Monday, March 31, 2008

Rewriting the Story and Setting Some Gameplay Parameters

Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite
On Monday, I rewrote my story outline, deleting entire paragraphs in several instances and writing new ones. I'm not attached to the first draft that I had written, so I had no problem with demolishing parts of my story structure. The most difficult part for me was coming up with non-combat encounters to break the mind-numbing monotony of battling the hordes. There was only so much of it that I could do before I ran out of creative juices.

Combat is the easiest type of encounter to put in a game. One simply decides what monsters need to be in each area and where to put the spawn triggers. It's easy to mass produce encounters this way. Trying to come up with role-playing encounters, on the other hand, is difficult because they have to be individually crafted rather than mass produced.

Fortunately, Melirinda has been giving me feedback on the outline that I emailed her. She has an excellent sense of what makes for an engaging RPG story and what doesn't. It's very helpful to have a dispassionate reviewer looking over your work, particularly if that person already has a good track record for writing stories. Melirinda is well known in the NWN2 community for her top-rated mod, Bishop's Romance, which is currently number one in the charts and has been for a long time. I count my lucky stars that she's helping me with "Faithless."

Also, Corrugath from the NWN2 forums has offered to help me with the story. I had to rewrite the outline while incorporating Melirinda's first set of comments before sending it to Corrugath. That took me an entire day to complete, but from then on, I'll also be having Corrugath's help. Now I can concentrate on other aspects of building the module.

Skills: Which Are Useful and Which Are Not?
Skills in NWN2 are not created equal. Some are more useful than others, and some modules put greater emphasis on certain skills than others. Social skills such as Diplomacy or Intimidate are generally useful in modules that emphasize role playing over combat. Those same skills may be useless in a hack-and-slash game.

For "Faithless," I want to give players the opportunity to make good use of nearly all the NWN2 skills. Some skills are useful in any combat encounter. These skills are as follows:

  • Spellcraft: Gives a bonus to save versus spells

  • Taunt: Lowers AC and Concentration of enemies

  • Tumble: Helps avoid attacks of opportunity while moving and increases armor class

Other skills are particularly useful for certain types of characters. These skills are the following:

  • Concentration: Good for spellcasters

  • Hide: Very useful for characters that can hide in plain sight. Also useful as a pre-requisite to becoming a Blackguard.

  • Move Silently: Very useful for characters that can hide in plain sight

  • Perform: Very useful, but only for bards

Some skills are more situational. Player characters will want to take them only if the module provides opportunities for their use. For "Faithless," I intend to make the following skills useful:

  • Appraise: This is of some use at stores but not if the PCs have lots of gold in their pockets. The module should be balanced so that PCs will always be hungry for more gold. This may be done by limiting the amount of money that PCs may earn or by having lots of expensive things that they will want to spend on. I'll probably give a few opportunities to use this skill in conversation.

  • Disable Trap, Search: Useful only if the module has lots of deadly traps. If the traps are too weak, PCs will probably prefer to barrel through them instead of using up time to disarm them.

  • Heal: Requires access to healing kits, which are easily provided. Nevertheless, this skill is of questionable value when there are divine casters in the PCs' party or if the party may rest at any time to replenish their hit points. If opportunities to rest are limited, however, the Heal skill may become a lot more useful.

  • Listen, Spot: Useful only if there are lots of hidden enemies, especially if they can hide in plain sight. Rest assured that I'll have a good number of stealthy enemies in "Faithless."

  • Open Lock: Useful if there are lots of locked doors and chests that may be impossible or inconvenient to bash in. I'll probably give the PCs several opportunities to gain more experience points and/or rare magic items only through the use of the Open Lock skill.

  • Lore: Useful if the PCs may acquire lots of magic items that are initially unidentified. (Also useful as a stepping stone to becoming a Red Dragon Disciple.)

  • Set Trap: Useful for PCs that will have access to deadly traps. If the traps are not strong enough, players will probably prefer to fight their enemies directly instead.

  • Sleight of Hand: Useful if there are NPCs with items that may be pickpocketed. I may give PCs several opportunities to gain rare magic items through successful use of Sleight of Hand.

  • Use Magic Device: Requires access to magic items that have class, race, or alignment restrictions. These are easily provided.

Aside from the above, there are two sets of skills that are also module-dependent for their usefulness. These are the crafting skills (namely, Craft Alchemy, Craft Armor, Craft Trap, and Craft Weapon) and the social skills (namely, Bluff, Diplomacy, and Intimidate).

For the crafting skills to be useful, the PCs must have access to the right materials and workbenches. Also, the items that may be crafted should either be cheaper than what can be bought from the local merchants or they should not be available at any store. (Red dragon armor, anyone?)

For the social skills to be useful, there should be several opportunities to use them throughout the module. PCs should not be the only ones capable of using these skills. I intend to allow NPC companions to speak for the party if the players want to.

There are two skills that players may want to avoid in "Faithless." These skills are the following.

  • Parry: Theoretically, this skill may be of use if PCs have access to items that can raise their Parry skill. Unfortunately, the Parry skill is bugged at present. (Click here for DirtyFinger's findings on the Parry skill.) Even if the Parry skill were to work as advertised, PCs may dispatch their enemies faster if they attack them directly.

  • Survival: Seriously, this skill is of questionable value. If the spawning triggers are not designed well, PCs may find themselves suddenly beset by enemies without warning. Even if the triggers are designed to spawn enemies a good distance from the PCs, there is little advantage in knowing where the enemies are if they are easy to dispatch. It's possible to put this skill to good use in a survival-type adventure, but "Faithless" will not be like that.

There are too many feats in NWN2 for me to list. What I can do is confirm that the Disarm feat will definitely be useful.

Limiting the Strength of Magic Items
As early as now, I have to decide how powerful magic items may be. The magic items available in Mask of the Betrayer are much too powerful in my opinion. On the other hand, I'm not about to make magic items exceedingly rare, especially since Toril is a high magic world.

To determine the limits on item enchantment that I'm going to allow, I decided to turn to the Dungeon Master's Guide v.3.5 for help. Page 209 of this book has a table that shows the suggested total value of epic characters' starting gear. According to this table, a 30th level character will have about 4,300,000 gold pieces. I decided that this amount will be one of the bases for determining the maximum strength of magic items in my module. (The DMG also says that I may set a limit on how much of this total wealth may be spent on magic items, but I decided not to.)

The DMG and the Epic Level Handbook both provide recipes for crafting magic items. These are useful for determining at what level PCs may acquire or craft certain magic items. After studying these books, I decided on the following tentative guidelines:

  • Maximum spell resistance granted by any item is 30. A character must be at least level 15 to acquire an item that grants spell resistance.

  • Maximum damage resistance allowed is 40/-. The damage resistance conferred by any item of a 3rd level character may not exceed 10/-. This limit increases by +10 for every 4 character levels up to level 15.

  • Maximum skill bonus is +30. Skill bonuses are given in increments of 5. As a rough guide, the maximum skill bonus may not exceed the character's current level. Hence, skill bonuses granted by the items of a 12th level character may not exceed +10.

  • Maximum bonus to ability scores, armor class, weapon enhancement, and saving throws is +10. This bonus may not exceed a third of the character's current level. Hence, the bonuses that the items of a 10th level character confer may not exceed +3.

  • Maximum random damage bonus of any weapon is +3d6. (Contrast this with the crafting system of Mask of the Betrayer, which allows damage bonuses of up to +20d6.)

I may make some exceptions to the above rules in the case of plot devices that are vital to the story. I'll probably have no more than two such items. Neither may be crafted.

PnP Magic Item Crafting System?
The magic item crafting system that comes with the game is frustrating to use because of its its reliance on rare gems and essences. To make matters worse, items created with the Mask of the Betrayer system tend to be ridiculously overpowered. The system described in the Dungeon Master's Guide is actually simpler and more flexible. Its main drawback, however, is that it requires the expenditure of experience points to craft magic items. NPC companions have the same amount of experience points as PCs, so if anyone crafts a magic item, all active and inactive members of the party will lose experience points. It's a simple matter to modify the existing crafting system so that the crafter may spend only gold, although it may not be such a bad idea to let all party members contribute experience points for crafting magic items.

I was hoping to create a crafting system that uses an XML interface, but it doesn't seem possible to enumerate item properties in list boxes. What I can do instead is modify the existing crafting scripts to accept gold pieces in lieu of gems and essences. Below is a sample of crafting recipes that may be used to create magic armor.

  • AC Bonus: CL = AC Bonus × 3, Light, gp = 1,000 × (AC Bonus)²

  • Bonus Feat: Deflect Arrows: CL 5, Shield spell, same price as a +2 AC bonus

  • Cast Spell: Control Undead (13) 1/day: CL 13, Control Undead spell, +49,000 gp

  • Cast Spell: Ethereal Jaunt 1/day: CL 13, Ethereal Jaunt spell, +49,000 gp

  • Damage Reduction 5: CL 18, Stoneskin spell, same price as a +3 AC bonus

  • Damage Resistance: (Absorbs 10 points of specific energy damage) CL 3, Resist Energy spell, +18,000 gp

  • Damage Resistance, Improved: (Absorbs 20 points of specific energy damage) CL 7, Resist Energy spell, +42,000 gp

  • Damage Resistance, Greater: (Absorbs 30 points of specific energy damage) CL 11, Resist Energy spell, +66,000 gp

  • Damage Resistance, Superior: (Absorbs 40 points of specific energy damage) CL 15, Resist Energy spell, +90,000 gp

  • Skill Bonus: Hide +5: CL 5, Invisibility spell, +3,750 gp

  • Skill Bonus: Hide +10: CL 10, Invisibility spell, +15,000 gp

  • Skill Bonus: Hide +15: CL 15, Invisibility spell, +33,750 gp

  • Skill Bonus: Hide +20: CL 20, Invisibility spell, +60,000 gp

  • Skill Bonus: Hide +25: CL 25, Invisibility spell, +93,750 gp

  • Skill Bonus: Hide +30: CL 30, Invisibility spell, +135,000 gp

  • Skill Bonus: Move Silently: Similar to Skill Bonus: Hide, but with Silence spell instead of Invisibility spell

  • Spell Resistance 14: CL 15, Spell Resistance spell, same price as +2 AC bonus

  • Spell Resistance 16: CL 15, Spell Resistance spell, same price as +3 AC bonus

  • Spell Resistance 18: CL 15, Spell Resistance spell, same price as +4 AC bonus

  • Spell Resistance 20: CL 15, Spell Resistance spell, same price as +5 AC bonus

Many of these recipes are actually similar to the ones in NWN2. Without gems and essences to determine the power of the items created, however, it may be necessary to use conversation files so that players can choose how strong they want their items to be. Alternatively, the crafting system may determine how strong the magic item is supposed to be based on how much gold is in the crafting table. This approach isn't user-friendly, however, because PCs would have to compute how much gold to put in the table before casting the appropriate spell.

On the other hand, creating a new crafting system for NWN2 seems to be too much trouble for little gain. It might be better for me to simply extend the current system to allow epic characters to create more powerful items without having to drain spirit essences out of anybody. To address the problem of finding rare gems and essences, I might make them available at shops for appropriately high prices. Also, I may remove the limit on the number of enchantments any given item may have.

I'm not yet decided on this matter. This is something for me to think about over the next few days or weeks.

1 comment:

Liso said...

Hi there!

Nice to see you have a blog up now! I'll be keeping an eye on this for sure :)