Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Casting Hostile Spells On Neutrals

I was going to leave posting a new blog for another week in case the holiday season had kept people away and not given them time to catch up with what is already written. However, I was caught up in an interesting topic raised by Matthew Rieder (of The Wizard's Apprentice module) about an age old issue I have also looked at regarding targeting "neutrals" in a game with direct hostile spells. E.g. It is impossible to target a "neutral" NPC (considered friendly) with the Magic Missile spell. While on the surface of things this may not appear to be a huge problem, it can be argued that such a system is railroading the player into who they can or cannot consider a foe and attack if required. While there is a setting in the Campaign Options to allow a PC to physically attack neutrals, it still does not allow the PC to target them with hostile spells until after they have turned "hostile" (normally after the initial attack from the player's PC).

Therefore, this week, I decided to come up with a system that would overcome this problem. Initially, I tried to overcome the problem by directly implementing a new cursor system as proposed by 0100010 (Edward Beck), but this turned out to be rather unwieldy for my own purposes and so I decided to go about the problem a different way and came up with the following system. As usual, all your comments, questions and suggestions for improvements are welcome!

Before I go into more detail, however, I would still like to receive feedback from last week's blog and the for the current poll: Will You Be Crafting? Even if you have nothing more to say about the topic, I would be interested to see what the general consensus is regarding crafting. Please find more detail in this post about Increased Spell Power.

Know Thy Enemy

In the end, I decided that simply targeting a neutral with a hostile spell was against the spirit of the game anyway. After all, why would someone simply cast a magic missile at a neutral? OK, all chaotic evil players need not answer that. Even so, there is normally a little more reason to attack a neutral than just as something to do. In most circumstances, the player will have a little idea of who the NPC is before they attack them. At the very least they will examine them to read a bit about them (if available). With this in mind, I determined that it could be via the examine window that the player could decide whether they wanted to attack the NPC in question or not.

Goodie Or Baddie?

To this end, I added a new button to the examine GUI that allows a player to switch the hostile/neutral status of the NPC they are examining. Switching the NPC's status this way does not affect the hostile settings to other creatures in the area, as the NPC simply turns hostile to the party by using an Anti-Party faction setting. At the same time, the player's party AI is switched off to prevent any party members automatically starting to attack the new hostile NPC. Once turned hostile, the player can target the NPC with their PC's hostile spells without any further problems. If the player changes their mind about attacking this NPC, then the same toggle switch can be used to turn the NPC back to a neutral. Note, however, hostile creatures or those factions already Anti-Party by default cannot be turned to a neutral faction.


Attacking a neutral in an area of other neutrals comes with consequences. After all, people are not going to stand around and allow one of their own to be attacked, physically or with spells, if they are close enough to witness the event and can help. Therefore, a player must use this facility with due consideration for the consequences of their actions. Using it to attack a villager in a village of people may not be such a good idea, whereas suddenly attacking an evil NPC in their home to avoid greater bloodshed later on may be a wise move.

Other Information

The new examine window has been modified to give "live" distance to target as well, updating the GUI four times every second. This can be useful if you are preparing to use a spell that is restricted to a range and you only want to release the spell when the target is within range (and to avoid your PC from running forward to cast the spell). Furthermore, the range has the category of spell range within parenthesis after it (Touch, Short, Medium, Long) to help easily work out what spell range the target is within.

Now follows some composite screenshots giving an idea of what the system will look like in action:

1) We are examining a neutral NPC villager, currently at 30 feet (short spell range).

2) Note how the villager has moved closer and the range has dropped to 7 feet, now at Touch spell range (for the campaign).

3) When choosing to turn this villager hostile to the party, all party AI is disabled to prevent unplanned assaults. Chat window gives feedback. If "Pause On Hostile Sighted" is enabled, auto-pause will also start.

4) Faction settings prevent "hostile" villagers reacting to any other creatures until actually attacked.

5) Re-examining the villager shows it now as hostile (has a red ring) and updated range.

6) Player has chosen to revert this NPC back to a neutral. The chat window is updated.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Increased Spell Power! (And More Stats) POLL: Will You Craft?

Some of the things that I feel are most underused in the D&D game in general are disposable items such as wands, rods and staffs. Maybe this is just my own personal experience, but for the purpose of this blog, I will assume not. To some degree, I have found this surprising, especially when a spell caster can create a wand from 5th level of any fourth level spell or below (when capable) and then have that spell available while the charges last (normally 50). Then I looked into the feat a little more closely and came to the following conclusions why such items are not crafted as much as they could be. (In the following, I have discussed crafting wands, but the same argument can be used for rods and staffs if ever implemeted in any way.)

1) GOLD COST: First and foremost (and assuming the PC has the abilities in the first place), I could see that the cost of crafting a wand is considering high, even for the least of spells. In the D&D 3E rules, wands start from 375 gp for zero level spells and raise to over 20, 000 gp for a 4th level spell.

2) XP COST: Although not a factor in NWN, a spell caster was also expected to sacrifice XP when making an item. I mention it here just for completion of info.

3) DISPOSABLE: Most rules assume wands are disposable. Once the charges are used, the wand is destroyed. Therefore, a crafted wand has a limited life.

I know such items are supposed to be rare and special, but I believe the rules have made the construction of such items so unattractive that most players would simply avoid their crafting, thereby making such feats pointless to have in the first place. This is not something I want to happen in Better The Demon and so I have taken steps to encourage players with spell casters to take their crafting of such items seriously - and if they do, it will considerably increase their potential spell power. Here is how Better The Demon will handle crafting wands:

1) GOLD COST: Every spell level will have a base value at which it costs to add to a wand. A player can choose to increase the amount they pay to increase the spell level at which a spell will cast, but if it's just the basic spell they are after, it will be possible to craft at base values. (See table below.)

2) XP COST: There will never be an XP cost for crafting items in Better The Demon.

3) RECHARGEABLE: Regular readers will know there will be an item that can be acquired quite regularly according to ones abilities: The Life Essence. This item serves a number of purposes throughout the game. It will also have the ability to recharge a wand with (10 - spell level) charges as long as the wand has at least one charge, as it is still destroyed if the last charge is used.

Will This Affect Balance?

I know one of the first questions raised will be "will this affect game balance?" I believe the answer is "no". After all, crafting a wand still requires the PC to pay for its creation in the first place. The main difference is that its creation becomes a real viable option as something to spend gold on and with the ability to keep it charged, becomes a more useful item to help supplement the spell casters spell ability.

Overcome Frustrations

I actually believe that this system will also go some way to help overcome the frustrating position of a low level spell caster casting their couple of spells in an eight hour period and then being unable to do much more in the way of helping with spells. Now, they can craft wands of spells that will be of most use and have the ability to help maintain the wand with Life Essence they might find. The party's wizard could craft a wand of magic missiles and the cleric a wand of cure light wounds for only 350 gp each! No longer will the spell casters be forced to rest after the first combat of the day.

Other Items: Scrolls & Potions

This system is all well and good for spell casters of 5th level and above, but what about those of even lower levels? Well, Better The Demon wants to help encourage item creation right from the start, and to this end, has also reduced the costs of scroll scribing (and potion brewing for 3rd level casters) to help allow the party create items that will prepare them for the adventure ahead. While these remain truly disposable (as they cannot be recharged), the costs and ease of their making should help encourage their creation all the same. (See table above.)

Note, each basic crafting item has a basic cost of 1, 1 and 5 gp for scroll, potion bottle and wand in the first place (UPDATED), but thereafter, the costs above reflect the basic minimum price a PC pays for the spell placed on the item. As mentioned above, if the PC can afford it (and has the ability), they can choose to pay more at time of crafting for the spell to cast at a higher level when used from the item. Note, scrolls work in a special way in Better The Demon, in that their power scales with the PC's own ability. E.g. A scroll of Magic Missile made at first level will cast more missiles if saved and used at a higher level at a later time, or if a higher level PC picks up and uses the same scroll. However, a scroll with a power higher than the user will take priority.

As scribing scrolls requires nothing more than the feat, some gold and the ability to cast the spell in the first place, then I believe the above costs go a long way to encourage the player to prepare a collection of scrolls ahead of time, and especially knowing they scale with the PC's own ability. When the PC reaches third level, they can acquire the brew potion feat, and continue to prepare useful potions for the party as a whole at relatively low costs - and especially cheaper than any that might be available in the market.

POLL: Will You Craft?

I decided to add a poll this week, with respect to whether these "improvements" and changes will encourage you to consider crafting in your adventures. As usual, any feedback (on any article mentioned in a blog) is most welcome.

Improved Statistical Feedback

After some feedback from readers last week, I have further developed the statistical information that will be available to players in the game. The latest GUI now:

1) Sports new colours (for ease of reading).
2) Gives a PC's highest CR (Challenge Rating) kill.
3) Gives a PC's overall percentage input for the party as a whole.
4) Gives the PC a title of "competence", ranging across a number of levels.
5) Shows the party total kills and how they comprise according to type. (*)

(*) Note, I have gathered the various humanoid groups, such as orcs, goblins, etc into a single "Humanoid" group.

Monday, 13 December 2010


I have to admit that I love statistics ... well, especially in games. I suppose that is why I enjoy playing RPGs that allow you to change attributes that affect play. Weighing up the odds of using one weapon over another, or cogitating which attribute or skill to increase all add to the excitement (in my opinion). In recent years, I have seen how games have also introduced other statistics, like the number of kills or deaths, etc. These too, have an element of intrigue, and is something that I want to include in Better The Demon.

Knowing which kind of additional statistics to include can be a difficult thing to govern. After all, I don't want to turn an RPG into a number crunching exercise. That said, I do like the idea of keeping track of the players own number of deaths (for each PC) and the total number of kills each PC may have attained. To this end, I have included a simple statistics GUI that keeps track of exactly this. To access it, the player must use the game's Main Menu. Thereafter, the player is presented with a simple GUI for the list of PCs being played. (See composite image below.)

There are a couple of things to note regarding the new GUI:-

1) The GUI highlights the PC in the list that the player is currently controlling.
2) The death tracking is broken into the three styles of recovery that will be available in the game: Raising (via spell), Rebirth (via Life Essences) and Respawn (via the console).

Hopefully, this kind of information will appeal to other players as well. There may be other possibilities for statistical feedback for this GUI, but that is all I have done for the time being. However, if you have an idea for some feedback you would like to see included, then let me know. If it is possible to include, and does not require too much backward coding, then I will consider including it.

In other news, I have continued to write conversations and start to design another interior area. As describing any of this would be a spoiler, there is little more I can add.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

The Path Is Clear

I have just managed to put the finishing touches to a letter (report) that I need to help sort out my current situation at home. It has taken a good three weeks to do and taken pretty much most of my time to prepare, which is the reason why I have not written a blog for the last few weeks. Not that there would be much to update you with, as the report took module writing time away as well. :( As I say though, that is now done and hopefully I can resume my slow progress of creating the module.

A couple of other events have occurred in the last week as well: "Honey", my wife's (Jennifer) and my upstairs rabbit had another issue with her teeth. (She had an operation almost a year ago.) Poor thing has had ongoing issues ever since we "rescued" her from a neighbour. The neighbour's previous poor care (neglect) has left her with dental problems, which we have had to have treated ever since she came to live with us. Last week she had to have another operation and a harrowing time was had as we waited to see if she would both survive the initial operation and recover after coming home. Thankfully, she is now beginning to eat much better and looks as though she is clear for another few months (hopefully longer). When we took Honey to the vets, we had to drive through snow. Exactly the same thing happened last time she had teeth problems: It snowed heavily both times we have had to take her to the vets about her teeth. Thankfully, the vets were open, even though it took us over an hour to get there ourselves!

Talking of the snow, Jen and I went for a local walk near to where we live to take some photos of it. Just a couple of minutes from where we live there are some fields that made some great photos. Here are some, but you can find more at this link. The snow has now begun to melt and will probably be gone in the next day or so.

What About The Module?

Hopefully, now that the path is clear .... no more report writing .... no vet emergencies .... no more snow ... I will be in the position to start writing for the module again. I can say that I have had some ideas that will be making it into the module, and which I may (if all goes to plan) have some simple screenshots in the next blog. This includes:
  1. A simple statistics feedback GUI. (Only deaths and kills.)
  2. More side quests (using a new system).

Anyway, I will definitely include a screenshot of the statistics GUI if completed, even if I do not give any for the side quests (don't want any spoilers).

I must also mention again that Hoegbo has done some outstanding work over the last few weeks and sent me a number of areas for me to look at and use. From what I have had a chance to see, this work will be a great addition and has gone a long way to help bring this project nearer completion. He has also said that he would add some more finishing touches to these and other areas if need be nearer the time of release, subject to any final observations and requirements.

That's all for now. Sorry it has been a little more personal/vague than usual, but unavoidable circumstances have dictated.