Monday, September 28, 2009

Act III Finished!

I'm a little behind the schedule I had hoped for last post, but that's it. I'm calling Act III done. The last playthrough was largely successful, though it generated several small issues (misspellings and the like) which are now all taken care of.

So last night I started through the entire campaign and have already come across a couple show-stoppers that I need to clean up. I haven't really looked at Act I in a great many months (years even), and it's obvious that one of the patches did some damage. Luckily, Act I is rather small in comparison to the others, and most of it seems to work just fine. I think I'll only need a little bit to get all back in order and then proceed onwards. Acts II and III have been largely completed and tested since the last patch came out, so I don't expect anything similar to crop up later.

The other source of possible issues is that I'm doing my campaign-level testing with a male PC and the majority of my testing to date has been done with a female PC. The only difference is that the companions are different, have different dialogs, and have a few different interjections. I don't expect much to go wrong because of this, but it's likely to be a bit rougher than a female PC would be at this stage. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mongo Progress

It's been a while since I've been both highly motivated and had lots of time to work, but this past weekend was one of those times. I finished incorporating the comments for Act III that I discussed last time, and I then completed another play-through that got all the way to the final fight before a game-ending bug. However, I'm pretty sure the "bug" was actually a result of playing Act III as a module instead of as a campaign, as the problem was in the transition to another module.

That said, I still had 65+ comments I had made up until that point, some of which were pretty serious. For example, I didn't like some of the pacing and so I had to rearrange things in some places and add some content in others. However, this has all been done, and I've also shuffled some maps between modules to reduce the number of module transitions. Last night, I managed to do some targeted testing of the new areas and reshuffled maps to ensure it all works.

So I'm ready for another play-through of Act III, and I have every reason to believe it will be the first to be successfully completed with no hitches. I'll fix whatever issues I find, of course, but if all goes to plan, I'll be done with Act III testing come Sunday. Then I just want to play through the whole campaign from start to finish to make sure it all works together - it should, as I've independently verified all three acts and both internal transitions - and then I enter alpha testing with a couple chosen reviewers. Once I get their comments incorporated, it'll be time for around five beta testers.

Hold tight. We're getting there!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Westgate: Behind the Scenes, Part 4

As always, beware of MoW spoilers below.

A Word on Official Product "Editting"
One of the comments last time got me thinking that maybe it would be good to give some incite into how the internal review process goes, or at least went in the case of MoW. Every word I wrote went through three levels of review before it made it into the game.

The first level was Ossian, who generally wanted to guarantee that nothing we submitted would be embarassing to the company. This meant verifying the writing was of professional quality and that the topics and language were appropriate. This was the level that weeded out Gracie's possible suicide in the Tortured Hearts quest, although this was done early in the design stage, probably because Alan knew from experience that it wouldn't pass the next level of review...

The second level was Atari, whose sole interest seemed to be to eliminate anything that would garner a mature rating for the game. I remember this level as being pretty benign, probably because the Ossian brass did such a good job of self-editing.

The final level was WotC, who cared mostly that their intellectual property was respected and accurately depicted in-game. There was a lot of discussion about allowing the player to become a vampire at the end, as the powers and limitations had to be strictly enforced according to the official rules that governed that transition. This was also the level that required the change in Porthyria's illusionary race in The Knot of Shou Lung quest. There were a slew of comments that came back about changing the genders and races of several characters, I guess in the name of maintaining diversity within the Realms. That Porthyria comment was the only one that affected one of my quests, but I remember several characters were changed from male to female, though I don't remember exactly which ones changed in quests that weren't mine. I've always admitted to being human-centric, but I guess a dude-centric adventure is the result of having all dude designers.

Random Elements
I'm sure that everyone already knew that the designers handled the side quests, the companions, and the layout of the main path (though the main path was done long before I came on board), but the list of other things designers handle is pretty extensive. For example, there are over 100 unique items in the game - I think it's more like 130 items - that all have individualized descriptions. There are the landmarks around Westgate, the ones that give the Tourist feat if you visit them all. There are the curiosity items in Mintassan's shop. Then we had to do the descriptions you can read when examining every creature and clickable object. Finally, all the ambient characters and one-off encounters you see throughout Westgate that make the city seem alive. The designers are also the ones that decide where the loot is to be found and how it's to be spread around the campaign.

There are so many of these little bits that I wrote that it's impossible for me to remember them all, though I certainly can pick them out as I'm playing through the game. In general, if an item is found in one of our subquests, it's one we designed. One item I do remember clearly is Mordecai's Mesh, a suit of armor found in the Trouble at the Track quest. Originally, the armor was infused with spider glands that gave it the On Hit: Web spell property, which I thought was a really cool idea. However, when Alazander was playing testing the quest, the spell went off so often that the insane graphics slowed his computer to a crawl. So now it has the Hold Person spell instead. It's not nearly as cool, but people won't have their computers explode playing the game now.

There is one ambient character I created that I became rather fond of, and that is Bohemund the Beligerant, the street "entertainer" who had multiple vitriolic exchanges with his audience. The idea came to me from all the entertainers you see throughout many of the larger cities in Europe. I've always wondered what kind of outrageous acts you might be able to get away with, and I've thought about an over-the-top insult comic... a guy who thinks he's smarter than everyone else, and so he insults them because he hates that he has to demean himself for money by performing stupid tricks for the great unwashed... (Note, this is not to say street performing is demeaning; this is simply his take on it.)

Anyway, this thread in the MoW forums is rather funny (scroll to the bottom two posts). For the record, Bohemund was never intended to be a companion in MoW; he was always a one-off, BUT... I came to like the character so much that in one of Ossian's now-defunct proposals for another project, I suggested using him as a companion, and the suggestion was accepted. So yes, there was a point in time in which he was slated to join the PC in future battles. This, of course, necessitated a complete character concept including a reason why he was in Westgate in the first case. So, in short, Bohemund is one of those seemingly vague one-note characters that I now have four pages of background for. If you want to know the true background of Bohemund, just drag your mouse below.

Bohemund, originally hailing from Halruaa, is actually a loose ally of the Harpers (though not a member of the organization). He is in Westgate in pursuit of a Priest of Cyric who is escorting a very dangerous child to the eastern lands and plans to catch a ship across the sea. His Harper allies have rented a house across from where Bohemund performs and are scanning the crowds attracted to his act. Not long after the events of MoW, the Harpers are ambushed and killed, leaving Bohemund alone and in need of allies.

Main Path Characters
At the putset, the main path characters were all divied up to the designers by Alazander. The first toolset work I did for Westgate was Captain Merrig's dialog, meaning he was written in February of 2007. I was quite nervous at the time, as (1) he was the first character I had ever written that had been invented by someone else and (2) it was the first "official" toolset-level work I did for Ossian. I ended up going through the Westgate design document twice highlighting every word I could find about Merrig. That amounted to about 3-4 sentences, so the character was still pretty undefined. However, one of the things that Alan had mentioned to me on the phone during my interview was that there was a character named Merrig who he envisioned as needing to spit to clear his mouth every two sentences. I don't remember that detail being in the design document, but I included it in the game anyway.

An additional consideration is to economise every dialog that had to be VOd. Merrig was alotted 750 words of VO budget, and that meant that everything he said had to be condensed into 750 words. That's not a lot to be able to get all the plot in and still give a flavor for a unique character. Alan's spitting idea helped with the latter, though, and I also thought a while on coming up with a good, yet cheesy, pirate-themed joke to start the conversation off. Writing for a VO budget is a not-inconsiderable restraint, but hearing the actual words you wrote out loud is a thrill, so it's a net positive in my view.

Other main path characters I wrote include Kajeel, the illithid (including baby Kajeel), Latasha, Orbakh's female vampire henchman, and Rumboldt's butler, cat, and safe. In fact, it was I who made the suggestion to add the ability for rangers and druids to ask the cat for the safe's combination. As far as Latasha, the Westgate document called for meeting her three times over the course of the adventure: in the ship, in the safe house, and finally in the catacombs. I was certain I wanted the player to be able to brag about already beating her twice upon meeting her for the final time, but that then necessitated the need for a good retort. That's why writing her final dialog was a bear. It's frankly difficult for someone whose ass had been kicked twice already to believably have a sufficient amount of bravado about round three.

Voice Over
One of the most commented on aspect of MoW is the lack of voice over. I can't speak to the exact cost of VO, but I know it was expensive because of how strictly controlled it was compared to everything else. A 750 word budget on Merrig, for example, didn't mean exactly 750 words, but we couldn't be far off.

This was especially problematic with the companion quests. We were given 750 words to introduce the companions, so all their initial introductory dialogs are completely VOd. Luckily, this only had to cover a few plot points and the flavor of the character, as we'd be able to continue developing them later. However, we were only given 1000 words for their related quests, and this didn't remotely cover everything for the Tyrran Enclave. I tried outlining what I thought was important, but it wasn't long before I was Skyping Alan begging for a bigger budget. Eventually, I wheedled another 500 or so words out of him. I also inquired as to whether there was a male actor I could use for a few words. As it turns out, one of the male actors had a few words left over because someone else's dialogs had come back a little lite. This allowed me to voice some of Sneed's dialog exchange with Charissa, but I still only had enough of a budget to cover the lines that I thought were most crucial to the character development arc, such as when Charissa argues with herself over Sneed's eventual fate or her reflections on her actions after leaving Sneed's chapel. People have argued that the in-and-out VO was distracting, and I agree somewhat, but I can honestly say I argued for as much as I could get, and Alan stretched what we could do to the limit.

As an aside, the VO was done by a professional studio Alan had worked with while at Bioware. I think the same studio had done the VO on a lot of the BG series including ToB. Early on, a copy of some of the early takes of the dialogs was passed around to the Ossian team. These contained some bloopers, some of which were hilarious. I rememberthe actresses for one of the female companions (I believe it was Charissa, actually) was trying to make the death gurgle for her companion sound set - something like "aargh!" - when she just busted out laughing and said, "Boy that sounds pornagraphic!" And it really did. That was not the death sound that made it into the final cut. In fact, I remember probably a 10-15 second clip that was just a concoction of different death sound attempts by the actors involved that was rather humorous. Maybe I'll see if Alan can put that up on the Ossian download site.

The Schedule
For those interested in how long it took the team to accomplish certain tasks, my recollection is as follows. I came on board on just about Feb. 1, 2007, at which point toolset work had been going on for two to three weeks. I guess story development and approval and project planning took from around October 2006 to just past New Years of 2007. We were pretty much done with the main path writing by the middle of March and had a couple weeks of testing just that. Throughout April and the first half of May, we finished up all the sidequests. The second half of May and June were filled with the extraneous design stuff I outlined above. From July through September was play-testing, fixing bugs, and adding stuff that had been overlooked. That means that by July 1st, the heavy work for the designers was largely concluded, and we became extra play-testers on occasion. The level designers and scripters were still working hard through August. By October 1st, 2007, the project was more-or-less in the can. One year from the initiation of project discussion to ready for distribution. That shows what a talented and highly-motivated team of around 15 people can do. The delay after that I won't discuss.

So I think the four parts together are a pretty good representation of what was going on from my vantage point, but there's obviously only so much I can put on a page, and I've tried to write only the most interesting bits. However, if there's anything I've left out that any of you are curious about, feel free to ask. The only thing MoW-related I know I won't answer at this point are questions about the delay.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Westgate: Behind the Scenes, Part 3

As before, spoilers for MoW follow.

When I first came onboard in early 2007, my second initial task done in parallel with the development of my companion concept was the creation of several sidequests. These sidequests were broken down into four categories: companion, "fed ex", minor, and major. These categories are pretty self-explanatory, but a couple comments are in order for the last three.

"Fed ex" did not mean literally what we think of: i.e. bring me a book or deliver this wood to the shop at the corner. Rather, it meant a quest that could be done in 10-15 minutes using only one or two encounters with "encounter" meaning either a battle, a trap, or some kind of character interaction. Contrary to the traditional fed ex quest, there was supposed to be some kind of twist to it that made it interesting. Minor quests were to be around 30 minutes and major quests around 45.

I was fortunate to come on the project late in that I could peruse the sidequests already developed by the others and so try to do some different things from what had already been done. For example, if I had found a lack of hack-and-slash quests, I would have written a couple. Had there been a lack of skill-heavy quests, I would have focused in that direction. As it turns out, with one small exception (outlined below), I didn't really find any inbalances, so I could proceed with the type of quests I like with an easy conscience. Beyond that consideration, the only instruction I was given was that Alazander thought Undergate was a bit bare and so wanted me to direct some of my quests to that quarter.

Minor Sidequest: Trouble at the Track
I finished Saleron's Gambit, Part V in the summer of 2006. One of my sidequest ideas for that module was to place a halfling village in the Hullack Forest that the PC would pass en route to the penultimate showdown with The Priestess. In the village, the PC would meet a halfling who had made a drunken boast - followed by a sizeable bet - that he could outrun a deer, a bet he would have to pay off if he couldn't somehow rig the race. Que the PC... I had visions of a cutscene with the halfling hasted in some way allowing him to speed across the finish line ahead of the deer.

Ultimately, I decided the quest was out of place. At that point in the module, the player was rapidly moving towards the end, and it didn't make sense for someone to stop to help someone rig a race. But the core idea was one I still liked.

Eight months later, Ossian gave me the opportunity to resurrect the idea, but the different setting of Westgate demanded that the specifics be changed. The seediness of the city allowed gambling readily enough, not to mention the idea that people would try to rig the races, but the deer had to go. Fortunately, dog racing was common enough in civilization. The idea of a gambling house in a city filled with criminal elements led me to change the one rigging the race from the quest giver (in the original SGV quest) to the entity the quest giver is racing (in the final version). One nod to the original idea was that I kept the quest giver as a halfling.

I immediately envisioned the house owner being a thug of the fighter class. The new idea that the house was magically rigging races naturally led to the inclusion of an arcane caster that could brew the potions. The need to maintain the animals led to the inclusion of a druid. With this, I only needed a rogue to complete a balanced enemy party for the player to battle. In my design document, I therefore gave the tavern owner a brother named Haman, a rogue who formed his connection to the Night Masks and explained how his profitable business could be allowed to operate without molestation. These four, then, would form a suitable final boss fight.

However, I generally love to include ways to utilize character skills in the completion of quests. This led to some of the design choices for the other encounters. First, the player has numerous skill-based ways to get past the half-orc door guard: bluff, lock pick, and so forth. Second, players can brew the antidote to the speed potion if they have the Brew Potion feat. Third, there is a guard that the player can talk into giving up the antidote with any of the talking skills.

In my envisioning of the inner workings of the gambling house, I pictured a slave-goblin doing all the menial cleaning. This led to the encounter the player has with the goblin when it witnesses the player tampering with the dog bowls. The goblin runs away no matter what the player does, but I thought it was a cool flavor encounter that might ramp up the tension that maybe the party will be discovered.

One pain that the sidequest presented was the obvious thought that the player could just slide a potion of speed into the dish, so why go through all the rest of the work to come up with a specially-made potion? This necessitated the confiscation of all potions of speed by the door guards. While at first I thought that made things unnecessarily complicated for relatively little added roleplay value, I came to appreciate it because it did remove the ability for the player to use one particular buff (potion-wise) during the final battle.

As an aside, I was incredibly pleased by the work the map designers did on the Track. It looked better than ever thought it would and far better than I could have done. I do know that there were several rounds of cursing on the scripters' part as they tried to get the racing cutscene right. I guess the pathing proved problematic at points, so all I can say is thank God it wasn't me!

Overall, my satisfaction with the way this quest turned out was a 10 out of 10. It was pretty much exactly as I envisioned. As I'm not going over the Tyrran Enclave again here, I'll say that my satisfaction for that quest was a 9 out of 10. In case you think I'm being too much of a homer, my grades for the next two I designed will be decidedly lower.

Fun fact: Originally, I wanted to call this quest "The Amazing Race," but the title was vetoed due to copyright concerns regarding the popular reality TV show of the same name.

Fed Ex Quest: Tortured Hearts
It may seem odd, but making a fifteen-minute quest unique and fun is actually incredibly hard. There are, after all, only so many unique one-off encounters you can do without blatantly ripping off old ideas. I'd actually rather just do a full sidequest than a so-called fed ex quest. Anyways...

Back when I was young - I'd say in the range of 10 to 12 - I remember watching an episode of the old Twilight Zone in which a woman has been in a tragic accident that required extensive reconstruction surgery. Her face is entirely covered in bandages with only slits for the eyes, nose, and mouth visible. The whole episode is essentially a series of home-life vignettes and trips to the doctor's office in which the doctor tries to prepare her for how she'll look disfigured and deformed when the bandages come off. The episode is unique in that the view is always shot so that only the woman's bandaged face is visible. Everyone else is seen from behind, standing in a shadow, at an odd angle that only shows their lower body, and so forth.

Finally, at the end of the episode, the bandages come off to reveal a total hottie, but when they give her a mirror, she screams in disbelief at how ugly she looks. Then the camera pans back to show the doctors and nurses staring at her, and the viewer sees that they all have the same series of disfigurations, meaning that in this world, the disfigured is normal, and what we see as normal is disfigured.

Place that idea in the Forgotten Realms and add a magical rationale for the "disfigurement," and you have Tortured Hearts. Two factors went into the exact form the quest took. First, the fact that I could use almost any race for the protagonist was what ultimately allowed me to use the idea without the need for bandages, etc. Simply, to a lizard folk, humans must be ugly. Second, the use of lizard folk as the important NPCs in this quest also played into Alazander's request that I utilize Undergate as much as possible.

In the end, I can't help feeling the quest is incomplete, but I think that's a general aversion to fed ex sized quests in general. Therefore, I can't give this quest more than a 7 out of 10 in satisfaction.

Fun fact: In the original draft, if the PC revealed to Gracie that her love, Sarl, has already moved on, her body would later be found in a sewer with evidence that she had killed herself. However, in an official product, suicide is a no-no, so in the final version, she ends up wasting her days away drinking and gambling at the Track. Apparently, killing thousands of bad guys is ok, but killing yourself is not.

Major Sidequest: The Knot of Shou Lung
This idea sprang from the legend of the Gordian Knot, the great Turkish puzzle that promised conquest of Asia to any who solved it. I knew that I did not want the same answer that Alexander the Great used to solve that puzzle, but otherwise I started only with this historical kernel, ideas from a book I was reading at the time on the organization of medieval European guilds, and the idea that I again wanted to take the quest into Undergate if at all possible. Additionally, the only shortcomings I noticed in the list of sidequests already confirmed for the game was that there was a shortage of puzzles, so I tried to add some in here.

And that was key. At heart, I wanted the quest to be what the actual Knot was: a big puzzle. This led to the mysterious circumstances surrounding the trophy's dissappearance, the riddle in the case, and the puzzle door lock in the lair of the riddler. The prominence of the riddle led to the idea that a sphinx would be the quest giver, but there were no sphinx models in the toolset, and creature models are simply too expensive to do for just a single sidequest. Therefore, the sphinx became polymorphed into bipedal form. The poem itself went through a few iterations, and the final form was heavily influenced by Hugie, who turned out to have a bit of a poetic streak in him.

Undergate necessitated an enemy or faction who would be at home there. As I thought - and still think - the drow are overplayed, and I'd already used monstrous creatures for Tortured Hearts, I settled on the duergar. Once I had the final enemy, the backstory of the Knot began to formulate as an artifact of the wars between dwarven factions, and once the artifact became dwarven in origin, the truth that the Knot is simply a marvel of ancient dwarven construction popped out.

The duergar also brought to mind another game in which they were prominent: Icewind Dale 2. I remember in that game that as the party exits the cellar of the Black Raven Monastery, they are ambushed by several duergar who had aided the party earlier. The first time I played the game, I was just clicking my party towards the door, and some unfortunate pathing issues left my party scattered when the ambush was sprung. The resulting battle was brutal and required all my wits to survive... and almost ten years later, I still remember the immense satisfaction I got when I beat those bastards with only two characters left standing. With the duergars slated for The Knot of Shou Lung, I decided I wanted to replicate that battle if at all possible. To do that necessitated a situation where the duergar could appear to be helpful only to then ambush the party.

Originally, however, the party had to penetrate the duergar compound, and I specifically requested some interesting battles up front. In my quest document, I didn't specify what they were, and so I was dismayed when I didn't see any battles at all in my initial play-through. It was Alan Miranda of all people came up with the solution when I pointed this out. The crossbowmen on both of the raised platforms as the party tries to fight their way to the ladders are all his idea.

That also illustrates one of my design philosophies. I hate making upper-level enemies by simply making superhero versions of lower-level enemies (like the Thayan Gnolls in MotB who must be 15th level). I would rather increase difficulty level of battles by giving lower-level enemies superior position, numbers, or some other advantage. In this way, the player gets to keep the "specialness" of his advanced levels while still being challenged. All of the duergar in that battle except the bosses are 5th level, though some of them are rogues which gives extra oomph to their blind-side attacks.

Incidentally, that same philosophy applied to the fight in the main room of the Thayan Compound of the Tyrran Enclave, in which the player must bash through crates, navigate a grease-covered walkway, and dodge explosive barrels, all while getting pounded from all sides by elemental-arrow-wielding 3rd level rogue archers.

With all the twists and turns, the quest ended up being a very long one. Nevertheless, I do not feel it offers enough variety in how one can solve it. I don't have any ideas for other options, but I normally favor quests with a great deal of openness to them, so I can't really say I'm more than 7 out of 10 in terms of satisfaction at how this turned out.

Fun fact: Originally, Porthyria's polymorphed form was a human woman, but WotC's insisted she be changed to an elven woman, as they sought to increase the racial diversity in the game. As far as I'm concerned, she's actually a sphinx, so who cares what she looks like.

So these are the four quests I wrote. Of the 17 total sidequests, I believe the breakdown is as follows: Alan Miranda - 1, Hugie - 2, Me - 4, Nemorem - 5, Alazander - 5. Sorry to anyone I might have short-changed.

Next time, I intend to discuss a hodge-podge of other topics regarding Westgate.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Westgate: Behind the Scenes, Part 2

Well, I can now reveal that my wife and I went to Las Vegas for her birthday this past weekend. It was a first time for both of us, and we had a blast. We're not big gamblers, so the only cash we lost was on the entertainment and meals. I bought us tickets to see Cirque du Soleil: KA at the MGM Grand on her actual birthday, and it was an amazing show. Other than that, it was just experiencing the city, which is rather unique in my experiences.

And then I got to update my US graph below to now include Nevada. Moving on...

Mysteries of Westgate
So last time I told the story of how Charissa came into existence. Now I'll give my take on the character and describe what I was trying to accomplish with her. Note that there are MoW spoilers below.

One of the things I try to do with most of the major characters I write is to make them three dimensional and lifelike to the extent that can be done in a game. Note, I said major characters, which describes only a very few, but Charissa definitely fell within this group.

Many people who play MoW and spend little time talking to Charissa will probably view her as opinionated, caustic, judgemental, and rigid in her thinking, and she would no doubt be proud to know she projects that image, but the crux of her character is that she is profoundly unsure of herself. In fact, she is in the throes of a deep internal philosophical crisis. It's what I now call a "Charissa moment." I recently had one, and I bet most people have one at some point in their life.

Essentially, this occurs when two "truths," often formulated during the simplistic idealism of youth, become no longer compatible in a single world. For Charissa, these two truths are that (1) her parents are innocent of the crime they are accused of (aiding in the kidnapping of Falucca Ardabrent) and (2) justice is an absolute principle. When her parents were arrested, she inately believed that they were innocent. When they were then found guilty, she began to search for answers, eventually arriving at the Tyrran church that promised justice would triumph. She has tried to merge these into a single universe, but over time, these two competing principles have proven unable to coexist, and no matter how long she searches, she cannot find a way to force them to. Fundamentally, if justice is universally true, then how do her innocent parents sit behind bars?

This, then, is the core of her restlessness. She believes that if she can find the pirate captain, Pharros Sneed, he will have the explanation as to how everything can be made right. He is the one who can prove her parents' innocence and allow justice to prevail. That is her sole mission, and anything else she engages in either is a means towards that end or serves as a proxy for it. (In other words, by destroying other evil-doers, she vicariously destroys her own.)

Charissa has, of course, reacted to this profound self-doubt by giving off an air of supreme confidence. She is determined to allow no one else to see her weakness. That is why, contrary to what one might expect, she lambasts Mantides and goes easy on Rinara. In Mantides, she sees a reflection of herself, and she handles that reflection the same as she does everything else she doesn't like: by bludgeoning it to a pulp. Though Rinara's world view is one she can never agree with, the certainty with which Rinara holds it is calming to her. As she says during one of the companion exchanges, "she'd rather be around with someone who knows what they believe - even if it is wrong - than one who is wavering in their belief."

This also explains one of the most controversial aspects of the character: namely during the Tyrran Enclave quest, why does a lawful good character abandon the slaves to their fate simply for vengeance? That's not lawful good! It's more like evil!

First, one must understand the Tyrran mindset is one that stresses justice first, so I never believed the choice here is all that clear-cut for a Tyrran. That being said, I would still think saving the slaves first is the more preferable choice. However, and this is key, Charissa is not a perfect example of her religion. Regardless of whatever principles the religion espouses, in this instance, the shock of at last finding Falucca overrides any thought of right and wrong. Here is a woman who can prove her parents' innocence, and she will apprehend her regardless of the consequences. I guess I could agree with giving her an alignment shift in the evil and chaotic directions, but I wouldn't agree that temporarily allowing one's passions to overcome one's mind is a reason to change alignments entirely. This is perhaps Charissa's most human moment in my opinion. The world is full of imperfect people who imperfectly live according to the values of their religion, even when they legitimately hold those values dear.

I have over time become wary of what is often termed "navel-gazing" characters, so there is no point that Charissa ever actually spells any of this out. Rather, one would need to talk with her often, look for subtle clues, and use their own human intuition to glean any of it. For those who simply want to get to the adventure and forget talking to the companions, they'll never get more than a surface-layer view of any of them, and that means the image Charissa projects will be the only one they see (just like real human relationships). But those who spend time with her should pick up several clues, such as the one mentioned above with Mantides and Rinara, that should reveal there is more to the character than just the bombastic, self-righteous priestess.

As an aside, Charissa's quest, the Tyrran Enclave, explores many themes. The obvious one is the fate of Charissa's parents and the beginning of her final resolution of her "Charissa moment." But there's something else for Charissa there. As her two key principles begin to come together, a third one gets added: compassion (or mercy). No matter which way she deals with Sneed, she has begun a process, which she articulates immediately after leaving the Tyrran shrine, in which she begins to think about the roles mercy and compassion have in her religion. The player isn't meant to be able to guide her along to think exactly as they do; Charissa's already too experienced and independent an adventurer to be led around by the nose. But she has begun a process of introspection that will lead to greater wisdom (important for a priestess).

There are other themes as well: love, fate, redemption, justice, and questions of the greater good. The first two are explored in the story of Falucca and Sneed, the third and fourth in Sneed's subsequent life, and the final one in how the player chooses to deal with the slaves and Falucca. Sneed's ultimate fate is not meant to be an easy choice for the player. (Obviously, Charissa is the one who makes that choice, but the player gets to advocate one way or the other.) As a pirate captain, it can be assumed that Sneed engaged in all kinds of theft, rape, pillaging, and murder, even if he is innocent of Falucca's abduction. However, he changed his ways several years ago and has since acted for the benefit of mankind. Does any future good he might do outweigh his past crimes? Is there any good to be done in punishing a man who has a clear track record of having mended his ways? Does that even matter since his past crimes have thus far gone unpunished?

As for the question of the greater good, many people probably view that as saving the slaves. It's certainly the more immediate good, but if Falucca escapes to set up shop elsewhere, there may be hundreds or even thousands of people who are sold into a lifetime of slavery as a result. So which is worse: killing ten people or enslaving thousands? Of course, there are other considerations such as the definite knowledge that the ten will die versus the hypothetical scenario that thousands will be sold into slavery, but that only adds a further dimension to the dilemma. One of the things I really wanted for this quest was to present choices that weren't easy or obvious. Hopefully, I succeeded.

Next time, I'll give some incite on the origins and intents regarding the other three sidequests I designed.