Tag Archives: crpg

Kobold’s Corner: Luck As An RPG Stat – Good Or Bad

meadowToday I painted a cursed wizard school, where every time you miss a quiz question, your life force is drained a bit more until you pass out and awake in the infirmary.

Why does the headmaster allow this awful thing to happen? Well, there’s a vampire curse, you see, and maybe some Snape-ish professors actually like the curse.

It weeds out the weak.

I was also looking today at more Tunnels and Trolls stuff (for my browser-based game project). I downloaded and played Crusaders of Khazan, a T&T CRPG from 1990, on a PC emulator from Emuparadise.

They’re calling this “abandonware”, so it was free. The kitty likes free, but I couldn’t handle navigating that little low-resolution tile world for long. My eyes glazed over. Bleep. Bloop. Bloop. Bleep.

Saving rolls are an interesting part of T&T for me. I want to do lots of rolls, but I’m skeptical about Luck as a stat. Like someone commented in a game forum, Luck is already a real part of the game.

You as a player want to be lucky – with dice rolls.

Ken St. Andre pared D&D down to the barest essentials to make T&T back in the 1970s. When Ken explains why he took out Wisdom and added Luck, I agree with his reasoning. You need Luck to survive a dungeon. If you were wise, you wouldn’t set foot in that infested hole in the first place. Thinking it over though, I wonder if he added an almost-as-worthless stat.

I perused one of St. Andre’s dungeons today in the new deluxe T&T rulebook (“Chambers of the Mad Dwarf“). He is recommending IQ or Luck saving rolls to spot hidden doors and secrets in a few places. So you can be Sherlock Holmes to spot something, or just thrust your sword accidentally into the exact tree knot to open the door.

Which admittedly is fun – the best counter-argument for using Luck. On the other hand, novelist sages say fiction has to be even more real than reality to be believable. If a character wins the big lottery out of the blue in a book of fiction and then lives happily ever after, the reader will feel cheated. That’s no story.

Using the same logic as Luck, I also wonder about Intelligence. Intelligence is how you as the player win the game, whether solving the puzzle or orchestrating combat cleverly. Perception seems like a better stat to put on characters, since you as a player can’t perceive what the GM didn’t tell you?

Perception can also be used as a attribute for dialog option checks, while Luck can’t. (Perceiving whether someone is lying to you, or wants something a lot more than they are letting on.) So my thought is to get rid of INT and LK. I could use Perception instead of LK, and Talents/Subject Knowledge instead of INT.

So to quote a scientific formula, build and use a cannon, or tap philosophical principles, maybe you’d need Science, Military, and Philosophy subject knowledge (talents) instead of INT. While it’s much more work for less resource usage than using a catch-all INT stat, it’s more characterizing.

I’m not doing Charisma either. Here is my current list:

Willpower :: spell power, intimidate
Agility :: defense, avoid danger
Toughness :: health, resistances

Perception :: find hidden, diplomacy
Cunning :: diplomacy, persuasion
Allure :: persuasion, intimidate

It seems like I’m missing something, but I don’t have a Strength stat because the setting is the Dream World, the amorphous, illusory connective tissue between the emotional world (Hell), the mental world (Heaven), and Earth, where vampires, succubi, witches, shifters, and shamans roam.

I also looked at some review articles from Chester at CRPG Addict on T&T’s vintage Crusaders of Khazan. His idea of a perfect RPG happens to be the same as mine, and basically the low-budget game I’m trying to make:

I guess my idea of a perfect RPG has always been something along the lines of a CYOA book with all the other RPG mechanics surrounding it.

Chester suggests Crusaders approaches this ideal relatively well for an old game, offering a lot of dialogue-based encounters. There are also the usual sudden forced scenarios though. In another article, Chester consequently creates a hierarchy of encounter types.

Level 0: Completely random, a surprise forced encounter.
Level 1: Encounter with context. There is some sort of lead-in or build up, with a chance to make a plan and decide whether to engage or retreat. I.e. you know there is an ambush just ahead.
Level 2: Encounter with conversation and/or choice. There are some sort of options or choices allowing roleplay, but you’re still ending up with a pre-determined continuation of some kind(?).
Level 3: Consummate encounter. Roleplay dictates an entire gamut of violent or non-violent outcomes, blending context, conversation, and choice.

Chester notes that in his experience, many players in discussion forums would rather stick to puzzles, gear, gold, and gushing arteries however, and challenges his readers to think of their own best “encounter” experiences. So.

Some Of My Favorite/Most Memorable Encounters:

  • The Vampire Bodhi in Baldur’s Gate – deciding whether to join or kill the vampires. I played through both ways.
  • The werewolf lair in Dragon Age: Origins – deciding whether to join or kill the Lady of the Forest. Played through both ways. The decisions at the ending of the game were good too, but somehow I cared less about those people.
  • Philosophy with Dak’kon – A lot of players go gaga over Fall-From-Grace, but I really enjoyed talking with this Gith in Planescape Torment. It was just really exotic, religious, and left my head spinning.
  • Children of the Cathedral in Fallout. Again, this was sort of a situation where I had to wipe out a church.
  • Mages and demons, the mage tower tryst, and continuing story of Jowan in Dragon Age: Origins.
  • Skyrim: the dragon cult. I wanted to join the cult to worship the dragons, not fight against them. So I literally quit the game two or three times, and never got far, because I didn’t want to become the anointed dragonslayer, and the main story had no choice.
  • Tribunal vs. Imperial. The religious conflict in Morrowind was fascinating. I’m using a Tribunal-like situation of three founding demigods in my dark wizard school, which is similar.

There are so many characters and situations, and I still haven’t completed DA2 or Pillars, or played DA3 or Divinity:Original Sin. Strangely all of the favorites coming to mind are in single player RPGs and not MMOs. That suggests the importance of affecting meaningful change to the people and factions in the story.

I need to go to sleep, but the favorite recurring themes are starting to be clear: major moral choices involving good vs. evil and attitude towards entire factions, and exotic philosophical people and factions. If you read this far, what are your favorite/most memorable encounters in RPGs?

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Weekly Wyrm: Achievement Complete

game screen

This week I’m working on my fantasy RPG, because last week I finished the final edit of my fourth novel, wrapping up eight months of working almost every minute of every day. My novels are epic length (130k+ words). I’ll start publishing this fall.

So I think I’ve written the same amount as Tolkien at this point. I have five books–a trilogy and two one-offs that expand on the most important characters and settings (Earth, Tartarus, Elysium, and Heaven). These add to my published short stories.

My novels aren’t pure genius, but they aren’t crap either. They’re *so* much better from having been written all at once.

All five novels have had 10-30 full re-writes or revisions over fifteen years. I took two years off work. I tortured, maimed, murdered, and enslaved a respectable number of characters who had perfectly nice lives before I came along.

I invented my own language–Demonic.

Instead of using a profound Tolkien knowledge of linguistics to create Demonic, I channeled the syllables from an Atlantean spirit guide named Neemoo. So don’t make fun of my Demonic language, because Neemoo is just a boy, and you might hurt his feelings.

Do I even read novels anymore? No. I’ve read a thousand works of fiction, but almost none in two decades. I was busy writing for like 10,000 hours.


*Must* You Use The Product To Be Good At Making It?


I was thinking today that I don’t agree with Linda “Brasse” Carlson‘s hiring strategy, as discussed in a previous post here about Trion’s livestream, where Linda and company were talking about getting hired at Trion.

Linda wants to hire people who are passionate about video games, but that seems like only hiring carpenters and plumbers who are passionate about “houses”–i.e. passionate about living in houses, decorating houses, a nice patio for barbecuing, a foyer to die for, raising a family in a house, and enjoying the fruits of houses.

Was Howard Roark (Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead) passionate about office buildings? No. He was passionate about designing and building buildings. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about the stuffed shirts who lived and worked in those buildings. He just wanted to cut the crap and reach for his vision.

Gamers often lambaste devs with the suspicion that they don’t even play their own games. That’s probably true most of the time, but that doesn’t mean they can’t raise the roofbeams like nobody’s business.

There are too many metaphors to even start supporting my point, and Linda Carlson’s point is probably more complicated in terms of human resources. Walter White (Heisenberg) also says no, and video games seem a lot like methamphetamine.


RPG Writing Ruminations


So this week I’m back on my video game project. I’m posting a screenshot here of my interface so far (open in a new tab to see a larger size). The game is playable except for combat, which needs a lot of (boring) thought about strength and intelligence and spells, and worse of all, animation.

Animation is a pain, precious.

I’ve made some important and interesting changes based on my observations of what worked and didn’t work in recent games I’ve played, mainly Pillars of Eternity. I wanted to write down my thoughts in a mini-developer diary.

The first companion characters in Pillars (Calisca and Heodan) are my favorites, and yet Pillars throws them away. This is a mistake. So why are these characters my faves? What qualities do they have, which the later characters don’t show, at least not right away?

Love-at-first-sight Bonding. I’m starting to wonder if the first people you meet in a game world form a special bond in your brain. It’s like being born into a new world, and your mind grasps onto the first friendly face you see. That’s why the first characters are so important.

Of course, the most important character in the story is you, the player.

Calisca and Heodan have strong goals. In the Pillars opening sequences, this means survival against an immediate threat. My Jedi master of writing, Jack Bickham, stresses the importance of the immediacy and realness of the threat. Pillars nails this.

Goals are imperative for NPCs. We can do better than “sure I’ll come along, why not, safety in numbers, I wouldn’t mind–”

Calisca and Heodan have inter-character conflict. Right away Calisca and Heodan are at odds over which path to take. You decide, and there are consequences. The only way this amazing starting survival scenario in the cave could be stronger is if your decision develops your own character a little more.

Conflict is super-important not only to create tension and move the plot forward, but also to develop characters with emotion. So I need to hit these important points with the NPCs. Conflict, goals, and the first characters you meet are highly important. I re-wrote the beginning of my game (again) because of these observations.


Weekly Wyrm: Why More Male Companions?

pillars of eternityI get the concept of why games offer more playable males. More boys play video games.

I was leafing through a Seventeen magazine this morning, and it’s all about cosmetics, more cosmetics, your face, your hair, your eyelashes, your period, or the prom.

I’ve got a cute boy with lip gloss in the centerfold, but there’s no information on the proper handling of Sniper Rifles, submachine guns, or death spells.

I don’t get why most companions are male, though. Why do game developers keep the same male ratio with companions, mercenaries, or whatever?

Here are my quick counts of balls to boobs in recent RPGs. I’m using the internet, so I’m sorry if any numbers are significantly wrong.

*Recent RPG Companion Gender Ratios, Male To Female, DLC Not Included*

DA: Inquisition – 6:3
Dragon Age 2 – 5:4
DA:Origins – 4:3 (no Dog)
Pillars of Eternity – 5:3
Diablo 3 – 2:1
Baldur’s Gate Enhanced – 3:1 (only added companions)
Divinity: Original Sin – 2:2
Wasteland 2 – 9:6

As you can see, males seem favored. I picked these RPGs at random from the top of my head. This isn’t a feminist rant. I’m not demanding change. I’m just trying to understand why this is happening.

According to a poll, most players use the Enchantress in D3. You could argue that reasons for choosing a follower usually have nothing to do with gender, but no amount of anecdotal reporting can be accurate.

Do adventuring groups just seem more heroic with more men in them? I’d like to hear some opinions of some guys. Do you prefer male companions? Are girls annoying, so it’s nice to get away from them in a game?

Why are game developers designing like this?

Are game developers mostly male, so they are writing characters they can most relate to, expressing a part of themselves? This is the best argument I can think of. Is there data that shows players prefer a more capable man at their back?

I can’t find a preference poll for Divinity: Original Sin, the only game on my list with an equal ratio.


Pillars of Eternity : Re-incarnation Rampage


I keep starting Pillars over. So far, I’ve started the game over at least five times.

My first character was a wizard, but I found the wizard underwhelming, and the game hands you a wizard out of the gate anyway. I created a rogue hireling with my wizard to do traps and locks, and I ended up liking my rogue more than my main character.

So I started over with a monk, giving her points in mechanics.

I played a lot with my monk, and ended up making some evil choices. I decided I’d rather stick with the good choices, and I didn’t like how my conversation options were panning out with my character stats.

So I started over with a barbarian, so I could still roll at the front of the party and do some mechanics and tanking.

Once again, I managed to make a few choices that the game seemed to think were evil, but I didn’t interpret them that way. I created a druid hireling to go with the barbarian, and again I liked my hireling more than my main character.

So I started over on a druid with mechanics skill (not exactly thematic).

I made my first druid a wolf for knockdown, but I’m starting over one more time with the cat shifter. I’m just not a wolf fan, even if the wolf has cool perks. (The druid makes a great werewolf by the way, if you’re into the furry thing.)

The fun thing is that I’ve taken different choices with each re-run, mostly based on stats, and Pillars of Eternity has rewarded me with different events and outcomes. I’ve also played in Spanish, although the voice-overs are still English.

The druid is weak at the front of the group, but has good spells. More importantly, the druid’s primary attributes seem like the best so far for conversation choices (strength, intelligence, resolve).

I can be persistent and witty, or go for a strong paw to the face. A starting stat score of 16 seems like the perfect level for hitting those special conversation choices.

So I’m giving two opposable thumbs up for the Pillars of Eternity druid. I hope I’m finally good to go forward and explore new and more dangerous areas. Happy gaming, whatever you’re playing.


More Reading On Pillars:


F*ck Yeah, Pillars of Eternity
Using Custom Portraits In Pillars Of Eternity