Wednesday, April 20, 2011

In Memoriam: Elisabeth Sladen

I just heard the news and I'm shocked. It's unbelievable how saddened I am to hear of the passing of someone I've never met. I didn't even know she was sick, and I'm not alone. Even her former co-star, Tom Baker, claims he was taken completely by surprise.

Crazy. Utterly crazy. 63? Really?

Yes, this is a forum for mostly RPG-type stuff, but I couldn't let my little corner of cyberspace go without some sort of tribute to the amazing actress who portrayed Sarah Jane Smith...

I know Doctor Who has the reputation for being a children's show. Or maybe it's derided for being "just genre stuff" or (in the 60s through 80s) cheaply-made. But when it was good, it was great. And I mean great television, period. Above-and-beyond any other consideration.

And there was no better era of Doctor Who than the one which featured Lis Sladen. Sarah Jane was my favorite companion and she traveled with my favorite doctor. She, Tom Baker, producer Phillip Hinchcliff, and script editor Robert Holmes put together the most amazing era of Doctor Who ever, and I still get great enjoyment watching the episodes those four (and others, of course) put together.

I'm not alone, of course. The most recent testament to her popularity among Doctor Who fans is that she above all other classic companions was chosen to return for the new series. She was also picked to star in one aborted spin off and one successful one. She was chosen to return for the 1983 Five Doctor special. It seems every time Doctor Who looked to its past for a popular companion, Lis Sladen was the obvious choice.

And now she's gone. The world no longer has Sarah Jane in it. I still can't believe it.

PS: While reading the copious testaments to Lis Sladen, I learned that Nicholas Courtney, aka the Brigadier, also died a couple months back. It seems it's been a bad year for fans of the classic Doctor Who era, and we're not even half through it yet. R.I.P Nick Courtney.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dungeon Design Example: Westmount

All of the recent talk of dungeons has led me to outline an example of my own current thought process as I put one together, a task I've now done for a NWN1 series, another NWN2 campaign, and a NWN2 adventure pack, all of which have won some measure of acclaim. I wish I had solidified my thoughts on the subject years ago; I actually don't think some of the early SG dungeons are very good anymore - TONS of newbie mistakes.

So I'm going to discuss the process by which the "dungeon" of Westmount from TMGS came into existence. To be clear, it's a small dungeon and I don't mean to suggest that it's a great dungeon worthy of any top 10 list (not close), but a lot of the thoughts from my previous few posts did come into play as I was designing it. So without further ado...

The basic steps were as follows:

1. Quest Conception - This was the step that developed the need for the dungeon and tied it to the overall game world. This step also defined the exact locale and locked in a few very basic core goals.
2. Dungeon Layout - This results from knowledge of how the dungeon came into being and should make sense given that knowledge.
3. End Boss Development - Pretty self-explanatory.
4. Dungeon Population - This comes from imagining how the current denizens use the dungeon... and how the party will find it when they enter.
5. Finishing Touches - The final step adds in some cool items or encounters that put the dungeon over-the-top.

A greater explanation of how these steps applied to the development of Westmount follows.

Step 1: Quest Conception
Westmount was pretty close to the last thing added into TMGS campaign. As I was play-testing the supposedly-finished campaign, I became wary that every side-quest was directly related to the critical path. To be clear, that was a decision I had definitely made at the beginning. I didn't want Navatranaasu to feel like a bustling metropolis with all sorts of people throwing their problems upon the PC. Rather, it was to be a small, desolate village where most of the inhabitants' problems ultimately had the surrounding Malarite cult as the culprits. (Compare this to Waterdeep, where two people hand you totally unrelated quests in just the short time you're there... but then Waterdeep is a completely different animal.)

Nevertheless, I eventually decided that it would be better if there were at least a couple optional quests and so Westmount was born. Other quests added around this time for the same reason include the Haunted Tree and the Legal Conundrum posed by the two fools in the tavern.

I knew right off the bat that a large Durlag's Tower-style dungeon wouldn't make sense given the setting; nothing that big would be near so small a town without being a large topic of conversation. So the dungeon had to be small enough to be believable within the setting.

A second desire was that I wanted all of these unrelated quests to have one thing in common with the core path: the central theme of justice, a topic near-and-dear to every Tyrran and the thread that holds the entire campaign together.

With these two goals, I began to toss around ideas for a few days. Fortunately, I was helped in this task because I had already written a detailed history of the area and so had established the previous existence of a ring of defensive fortifications built by the town's founder, Alred I, which had slowly fallen to ruins in the three to four generations thereafter. I soon seized on one of these ruined forts for a ready locale that was believable within the setting, but how would this lend itself to the central theme of justice?

The established history of the town again provided the answer. The town's past already included a series of wars against local orc tribes. I could extend this to include the notion that one of the defensive forts fell to demi-human enemies several decades before. The notion of justice came in by adding rumors of collusion between the fort commander and the invaders which led to the fort's surrender and the slaughtering of the garrison. Since that time, the family had been shunned in the town as the descendants of a traitor. Needless to say, they had tried to prove their ancestor's innocence, but none had had the adventuring skills required to investigate the ruined fort. Today, the current member of the family, Fahl Derrickson, comes to the PC asking him or her to find the proof for them.

Fortunately, the outer forts and the demi-human wars had already been written into the dialogs of several of the town's inhabitants, so everything was entirely believable within the setting. If this hadn't been the case, I would have needed to amend certain conversations or else develope an entirely knew locale unknown to the inhabitants. Fortunately, I could skip this because I had done a lot of homework with the town history up front.

So everything until now had shaped the outline of the quest. Obviously, a quest is not a dungeon, but the narrative created above would dictate how the dungeon developed.

Step 2: Laying Out the Dungeon (or Westmount, the Bad Old Days)
When mapping out the dungeon, I turned my mind to the way the fort must have been used in the past. My original concept was of a hilltop fort reminiscent of - but not an exact replica of - a motte-and-bailey from medieval Europe. The exterior map is shown below.

The hilltop fort is built on a hill with a surrounding moat (in this case without water) and an interior wall at the top of the moat. A bridge leads across the moat to a small gatehouse that serves as the fort entrance. All structures are now in a state of disrepair.

In the past, the hilltop fort would have been surrounded by small wooden buildings holding some of the more dangerous or uncomfortable functions (such as black-smithing), but these temporary buildings have since been destroyed with the wooden pieces used for other purposes. In case of an attack, a few guards could have held the gatehouse against a much larger force, but if the worst happened, the bridge could have been destroyed and the interior wall held against a much larger force.

The first floor map is shown below. Note that green boxes are meant to illustrate where doors are.

I think the notes on the picture are sufficient to explain how the fort would have once worked, so I'll refrain from further comments on that. My estimate is that there would have been three officers, including the garrison priest, and around 20 - 25 soldiers manning the fort.

The lower level map is shown below.

This is where the nasty business happened. Note that the part outlined in yellow is the portion of the map that wasn't part of the original fort. It is meant to model the point where the invaders tunneled into the fort. The passage has since collapsed and from the area that is accessible to the player, it looks as though the "tunnel" goes on for some time.

Why go through this exercise? Because examining the motives of the people who built the fort helps me determine exactly how large the dungeon should be, what the general layout should be, and what material should be in each room. For example, even if the banquet hall is no longer used as such, knowing that's what it once was helps the level designer (still me in this case) use the right placeables and effects to tell the room's story. This step starts the dungeon's story, and we'll finish it as we go.

Sometimes, of course, the builders of the dungeon will be the current inhabitants. Even so, that doesn't mean every room shouldn't have a purpose or a place. It just means this step and the fourth are pretty much the same step and can be treated as such.

So back to the example, the fort garrison was slaughtered 90+ years ago, but the demihuman mob that overran the fort has also moved on in the meantime. So the question confronting me, the dungeon designer - and eventually the player - is what's moved in since?

Step 3: The Big Bad
The big bad is an important piece of giving a dungeon it's personality. Since this dungeon was by definition separate from the core path, I had absolute freedom to create a new villain with motivation entirely separate from the Malarites. I knew that the party would consist of a single cleric and a single ranger of about 8th level at the point they would arrive, so whatever enemy I chose had to be a suitable challenge for that party structure.

I tossed several ideas around but eventually dismissed most for one reason or another. A couple of these level-appropriate options were:

1. Yuan-Ti: Navatranaasu was already established as a mountainous environment, which wouldn't fit them, and the yuan-ti had already been done extensively in SoZ.
2. Demon/Devil: Generally too powerful and most are immune to normal weapons. Since the party would only have normal weapons at this point and an encounter in which the PC would take possession of a magical weapon already formed a crucial and unchangeable part of Act III, I had to throw this group out.
3. Powerful Human/Playable-Race Demihuman: A possibility, but the campaign was already heavy on human villains (the Mistress, Eton Skye, and Dezlentyr), so I wanted to use this chance to feature non-human monsters.

In the end, I chose an ogre mage. I've always liked them for some reason - maybe it's the combination of brains and brawn - and I don't think they've been overly done in official games. I used one in SG V as a boss in the sewers beneath Tyrel's Pass and I thought that went well.

However, part of making a dungeon memorable is making its boss memorable, and part of making a boss memorable is giving it a bit of a different spin, i.e. surprise the player a bit. So I started by giving him an admittedly-slight back-story. He was supposed to be an ogre with a gift for magic that had been exiled from his society for studying the work of a now-deceased human illusionist named Melifluorius. So enamored by the work of this illusionist was he that he actually took the human's name for himself. Although the ogre mage was aware of the Malarites in the region, he was not allied with them. In fact, he had little respect for their transmutative magics and so had come to despise them. He had even come into conflict with them on rare occasion, though never seriously enough to cause one to wish to eliminate the other.

This was all I came up with, but even this slight background began to shape the boss encounter. Most obviously, it influenced the encounter dialog, which provided hints - assuming the player asked - of the ogre mage's motivations. Second, I wiped the spells of the standard ogre mage template and instead gave him spells suitable for a wizard who had studied illusion magic. Finally, I was led to a quick thought on combat tactics that would allow me to do something a little unique. I imagined that an enemy who was an illusionist would make themselves invisible once they realized their home had been entered so that they could observe the intruders from a position of safety and make a surprise attack first, if needed. I hoped all of these would keep jaded players overly-familiar with D&D and CRPG conventions just a bit on their toes and provide a slightly more memorable encounter. This was accomplished by having the ogre unleash a fireball as the encounter begins, thereby revealing his location, unless the player has already been able to unveil him and thwart his plans.

Step 4: Populating the Dungeon
The ogre mage had already been decided, but what else is there now in Westmount? To answer this question, I needed to return to the idea of dungeon ecology. What would the ogre mage permit to live there, or what could live there in spite of his wishes? Also, I needed to understand which of the already-existing rooms would be inhabited by which monsters.

I started to answer these questions by remembering that every high-level wizard needs some evil henchmen. I imagined that some lesser demihumans would have been drawn to the ogre's power and these in turn would be useful to him as workers, fetchers, and guards. Having taken the bottom level for himself, the ogre would have given his underlings free reign of the upper level. He would want his privacy, of course, and so would not want them to come to the lower level. When he needed something, he would shout his orders up at them or communicate via a projected image. After playing around with goblins and gnolls, both of which were discarded as being too weak for 8th-level adventurers, I settled on bugbears. The map below shows the upper level as it currently exists. The red box outlines the area currently inhabited by the bugbears.

The front room has become their main living area while the area once used by the soldiers as a barracks has been converted to storage and also a small shrine to one of the bugbear gods. For the most part, the bugbears only inhabit the main room and the immediate grounds outside, where they spend most of their waking hours. (Indeed, this is where the player first meets them.) The bugbears freely roam into the right-most wing of the ruins, but only rarely, as anything of interest to them has already been stripped and hoarded into their main living area. After some play-testing, I settled on five as the population that provided the most suitable difficulty level for a party of two 8th-level adventurers.

Even though the bugbears roam into the right wing of Westmount, a group of giant rats has found a way to coexist within this same area. For the most part, they stay hidden when the bugbears approach, as some of their number has ended up in the stew pot. Normally, they scavenge for food in the interior, only occasionally venturing outside through holes too small for the PC or bugbears to use. However, they are not very well-fed, and when creatures other than bugbears approach, they are liable to leap from the holes and attack.

There is one denizen of the first level that has moved into the left-most wing, and it's one the bugbears have learned to give a wide berth to. A giant black widow spider has taken up residence in the rafters above the old dining room. It lies in wait until someone ventures too far into the room, and then it descends in such a way as to cut off escape through the door and attacks with its venom. One of the bugbears has been killed earlier and so the others now fear the spider and have closed off the room. The spider, for its part, doesn't have the sentience required to fear the bugbears in the same way. It almost certainly would if it could, as the combined strength of the bugbears would overpower it, but it is content to inhabit only its small territory. For the most part, because the bugbears rarely enter the "no-man's land" between the two territories, the spider must resort to feeding on birds, snakes, and other carrion.

Those are the ecological rationales, but the selected creatures also work from a combat diversity standpoint. The bugbear group was formed into a more balanced party by including a shaman in the group of five, and the black widow's poison provides a completely different type of challenge to the party. By having the spider descend from the roof only after it can place itself between the PC and the door, the PC is put on notice that an "empty" room doesn't necessarily mean it is truly empty. The rats are a nuisance that will likely only nick the player, but they do seem to swarm the player from all sides and may serve to keep the atmosphere a bit tight.

A last comment before I move on is to note the projected dungeon flow, which I give with the green arrows. If the player picks the leftmost path from the interior, it is possible they could bypass most of the level. Since they must already confront the bugbears outside and the rats and black widow are extraneous to the main narrative of the dungeon, this is an acceptable scenario. However, as a practical matter, most players will take the opportunity to explore, even if they've already found the means of advancing forward, and so will encounter these monsters too.

The current map of the lower level is given below.

Note that even though there was once a door between the prisons and the torture chambers, I "blocked" it with a huge desk so that the flow outlined by the green arrows is forced upon the player. It's not an important detail, but it's one of many I included to show how the current inhabitants of the fort utilize it differently from the previous ones. Whereas it once made sense to have a direct path between the prisons and the torture chamber, the ogre mage prefers there to be only one path into his sanctum, and of the two paths he could have chosen, he selected the one that leads more fully through the lair of his undead guards.

Speaking of which, I decided that the ogre mage has raised a few ghouls from the remains of those who died in the prisons. These serve as his final guards as well as posing as a buffer against the bugbears in the event they decide to try to overthrow him or steal his treasure. For the most part, the ghouls roam the prison area in search of food that has long since been consumed. Hence, they are ravenous and attack anything - except their creator - that enters the room... including the bugbears. Occasionally, Melifluorious captures a creature either for his research or to torture them to learn information (he even nabbed a careless Malarite once!). When he finishes with these unfortunates, he throws their remains to the ghouls, but these snacks do little to sate their endless hunger.

The actual end fight starts with the ogre mage invisible, and he'll try to question the player to determine their reason for being there. During this dialog, the player can learn of the ogre mage's interest in illusion magic as well as his disdain for the Malarites. If they have "Detect Invisibility" memorized, they can even strip away his disguise (and avoid his initial fireball attack). Regardless of how the conversation progresses, however, Melifluorious will sense the PC's inherent power and attack.

The final room before the rockslide includes the evidence the PC has come here for and will allow the completion of the quest. (As an aside, I decided to have the evidence prove the treachery instead of disprove it, a slight twist to the quest that is outside the dungeon design.)

As far as combat goes, the entire challenge for this level comes from the boss himself. The ghouls would provide some stress to nearly any other class, especially given their stun ability, but an 8th-level priest can destroy them quickly. Hence, like the rats, the ghouls are there because the dungeon ecology demands they are, not because they pose a real challenge to the player, although they do flesh out the flavor of the dungeon. As a practical matter, the only combat encounters that will challenge the group for the whole dungeon are the bugbears, the black widow, and the ogre, and I adjusted the difficulty of these three encounters - especially the first and last - accordingly.

Step 5: The Final Touches
I wanted to add a couple neat non-combat things to Westmount as well. One of these actually necessitated itself during one of my play-throughs when I got hit by the black widow and suffered an ability score drain when my PC didn't have a restoration spell memorized. That proved a problem, so I added the option to use the old chapel within the "no-man's land" on the first floor. By cleaning up the Tyrran altar, the player can pray and relearn spells, if necessary, allowing a second full dose to handle the lower level or the learning of a restoration spell if one is required after battling the black widow.

Ever since my P&P days, I've also tried to place some unconventional treasure now and then. Again, variety is the spice of life, and gold and jewels aren't the only valuable thing out there. For example, in SG V, I had a painting in one of the manors that was exceedingly valuable, and the player could take it if they passed a lore check identifying it as a lost masterpiece. I returned to a similar idea with Westmount. The red dot in the kitchen on the right is the location of an old vintage bottle of wine that is still in good enough condition to be sold for more than many gems or necklaces would bring.

In Conclusion
So that's a quick outline of my methodology in creating a dungeon. It's not remotely good enough to be considered a classic, but it serves its purpose, which is to provide a couple hours of fun and a memorable quest for my players.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Dungeons That Didn't Make the List

OK, so my personal list of 10 greatest D&D-Based CRPG Dungeons is complete, but several big and/or popular dungeons didn't make the cut and some may wonder why. As an aside, I've just finished replaying the Windspear Hills dungeon and am more convinced than ever of its greatness. But here's a number of popular dungeons and the reason I didn't put them on the list. I understand that this may come across as negative; I'm not going to spend the time talking about what each of these did right, only the reasons I feel they're not top 10 worthy. Note that many of these dungeons would still rank between 11 and 20, so they are all very solid designs. They're just not the best of the best.
I'm going to group them by game and roughly in their order of awesomeness for that game and discounting any dungeons that already made the top 10.

Severed Hand (IWD1): This came very close to making the list, but in the end I thought the lack of any end boss at all (that you fight) and it's over-reliance on undead adversaries was enough to keep it off. I also thought some of the dungeon flow was lacking, as one of the tower levels actually required you to access the level from two different staircases to clear it. Fortunately, by the time the IWD2 version came out, this flaw had been corrected. Yes, it's nitpicking. It would probably rank in the 11 to 12 range for me.

Dragon Eye (IWD1): Dragon Eye was a bit too large for me, featured repetitive fights, and the dungeon theme totally changed between the 3rd and 4th levels, going from a cave to a stone-walled temple. Yxunomei was a decent boss but not great.

Black Wolf Temple (IWD1) This was the final contender from IWD1, but it suffered from a lot of the same flaws that the Severed Hand did. There was no end boss (that you fight), pretty much only undead adversaries for level after level, repetitive fights, and in addition, there were no non-combat encounters. Still a memorable dungeon, though.

The Ice Temple (IWD2): This temple featured way too many repetitive fights and was definitely too big for the number of fresh ideas that it had. I couldn't help thinking it was made bigger simply to lengthen the game play time. Also, I wasn't wild about the lay-out and the end boss, Oria, was lame.

Dragon Eye (IWD2): This had many of the problems of the IWD1 version, but it also had the totally frustrating time-travel puzzle at the end. Even if IWD1 Dragon Eye had been on the list, that annoying puzzle would have booted this version right back off.

The Cloakwood Mines (BG1): This was the closest contender from BG1 proper and would almost certainly have landed in the 11-15 range overall. The exterior set-piece against the party of four bounty hunters was great as was the second level, which featured a great set-piece against two rooms full of guards. The third level was still pretty good and offered a nice array of enemies. But the first level was a total waste, I thought there were a couple of unfair traps, and Daevorn was not a memorable dungeon boss.

The Nashkell Mines (BG1): First, I didn't much care for the layout. To a degree, any mine will stink because there are tons of corridors and far too few rooms in which set-pieces can be staged. Also, there was virtually nothing here except kobolds, although a couple ghouls and spiders showed up near the end. Finally, Mulahy, the dungeon boss, was just a goon working for the Iron Throne.

Spellhold Asylum Dungeon (BG2): Spellhold's major problem was that it lacked a cogent narrative. Why did the Cowled Wizards make this place? Just to torture people? Just to dump their prisoners? I thought Spellhold was to house their prisoners? Why not just kill deviants when you're done. Why throw them into a dungeon and have them pass a series of tests so they can prove they're sane after all? And if they do, what then? Do the Cowled Wizards really let them go? Bah! There were some cool individual ideas in Spellhold, but as a narrative it sucked.

Irenicus’ Dungeon (BG2): Irenicus' Dungeon would certainly be somewhere between 11 and 20, but it's a bit too disjointed in its ideas (a frankendungeon), and there's no end boss whatsoever (yet). Also, its place in the game means it can only be traversed with a limited combination of party members (the PC, Imoen, Jaheira, Minsc, or some subset thereof). That's not a fault of the dungeon design, per se, but it does limit the repeated enjoyment.

Umar Hills (BG2): In my review of what makes a good dungeon, I mentioned how much I loathe the Amaunator ritual "puzzle." In addition, every enemy inside is pretty much undead, and the dungeon is also too small. The Shade Lord is an interesting boss though if you count the Shade Lord as the boss, and the Shadow Dragon is a pretty cool boss if you count him instead. However, it lacks the personality of Firkraag. Oh, and I love Mazzy better than most BG2 players, I'm sure, but she's not really a part of the dungeon design.

Planar Sphere (BG2): I do like this quest, but I'm forced to admit the dungeon design is lame. The core idea of a plane-traveling sphere made sense, but not the room layout or enemy selection. Every room did not have a purpose that I could see. For example, what was up with the dirty cave that housed the feral halflings? For that matter, what's up with the feral halflings? What about the fire and ice rooms? They might be cool rooms, but would a travel machine really have them around just for the hell of it? Even if those rooms were needed for some kind of pseudo-science "energy-flow," then why the need for the room before them except that there needed to be a place for Tolgerias and the Cowled Wizards to make a stand? Otherwise, it's just a blank room. I get the impression all this just existed to make the dungeon longer, and that's always a bad sign.

Temple of Elemental Evil (ToEE): I'm sure many will disagree here, but the Temple of Elemental Evil has a major problem. It's too big and seems to be a mish-mash of ideas thrown into one. All four elemental temples in one? Yes, I guess it's one "idea," but it's four dungeons! And it drags on like four dungeons with far too much filler. Oh, and Zuggtmoy wasn't nearly a cool enough boss to pull it up despite these flaws. This whole idea would have worked better as a series of dungeons, each devoted to one element but with different spins and monsters.

NWN1 Franchise
As I hinted at earlier, I think the NWN1 graphics and design decisions regarding "henchmen" make the game unplayable at this point, but beyond that a review of the list of dungeons in the franchise really bring home how crappy all of them were. What a bunch of time fillers! Remember the prison from the peninsula district? How about Helm's Hold? The troll caves near Port Llast? The Host Tower? Klauth's Lair? The Source Stone? All of these had a decent idea or two, but none was a real contender for a great dungeon.

Btw, I thought some of the quests were cool. The snow globe quest had a neat twist, but there wasn't a dungeon attached to it. Therefore, NWN1 was a waste for great dungeon design. The same could largely be said for SoU. Undrentide itself was just average but had enough flaws that I never felt it was remotely worthy of consideration. As for HotU, I've already listed the Drearing Deep Cult Compound, but there was only one more dungeon of note.

Maker's Island (NWN1: HotU): Maker's Island was too small, and the second level was really only the framework for a single quest involving two competing ations of golems. It was an interesting idea that wasn't exactly well-executed, but even if it had been, it doesn't make for a great dungeon. The first level was better and had some neat ideas and a pretty good puzzle. The end boss was a pretty cool monster (a demilich) that was the first of it's kind for the NWN franchise, but wasn't cool enough or memorable enough on its own to make up for other deficiencies.

Addendum: Kobold Caves (NWN1: SoU): As I prepared this post, I saw that JFoxtail recently commented on the Dungeons # 1-5 Post and argued for the inclusion of the Kobold Caves from NWN1: SoU. This is another one that had a couple neat ideas. Yes, kobolds jumping in a bucket was interesting as were the stampeding cows in the lower level. Tymofarrar was a decent enemy who showed some craftiness. However, I can't realistically view it as a great dungeon for many of the same reasons as above. It's a cave with mostly kobolds in it, the flow is highly linear, the endless tunnels all look the same. I honestly felt much of it was uninspired.

NWN2 Franchise
NWN2 was another game with occasionally decent quest design but epically bad dungeon design. Bad layouts and nasty repeated encounter triggers featured throughout. In fact, NWN2 remains the only game I've ever bought I've been unable to finish. I got right up to the final showdown and so feel competent to judge the game, but I couldn't be bothered to care enought to kill the King of Shadows.

MotB was the day to NWN2's night. An amazing game that nevertheless had few true dungeons. I struggled with the Thaymount Academy. Can it be called a dungeon? My gut was that it was a cool setting with some interesting quests but no, it wasn't a "dungeon." However, there were a couple other good examples (the Skein I've already mentioned).

Death God's Vault (NWN2: MotB): This one suffers from being a "dungeon" that requires two trips to traverse it, at least in practice if not exactly in theory. First, you will almost certainly go there near the beginning of the game (Kaelyn's family sends you there right off the bat!), but the lower levels including its entrance to the Fugue Plane is not meant to be accessed until the end game. And in practice the denizens of the lower level before the gate are incredibly difficult until the party acquires the levels and equipment spread throughout the mid-game. There were some nice encounters and several good ideas, and the Vault is incredibly atmospheric, but it's just too disjointed in its flow to be a great dungeon.

Okku's Barrow (NWN2: MotB): Totally honest here, it's hard for me personally to get excited about a dungeon in caves, so I was totally lukewarm about this one. Yes, that's just personal preference. Okku was a pretty cool end boss made more memorable by his later role in the game. Yes, that's a little beyond the dungeon, but he's still cool. There were too many repeated triggers with very similar encounters too many corridors for the number of set-pieces, and too little variety to the challenges. The Illefarn portions of the dungeon didn't fit well enough to warrant them, although there were some interesting ideas there. I do, however, think those portions would have worked better as a small sidequest elsewhere. Finally, like Irenicus' Dungeon, this one suffers in my memory because, being right at the start, your only choice is to traverse it with a PC and Safiya.

As for SoZ, there's only one dungeon that should remotely be considered due to size alone.

Yuan-Ti Temple (NWN2: SoZ): Honestly, this dungeon had nothing that stuck out at me other than the final battle against the Herald of Zehir and some scrubs. There was one puzzle using Se'Sehen's almanac that was decent, but most of the battle encounters were against some variant of yuan-ti. The trap placement was OK and there were some neat role-playing opportunities, but there just wasn't enough to make me go "wow" or care very much after it was done.. Finally, about the Herald of Zehir, he was OK but I have to think he should have been a much bigger bad-ass than he was, and the opportunity to make the player hate him much more not only throughout the game, but even throughout the dungeon, was lost. I really do think the final encounter could have been much better.

So that pretty much explains my thinking about the dungeons that didn't make my lists. I thought I was done with this topic, but I thought of one more thing I'd like to discuss, so in the time-honored tradition of blogging, I'm going to stretch an already-tired subject one more post.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

TMGS: A Scooby Doo Hoax?

Every so often, I Google "Maimed God's Saga" and even still "Saleron's Gambit" just to see what, if anything, is being said about them. My last search produced this link to the TV Tropes and Idioms page Nemorem recently mentioned. Scroll down to the video games portion to see that someone felt compelled to add TMGS to the page for the Scooby Doo Hoax... except that they then say it really doesn't fit at all.

For those who care, the Scooby Doo Hoax is when an area with purported supernatural activity is eventually found to be rife with earthly criminal activity that is using the supernatural legends as a mask to hide the criminals' true nature. I can see how a player may initially think that's what will be revealed in Navatranaasu, but no, that's not the truth behind the town's mystery.

Now, there are tropes galore in TMGS... How about The Treacherous Quest Giver? How about the Well Intentioned Extremist? I could probably find a hundred that fit.