Tag Archives: Game Design

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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Guild Wars 2 Revisited: Defying Classic Conventions

guild wars 2 combat
So I’m super-enjoying my gentle return to the beautiful, yet (of course) corrupted and war-ravaged lands of Guild Wars 2. Some things I’ve noticed by virtue of a “beginner’s mind” are:

Tons of tones in character creation. I’ve puzzled in recent months why Elder Scrolls, Rift, and Pillars of Eternity don’t give you more choices. What’s wrong with smoky purple thighs?

Auto-level matching in an area. It’s so nice get matched up to the content. Less worry about this meta-issue.

Auction House. I gave up on auctions in Elder Scrolls at the end, and was just vendoring everything. The GW2 trading post is a web app spliced into the game UI, and there are so many bids that you can sell everything almost instantly, plus get all proceeds in one lump instead of opening twenty mail items. It’s almost overly easy, but still a relief.

Megaserver And Maps. I was worried a few years ago that megaserver architecture would ruin immersion, but the benefits of the many outweigh the friendship of the few. The dynamic GW2 maps are also brilliant and surely the envy of other MMOs.

Community. I’ve been really impressed by the GW2 forums and community, especially when the game should be in low ebb before an expansion launch.


A Game World Unplugged


I seem to be going down the same old road of disconnection from the Guild Wars “world”, though. The main design goal of GW2 is to throw MMO design conventions on their head, that is–to kill the traditional quest hub and move all quests out into the roads, ruins, and hills, increasing the world immersion, ironically.

Some of these random quests are fabulous, like using a cow-launcher to get to an overlook, or failing to save a traveling caravan from a bandit attack, leading to a new dynamic quest to strike back and retrieve the stolen goods from those bandits.

The exploration in Guild Wars 2 is also a joy, and I’ve spent oodles of hours working on map completion.

The primate mind works on the principle of dominance, which is why this principle has been golden in art and design for thousands of years. This principle works for all art, novels, and the zones and NPC quest givers in World of Warcraft. I haven’t found a Goldshire in Guild Wars 2 yet, nor a Gandalf.

In Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci used his sfumato technique to render a beautiful backdrop of hills, woods, and bridges. I wonder how many people care about that landscape.

Would six million people visit the Mona Lisa each year if we removed the Mona Lisa completely, leaving only a beautiful, intriguing landscape, ripe for the plundering? No. You get the picture.

The result is lots of well-made and voiced NPCs, but they are still generic (to this kitty).

After completing quests from these NPCs, you’ll also get personal letters and notes from them via the mail. The notes are brilliantly written, and the writers have done their jobs well. The problem is that after you get twenty mails, they all start to look the same, and you know you’ll never see these pixels again. There is no point in remembering those names.

So it’s the principle of dominance. The human brain (or at least this kitty’s) needs a few solid lifelines to focus on. I remembered that I originally quit Guild Wars 2 because I’d completed the level 30 story quests. I was grinding at level 35, and my next story quest was level 40.

I just lost the lifeline at that point. What happens if you tell your ten-year-old kid he can’t read another chapter of his favorite book until ten weeks from now. He’s going to go read another book, and that’s exactly what happened with me.

This time I plan to keep going. Removing the Mona Lisa from the picture is better than removing the Mona Lisa’s nose and flashing notices in the middle of my screen letting me know the feature is now on sale in the game store.

Plus, I love my guardian’s quirky swooping Owl Attack. Hoo hoo.


Weekly Wyrm ~ Kiss This, Blizzard. Pulitzer Prize For PoE.

pillars of eternity dialog imagePillars of Eternity released a week ago and received strong reviews online with a Metascore of 91%, handily slaying Dragon Age: Inquisition, which stands at a respectable 85%.

I just now purchased PoE, and I’m looking forward to playing it tonight. Obsidian released the first patch for PoE, 1.03 on Steam this morning.

The game is built on the Baldur’s Gate isometric Infinity Engine. The writing is supposedly brilliant. A reviewer on Steam said the writing team of Chris Avellone, Josh Sawyer, Feargus Urquhart et. al. should win a Pulitzer Prize.

I watched Cohh stream PoE for a few hours last weekend. I was impressed by PoE, even if the game looks a little too familiar at times.

PoE uses a text/voice combo to convey the story, setting, and characters. Since the arrival of full voice-overs (ESO and SWTOR), I’ve really been a defender of text. I hope game history will show that a combo like PoE is better than full voice-overs.

PoE uses a writing style that includes a lot more action and emotes in the text than ‘normal’, which is very interesting. I personally use a lot of action tags (or beats), in my fiction.

pillars of eternity dialog imageAction conveyed through text may also offer a cheap substitute for facial animations in a game where you can’t see the faces well.

I remember facial animations being a part of marketing for Fallout 2, a game made way back in 1998 by the same developers as PoE, when Avellone and Urquhart were helming Black Isle Studios.

PoE is going on the cheap, replacing the animated faces with text descriptions (and probably an animator with a writer, which doesn’t happen often enough). PoE was kickstarted for 4 million. I wonder how that budget compares to Fallout 2.


Torment: Tides of Numenera


If you like PoE or this genre, don’t forget that Torment: Tides of Numenera is also scheduled to release this year, and it’s also a Chris Avellone (and others) writing production.

Torment is supposed to be “primarily story-driven, giving greater emphasis on interaction with the world and characters, with combat and item accumulation taking a secondary role.”

Tides also has an award-winning erotica writer on its staff, while PoE offers no scripted, evolving character romances. For me, this is a strike against PoE, and this issue literally pulled my paw back from the buy button at one point last weekend.

It’s fantastic to see this classic genre making a comeback. I’m worried that PoE has lots of strategic combat. Wave after wave of enemies were the reason I quit playing Wasteland 2 and Baldur’s Gate Enhanced, and also the reason I didn’t buy Diablo 3 on a 50% off sale last weekend.

Thankfully PoE offers an “easy” mode. So, we’ll see.

Escapist dropped an article this week on eight amazing isometric RPGs. I’ve played them all except Divinity. Torment should be on the list instead of Icewind Dale, in my opinion.


Hearthstone: Blackrock Mountain


So what made me buy PoE today? Hearthstone’s Blackrock Mountain released yesterday.

I logged in ready to play what I’d paid for, but only one wing released. Why would I want to play just 20% of an 8-hour (or whatever) expansion, once per week, for the next month and a half?

I asked in the forums why Blizzard is releasing Blackrock strung out in little weekly pieces like a TV serial, and my legitimate question was insulted and buried in immature negativity.

Blizzard also put a new daily quest in Hearthstone this week – a quest that makes you watch a friend win a game to complete your quest. This quest isn’t a special one-timer.

It’s implemented on purpose to fill up one of your three slots – annoying you, hindering your questing, re-appearing if you reroll it, and most importantly – getting you to invite your friends.

Blizzard is also sweetening their expansion by advertising a “free” card back, while calling the card back a “limited edition” in their advertising. New card backs come out all the time. They have no real value.

I borrowed some ‘friends’ off of the forums, but this whole scene just feels really manipulative suddenly. Hearthstone is Free-To-Play, but I’ve been paying. For some reason I expected more class from Blizzard.


Elder Scrolls: Online


So I’m done with Hearthstone. I’ve just downloaded 14GB of Pillars of Eternity, and I’m also back playing Elder Scrolls Online.

I was happy to see a revamped starting sequence in Elder Scrolls that helps you establish a friend in Lyris and connect with real emotion. It’s working much better. The story is still a little opaque, but hardly more so than Rift, and it’s more personal.

In this week of headline news about Indiana’s new laws allowing religious discrimination against LGBTQ people, I’m also pleased to support Elder Scrolls because Zenimax/Bethesda supports the LGBT community. So happy gaming, whatever you’re playing.


More Reading on Pillars of Eternity:


Overview Video of Pillars of Eternity on MMORPG


Optional Progression: The New End Game?

This week I hit level 100 (the cap) in LotRO with my Lore-Master. I’m happy about this, but being an elf at heart, I continue to lament that the class I chose to keep as my “main” in my favorite ever MMO happens to be human and not a Warden.

Yes, my favorite race and class in LotRO is the elf Warden, but unfortunately she is on my second account, and I don’t have time for dual-boxing or otherwise keeping up with multiple accounts anymore. Of course, LotRO does not have race changes or account transfers like WoW.

LotRO does have optional progression, however. That is, there are tons of ways you can progress your character that don’t matter all that much, but they still seem significant: virtues, legendary items, legendary relic quality, and now the new armor slots and skill points.

That’s months and months of daily play to cap all those things out for one character, and yet none of them are necessary to play and be successful in the game. That’s a very well-designed endgame in my opinion.


Rift has a similar situation in the planar attunements, but those are inferior because it’s harder to think of those things as a real game activity, not like finishing an epic volume in LotRO for a skill point, or slaying 100 bandits for a little more Mercy.

Of course, these LotRO progressions are mostly sold out in the cash store, so that spoils the pie, unless you pretend like the free passes don’t exist.


This week I was listening to a lot of game soundtracks. I’ve realized that Fallout 3 might be technically my favorite soundtrack based on number of tracks I’ve repeat-listened, although the Neotokyo sound track is absolutely tremendous.

I’d never heard of Neotokyo, but a random guy on Steam comments said it’s possibly the best game soundtrack ever, and may have to agree on that.

So Fallout 3 OST and Neotokyo OST. Something for a listen on Youtube if you feel like some music. I have a fondness for ambient, smooth jazz, and trip hop, so your mileage may vary widely.


Last night I also purchased a new quality headset that won’t glitch or lose volume. It also looks like I’ll be working my full time job remotely from home soon, which means I could be in a game a lot more on my second computer.

Gosh, that brings back memories of camping rare monster spawns in Rift. Rift’s expansion is coming soon. I still need two more levels. Can I do it? Or should I keep the momentum in LotRO and go for some beautiful raven-themed Dol Amroth Lore-Master armor?

Meanwhile, I want to play Elder Scrolls. We’ll see how that goes. The cup is half full. Enjoy your ebola-free, terrorist-free gaming experience, and give your loved ones a hug.


Free Sorcery! For Android

screenYolari just mentioned that Steve Jackson’s “Sorcery!”, which released as a mobile app for Android a few months ago, is currently FREE on Amazon.com, available instantly.

This game has a truly old school lineage. It doesn’t get more old school than print. I enjoyed the books when I was a kid.

This kitty does not have Android at the moment. She has made up her mind to get a sweet Samsung tablet, but is waiting for the new “Android L” in November, which will offer significant graphics upgrades and presumably hardware support for shadows and things that make me happy as an artist and designer. I do want to support tablets with my video game.

So during the last month or so (or four if you include development of art assets), I’ve transitioned fully to game developer status from player status. I’m hips-deep in my HTML5/CSS3/Canvas/Javascript online RPG project, featuring my own art and fantasy writing.

This has been a fascinating process. I’m constantly reviewing and pondering all of the ideas and concepts I’ve ever had about CRPG design. I’m thinking about all of the criticism I’ve leveled at various titles, and thinking of how to do it right. I could launch into an exegesis on my ideas, but I’m just too busy!

Here is the top of my design principles list:

  • Smiling Jack. You’ve got a friend.
  • Make the story personal.
  • Make the text interactive, not passive.
  • Convincing interplanar travel. i.e. Alice.
  • Romance with LGBT inclusivity.

Most games today fail at all of these things. You meet people, listen to their problems, and then do things for them. Elder Scrolls is the lone outlier that skirts the fringes of this short list. It almost makes it on each score, but in my opinion still falls shorter than it could have even in comparision to the single player titles.

So far this is a solo effort using my passing interdisciplinary skills, but I’m happy to maybe have Yolari online for some combat coding. The thought of a Kickstarter is a pipe dream, but just thinking of any outside funding as a reality allows one to glimpse the amount of pressure this puts on an Indie team or individual like Phil Fish.

Sometimes one wonders, when a questionable or wonky MMO design decision is made, if the devs actually play their own game. No. I think no. Too much to do. Tick tock. Here is a screenshot of my interface in process. I have functional dialog, location movement, core databases and basic code at this point.

Am I taking this too seriously? No. This is really just a student exercise and proving ground. It’s just that I’m really enjoying it and doing well for the moment, more so than I imagined.

I’ve gained two levels so far in LotRO. When I hit 5/5, level 100, I can go back to Elder Scrolls Online. This is the incentive I’m holding out for myself.