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.

PLOT PREFERENCES: Do Not Forget To Vote!

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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. :(

PLOT PREFERENCES: Do Not Forget To Vote!

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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.

PLOT PREFERENCES: Do Not Forget To Vote!

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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. :)

Shops

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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Friday, 27 November 2009

Down At The Store

This week I have been going over some of the items a PC will be able to buy at the stores. A simple endeavour you may have thought, until you take into account certain items you may have added or altered for some reason. For example, I wanted to add the possibility of buying one or two plot items. (i.e. A toolset term meaning items that cannot be destroyed as opposed to items that pertain to the story.) However, as I alluded to in my last post, this prevents me from being able to set them at a certain price for sale, and so I had to write some code to effectively allow me to reset the plot flag after the item had been purchased.

Another area where there was a problem was when I added ammunition to a weapon store. In Better The Demon, ammunition is sold in stacks of 20 as opposed to 99 due to an overhaul of the economy system. Unfortunately, due to the way ammunition stacks by default (in quantities of 99), I found that an exploit was introduced because the player could buy a proportion of the the stack at a skewed proportional cost. To get around this problem, I had to alter the stacking limit of ammunition (and throwing weapons by the way) in the baseitems.2da to the same as my shop stack quantities of 20. This turned out to equate to the PnP definition of a number of arrows in a quiver, so I was not disappointed about the lowered slot figure. Furthermore, as NWN automatically restocks arrows into the arrow slot as they are used, I did not see it as a problem. If anything, it simply reflects a more realistic ability to carry this type of item.

What! No Magic!

One of the first things a player will notice when they play Better The Demon is that by comparison to the official campaigns, the world of Althéa is a low magic world. There will be hardly any magic items for sale at stores at all. In fact, the only items that will be available are scrolls and potions (and then only by a few people). Weapons, armour or other wondrous items will not be available from any stores. As an example, the most expensive item currently available in a sundry store is a gold necklace at 100 gp. A Healer's kit (+3) comes in second at 68 gp. In the local arms and armour store, the most expensive item is masterwork chainmail at 168 gp. The idea reflected here is that magic is not an everyday item that the local population can afford to buy, so items generally afforded are stocked instead.

That said, crafting items, recipe books and new recipes can be bought at reasonable prices for those with the skills and/or extra gold to make them. The problem is, there is hardly anything to be made from selling magic items as they cost a great deal to make and there are not enough people around who can afford to buy them. The odd item of magic will still be bought from a PC (if they acquire one and wish to sell it), but the store keeper will normally cap their costs and only purchase it if they have a buyer in mind. In other words, once a magic item is sold to a store keeper, it will be sold on shortly afterwards to a special buyer, thereby effectively removing it from the world.

Appreciation Note

Some of the items on sale include Amraphael's Light Sources and the chalk that was found in his Zork Adventure. Amraphael is a wizard at making custom content and I fully acknowledge the wonderful contributions he has made to help make my own module the way I wanted.

No Cart of Gold!

Another thing players will soon discover is that they will no longer be able to carry items and gold around with them as if they had an invisible All-Terrain Cart of Huge Carrying Capacity. As I have already mentioned above, ammunition will now take up more inventory slots, larger items have more weight than the default values and gold is now carried in bags of 500 gp at a time. (NB: A PC is allowed to carry less than 500 gold without any weight restrictions.) Take a look at the screenshot below to see the gold bag description and how it will impact the PCs. The idea behind this is that the player will now see there are other benefits to having greater strength and/or someone to help them on an adventure, even if it is just to help carry back any treasure they might find.

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Friday, 20 November 2009

A Room At The Inn (Economy and Rest Considerations)

According to the 3rd edition PHB, poor accommodation is nothing more than "a place on the floor near the hearth". This came at a PnP (pen and paper) price of only 2 sp (silver pieces). A point to note, however, is that while this cheap accommodation price reflected an area where a PC could rest, they were unlikely to get much peace and quiet appropriate for study. And according to the PHB again, wizards and clerics require uninterrupted rest to be able to learn their spells or prayers for the following day. Otherwise, they must spend extra time to gain sufficient rest before being able to learn them fully. (More on this in a moment.)

A More Expensive Economy

In NWN, gold is the main currency and does not leave any room for the lesser coinage to be accessible to players. This is not a problem though, as it is easy enough to balance the economy around the gold piece as the lowest denominator available for most adventurer transactions, and to leave the lesser coins as hidden transactions for the masses. However, this method does mean that a normal economy in such a world is still somewhat more expensive than a traditional pen and paper one. For example, it works out that even the cheapest accommodation has to be charged at five times a PnP cost at 1 gp per person instead of 2 sp. To keep this figure balanced to the general populace, it means we have to assume a world with the gp as the standard coinage must be five times more expensive/richer than a traditional PnP one.

I mention this for two reasons. The first is to show that even the local populace will carry gold coins with them, even if we are to assume they also carry coins of lower value. Secondly, that a player is assumed to only be interested in gold coins as far as gaming transactions are concerned. (We can even make the assumption that a player still acquires coins of every metal type as long as they are worth at least 1 gp.)

However, there are times when certain items cannot be realistically said to cost 1gp, even in an economy that is five times dearer than a PnP one. In these circumstances, I have adopted a package buy approach. Or, to put it another way, the adventurer would not buy single quantities of items of low cost if they are buying them at all. In such circumstances, it is assumed the adventurer buys at least 1 gp value of the item. E.g. If buying a pint mug of ale cost 4 cp in PnP, even at five times the cost, it would still only cost 2 sp. Therefore, we could expect at least 5 pints for our 1 gp in a NWN world. In fact, I have allowed 1 gp to purchase 10 pints of ale in my own module, meaning when the PC "buys an ale", they are in fact buying sufficient to last the night for themselves or buying a round or two for the party. The following screenshot shows some prices of drinks available in Better The Demon.

Accommodation Costs

Having established a NWN world is five times more expensive than a traditional PnP one, we can now start to put a price on different accommodation. Prices must still range from cheap to expensive, but understanding the relative economy and the minimum costs the game world provides now helps us to establish the cheapest price for accommodation as 1 gp. From here, the module builder can adjust more expensive accommodation accordingly. It is possible, of course, that an inn may not be able to provide the more expensive accommodations, in which case the adventurer must make do with what is on offer and what they can afford. A screenshot below shows the new Accommodation GUI that comes with Better The Demon. Note also, the better the accommodation, the better the chances of peace and quiet for studying. The player is offered the following GUI when they enquire about accommodation at an inn or tavern: UPDATE: I have increased the HP recovery by a factor for some accommodations to a maximum of 3x and for those PCs with the Trance feat or Cocoon spell. (All screenshots show the old values.)

Disturbed Rest

As different quality accommodation can affect the PCs ability to study, I have introduced two new features into Better The Demon to help the player overcome the problem. The first is the feat called Trance and the second is a 1st level spell called Cocoon. As most outdoor resting comes with a potential penalty for disturbed rest, then having at least one of these abilities will help the PC to learn their spells and recover more efficiently. The same abilities will even help overcome the disturbances from the cheapest rented accommodation. (See screenshot below.)

If a PC does not have access to the above feat or spell and rests in an area subject to disturbance, then with each rest they will only recover a number of HPs equal to their level and suffer a chance of failing to recover each spell they are trying to learn. At an inn, the player can choose to rest immediately again and does recover their full complement of spells as another 8 hours is said to pass. On the open road, however, rest will not be permitted until another 8 hours has passed from the first rest.

NWN Tips

I learned a couple of things this week that may be of interest to people:

1) If your PrintScreen fails to store images in your NWN directory, try using SHIFT-PrintScreen instead. I use Windows 7 now and the normal PrintScreen failed to work as it did before.

2) If you make an item plot and add it to a shop, then it can only be sold at 1gp.

THE POLL

Don't forget to add your vote to the poll (to the left) based on last week's blog entry.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Plot Twists By Player Freedom (POLL: Plot Considerations)

I am not talking about the normal twists one might expect the module builder to include, but I refer to the twists that players may add of their own. You know the type I mean, when they manage to do something completely unexpected and "break" the module. The difficulty for the builder comes as they give the player more freedom, and the player eventually uses that freedom to get around a plot "choke" point in a way the builder may not have first thought of. A simple example may be when the player discovers a way into an area before they are supposed to. On the face of it, that may be a fairly easy thing to fix, but "fixing" it so the player does not feel cheated or forced in a certain direction is a much more difficult task to pull off.

In the next few sections, I have tried to discuss various aspects of PC freedom and what might be done to help overcome the type of problems I mean both for the builder and, therefore, the player as well. And because when we design a module we tend to have the outcome in mind, I will start off by giving my overall conclusion to act as a governing point to all those I am making, but will include individual suggested solutions for each problem along the way as well.

Plot Considerations Poll

As a result of my pondering this week, I thought I would submit another poll to find out what other builders and players alike thought about the problem. Please submit your answer and add any comments that you think might be useful. (Top left of the page and entitled, "How Much Freedom do You really Want?")

Overall Conclusion

In the end, I concluded that it all depends on how much the module builder wished to prevent the player "messing things up" whether deliberately or unintentionally. BUT, to the defence of the player, the more we (module builders) try to do this, the more the player may feel they are not playing the game the way they want to, but may feel railroaded down a certain path. Therefore, I recognised the builder needs to carefully weigh the level of freedom they offer the player in their module and then ensure the players recognise and accept to co-operate within the limit before they start playing it. However, once the terms of the gaming have been accepted, it is the responsibility of the builder not to backtrack on what they have offered, or, to put it another way, not to forget what a player might like to try to do within the capabilities you have allowed them.

For my own module, Better The Demon, I have set the level of freedom quite high (too high?), which has forced me to look at these points differently as I have gone along. I share them with you now, hoping they may help other builders.

To Plot Or Not To Plot

Does the builder make items "plot" or not? Doing so ensures the player cannot destroy an item and can always work with it (cannot sell it), but does that always make for fair/free play? For example, if a player casts a fireball in a room, should it be allowed to destroy the frail ancient book that holds the answer to the quest they have been working on or not?

Suggested Solution: Personally, I prefer to remove this particular "freedom" from the player and make the book indestructible, simply because I like conclusion in a game. However, are there any "purist" players or builders who think they would prefer otherwise? Furthermore, I like to change the state of this type of plot item after it has served its purpose. Once the PCs no longer need the ancient frail book, maybe it can crumble, burn or even be sold.

Other Points: What if the book represented the start of an adventure? What if it is only one book in a collection of books? Should a plot item be made undroppable as well?

A Key Is Required

Are there times when only the key will unlock the door? The player starts the game and finds a locked cellar door. They start to pick it, only to be told that only the key will work. The wizard tries the knock spell and likewise cannot get past. The fighter tries to bash it down, but the door refuses to budge. So the party walk away from the inn's cellar door mystified and disappointed. The point I am trying to make here is to avoid misuse of this facility.

Suggested Solution: I find this one of the more difficult problems to overcome within reason. My own conclusion is that most (if not all) doors should be possible to pick, knock or bash and that requiring a specific key should be reserved for special fortified entrances and exits only. However, this can be difficult to govern as there are a number of variables that a clever player can add to their chances to bypass a lock. It only takes one miscalculation by the builder and the player suddenly has access to an area before they should have. There is no easy answer to this one, except for the builder to be ready with a very good reason as to why a door is impassable without its key (E.g. The cellar door actually led to a wizard's dungeon and was protected with magic.) or be prepared for a change in the story and events if the PC is resourceful enough to get through to an area before events would have otherwise transpired. To make a plot still work requires a greater number of plot status checks (as I have discovered). Even using a monster as a guardian comes with risks.

Other Points: In my opinion, there really should be no reason for relying on a required key within a fantasy environment in most circumstances. Furthermore, difficulty settings should not be unreasonable for the door in question. After all, how many doors have super locks? For Better The Demon, I have used other reasons why PCs cannot bash at a door or even enter certain areas after picking it, like using witnesses and NPCs who prevent the PCs from doing so. However, even this method can come with potential issues. (See next.)

Attacking Neutrals

Why can't the PC attack the NPC who holds the key? The NPC in question does not have to be holding a key specifically, but can be said to have anything the PC requires but won't part with it until the PC has performed a certain task, or are preventing a PC from doing something just by their presence. Would not an evil or impatient PC just simply want to attack the NPC and take the item from them or get past them?

Suggested Solution: Make it so NPCs can be attacked by enabling the option in the campaign settings. This, however, is easier to enable than it is to support. For example, the PCs meet an innkeeper who has a number of tasks for them, but a "twitchy" assassin gets a little frustrated with the innkeeper's lack of co-operation and decides to kill him before all tasks are delivered and met. Now, in this case, I believe the player should "suffer the consequences of their actions" and perhaps miss out on certain quests and results. That said, however, I would recommend having a backup plan to help the player achieve any main quests. Good writing may even allow the player to achieve even minor quests, but this would involve a lot more effort from the builder. The main issue one is trying to offer to the player here is freedom of choice once again. Here, however, it is the ultimate freedom of choice of whether to co-operate with people and society or go against it and risk becoming an outcast.

Other Points: Balance and plausibility are the key factors to account for here, and even the player must co-operate to a degree. After all, while they may potentially end up being able to kill everybody in the module, what would be the point of it? The odd discreet assassination or random kill reflecting the role of the PC is one thing, but even the best written module must reach a point where it recognises a maniac PC who must be destroyed by the world's inhabitants at all costs. There must also be recognised limitations with respect to killing traders. If achieved, a player should not expect to recover all store items, and even find themselves short of a way of trading items. However, a builder must be ready to consider allowing plot item drops that they may have only otherwise created at a conversation time. Lastly, systems need to be taken into account that can restore factions between PCs and targets if attacked by accident or if accidentally damaged by spells.

Pick A Pocket Or Two

Should plot items ever be pick-pocketable? The player knows the NPC carries the key they need and decides that they want to pick-pocket it rather than do the task asked of them. (They have learned that attacking the NPC is a bad idea.)

Suggested Solution: This one really depends on the item more than anything else in my opinion. Not just from a perspective of size, but also of relevance to the NPC and where the NPC is likely to store the item on their body. E.g. The key to the NPC's treasure chest is likely to be very well concealed on their persons in a place that cannot be pick-pocketed. Whereas, a few gold coins in the outer pocket may be easy to reach. NB: Some NPCs will ensure even this may be too well hidden to pick pocket, subjct to their own values and character. Things like armour and swords should never be pick-pocketable in my opinion.

Other Points: What happens when a PC pick-pockets in public? Does the victim stand mute if they discover the theft or shout for help? Does every potential victim have anything worth pick-pocketing? After all, what is the point of having the skill if the module does not cater for potential benefits of that skill?

What About You?

The plot points raised above are the ones I consider the most important. However, there may be more I have missed and if so, please let me know. And don't forget the poll!

BUILDERS: How do you plan your plot paths and balance that with freedom for the player? Do you prefer to write more streamlined interaction for your players or have other ways of offering an illusion of freedom?

PLAYERS: Do you prefer the DM to restrict certain aspects of reality to ensure a plot can be resolved. (E.g. Prevent a plot item being destroyed.) Or do you believe that every action should bring about its own consequence? How much "freedom" do you really want as opposed to a tighter story? It's an age old debate, but maybe in the light of a builder's problem, it may have you re-evaluate your own previous decision?

The Module

I managed to do some more conversations this week to do with a side quest. It was while writing this quest that I discovered the potential issues I raised above, in particular the problem of a player working their way into an area before I had originally planned. In the end I added many more checks and story paths to accommodate the player freedom of overcoming the challenge, but even so, I eventually had to reach a "stop point" to manage the coding. (From all the paths, I imagine this final point will never be found.) It does mean that the module's completion percentage could be upped. ;)

Friday, 6 November 2009

A Desperate Week

Unfortunately, sometimes real life just seems to be against you and all the best laid plans go awry. I suppose I could have just left any post this week, but decided writing about it might be a cathartic experience and help move things on so I can get back to doing more on the module. That said, I imagine many readers will be investigating the newly released Dragon Age to be reading many blogs (mine included) at this time.

So what has happened? Well, to myself, I have had an appeal against a health insurance claim declined again, which means having to spend more time appealing and chasing up hospital reports. And all the while this is being declined (18 months now), it simply adds stress, which is only compounding my current health problems.

Then, I have my mother being conned out of thousands of pounds and not having the backbone to do something about it. And when I try to help, being told I am only scaring her into action. Meanwhile, due to her lack of taking responsibility, she is being threatened to be taken to court for more thousands of pounds. Believe me, I am trying to be very patient and helpful, but to be told all I am doing is scaring her and then having my own sister (who has not had to deal with the problem) yell in my face for doing so (when they should both know all I am doing is trying to help) is very frustrating.

So, this week, my wife and I decided (as much for my own health and sanity) that we would have to leave my Mum (and sister) to their own self-destructive lives. As much as it breaks my heart to say so, the last few months have shown my mother (and sister) to not be the people I thought they were. Obviously, there is a lot more to it than what I have said, but I don't want to place every piece of dirty linen out for all to see. Thankfully, before coming to this decision, I was able to have my mother's sister get involved and (what appears to be) a reasonable and competent solicitor. Unfortunately, I don't see any room for reconciliation for ourselves due to too many lies from my mother being said. (She says she forgets.) What can one do when a person holds back truths and is afraid of taking responsibility for what they do - and then blames others who are only trying to help?

THE MODULE

As far as doing work on the module, I was unable to do much more than finish a cutscene I was working on. I can say that I recommend using the SetCommandable function over a SetCutsceneMode function when making cutscenes, as the former prevents a weird "view the top of the PC's head" after coming out of a conversation, which you get with the latter.

I am also hoping to meet up with Geoff (Quillmaster) this weekend to discuss all things Neverwinter Nights and modules, so hopefully, I will be able to put last week behind me and try to do more relaxing things, like work with the module. Geoff's own NWN1 module is nearing completion and I hope to help him finish a little scripting with some items (Soul Stones) that act in a similar manner to my own Life Essence, so that should be straight forward enough. In return, I am hoping he may be able to help with some artistic touches to my own module, or at least secure some time in the future for such.

However, to end my week, I have to visit the dentist later on today for a toothache problem that was not cured the last time I went only a few months ago!

Friday, 30 October 2009

New Feats

It has been a slow week for me this week. I am still fiddling with Windows 7 to get it to work how I like and feel. Most of the programs and utilities I normally use when working with the module are now installed and (mostly) work, and I am now back in a position to something similar to when I worked on Windows XP. Here is a screenshot with the Toolset open in Windows 7:

The time I have been working on the module has involved me with editing 2da files and a Tlk table to enable some new feats that will work with Better The Demon. I finally got the process to work (enabling skill bonuses) by applying the bonus to a player skin in a similar fashion to what I have done with other game benefits such as potential attribute adjustments. The feat I added this week also works with "successive" values, meaning the feat can be "upgraded" if certain criteria are met. In this case, I have worked in a feat that gets added subject to how often the PC "accidentally" kills neutral PCs and apologizes for the act as part of the "Real Life" system. They may start as someone who is "Accident Prone", but can eventually end up being labelled a "Homicidal Maniac" and be made an outcast from normal society. (At which point the "Sorry" feat is also removed. Check out this earlier post about the "Sorry" feat.)

While this feat was designed primarily as a means to help encourage a player to take care about who they kill and prevent breaking the game, I also considered it an exercise to help prepare me to work in any other epithet/background feats that might be worth considering. Time will tell how much I will use this facility.

I also managed to do some more work towards the Ambient Life system, with respect to buildings and their residents. This is nearing an end now and I hope to be concentrating on the quests again next week. That's the plan anyway. ;)

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Ambient Life

Every now and then when working on the module, something amusing happens that is worth telling (or so I think). In this case, it was when I was working on some new ambient life code that made the NPCs behave with a little more "intelligence" than I had used before.

This coding has come about because I have given my NPCs a degree of autonomy and "real life" responses where possible. For example, if a PC tries to pick a lock or do some damage when there are witnesses nearby, they will be prevented from doing so. This code appears to work fine, but led to me to realising that in such circumstances a player playing a thief (or any PC) may reasonably suggest to themselves that they may try coming back later (at night say) when there were no witnesses around. This, in turn, led me to considering the night and day time positions of NPCs and so I wrote some code to handle this potential situation.

The funny thing that happened was that during my testing, every NPC (except the head clergyman at the church) ended up going to the local tavern, even if they were not supposed to. Everyone turned up, from the church adept to the guards that should have been on duty! As I say, only the head clergyman did not go, although he should have gone to bed, but did not and remained at the church altar. He must have been praying for all those wayward souls down the pub! ;)

Anyway, it made me chuckle for a short while before I finally resolved the problem. Once again, this new code did raise other issues that I had not foreseen. Unfortunately, I cannot mention them as they are spoilers. Suffice to say, having the NPCs move somewhere else broke some of the logic and so I had to add more code to sort that out too. However, once I have finished this section, the module will behave in yet another way that I hope will add extra depth for the player. I am imagining rogues waiting until nightfall so that they have more chance to do their nefarious tasks than during the daylight hours. Time will tell how well it comes together .... or not! ;)

New Epithet Feats

I have also been investigating the area of new feats: the ones that give skill bonuses (or penalties) when acquired. The type that are acquired through PC actions rather than through class improvement. Adding epithet feats is straight forward enough, but attaching the skill benefits is not as straight forward as it first seemed. At the moment, it looks like I may have to resort to using the PC skin method again, but if anybody knows of any other way of doing this, then please let me know.

Windows 7 (64 bit)

I have also spent some time partitioning my hard drive and adding Windows 7 as a dual boot option. I also tested NWN2 on the new operating system and all appears to be fine. (I played some SoZ with a friend last night with no hitches at all.) I also opened my module in the toolset and all appears well there too. :)

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Dealing With The Details. (The Writer's Plight.)

So, another week goes past and the module advancement counter hardly moves. What's going on you may ask? Well, the answer is that I am working on the module (when my health permits), and I am still making progress. However, with every step I make, I am also making sure it does not break something I have already done ... or ... I am making sure there are no errors in what I have already done. Therefore, while it may appear I am taking some time over this project, the good news is that the degree of testing required in the end, should hopefully be minimal. :) Here is an example of the kind of thing I am talking about:

A Simple Conversation?

While working on a conversation the player will have with an NPC, I had the need to check into a crafting option they might need to make. This led to finding an error in a 2da table where the same item could be crafted with a choice of two spells. This led me to discover I had not updated a second version of a 2da line when a choice of spells was involved. Now fixed! Then, when checking a crafting recipe, I discover extra considerations are required to work with the new stolen item & laundry system I have developed, which in turn, also meant adding the game rule to the in game Campaign Rules system for player's easy access.

Working on this conversation reminded me that I still had to finish one of the large crafting tomes that a player can find and must acquire if they want to craft with the greater essences. So, I spent some time adding more recipes/pages to that tome. (Still requires about another 13 pages.) Getting the layout correct for a Readable Book is important to me. This also reminded me to consider what creatures needed to be available to the player to acquire the distillable creature items to, in turn, gain access to critical recipe components. I had to carefully consider the ecology of when and where such creatures could be encountered. (Work in progress.)

Furthermore, this conversation also had an opening change in description according to the state of play that altered a custom token. So, more checks and token definitions had to be made, as well as the normal journal entries and checks.

That was just the thinking and work process behind one conversation, which I am still writing! Hopefully, this was one of the more complex ones, meaning other conversations won't require as much work. However, I can think of about a dozen that may still require as much work, unless I have a design change.

World Map Encounters

I also spent a little time ironing out the last of the overland map issues dealing with encounters. The system now works as I originally planned with one alteration: I have decided to not have limited encounters, due to discovering another aspect of the original system, which I have now altered to work in a way that complements the original idea. Let me explain ...

After examining the original encounter code and conversations, I discovered there was code already in place that allowed for a morale check for monsters and had them run away from the PCs if the fight was going to be too tough for them. However, due to the way the CR ratings are set on the original encounter, the creatures do not run away as often as I thought they would. So, I decided to amend the setting to one that seemed to me more appropriate for the encounter, which now means there is more chance of the creature avoiding the PCs if they consider the PCs too challenging. Couple this to my overland Party Skill Check system, and it means that while there are "unlimited" encounters, there comes a time when the PCs will simply be able to easily avoid them, or the creatures will choose to ignore the PCs altogether. (Player's who want to have the encounter can obviously still do so if they can catch them.)

The new overland map system works well, but I am now left with the more laborious task of creating the 2da tables that provide the creature encounters and the goodies that can be found. The former will definitely be needed to be done from scratch due to obviously different encounters for my world, but the latter may only require minor alterations due to the material being fairly generic. However, this could all change on closer inspection and when I once again start .... dealing with the details.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Give Me Power!

And by "power", I mean it literally - in the form of electricity. For this week we had two days without electricity due to "essential" repair work in our area. This caused me to do very little work on the module as well as have very little else to do except make a few notes of what needed doing and read a book. For those interested I am reading Robin Hobb's Farseer series: A fantasy novel about an assassin to a king, written in the first person. I recommend it as a good read.

Final Overland Map Work

In the time I was able to work on the module, I finished the overland map code and made an attempt at creating the actual map area. I say 'attempt', as my skills in this area are not good. Furthermore, I worked from an old existing PnP paper map, which as anybody who has played PnP will know, tends to be rather bland in detail compared to a NWN2 SoZ version. Consequently, my own area map does not contain as much detail as I would like to have had due to restrictions of current exisiting campaign design. Hopefully, as the story moves into areas not currently written for the campaign, I will be able to create more interesting overland maps.

All overland maps will now include:

  1. Correct scale maps with movement reflecting actual miles and time travelled.
  2. New overland map GUI to reflect terrain type, time taken and other info.
  3. Discoverable 'goodies' based on best in party skills. (Resources given as items.)
  4. Discoverable 'locations' based on best in party skills.
  5. Limited random encounters so as not to swamp other play. (*)

(*) There will also be an option for players who find a map to ignore overland map travel altogether if they wish to. It will be up to the player if they prefer to use quicker transfer between locations rather than explore a map. A combination of travel types is recommended so the player does not miss out on finding goodies and winning XP for their PCs that overland map exploration can bring.

For those interested, here is a snippet of the old PnP map I worked from with its CRPG conversion images in the toolset.






The Reward Poll

The 'Reward Poll' first polled on this site, continues at the Vault and now has over 1100 votes! (Scroll down the page from the link and it is in the right-hand pane.)

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Close Encounters Of The SoZ Kind

On the back of last week when I worked on map encounter “goodies”, I have continued my work on the overland map by looking at how the encounters work. It was a tangled web of code I had to work through, and by the end of it I was convinced that either I did not use “const” variables enough, or the official way seems to use too many. ;) I often found myself having to work my way back through include files to work out exactly what was going on with each variable. Furthermore, as my own maps had their own unique code for travel, I had to pick my way through those functions that needed to stay, be altered or could be ignored altogether.

In the end, here is a rough outline of what I did, and what others may want to consider doing as well if they want to get overland encounters to work:

1) Bring over a lot of material from the SoZ campaign just to get the template code in place, including: A) Encounter areas. B) Random Encounter Creatures (both overland map ones and normal encounter versions). C) Encounter table 2da files, including the one that awards XP for an encounter “victory”. D) All conversation and script files associated with areas and creatures.

2) Next, I decided how I wanted my own encounters to work. To this end I removed all code that was specific to SoZ “special” encounters to leave just the random generated code to work with. I also reduced the amount of 2da cross-reference required by naming the encounter table as a variable on the terrain trigger rather than use the 2da that lists all tables and then cross-reference that with more code.

3) I then reworked the terrain heartbeat script (the script that checks for encounters) with edited versions of my own functions that are normally called from the ginc_overland include file. In particular, the InitializeEncounter function and others that are called from that, so that they checked the whole party skill set rather than just the leader used at the time. I am still working on slight alterations here, but some calls use the best party PC skill, whereas others will use an average party skill check. I am also considering adding these values to the Travel Info GUI for the player to see their current skill check levels.

It is not probably relevant to post any of the scripts, as my own specific code may only serve to confuse. However, the points I made above are good basic points that could work in general map building.

To remind readers, these maps will be more like “movie maps” in that the player can move across the region at a constant speed (unlike the official map) and time taken will be calculated and fed back in the GUI instead. For the same reason, I have decided not to reflect “night” and “day”, although this could be turned back on if there was much call for it. However, the time only updates when the PC stops moving on the map or moves to another area. Therefore, the night/day shift would (or could) suddenly change from day to night (or vice-versa) if the player did not stop moving for a period of time.

I have added a couple of screenshots (not too exciting) that show the work in progress. The first shot demonstrates that while one PC (the male PC) is doing the leading through the map, that it is the second PC (the female called Threska) who heard the creature for the party. These onscreen text feedbacks are likely to change or be removed before the final version. The second screenshot shows the ogre encounter in place.



There are a couple of other small details that I worked on along the way: a) I reworked the colour of the CR text on creatures, as sometimes I could hardly read them. b) I reworked other areas of lead PC skill checks to party wide skill checks, such as using the best PC intimidate or bluff in encounters where available (if more than one PC had the skill on offer to help save the player from having to remember the highest member).

Having reached this far, I do now realise that to do this specifically for my own campaign, I will need to write some of my own 2da encounter tables and accompanying creatures and conversations. However, it seems a shame not to make use of the many resources already available and intermingle them with some of my own. By the way, making the terrain trigger take the encounter table 2da directly involves one less 2da edit.

While I have not completed my research and coding just yet, I would say that I am 90% there. There are still one or two decisions I am considering, one in particular is whether to allow a player to switch PCs while on the overland map. It is currently disabled and works more as a “movie map” this way as intended. And as all checks are made as if from the party of PCs rather than just the leader, then the ability to change PCs is probably moot. However, if I can enable it without messing up any coding I have done, then I may do so, but I don’t think the feature is necessary more than just included because it can be. UPDATE: This option to switch PCs while on the map will NOT be enabled as it causes one or two other issues. The option to switch between PCs while on the map should never be needed anyway.

If you have any questions about this, or concerns for play, then please do add a comment.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Goodies For All!

I did some more work with the overland map this week with respect to the “goodies” that can be discovered and random encounters. It was interesting to see the code used in the OC, but I also found it rather complicated and decided to simplify and make it more “party” oriented than the OC system. For instance, in the OC, “goodie” finds are based on the leader’s ability only, whereas my system uses the best skill score in the group to make the checks. Therefore, a well-balanced party with mixed skills has more chance of discovering “goodies” than having to rely on one good leader.

As I have barely started looking at the random encounter code, I don’t have a lot to say about it. However, I do intend to use it and would like to have feedback from readers if they would prefer to switch the encounters on and off? Or even have an option to increase or decrease the chance of encounters, as if the party were out looking for monsters, or deliberately trying to avoid them! (Please leave feedback if you have any preference.)

Crafting Items

Another aspect of which I am very aware when playing SoZ is that making sure the player will have “potential” access to all crafting materials is vital. After all, having recipes that cannot be followed due to a lack of materials will become a quick turn off if not managed correctly. To this end, I am ensuring all recipes do have the potential to be crafted if the player ensures they have the capabilities to acquire and work with the materials. It will be a two-way responsibility: I will ensure provision if they take the trouble to learn to craft. And as regular readers of this blog will know, every recipe has now had its gold requirements reduced (in most cases) to ensure there are no extreme prices for said items, but at the same time, maintaining a balanced economy.

Moving Forward

I have also managed to do more work on one of the side adventures. I was reminded just how difficult it can be to do something that may be slightly different from the norm. For instance, a “simple” transition I was working on was complicated by the fact that I wanted to offer more ways to use it, subject to the party’s skills and abilities. Instead of being able to use the normal simple transition lines in the properties, I ended up writing four separate scripts!

Party Focused

I want to stress how this campaign will be written with the party as the focus rather than a leader with a group of followers. An example of such was given above where every member of the party will be checked when discovering “goodies” on the overland map. I also wrote my own system for “party conversations” before SoZ came out, which allows responses from all party members and not just the main PC speaker. After all, party members should not stand mute if they have something valuable to offer. This system is slightly different from the SoZ system though, in that the options present themselves immediately without having to click on the party member in the conversation menu. Note: I will probably make use of both systems as required.

The Rewards Poll

This is still up and running at the Vault and currently has the following scores …

Saturday, 19 September 2009

History In The Making

This week, I have been trying to tidy up some of the files that can be downloaded for players to read some background story to the campaign. These are basically synopses of gameplay that my own group of players did between the years of 2002 - 2008. Unfortunately, all the adventures except the last one (Soul Shaker) were not written for general release and required DM controlling a unique turn-based combat system I wrote with NWN. (Soul Shaker can be downloaded from the Vault.)

NOTE: Knowledge of the campaign is not required, but if you want to get a better understanding of what has already transpired and like a simple read, then feel free to download a chapter and take a look. Some chapters are better written than others. (Remember, these were originally only written to remind my players what had happened each week between play and so I was not always giving the writing my 100% attention.)

I am also continuing to work on the new website to help provide other background (covering earlier parts that these synopses do not cover) and other game mechanics information.


Better The Demon

The next chapter begins after Soul Shaker and as you will know by now is called, "Better The Demon". It is designed in NWN2, whereas all earlier adventures used NWN1.

Progress with this latest module is slower than I would have liked for a number of reasons, primarily due to my health. However, I am still progressing, and I started work on another area this week and added another unique item that can be used in my modules: Rope. While this item may not be quite as flexible as in a PnP game, it will, none the less, be something to add a new dimension to the game.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Multiplayer Maps

Last week I showed you my new mapping system and how everything worked just great in my single player testing. Then I tested it for a multi-player environment and had to spend the last week reworking the scripts to work for that. In my writing, I came across three problems, which I hope I have ironed out:

1) The SetScriptHidden function did not appear to work. (After rewriting the script from scratch, this problem sorted itself.)

2) The EffectSetScale appeared to not work under certain circumstances, and so I abandoned its usage and left the PCs at their default (reduced) sizes for overland maps anyway. UPDATE: I discovered that this required a delay before applying in circumstances I did not expect.

3) The PC still made random spot and listen checks even though I had removed all the heartbeat codes that called it. In the end, I tracked down a global variable setting that implied it would ignore the map checks if set: SetGlobalInt(VAR_ENC_IGNORE, 1) ; I placed this in the terrain on enter and so far I have not had any more checks displayed in the chat bar. (I will let you know if I later find this did not work.)

Anyway, a week later and the maps now work for multi-player. One thing I will be happy about, is when I have finished writing all these systems for MP and can leave them alone once and for all.

Scroll Spells Damage & Duration

In the meanwhile, my friend and I have been going through more spells to alter the scripts regarding their usage when cast from scrolls that vary the power. Along the way, we increased the ability increase spells (e.g. Bear's Endurance etal.) to 30 minutes per level and increase by 1d4 + 1 instead of a fixed value of 4. Invisibility has also been increased to 10 minutes per level.

The Poll Continues

Chaos Wielder of the Shagret site kindly posted my last poll on the Vault to see what kind of response it would receive there. The Vault obviously gets far more hits than my own blog and it's interesting to see the comparative scores. I include a shot of the results so far.

If you want to go and register your vote there too, here is the link to the Vault.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Maps - The Best of Both Worlds

I had no intention of doing what I did this week, but recognising my own ineptitude at designing areas led me to it: I have finally managed to incorporate a version of SoZ's overland map system that is compatible with my own design! I went down this route because my efforts at city design to date have been awful, and I much prefer the way it is handled in SoZ overland map system where the city is simply a placeable with conversation options. Being able to have a player click on a city and take them to certain spots within the city is both easier for me to work with and quicker for the player to navigate to the areas they want to go to.

However, there was an important hurdle I had to overcome before this mapping system could be used. For my campaign, the following design point was implemented well before SoZ hit the scenes: A Vigour System that is designed to track a PC's fatigue levels based on food, sleep and distance travelled. As this system is linked to movement and travel, I had to design a real-time wrapper to work alongside my current system when the player chooses to explore a region using the overland map rather than simply travel to an area via the use of a world map.

Multi-Map System

With the addition of this mapping system, it now means the player has the choice of travel based upon either: items they have acquired, objects they have activated or how healthy they are to travel. As a game, it means the player can choose the method they prefer to use, or maybe even use a combination of all as they become available. The default/basic map system available will now be the SoZ overland system (subject to how fit the PC is to travel according to their Vigour level). Alternatively, if the PC finds a map and gains locations on the map, then they will be able to choose to use this form of map travel instead (as long as they have enough provisions for the journey). I have even made use of the original NWN2 map system for yet another method of travel, but I won't go into details of that one now - I want to keep some surprises. ;)

Flexible Use & Travel Info

After getting the core system in place, which involved coding for various terrain types (which affect speed of travel), I realised that the system is also flexible enough to allow other modes of transport to increase the speed at which the party could potentially travel. For instance, it is possible to have a special variable check for "flying" or "mounted", which would alter the speed variable and thereby increase the distance covered in a given time. I don't have any immediate plans to do this, but it was good to know that it may be possible.

From the player's perspective, the speed at which their PC crosses the map remains unchanged, which means slower movement for the PC is NOT actually reflected in the player's avatar onscreen. This is useful because it means a player can reach any location on the map in the same time while moving the character across the screen, although the amount of time it takes for the PC in game time is altered according to the terrain type and speed for said terrain. (However, a PC is still slowed if they are encumbered.)

All this information is fed back to the player in real time inside a small GUI designed to show the various aspects of their travel: terrain type, movement speed on the terrain, total distance travelled and total time travelled. For those use to PnP (Pen and Paper D&D), the altered system has a similar feel when used, in that the player says where they want to go (by controlling the PC across the map) and the code behind the scene gives the player feedback as they travel. And the most important point of all (which makes this different o the OC), is that it also calculates the PCs vigour levels and checks for food as they go. (Vigour levels for each PC will be updated in the "Chat" window to keep the GUI clear for other information.) This GUI can be closed if preferred and reopens when using the rest button.

The observant among you may notice I have removed the three menu systems at the bottom of the OC map system that are normally along the bottom in the centre. As far as I could see, there was no need for these in my own use. I have a separate date system GUI (bottom right of screen shot), resting can be controlled by pressing "r", and I could not see any other reason for the player menu. If anybody believes these menus contain anything that may be important, please let me know.

Create Food & Water

For those with the spell ability, there will be a means to acquire a special Arcaene Scroll known as Create Food & Water, which can be used instead of rations while travelling. In this case, as long as the party has someone with the ability to use the scroll, then vigour levels are kept fine without having to acquire further rations.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

A Difficult Week

This week has been a difficult one for me. The most stressful time came at the end of the week, when one of our pet rabbits (Honey) stopped eating and started to drool. A few trips to the vets and one operation later (today) and she is back home after having had some spikes removed from her teeth that were causing her pain. She is still quiet at the moment, but now I know the cause of her not eating has been treated, I am more hopeful to see her start to improve again soon.

I did manage to do a little more writing at the start of the week, and can say that the quests are still making progress. I also spent some time designing one of the areas that may be reached, although there is still more work to go there. Unfortunately, for the reasons given, the amount was not really enough to move on the progress marker, although I have jotted down more ideas to translate into module writing.

Rewards Poll

The poll I carried out regarding awards came to an end last week, and I was once again pleased to get a healthy 41 votes. The two clear winners of the Rewards Poll showed that players are most motivated by either finding new Weapons & Armour or Advancing The Story. I found myself agreeing with all of the comments and while some of the other rewards scored lower, I do hope to give a good smattering of the various types listed in the module. Furthermore, I hope to also elevate the "value" of finding gold. At the moment, it is obvious that as a reward it does not inspire much in players, but if they found that they could make good use (or even essential use) of that gold, then maybe it will become more desirable.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Quest Writing

As the title suggests, I am moving more into the realms of writing quests than covering mechanics ... at last! I know I have reported on this before, but this is also the first time I have started to write conversations and design areas and not had to stop to sort out a game mechanics issue. I even have managed to pencil in a few more areas in my notebook, which are now ready to build in the tool set.

Having started this process, however, I am reminded of the extremely hard task of writing conversations (and journal entries), allowing for varied player options and depth. And it's not necessarily the number of options as such, but more to do with how the different options have an impact on how the various quests will run and interact with each other - and keeping track of all the variables. You know what I mean: Give the player more options and you have geometrically increased your variable count. E.g. In one quest I am currently writing, the player can react to a cut scene in one of two ways. On the surface on things, this would appear a simple two-way check, but as I have come to code for it, I have been reminded of a whole number of other aspects that must be covered if the "obvious path" is not chosen. How tempting it is to not give a choice to the player at the cut scene stage and just move them into the quest regardless. Hopefully, the extra effort of allowing a choice even at the these early stages will give the module a feeling of greater freedom and less manipulation.

Star*Drive

I have to agree with Frank Perez (Faithless Blog) at the look of the up and coming module called Star*Drive by Yaddaman. The work looks like an absolute masterpiece and done with complete dedication to the task. How one man can have done all that I have seen from the screenshots is simply amazing. I do enjoy sci-fi games as much as fantasy ones, so to have something like this mod available in NWN2 is probably one of the most exciting modules to come along since its release, as it will open up a whole new avenue of interest to me. I remember trying to mod a System Shock 2 module once, using ShockED. Now, if this mod is as good as it looks, I will have the pleasure of being able to rekindle my sci-fi modding as a second hobby outlet. (NB: It won't ever interfere with my NWN2 projects, but will give me something to look forward to in the future.)

The Reward Poll

Only three days left to vote in the poll! If there is a reward system you want me to consider in the module, be sure to vote and add a comment.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Worst Enemy == ME!

I just spent the last couple of days trying to track down why a variable was being reset to zero whenever a second player joined the module when played in MP mode. It turned out to be a function I wrote that was buried inside an include file that helped keep track of module variables between modules in the same campaign. Thankfully, I tracked it down and fixed an issue with this and with the new PC/Companion AI that allows different players in the same MP game to control their own PCs separately from the leader. i.e. Players can control their own PCs independently of the leader with respect to stand ground and follow them. It may not be a major alteration, but it does make it feel like the players are more in control of their own group of PCs even though being part of the same party!

The Smelter

On a more positive note, I did manage to finish coding the "smelter" that allows a player (with a high enough skill) to smelt ore (five of a kind) into an ingot of the same material. And to make things easier for the player, they can add all the ore they have found in a single go and when used (closed) the smelter differentiates the different types automatically and even provides the remainder of ore. (It takes five ore to make one ingot.)

This is just another part of the crafting system where a player controls their components and is encouraged to make their own items. Don't forget that the economy of the system has been greatly revised, which means crafting/enchanting is a lot easier to pay for than it is at the moment. Of course, gold is harder to come by, and so will make gold a more attractive find as well. As a guide though, no single item can be sold for more than 10000 gp. If the value of the item is more than that, then it is considered a "unique" item crafted for the specific use of the player and no-one will (can afford) to buy it. (Don't worry, the smelter wll not appear on a carpet as it does in the screenshot!)