adding my "changing stock" code that means players may find different stock with each visit, thereby allowing a freshness with each visit. Furthermore, dealing with black market traders affects alignment. Basically, I am continuing to include the "real life" system into as many areas of play as possible.

Launder Items

On the back of the black market store, I have also coded the launder workbench. This is a special place where PCs can have items they have stolen laundered for a price. Having a stolen item laundered removes its stolen status (and red name), allowing the PC to sell it elsewhere if need be. It also means the PC is no longer seen to be carrying stolen items.

New Area

I also started to design another area for a new side quest. I suck at this part and decided not to place any screenshots just yet as I hope I may improve them in the future. Hopefully, when it comes to playing the side-quest, the gameplay will outshine what the player is looking at. ;)

Readable Books

I continue to make use of my own Readable Books code and have written another book that the players can find. However, I decided to update the code to work for a MP game now. In other words, if there is any XP awarded for reading a book, the XP is awarded to every PC and not just the reader as originally planned. I felt this would support the party approach better.

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