Knights of the Old Republic EP35: Examining Cross Witnesses

By Shamus Posted Thursday Dec 3, 2015

Filed under: Spoiler Warning 171 comments

Link (YouTube)

I don’t have anything to say about this trial because I don’t remember it. So let me talk about a different trial in an unrelated game: Neverwinter Nights 2.

At some point you have to do a trail for some reason that eludes me now. I remember really getting into it. There was a lot of ground to cover and I remember thinking how easy it would be to mess it up. At the time I wondered, “Huh. If I screwed this up, how would the game continue?”

So then I won the trial and the other guy demanded a trial by combat. I’m sure if I’d bungled the case, my side would have demanded the same thing. And then I realized I’d just wasted all my time doing things the Right Way, when it was all fated to come down to a stupid brawl no matter what I did.

So then my monk was thrown into 1-vs-1 combat with a barbarian. I spent the whole time thinking, “Man, good thing I didn’t play as a rogue!”

I was really pissed about being forced into combat. I felt like I’d put the work in, and I’d earned the right to skip this. It was a brutal fight. I died half a dozen times. It seemed like the other guy had a million hitpoints. Finally I noticed in the combat window it saying something about “This character is immune to damage at this time.” (I don’t remember the exact wording. In fact, most of this is probably wrong. It’s been a decade.)

So I looked up the rules and found out that barbarians have a rage ability that lasts N rounds, and it’s literally impossible for them to die while in rage. Now, if I was running a game at the table, I would do some sort of sanity check on crap like this. “Okay, he can’t die while rage is going, but he’s experienced four times his hitpoints worth of damage. The rule says he can’t die, but this is ridiculous. He should be missing major parts of his anatomy by now. You know what? He’s crawling towards you and no longer able to fight.”

So what I had to do was deal enough damage to kill him, and then run away from him until rage ended. I was so pissed. I beat him in court, I beat him in combat, and now I have to run around like a helpless coward until his bullshit times out?

So what talky RPG’s have contrived trials where your violence expert ends up acting as an investigator / lawyer? Let’s see…

  1. Sunry’s trial here in KOTOR.
  2. Whatever that trial was in NWN 2.
  3. Saren’s trial in Mass Effect 1.
  4. Wasn’t there one in Jade Empire? I can’t remember.
  5. No, the bullshit “hearing” at the start of Mass Effect 3 doesn’t count.
  6. I’m sure I’m forgetting some obvious ones.

From The Archives:

171 thoughts on “Knights of the Old Republic EP35: Examining Cross Witnesses

  1. WILL says:

    KotOR 2 had you re-investigating a case on Onderon about Mandalore’s bartender friend being accused of murdering a patron. It was actually pretty good and never turned into violence.

  2. Warclam says:

    Holy crap, I had my volume up from a quieter video and then I go to SW and suddenly a wild boar is drowning directly in my ears.

    I don’t really like the Selkath voice clip, is what I guess I’m saying.

    1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      Glad you specified. With a wild bore, I thought maybe our host was more doped on antihystamines than I thought…

  3. Xeorm says:

    I didn’t watch all the episodes, but there’s that Jedi bit earlier in the game where you take over the investigation of a murder as a padawan. That bit always seemed memorable to me, even if it is kinda a slog.

    1. el_b says:

      i like the freedom that gives you to be an ass and its actually clever compared to neverwinter night 1s (the barbarians trial and the jhareg brothers) and sunrys. i cant remember if he actually punishes the wrong guy for whatever reason you choose though, im pretty sure he already has the answers and its just a bullshit test in the end.

      it would be funny if he gave someone the death sentence for being fat though lol.

      1. Syal says:

        There is no wrong guy, they’re both guilty; and he does know what happened so you’re forced to (eventually) give the right answer up until the end, but if at the end you say one person did it, he’ll let the other one go.

  4. Lame Duck says:

    I’m pretty sure Neverwinter Nights 1 had a trial as well, although I don’t recall whether that one ends in violence.

    1. el_b says:

      no but you can bribe some assholes then murder everyone later on…provided youre not on the diamond edition where random npcs are essential and will never un aggro…dumbest decision ever.

    2. DTor214 says:

      There are actually two trials in NWN1, and they were my favorite parts of the game. There’s the big one that comes to mind, where somebody is put on trial for killing a man in a bar fight. I remember having a lot of trouble with that one as a kid. To get the best result (unanimous innocent verdict), you have to butter someone up by buying them a drink, and that was too big a leap for my innocent little mind to make.

      The other trial is more interesting. A bunch of children were murdered under mysterious circumstances and you have to decide who to hold responsible. Also, the crime happened hundreds of years ago, and the entire village has been frozen in time ever since by an angel waiting for a neutral arbiter to arrive.

      Both way better than NWN2. That invincible berserker was a ridiculous pain. He drops an amazing weapon that would have been perfect for my character build, except that it’s restricted to his alignment for no adequately-explained reason.

      1. The different outcomes you can get for the trial in the village are interesting as well. You get slightly different mechanical rewards for each path: I’ve been playing through that game again and I found the neutral path this time, where you (Spoilers for a game from 2002) dissolve the time loop without really punishing anyone, keep the keystone item and are able to use it once per day to cast sanctuary on yourself (Admittedly that’s not a super useful spell when your party size is limited to 2). I forget what the rewards for the other outcomes were, though I’m kind of curious about what you could possibly get as a reward for taking the ‘cackling maniacal’ option and sealing the whole village in the time loop permanently with a ‘you all deserved it’ thrown in for good measure. I’d be interested if someone here knows how that plays out, though.

        1. Galad says:

          Oh man. When I played the game’s campaign years ago, this was one of my favorite places. Pretty spooky and well-done, at least for 18-22 year old me. So I dug up, and I gotta recommend gamebanshee dot com for these kinds of questions about old games.

          More Spoilers about this quest below, spoilering them just in case:

          The ‘Good’ choices in terms of reward you get (somewhat meta-gamey, but usually the more righteous choice you do, the better your reward, at least in the straight-faced Bioware RPGs) are to find Karlat the lich guilty, or to find neither of the brothers guilty and to take the phylactery – you gain 500+300 xp and 500 gold and some treasure in the first way, and just 125 xp less and the same gold and a treasure choice the second way. If you find Quint the distraught, but still human (iirc at least) brother guilty, Karlat the lich gets the phylactery and when you get out of Jhareg’s castle, the villagers are turned into elementals and slaadis, and the mayor, who, again iirc, is turned into a ghost accuses you for being guilty for this wrongdoing and all you can tell him is some mumbling excuses, and you get 375 xp and no gold/treasure. The ‘cackling maniacal’ option, as you eloquently put it, was not presented as such in the game, it was more like the ‘I don’t care about you’ option, and it is also 375 xp, and no gold or treasure, and no change in anyone’s situation. According to gamebanshee, this decision also seals the demon that’s the actual guilty party in the village, so it’s not all bad, but my opinion was that it was always more fun to fight that demon, if only just for the combat itself.

  5. Sam says:

    The trial with Tali on the Quarian ship in Mass Effect 2 jumps to mind right away.

    1. MichaelGC says:

      Aye – I think they mentioned that one in the last episode, even! Quite well done, I thought – they used several pretty famous British actors to voice the various Quarians, and in general seemed to put quite a bit of thought & effort into it.

      PS The Various Quarians sounds like a third wave ska band.

      1. Pat says:

        They’re opening for the Ska-Larians at Afterlife next week, you should totally come.

  6. Vermander says:

    I would love to see a version of Law and Order where the accused keep frustrating the DA by opting for trial by combat.

  7. djw says:

    You get a lot of points with Sand for winning the trial. You also get one of the game feats that are awarded for things that you do. I can’t remember if it actually does anything though.

    As far as the fight with Lorn goes, I think the invincibility issue is a problem with the original 3.5 edition rules for his prestige class, which was just plain overpowered. At least as a monk you can run away without needing a haste potion. As a rogue you could probably still pull off a victory, but only if you knew ahead of time that the fight would be cheese and carried a crap-ton of haste potions with you.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      The game consistently mentions whether you were exonerated or not later in the game.

      Also, if you were having trouble you could just let Khelgar or someone kick his ass for you. (Like if you’re a squishy mage)

      1. djw says:

        I always let Khelgar fight him anyway, but you still need to run away until Lorn’s immunity ends.

      2. lurkey says:

        (Like if you're a squishy mage)

        Grease, Web, Web, fireball x n, if Grease 1 expires and Lorne not dead then Grease, Web, fireball x n.

        I don’t think Lorne ever managed to get up once.

        1. Jeff says:

          I recall my mage obliterating Lorne without him even activating his immunity.

          Unrepentant min/maxers since 2e unite!

      3. Michael says:

        Casavir is also an option to stand in for you, though I think that’s tied to an influence threshold. Also, I believe Neeshka, Sand, and possibly Grobnar all have influenced based “help” they can offer.

        If you’ve been mouthing off at them, and stomping all over them for the last 20 hours, they’re happy to watch you swing, but if you’re actually getting on their good side, they’ll help you.

        NWN2 is a lot like being the DM’s friend, who the other players all have to suffer through, who gets the major plot points, major character development, and (almost) all of the special powers that you have no justifiable reason to obtain. If you try to actually be a friend to the other party members, they’ll help you at various times (even Bishop). If you’re egotistical enough to think it really is all about you, and they’re your eternally loyal minions, they’ll throw you under the bus at every opportunity (which is actually pretty hilarious at times).

        It’s a legitimate dynamic from pencil and paper gaming that I don’t see reflected in video games very often.

        Contrast and compare to DA: Inquisition, where you’re the unwanted little brother who’s been foist into the game against the other player’s wishes, keeps breaking the rules, wandering off and getting distracted by the scenery, while everyone around you is trying to play their characters, and hoping you get bored and go away.

        1. guy says:

          Maybe the way you played it. My first playthrough was as team mom trying to keep the squabbling children on task.

          I remain angry that you can’t respond to every question about the Breach in the first part of the game by blaming a Pride Abomination. On account of how that is literally the most obvious guess for the person behind a major disaster that tears a hole in the Veil, and simultaneously politically convenient because everyone agrees that Pride Abominations are bad.

    2. guy says:

      There’s actually a lot of rewards for winning the trial rather than being the one to invoke trial by combat, I think including some pretty sweet unique items. Lorne has Frenzied Berserker, which has an ability explicitly intended to make them stay alive and fighting until it wears off regardless of how gratuitously they’ve been overkilled. Also, if your class isn’t suited to the task you get plenty of options for selecting a champion from your party members.

    3. Keeshhound says:

      Or just drink an invisibility potion. Sand will just give you one if he likes you.

  8. The NwN2 trial was the bad guys framing you for destroying that one village.

    Does the Landsmeet in Dragon Age: Origins count? That was basically a trial. And it ended in an unavoidable fight, too.

    There’s a meeting in Skyrim main plot that should count. And technically the game BEGINS in a “trial”.

    There’s a trial in Pillars of Eternity that ends in an assassination, not a fight.

    But yeah, well-designed high-stakes trial? pfft.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      The Landsmeet actually has a fair amount of correlation, except the Luskans were unabashedly evil instead of just misguided like Loghain (YMMV, of course)

    2. King Marth says:

      Yeah, the Landsmeet definitely counts. Get votes, with enough you win, but either way the loser challenges for trial by combat. Apparently winning the trial does spare you an all-out brawl before the honour duel, plus you get a skill point, so it isn’t worthless even by the standards of pure mechanical play with no regard for the satisfaction of being right.

      Not a bad way to provide a challenge without having failure be a showstopper. Of course, if the challenge you provide isn’t fun to play then it might be a good idea to let the player know so they can run in and might-makes-right their way without bothering with parts they dislike.

    3. Josh says:

      Skyrim’s trial is pretty epic, no?

      “So, here’s some guy we picked up–”
      “Guilty! Execute him.”

      I’ve just realized that the commander was the Queen of Hearts in disguise.

      1. MrGuy says:

        Take them to the iron maiden!

    4. Actually, Dragon Age Inquisition has SEVERAL trials–but YOU are the one doing the judging.

      Baldur’s Gate 2 has a trial if you cast spells illegally in the city. You can also judge trials if you are a fighter-type and get a particular stronghold.

      1. I’m going to put on my Analysis Hat here and take a stab at explaining why trials generally don’t work in RPG’s.


        1. In the first place, having a trial at all depends on having some kind of Authority that can try a case (and not just in a summary judgment). PC’s and Authority figures generally don’t work well together in games. If there’s a Good Guy authority strong enough to convincingly arrest the PC, why aren’t THEY saving the world? (And why are they mad at the PC?) If they’re the Bad Guys, why do they suddenly care about procedures? They’ve probably been trying to bump you off since the start of the game.

        2. Mechanically, a good trial is very hard to design on its own, AND it’s basically a bunch of talking. Ideally you want it to be some sort of complex mini-game style thing, in which case it’s going to eat up a lot of resources. Which means plot-wise it’s going to be very railroady, because allowing the player to skip something that ate THAT many resources is usually a no-go. If it’s just done as the equivalent of some persuasion checks, why couldn’t you persuade whoever’s putting you on trial just to skip it?! It’s going to be a design headache and the rationale behind it is very likely to look dumb and bad anyway, so just skip the whole silly thing altogether.

        3. The PC is usually a habitual felon on a massive scale even if they are nominally “good”. Putting them on trial for any particular thing looks ludicrous. Putting them on trial for everything would be so incredibly annoying that you might as well call the game “courthouse simulator”. The more recent Elder Scrolls games actually DO have a “crime system” of sorts, but there’s no trial; it’s all handled mechanically in seconds. And it’s STILL ridiculous.

        Something like The Landsmeet works okay because you’re not actually on trial for a crime, you’re trying to convince a committee to follow you in taking action against The Blight. It works fine when it’s the PC doing the judging, too. But if you’re going to actually put the PC on trial you have a LOT of shoals to avoid, any one of which could cause the entire thing to collapse into a heap of stupidity.

        1. Maybe Shamus could do an Experienced Points article on Trials in RPG’s. That might be kinda cool. Maybe try to come up with a scheme for a non-stupid way to put the PC on trial that would actually make sense in the context of Typical RPG #75.

        2. Syal says:

          #1 is why I like the Selkath; they’re the Neutral Authority who only care about their own world, and can dodge that whole problem.

          1. Except that in the scenario of a large number of RPG plots (not all, but most) the idea of being NEUTRAL on the question at hand is ABSURD. You can’t be neutral about the destruction of the world or about the bad guys taking over the world and turning it into Hell or similar. No one can legitimately say “eh, destroyed, undestroyed, makes no difference to me” because everyone has a stake.

            1. Syal says:

              Have the judge be a neutral god who can build themselves a new world if the old one ends. Maybe they’ve even seen some end before.

              …and you really shouldn’t put the main antagonist on trial anyway; if some evil king’s trying to end the world, put his ambassador on trial instead, where you have to refute the idea of “following orders” or “don’t shoot the messenger”. There’s room for it to work.

              1. Most of the problems lie in putting the PROTAGONIST on trial. Putting antagonists on trial works fine–see Dragon Age: Inquisition.

                How do you talk a god into agreeing to judge your silly little trial? The judge has to be on a level where they care about the subject under discussion but also don’t have a personal stake in the outcome of the decision. If they’re so detached that the destruction of the world is meaningless, they’re too detached to care about justice.

                1. That could actually make an interesting lore tidbit, though. “well, we convinced the Impartial God to do our trials but we found out he was deciding all of them by flipping a coin”

                  “that explains that case last week where the guy who murdered 45 people then turned himself into the cops yelling I MURDERED 45 PEOPLE!!! got dismissed”

                  “yeah that neutrality thing is overrated”

                  1. modus0 says:

                    That’s not neutrality, that’s chaos. The only neutral that would decide something with a coin flip would be a Chaotic Neutral. And they’d probably switch between several different coins each time.

                    True Neutral would be when you look at their case decisions, and see that half of them ended in guilty, and the other half innocence.

                    Neutral Good would decide on which option was the more “good” one, and go with that.

                    Neutral Evil would go with the option that best benefited them.

                    Lawful Neutral would go by the letter of the Law, everything except hard evidence probably being ignored.

                2. Syal says:

                  I don’t much like protagonist trials unless they’re like Chrono Trigger and you’re already doomed by your previous choices. But the idea I was originally thinking of for a protagonist trial was: you kill an enemy agent, you’re put on trial for taking the law into your own hands, and you have to prove that the officials in the city were/are in league with the fellow you killed. Or there were time constraints or other factors that justified you settling the matter yourself.

                  For neutral gods, yes they’re not going to be just, but usually just=good so that’s not really what neutral judges are for anyway. I’m remembering a Xanth story where the good guy and the bad guy ended up in front of X[A/N]th, who proceeded to judge them based on how useful they were to him showing up the other demons.

                  So the trial would be about convincing the neutral god that he would be bored watching the world start over, and the bad guy would argue that it would be a chance to fix things. Or you could argue the world ending by a human’s hand would be an insult to the gods, and the bad guy could argue a grudge from the dark forces driving those humans would be worse in the long run than letting the world die.

                  1. That might be quite interesting because it’d be less about justice and more about grasping the nature of the situation and constructing a clever argument. Putting the PC on trial for breaking the law or committing an injustice is a minefield because either a.) they freely act like that whenever they want so putting them on trial for one particular instance is going to seem like the writer being a dipshit or b.) the only reason they acted that way is because the story railroaded them into it which means it’s the writer being a dipshit.

                    In NwN2 it was a frame-up that only happened because the writer railroaded you into it, but at least they didn’t force you to do something bad that you didn’t want to do and then scold you for it which is pretty much always dreadful.

                    Keep in mind I’m talking in the context of an RPG here. A more exclusively story-based game like, say, The Walking Dead or similar avoids many of these pitfalls simply because the protagonist isn’t as free-roaming as the one in an RPG is. Nor do they necessarily progress via the usual process of Murdering Tons of Dudes. So there’s a difference. And it’s not the same in a more strictly combat-based game like a shooter because the story is usually expected to run on rails there so if they railroad you into a trial situation it’s not a big deal (although HOW they do it may still come across as stupid and contrived, but that’s a writing issue not a DESIGN issue).

                    That’s really how it ought to work. In a shooter style game the story is there to move you from one fight to another. In a story game the gameplay (whatever there is of it) is there to move you from story bit to story bit. In an RPG the story has to move the gameplay and the gameplay has to move the story. They need to inform each other. And that’s hard to do without falling back on What’s Been Done A Billion Times Already.

                    1. guy says:

                      Well, in NWN2, either your character hasn’t actually committed any crimes or you’re part of a powerful mafia organization that is very good at keeping its members from getting charged with crimes. In the first case the city government is very supportive of you and basically is only having the trial because outright dismissing the case would be diplomatically unwise. In the second case the city leadership gives you all the assistance you’re entitled to as an accused member of the nobility (mafia organization, strings) with a perpetual undertone of “do we have to?”

                  2. Wide And Nerdy says:

                    One thing I really like about Chrono Trigger is that the choices that damn you in that trial are made far enough back that the player is not inclined to go back and replay that much of the game. As long as you know what you’re doing, thats how you need to do it to avoid a player just save scumming the encounter.

                    1. Merlin says:

                      Yeah! And it gives a similarly wonderful feeling of “what else is it keeping track of?!” that puts you on your toes if aren’t already familiar with the game. It’s another nice bit of motivation to try to maintain an actual heroic approach to the game. (Contrasted to something like ME2, which assumes you’re willing to hang out with racist terrorists but still A Nice Guy.)

                      Though there is one input in the trial that matters. They ask whether you accosted Marle or she bumped into you, and a witness will testify that you hit her. (Technically true-ish, since she doesn’t go flying unless you’re moving.) If you cop to it, you get a vote of innocence for your honesty, and vice versa if you deny it. It’s only one vote out of seven, but it can be the difference maker.

                    2. Syal says:

                      It also definitely helps that it’s pretty silly stuff, like picking up a healing item and being accused of stealing someone’s lunch, or getting bored while an NPC goes shopping and trying to leave.

          2. #3 has now given me an idea for a game where you try to play as Joe Everyman in some Demolition Man dystopia where all crimes are instantly detected by surveillance. Your task? To try and get through the day without getting fined more than you earn.

            Could be an interesting little social commentary thinkpiece.

            1. Henson says:

              Papers, Please?

              1. Yeah, it’d probably play very much the same way.

                1. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

                  That would be wonderful. A game that forces you to live the stress of being in a society with tons of gotcha rules. And the surveillance angle is in popular consciousness these days.

                  1. It’d be more interesting if you used actual laws that people (mostly) ignore.

                    1. Couscous says:

                      So realistic traffic laws. You make a rolling stop and you get a huge fine. Improper use of turn signals! People found even the primitive traffic rules system in Mafia on the PC annoying to the point where it was toned down for the console release.

                    2. Well, in this case being painfully annoying would kind of be the point.

                  2. MrGuy says:

                    It’s sort of like playing Receiver. You have so many rules to follow that are required (you have to eject the magazine and then put the gun away before you can have a free hand to load bullets) but not really central to achieving your goal (shoot all the things!).

                    1. Well, in this case obeying the law pretty much WOULD be your goal.

                      I think it should have a fantastically annoying loud HAWNK noise every time you screw up, followed by “Did X, here’s your fine”. It’d be like getting an achievement, only bad.

        3. guy says:

          1. This is going to significantly depend on your plot structure. You can easily have it work when there is an authority the character does not wish to fight during a period in which a threat to the world isn’t generally apparent and/or the player character is somehow specially equipped to deal with it but the authority does not believe them at the start of the trial. They could also be the bad guys but have some incentive to go for a trial; they’ll want to kill you at the end of a trial perceived as fair for propaganda purposes. Or there’s the third option, where you and probably an enemy wind up somewhere remote and possibly supernatural and you go through a trial-like thing to get sent back; maybe they’re pretty sure one of you is responsible for a crime that happened as you showed up and you must persuade them it’s the other guy. Also, this plot structure is much more sustainable in a setting where you aren’t the prophesied savior of the world; you and your direct opponents want to get at each other through a larger court system.

          NWN2: The authority is the government of the city you’re in. IIRC at this point it’s not especially clear there’s an ongoing world-ending threat and definitely unclear that you’re specifically critical to it. The bad guys are bringing the charges because they’re tired of you killing their assassins. Even if he likes you, Nasher is in a difficult position because flagrantly ignoring an extradition treaty and protecting someone from accusations of a large-scale atrocity is not going to go over well with anyone who isn’t firmly convinced of your innocence. Meanwhile if he doesn’t, your connections manage to ensure your right to a trial in Neverwinter, and extraditing you without a trial is not going to go over well with literally anyone in the city. So Nasher basically has to have a trial that appears fair.

          2. Fair. Big ones are a pretty large time investment. Mind, you can easily have a combination of persuasion checks and thought, where you need to select the right options and pass the checks.

          NWN2: The minimum evidence gathering legwork is pretty small and there’s literally a skip to the end dialogue option, though under the hood you need to collect some number of points to get a court win and this requires some talking even if you found every piece of evidence and did all other prep work, and skipping jumps you from the current dialogue option to the end with exactly the points you have. Then the loser calls for a trial by combat anyway, of course.

          Honestly, I don’t think having the trial by combat as a possible outcome is by itself a bad idea; honor duels can be pretty fun and it also provides a fallback if you just suck at talking. But it is pretty annoying to have it called against you if you win. Go with the rule that only the defendant can request a trial by combat.

          3. Depends on the game, but the trial can be for an extremely serious charge even if there’s smaller-scale stuff. High Treason, for instance.

          1. Well, yeah, it’s going to depend on your plot structure. Except that most RPG’s have a fairly generic “main plot” idea (everything is going to be WREKT if you don’t do this). And it’s also very common for them to let you be Serial Felon. If it has a much tighter structure and plot it is probably not an RPG any more but some other game style. You could easily have a trial in, say, a Prince of Persia game, but you have zero input on events in that game. You’re just there to solve puzzles, jump, stab things, and watch cut scenes.

            If the point of the game is to let the player do (mostly) what they want (which usually includes “murder civilians, pickpocket everyone, steal everything”), just having the plot suddenly lead to a trial is going to seem very contrived and most people will wind up asking “why can’t I just kill these guys? I kill, literally, EVERYONE ELSE who interferes with what I want to do”. And, again, if they’re powerful enough that you can’t just kill them, why aren’t THEY saving the world?

            Gothic actually handles this type of question in an interesting way–when you first show up, you’re a putz. Guards can one-shot you effortlessly. So it’s mostly easier to go along with the local thugs and not piss them off. Later on, you get much more powerful and you wind up pissing them off on purpose and defeating them. It’s quite cool. It’s also one of the few games where killing someone is not the default–if you wreck someone’s health bar, they get knocked unconscious and you can loot them, but they’ll get up again. So if someone gets pissed at you and attacks you can beat them down, take their weapon, and they’ll (usually, if the conflict is a lethal one they won’t) actually STOP ATTACKING YOU. (Also if you lose a fight, they’ll just loot YOU instead of killing you.) Actually killing *people* requires you to execute a special move when they’re unconscious, you really can’t do it by accident. They have an entire mechanical system for determining whether someone is actually going to try and kill you or just knock you about, and whether their buddies will get involved or not. It’s practically unique among RPG’s for this reason.

            There is actually a way to fulfill a quest by INTENTIONALLY picking a fight with someone too tough for you and LOSING.

            A game like THAT would be a different kettle of fish entirely on whether a trial would make sense or not.

            1. I really wish Shamus et al would do a Spoiler Warning season on Gothic, because that game has a LOT of historical interest to it (and it’s a fairly decent game overall). I mean, this thing came out in 2001 and was an “open world” game with all the features that Bethesda wouldn’t get around to mastering until TWELVE YEARS LATER when they released Skyrim.

              1. Sleeping Dragon says:

                Which reminds me. If I remember correctly in Daggerfall if you commit a crime and choose not to resist arrest you’re put on trial. You have an option to plead guilty (smaller sentence) or not (either you go free or bigger sentence). If you plead not-guilty you can lie or… argue I think? It does come down to the dieroll at the end of the day though.

                1. Really? I don’t remember this (but I don’t think I actually ever committed any crimes in Daggerfall–it wasn’t as easy as in subsequent games).

                  I know that if you pissed off your factions (usually by failing a quest or failing to complete on time) they’d send assassins after you.

                  1. I should rephrase that as “it wasn’t as easy to do it ACCIDENTALLY” in Daggerfall. Presumably all you’d actually need to do would be to attack a random non-hostile person. I tend to play as basically Lawful Good and not try to murder people for kicks. I generally don’t steal, either, but in later ES games you could become a wanted thief by picking up a plate.

                  2. Sleeping Dragon says:

                    I knew it was in there somewhere so I went and checked and Rutskarn describes the process in Part 5 of his TES series, about two paragraphs from the end of the post. Like I said, it is just picking options from a menu and rolling dice and I probably wouldn’t remember it if not for that post to be honest.

      2. Tam O'Connor says:

        …Clearly, I need to replay. I’d forgotten about the Fighter Stronghold judgments. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been put on trial by the Cowled Wizards, though. Something to look for.

        1. You know what game series it’d actually *make sense* to have a functional repeating Trial Mini-Game in? Grand Theft Auto. I haven’t played those, are there any court rooms in them? What happens if you get picked up by the police, is it just Game Over?

          1. Supahewok says:

            As far as I know, the police never actually attempt to arrest you in GTA. They just keep shooting until you quit breathing, at which point you respawn somewhere.

            1. 4th Dimension says:

              If they can pummel you down with nightsticks they can arrest you (which happens rarely) and they can pull you out of your vehicle and arrest you on the spot (which happens MUCH more often). When you are arrested you never go to court but they strip you of your guns and take some cash off you (bribes). Mechanically you get the ARRESTED message written across the screen and then you re spawn in front of the police station.

          2. Hale says:

            I can’t remember any specific court rooms being accessible in a GTA game, and any that you would encounter would likely be in a mission where you get in a shootout. Police response depends on your wanted level(anywhere from 1-5 stars), and I think they’ll only try to “peacefully” arrest you at wanted level 1. Anything beyond that and they’ll just gun you down. If you are arrested, you just end up outside a police station, often stripped of weaponry(and possibly some cash) though V might have let you keep weapons. Any deaths just cause you to go to the hospital with some money subtracted for hospital bills.

            1. You’re kidding me. They go to the effort of having totally unrelated boring stupid mini-games like driving a forklift (right?) but don’t think that having a mini-game that revolves around the realistic result of criminal activity is worth doing?

              1. 4th Dimension says:

                You have to understand that for all it’s bluster how it’s satirizing “the hypocrisy of modern world” or whatever GTA claims, the primary reason people play GTA is to go on rampages in the city. Putting a courtroom mini game between your tank rampages would unwantedly prolong the time between what players actually want to do and that is roam through out the city.

                Also it would be silly if they played a hospital/police/court scene every 5-10 minutes.

                On top of it all lore vise the PC is NEVER tried. The conceit of ALL GTA games is that the cops are so corrupt that they can be bribed to destroy the evidence and let you go even after you rampaged fro half a day in a TANK down the streets of your city.

                1. It’s not that I think the courtroom mini-game would necessarily be fun, it’s more that I’m baffled that they put all those OTHER stupid unfun mini-games in but not THAT one.

                  1. 4th Dimension says:

                    The courtroom minigame would happen a lot more often (normal play through usually mini games hits a minigame maybe couple of times at most) and thus annoy players. Plus as I said you lore/story wise you never go to court because you bribe the investigators.

                    1. Syal says:

                      But it would be pretty great to get a mission where you interfere in a trial being held against someone who, like, littered or something.

                    2. If you bribe them, why do they take your stuff?

                  2. Squirly says:

                    The other (un)fun mini games are optional. Dying isn’t something a player necessarily sets out to do. It’s usually an impedance to what they were busy with. Adding a court room mini game would just aggravate that.

                    I wouldn’t be surprised if the idea had already been tossed around at Rockstar and eventually abandoned. I could see them making a court room drama story arc in the game, but a mini game that you have to go through every time you get caught? Nah.

        2. Jonathan says:

          I don’t recall ever seeing a trial by the Cowled Wizards… they just start sending groups of enforcers after you.

          There is also Anomen’s trial, but the results of that are 100% based on how you shape his decision-making about vengeance vs. law when dealing with his family issues. Depending on your party alignment, both options are viable, although there are unfortunately no stat bonuses on the CN result.

          There’s an almost-trial with the Harpers, but… well, no. If you’ve been there, you remember what I’m talking about.

          1. The very first time you do it some wizards show up and demand you surrender. If you do, they take you back to their base and yell at you for a while for illegal use of magic. It’s not super-long, but they do put you on trial.

    5. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

      I don’t think the Pillars of Eternity trial counts for what Shamus was talking about. He’s talking about an unqualified action hero protagonist acting as legal counsel with flimsy justification. In Pillars you’re basically an expert witness and that expertise is earned because of your investigations up to that point.

  9. Rick says:

    Jade Empire has the sequence where you get into a cultural debate with John Cleese. Not really a trial, but reminiscent of the Sunry trial/NWN barbarian trial.

    The Landsmeet sequence from Dragon Age: Origins.

    1. Rick says:

      Oh, and Guild Wars: Nightfall has a sequence where you can accuse the Kournans of treachery.

    2. drkeiscool says:

      Yes, but that was more of an elaborate switch puzzle, which I thought was super disappointing.

      1. Alexander The 1st says:

        Eh – to be fair, the Selkath one here is just a less elaborate switch puzzle, really.

  10. My favorite trial is Chrono Trigger. It comes out of nowhere and judges you on how you played the fair section at the beginning of the game. Then you escape jail by stabbing stuff. Great game.

    1. Syal says:

      Or you escape jail by sitting on your butt twiddling your thumbs until your friend breaks in and shoots stuff.

      1. Alexander The 1st says:

        That part is actually one of the best parts of that – if you’ve relied on a full team over Chrono by himself, you get the option to request a full party – you have to wait a while, but it helps if you found you don’t want to solo the entire set of guards.

    2. Ledel says:

      And you’re never put on trial for your mass murder spree escaping the castle.

      1. Jonathan says:

        All of the human-looking guards have passed out. You only fight the armored ones, which could be written off as animated armor.

        1. Syal says:

          And I don’t think they ever get the chance to put you on trial again.

  11. Gabriel says:

    The Shadowrun Returns Hong Kong campaign has one of those. Your violence expertise makes you pretty qualified for the role though, so I’m not sure if it counts as “contrived.”

    I don’t think Chrono Trigger’s trial exactly meets your definition since, if I recall correctly, you’re represented by an NPC and don’t have any input during the trial itself. You do have (unwitting) control over the verdict, but your outcome doesn’t really change based on that verdict.

    1. Chrono Trigger’s trial served a different function. It was an in-game railroading of the main character to build the player’s antagonism towards a minor villain. It also wasn’t very long and had a nice boss fight at the end making it a fun diversion. A lot of the trials in games tend to be boring, unmemorable slogs.

    2. djw says:

      I’d agree that the “trial” in Shadowrun: Hong Kong isn’t particularly contrived. You are there in the first place because you are a violence expert and in fact the whole point was to trick you into murdering the assassin that the council hired to murder their least favorite member.

      In any case, the trial is more of a conversation that can turn violent if you say the wrong thing than a formal trial.

      1. Grudgeal says:

        Another thing with the Shadowrun: Hong Kong example is that the “trial” only appears if you choose to. You weren’t actually hired to defend anybody in court, you’re simply the one who took interest and decided to take on the role.

        You’re perfectly allowed to go with Gaichû’s suggestion and just kill the council for trying to trick you, or just kill Gaichû instead. Presenting your evidence is just the only way to solve it in a way that will satisfy both Gaichû and Kindly Cheng.

    3. Ledel says:

      Your inputs for the Chrono Trigger trial are the actions you performed at the fair at the beginning of the game and how you respond to the questions asked of you. Granted, you get locked up either way, but if you win you get a recovery item and if you lose you get nothing.

  12. Tam O'Connor says:

    You know, I don’t actually think Baldur’s Gate I or II had trials. At least, not formally. There were various tests – lots of riddles, tests of character, trials of your patience – but never anything in a courtroom. Summary pronouncements of execution, though, abounded.

    1. The Cowled Wizards can put you on trial in BG2 if you cast spells in the city (it’s short) and you can conduct some trials yourself if you pick up the Fighter stronghold.

      You can get arrested by the Flaming Fist in BG1 but IIRC that basically results in a fight.

  13. James says:

    Dragon Age Inquizition,

    You pass judgement on a bunch of people and in the Trespasser DLC you are put on trial for “being too big” or something.

    1. I wouldn’t count the Trespasser DLC, you spend under two minutes actually attending the Exalted Council and YOU make the only significant decision, not the Council.

      1. guy says:

        I wouldn’t count it because you are railroaded into being deeply and inexplicably stupid and completely ruining any possible chance of the Council concurring with you by simultaneously blowing them off and refusing to tell them about a major security threat for no reason whatsoever.

        1. James says:

          And then your not given the option to tell them to go fuck themselves, like i wanted to. you have to either disband or submit to orlais. and it feels really fucking railroady

          1. guy says:

            That must be play-through dependent, possibly relating to who you pick as Divine. I in point of fact did have an option to declare that the Inquisition served Divine Victoria, not them. I went with Lelianna, who seems more likely to back that than Vivenne but less likely than Cassandra.

            Though honestly, prior to being obligated to ditch the council without telling them why, I spent the entire time wondering why the whole meeting was even happening. In my playthrough the Templar Order had been destroyed and officially disbanded, so there was kind of an open slot for the Chantry’s military arm. So it was incredibly bizarre to have an argument in front of the Divine that treated the Inquisition like it was a secular organization. Granted, my Inquisitor was a Tal’Vashoth whose religious views were basically a combination of “Eh. Look, there is a hole in the sky raining demons. Are you going to help me fix it or not?” and “I will totally worship any god willing to give me stuff”, but the Inquisition serving the Chantry is the natural order of things. But as I recall you can’t actually have that be your official policy statement that you recite every time someone asks you.

        2. Yeah, it really makes no sense that you can’t do the sensible thing and involve Teagan and Whatshisname in your investigation. “We have nothing to hide, we’re just trying to keep people safe.” Yeah, people might panic. So what. It’ll just mean a bunch of useless nobles who are only here to look pretty stampeding for the gate. I call that a win.

          It was especially irritating because Josephine yells at you for it later.

          1. guy says:

            Honestly, the entire DLC was built around the one bit of railroading that actually annoyed me in my first playthrough.

            See, my character basically went with all the calm and moderate and generally unruffled and together options at virtually every opportunity, because that was what I was going for. So there was this weird conversation partway into the first act where another character, I think Blackwell, told me that the Inquisition needed to decide who was in charge and I did a double take because I honestly hadn’t realized I wasn’t already the acknowledged leader. I listened to people say things and I gave them orders and had them carried out. But apparently that doesn’t fit with the narrative that the Inquisition has no structure and no long-term plan. Basically, when it came to this one plot element, and then the entire Tresspasser DLC plot, my character wasn’t allowed to be anywhere near as collected and intelligent as she was in every other part of the game.

            And yeah, it was the secrecy that really got to me. By the time Josephine yelled at me about it I was kind of baffled that the people who I wasn’t taking on the strike team hadn’t gotten around to telling everyone else what was up. Okay, I can understand attempting to avoid disrupting the meeting with the initial investigation, though I really think that rather than just walking out my Inquisitor should have said something like “My apologies; I have just been informed an urgent matter requires my attention. I shall return as quickly as I am able.” Something diplomatic and polite like that instead of possibly the best way of pissing everyone off that doesn’t involve stabbing them.

            But after you get back from your first trip, it’s pretty clear that this is an extremely serious problem and grounds to delay the council and call everyone to arms. Like, tell the nobles to leave and muster their armies. Then it just keeps getting more serious, your local security keeps pissing everyone off more and more, and the news gets out anyway long after the correct time to tell everyone.

            Also, the plot involves way more magical know-how than the Qunari have any right to possess.

  14. venatus says:

    there was a trial like thing in jade empire, but the framing put it more as a debate about “Chinese culture” vs “European culture” (well the versions of them in the game)

    and thinking about it I think I have a bit of an idea why this kotor trial doesn’t work. the good trials in games tend to either be short (like the jade empire debate) or have some bit of personal investment, like your character being accused of burning a village down, or attempting to get a guilty verdict for saren, who the player knows was responsible for all the horror that happened in the tutorial.

    the trial in Kotor is a rather long one, full of people you don’t know, and you have to do it to get to the next part.

  15. Ninety-Three says:

    Does the Old Republic MMO have a trial? Bioware really likes trials, so I would expect one there (although TOR really likes being a WoW-y MMO, so I don’t know if it could have the player stop killing cannon fodder for long enough to have a trial scene).

    1. Humanoid says:

      Never played the game long enough to find out, but there’s a lot of “hey, you Padawan, decide for us, the wise Jedi Council, whether this person should be imprisoned, set free, or executed.”

      Serpent Isle has multiple trials. One you resolve by reprogramming the judge, the other is a meant-to-lose one, so you may as well get your money’s worth by doing the deed you’re going to be accused of. Protect thine virtues!

      1. Mike S. says:

        “And by ‘imprisoned’, we mean ‘stuck in a poorly- or unguarded cave with nothing to do but contemplate the temptations of the Dark Side’. We don’t know why we don’t achieve a better reformation rate.”

      2. Atarlost says:

        Spoilers for a game more than twenty years old? Really?

        That trial with the statue in SI is great, though. It’s ridiculous and it doesn’t actually matter. It’s just a parade of absurd evidence that mostly has nothing to do with the charges that are bogus in the first place.

    2. lurkey says:

      Smuggler and Bounty Hunter gets one and Trooper gets some sort of Senate hearing.

  16. Pyrrhic Gades says:

    This quest-line’d probably be a lot more interesting if there were more Twi’leks going “Chiuu walawunga”.

  17. Viktor says:

    Dues Ex: HR has the debate sequence. That one wasn’t a trial, but it was at least reasonable, unlike certain other examples.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      Deus Ex Tangent: Nothing about the anti-aug people in HR was reasonable. So many characters in that game say “augs are bad”, and those characters never say why. The only downside the game tells us augments have is Neuropazine dependency, and I don’t remember a single character ever saying “That Neuropazine kinda sucks”. After Neuropazine, the only reason to dislike augs is that you as a non-aug are afraid of losing your job to an aug, and that never gets brought up as an argument for why augs are bad.

      I wouldn’t even mind if the game came out and said “Everyone hates augmentations because they’re all Luddites”, but it didn’t even go there. Instead it acts like everyone has good reasons to dislike augs, but never gives those reasons, and never lets the player’s dialogue question or acknowledge the lack of reasons.

      1. Somewhere in the Spoiler Warning season of that game, (I haven’t played it, so that has to be where I’m remembering it from), there’s some police or citizens talking about the damage an augmented criminal managed to do and using that as an anti-aug argument. It’s a valid point, pretty easy for police and criminals to possibly get into a “sort-of” arms race with augs.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          Interesting, I must have missed or forgotten that dialogue in my playthrough. I’m certain that it doesn’t come up in any of the debates though (the one with the big media figure whose name I forget because I’m terrible with names, or the one at the end), which is where the game was most hurting for a reason.

          Also, the game really undermines that point by having you fight augmented gangsters who have exactly the same stats as regular gangsters.

          Edit: I can’t believe you missed the opportunity for such a fantastic pun. Cops and criminals getting in a cyberware-based competition would be an actual arms race!

        2. Ledel says:

          You can overhear some conversations like that while sneaking through the gang hideout in Detroit. A few of the red jacket guys talk about how the augmented gang they are at war with are able to accomplish so much despite having far fewer numbers.

      2. SlothfulCobra says:

        There was that one lady who had to borrow money in order to get the aug she needed to stay competitive, and she got in big trouble for reasons relating to the debt. In fact, money’s the central way that people argue about neuropazine dependency. People now have this big huge cost of living to deal with, and the neuropazine makers have that as control over cyborgs.

        It’s almost like the writers wanted to dig deeper into class issues but held back because they didn’t want to risk becoming relevant.

      3. guy says:

        Uh, the neuropazine thing comes up basically all the time. It has multiple entire sidequests, including one in the SW season at Sarif Headquarters, devoted to it. The direct face of the movement is obviously a liar cynically manipulating public sentiment, but you meet plenty of other side characters talking about it. His aide chews Jensen out about neuropazine addiction in his very first appearance.

      4. Merlin says:

        Neuropazine dependence is software-as-a-service except that the software is your arm. Honestly, I don’t think it needs a lot of elaboration beyond that. The aug setup in HR is pretty obviously skeevy.

        1. guy says:

          I had trouble really working up much anger on that particular aspect; neuropazine is a treatment for an actual issue with installing implants in the real world where it damages the surrounding tissue. It’s just how it has to be, until Sarif Industries can research a better solution. Apparently it’s shown as more problematic in supplemental material, but by everything you see in the actual game it seems like it’s expensive to buy because it’s expensive to make. I never really felt like the system (as opposed to the Hengsha brothel, which is pretty skeevy but also a criminal organization) was intentionally designed to exploit people, or that there was a reason to think it would create a permanent underclass rather than being a temporary phase until neuropazine got cheaper to make or research on eliminating the need for it got finished.

  18. MrGuy says:

    I’d actually like to call Metro 2033 for specifically NOT doing a trial.

    When you finally make it to Polis, there’s an event where the leaders of Polis consider whether to help your station out or not.

    It would have been really, really easy (possibly even cliche) for them to make this a “trial,” where Artyom has to present the case himself, with a bunch of dialogue choices to make a case. Or, at least, a “trial” like scene where you watch NPC’s you don’t care about babble on with non-sensical dialogue for several minutes as they “argue” their positions.

    But they specifically DON’T do this. You’re not even invited to watch the procedings. You sit outside, you hear murmuring, and you see by the clock has passed a lot of time, and then someone comes out and tells you what happened.

    And it worked. You knew that time had passed, and positions were argued, but the game didn’t insult you by wasting your time or trying to condense complex positions into a 2 line soundbyte.

    I’m not sure if this was intentional or accidental – given how built up Polis is and how little you see it, it’s quite possible most of the station (possibly including a full-blown council scene) wound up getting cut for budget reasons. Still, it was refreshing.

    1. 4th Dimension says:

      Or potentially it’s how it goes down in the books? The PC there isn’t some bigshot but a supplicant so of course he is not invited to deliberations.

  19. Gruhunchously says:

    Am I the only one who thought that, at 6:20, Josh was accusing the Mini-map of “sleeping around”? Maybe it was acting funny because it caught something.

    Shamus, reasonably enough, didn’t think that was possible.

  20. SlothfulCobra says:

    You know, most of the not-Star Warsy elements of this game feel a lot like Mass Effect. Manaan’s all shiny and smooth in a way that doesn’t seem that star warsy, but if you swap out the big ol’ hover droids with Keepers, it could pretty easily pass for the Citadel. Even the three-judge courtroom reminds me of the Council.

    The Selkath are just a hop skip and a jump from being a Mass Effect species anyways,

    1. Gruhunchously says:

      It’s also thematically closer to Mass Effect than Star Wars, especially in comparison to the other planets. Instead of epic battles of liberation and good vs evil, it’s a big political quagmire over a rare recourse. The Republic aren’t the straight up good guys here, they’re violating the treaty with the Selkath and doing underhanded dealings to keep their people out of trouble, as well as deliberately sending mercenaries to their likely death in a attempt to cover up their mistakes. It’s hardly unjustifiable, but it is jarring next to the unambiguous good light the rest of the game shows them in.

    2. Rick says:

      Funny, I’ve been thinking, in the last couple weeks how the latest The Old Republic expansion reminds me of Mass Effect 2.

      (Vague spoilers.)

      You go looking for an old enemy and run up against a new one that blows you away, leaving you effectively dead to the galaxy. Years later, you’re revived to fight the new enemy, and the people you used to work for aren’t terribly interested in helping, so you have to recruit your own team to do so.

      1. Mike S. says:

        For most of it, you’re unable to get to your old team. By the time you have useful freedom of movement, there is an option to start collecting old companions, though it’s true that the game makes it something of a gauntlet. Still, five years, and scattered across an even more war-torn galaxy, it makes sense that it’s hard to track people down and that some of them have other commitments.

        For me, it’s a bigger pill to swallow that my smuggler is at the center of events that seem as if, in the Star Wars universe, should probably involve someone a little more destiny-susceptible. But the real-world resource-based reasons for unifying the story going forward strike me as at least understandable, and I at least get some appropriate dialog choices along the way.

        1. Rick says:

          Yeah, that’s not so big a deal for my knight, whose destiny’s been tied up with Vitiate/Valkorion’s since hundreds of years before she was born, to be central to dealing with this other project he had going. (Contains fairly significant spoiler.)

    3. ehlijen says:

      I don’t really see how smooth and shiny aren’t things star wars can be. Leia’s ship and Cloud City were (until the shooting started), as was the briefing room area aboard the rebel Flagship before Endor. The Empire also seemed to have a pretty solid obsession with floor waxing.

      The dirty and blocky parts were meant to be the downtrodden far reaches, not the entire universe.

      As much as I prefer the ship design in the original trilogy, I do see the transition from smooth, artfully designed ceremonial craft like the Naboo starfighters to the crude and no-nonsense x-wings and tie fighters as a nice representation of how the empire changed the galaxy. It’s one of the few things the prequels managed to do decently.

    4. Joe Informatico says:

      KOTOR came out in the middle of the prequels, which established shiny and smooth as an aesthetic for a least a few Old Republic-era cultures. The Naboo starships, the cloning facilities on Kamino, etc. “Elegant aesthetics for a more civilized age,” or something.

  21. krellen says:

    Completely changing gears: does anyone suppose Manaan is here because they tried to put Kamino into the game and someone at LucasArts said “No, you can’t use Kamino, you’ll mess it up for George”?

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      The place does look very much like Kamino, and not much like Star Wars, so that would explain things. That said, I remember that Kolto was an existing feature of the EU at the time of KOTOR. If its planet of origin was established, we could know for sure whether or not Manaan was originally planned as Kamino.

      1. SlothfulCobra says:

        I don’t know about that. So far as I know, kolto started out in this game and only gets some token appearances outside of it. In the “current era” around the time of the movies, most people have forgotten about kolto, and the sweet heal-juice of choice is bacta. Bacta’s made by the Vratix, who are more interesting looking than the Selkath, but not interesting enough for me not to always confuse them with the Verpine.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          Ages and ages ago, I read an article on the Wizards of the Coast site, the section dedicated to their Star Wars roleplaying game. The article isn’t anywhere in that Wookiepedia page, but I’m almost certain it predated KOTOR.

          The article told of Kolto in modern (not Old Republic) Star Wars: a super rare super-Bacta. There was a story about some filthy rich character who could afford to take baths in the stuff, which delayed aging. At the end they statted up Kolto for the SW RPG, giving it a cost in credits and specifying its healing effects (it could even resurrect the recently-deceased).

  22. Gruhunchously says:

    Oh yeah, that guy who just shows up to dump the clumsiest plot exposition ever into your lap? He’s never explains who he is, he never shows up again, and best of all, he’s literally called ‘Mysterious Man’.

  23. Joshua says:

    A bit of a change of gears, but there was at least one other major component in the game that Obsidian wussed out on, which was building your castle. You can spend major time, effort and money designing this keep to withstand an attack, but the actual benefit of it was pretty minor.

    So, just like the trial, the designers created this massive sub system where the PCs could really go to town and dig into this mini-game, and then they chickened out at the thought of PCs facing consequences for NOT doing either of these things, making the whole effort rather pointless.

    1. Joshua says:

      Sorry, meant to refer to Neverwinter Nights 2 up there.

      I’d say that Neverwinter Nights 1 wasn’t particularly strong with story compared to other Bioware titles, but I don’t really think it was meant to be. The more I learned the scripting and toolset of the game, the more that I think the original game and expansions were really just extended demos for the toolset itself. The trial in NWN 1 with the torches was very weird story-wise, but was there to show potential builders about neat little things they could do.

      1. Well, it WAS the first 3D game they made IIRC. Every time they switch engines the next game is a bit wonkus. Unfortunately this has meant that Dragon Age has been 3 wonkus games in a row, each one wonkus in a new and interesting way. :P


        1. ehlijen says:

          I support this. I don’t think Bioware has ever been as wonkus as NWN1 for the main campaign, but I’d really like to see them focus more on story than on graphics, and not just because I don’t want to upgrade again.

          Very few of the games I remember as truly great were graphical powerhouses in their time. Gameplay and story is what kept BG2 and StarCraft one from selling for so long after they were out, for example. Though I guess that’s not actually going to help a game company stay alive in the short term.

          1. manofsteles says:

            I wonder if the continuous race towards shinier and shinier graphics is partly a reaction to the fact that so many of the reviews by the gaming press specifically call react to graphics? Many reviews that don’t include a GamePro style graphics metric still happen to praise or complain about a game’s graphics, particularly when compared to comparable contemporary releases.

            I completely agree that continuously chasing higher and higher fidelity graphics is becoming an unsustainable arms race towards diminishing returns (Campster’s Errant Signal video on the subject made that point very clearly), but I wonder if some developers keep doing this because they are stuck looking at their incentives in a skewed way.

            Thankfully, this trend seems to be less true of Indie games and more true of AAA games.

            Please note, I am absolutely not trying to start an ethics in games journalism discussion; that is totally different and not actually what I want to discuss. I am wondering if in a way, game developers are simply responding to a set of incentives (that aren’t nearly as important as some developers think they are) that exists whether they want it to or not.

        2. djw says:

          If they keep the tactical camera from DA:Inquisitions then I will decline to purchase DA4, no matter how many good things I hear about story.

          1. James says:

            God that mode was bad, i honestly think it would have been better without it.

            ALSO, i have a keyboard, LET ME HAVE MORE THEN 8 ACTIVES!!!

            im still angry about that and its been years.

    2. Zekiel says:

      Your original comment (which doesn’t mention the name) feels like it applies 100% to Pillars of Eternity too. :-(

      1. Darren says:

        At least in NWN2 the keep got you loads of money and special merchants who could help out with crafting. Pillars of Eternity’s keep gets you squat, since the game’s inventory system all but negates the need for money.

  24. Neko says:

    My favourite trial scene is the one in Chrono Trigger.

    The sorts of things you can do in the tutorial, like stealing some guy’s sandwich, are all used as strikes against your character during the trial; it’s possible to get an innocent verdict (although they’re corrupt and throw you in jail anyway), but it’s really difficult because you’re just doing “what comes naturally” for RPGs during the the tutorial phase.

  25. Shamus, at 9:15, you go on about “Fear Me” stickers in the late 90’s. Are you sure you’re not mis-remembering the “NO FEAR” slogan from the same era?

    1. Shamus says:

      Just looked it up. You’re right. It was No Fear.

      1. Jonathan says:

        “Fear Me!” is Edwin Odessieron’s line. If you monkeys prefer a less…polysyllabic mouthful…you may simply refer to him as “Sir.”

    2. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

      Ugh. It was the Yolo of its time.

      1. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

        I would have preferred “Fear Me” possibly with a mad scientist mascot. But alas the 90’s was before the dominance of geek culture.

    3. Lachlan the Mad says:

      I have been known to introduce myself as, “I am Lachlan. Fear me.”

  26. Alex says:

    “So I looked up the rules and found out that barbarians have a rage ability that lasts N rounds, and it's literally impossible for them to die while in rage. Now, if I was running a game at the table, I would do some sort of sanity check on crap like this. “Okay, he can't die while rage is going, but he's experienced four times his hitpoints worth of damage. The rule says he can't die, but this is ridiculous. He should be missing major parts of his anatomy by now. You know what? He's crawling towards you and no longer able to fight.””

    Attention, DMs: DO NOT DO THIS.

    To get Deathless Rage, a Frenzied Berserker has to have a character level of at least 10 (B.A.B. +6 and four levels of Frenzied Berserker). A Wizard of character level 10 can permanently transform you into a squirrel, dominate your will or create a wall of force which is completely immune to all non-disintegration damage. Spellcasters are already more powerful than non-spellcasters without exacerbating the problem with this idea that only spellcasters can do superhuman things even when the rules explicitly state the opposite.

    Once you get past ~level 5, you should not be using the abilities of ordinary people as a guide to what your PCs cannot do.

    1. Zaxares says:

      Heh, that was probably a legacy from the early editions of D&D, where Warrior and Thief types basically capped out in power relatively early (especially if they didn’t have stat boosting magic items), but Clerics and especially Mages continued to gain in power. The classes were deliberately designed to be unbalanced, as a way of saying “Few mortals have the ability or luck to attain the highest levels of magical power, but for those that do, they are capable of bending the very fabric of reality to serve their whims.”

      1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

        Which is terrible game design. Because while it may be tough for a person in that world to gain that power, all a player has to do is say “I think I’ll roll wizard.”

        1. Mike S. says:

          They also have to survive the notoriously unforgiving environment of 1E D&D with 1-4 hit points per level, one starting spell, a dagger, and no armor. Someone who made it through the process to high-level magic-user without getting killed or getting bored had paid some dues that fighters hadn’t.

          Which wasn’t necessarily great either– there’s a reason game design evolved in the direction it did. But if you were all starting at 1st level, there were genuine tradeoffs between “fun now” and “fun later”.

    2. ehlijen says:

      The main problem with the frenzied beserkers is that in their special rage during which they can’t die, they must fight their friends if no enemies are at hand and any damage triggers the rage.

      You do not want to be next to one of these when they fall into a d6 damage pit trap.

      But aside from that, it’s an insane ability. They outdamage and outlast fighters (cause of the no dying and rage strength), they can actually outrun rogues and as barbarians get uncanny dodge to avoid sneak attacks (a monk might be able to be even faster, though), and they actually get decent saves against most incapacitation spells the casters might lob at them (and if those don’t work, there might be an angry greataxe coming their way).
      Sure, invisibility and flight can help, but at tenth level any melee brawler worth their XP will have invested in ways to overcome that through magic items.

      They are terribly dangerous to have as friends, and ridiculously kill-or-flop as an enemy, making several classes entirely redundant (what is a rogue supposed to do against one of these?).

      The only way I’d ever consider playing one of these is with a subdual damage only weapon firmly attached into a locked gauntlet.

      1. Chuck says:

        We had my cohort cleric just follow the Berserker while he killed everything, which tended to create Yakkity-Sax like scenarios where the Berserker was chasing the enemies, the cleric was chasing him, and the rest of us were hiding somewhere out of running distance (usually twenty feet in the air.)

        She died a couple times this way, but it kept my fragile sorcerer hide intact (and the Berserker died a few times too for a while when Rage ended before we could heal him.)

      2. IFS says:

        The fact that they represent such a danger to their friends is a not-insignificant reason for why I tend to encourage whoever picks barbarian in my group to become a frenzied berserker. The fact that they cannot die while frenzied and are generally awesome makes up the rest. In one adventure the villain animated a bunch of trees to attack the party while he ran away, the berserker was fighting them when he dropped his sword and it was ruled that in the frenzy he couldn’t decide to pick it up so instead he started beating down magical tree monsters with a staff. Not even a magic staff, and it worked. Fortunately for the rest of the party once he ran out of trees to kill with a piece of wood he managed to make the will save to stop the frenzy before catching up with the rest of the party who had wisely distanced themselves.

    3. Shamus says:

      I was speaking specifically in context of a PC vs NPC fight. I wouldn’t ruin a PC’s hard-won victory by making them run away from an invincible foe.

      The thing here is that PC’s care if they live or die, while NPC’s generally don’t. (Or the players would have chase down every single foe once the fight started going their way. That would get annoying FAST.) A player probably isn’t going to keep fighting until they’re at negative base hitpoints times four. They’re going to disengage and try to save their character. So yeah, I wouldn’t do this to a PC. But I wouldn’t NEED to.

      The NPC probably isn’t written with that kind of survival instinct in mind, so letting them fight at full strength when they’ve taken enough damage to liquefy them is just allowing one rule to create an absurd killjoy.

      1. djw says:

        In the context of the NWN2 battle it would have been useful to at least get a warning that he was both unkillable (for a while) and faster than the average npc. The fight is quite easy if you know to run away until the frenzy is over, but potentially very hard if you are unaware that this is important.

      2. guy says:

        The frenzied berserker cannot retreat while the frenzy is active. They’re required to attack the nearest target until the duration ends or they make a successful will save to stop, and their will saves usually aren’t so good.

        The outright design intent of the class is for them to be completely unstoppable and something that needs to be outmaneuvered or avoided until the duration ends. Which is admittedly quite the thing to choose to dump the player into a close-quarters solo fight with when you’re given absolutely no warning. I think there’s a possible NPC conversation that alludes to it, but only vaguely and it probably isn’t one that’s guaranteed to happen.

        There’s also various other ways for people to keep fighting beyond when they should be downed, but usually much more limited. I think the best you can otherwise get in 3.5 is stay on your feet until death and death threshold at -20.

        Though honestly, you’re probably not going to do more than four times their max HP before the frenzy runs out. They’ll tend to have a lot of hitpoints. Largest hit die size, strong incentive to stack constitution, and then a giant chunk of bonus constitution during the frenzy.

  27. Zaxares says:

    I think it’s worth mentioning that this Gluupor NPC is the ONLY Rodian in the entire game who has his own unique voice files.

    I don’t believe Jade Empire had a trial side-quest, but there were a couple that came close:

    1. The matchmaking side-quest in the Dam town that was actually pretty fun.

    2. The “debate” with Sir Roderick Ponce Von Fontlebottom the Magnificent Bastard (yes, I HAVE to type his full name out), although that one doesn’t require any research and it’s essentially just a conversation puzzle that ends in a duel fight.

    I thought the setting behind the NWN2 trial was actually pretty interesting, but there wasn’t much in the way of actual research and gathering of evidence. It really all just comes down to picking the right dialogue options.

    The unavoidable fight at the end was extremely easy to me on a Wizard, however. All my party members were crying hysterically to me about “OMG he’s gonna eat your eyeballs!”, and I just raised an eyebrow, went “Really?” Then proceeded to absolutely crush Lorne under my magical bootheel. I didn’t even take any damage in the fight!

    1. guy says:

      Er, there was actually quite a bit of available evidence-gathering poking around the town. It’s technically winnable with the minimum if you have very good social stats and choose wisely with the minimum permitted evidence, but it gets much easier if you properly poke around and find witnesses and cloth fragments and suchlike.

    2. bigben1985 says:

      Sir Roderick Ponce Von Fontlebottom the Magnificent Bastard

      Now I HAVE to play that game

      1. Zaxares says:

        Jade Empire is actually available for free (as a limited time offer) on Origin right now!

  28. Wide And Nerdy says:

    I’m surprised Shamus doesn’t complain about the Manaan voices. To me these voices are worse than the Wookie growling.

  29. Corsair says:

    Leave it to Obsidian to take a bad idea by Bioware and make it -even worse-. I am so glad Obsidian and Bioware stopped their buddy-buddy relationship. Obsidian’s games actually got -good- after that. Although I do hear Mask of the Betrayer is interesting and good, but I just can’t get into it. -hate- the mechanics of D&D after Epic Levels.

    1. djw says:

      The epic rules are silly, but the story in that game is really very good.

  30. Darren says:

    I really like the trial in NWN2. Yeah, the game doesn’t really change if you mess it up, but it’s enough for me that your lawyer, Sand, is deeply disappointed in you for failing. Indeed, I always thought the characters were handled well in NWN2, despite their archetypal natures, and were the primary reason I overlooked the base campaign’s many flaws.

    And on that note, if you had played as a Rogue or other class you were concerned couldn’t handle the fight, you could’ve enlisted one of your party members to fight in your stead, assuming that you had a high enough approval with them. I don’t think unavoidable combat is the worst solution to the problem, and not an uncommon one at that, but at least Obsidian included some mitigating factors to make it likely you’d survive. Unless you were an asshole who hadn’t made any friends. NWN2 does not reward jerk-ass players very much.

    1. djw says:

      The “rogue-screwing” in NWN2 goes quite a bit deeper than the Lorn fight though. The entire last dungeon is populated by undead that are completely immune to sneak-attack in 3.5 edition rules, so one of the major perks of your class is completely useless for the last third of the game.

      1. Gabriel says:

        It’s pretty obvious from the beginning of the game that the writers’ railroad plot didn’t have any room for all that rogue sneaky/talky business. If you’ve reached that point with a rogue you should be expecting to be screwed.

        1. djw says:

          The problem here exists in the core rules, to be honest. 3.5 made sneak attack a huge part of a rogues arsenal, and then made it useless against a large percentage of opponents.

          In NWN2 you can at least put together overpowered magical items that can make a dual wielding rogue decently powerful against undead, though not as strong as a fighter with the same weapons.

        2. guy says:

          That’s most definitely a pretty unfair assessment. You get to do a lot with your talky and sneaky stuff, and during many main quests or very centrally located technically side quests you can skip major fights or gain a significant tactical advantage with them. For instance, during the first phase of the docks quest, you’ve got something like one forced watch fight, one fixed peaceful encounter, and two you can talk your way out of (this is true with both sides; the peaceful encounter is staunchly loyal to your side and is the forced fight in the other path). And both skill checks and making smart conversation choices can significantly impact the penultimate fight of the game.

          What it ultimately boils down to is that by the game mechanics you can create a character who doesn’t have talky or sneaky stuff, but you outright can’t create a character who has no hitpoints or attack, and even if you botch your build you’ve got companions to fall back on. So the game just can’t mandate talky things or many character builds will be totally nonviable; fighters have a small skill pool, many non-conversation things to spend it on, and little chance of boosting their skills with social stat assignments. Meanwhile, there’s a complete LP of the main campaign and MoTB using a rogue that makes suboptimal gear choices for aesthetic reasons.

  31. Enjolras says:

    Trials in Bioware games are one of Bioware’s ‘things’, right? At least I always think of them that way.

    I liked the trials in NWN1 and KotOR1. None of the other games have anything memorable.

    I’ve tried several times to adapt the ‘Bioware trial structure’ to D&D, but it always ends up feeling too artificial in a tabletop game. Although the idea of me, as DM, narrating that some NPCs are standing around holding torches that they light when they’re going to vote your way (the NWN1 indicator) is amusing.

  32. guy says:

    Oh, Mask Of The Betrayer sort of has one where you run into a mage who wants out of a contract he signed with a devil and you have to either help him or break the summoning circle and let the devil eat his soul.

    That one is pretty fun and self-contained; basically the contract that the mage signed without reading* has a bunch of payments and services and once they’re all completed the the devil gets his soul. The last one is killing a human, which happened when he used one of the previous boons to “make them go away” and the devil killed them. Your character then declares that killing was not the clear intent of that request, and the devil exceeded the requirements of the request to forcibly make the mage complete his end and he did not do so of his own will, and therefore the contract is null and void.

    *”I believe that’s my cue to smack my forehead, sigh loudly, and leave”

  33. Ronixis says:

    I remember a game that’s not at all a talky RPG but ends with a dialogue-option-based sequence similar to a trial anyway: Wing Commander IV. You only get two options per choice, but it kind of feels like a more basic version of the Landsmeet in DA:O. (It’s also an ‘interactive movie’, so the relevant cutscenes are actual recorded segments on sets and such.)

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