Monday, October 29, 2012

Next up: Trinity

I've seen Tiberius mention that his favorite NWN2 modules, aside from his own, were Harp and Chrysanthemum and Trinity.  Well, tonight I downloaded Trinity.  I have a level 8 warlock who might be a good fit.  Here's the opening movie!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Module Comments: Maimed God's Saga

The scales up there?  That's Tyr.
Link to Module
My Vote: 10 - A Masterpiece, Genuinely Groundbreaking
Character: lv 6. Male Lawful Good Cleric of Tyr, reached lv 9

I've played a lot of clerics over the years.  My character in my original playthrough of BG1/BG2, as well as my character for NWN2's official campaign were both clerics.  I like to have a strong healer in my parties, I suppose.  The thing is, however, that I've never really felt like a cleric from a roleplaying perspective.  I have no idea which god any of my characters would have worshiped, beyond some generally good deity or another.  I had no connection to the deity save for the fact that I could cast spells.  In truth, I might as well have just been playing an arcane spellcaster who happens to cast healing spells.

The great triumph of this module is that it completely reversed this trend.  In the Maimed God's Saga, you get to roleplay a cleric to a degree that frankly has never been done in a video game before.  As a cleric of Tyr, you not only take on an aspect of your deity's dogma as your character's primary motivation, but you ultimately get the opportunity to interact with him directly.  Regaining spells typically requires one to pray at an altar, rather than simply resting, and these events are used frequently throughout the module to add amazing roleplaying opportunities.  Playing this module completely changed how I view gods in Forgotten Realms-style fantasy, and I'm looking forward to taking these ideas into my play by post games.

The Manor
The story itself begins as a local mystery: a request has come from a tiny, obscure town for help against a long-standing curse that has plagued their ruling family.  That curse, however, is gradually revealed to be part of something far greater that stands to threaten the entirety of the Sword Coast, and upset the balance of power among the gods themselves.  The pacing is very good, with surprising twists and turns throughout that had me deeply invested in both the story and my character's place in it.  This is a roleplaying-intensive module, where even seemingly small decisions can substantially impact the story...and sometimes in very surprising ways.  And the companion...I played with the female (my character was male), and I found her to be among the most interesting, well-realized, and evocative companion characters I've encountered in any game.

As Tiberius explains in the readme, there is frequent combat in the module, but you should expect to have the opportunity to rest and regain your spells in between most of the challenging encounters.  Once you've settled in, he recommends deciding on a course of action, resting, praying to regain spells, and setting off to accomplish that goal.  I generally followed this advice and found combat to be well balanced but challenging throughout the mod.  The key to success in combat, I found, was to use the ranger companion as a tank, freeing my cleric to use his spells.  I did take a nice stack of healing potions with me into the module and was glad to have them, but they were rarely necessary outside of a few big fights.

It's dark here!
If there's a criticism that I had of this module, it's probably that it does too good of a job of depicting its atmosphere.  The majority of the module takes place in a small, isolated town subject to a curse.  The town is virtually dead, and it's rendered in this module as a place that is dark, virtually deserted, and hopeless.  The interiors of occupied buildings are dark, even during the day (it's constantly raining and gloomy), requiring ample use of Light spells or torches (and, for my comfort as a player, gamma correction).  All of this is done, no doubt, to paint a foreboding and dark mood...but at times, I found that it bordered on depressing.  I found that I had to be in a certain mood to play this module in its early goings, and if I was tired (I often am), stressed (again, I often am), etc, it was often more fun to play something else than to load up the Maimed God's Saga.  That's not to say that there aren't exciting moments, or that playing this module was not incredibly truth, perhaps because of what you had to go through, this module left me as satisfied as any that I've ever played.  But there were times when I just didn't want to face that dark, depressing town.

But my goodness, I'm glad I continued to come back to it.  This module is a triumph of module making.  It's story and roleplaying depth are among the best I've ever seen in a module, and it is probably the best class-specific module I've ever played.  Thanks for the fantastic experience.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bioware Execs Retiring / Baldur's Gate Impressions

Luke Scull aka Alazander has a great post up at his blog discussing the recent announcement that Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk are leaving Bioware with the intention to retire.  He declares it the end of Bioware, at least as we'll remember it, and he's probably right.  Check out his post here.

I wrote this little response, including my recent thoughts on Baldur's Gate as a result of my current play-through:

Nice post! 
With the upcoming release of Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition getting my nostalgia going, I started playing through my original copy of the game recently for the first time since the late 90's. Despite the pixelated graphics, horrific journal system, maddening pathfinding, and (in my view) primitive 2e DnD rules, it holds up remarkably well. It's hard to put my finger on why. Most of the quests so far are of the "fetch" or "clear out the basement/dungeon/encampment" variety. But they're all done well, with nice twists that make them memorable. The ogre with a belt fetish was a memorable favorite. And the sheer sense of adventure is still unmatched. There are so few games that allow you to explore an entire region like this, clearing out map after map that often have no other reason to exist aside from adding to the richness of the world (e.g. the Xvart village). 
Bioware really was amazing. Between the Infinity Engine games and Neverwinter Nights, they've given me more hours of fun and entertainment than any other company...and it's really not even close.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition release date announced

Baldur's Gate (1998), a computer role-playing ...
Baldur's Gate (1998), a computer role-playing game based on Dungeons & Dragons (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The big to-do right now in D&D RPG land is the return of Baldur's Gate, specifically Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition.  BGEE is a project by BeamDog, and directed by Trent Oster of the NWN development team, that is essentially taking the old BG code, cleaning it up, adjusting it so that it can work on modern computers (and iPads...), and re-releasing it on September 18.  It will cost $20, and the pre-orders cost $2 less.

I'm pretty torn about this.  On one hand, I'm excited to see this happen, because Baldur's Gate was one of those games that defined me as an rpg-oriented gamer.  I remember well the hours spent exploring the countryside of the Sword Coast, and the thrill of finding new areas for adventure in the countryside.  I played BG as a D&D novice, so I'm interested to see what would happen if I took the game on now.

On the other hand, I also remember it being a preposterously long game.  I have pretty limited time to play games and am finally getting back into Neverwinter Nights 1/2 after a long time away.  I have TONS of modules to play that use wonderful 3D engines, 3/3.5 rules, and have tight, directed stories that can be completed in 5-20 hours.  I'm not that excited--at least on the surface--about returning to the days of THAC0, sprites, fog of war, etc.  I had something of a love/hate relationship with the Infinity Engine, and I wonder if going back to it would be nostalgic fun...or an exercise in frustration.

On top of all that, I still have my BG1 and BG2 CD's.  I don't know if it would work on this computer, but I could give it a try.  And the NWN2 remake of Baldur's Gate, by drechner and company, is due out at around a similar time to BGEE.  

My hunch is that I will go ahead and grab this.  It would be a fun mobile game to have on the laptop (laptop can't run NWN, and definitely not NWN2) or iPad, and will be great for nostalgia.  But I'll probably wait to see how the release goes.  If Trent Oster's twitter feed is any indication, they are still pushing through bugs and user interface issues.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Review: Harp and Chrysanthemum

Having finally finished Storm of Zehir, and punted on Mask of the Betrayer, I found myself a few nights ago finally ready to return to the wonderful world of NWN2 modules.  It's been five years since I launched a NWN2 mod.  Amazing.  I can't remember who said it, but around the time I was leaving the community, someone mentioned in a comment (I think--couldn't find it) that Harp and Chrysanthemum was a pretty good reason to come back and start playing again.  Whoever said that was right.  I had been following this module pretty closely while it was developed, and have long been a fan of Maerduin's earlier work (e.g. The Birthday)  Here are my comments on Harp:

Area design and use of cutscenes, by themselves,
make this module groundbreaking
My vote: 10 - A Masterpiece, Genuinely Groundbreaking
Character: Mers Fener, a level 4 Barbarian, previously had adventured in Once Upon A Time..., leveled up in FRWCC.  Advanced to level 6 by the end of the module.

This is a really spectacular module.  It is stunning, evocative, and powerful.  While not perfect, where it excels it is so amazing that it overshadows its few flaws and drawbacks.

Harp and Chrysanthemum features the most spectacularly designed areas I've seen in NWN2.  Far more so than anything you see in the official campaigns, Maerduin makes brilliant use of vertical scale in many of his areas.  The main town in the module, Drawn Swords, is a shining example of this, and is a major feature of the module.  On top of his area design skills, the author creatures powerful--if not chill-inducing--moments with his expert use of cinematic cut scenes that showcase his areas, as well as custom music.  I have never seen better use of the camera than the author achieved in this module; it should be required viewing for any aspiring modder who wants to learn how to do it right.

Don't cross the line, Orc.
The story is fascinating, and is told largely via the interactions of strongly developed NPC's.  You begin the module in the company of a rogue, an old friend, and shortly thereafter are joined by a paladin.  The paladin, in particular, is a wonderful character.  In many ways, she's tragic: seemingly cold and powerful, but, as you soon learn, also vulnerable and insecure.  It's been quite a while since a character came alive before me like she did in this module--perhaps not since playing some of Alazander's old modules.  Moreover, the story is punctuated by dramatic moments that had me saying "oh my god!" to my screen.

This is not to say that the module is perfect.  As many have said in the module's comments page, the combat is quite challenging.  I initially tried to let my barbarian lead the charge, but quickly found that I needed to boost the paladin's armor class as much as possible and let her tank, only allowing the others to join after the enemies had her surrounded.  Challenging combat isn't a bad thing off hand, but it was even necessary to micro-manage to this degree on "random encounter" monsters.  Some of these monsters were on respawn triggers, at times re-spawning shockingly close to the party, which became really annoying.  At one point, I just ran through an area with the paladin, just allowing the other party members to fall to the monsters, because I just wanted to get back to the inn in town and rest.  On top of all this, even decent healing supplies, such as potions of moderate healing, are in limited supply--though you can buy an extremely expensive liquor at the bar that works just as well, if you have the coin.  Often, you don't.

It's not just the outdoor areas that are spectacular.
On top of some combat frustration, I ran into several bugs.  One innocuous one resulted in the town leader materializing in the middle of town without any scripts attached to him.  At one point, another copy of that same leader had a conversation with my characters and walked right past his clone on his way back to his shop.  I also somehow completely missed what was supposed to be an earlier encounter with some elven tomb defenders.  This made a later conversation with them extremely confusing.

But what this module does right it just does so well that I can't let myself get hung up on those problems.  The author's attention to detail, from the area design, to the stories on each custom item, to some of the charming side quests (the dryad was a favorite), to the fact that (if I remember correctly) the author actually recorded several pieces of the custom music himself, is unsurpassed.  Objectively, maybe this module is a 9.  But I experienced such a genuine, emotional connection to the story and its characters that I can't justify anything other than a 10.  It's not perfect, but I can't imagine a way in which this module can't be considered legitimately groundbreaking.

More screenies below the jump

Monday, July 23, 2012

Review: Storm of Zehir

My vote: 8 - Excellent, Recommended to Anyone (based on engine enhancements more than the game itself)
Party: Human Cleric, Half-Orc Fighter, Wood Elf Ranger/Rogue, and Sun Elf Wizard/Arcane Scholar

I've tried to keep the spoilers pretty light throughout this review, in case there is still anyone else out there who hasn't played the game.

Plot hook: as part of a small adventuring party, you set off for Samarach aboard the Vigiliant, a vessel owned by the Samarch merchant, Sa'Sani.  As the ship approaches Samarch, however, it suffers a collosal explosion and runs aground south of Samargol.  After a thrilling battle with the local goblins, Sa'Sani protects you from arrest at the hands of the Samarch guards in exchange for your service.  As you set forth on a variety of missions for her, you become embroiled in a scheme that affects not only Samarach, but the sword coast and even the gods themselves.

Storm of Zehir, the second expansion to Neverwinter Nights 2, started very well.  The initial adventures on Samarch were simple but full of terrific atmosphere.  There were dinosaurs(!), wonderfully developed goblin cultures, hidden black markets, dinosaurs(!), and the glimpses of what could be an exciting plot.  The game is visually stunning, with loads of new placeables and monster models for modders to play with.  Unfortunately, while the first quarter or so of the game were full of adventure, I found that the middle portion fell a bit flat.  As I wrote last month, the sandboxy style of the game can lead to your characters running into encounters that they clearly are not ready for or intended to experience.  While you can say what you will about realism, I ultimately just found it to be frustrating.

Furthermore, many parts of the story seemed poorly executed.  The main plot with Sa'Sani and her company's struggles felt a bit chaotic at times.  Things happen fast.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but without some build-up or foreshadowing, it sometimes seemed forced.  This was even more severe with several of the side quests.  There's a big one involving Port Llast that seemed as though I missed several long, important events to foreshadow what ultimately happened.  It was really disappointing, as it had good potential.

That said, there were some real gems among the sidequests.  My favorite were invariably the ones in which you just went off to explore a mysterious area.  My personal favorite happened early in the game when you were asked to explore the remains of what had been the home of three wizards who lost control of their Djinn.  The story is told via scraps of paper, items, and the occasional warnings of a pixie who still lives in the tower.  It's brilliantly done.

The big innovation of the game was the overland travel map and the accompanying merchant system.  The overland maps were beautiful, and in many ways I really enjoyed the sense of scale and wholeness that they added to the game.  But after the first several hours of gameplay, travel on the map became a chore.  Even while boosting survival skill to maximize the speed of my team, travel on the map was slow and bogged down gameplay.  I also found myself almost always avoiding random encounters, which is easy to do once you have sufficient hide skill...and that made me question why they were even there.  The only times I did have to deal with encounters were when either a) the game (annoyingly) switched back to my cleric party leader after a load screen, or b) I forgot to get back to my ranger after a conversation.  By the end of the game, I was using portals as much as was possible, and avoiding the map at all costs.  There were some quests that I didn't complete largely because I didn't want to trek long enough to complete them.

The merchantile system also didn't do it for me.  I get the concept, but setting up caravan routes all over the sword coast was tiresome and a major gold suck early...and then, by the end of the game, it was generating so much revenue that I could never possibly spend it all.  It had its moments, but I doubt I'll ever want to do something like that again in a nwn2 module.

Combat along the main plot was generally fun and well balanced.  I found the final dungeon, including the final battle, to be particularly fun and engaging.  Other areas were severely unbalanced for my characters at the time they first experienced them, with little to warn me that this was to be so.  As a result, there were an annoying number of times that I had to reload a game after stumbling upon a battle for which I was hopelessly overmatched.

Also...perhaps this is just because of the amount of time I spent in nwn modules, but I think I prefer small parties with a focus on character development.  The SoZ model, with four user-generated characters plus two NPCs, doesn't work as well for me.  It was hard to develop much personality for my four characters, and in many ways they were little more than hired thugs throughout the game.  Plus, there seemed to be far less mechanical detail than was needed in the chat window, which got really annoying.

Overall, I think this is one of those games that tried some neat things, won some small victories, but ultimately fell short of what it might have been.  It did enough right that I think it's definitely worth a try.  I'm glad I played.  But I'm also glad that I finished.  If we're judging it for the sake of the game itself, it's a 7 (Very Good, Deserves a Look).  If we're judging it for all of the extensions and fixes of the engine that the expansion brought, it's a 9 (Outstanding, a Must Have).  I'll vote 8 and leave it at that.

More screenies after the jump...

Friday, June 29, 2012

Character Application: Playtest Wizard

I submitted the following application for a DnDNext playtest game.  I'm not sure if I'm going to get to play him, and that's ok.  Two games is enough for me!  But I thought that I'd share the application here for safekeeping, if nothing else.

Name: Arrelon Illafel
Gender: Male
Race: High Elf
Class: Wizard
Deity: Corellon


Unlike most high elves, Arrelon prefers to keep his brown hair cut short; it's less of a hassle that way. This reveals something of his personality: while always one to work hard and an excellent student, Arrelon prefers to go his own way when moved to do so, rather than follow some rigid program. This sometimes gets him into trouble--he has been passed over before for awards and honors due to what his instructors deemed recklessness or lack of responsibility. In truth, however, he's really more of a free spirit than a troublemaker.

Arrelon is of slightly below average height for elves. While of a slender build, he is fond of running as a way to rejuvenate his body and clear his mind in between long bouts of study. And study he does--Arrelon enjoys playing with magic, and often will try variations on established spells just to see what would happen.

To friends, he is generous and kind. He tries his hand at humor with some frequency, though in truth many of his friends would say that he hasn't quite got the knack for it...but they usually humor him with a chuckle anyway.


Arrelon's parents were both products of a long line of wizards in Sraekin. In fact, his mother, Gilonna, was an illusionist at the Moonsong Academy, a prestigous wizardry school in the capital city of Sraekin. His father, Saelas, on the other hand, was a bit less ambitous. While blessed with some skill in the arcane arts, he bounced from job to job throughout most of Arrelon's childhood. He dove into each new project with gusto, but often would quickly lose interest when challenges were met.

It was natural for Arrelon and his two sisters to join the academy as they came of age. For his part, Arrelon was recognized early on as having a special talent and passion for magic. Unfortunately, within the rigid curriculum of the academy, this did not always bear fruit. Many students were content to learn magic by rote memorization, but he preferred to treat each new spell as a toy with which he could play. Unfortunately, rather than focus on the assignments at hand, Arrelon frequently would get wrapped up in related, but irrelevant, issues. As a result, while he discovered ways to cause his mage hand to appear with anywhere from three to seven fingers, not to mention make obscene gestures, he was two weeks late in learning the competantly deliver a shocking grasp. As much as he tested his instructors' patience--and earned low marks at times--he always eventually caught up with the rest of the class.

His mother had long talked of having her three children join her as instructors at the academy. As his graduation approached, however, Arrelon realized that this was probably not to be his path. For one thing, his grades probably weren't good enough to get such a job, despite his mother's influence on the faculty. Moreover...a life of syllabi, due dates, examinations, and papers just wasn't appealing.

When he saw the duke's announcement requesting adventurers, he was intrigued. It seemed like a great opportunity to experience new things and explore the world! His parents, and especially his mother, were not enthusiastic...but ultimately conceded. With his pack on his back and staff in hand, he closed the door on his house, taking his first steps on the path to his new adventure.

RP Sample:

Arrelon knocked at his mother’s chambers. “Come,” said the voice inside the door. As he entered, she looked up from her desk, where scrolls and parchment were scattered everywhere. Her face turned to a frown. “Arrelon, I understand that you still have not completed your paper on displacer beasts for Master Alcook. It was due yesterday. Graduation is in just two weeks. Can’t you just get this last assignment in so that you can graduate?”

“I just submitted it mother. Spent the whole night working on it,” he said with a penitent smile as he sat down.

His mother signed. “Good, at least that is done. Still, the late submission won’t help your marks, and you’ll need all the help you can get when you apply for the instructor position we talked about.”

“Yes, about that mother. I’m thinking…” he paused. This wouldn’t be easy to break to her. “I’m thinking about an alternative.” She immediately frowned, but he hurried on. “The duke has posted an announcement requesting adventurers to act as first responders against some of the recent disturbances we’ve experienced. I was thinking about tossing my hat into that ring.”

Taken aback, he shook her head. “Absolutely not. That is a job for the foolhardy; you have too much talent to go getting yourself killed by some random goblin. Arrelon, what happened to your plans to join the academy?”

He expected this response. “Mother, you said yourself that I was going to need all the help I can get. Master Alcook can’t stand me, and most of the faculty seem at least annoyed with me. You know I love magic. But I’m just not sure that the academy is for me. This is an opportunity for me to do something with my life. I think I'd learn more as an adventurer than I would teaching cantrips.”

Gilonna sat silent for a moment; her son’s words rang true. She gave him a sad smile. “It has always been a battle for you here, hasn’t it? We’ll have to discuss it with your father this evening…but I don’t see him standing in your way. I don’t like this, Arrelon, and I fear for your safety. But perhaps you’re right. The Duke certainly does seem to need some help, and this might indeed be Correlon’s will for you. I have two conditions, however. One, you will be careful. I’ve seen too many students rush off to be adventurers and never return. You will need more than just your spells and cantrips to survive out there; you need to exercise caution, not bravado. Two, keep in mind that you can always apply for a position with the academy at some other date. In fact, some success in this path might aide your application.”

Thank you mother. I honestly didn’t know whether you’d agree. I will be careful. As for the academy...we'll see.” After a short embrace, he left her chambers before she could change her mind. I hope I’m not being an idiot, he thought. He set off to his dormitory to pack his things.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Comedy in a PBP game

I had to share this fun little exchange from a play by post game I'm in.  Emmett (played by robotbear) is a rather feral barbarian, who just abruptly exited from a meeting between the adventurer party at the local city Baron.  While the adventurer's continued conversing with the NPC, Emmett went and found himself something to do...
Robotbear: MEANWHILE, in another part of town: Emmett is starring into the eyes of a horse, neither creature giving the other any clue like they are going to blink first (Insight check: 12+6=18). 
Enthusiast (DM): While his erstwhile allies held audience with the Baron, Emmett was staring at a horse, wondering what secrets were housed within the animal's soul. The horse, meanwhile, stared blankly, hoping to lick the barbarian if he inched close enough. He looked nice and salty. 
The creature made a feint (Bluff: 12-1=11) to one side, hoping to draw the barbarian close enough for a lick, but the horse's prowess was no match for Emmett's quick mind. He knew exactly what the beast was up to, and there was no way he was going to fall for its trickery. 
Stubborn as a mule, the horse made every effort to resist the urge to blink (Saving throw against blinking: 6). Alas, it was no use. Emmett, apparently, was even more stubborn than a mule. He savoured the sweet taste of victory.
Shame that the horse didn't make that saving throw...but that's funny stuff, right there.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Storm of Zehir: Finding the Fun

Thing that I like about Storm of Zehir: Dinosaurs!
Part of the reason I haven't done any module reviews over the past few months is that I'm still in the middle of Storm of Zehir.  It's a long module, at least it seems it with my 5-6 hours per week pace, and I went through a period of frustration with it about a month ago.  A full review will follow once I'm done, but I got frustrated once arriving at the Sword Coast.

The reason?  Well, the game really emphasizes exploration.  And that's great.  The problem is that (as is probably appropriate in the world, but is not always fun as a gamer) many of the areas that you can explore are certain death for a player the first time you encounter the areas.  It's not just the random-encounter areas; you also experience this with some of the quests that you receive early on in the game.***

***Incidentally, this is the reason that games like Morrowind scale their encounter areas to match your current level.  A lot of people don't like this for world cohesion purposes, but it prevents the frustration I encountered.

At a certain point, I got fed up with exploration and just decided to stick to the main plot in hopes of getting done. The plot in Zehir is decent, with occasional flourishes of excellence that are broken up by some extremely poorly executed segments.

Once I went this route, I eventually found myself enjoying the game far more.  And now, with the main plot veering back away from the Sword Coast, I'm taking time off to explore.  And it's fun.  My team can handle those areas without trouble now ( wizard died last night in a battle against some Banites...but it's the good kind of challenge, not the ridiculous kind), and we're racking up small bits of extra experience, treasure, and item crafting recipes.

Next up: crafting! I've finally got enough extra gold and components to make some serious progress with crafting, and I'm looking forward to enhancing my gear.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Character Application: A Warlock (Hexblade)

NameArmin Brent
Race: Half-Elf
Class: Warlock (Hexblade), Infernal Pact - Striker
Alignment: Neutral
Age: 28 (though the RP sample below happened when he was 16)

If there’s a typical half-elf appearance, that’s basically Armin: brown hair, cut short, 5’11”, 160 lbs, slightly tapered ears, more slender than a typical human, but bulkier than a typical elf. Upon closer inspection, however, one does notice a few unique characteristics. His eyes, though they appear brown at first, seem to have a subtle, flickering, iridescent red quality to them when he stares intently at you. Second, his posture isn’t what you’d expect for someone with elven blood running through his veins; though a good athlete, he holds himself with a small slouch in his back, as if he were shouldering a great weight.

Armin is a friendly, amicable individual prone to good natured humor. Speaking with him for only a few minutes, you might begin to think that you were making a new best friend. He is confident, listens well, and is quick with a compliment. While hardly a storyteller—in fact, he is often quite evasive, if not deceptive, about his past—Armin tactfully involves himself in conversations and seems memorably innocuous.

Some of that, however, is a front. He rarely makes lasting friendships, and in conversation is extremely evasive about his past, his motivations, or his plans for the future. A person might spend an evening thinking she was really getting to know him, only to realize the next morning that she spent the evening talking about herself...and that Armin is now nowhere to be found. Uncommonly, Armin has even been known to vanish with someone’s gold or other treasures, never to return. He is not an evil man. But he seems haunted by something in his past, and seems to be wandering his way through life without goals or purpose.

What good are choices when all of your options are terrible?

Armin was born in a small farming community on the outskirts of a major city. His mother, Serah, was single, and he didn’t know much about his father. Serah told him that he was a ranger of a sort, and as Armin grew older he surmised that he was the product result in a one-night affair. His mother was dedicated and loving, however, and worked hard to give Armin a place in the world. Among other things, this included a first-rate education. They could barely afford it, but she felt it was the best gift she could grant her child.

As he entered his teenaged years, however, a summertime drought dealt a severe blow to the farming community where he grew up. As farmers’ crops failed, food prices soared at the same time that the community’s income faltered. Refusing to abandon her hopes for her child, Armin’s mother moved them to the city and fell in with an organized crime syndicate. She served as a courier for over a year, transporting ever-increasingly sensitive materials to and from crime bosses. She quickly earned her superiors’ trust, able to conceal important documents and treasures through dangerous roads and military checkpoints alike with a combination of girl-next-door charm and a knack for stealth. It paid well, but she was often away from home, leaving Armin to fend for himself. He spent much of his free time in the library; Armin was a good student, and was considering a career in either wizardry or law. During this time, he met and befriended Belkin, an elderly wizard who had spent most of the last 20 years reading his way through the stacks of arcane volumes in the library’s archives. In those occasional nights when his mother was home, however, the two of them defied the typical relationships between parents and teenagers, remaining very close.

One day, however, his mother was intercepted on one of her missions by a competing syndicate. They beat her brutally. But even worse, they stole from her a vital portfolio of information full of secret details about personnel, safehouses, and current schemes within her syndicate. The price for such failure was certain death for both Armin and his mother at the hands of their assassins. And her superiors would know what had happened within a day’s time.

RP Sample:
The old Wizard stared into his book for a long time after hearing Armin’s request. Slowly, he raised his eyes toward the youth. “Do you understand what it is that you are asking? This is not something that can be undone. You may well be forfeiting your soul.”

“I understand—I do, really. But this is our only chance. You have to help us!” Armin replied desperately. Just last week, Belkin had delighted in telling Armin of how he’d found a loophole in the convoluted laws of the hells that would permit someone to steal immense power from infernal lords. He longed to put his idea to the test. But, as the old man told him, he was too close to the afterlife to be picking fights with devils.

Now, in his despondency, it seemed Armin’s only option. They would try to run, but the Syndicate would surely track them down. They had no chance in a fair fight, much less the ambush that would surely await them on a moonlit road as they fled. He was desperate, and here seemed to be a solution that could save them.

“I am sorry Armin, I want to help you, but I can’t do this for you. You are too young to be making this kind of a decision,” the old Wizard replied.

“What good is a soul if you lose your entire world protecting it? I’m as good as dead without this, and so is my mother.” Armin replied.“Please.”

The old man gave him a long, sad look. “May the Gods forgive me.” He turned, lifted an enormous tome from the shelf at the back of the room, and led the youth down a long flight of stairs into the depths of the library’s cellar.


Armin stared at the sword in his hand. It was black upon black, and seemed to absorb all light cast upon it from the flickering torches nearby. Turning it to the side, he saw that it was almost without a third dimension: it was infinitesimally thin, and seemed impossibly sharp.

Tonight had been terrifying. But the ritual, horrible as it was, seemed to have gone as planned. Armin could feel a sinister power coursing through him, and knew that it would take him a long time harness it. In the meantime, however, he hoped it would be enough. He hurried to barn just outside the city, where he had brought his battered mother for safety while he visited with Belkin. Now, with luck, they could have a head start before her employers learned of what had happened.

As he entered the barn, he saw his mother look up in relief. Through the darkness, he could see that one of her eyes was swollen shut. The other paused for a moment when she saw the sword sheathed at his side. “We must go,” she said urgently. But in the next moment, arrows shot through the room, grazing Armin’s shoulder.

The room was a blur in the darkness. Armin unsheathed his sword, which moved as if guided on its own as he struck out at their attackers. Armin felt blood splattering on his clothes as he fought. With each foe he felled, the sword emitted a burst of energy that seemed to feed his strength. They came at him from all sides, but were no match for this blade of annihilation and its wielder. Here, in the thick of combat, Armin felt unstoppable.

Just as he began to think they might survive, however, he heard a sickening thud behind him. Slicing through a last combatant, he turned to see a lone assassin standing over his mother, where she lay covered in blood. In a rage, he screamed—and as he did, bolts of energy shot from his hands. The first shattered the man’s torso, detaching his arm and crushing his chest. But the second shot to the right, striking the support pillar in the center of the barn and causing it to buckle.

In an instant, the barn came crashing down around him. Armin lay for hours beneath the rubble, sobbing. While he had survived, but he knew his mother was dead. And somewhere in the distance—or maybe just in his head?—he could hear a deep voice laughing at his plight.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Play by Post: First Impressions

Play by post gaming is sort of the opposite of this, thank goodness. (Photo credit: mricon)
I first heard about play by post games via the Exemplary DM Podcast.  On the surface, it sounded neat: play within the bounds of your time.  But the description that the guests on that show provided ultimately turned me off: focus on literary style, emphasis on roleplaying and light rules, lack of control of your own character, etc.  I think I'm a bit of a "right of center" gamer, and this just didn't seem like it would be for me.

As I mentioned, though, a few weeks ago I decided to give it a go.  Whoever runs the twitter feed for DnDOG followed me on twitter, so I decided to check them out.  I found an amazingly vibrant community of roleplayers playing all kinds of games, though it's mostly DnD 3.5 and Pathfinder, with the occasional 4e game thrown in for good measure.  I lucked into joining a 4e game with my first application, and have been hooked ever since.

My experience has been rather unlike what was described at Exemplary DM.  There certainly has been plenty of writing, and I'm fortunate to be playing with several fantastic writers (including the DM).  The only time I can remember trying to write dialog since eighth grade was when I was working on my nwn2 character creator module, and I've found it to be both fun and challenging.  Even a few paragraphs have taken me a very long time to write in the early going, but I think I'm getting faster as I find both my voice and that of my character.  I'm playing a fairly quiet character, and that's worked out well, as I don't need to take the lead in conversations...and any awkwardness fits his character pretty well.  :) Nevertheless, we're definitely still playing DnD.  The forums at DnDOG have a nice dice-rolling mechanism that permits you to embed honest dice rolls into your posts for skill checks and, of course combat.  This tool permits players and DMs to run a game that feels very dnd.  Right now, we're meeting the Baron of a small city, and my character has been rolling perception and insight checks left and right, while the talky-talky PCs are rolling diplomacy, bluff, intimidate, etc, as needed to interact with the NPC's.  The DM wisely places substantial modifiers on roll outcomes based on the roleplaying.  Therefore, if you roll a good diplomacy check, but write an insulting, uninspiring dialog you'll likely encounter a penalty...and similarly, if you roll badly but roleplay well, you might well succeed in the check.  And some of the time, you won't even know if you've succeed--you just go with what the DM gives you.  It's very immersive, and yet it's still driven by in almost equal parts by the character sheet and the player behind the character.

We also did a small combat, which I found to work very well.  It plays very closely to how it might on a table, with a few exceptions.  First, while everyone rolls initiative, the monsters all tend to go as a group, as do the PC's.  This allows all of the PC's to post their turn as time permits, without having to wait for whoever is in front of you to finish.  After each turn, our DM updates the grid (which he draws on his computer, in powerpoint I'm guessing?), and gives us reports of the monster conditions and such.  The actual combat is delivered in character, but with lots of out of character references to character actions and statuses.  Again, the forum software is great for because it allows you to hide or otherwise disguise these out of character elements within the game thread to clearly separate them from the roleplay.  It even lets you post secret information that is just between the DM and the player.

There are some downsides combat.  First, it is a bit harder to play a controller under this framework.  For example, one of my Hunter's best abilities is the ability to slide enemy PC's two squares with a damage-dealing, at-will attack.  One use for this might be to move "squishy" spellcaster-types closer to the front lines, and I'll certainly do that.  But another use will be to move foes into a position where they can be easily flanked.  If I'm doing this, I need to be really careful about who has already posted and who has yet to post as I execute the maneuver.  If "my" strikers have already posted that round, that tactical option is more or less often off the table.  But given how much the "everyone goes at once" framework speeds up combat, I think it's a worthwhile trade-off.

The second downside, of course, is that because we're playing within the constraints of eight individuals' schedules, play by post is kind of slow.  Or, rather, it's bursts of activity followed by long periods of waiting. As it's summer and I'm not teaching, now is a great time for me to be playing.  Therefore, I've submitted applications for a couple of other games.  As the semester starts up again in the fall, I'll see about reducing my commitments as needed.  Probably, it will just mean that I'm posting a bit less often than I am now.  And that's fine, as most games only ask for 3-5 posts per week.

Over the next few days, I'll post a few of the other characters I've written up for applications.  I don't know who will read them, but they were fun to write. :)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

RPG Podcast Mini-Reviews

English: Podcast or podcasting icon Français :...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As I started getting into DnD again over the past year, I've been listening to a number of podcasts.  I thought I'd do a quick overview of some of ones I've enjoyed.

Exemplary DM Podcast - ***** Simply the best rpg podcast out there.  Timeless, genuinely funny, well produced, on topic (mostly), and bursting at the seams with great ideas for DMs and players alike.  This is a podcast about playing tabletop games, not about any specific product releases, and as such it will be as relevant in five years as it is today.  For the most part, it works for any gaming system, though they focus mostly on DnD.  I love this podcast.  They recently released their last episode of season two, and I hope that they will be able to continue in the future...though one of the hosts is moving, which makes this hard to guarantee.

Official DnD Podcast - ***** These are not frequently produced at this point (though there has recently been more activity following the release of dndnext), but there's a tremendous back catalog of episodes spanning the entire history of 4e.  Many of these feature designers pitching their products, which can be interesting on their own.  The best part, however, are the Penny Arcade actual play sessions.  Most are DM'd by Chris Perkins, who is a phenomenal DM, and the characters include the guys from Penny Arcade as well as (starting in series 2) Wil Wheaton.  Yes, that Wil Wheaton.  They are super funny, and are a wonderful model of how DnD can be played.  Really fun stuff.

Haste by Obsidian Portal - ***** Great current events in gaming podcast.  They cover everything, from indie rpg's to kickstarter, but DnD gets a bit more attention than other systems in my experience.  I love that it's fast, focused, and often has interesting guests.  They also take questions from twitter and provide DMing tips and such.  It is a vehicle for advertising Obsidian Portal, but these are genuine gamers behind that company so it is easy to overlook this...and they're not in your face about it.

Icosohedrophilia - ***** With the possible expection of the DnD podcast, this is the best live DnD action podcast that I've encountered.  I tried to do with it like I did with Critical Hit (see below)--start from the first episode and move from there.  Unfortunately, early episodes have pretty bad sound, which makes it very hard to keep track of all 7 PC's.  I gave up on it this, but then later tried again by listening to "The Story Thus Far" episode and going from there.  This is definitely the way to do it.  More recent episodes have far better sound, this lets you enjoy the strengths of the podcast.  Chris Heard is a terrific DM, with great mastery of the rules, and more importantly the ability to concisely and yet vividly tell a great story--both in and out of combat. The recent Kiss of the Spider Woman chapter was amazing fun, so perhaps start there?

Critical Hits - **** I've only recently started listening to this one, so I haven't explored the back catalog.  But recent episodes include Mike Shea interviewing another blogger or industry person about a specific topic.  I enjoy Mike a lot, and he does a great job conducting interviews.  He asks good questions, and is always focused on pulling practical tips that can be directly integrated into folks' tabletop games.

Beer and Battle - **** Another live DnD action podcast.  This one's overlooked, I think.  It's focused on fun, but DM Peter tells a very good story (though sometimes can be a bit too heavy-handed with combat descriptions).  The PC's know how to run their characters, and are genuinely funny people.  I'm sort of taking a break from it for now, but that's more due to competition with other podcasts for space on my playlist than a lack of interest in continuing to listen.  This sounds like the kind of gaming group that everyone wants to be a part of.

Critical Hit by Major Spoilers - *** This is the first live DnD action podcast I started listening to.  It's ok.  Rodrigo has created an extremely interesting world, and the story is absolutely top-drawer.  I also quite enjoy DnD Brian (Randus), as he seems like a great guy and is does a great job as a player.  Some of the other players, however, can be maddening.  For some reason, I keep coming back, though I think it's mostly for Rodrigo.

The Tome Show/Dice Monkey/4geeks4e - *** I'm throwing all of these into one, which is probably not fair ...although they are all (as far as I know) basically part of the same family of podcasts.  They are part of the same network (along with Icosohedrophilia) and often feature the same cast of characters.  With the exception of the occasional (and quite good) Dice Monkey podcasts, the Tome Show and 4geeks4e podcasts tend to be pretty long and freeform.  That's often not a good thing.  Their product review episodes are worth listening to, but I often find myself skipping past substantial portions of their other episodes.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Joined a Play-By-Post Group

I got the good news today that I made it into a play by post group over at DnD Online Games.  I had gotten the impression some time ago that these kinds of games were almost entirely narrative-based.  But upon investigating, I found that the games that folks play over there can include combat, complete with grids, etc!  Given that I have essentially given up on injecting actual tabletop games into my life for the time being, this is probably my best alternative (in addition to video games).  I'm pretty excited to give it a try.

The game I joined is called The New World and designed by a guy who calls himself Enthusiast.  It's a neat concept: a well-established, culturally developed Empire discovers and colonizes a new continent, and we're playing just 30 years after the first settlement was founded.  The continent is populated by shifters, an indigenous people who possess primal magic.  The game is essentially the story of how this empire attempts to take hold in this New World.  Mine was one of 29(!!) different character applications submitted by 24 different people, so I feel incredibly fortunate to have been in the group of 7 that made it in...especially given that this was my first try!

Here is my character application:
Name: Erethil 
Race: Elf 
Class: Ranger (Hunter) 
Role: Controller 
Alignment: Good 
Deity: None 
Appearance and Personality:Erethil is smaller than a typical Elf, and is slightly built. Yet even by elven standards, he is unusually graceful. He moves about in smooth, quiet steps that allows him to go unnoticed in both the wilderness and urban settings. He has black hair that is often tied back, and sharp eyes that he uses to pan about the room. It is as if he sees everything. 
Erethil can come across as a bit gruff; he's generally quiet, but quick and to the point when he has something to say. He prefers to avoid long conversations and chit-chat, and has no qualms about walking for miles with a companion and not saying a word. That said, he has learned to work amicably in a team via his experience as a wildness guide, and is a reliable, generous companion to those he trusts. 
Background:Erethil was among the first Erathic children born in Medrona. His mother was a dignitary of some importance in Amarin, where her father was a sergeant in the local militia. When Erethil was just 10 years old, however, both of his parents went missing while traveling to Port Calia shortly after its founding. His parents were not wealthy, but left him with sufficient resources to survive until he had completed his education, while his mother's colleagues were available to help him on his way. 
Nevertheless, Erethil spent much of his teenaged years roaming the wilderness between towns. At first, it may have been in a desperate attempt to learn what happened to his parents. But the long months spent in solitude also brought Erethil solice. He found himself in awe of the combination of beauty and brutality in the natural world, and in time began to feel intimately connected to it. Through careful observation of the cunning fox, he learned how to deftly maneuver to avoid threats while in danger. By watching the wolf spider, he learned the power and efficiency of stealth and a sudden, deadly attack. 
Erethil became an accomplished hunter, renowned for his accuracy with the bow and uncanny ability to down his quarry with a single strike. His preferred hunting grounds are in the Oliddian Wood, the lush coastal forests between Olid and Amarin. Able to make a modest living selling game, he also has found employment as a guide. Wealthy Imperial citizens, recently arrived in Medrona, take comfort in hiring him as a guide as they travel between settlements along the coast of Medrona. 
While comfortable, Erethil continues to be drawn to the wilderness. He has rarely interacted with the nomadic clans of shifters that live on the continent. But what little he has seen of them hints at their deep connections with the natural world, which manifest in powerful primal energies and powers. When the Baron of Olid sent an appeal for adventurers to procure a mysterious artifact, Erethil jumped at the chance. Perhaps this artifact might hold some secret that would allow him to grow more in tune with the wilds. 
RP Sample:From his perch in the treetop, bow drawn, Erethil watches his prey. The deer has been milling about on the other side of the brush. While he could hit it now, the cover might keep him from targeting it precisely at the base of the neck. Such a strike would kill the deer instantly, preventing both pain for the animal and noise that could attract unwanted attention. With a bit of patience, soon he will have a perfect shot.
Suddenly, from within the brush, something stirs: the doe has a fawn! Lowering his bow, a small, contented smile forms on his lips. Erethil might not sell a deer today, but the snares he set up nearby were sure to provide dinner. For now, he could simply watch the beauty of a mother caring for her offspring.
 That RP sample took a long time to write, so I'm hoping I get faster at this kind of thing!!

My character sheet is currently hosted on DnDOG's character sheet system, though I'm looking at Character Distiller as an alternative...But that's a post for another day.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Baldur's Gate Remake for NWN2 Update

Firewine Bridge
Was looking through the forums tonight and ran across these little gems from the modders responsible for the ongoing BG1 remake project:
Well, it looks like the campaign will be fully playable in a couple weeks! After that, it's polish, polish, and some more polish for a few (at least 3) months. With this in mind, I think we're looking at September. 
As today only the hafling sidequest (Gullykin's surrounding) are missing. (around 5 exteriors area, including a little village, a dunjon, and less than 10 interiors area for the village) All the rest has its area done and scripted. So all chapters, and the extension (TOSC) are functionnal.
Pretty exciting!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Non-AC Defenses in DnD Next

Attack vs. Reflex?  No!  Make a Dexerity Saving Throw!
I'm working my way through the DnDNext playtest documents.  One of the first sections details the ability scores, and ultimately relates to one of the bigger changes to mechanics that I've seen thus far: changes to non-AC defenses.

In 4e, an attack could target one's AC.  But it could also target one of three non-AC defenses: fortitude, reflex, or will.  The names of those three defenses stems from earlier editions, of course.  But the innovation in 4e was that they all worked like AC: the attacker rolls a d20, adds appropriate bonuses, and then compares that with the target's AC, Reflex, Fortitude, or Will defense.  The one you targeted depended on the power.

In DnD Next, this is changing.  Attacks against AC work the same as they did in 4e (and earlier editions), and this includes (as I understand it) certain spells in which one makes an attack roll against AC.  But there are no longer such things as reflex, fortitude, or will defenses.  Instead, when one casts as a spell at a target, the target often will have the opportunity to make a saving throw so that they can resist or avoid the spell.  This is basically the same mechanic as 3e, except that these saving throws no longer are limited to the traditional reflex, fort, and will saves.  Instead, as far as I can tell, a given spell could conceivably target any one of a target's six attributes!  Spells like fireball that traditionally have reflex saves use a dexterity saving throw.  Charm spells use a wisdom saving throw.  But there are apparently spells that can require an intelligence saving throw, or a charisma saving throw.

I really liked the 4e mechanic because of its consistency: pick a power, roll a d20, add bonuses, compare to a defense.  It made playing DnD with kids easier, too, because there wasn't much math for them to do outside of their turn.  I still like that version better.

That said, I see that they're doing with this new system.  A major design emphasis in DnD Next, discussed a few months ago on the various Wizards blogs, was to enhance the importance of abilities within the game.  This is a manifestation of that.  Rather than having a zillion skills that each character must track, and rather than having three additional named defenses to keep in mind, players instead (mostly) just track their ability modifiers and use them to make saving throws and checks.  It makes for a simpler character sheet, because now there are three fewer defense numbers, not to mention a far smaller list of skills (you only track those in which you have specific training).  Furthermore,there is an elegance in the consistency of how skills and saving throws work that I do recognize.  And I LOVE the Next skill system because of its combination of flexibility and simplicity, so that alone may justify the non-AC defense changes.

There are some other benefits to the saving throw mechanic.  For one thing, by essentially putting the attack roll in the hands of the target, players will get to roll dice more often when it's not their turn.  This should improve engagement at the table, and it provides players with a sense of control when being targeted by a spell...even if it's imagined control.

It also makes character creation a bit more interesting.  Min-maxing suddenly becomes a bit more dangerous, because going with the minimum in, say, Charisma suddenly might have combat implications.  In 4e, as long as you had a talky-type in your party to handle roleplaying situations, a character could get away with going with the minimum in charisma, dexterity, or intelligence because there was little cost to doing so.  Now, doing so instantly makes you vulnerable to an entire set of spells.  Some saving throws will probably be more common (probably Dex, Con, and Wis if I was to guess).  But the devious dungeon master can choose monsters with appropriate spells to target their min-maxed player's weaker defenses.  This is also going to put a huge premium on any items or powers that can boost all saving throws, as well as (because of their pervasive effects) any items that boost a character's ability scores.

So while I do still like the 4e system, I'm going to sign off on the saving throw mechanic in least until I get a chance to test it in game!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

DnD Next Playtest Begins

Wizards began their Dungeons and Dragons Next open playtest today.  I just signed up and am eagerly awaiting the e-mail that will give me a download link to get my materials.

I'm honestly not sure if/when I'll be able to actually try out the game.  My "group," which was a family thing, has gone well in some ways and not well in others.  I'm unsure about whether I'll be continuing it for reasons that I don't really want to get into.  My feeling is that it is probably done for a while.  It's a shame, because I really enjoyed DMing.  I think it's likely that I'll be able to play some day in the future.  But for now, it just gets in the way of other things I should be doing...not worth it.

In the meantime, though, I am going to read through everything and offer a few thoughts on the contents.  I've been following the DnD Next discussions on the Wizards blogs and am interested in what they have in mind.  There is a real emphasis on faster play, which I think is a good idea.  I'm also pretty happy with the discussion of how character themes as a way of packaging feats together, and providing backstory for a character at the same time.  

But other times, I think they're ignoring some important innovations that DnD 4e brought to the table. 

For example, in his recent Legends and Lore article, Mearls discussed a "new" role for hit dice.  Apparently, they are going to be used during short rests to allow you to regain hit points.  And then, if you take an extended rest, you can regain those hit dice.  ...  sounds familiar?  Sounds a lot like healing surges to me, but with a bit more randomness to them.  I'm not complaining, really--I really like the healing surge mechanic, and how it, along with the second wind, reduces the need to have a healing class in the party and extends the party's lasting power through multiple dungeons.  

Also, while I'll know more when I get my e-mail and actually read the rules, I've seen more and more discussion of saving throws in a way that sounds much more like the 3e mechanic than how they work in fourth edition.  I really like the 4e system of rolling against one of four defenses (AC, Reflex, Constitution, Fortitude), as it allows for much more consistency in how the game works and increases the perceived value of non-AC defenses.  It may ultimately not matter a lot in terms of the math, but I dig the simplicity of it.

I've also recently been seeing discussion of whether opportunity attacks will remain in the core rules.  Angry had a great blog post about this last week, and I'd basically echo his thoughts: attacks of opportunity do a variety of things to enhance the importance of melee classes, and to enhance the costs of gaining ideal positioning (and thus the feats/powers that allow one to overcome opportunity attacks).  Without them, I think the game suffers.  The Facebook DnD game is a case in point: there's no point to including a fighter, as fighters can't do much to defend weaker party members without attacks of opportunity to keep enemies from sidestepping them.

I'm also a little hesitant about the reversion to "Vancian" magic for the wizard and cleric.  I actually really liked the 4e power system of at-will, encounter, and daily powers for most of the classes, especially as implemented in the Essentials classes.  I don't think there's a need for a zillion choices, at least in terms of how many things one character can do at a table.  For wizards, at least, it sounds like they're going to a hybrid system of at-will spells (cantrips) plus "Vancian" magic.  Cantrips would be enhanced to have actual value as at-will abilities.  I think this can work--I don't want to go back to the days of the wizard spending his/her time shooting crossbows.  

In any case, that's enough hand waving for now.  I'll have more to say once I get my hands on the rules! 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Alazander Sells Book Trilogy

I wanted to send huge congrats to Alazander for the sale of his first book.  And not just his first book, but his first trilogy!  I'm looking forward to reading it.

Alazander's Post

News item at

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Neverwinter Nights Community Site

The Neverwinter Nights Community Site site has been launched with the intent of serving as a central information site for new players to learn about and get involved in the original Neverwinter Nights.  It's a great idea, given that the old bioware site is down.  There you can find links to the Vault (of course!), as well as a wealth of other resources.  I was particularly pleased to see the links to the 1.69 patch critical rebuild files for NWN1, as well as the quick primer on how to install custom content.

Also included are prominent links to the bioware forums and to the Good Old Games download site.

Great site, folks!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Apathy toward Mask of the Betrayer

So a few months ago I finally grabbed Mask of the Betrayer and gave it a whirl.  I made it into the second chapter of the game, and at this point have sort of stalled out on it.

On one hand, I've found the overall plot to be very compelling.  It's mysterious, has a good, epic feel, and has a cool mix of horror and excitement.  I've enjoyed a number of the non-player characters, both companions and otherwise.  Kaelyn the Dove, in particular, is just wonderful--and has terrific voice acting to boot!

Ultimately, though, I've found the execution of the game to be rather flat.  Some parts are very good.  But others, and in particular the combat, is horrible.  There have been a few fun fights.  But other things have felt so completely out of place that it really destroys any sense of immersion the plot otherwise should have justified.  For example, when you first arrive in town, your level 20-something, epic-tier, nearly god-like character gets involved in a bar fight.  A bar fight!  Seriously?  Some drunk at a bar is taking on my character, and doesn't die in a nanosecond once combat begins?  Other times, when walking along a ridge, I encountered a long series of identical spawns of wyverns.  It was the sort of encounter you might expect as a level-2 party, encountering wolves and such in the forest.  But wyverns as a filler monster?  Why not just throw out some red dragons too?

It just didn't work for me.  Epic-tier adventures are hard to write.  They require constant recognition of the power of the PC.  This is why most good epic adventures spend most of their time in other planes--it's hard to have more than a handful of characters capable of taking on a level 20 character in a place like Faerun.  From what I've seen thus far--and this might be all I ever see of it--the story here is good.  But the execution just isn't good enough.  I'd much rather play...something else.

So, I'm going to archive my Mask of the Betrayer saved game for now.  It's time to give Storm of Zehir a whirl.  I'm hoping that, as a low-level adventure, it will be more to my liking.  I tend to be more into the low- to mid-level stuff these days anyway.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition

I never got a chance to post about the upcoming Baldur's Gate games that were announced a few weeks ago.  
From what I gather, Overhaul Games is going to be doing a complete re-release of the old games for the PC, Mac, and iPad.  I'm somewhat excited about this.  I certainly loved the original BG games, and the idea of working across the sword coast landscape again--or battling Irenicus--is enough to light a spark inside me.

I still have my old CD's of both games, and haven't even considered trying to run them for a long time.  I'm embarrassed to say that I never quite finished BG1 (was very close, and somehow just got frustrated...wasn't much of a tactician at that point and got creamed by a fairly simple encounter), so it could be fun to try it again.  BG2 I did finish and love from start to finish, though I quickly (instantly?) got frustrated with the expansion for BG2.  It would be fun to give them another go.

On the other hand, these games represent tremendous time investments.  Will they hold up?  I'm hopeful that they'd re-do the art to run at better than 800x600, but I'm not sure if that's really in the cards for this release.  Furthermore, how will the game mechanics hold up?  I'm not very excited about going back to the days of THAC0, timed effects on spells, random-roll characters, etc.  I have a hard enough time finishing a module like Aielund II or Prophet, and have yet to even try Storm of Zentir.  There's a lot of gaming on my plate.  Do I really want to invest 100+ hours into a game I already played?

I'll keep thinking about it and following the news about this game as it develops.  It probably won't be very expensive(??), so I might try it just to play around candlekeep and meet Imoen again for the first time.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Module Comments: Salerons' Gambit 2

What the hell is this guy saying?
My vote: 9 - Very good, deserves a look
Character: lv. 2 bard, advanced to level 3 by module's end.

This module continues the previous module's story: you are searching for Saleron, a strange wizard who professed to know something of your father.  He has run off to Silverymoon, and you want to find him.

That's pretty much the module.  There's not a lot of overall plot development beyond what you experienced in the first.  What you get instead is a chance to explore Silverymoon and its inhabitants, experiencing numerous well-done side quests as you search for a way to contact the wizard.  The module is well-polished...but somehow, it felt less fresh than the first.  My bard has starting to get a decent complement of equipment during this module, including a few minor items.  This was welcome, but at the same time it made the module feel less distinct than the first and it's ultra-sparse conditions.  Combat was challenging, though it wasn't until near the end that I finally pushed my bard back behind the front lines and concentrated on playing more of a support role to assist the fighter henchman.

The best part of this module are the little flourishes.  There is a terrific, random scene with some music students that was a pleasure to watch.  I'm not sure what it's like for other classes, but for the bard it was highly customized.  The descriptions of specific style changes and such were sophisticated (at least, they seemed it--I know nothing about music), and my bard was ultimately able to play a key role in a minor bit of foolery.  I'm guessing that most other classes experience this differently.  Similarly, the optional conversations with the henchmen--especially the fighter--were very rich.  The ending of the module is easily its best component, as it features a difficult personal dilemma for the main character.  Huge kudos for this, as it really makes the module.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Essentials Race & Class List

Very small thing: I'm rolling up (for fun) some characters from each of the Essentials classes.  I created a small spreadsheet that shows the various ability bonuses you get, and the special abilities they use.  I also identified which classes fit best with each race, based on nothing more than the key abilities noted in the Heroes books and the races that give you bonuses to those abilities.  Here it is:

(if that doesn't work, here's a direct link to the spreadsheet)

A few quick hits:

  • Drow gets the most class matches, thanks to the Dex + Wis or Cha combo.  Bah, I hate drow.
  • Half-Orcs not surprisingly make terrific slayers.  But I was surprised to see them show up as elite athletic thieves.
  • Knight, Slayer, and Cavalier all clock in as having just one ideal race.  
  • Least versatile race?  Eladrin, which only make elite Mages based on the abilities (though teleport could certainly make an eladrin dexstriker, like a rogue or scout, pretty darn interesting).
  • Most accepting class?  Hexblade, which needs good charisma and either good dex or con.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Module Review: Prophet, Chapter 1 - By the Will of Kings and Mortals

My vote: 10 - A masterpiece, genuinely groundbreaking.
My character: lv. 8 halfling rogue/ranger from The Cave of Songs.  Ended level 10.

The Prophet, Chapter 1, was released in early 2006.  It did show up on my original nwn1 playlist, but for whatever reason--perhaps it was my general dislike of rogues at the time, for which I perceived the module was designed--I never played it.

Well, I finally sat down and played it over the past month or so.  And I see what all the fuss is about.

This Elven City Tileset is amazing.
Without spoiling the prelude module, you find yourself in search of a long-lost king who vanished mysteriously many years ago.  You essentially have two choices: try to find a bard who might know something, or try to find an ancient keep deep in the forest.  I went for the first option first, which was certainly the low-point of the module; a slow and laborious delve into spider-infested mines that ultimately bears little fruit.  From there, however, I went off to the keep, and the module really picked up.  Ultimately, I was treated to one of the most visually stunning modules ever released for Neverwinter Nights 1.  It is loaded with custom content, and that content is used expertly.  The mountains are just glorious.  Even more impressive, however, was the story.  It begins as a tale of an ancient and perhaps insane king, but becomes far more personal as you interact (via notes, stories, and sometimes, ghosts) with the characters in this story.  Eventually, both the PC and the NPC's find themselves directly involved in the tale, which leads to a variety of surprising revelations.  It is masterfully done.  Rarely have I played a module that sent this many shivers down my spine, but this one was loaded with those moments.

The module plays in a fairly linear fashion, but one thing that Baldecaran does very well is that he adds a variety of small vignettes that you can opt to take on as side "quests."  Rarely are these assigned, per se, and some are just neat to look at.  But you can often have yourself a fun little adventure and often gain a small amount of treasure along the way.  Combat is pretty well balanced throughout, though it got a bit easy near the end of the module.  I'll note that equipment is interesting here.  Perhaps it's because I'm a rogue, but I found myself having a hard time maxing out my AC and weapon enhancement in this module due to limited selection...but on the other hand, physical damage resistance, elemental resistance, and protection against status effects (poison, disease, level drain) were all fairly easy to procure and extremely useful.  I'm looking forward to the day I can find that really great shortsword.  But for the time being, I'm making do with what I found.  As a final note, level progression is pretty slow: I gained two levels during the entire module, and the author's estimated 25 hours sounds about right for total playtime commitment.  This surprises, as I really didn't notice.

I don't vote a 10 very often.  But this is a really special module.  I'm looking forward to seeing where the story goes from here!