Friday, 26 March 2010

Puzzles (Tell Me Your Favourite Type!)

At the beginning of the week, I spent time going over a number of small problems that had crept into the code since I had introduced some new ideas and systems. In particular, I found myself fixing conversation triggers in the event of absent PCs; ensuring certain classes could not exploit the alignment system and fixing the spell system in the event of a cleric or wizard missing their holy or spell book. I also found myself looking over the rest system after reading Chaos Wielder's blog on the subject. For those interested in my own resting system (which must be one of the most comprehensive systems that will hit the gaming arena when I finally get it released), they can check past blog entries as follows:
After finally sorting out that handful of problems, I was able to start looking at writing more towards a quest. In this case, it was a step forward on the main quest, and I thought I would start on a puzzle I had in mind. So, my topic this week is puzzles!

PUZZLES: Player v PC

One of the difficulties I find when designing a puzzle is the potential objection from players that their PC would know how better to solve it than they might themselves. In PnP D&D, this kind of play was easily managed by the DM who could offer clues to the player if need be, either directly or after a successful intelligence roll (or whatever attribute was being tested). In NWN, however, the same kind of opportunity to offer a clue is not so readily available, unless the game is being DM'd at the same time.

When I finally get to play my own module with my group I will be present as a guiding DM at the time of play, but I am interested in how others include puzzles where a DM may not be present? Do you even include puzzles? If you do, what considerations do you include when designing them? I would be interested in comments from both players and builders.

Agility of the Mind

The puzzle I am currently building, I have entitled an "agility of the mind" type puzzle. This is to avoid any direct connection with attributes a player may try to associate with their PC. Some may argue that this sounds like an intelligence based puzzle, but I beg to differ. After all, we can probably all recall the scatter-brained wizard. Such a wizard is extremely intelligent, but can often have moments of "slowness" over what may be considered simple things. In this way, I can design the puzzle to be reasonably simple to understand, but may require an agile mind to work out, especially if there is a given time limit.

In the process of designing this puzzle, I recognised another potential issue: If a timer was to be involved, what was there to stop the player from clicking on the pause button and taking as long as they liked to solve it? This left me stumped for some time, and I did not come up with a solution until later in the day. The answer: By using a GUI to offer a puzzle, I could force the SetPause function to keep the game un-paused all the while the GUI was open! For all other builders out there who like to use timers for puzzles, this is like a breakthrough. I felt like I had solved my own puzzle. ;)

So now, I can offer the puzzle I had in mind (using a GUI) and the player must solve the problem in a given time. Furthermore, I have considered giving bonus time based on some attributes (so maybe I will let the intelligent PC have more time). Lastly, it allows me to even have items available that will also offer bonus time to the PC/player to allow the a better chance at solving the puzzle.

Name Your Favourite Puzzle

I have a couple of puzzles now that make use of this facility. However, I would also like to know what have been your favourite puzzles in games? They can be one-off types, or regular types (like my combination chest puzzles). Whatever they be, give me some details of a puzzle that you enjoyed playing/solving and maybe I can use its style in my own module.

POLL: What Turns You Off A Module?

And once again ... if you haven't voted in the poll yet (on the left hand side), then please do and feel free to comment.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Alignments & Influence

There are some aspects of the D&D mechanics that take some effort to make work well in the game, but if handled carefully can add a great deal of depth and a dimension that can, hopefully, make it a memorable experience. In this, I include the gaming elements of alignments and influence. I have been working on these aspects since the start of the module's creation and would like to discuss them more in-depth now with a view of receiving comments from readers on any aspects that I may not have considered, or to simply comment. :)


Of the two areas, alignment alterations probably have the largest impact on the player's game with respect to their character development. This is obviously noticeable if a player is playing a class heavily reliant on alignment changes, like a Paladin or a Druid. If the PC's alignment drifts too far off course then the player soon finds themselves having to take steps to remedy the situation or be unable to continue development in such classes. (See Alignment Synergies & Recovery below.)

Probably like many of you, I have read the arguments both for and against alignment changes in a module and have formed my own opinion of how much of an impact they should have in a game. For myself, I concluded that a module that supported decisions of a conscience added extra depth to role-playing, and especially to those character classes that were based on such. However, I also concluded that changes in alignment were most practical (in terms of game play) on the good-evil axis compared to the lawful-chaotic one. After all, determining whether an action is chaotic or lawful is sometimes difficult to ascertain and more subjective than determining if an action is good or evil. Of course, even determining when an action is "good" is subjective, but at least its reasoning is more intuitive than the former.

Clerics: Living The Faith

Before now, little emphasis has been placed on clerics keeping true to their faith. In PnP D&D, a cleric could quickly lose the support of their god and spoken prayers if they strayed too far from their chosen alignment. In Better The Demon, this requirement to stay true to the faith has been reinstated for clerics. In other words, if a good aligned cleric commits too many evil acts, thereby turning them evil, then support from their god will be withdrawn. In such a lost faith state, they must then either find a way to recover their faith ... or even switch to a different faith! Whatever the situation, a cleric must be sure to live their faith according to their belief if the party are to benefit from his or her healing and other such prayers.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

With all this in mind, I have designed a system to alter alignment mostly according to the PC's good or evil actions as they adventure. While lawful and chaotic shifts will still occur independently from any good or evil act, the significant alignment changes will come with their good or evil acts. As examples, acts of non-personal violence will be determined as chaotic behaviour and include anything from smashing chests or furniture belonging to others to bashing at doors where acquiring the correct key would suffice. On the other hand, activities that directly or indirectly harm others will be considered evil acts and include such actions as killing or stealing from the innocent, or supporting illegal activities. (UPDATE: Initial attack now affects alignment if made against some non-hostile innocents. Otherwise, further attacks alters Influence only. See next.)

There are exceptions to the above, already alluded to: For instance, for good aligned PCs, killing an evil soul (non innocent) or being authorised by a recognised good and lawful authority to acquire (steal) an item will not be considered evil acts. Indeed, in some circumstances, ridding the world of an evil soul can even help shift alignments towards good and lawful. For the evil aligned PC, however, any killing will always be considered a selfish and evil act, even if killing another evil aligned character. They cannot turn "good" this way, if that is ever their aim for any reason.

Alignment Synergies & Recovery

In Better The Demon, a PC can sacrifice items of value at altars to help offset any detrimental shifts in their intended alignment goal. There are three types of altars available (good, evil and neutral), but only the good and evil altars shift a PCs alignment with a valid sacrifice, although all altars offer other benefits regardless of the PC's current alignment. When used, associated lawful shifts are known to accompany good alignment changes, whereas sacrificing at an evil altar attracts chaotic alignment shifts. As far as play is concerned, the focus for the player is towards either a good or evil path, with law or chaos alterations as a secondary concern, subject to the class of the PC.


Where alignment choice is more to do with a single overall life path focus, influence alterations simply represent how a relationship with a certain creature (PC or NPC) are going at any given time. In this sense, you could be playing either a good or evil aligned PC, but depending upon the mood of your PC towards a character at any given encounter, both your response at the time and the resulting influence with said character may change - without affecting your alignment!

Again, there are exceptions to this. For instance, lying is not considered a "mood" choice, but a deliberate intention to deceive the listener. Such action would be considered evil (and possibly chaotic) and cause an alignment shift accordingly. However, simply being "blunt" rather than "polite" may affect its listener differently. Some characters may perceive a "blunt" response as honest, decisive and to the point and another the "polite" response as sycophantic. In such situations, the player must determine how best to treat the character and respond as they feel fit. There may be no right or wrong way to respond (from the perspective of alignment changes), but does allow the player to develop their PCs in a way they prefer. If the characters they speak to react adversely to this, then it is up to the player to decide how best to handle it.

In all this, I have had to consider a balance of when to apply or ignore some actions of the player that would affect alignments and influence scores. This is because it is impossible to judge the mind and reasons of every player for doing what they do. To this end, some actions that may be considered "evil" I have decided to alter influence only. In particular, an attack on a character does not affect alignment, but influence. (UPDATE: An initial attack on innocent non-evil creatures may now constitute an alignment change.) A character will not talk to you after you have attacked them, until some time has passed for them to cool down. However, if the attack leads to the death of the character, then subject to their alignment, the PC's own alignment is shifted accordingly. In particular, if a PC should kill an NPC of "good" alignment, then the PC's own alignment is shifted immediately to "evil". (In general, any killing is considered evil and so killing a "neutral" character also has a chance of shifting an alignment towards "evil". By contrast, only occasionally does killing an "evil" being shift an alignment towards "good".)

Party Wide

In Better The Demon, both alignment and influence shifts occur party-wide. Be it as a party of a companions in a single-player game, or a bunch of players and companions in a multi-player game, the action of one PC will affect the alignment of the party or influence of a character with the rest of the group. In this sense, the actions of every PC impacts on the rest of the party. So, do not be surprised if the paladin of your party reacts to the rest of the group if they allow the rogue in the party to steal from a chest. There will be repercussions for your activities and so careful consideration for your party's role in the game will be important and something to consider as you make your way through the game.

Larger Conversation GUI

On a different note, I was interested to read Chaos Wielder has opted to have larger NWN1 conversation GUI for the same reasons as myself: As the module has quite a bit of text, then I felt the SoZ overland style of conversation offered an overall better look and feel when reading text than the original. The only difference between this GUI and the normal overland map GUI is that the multiple PC option has been removed so that it behaves in the same manner as a NWN conversation GUI, operating for only a single player at a time. Below is a screenshot with it in use. Observant readers will note quite a few other changes to the norm in the main screen that will come with the module:

POLL: What Turns You Off A Module?

If you haven't voted in the poll yet (on the left hand side), then please do and feel free to comment.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Nothing Matters! (Dark Matter)

You may recall a few weeks ago that I was inspired to write about the topic of Infinity after watching a "Horizon" programme about the subject on TV. Today, after watching another "Horizon" programme, entitled, "Is Everything We Know About The Universe Wrong?" I have once again been inspired to write, but this time on the subject of Creation, which I hope will be as much of interest to fellow bloggers/builders as myself. After all, as builders, do we not have our own stories of creation for our own worlds? Much of my own world's creation and governing aspects are loosely based upon some of these ideas I share with you now. I would truly like to know what inspires the background to your own worlds and I ask a few questions at the end of this post. If this sort of thing bores you however, then please forgive my ramblings this week too. It will probably be the last such blog for a while, as I don't think there are any more Horizon programmes left to see this season. (Normal blogs will continue.)

Truly It Does!

Once again, I made the title of this blog deliberately ambiguous. Hopefully, it will be clear now that I meant the title to read in the sense that the consideration of what we call "nothing" does actually matter, as opposed to the sense that we should have no concern about anything.

Interestingly, this week's programme also supported my own argument that I made in my last blog that there is no such thing as nothing and that in "nothing" there is actually "something": Dark Matter! The maths and science gets rather complicated and is way outside my own ability to discuss, but I was encouraged to discover that even scientists have come to the same conclusion I had, myself having just giving it some thought. By the way, I have heard the term Dark Matter before, but I did not know the scientists had considered it as something that existed as a substitute for "nothing" (something even inside a vacuum).

The same programme also discussed other related topics such as Dark Energy and Dark Flow: two other ideas put forward by scientists to help explain why the universe behaves the way it does now. The problem for scientists is that the standard model they have for creation and the universe at the moment does not fit as smoothly as they had hoped, and so they have had to introduce these concepts to help explain their theoretical model. The point I find interesting, however, (and without trying to sound arrogant) is that it seems obvious to me that humanity would not yet have discovered everything there is to know about our universe. Go back only a few hundred years and our world did not even know about the gases that are around us today, which we all take for granted as common knowledge nowadays.

The Spiritual Equation

A point I am trying to make, however, is that we have already been told that there is more to the visible eye in the universe from such texts as the Bible. I don't just mean in the form of "invisible matter" but also in the form of the spiritual, which the Bible teaches us is "invisible". It seems to me that science simply appears to be making discoveries about something that the Bible has already taught us!

We could even apply biblical knowledge in a way that might help explain some of the problems that science is struggling to resolve. For instance, if we take the stand that God created the universe out of love, we can also believe that the universe is more than just a system of matter that follows specific laws of physics. I hasten to add that I am not saying the universe is on the back of a tortoise or something like that, but that a form of life flows through the universe in ways that we do not yet understand. And where there is life, we can also recognise organic behaviour such as growth and change. If we can believe that the universe is like this in some way, (especially in the areas that the scientists currently call Dark Matter, Dark Energy or even Dark Flow but the Christian would call the spiritual world), then changes in the speed of galactic expansion and even unexpected events can simply be interpreted as a change in motion of an organic entity, potentially stretching in all kinds of directions like a growing plant. Furthermore, if we believe in the spiritual realms and principalities of which the Bible speaks, then the impact they might have on our universe should not come as a surprise.

Not Ghosts!

I know how quickly one can start thinking about ghosts when talking about the spiritual, and so I wanted to quickly clarify my own belief on such matters. In this case, I believe in a spiritual world that can and does have an impact on our own physical world, but I do not believe in "ghosts" in the traditional sense. That said, I am not saying it is impossible for ghosts to exist, but I do not believe that any such manifestations are edifying of the true spiritual realm and, in fact, only serve to lead people away from the spiritual truth of the Bible. I won't say anything more on this subject as I do not want to possibly offend people. However, I am happy to continue a discussion of such in a blog comment if you wish.

The Canvas of Creation

For a long time now, science has held on to the Big Bang Theory as a working model of Creation, and even in the Horizon programme they touch on the point that prior to the Big Bang, the scientists believed there was/is nothing. It is only in the light of the recent "Dark" theories (if you pardon the pun) that they are beginning to revise the theory. I find it interesting to think that if the "Dark" concepts of science (or what I would refer to as spiritual) existed prior to the physical universe coming into existence, then, once again, the Bible has already told us this was the case: For, according to the Bible, God and the spiritual world existed before our world and the universe was created. Knowing this, I also have no problem in believing that something outside of the universe I know (God in my case) could have created it in the way I see it now without the dimension/involvement of time. In other words, I see it as quite possible that God could have fashioned the design of creation, like a painting on a blank canvas, with all the stars and galaxies the way we see them now and then set the whole thing in motion when He delivered His creation as the completed physical universe we know today. Furthermore, a design in thought can be completed and presented in an instant without the need to pass through a period of time in a sense of being created. For example, when I say think of a car, you do not draw the car into existence inside your mind as a slow process, but have created a full and complete car image in an instant. Not only that, you could also imagine many of them of different sizes and colours as quickly as just the one.

Continuing the analogy of a blank canvas, if we paint a picture of the night sky and asked a child to describe it to us, they may say the picture is one of stars only. Yet, we know we have used a dark colour to paint in the sky where there are no stars. Or, if we paint a picture of a snowy scene on a white background, is it not also possible that we may leave the canvas blank in those areas to give the effect of snow. These are obvious examples I mention where there is actually "something" in the "nothing" or where "emptiness" in the design is still actually part of the design! However, if we can consider this same concept in our own universe, but at a level far beyond our current understanding, then some of the references of the Bible start to make more sense, and even help to explain the scientific observations. Only belief separates acceptance of this knowledge or not.

From Beyond To Within

As I said at the start, these types of programmes, along with my own personal beliefs, do help me to think about life, the universe and everything! After all, aren't we all trying to work that out deep down? And when presented with a tool like D&D (or NWN), are we then not prone to think about these topics some more if we are to create a believable world of our own in which the adventures take place? I went through two campaign designs before I realised the importance of background and history for my third and final design of Althéa. Then, when I started to investigate the reasons for the way things are in our own world, I started to gain an appreciation for certain things.

For me, it was after I read The Silmarillion (source for The Lord of the Rings) that I realised the importance of having a good and solid historical background for my own world. Later, when I became a Christian, I also recognised the importance of differentiating between fantasy and reality and to ensure there was no confusion left to the player with respect to such and avoided real world references within my own fantasy world wherever and whenever possible. In situations that conflict, I have always tried to impress the difference between what I believe is truly fantasy and what may have historically occurred. (E.g. Resurrection.)

As module builders, I believe we have a responsibility to provide an entertaining game without offending people of any creed or race. Yet, as builders, we are also in the unique position to put forward ideas and suggestions in such a way that make people think a little more about those things that previously may have been taken for granted. I am not saying we should preach in any way, but I do believe we can share our ideas in such a way that is encouraging and possibly enlightening.

With that in mind, my questions this week are:

1) What inspired your world design or currently inspires you?
2) Do you have a specific world background? (Is this your own design or by a third party?)
3) Have you written your own World Creation for your world?
4) What is the main idea or concept you are trying to demonstrate or share?
5) Or, is this too involved for your game design?

POLL: What Turns You Off A Module?

If you haven't voted for last week's poll yet, then please do and feel free to comment.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Pet Hates (POLL: What Turns You Off A Module?)

After writing this blog, I realised that a lot of my time when designing Better The Demon is to try to either include interesting and unique ideas that would attract players, while at the same time avoid those aspects of a game that players do not like. A while ago, I addressed the question of what motivates the player, and in particular asked about certain rewards that excited the player. Today, I would like to know what turns you off a game. What are your "pet hates" that simply drive you away or make you put a game down sooner than another?

The Death System

One of my own personal concerns is the way death is handled in some modules. I recognise there needs to be some kind of penalty for dying, but at the same time can see the frustration of being metaphorically beaten down by something as simple as a slow response from the player or the computer. In other words, I do not like my PC being penalised for my lack of ability to press a combination of buttons at a given time, which ultimately leads to their death.

I have tried to address this issue in past gaming by introducing a couple of ideas, which Better The Demon continues to follow. Firstly, there is a new essence, called the Life Essence, which if found and carried can help to keep a PC alive longer than expected. (Concept first introduced in Soul Shaker.) Secondly, if the PC dies without a Life Essence, then an XP death penalty is applied to the PC instead, which must be repaid before they start to accrue further XP. In other words, the PC does not lose any XP or gold upon each death, but simply has a set amount (50 xp per level) set on them to be repaid with new XP gained before it can start to be added to their goal. (Concept first introduced in my PnP days to replace level draining.)

I have also made it that when a companion dies, they remain dead and require a raise dead (or resurrect) to be brought back to life. However, careful use of the Life Essence, along with an auto-pause combat option should help reduce sudden deaths for the careful and tactical player.

What About Your Dislikes?

The Death System was just one area that I wanted to make sure did not frustrate players, and I have tried to give as much thought to other parts of the module as this, but recognise other players may find other aspects of a module far more annoying. This is where you step in: tell me about your major dislikes. While the poll includes some ideas I am considering, please feel free to add your own personal frustrations and leave a comment.

Another Quest Underway

I managed to start work on another side quest this week and am pleased with the way it has come together, especially with the number of paths it has available to it. Whether playing a good or evil aligned PC, there are a number of solutions. In theory, once I have managed to write the initial quests and the player's PC has become more established in the module, the rest should become a lot easier and thereby speed up the overall progress. In the meanwhile, I do appreciate the patience of potential players who are still reading and waiting.

Be A Part Of The Design!

As many readers will know by now, area design is my weakest/slowest area to build. I manage to keep at a reasonable pace when it comes to scripting and conversations (just slow instead of painfully slow), but designing areas can almost grind to a stop and often be restarted. However, I recognise that there is a great deal of talent out there and am not too proud to ask if anybody is interested in helping design some of the areas I already have in mind. In other words, I am not asking for a person to have to come up with everything from scratch, but am asking for an area designed on a predetermined need. However, the final outcome of that design is very much in their hands.

If this interests you, then please let me know, as I am quite prepared to release this mod in both my name and theirs. I am looking for a level of quality and attention to detail as my own, but has the gift of an artist/designer to do a better job than I can. There is no immediate pressure to come up with x number of areas in x amount of time, but is something I would love to discuss with anybody who may be interested. I won't go into too many details just now, as I do not want to give too much of the module scope away. :)

This project is something I can eventually do on my own, but it would be finished that much sooner (and hopefully to a higher quality visually) if I do have somebody to work with. Rest assured, this project will be finished (God willing) and so any time invested by a volunteer will not be wasted, and at the end of it, I hope we would have something that is quite different to the norm ... for better or worse. ;)