Friday, 24 September 2010

New Area Designers & Modules To Play

I decided to take the plunge a couple of weeks ago and advertise for area designers to help create areas for my module, Better The Demon. Limited health and poor design skills on my part forced my hand if I wanted to bring my module's release time forward to any time in the near future. Thankfully, I was blessed with a great response from three well-known established module writers. Already, they have been at work creating both interior and exterior areas, and from the screenshots I have seen already, with some amazing results! All of them have created something in a matter of days compared to my months or even years. Furthermore, all of them have understood my requirements very well and brought life into visions I have only had on paper for some time. So, in no particular order, I will introduce you to them and point you towards other work they have already done or are doing:

To begin with, there is Hoegbo, who has just finished an exterior for the first module (of three) and has also begun work on another selection of exteriors for the second module. Find out more about him and his own work at his blog, The Demon Melody. Next is Matthew Rieder, currently working on an interior for the first module. He has recently created his own module, The Wizard's Apprentice, which can be downloaded from The Vault. Last, but not least, is Eguintir Eligard, who keeps a blog about his up and coming Islander module, which is very near completion.

All of these people are very gifted and talented at designing areas and are bringing a great deal to my own module. Their work is inspiring and has even helped me consider new side quests relating to their designs. Although I cannot go into detail about the work they have done (so as not to give spoilers), I can say that their designs are among the best I have ever seen in any module I have played. I look forward to all and any work they can continue to contribute and hope that I may be able to return the favour to each of them one day.

While they have been busy designing the areas, I have had time to continue looking over plot material, including books, monsters, conversations and that sort of thing. As a result of the added help, I have revised the current status of the module to 30% complete. I would like to point out that if the current rate of support continues at the rate it is, then this figure may continue to jump from week to week. But, I don't want to count my chickens just yet .... ;)

Time To Play?

There have been a number of NWN2 modules released over the last couple of months or so, and although I do not play much, I do like to take a look and play some when I can:

Path of Evil: Kamal released the beta version of this some time ago, and I was fortunate enough to have some time to be able to take a look. At the time, there were one or two minor bugs still to be ironed out, but even from the small part I played, I could see it was going to be a big game. You can find out more at this forum post. If you want to play this one, you will need to have lots of spare time. I have earmarked this one to play after I have finished my own module.

Risen Hero: Shaughn has recently just released the first chapter of his module, Risen Hero. I have been following his work for some time and am eager to give this one a try when I get some more time. From Vault results to date, it has already been received very well. This is one module I definitely intend to play.

Legacy of White Plume Mountain: Wyrin, who always seems very productive to me, has released his LoWPM, available at the Vault. This is one of the very few modules that supports multi-player play and so I am trying to play it with a friend when time allows. (We like to get together and play a computer game when we can.) While we have encountered one or two minor bugs, I know Wyrin is already sorting through them. If my friend and I manage to finish this one, I will write a comment and cast a vote.

The Maimed God's Saga: Tiberius recently released this cleric only adventure, which has a good air of mystery about it. It's a module I keep going back to from time to time as I like to play the cleric class. Tiberius says TMGSII is "unlikely to see the light of day", so this module is complete. If I ever finish it, I will cast my vote.

Live Forever: This module was actually released some time ago by Azenn. I have downloaded it to take a look at myself, but have not had much time to do so. It's high score on the Vault suggested that it may be a good one to play. Download from the Vault. If I do play and finish it, I will leave a comment and vote.

File Storage & Download Facility

In my recent correspondence with Matthew Rieder, he pointed out a useful website called MediaFire, which allows files to be uploaded and downloaded for free! There is a maximum file size of 200 MB for the "free" version, but if you need or want more, you can pay for it with a subscription. I find the free limit of 200 MB sufficient for my own use. I will be using this facility to manage files between area designers and myself.

Party Size Poll

Don't forget that the Party Size Poll is still up and running. (Left pane.) Please vote for your ideal size and leave a comment if need be!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Definitive Crafting System

This week, I decided to try to finish the tome Crafting With The Greater Essences that helps to describe crafting methods when using the Greater Essences. Like its predecessor, Crafting Recipes From The Past, it is a fully comprehensive guide on many recipes available in the game, all compiled into one easy reference tome. Both of these tomes use my Readable Book format with a dedicated contents guide and are designed to make crafting much simpler! As I started to work on the tome, however, I decided I needed to update the crafting system one more time, to make it much more streamlined than I had currently made it and even more user-friendly. I did this, because I believe that most of the problems and dislike from people when using a crafting system is because of the many differences and complications normally entailed. Here are the opening pages of the two tomes in question:

Cost 5gp and obtained (when available) from any good alchemist.

Cost 5gp and obtained (when available) from any good alchemist.

All Recipes Rolled Into One

The first tome, entitled Crafting Recipes From The Past, covers every crafting recipe that came with the first official campaign, with many recipes covering the lesser essences and gems. Not every recipe included in this tome requires such, but if it was a recipe that was detailed in a book from the first official campaign, then this tome has it covered. The second tome, entitled Crafting With The Greater Essences, does the same thing of amalgamating all the recipes into one book, but for those recipes that were found in the second official campaign, Mask of the Betrayer.

The beauty of this, is that the player no longer has to hunt around trying to locate the recipe they need among the many books, or struggle to recall what it is they need to have to qualify, as all the details have been carefully laid out in such a way to make finding a valid and useful recipe reasonably quickly. It is even possible to easily consider a plan of enhancement or creation ahead of time because the crafter has all the relevant details to hand.

Finally, with the introduction of Storms of Zehir, the player was introduced to a third recipe system. Thankfully, this system introduced recipe books straight away, and so the newer recipe system complements the two described here well. However, I have made one distinction of the newer recipes, and that is they act more like magikal pages that are used up when they are used to help enhance or create an item. Therefore, the modern recipe books can hold more than one copy of the same recipe, simply because you need a separate copy of the recipe for each time you wish to carry out its formula.

Crafting In Practice

The entire crafting scripts have undergone comprehensive changes to help iron out many of the differences and inconsistencies between them, which I will mention in a minute. I have also edited many cost related 2da files to ensure crafted items do not upset the economy of the world and reflect sensible values between ingredients used and final product. I have even fixed one or two broken recipes along the way.

First off, I would like to show some screenshots of some of the items, tools and recipes involved in crafting, to help demonstrate how much easier working with crafting will be in Better The Demon. The first collection of tools for the crafter involve bags, the primary one being the Crafting Satchel (cost 2gp and readily available from any good alchemist):

This bag is invaluable for anybody who wants to keep their crafting items in order. Any crafting items found are automatically moved into this bag if carried, making searching for specific crafting items much easier when required. (See description.) The next screenshot shows us examining a couple of the items inside the Crafting Satchel:

Notice creature items that can be distilled into essences say as much in their description and even tell you what skill rank is required to recover the essence from the creature part. Notice also, how the mold name makes it clear what minimum Craft Weapon skill is required to work with it. The next screenshot shows a closer examination of the essences within the bag:

Notice how the essence description is not the source of the information for what it can do. To find this information, you simply look up the recipe you wish to follow within the Crafting With The Greater Essences tome. The logic is you look for and plan what you want to create from reading the tome (or any tome) and then look out for the ingredients required. You decide what to make rather than see what can be made from the essence. As an important aside, you must carry a copy of these tomes to be able to use any of the recipes within them. In other words, you cannot meta-game the recipes by referring to them outside of the game and then playing them out in the game.

As well as the Crafter's Satchel, there are a couple more satchels that a crafter may find useful to have in their inventory. That is the Alchemist's Satchel and the Enchanter's Satchel. Take a look at their descriptions in the images below:

The Alchemists' Satchel (cost 2gp and readily available from any good alchemist) is more useful to PC's who have the skill to determine creature parts that can be used in modern recipes (as opposed to creature distillable parts used to create the lesser essences). If the PC has taken the time to increase their alchemy skill, then any creature parts they find that can be used in modern recipes will be instantly recognised and placed into this satchel if carried. These parts are automatically used if and when a PC uses a modern style recipe.

The second bag is the more expensive Enchanter's Satchel, costing 100 gp and obtained (when available) from any good Alchemist. Once the crafter has established themselves and gold becomes less of an issue, then purchasing an Enchanter's Satchel is the way to go to avoid having to go back to a known bench location whenever they need to do some crafting involving a magician's workbench. It does require the power of Life Essences though to help enable its magik in the field.

Next up are the Mortar & Pestle and the Smith's Hammer: two very useful tools of the trade for any would be crafters. If alchemy is more your craft, then the mortar & pestle will be your first tool of the trade, costing around 4 gp and obtained from any good alchemist or local sundry store. On the other hand, if working with molds to create your own armour and weapons is more your thing, the you will need to pick up a smith hammer, also costing around 4 gp from a smith or local sundry store.

The most expensive tool a crafter is likely to purchase is a Shaper's Alembic; a tool designed to convert, combine or divide essences, costing around 320 gp and normally only one or two available at a time from an alchemist due to their expense. They become a much more viable tool at higher levels and when the crafter really needs to work with essences more effectively.

Note from the description, however, that all the information about skill ranks is known ahead of time and that the tool handles all essences that can be found at much lower levels than any previous campaign has allowed, making the whole system easier to get into.

Finally, take a look at some of the modern recipes available in the screenshots below. Notice (like the molds name) that these recipes include a number in their name title if the PC needs to meet a minimum caster level (for enchanting) or rank in a skill (for creating). This makes it it as easy as a glance to quickly look at the recipe name and determine if you are of high enough ability to even be able to attempt the crafting without having to look at the further details. Scrolling through the recipes available in a book will be all it takes to quickly work out if you have anything within your capabilities. You can even see from the names in these examples, that the Amulet of Health (+2) does not have a minimum figure, which means only the feat is required.

(TYPO: Longbow recipe should say Blacksmith Bench required.)

Among many of the objects you may find along the way to help with creating other items are things like ingots. Once again, any item like this that you find in the game will be clearly marked as to what type of item it might be used for. This helps remove the nagging questions or doubts about what items you need for the type of crafting you may be following:

Item Properties

One of the major problems with the different crafting systems was that they all had their own idiosyncrasies about how to add properties and what would or would not count as a property already. For example, in some systems adamantine weapons counted as having enhancements already, whereas in another, they did not count. In Better The Demon, all this has been ironed out and it a very simple case now of all weapons and armour can have a maximum of 4 magikal properties - excluding any material benefits! (*) Therefore, whether a weapon is made from adamantine or iron, both weapons can have four more properties added. The added benefits of an adamantine item are just that - additional benefits! Therefore, the system does not penalise for characters improving items created from the more exotic materials, but even enhances them further! This maximum is across the board for items, be they weapons or armour, etc. The only exception to this maximum is if the weapon is of poorer quality (a new gaming system in Better The Demon), in which case, a weapon may only hold one or two properties, or the poorest quality weapons none at all! Furthermore, it is possible for weapons to degrade if not cared for, and if they drop a level in quality, they could potentially lose a magikal property as well. Note, however, weapons cannot lose their material properties, which adds value to weapons made from exotic materials, as even the poorest quality weapons of such materials can offer benefits.

(*) Items other than weapons and armour are also set to four, but are subject to any restrictions they may have in the official rules.

Furthermore, all items can have a property upgraded even if all four property slots have been filled! In previous systems, property slots had to be "left open" to allow a property to potentially be upgraded if a higher value magikal property recipe was found. Now, for example, if you have an item with all four slots filled and you find a recipe that can improve a weapon's AC protection from +1 to +2, you can replace the old property without any problem.

This maximum number of properties and ability to upgrade an existing property is valid across any and all systems of crafting. Therefore, irrespective of which crafting system you may have adopted and used in the past, you should find it very easy to fit within the new single amalgamated system, using whichever recipe formula you have available to you at the time: be it acquiring and working with the lesser essences and gems, or obtaining the greater essences or even finding modern recipes - all of them work together to either improve existing items or allow you to create better ones. To keep track of the number of slots available, the information is given to the player as a message each time they acquire, equip or unequip the item.

Brewing Potions, Scribing Scrolls & Crafting Wands

Finally, I would like to just mention (as a side topic to crafting) that these three creation feats have taken on greater strength and ease of use in Better The Demon as well. The PC now has much more control over the power of such a creation, being given the option to upgrade the power of the item at time of creation. Scrolls, in particular, have the added benefit of automatically increasing in power along with the strength of the user. e.g. If a PC found a Magic Missile scroll at 1st level and cast it, it would release a level 1 missile. If, however, the PC did not use the scroll until they had reached 5th level, then the same scroll would cast as a 5th level Magic Missile. The idea of all these additions to the existing systems is to a) Make it easier for the player to use the system and b) Make the feats worth learning and using. As an addition, it is cheaper for a PC to create their own potions using the Brew Potion feat (or scroll or wand using the appropriate feat) than purchasing one. Therefore, they are immediately rewarded for their new found feats and could, potentially, even earn a few gold creating and selling these items along the way.

Blank scrolls cost 1 gp, potion bottles cost 3 gp and bone wands cost 10 gp where stock is available.

By the way, I never got around to finishing the tome. ;)

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Creating A Party (POLL: Your Ideal Party Size)

I have been making slow but gradual progress over the last week or so, mostly to do with the main quest. This includes trying to design an interior area as well as do a little scripting to help generate specific random items in particular circumstances based upon PCs statistics and attributes. The results are exciting to see and I look forward to hearing how players get on with this aspect of the module.

On a more unsettling note, I appear to have lost contact with Hosa, who was going to be designing some exterior areas for me. The last email I had from him was over a month ago now, and even though he seemed quite positive at the time, I have heard nothing from him at all from all my last emails trying to contact him. I have not given up hope totally, but the lack of response is disheartening.

I also had the opportunity to play a little of Wyrin's White Plume Mountain with a friend of mine. We don't play for long, but in the little time we did play, we managed to get our party together and equip ourselves. We did discover an error in the scripts that prevented players (apart from the main PC) and companions from acquiring the required XP and gold on start up, but it was easy enough to fix and I sent Wyrin an update to help him fix it. The error would not have affected anybody playing a SP game, but only those playing a MP game. If we discover any more MP bugs, I will be letting Wyrin know.

Party Creation

It was after playing Wyrin's module that I thought I would explain how my own module, Better The Demon will work with respect to party creation; especially as my module is geared towards MP play as much as SP. So, without further preamble, here is how it will work:

As soon as the host player (SP or MP game) has finished reading the introduction to the module and established the background for the party, they will be introduced to the Party Creation Rules for the campaign. This information GUI basically explains which classes are not supported in the World of Althéa and therefore not permitted to join. If a PC is imported or created with any of these anachronistic classes in it, then they will be prevented from entering the world.

The same GUI also explains that party creation is not a requirement, but merely an option. To begin with, if the player decides to take up the opportunity of rolling a party at the start of the game, then they are restricted to 3 additional PCs (to a maximum of 4) at this stage. This figure is reduced by one for each subsequent player that enters the world in a MP game.

The screenshot above shows the current party at the start of the game with the main PC already within the party (Adarkin Bundais) in a SP game. The player now has the opportunity to add 3 more PCs now, or wait to see if they find and recruit companions from the world instead. Subject to whatever the player decides to do, they will begin the game either as a single PC or a party of 4, or somewhere in between. Later on in the game, the player will be given the opportunity to increase the party again. (See next.)

Whatever the player decided to do at the start of the game, later on in the game they have the opportunity to extend their party further. This can be done by going to the local tavern and climbing the soap box stage to rally some troops, which basically brings up the Party Editor GUI again. Depending upon how the player responds to the options and whether the game is a SP or a MP game determines what happens next. In most circumstances, the current party members will be automatically temporarily dismissed (allowed to wonder the tavern) while the leader of the party "gives the speech". Basically, the player is able to create more PCs for every blank slot remaining. In a SP game, this will be another 3 PCs. In a MP game, it will be 4 minus the number of players. In other words, if there are four players joined at this stage (the maximum number of players supported), then no more PCs will be able to be created this way and only companions can be added.

The bottom line is, the party size can grow to a maximum of 6 PCs. This can comprise of any of the created PCs the lead player cares to spend time creating each time they use the soap box to rally troops. In other words, if they believe a previous created PC in not good enough for the job, then they can choose to create another one to take its place. Of course, the player does not have to use created PCs at all, but can use a complement of any companions they may find along the way to bring the party size to 6 as well. The best combination would probably be a combination of created PCs and companions. (Henchmen can be added over and above the maximum of 6 in the party. The 6 maximum is for created PCs and companions only.)

POLL: Maximum Party Size

This topic brought me to a poll I have been wanting to run for some time: What is the optimum party size in your opinion? Please cast your vote on the poll and then tell me in a comment your personal class combination in the following two circumstances:

a) What classes would you play if the party size was a maximum of 6 PCs?
b) What classes would you play if you could play any party size (if not 6)?

And tell me anything else about your party that would be interesting to know!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Death & Recovery

Sorry about the lack of a post last week, but personal situations prevented me having the time. (No deaths, thankfully.) This post is still a couple of days later than I hoped to have it done by, but as I was testing the code I was going to blog about, I realised I was not content with the way it was written and so spent a little time rewriting it so that it worked more efficiently. That is now done and I am much happier with the way it works. So, without further ado, I now present to you the Death System and explain how it will work in Better The Demon.

Dying Is A Drag

For players who invest time and energy into building a PC, the worst thing that can happen to them is to see their PC suddenly come to an untimely death. Whether it comes during battle, from a trap, or simply attrition, there is always that sinking feeling when you see your PC's HPs plummet to zero and they keel over dead. In NWN2, a system was introduced that meant a PC was not actually dead if someone in the party survived a battle. At the end of the battle, if there was a survivor in the party, all the PCs who had "fallen" would get back up as if they had only been knocked unconscious. While I have a degree of respect for this system, I do feel it robs the game of the impact of death, which became a lot harder to meet. For Better The Demon, I wanted to introduce an idea I had in mind since my early pen and paper days that helped in this sort of situation. This idea, however, could not be introduced until after the heroes had finished the Soul Shaker module, which is where this module begins.

Multiple Situations

Part of the complexity with the Death System for my campaign is that I have introduced a couple of gaming elements that replace the standard system. The first and most complex element I have added is something I call the Life Essence. The second element is because, unlike SoZ, when a PC dies in my campaign they remain dead! Add to this that it also has to cope with a MP game (and overland maps) and the system becomes quite involved.

The Life Essence (Soul Protection)

I have written about this item even before this blog began, and have continued to write about it on and off over the course of this blog. (I first mentioned it three years ago in an old forum post on 30th August 2007, which I reposted in this blog here.) It is probably one of the most distinguishing elements introduced in the campaign that helps mark the new era. To begin with, the PCs will not know what this item is, but not too long after they begin their adventure, they will be introduced to an "understanding of life" and the Life Essence. I won't go into any more details about this in particular (I don't want to spoil the story), but will, instead, explain a little more how this new element helps alter the way the game plays. If, however, you would like to read a little more about the Life Essence, then also read this blog.

The bottom line is that one use of the Life Essence is that it can be used to help protect a PC from untimely death, by offering Soul Protection. It also has some other very useful applications and so a player must decide on how they want to use this item in the game. As they collect more of the Life Essence, so they may be more flexible with its use, but there is always a balance to keep. By default, Soul Protection is activated from the moment the PC understands its concept. From that moment on, when a PC dies, if they have enough Life Essence on them, they will immediately be reborn with full hit points and without any ailments. In combat, a PC will not even fall to the floor as the Life Essence sustains their life and keeps them from death. In game terms, one Life Essence is required for each level the PC has acquired. E.g. A first level fighter who dies carrying three Life Essences, will have one of them used up to enable rebirth, leaving them with two. Once the PC has run out of Life Essence, they will die in the normal way. NB: The term "rebirth" is used when a PC is respawned using Life Essences, as opposed to being "respawned" using the Main Death GUI.

Resisting The Rebirth

Because the Life Essence is valuable in other ways, the player has the option to determine if their PC resists the power of the Life Essence to have them be reborn or not. Resisting is more likely to be the case if somebody in the party has the ability to raise the PC from the dead in other ways, or can pay somebody else to do it. As the PC increases in level, the Life Essence may be better saved for uses other than Soul Protection.

A Party In Action

Here is an example of how a combat might unfurl in a single player game with a party of three PCs. Hopefully, it helps to explain how the system works. A MP game plays the same way as described for the SP game except when a player's Main PC dies (and who carries insufficient Life Essences for a rebirth) then they may only continue to control another companion (not possessed by any other player) or wait until a fellow party player comes along and revives them. If all the players eventually die through lack of Life Essences, then the assigned leader for the group of players will be offered the chance to reload only. There is no respawn option available in a MP game. (UPDATE: There are some circumstances where a respawn option will be given in a MP game, such as when changing modules, or when leaving an encounter area.)

Some of the following pictures have been edited for ease of demonstration.

Brent dies without carrying any Life Essences. (A tombstone is created alongside him.) Notice Brent is no longer in the party member bar on the right hand side.

Clicking on the tombstone reveals Brent's body (that can be carried) and any items he was carrying(none in this example). It would not show "plot items" he carried, as these would have automatically have been transferred to the Main PC upon his death (in case the player had chosen to abandon the companion).

When Adaur dies carrying Life Essence, there is no tombstone - and because the player chose to have auto-rebirth turned off for this PC, the player must now stand next to the corpse to be offered a choice of Life Essence rebirth or to leave him for the time being. Notice, Adaur is also removed from the party member side bar when not using auto-rebirth. He will also have had any "plot items" he carried moved to the player's Main PC upon his death.

When the Main PC dies (Adarkin in this case), he will automatically be offered to be reborn if he carried sufficient Life Essences. The player can choose to either rebirth using some of the Life Essences Adarkin carries or reload a game. If the player had had auto-rebirth enabled for Adarkin, then the PC would have kept automatically respawning until he had run out of Life Essences.

If the Main PC had died without any remaining companions to take control of or Life Essences to be reborn with, then the player is offered the Main Game Death menu and have the option to Respawn the Main PC, but with an XP penalty.

Above are some examples of the feedback during combat, including the turn counter. In the first window, it shows the combat being initiated (the establishing round, which may not be a complete round of actions), followed shortly after by Brent dying. (He had no Life Essences on him at all and so just died leaving a tombstone.) The second window shows a combat where Adaur did have auto-rebirth enabled and lost a Life Essence on a rebirth situation. The last window shows Adarkin "apologising" to stop all further combat that had been initiated. The "Sorry" option can only be used with "good" aligned NPCs who have been attacked "by mistake". The facility can only be used after a 30 second cool down period and there are also consequences for killing innocents "by mistake" or otherwise.

Overland Travel (Death By Attrition)

In Better The Demon, an unprepared party can also die through attrition, especially in the early days when they do not have spells to support them. Even then, death by attrition is most likely to occur when the player decides to take his party on a long distance journey. There are circumstances when a party member will refuse to travel in the first place (when there is no means to supply food/water for the journey), but if travel is started, then the leader of the party (or the chosen leader for a group of players in a MP game) has the sole responsibility for all the PCs in the party.

When a party enters overland travel, it is the leader who controls where the party travel, and it is only the leader of the party that the player directly controls. (In a MP game, only the lead player controls the direction of travel for all the players, just like SoZ.) It is possible for companions to die along the way through lack of food/water, and in such circumstances if they do not have Life Essence to revive them for a short while longer (and before they die again from lack of food and water), then they will die just as if they had in battle and leave a tombstone on the map that contains their body and items. The leader must then decide for the group if they intend to take the fallen companion with them or not.

If the leader themselves dies, and they carry Life Essence, they will be revived automatically if set to do so or given the option to be reborn using Life Essences or reload a game. If they do not carry Life Essences, then they will only be given the option to reload a game at the official Death GUI. Basically, on an overland map, if the leader dies and does not have sufficient Life Essences to be reborn, then the party is considered "lost" and if there are any surviving companions at the time, then they are also considered dead. On an overland map, it makes sense to ensure the leader stays alive the longest for the sake of the party!