Achilles and The Grognard: Time Limits and Temptation

By Bob Case Posted Saturday Apr 11, 2020

Filed under: Video Games 98 comments

The Grognard: This game is going to have time limits. I can feel it in my bones.

Achilles: All your bones? Or just that one elbow that hurts when it’s about to rain?

The Grognard: All of them. The evidence is too strong. One: in the beginning of the game we get a mind flayer parasite stuck inside our brain. Two: Baldur’s Gate 3 is based on Fifth Edition rules, which distinguish between a short and a long rest and are specifically designed to avoid the fifteen-minute workday. Three: There’s going to be a “camping” map, where you get to talk to party members during a long rest. Four: Pathfinder: Kingmaker exists.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker's resting screen looks like a strategy game.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker's resting screen looks like a strategy game.

Achilles: This is the game where everything is oriented around the passage of time?

The Grognard: The same. In it, you deal with a succession of threats to your newly-established kingdom, and have a certain number of days to deal with each. Traveling takes time, resting takes time – even hunting. If you spam rests after every fight, you’ll get a short-term advantage in exchange for a long-term penalty.

Achilles: I’m already worried.

The Grognard: Why?

Achilles: Because I have no idea how to make this choice. I know what the short-term advantage is, but I might not know what the long-term penalty is for another ten or twenty hours.

The Grognard: True. Not only that, but Kingmaker – even early on – is full of monsters who inflict ability score damage, which only “heals” at the rate of one point a day. Do you remember your complaints about reverse difficulty curves?

Achilles: Like the ones that exist in practically every RPG ever made? I do remember those.

The Grognard: Good, because I expect you’ll have to dust them off again for this one. The Baldur’s Gate 3 main quest, as described, has all the hallmarks of an overtuned early-game difficulty spike.

Achilles: That doesn’t mean it’ll be one. You’re getting way deep into speculation here, assuming things are going to suck based on a bare minimum of evidence.

It's not clear whether these are related to the main story, or if they're naturally-occurring giant tentacles.
It's not clear whether these are related to the main story, or if they're naturally-occurring giant tentacles.

The Grognard: In my experience, assuming things are going to suck is the smart move, strategically. It saves you disappointment later. But in this case I’m aiming for a different conclusion. Here’s an interview with one Adam Smith. One of the game’s writers I mean, not the guy who invented Capitalism:

We have something in Act 1 with some people who are in really serious trouble,” he says. “You can get them out of the trouble either by fighting a bunch of things, or by getting rid of those things in a different way, or by sneaking around those things. And then you can help them. If you go through every single part of that dialogue and roll successfully, something really fucking bad happens to those people you just rescued, because success in that case ends badly for them. You don’t necessarily know that at the time. You might figure it out. But you’re going to meet them a bit down the line and go ‘oh no, I thought that went well.’

“If you fail those rolls, they get the hell out of Dodge. It’s actually better for them, because your fuck-ups on the rolls make them say ‘I don’t really trust you, I’m going to get out of here.’ And then they live long happy lives somewhere else in the world.”

The goal, at least, is to never have absolute good and bad choices. “We want to have those moments where you think you’re doing the right thing, but the world’s more complicated than that,” Smith says. “And also points where you’re playing an evil character, we’re going to push back against that as well. We want to give you freedom, but we want to say ‘the world isn’t just here for you. It exists beyond you.

Achilles: So, choice and consequence and a game world that seems real. Not only that, they’re using the Witcher 3 trick of delaying the consequences of decisions until after save-scum range. Aren’t these good things?

The Grognard: They are. But even more so when you consider all the talk about ceremorphosis.

Achilles: The thing they kept mentioning in their first community update?

The Grognard: Step one, put a freaky tadpole in someone’s eye. Step two, they turn into a Mind Flayer. It’s deeply unsettling. There’s all sorts of sudden bruising and joints pointing the wrong way. So, at the beginning of the game you get one of these freaky tadpoles in your brain. And if you don’t address the situation in time, things happen.

Achilles: Things?

The Grognard: Presumably, you turn into a Mind Flayer, or start turning into one. It’s a process, it probably has several steps. Another quote comes from their “community update #2” email, also from Adam Smith:

“We always want to make failure as interesting as it possibly can,” said Senior Writer Adam Smith. “We don’t put everything that’s cool and interesting behind success.”

Achilles: So you’re thinking that if you “fail” the initial “don’t let the tadpole eat your brain” quest, you become a Mind Flayer, or something like one, and there’s your evil playthrough.

The Grognard: More or less. I know it’s a stretch, but in this case I think it’s supported by the evidence. And if an interesting outcome, storywise, is gated behind “failing” a quest, it goes some way towards defusing the reverse difficulty curve problem.

There's gonna be traps in this game, of course. Look, I'll be honest: I've never liked traps.
There's gonna be traps in this game, of course. Look, I'll be honest: I've never liked traps.

Achilles: Not only that, it works as a temptation. In the Baldur’s Gate 2 dream sequence cutscenes, Irenicus tries to tempt you with how powerful you’ll be if you embrance the whole Bhaalspawn thing. He shows you one-shotting big-time mobs – one of them was even a Mind Flayer. Now a certain type of game-playing personality? That’s how you get their attention. Promise them that the evil option leads to some kind of OP build. It’s like giving Gandhi nukes in Civilization – suddenly he discovers his evil side.

The Grognard: You’re gonna go Mind Flayer for your first playthrough, aren’t you?

Achilles: Only if there’s a mechanical advantage. Look, DnD’s been around a while. There are all sorts of OP builds that don’t require you to actually become an Illithid.

The Grognard: I guess we’ll see when it comes out. And the earlier games? Are you still even playing Baldur’s Gate 2?

Achilles: I am, and I’m putting good work in too. I’ll bring you up to speed next entry.


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98 thoughts on “Achilles and The Grognard: Time Limits and Temptation

  1. John says:

    Here’s an interview with one Adam Smith. One of the game’s writers I mean, not the guy who invented Capitalism.

    Well, not everyone can be a major figure of the Scottish Enlightenment or the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Some people have to settle for writing for Rock, Paper, Shotgun and then Larian. If I recall his appearances on the Rock, Paper, Shotgun podcast correctly, his Twitter handle is @noneconomical. I get the impression that he’s heard all the jokes by now and is heartily sick of them.

    1. Exasperation says:

      I suppose the supply of Adam Smith jokes is practically inexhaustible, but the demand for them is limited.

      1. Nimrandir says:

        It’s like there’s a hand guiding us toward them, but we just can’t see it.

      2. danielfogli says:

        That’s why the jokes are so cheap ;)

  2. CloverMan-88 says:

    Huh. I wasn’t really too hyped aboit BG3 before (I love BG1 and 2, but bounced really hard of all Larian games before) but his sounds really interesting. On the other hand, Bob might be reading too much into the interviews, I need to be wary not to build unreasonable expectations towards the game.

    1. It sounds tedious to me. The entire concept that failure = good is a bad one, because it makes everything dumb and arbitrary. Games are NOT real life. The “challenges” posted are created by the writers, and the fail/success states are dictated BY the writers. If they deliberately communicate to you “this is a fail state” and then have it turn out much later on that the result was NOT a failure, or vice versa deliberately communicate to you “this is a success” and then have it turn out much later on that the result was FAILURE, the game designers are *deliberately lying to you and destroying the only vehicle you have to judge whether you’ve succeeded or failed at a task*.

      This entire ethos of art creation is idiotic. Yes, the story of the game is fundamentally “all about you”. You’re playing *the main character*. If they want some OTHER character to be the main character, they should write a novel about THAT character, then. This sort of twittering is along the lines of a J.K. Rowling suddenly announcing “oh, Luna Lovegood was actually the main character all along, Harry was just a side character, but I didn’t want people to think I was spending too much time on the main character so I even went so far as to PUT A DIFFERENT CHARACTER’S NAME IN THE BOOK TITLE.”

      Having events develop in an unexpected way is fine, but outright saying “we’re going to lie to you because we can and you can’t do anything about it” is like deliberately teaching your kids that they should greet adult women by grabbing their breasts just because you think it’d be hilarious on their first day of kindergarten.

      1. Agammamon says:

        The entire concept that failure = good is a bad one, because it makes everything dumb and arbitrary. Games are NOT real life.

        I don’t think they’re saying ‘failure=good’. I think they’re trying to set things up so that failure isn’t an ‘I need to reload a save’ moment. Some of that stuff isn’t even failure in the normal sense – its just different consequences based on how an interaction went.

        They’re trying to get away from the ‘best ending’ thinking that has polluted cRPG’s since jRPG’s were a thing.

        1. I approve of having “failure” take you down an alternate path or making you have to do some recovery work, but the way the guy was talking the game would tell you “you succeeded on all of these rolls” and then later on something bad would happen even though the game explicitly told you “this is success!”

          If you’re about alternate paths, you don’t want the game communicating to the player “this is success!”. Instead, you simply make the game agnostic about whether a given result actually constitutes “success” . . . you don’t weigh in either way on the issue, so it becomes “you did X then Y happened” instead of “you did the good thing and then we made something bad happen anyway!”

          1. Len says:

            Time delayed consequences usually just means that I’ll google ahead which decision sets the flags for which events/consequences/rewards instead of trying to puzzle out which arbitrary “morally gray” choice leads to the right rewards.

            Mostly because the story is usually terrible enough that I don’t care what happens to the in-game characters one way or another, but I’d hate to miss out on content and waste time replaying/reloading for it.

      2. Decius says:

        They aren’t communicating a fail state or success state. They’re describing how the story progresses.

        1. If you give the player die rolls or threshhold checks to pass, you’re communicating that some sort of success/failure pass check has been made.

          A more subtle way to do this would be to make it so that certain dialog options simply don’t appear unless you hit certain stat threshholds (or whatever other threshholds you like). Then there’s no implication that having that option *available* constitutes success or that using the “smart” option is actually going to accomplish anything in particular.

  3. BlueHorus says:

    If you go through every single part of that dialogue and roll successfully, something really fucking bad happens to those people you just rescued, because success in that case ends badly for them. You don’t necessarily know that at the time.

    This…isn’t necessarily a good thing. This kind of moral choice can be used as a really cheap ‘GOTCHA’ moment. Oh, you didn’t realize that saving those peasants from a disease meant that one of them would grow up to be a brutal dictator? Hoho, got you there, player! It’s all YOUR fault he started that war!

    Not saying it CAN’T be done well, but it can also be very lazy. It’s all in how

    (And going through various stages of ceremorphosis (choosing to resist or not) could be a really interesting mechanic. Maybe it could be the only way in the game to gain powerful, very plot-useful psionic abilities, but means you lose control over your actions as you go. options just start to become unavailable as the Illithid inside exerts more and more power.)

    1. Steve C says:

      Yeah, I agree. It’s possible, but difficult. Really really difficult. I know I couldn’t do as a DM myself unless I was sitting at the table and knew my players well. I’m coming up blank thinking of a computer game that successfully flipped failure and success like that and it was satisfying. The only way I think it could be done is if there was a strong divide between the character and the player. Like you as a player know your character’s personality is deeply flawed and need to work that into your decisions. Like in this case, your vampire character probably shouldn’t be trusted by the player.

      1. Microwaviblerabbit says:

        It has been a while since I played it, but I think Alpha Protocol had a bunch of options for success and failure, especially with perks and NPC opinions of you. If they were your handler for a mission, they gave you a perk based on reputation and if you failed a bunch of checks you could end up with a ‘better’ perk for specific playstyles. One example I remember is 10 armor because you won’t let them have the satisfaction of you dying.

        Also the ending slides/narration is all about flipping failure and success, so your decisions had consequences that made sense, but weren’t what you would assume from the ‘good’ options. Fallout New Vegas kind of did the same, especially with Arcade Gannon.

        I was disappointed that the Outer Worlds did not have this same level of bittersweet twist.

        1. Sannom says:

          I still can’t believe that saving one person vs. saving a whole bunch more ended up having the “best” outcome long term.
          And different mechanical perks for the different ends of a reputation slider has become more common now.
          Although one of my favorite moments reputation-wise was Mina not losing appreciation for Mike when he makes a flirtatious/horny comment after passing a certain threshold in her reputation : at this point, she appreciates a lot of stuff about Mike, so she’s not as easy to piss off.

          I thought that Dungeon Siege 3 had interesting ending slides too, especially the one for the “evil” choice at the end of Stonebridge’s factory quest. Yeah, ok, I understand why you would make that choice now! Too bad the game didn’t really make it explicit enough.

          1. Thomas says:

            Alpha Protocol definitely had the best failure rewards. Everything was interesting, failing was just seeing a different path.

            1. Gethsemani says:

              Agreed, but we need to remember that what kept AP from being a game like Spec Ops: The Line, which people are divided on due to its twist, is that AP never rubbed your nose in whether you succeeded or failed. If you failed the Ice Cream store conversation the game just moved on, but if you succeeded you got an extra scene and some evidence. AP also explicitly tailored some failures to be hilarious, like pissing off the German mercenary in Rome. Also important to remember is that AP never really twisted your success into failure or your failure into success. If you did a clean stealth run on the US Embassy that was absolutely better then if you killed a bunch of Marine guards, even if both could lead to interesting consequences.

              That’s really what I’m most worried about with the BG3 discussion, the notion that the writer wants to twist the result of your actions. So you thought you failed to help the villagers, but since they didn’t get any food they actually started growing their own. But if you gave them food they got lazy and starved to death. Unless a twist like that is very well choreographed in some form, it will just feel cheap and nasty.

              1. FluffySquirrel says:

                Yeah, there’s a difference between making it so that every path, success or failure, is still interesting and valid.. versus ‘You succeeded, therefore you failed, hah, gotcha’

                Honestly, this update has significantly put me off BG3 .. I hate time limits in games, I don’t like feeling rushed, it stresses me out, I don’t want that from a game supposed to be about escapism. Same with failing by succeeding.. it’s not even realistic, yes, you can have unintended consequences, but if you’re playing as a smart or savvy character, surely you should be able to recognise that maybe it’d be better for the villagers to just leave anyway, help them out and tell them they should move on or blah.. I play these kind of games to feel good generally.. not get annoyed and depressed by how crappy the world can get

      2. Alecw says:

        Jade empire did it

        1. galacticplumber says:

          No it didn’t. Jade empire had a plot wherein you started working for an enemy agent, and thus some degree of failure was inevitable when they betrayed you. There was NOT, at any point, a thing wherein success was actively worse than failure, and thus your work wasn’t poisoned.

          Betrayal plots are relatively common. Plots that ACTIVELY dis-incentivize being good at the game are not.

          1. Mattias42 says:

            I think Alecw is talking about the Open Palm slash Closed Fist stuff, not plot/story.

            Because that game had some messy alignment since half the writers seemed to be stuck in ‘black & white, good & evil’ style morality, but the core concept of (simplified) Tradition & The Order Of Things AKA Open Palm versus Freedom & Personal Strength AKA Closed Fist had some really interesting quests results.

            Like, there’s this one dam you are ‘supposed’ to close again. That’s the traditionally good option. The one were the fish comes back, and the town prospers once more…

            But, you can have a triumphant Closed Fist success from that quest, by destroying the entire mechanism that should close the dam. Forcing the entire town to either grow stronger or parish. Something that in near all other games would be an instant game over failure state was instead a roaring success based in your characters personal life-philosophy.

            So technically you ‘failed…’ but the result was more interesting. That sort of thing.

            1. galacticplumber says:

              That’s not failure. That’s deliberately taking unusual mission parameters. At no point is attempting to do something, then failing to do it rewarded with success.

      3. BlueHorus says:

        There’s been a couple of games that have had failure be satisfying for me, like VtM: Bloodlines. if you open The Box after repeatedly being told not to or trust the wrong NPC, you fail in a satisfyingly ‘earned’ way.
        (other games have done this kind of thing as well)
        But crucially, this usually rely on there being hints of the potential failure beforehand.

        I also remember one point in Wasteland 2 where you find a community being brutally subjugated by a raider gang who have a friendly facade to draw in victims. So naturally, a lot of righteous players will gun down all the raiders they see, which causes the leader to flip out and slaughter an entire town when you’re gone.

        …of course, it’s a con on the game’s part and the guy flips out even if you ignore him and make a point of NOT attacking his men (an NPC sets him off…and it’s literally impossible to get at him the first time round), but still, it’s not a bad effort….
        And whatever else happens, you need to NOT kill him after his rampage to get the most peaceful ending
        , which is ‘satisfyingly unsatifying’ in its way.

        There’s also the part in ME2 where you encounter a young Asari criminal who claims to be a victim of the gang you’re slaughtering, but it turns out she’s lying and you only find out after you’ve talked to her.
        It kind of works, but is also galling in a game where most moral choices are literally colour-coded and if the writer wants you to know something they usually beat you over the head with it…

        …that’s the closest examples I can think of.

        1. Joshua says:

          I thought that plotline was fairly satisfying enough, except there seems like there was a general disconnect between how he viewed his men’s actions and how they were really acting. He thinks his men might just be acting a little too hardass and tough love to the people they’re supposed to protect and can be persuaded to calm them down, where in reality they’re raping, torturing, pillaging, and otherwise acting Always Chaotic Evil to the people of the Wasteland. It’s like he’s the boss but didn’t get the memo that his minions were all evil assholes.

        2. Sleeping Dragon says:

          For the record I was looking for a good spot to drop into this comment tree so this is a reply to you but also a more general opinion on the idea. Warning: long ranty post below.

          The way it is framed, and bear in mind I think we’re kind of overanalysing considering the game isn’t even out yet, I’d read it as “acting under imperfect knowledge can lead to consequences you couldn’t predict or intend”. For example, in the cited material they say you save some people and if you afterwards succeed on some dialogue rolls they end up in a bad place, here are two semi-random ideas how that could go:
          1) They want to scatter and some might make it but with enough rolling you convince them to go Lord Trustworthy’s place, which they are reluctant to do for some reason or other, later on you’ll find out that Lord Trustworthy was actually mind controlled by the illithids and when the time came he simply fed everybody to them. The “PC gets duped” variant.
          2) Similar thing but you convince them to join some kind of militia, only to later find out that the militia failed, they got captured and the illithids feast on them. The “couldn’t have known” variant.

          Now mind you I’m using just two examples out like half a dozen I can think of on the spot, I’m also purposefully limiting myself to the “somehow they get eaten by illithids” because I just want to drop something that we know is in the game, replace with “sacrificed to demons” or whatever, doesn’t matter. The point is in both situations the player or at least the player character operates on limited or false knowledge, and now I’m gong to rant and ramble.

          The thing is a seemingly good idea can have bad consequences. Now obviously we can argue about execution, the game could be really unsubtle, or badly written, or it can not let you express your character despite doing a “blank slate protagonist for you to roleplay” RPG, like in the first scenario it could only let you beat yourself over the head and for everybody to blame you along the lines of “how could you send all those people to their death” when a whole range of emotional reactions is actually viable and blaming yourself (“if only I’ve seen through Lord Trustworthy!”) is certainly one of them but not the only one.

          But execution aside when operating under limited or false knowledge yes, sometimes the best of choices will lead to bad consequences, and in a system or setting with a morality slider/grid (I’ll leave that rant for another occasion) it is the intention behind the choice that should determine where it falls in the alignment spectrum, the problem being that games generally can’t do intentions and settle for stuff like “killing bad”. Like that ME2 scene you mentioned, if I remember correctly which scene you mean, because the paragade system is so limited and the writing is questionable it frames it as a binary choice “let her go” (paragon) or “shoot her” (renegade) where in reality a bunch of other options would be viable (like “tie her down and hand her over to the authorities afterwards”), in case of the paragon choice the game interprets it as you taking her words at face value despite the fact that the game earlier drops a solid hint that should tell you otherwise (and maybe should switch the paragon/renegade option depending on whether you have that information or not, don’t remember if getting it is optional, reframe it into “sorry, I know you’re a murderer and can’t let you go” and “go, I don’t care about your lies, I have bigger fish to fry”), to be fair, if you do the paragon choice and find the evidence she lied you can later do a thing to attempt to rectify your mistake which is a saving grace.

          To give a different example, Life is Strange, SPOILERS THOUGH I AVOID SPECIFICS, late in the game you get a chance to try to save a somewhat dislikable character but if you do you actually send them to their death because at this point the assumption of the writers is that the characters (and players on the first playthrough) haven’t figured out the villain, on top of that this only works if you put in the work to approach that character earlier. Here is where we enter a bit of a minefield. The writers obviously decided that Max hasn’t figured things out by that point, I would say they also assume that the same applies to the player but I know some people did and the fact that they couldn’t act upon that knowledge, or acted directly counter to it, drove them crazy while I would argue that in this specific case we’re playing within the confines of an established character, though I will agree they’re definitely threading the needle.

          However as a roleplayer and DM of many years I HATE how games have taught some people to expect that good intentions must always have good consequences, particularly if you put in the legwork. Say, if you encourage the villagers to stand up to the raiders they will succeed, or if they fail and get slaughtered it’s because you didn’t do a sidequest that would give them good weapons. Here’s a bit of trivia, did you know that in the original Fallout (drink!) the endings relating to Junktown got switched before release? In the original original version turns out that the greedy asshole is smart enough to make the town prosperous while the fanatically “by the book” lawkeeper makes people steer clear, according to the Fallout Bible this was reversed because the marketing insisted that siding with good and bad must always be rewarded or punished respectively.

          I’m not saying that I want games to always ruin everything the player character tries to do, to always railroad “good” characters into being tricked or their actions leading to bad resolutions, I’m just saying that sometimes it should happen and the fact that this tends to make so many people throw a hissy fit tells me that videogame storytelling has taught many people that games are about empowering wish fulfilment and nothing else, which turns into a self-perpetuating cycle where people expect that so devs make that so people are taught to expect that and we end up with no nuance, never having to make hard choices (or the seemingly hard choices being false because being uncompromisingly “good” is always the right way to go) and black and white moralities where no shade of grey is ever accepted.

          Urghh, I’m going to cut this short (no joke) because this is something I could just rant about on and on. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

          1. Xeorm says:

            It’s a tough issue to tackle. I know for me I generally expect people’s actions to not always come out the way they planned. On the other hand I do generally expect people to mostly do what they wanted to do. So if I see an option in a game that is intending for X effect, I expect that X effect will actually come to pass. If there’s more options, I might expect at least one of them to do what’s planned. To have the entire bit subverted feels like it’s cheating me out of what I wanted to do. Why offer an option if it’s not going to work?

            Which tends to be where conservation of resources comes in. If you offer four choices for the player, then you need to write and voice and all that for 4 different options, which takes up resources. If one’s the “correct” option, then that gets boring quick. So easier to label them good/evil/neutral etc and move on. Not a very conducive option to subverting expectations though.

          2. hewhosaysfish says:

            I wonder how much of what we’re looking at here is due to the game giving you out-of-character information in the presentation of the options.

            Suppose we see a quest in BG3, where a bunch of impoverished dirt-farmers have set out to settle on a new frontier, where they can stand tall and live out their dreams of being a bit less impoverished. However they’ve all been captured by, let’s say, orcs and have to be rescued by the PC. Following their rescue their leader, Headman Jim, tells you that a lot of them aren’t sure that this was such a good idea and wondering if maybe they should go back and live safely under the boot of Lord Taxalot.

            If the players presented with a choice of 2 options, which include a skill check…

            1: “(Diplomacy 75%) If go back now, will you not feel regret for the rest of your life? Knowing that you came so close your dream of freedom and turned away now?”
            2: “It does look like it was a big mistake for you to come out here.”

            …then that gives a very different expectation that if the player is simply presented with 2 options…

            1: “Surely you can’t turn away from your dreams now?”
            2: “It does look like it was a big mistake for you to come out here.”

            The second is presented as a choice, the first as an obstacle.

            When I read that quote from Adam Smith, my concern is that instead of avoiding giving out-of-character information, this quest in BG3 may be giving out-of-character information that is deliberately misleading.

            1. Liessa says:

              That’s a good point as well. Successful dialogue checks are expected to produce better results for obvious reasons: if you’re putting your skill points into Diplomacy, it’s because you want your diplomacy to lead to better outcomes. I can see the argument that being more effective at convincing people doesn’t mean your decisions are right, but from a game-mechanical perspective this is simply unfair. There’s almost no situation where improving your fighting skills could possibly lead to a worse outcome, but if improving your Diplomacy only leads to better outcomes 50% of time, those are going to feel like wasted skill points.

              1. Kyle Haight says:

                There are ways to address that imbalance. One could have a design where high fighting skills foreclose chances to resolve situations peacefully. I understand Disco Elysium does something like that.

                1. Sleeping Dragon says:

                  Or this. yes. Though most games achieve this through limited point pools and it ends up being framed as “lack of diplomacy forces you into combat” not “your high skill in combat prevents you from doing diplomacy”, even though when you think about it from the narrative perspective that is exactly what happens: your devotion to combat training didn’t leave you time to learn other things.

              2. Sleeping Dragon says:

                No, that’s exactly what’s not unfair. Being convincing doesn’t make you right, it just makes you convincing. If your base argument is wrong, whether due to bad faith, misinformation, lack of information or any other circumstance, you’re going to convince people to do the wrong thing. A successful application of a skill is meant to give the character what they want, whether it is convincing someone they should buy the magic beans or smashing their head in and taking their gold, what they want may not always be what is correct.

                I think in your argument about the fighting skills you’re missing on some subtleties. To give you an example: I have amazing fighting skills, therefore I can go into the dungeon and slay The Guardians of the Vault, what I don’t know is that “The Vault” is the setting’s evil in the can (which actually happens in a bunch of games but generally in a spot where players don’t get a choice). Boom, your high fighting skill made the situation worse. You could argue that it’s not the matter of success at fighting but a failure in knowledge but here’s another example: I am very good at fighting therefore I kill the enemies before they have a chance to run, I have no way of knowing that halfway down through the story, when the Nextdoor Empire is going to attack these bandits would have joined my forces as guerillas. In this case there is literally no way of knowing this will happen. Which by the way is why 99% of games would basically make it so the leader of the bandits is literally unkillable or “gets up from death in a cutscene” and there is a forced dialogue where he asks for mercy (at which point showing mercy is obviously the good choice because “killing is bad”*).

                *As a total bit of trivia, Mars:War Logs has a sidequest where you get to track down a serial killer, if you find them and beat them up they will actually beg for you to let them go and promise you they’ll never do this again. Later in the game you will find out that they totally started killing again and you get an option to finish them off but someone has died for your mistake. The game does a similar thing, where someone else gets to pay for your principled choice, in a more plot relevant way but I’m not going to spoil it. This kind of stuff is why I wish Spiders was a studio that’d be better at, you know, actually making games. I need to check out Greedfall one of these days.

                1. Liessa says:

                  I’m not arguing that it’s unfair from a storyline perspective, but from a gameplay perspective. If you’re building your diplomacy skills and yet they hinder rather than help you in half the relevant encounters, whereas building your fighting skills helps you in every fight, then a diplomacy build is simply less efficient. The examples you gave of high fighting skills leading to a worse outcome aren’t really comparing like with like: in the first case, as you say, it’s the lack of other attributes causing the problem. In the second, it’s the player’s attitude of “slice first, ask questions later”. I guess you could frame the mission as “you have to kill all these enemies to prevent them escaping and causing havoc”, only for failure to lead to a better outcome later on, but that kind of situation is vanishingly rare in actual video games.

                  Greedfall is really good fun, by the way. I’m playing it now and enjoying it a whole lot. Not a perfect game by any means, but it’s come closer to scratching that old-style Bioware itch than any other RPG in the better part of a decade.

                  1. Sleeping Dragon says:

                    Oh Spiders is a studio in love with the Bioware formula, though it’s often clear their reach exceeds their grasp I always liked their ambition and occasionally they just strike gold with a quest, scene or line of dialogue.

                    Going back to the main argument, that’s kind of it again, your successful check on diplomacy that ends up making things worse is not a failure of diplomacy, you convinced people and that’s what diplomacy does, just like a good fighting skill gets people you want dead killed. Also, that example with failure leading to better things might be what Larian means, and iirc in D:OS2 they totally do the thing where you succeed at a persuasion check and it still immediately initiates combat.

                    Anyway, I think we might be approaching this from slightly different angles, I do actually see this type of RPG primarily as an interactive storytelling device and that’s where our divergent opinions might stem from, and by now we’ve probably exhausted our positions (and the comment pyramid, I think this comment might actually cap it). Again, I do agree that a large part of it is that this needs to feel “fair”, which is a vague qualifier based on subjective perception of events, and games have less than stellar record for enforcing player failure in a way that doesn’t feel like an asspull. I will say that I’d rather the game let me bumble around cluelessly, make bad choices and succeed at them (thus making the situation worse) than do more “and now in a cutscene your actions are disabled and your character acts like a moron and so the villain gets the MacGuffin or whatever”.

                    1. GloatingSwine says:

                      The problem is that if the player is asked a question “should I do the thing, yes/no”, then both of those outcomes is the player “persuading” the NPC to one course of action or another.

                      If one of those outcomes requires investment to get, then the GM should reward the investment the player made in their character sheet not plant gotchas they can only see if they invested.

                      Because you don’t get punished for rolling too high on your to-hit rolls. You might get punished for fighting at the wrong time, but not for fighting too well.

          3. galacticplumber says:

            To put it simply? Videogames ARE about exactly that, like, 99% of the time, and medieval fantasy generally add some decimal points to that. A game which deviates from that expected norm should be explicit as possible about it in marketing for two reasons.

            One, the people who actually WANT that will have an easier time finding their preferred experience.

            Two, who very much don’t have the inalienable right to curate their free time leisure, and budget experience. Nobody wants time and money spent on apples when they wanted oranges.

          4. Liessa says:

            To address a few of your points (not necessarily in the same order):

            – Firstly, there’s a difference between objecting to ‘out of nowhere’ bad consequences and wanting games to be non-stop ’empowering wish fulfillment’. I don’t expect games to portray me as the flawless hero who always saves everyone and succeeds at everything, but I do expect them to be fun. And from a personal perspective, pouring time and effort into something that turns out to be worse than useless is just. Not. Fun. Being railroaded into bad decisions against your will is even more annoying, and I have to say that I don’t ever consider this acceptable in a game – at best it’s something I’ll tolerate with gritted teeth, and at worst it’ll make me ditch the game altogether and warn other people off playing it.

            It’s no use pretending games are equivalent to books or movies in this regard, because the ‘interactive’ element means that the players feel like it’s their time being wasted, not the characters’. If story progression is treated as a ‘reward’ for working through the gameplay parts, obviously most players are going to feel aggrieved if things don’t turn out the way they want. Just imagine the mechanical equivalent: the game promises you a cool item in return for completing a quest, but ends up actually taking an item away from you instead. Players would feel cheated, and rightly so.

            – I agree that good intentions can have bad consequences, but it’s actually pretty rare for what seems like an obvious good choice to turn out to be the exact opposite. To take the Larian example: while we don’t know the exact details yet, I can think of very, very few plausible situations where helping someone in ‘serious trouble’ is likely to turn out worse for them than if you didn’t help them. The only examples I can think of are ones that are pretty much deliberately contrived to produce that outcome – and the more contrived the situation feels, the less you can rely on “but it happens in real life!” as an excuse.

            To address your specific examples: The first one feels like exactly the kind of contrived situation mentioned above, unless there’s some kind of hint that Lord Trustworthy may be mind-controlled by the illithids (you’d think SOMEONE would notice a difference). As for the second: well, no shit, joining a militia is probably going to be dangerous. If you get the choice to just rescue the characters and send them on their way, fine – but you shouldn’t have to fail a dialogue check in order to make a perfectly sensible decision.

            – It’s fine to have players make decisions based on limited knowledge, but limited knowledge usually means that there isn’t an obvious ‘right’ answer in the first place. Many people have mentioned the Witcher games as an example of how to do this well, but the Witcher games usually have consequences that are at least somewhat predictable in retrospect. There are exceptions, but they rarely pull the bait-and-switch thing with “HAHA GOTCHA! Things turned out the exact opposite way from what you expected!”

            As for the Fallout quest: I’ve only played a bit of Fallout and never got to Junktown, but my reaction to this would depend on how well it was set up. Is there any indication in advance that the greedy asshole is smart enough to make the town prosperous, or would care about doing so in the first place? Just how fanatical is the fanatically ‘by the book’ character? Dragon Age: Origins takes pretty much exactly this approach with the two candidates for the Dwarven throne, and I can’t say it really worked for me. Bhelen never struck me as particularly smart – he did too many things that seemed outright counterproductive as well as just ‘evil’ – while Harrowmont never seemed nearly as much of a fanatic as the ending slides would imply.

            1. galacticplumber says:

              That’s exactly like books and movies. I can’t be the only person to have been so thoroughly disappointed by a written work of fiction as to simply drop it in disgust, and if the new star wars stories are true that CERTAINLY happens in movie land.

              1. Liessa says:

                Sure, I’ve done the same with books and movies. But for me it feels even worse in a game, where you actually have some control over what happens, making it feel like you participated in the bad outcome. (Obviously some games have a linear story and no choices, but it can still be frustrating if you feel like you should have been able to avert this outcome, but the game railroads you into it anyway).

            2. Sleeping Dragon says:

              Also not in a particular order.

              I mean, I don’t see why you say interactivity is an obstacle. It has long been an aspiration of CRPGs to emulate the tabletop experience, one of the most interactive entertainment forms I can possibly think of, and in tabletop players often end up being cheated, betrayed, falling for lies, overlooking things, making bad choices for all the right reasons… And to make it clear I’m not talking about asshole DMs using god powers to steal victory from the players, I’m talking about normal storytelling. Now obviously in most cases this is meant to result in some kind of temporary setback or a chance for players to exercise their roleplaying, almost every DM actually wants the players to win, because that’s the kind of stories people enjoy, but we usually want their way to victory to be interesting. Will the make a deal with the devil (metaphorical or literal)? When and how will they figure out they’re working for the villain of the story and will they switch sides or will they accept their argument for “enlightened tyranny”? They never figured out who this contact actually is, will the give them this information and thus deliver it to someone of evil intent? Like I said above video games tend to strip stories of this kind of nuance. Compromise is only good when it’s the player’s side asking for it. Virtuous choice never leads to bad consequences.

              RE Fallout: he’s a greedy sleezebag, I’ll quote his cut ending here in full: “Under Gizmo’s leadership, Junktown becomes a trading center and resort, where people come from miles around to gamble, spend money and enjoy themselves in relative safety. Gizmo keeps the town prosperous but healthy, as he has no desire to injure his own affluence. The inhabitants of the town become wealthy and famous.”

              RE Witcher: Aaaaaaactually, I remember some people complaining quite loudly about the choices that affect Ciri in the ending. Mostly along the lines of “if you choose to protect her she dies”, where the idea the game wants to communicate is that by showing her you don’t trust her to take care of herself you undermined her self confidence and didn’t let her grow.

              RE DAO: To me this seems like a similar situation to the Fallout Junktown thing. “This one is clearly good because he represents the values generally perceived as good by us, therefore his ending is going to be better”. Mind you, I’m not arguing that in this specific case Harrowmont’s ending should have been better, just that there’s something of a pattern.

              Anyway, the thing is we can argue about specific examples until the heat death gets us. I think it’s fair to say the issue is nuanced, a big part of it being that it takes skill to do that kind of thing properly so that players see it as a good story being told rather than the writer using plot powers to take the victory from the player. And as Shamus has at length demonstrated in this blog really good writers are in short supply in gamedev, heck, sometimes asking for skillful execution of tropes seems to be too much.

            3. Chad Miller says:

              I don’t think Fallout as it stands signals the Junktown dilemma well enough, but it could be easily tweaked to signal “this is more ambiguous than you might think” if you wanted to go that route. For example, the sheriff also runs the General Store but nothing in that store is manufactured locally as far as I remember; it’s all trading with travelers, and it’s hard to sustain a town that way. Meanwhile Gizmo’s casino, booze and prostitutes are all getting travellers to leave some of their money behind.

              If this type of economic explanation seems far-fetched, the thing to realize is that both Fallout and Fallout 2 were presented in such a way that you could economically justify most of the towns with a little thought (or, more often, explicit explanations in the game itself). That the ghoul city won’t do business with the water caravans is a plot point in the first game’s main quest.

            4. GloatingSwine says:

              Re: DAO.

              I am not sure Bhelen was supposed to be particularly “smart” except in as far as he managed to look like the harmless one for just long enough to do in the competition.

              The choice was between Bhelen, who was going to overturn an unjust system but was personally ruthless, conniving, and ambitious and Harrowmont who was personally loyal and noble but was bound to the unjust system and regarded it as right and good.

              Like that’s actually the choice in DAO where there are actual upsides and downsides to both sides.

          5. Syal says:

            If only you’d realized ahead of time that Lord Trustworthy was actually the notorious conman, Trut Swarthy.

          6. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

            However as a roleplayer and DM of many years I HATE how games have taught some people to expect that good intentions must always have good consequences, particularly if you put in the legwork. Say, if you encourage the villagers to stand up to the raiders they will succeed, or if they fail and get slaughtered it’s because you didn’t do a sidequest that would give them good weapons. Here’s a bit of trivia, did you know that in the original Fallout (drink!) the endings relating to Junktown got switched before release? In the original original version turns out that the greedy asshole is smart enough to make the town prosperous while the fanatically “by the book” lawkeeper makes people steer clear, according to the Fallout Bible this was reversed because the marketing insisted that siding with good and bad must always be rewarded or punished respectively.

            First, there should be some foreshadowing of a possible bad consequences for a good intentions, and second, other options shouldn’t be treated like an explicitly bad intentions. Common logic and overall knowledge of a world, in which game takes place should be applicable to decision-making. Like in your example with a villagers, player should know that raiders are hardened in multiple battles and peasants with a little training are no match for them, and player should know, that hiding in the forest, or asking local feudal for help wouldn’t bring villagers to misery and starvation/oppression. Also, I think, legwork should be rewarded, maybe even with this knowledge, or it should allow to avoid complete disaster in a bad outcome.
            I’m not saying, that everything should be overexplained and clear, but without sufficient information going with good intention is rational, especially when other options look bad. And additional efforts should be rewarded, just not in binary way.

            And about Junktown. I’ve played Fallout long time ago, but I remember Gizmo as a one-note character, there’s nothing about him except he’s a petty crimelord, so I’d have a hard time to belive that Junktown would prosper under him.

            1. Sleeping Dragon says:

              Oh sure, for the sake of discussion assuming we’re dealing with a heroic party (or even a party of decent enough people, or even bad people who care about good PR or have something to gain) than yes, they acting with good intentions.

              Now tabletop is a complicated beast and there is a lot of differing opinion on how to “do it right” so consider this my take. In tabletop players are not supposed to make choices. In tabletop players make decisions. Yes, some of those decisions can be presented as choices (though players are both likely and in their right to do something entirely perpendicular to those) but since players have complete freedom it is up to them to figure out how to handle a situation. If they decide “oh we’re gonna train these peasants to fight” and then don’t think to scout, ask, scry or somehow figure out how dangerous the bandit force is, ignore the peasants’ reservations on being able to fight the raiders and just override those with a charismatic speech, drop off some weapons they looted off the last goblin tribe and be on their merry way it is their bloody fault the peasants get slaughtered and it is not the job of a DM to mollycoddle them.

              If they decide to put in the legwork it is also their job to figure how their skillset features into the challenge, like figure out the ranger could scout out the bandits, or the veteran soldier could drill the peasants, the DM can drop them hints (and certainly should if we’re talking about less experienced players) like, say, one of the peasants expressing awe at the soldier about how “they clearly know how to fight” but ultimately it is not their job to just give players a bunch of tests and make them dicerolling machines, first of all that’s boring. This of course does mean that sometimes players will overlook something, operate on wrong assumptions, this means the can mess up despite best intentions, this means they can mess up despite legwork, mitigating the chance of this is part of the fun but sometimes it will happen.

              On the other hand the most common way DMs cheat is when they let players get away with things. The DM thought of the peasants as hopeless asshats but since the players thought they’d do the militia thing they’ll suddenly gain in competence (heck, a good DM will likely think of a way to make this relevant sometime later, like these villagers will be at the head of a peasant revolt halfway campaign later, or they’ll be guerillas during an enemy invasion, or just drop one of the village youths as a recruit at a nearby garrison a year later because he had a taste of fighting and let players leverage that connection). It is a delicate balance between letting players enjoy progress and dropping adversities in their path, between letting them win and forcing them to deal with failure.

              1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

                That’s kinda what I’m saying, in your example options to scout, ask etc. are present, information, required for players to make decision is there in the game’s world, and if they choose to neglect it (consciously or not), that’s their fault, and terrible result is what they earned.
                The same goes for the legwork, with right decisions it should provide more satisfying result, but not necessarily perfect one. There always should be some ways to mitigate failure and undermine success.
                And it’s easy (in theory) to do in tabletop game, not so much in a video-game, where player makes decisions too, but this decisions severely limited by the number of choices. That’s why more explicit hints are necessary, it’s very easy in a CRPG to gloss over some minor piece of information, or to choose wrong dialogue option accidentally and there’s no DM to fix that.

          7. Steve C says:

            I’d read it as “acting under imperfect knowledge can lead to consequences you couldn’t predict or intend”.

            Ehh. I hate that for different reasons. (Well mostly.) I find what it *really* does is making reading a guide that much more important. If you as the player truly couldn’t predict nor intend it then it isn’t really a decision. It’s just some stuff that happened. If a game does something like that early then I’ll never trust the writer again. Which sends me looking for guides and negatively impacting the entire experience. It sucks for the entire game. Even if it never pulls that trick again. It can be done though. They have to earn it and it has to be done well.

            One example I can think of that works well is from Until Dawn. You pick which character lives and which dies. Except it is a false choice. The setup and over-arcing plot and characterization makes it work. It is also an outcome that could be predicted.

            1. Kylroy says:

              Exactly. If you punish the player for working towards the outcomes they want, it *will* piss them off. So you’d better be damn sure whatever you’re trying to accomplish is something *the player* will find worth having been jerked around.

      4. Liessa says:

        More agreement here. I see the point they’re trying to make – that you can’t always predict how things will turn out in real life – but whenever I actually see this in games, I find it really really fucking annoying. I’m not sure developers quite appreciate how exasperating this “HAHA, GOTCHA” thing can be for players, especially if they’ve just poured a whole lot of effort into achieving the ‘good’ outcome.

        1. emptyother says:

          I think the worst part is when they put the blame on me, despite me not having a choice.. That too might happen in real life, but I got like a whole 3-10 people team behind me, and just once I would want them to tell me that “we were with you and you did what you thought was best at that time”. Thats what movies does, the main character is full of doubt, and his fellowship reminds him what they were fighting for when they all agreed to follow his choice.

            1. Liessa says:

              The inevitable entry for ‘Spec Ops: The Line’ is fascinating. Apparently there were originally some alternative ways to play through the ‘white phosphorous’ scene, but these were removed because – amazingly enough – most playtesters chose to take the alternatives. To me this says everything you need to know about the dishonesty and hypocrisy of these devs. “We thought our players would choose to act immorally, but they turned out to be more moral than we expected. So we changed the rules of the game in order to force them to act immorally, so that we can keep on self-righteously lecturing them about how immoral they are.”

              1. Joshua says:

                As Geebs says below, the alternative (as touted by the developers) was to commit atrocities or stop playing the expensive game you bought. *rolls eyes*.

          1. Chad Miller says:

            I think the worst part is when they put the blame on me, despite me not having a choice.

            Even worse: Forcing you to choose dialogue options implying guilt despite not having had a choice.

            (I’ll make an allowance for games where the character acts guilty if the player character dialogue is predetermined, like in most action games, JRPGs etc. But if your game has a dialogue tree I want an “I regret nothing” option even if that dialogue option itself adds more negative consequences)

            1. Steve C says:

              Yeah that’s the worst of all worlds. It is always extra preachy too. “You did the bad thing we made you do… FOR SHAME!”
              Hack game writing at its worse.

            2. Steve C says:

              Oh! I just thought of my favorite example of doing it badly. It’s even D&D for extra relevance: The entire campaign setting of Ravenloft.

              Man I hate Ravenloft. It constantly dicks over the players left right and center. Doing the good thing helps the bad guys. Doing the bad thing helps the bad guys. Every success is really a failure. The players never have any agency. Even the endings are retconned in the published modules so that the npcs cannot lose. And if the PCs manage to somehow succeed… it was all a dream. I’m watching a Puffin Forest episode set and yup. Ravenloft was bullshit 20yrs ago and the modern version still sucks.

              Flipping success and failure is often just railroading with extra steps.

              1. Fizban says:

                I haven’t even played or read much of anything in Ravenloft, but the very idea turned me off immediately. If the entire concept of your setting reads the same as the list of things an abusive DM does, maybe don’t?

                There’s a similar problem with various interpretations of the Lovecraftian/Cthulu-ish mythos (I’m told the original stories aren’t actually much like that), but people have leeched enough of it into postive games that punching out Cthulu is actually more common. Even the more lighthearted Paranoia, which is all about getting hilariously screwed by Friend Computer/the party/yourself, can be taken too far.

              2. Gautsu says:

                If that’s all you take away from Ravenloft, you had a bad DM.

                1. galacticplumber says:

                  That’s how the BOOKS present it, both for game setting, and for all written novels. That’s not a DM problem. Now you can have a DM fix a bad setting, but that’s above and beyond.

                  1. Joshua says:

                    In the Official Ravenloft adventure for 5th Edition, Curse of Strahd, there’s even a scenario in the main plotline that plays out like this. Near the beginning of the adventure the PCs are likely to come across a woman who requests their help as Strahd’s forces have been attacking her and her brother. You can help rescue them and let them follow you for a while in the module.

                    At one point, about mid-way through the module, your group is likely to come across en enchanted pool of water. A ghostly figure emerges and starts calling out to the woman in your group. She goes into a trance and starts walking towards the ghost while acting mesmerized. If the PCs interfere with her moving towards the ghost in any way, the trance is broken and the ghost disappears wailing. Guess what? The ghost was benevolent and was the ONLY way for her soul to escape the realm. You have doomed her soul to eternal suffering, you Genre-Savvy bastards!

                    Bonus points are that the adventure gives the DM no suggestions on what to do with the character after that point.

                    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

                      In my experience to run a premade the way it is written you either have to railroad the heck out of players or cheat to the extent that it’s not even sporting. Personally I don’t like them because trying to go by the book usually makes you end up in a dead end, because the quest did not sprout organically from your thoughts on the setting and/or previous events, because just reading “and then this will happen” you did not consider how elements will interact with each other. Oh sure, a decent DM will improvise something but trying to run a premade quest rather than “your own version of a quest based loosely on the premade” is usually a great way to put blinders on.

                      Buuuuut to put my metaphorical money where my virtual mouth is first let me say why I think that scene could exist at all. Possibly the point could be to drive the setting in. My knowledge of Ravenloft specifically is somewhat… ehh, let’s say tangenial but afaik it’s meant to be way grimdarker when compared to your average adventuring around the Forgotten Realms? So in this case the DM might be using a character who is not necessarily relevant to the larger plot to demonstrate that. The way you present it players have no way of knowing whether the ghost is malevolent or benevolent (let’s ignore DM contribution in the description, what player or characters may know about ghosts and anything they could possibly do during the scene) and it’s a 50/50 gamble. Do I think the player should be chastised about interfering? Maybe in character, for example the NPC could be furious at them or despairing, but that kind of emotion does not have to be rational and should not be taken as the DM criticizing the players’ choice. Should the characters feel bad? Depends on the roleplay. We often feel bad about things that were beyond our control or happened by accident and the question is always “how would your character feel”.

                      If I was doing a scene like this? Again, let’s assume I (for some reason) leave it to the binary choice and the players do not have or can’t think of anything that would help them figure things out and it is a 50/50 gamble. If they let things happen I’d probably use it to explain something about the setting. If they interfered and messed things up? There may be no immediate thing they could do but if they keep this in mind and try to look for a way to help I’d give them the option eventually (in reality I’d probably have something like three different options loosely defined in my head and the players would think of a fourth and fifth), there are so many ways to resolve this! Make a separate quest around this alone, or give the players an option to sacrifice something or make a deal with the devil for this, make the NPC return at some point on the side of the villains who promisedto help them (particuarly if the PCs were non-commital). Heck, even if they can’t find a way but one player decides to make it their character’s life mission to someday find a way to rescue this soul and return with it it still counts for something even if it only comes up in epilogue for the adventure/campaign.

                  2. Gautsu says:

                    I own almost all of the Ravenloft products from second edition up to Curse of Strahd, as well as most of the novels. I would disagree, but I also realize that opinions other than my own are valid as well. I would suggest looking at the 3rd edition stuff published by Arthaus(? Spelling) as some of the best fluff books ever written, specifically their gazeteer series.

            3. Geebs says:

              Aha! But if you really cared about saving those NPCs you could always have stopped playing this game you just paid $60 for. You selfish, selfish jerk.

              1. FluffySquirrel says:

                You must drop the Horrid Wilting on the endlessly spawning orcs to continue

                Haha, you fool, the orcs had enslaved prisoners in tents that you could totally see with your infravision

      5. Nimrandir says:

        Like you as a player know your character’s personality is deeply flawed and need to work that into your decisions.

        Maybe that’s what Larian is going for? I mean, we have a vampire spawn and a githyanki as party members. We’re not exactly talking Ajantis here. I’m not sure the Forgotten Realms is the right setting for something like that, though. It leans pretty hard into classical high fantasy. Eberron would have been a better fit.

        1. Steve C says:

          Yeah. That’s why I used the vampire as the specific example. Like you romance a party member and:
          “Kiss me…”
          Seduction roll: Success!
          {makeout noises}
          {muffled screaming}
          “I ripped out her throat! She’s dead!”

          I could see that. That’s fine. I’m not sure I’d call that flipping success and failure though. Technically it definitely is. But in that case “Success” is more of a pedantic label.

          1. Syal says:

            That does remind me of Vampire the Masquerade, where you can give vampire blood to a dying woman and she comes back a love-charmed ghoul who starts killing people to get your attention. No skill checks, though.

            …actually, VtM also had characters armed with powerful weapons attack you if you broke the Masquerade, which became your weapons once you killed them. The closest thing to failing being better than success that I can think of.

            1. ehggre says:

              Well the way VtM handled that Ghoul plot is actually the biggest plot misstep in the entire game imo. Although iirc she doesn’t actually kill anyone herself, she will bring a random npc back home as a ‘gift’ for you, but what you then do is a player choice, not the Ghoul’s.

              No, the stupid bit is the railroaded death. If you don’t send her away she just appears in a room in one of the last levels and it killed in a cutscene by a Sabbath goon. No final conversation, no choice, no explanation how she got there or why just ‘bam, dead’ and your character never even has the option to comment iirc (although it’s been years since I played the game). There’s not even any foreshadowing that the Sabbath might know where your haven is, so there’s no reason to suspect she’s in any danger beforehand. It’s just frustrating, especially as the devs do a far better job in pretty much the entire rest of the game.

      6. Joshua says:

        I think it’s alright to have an interesting result come from failure, but not bad results from making “correct” decisions. One option leads to “Wow, I guess it was really lucky that we screwed up”, the other leads to “Oh, #$^@ you game designer!

    2. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

      This…isn’t necessarily a good thing. This kind of moral choice can be used as a really cheap ‘GOTCHA’ moment. Oh, you didn’t realize that saving those peasants from a disease meant that one of them would grow up to be a brutal dictator? Hoho, got you there, player! It’s all YOUR fault he started that war!

      Yeah. A lot of writers tries to come up with “realisitc” outcomes in their fiction lately, but results are edgy and lame (Game of Thrones, I blame you) mostly, and come as an ass pull. There always should be some hints about consequences of player’s actions. And if a game pretends, that it’s not linear, there always should be a way to avoid awful outcome, or at least a way to choose a “lesser evil”.

      1. Microwaviblerabbit says:

        I think it risks becoming a ‘guide dang it’ moment a lot of the time. (I won’t link tvtropes for everyone’s sanity). That leads to players being upset or not enjoying the game, especially when it is done for bad reasons.

        I think it needs to be either after the end of the game, in a slideshow so it can inform the next playthrough, or minor enough so you don’t feel the need to reload and fix it.

        The Witcher 3 had an excellent example. At one point you help a guy fix a cart full of plague victims. If you do not burn the bodies, you meet him later and he has the plague, and you can give him some coin for medicine. It is low stakes enough that you don’t feel cheated, and it makes sense. For more high stakes stuff, the fact all outcomes are bad like with the Bloody Baron are pretty well set out from the start, and constantly reinforced.

        1. Liessa says:

          The Witcher games generally do this pretty well: rather than just flipping the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ outcomes as described here, they present you with a morally complex situation with no obvious ‘right’ answer, and consequences that generally make sense even if they’re not quite what you expect. A good example is the investigation of Prince Stennis in Witcher 2: he’s both a complete and utter prick and probably guilty, but there really isn’t enough evidence to justify letting the entire village lynch him, and forbidding this actually leads to a better outcome in the long run.

          1. BlueHorus says:

            Yep. there was a great quest involving a village that was beholden to a [insert whatever the Witcher universe calls an Ent/tree-monster here; I forget]. Doing what I though was right turned out to be really unsatisfying, mostly because I’d underestimated how incredibly shitty one of the NPCs involved was capable of being.

            One of the crucial things, though, was that ‘people can be shitty and you don’t always have all the facts’ was a theme running through the entire game…

          2. Dalisclock says:

            Witcher 2 was full of morally grey decisions. Siding with Roche or Iorveth meant you were going along with either a government agent who is more then happy to do morally dubious stuff for king and country, or am Elven terrorist(who has legit grievances but more then happy to do anything to achieve his goals). Not to mention a lot of the decisions Geralt makes screws someone over and the big question is who.

            In Roches routes, there’s a particulary nasty conumdrum where they walk in on one of the Kings they(Roche and Geralt) were working with comitting rape on someone Roche cares about. Roche immediately wants to kill the King(the King’s bodyguards aren’t in the room, for whatever reason) and Geralt has the choice of letting him take vengeance or restraining him so the King lives. And while it’s obvious the King is a rapey bastard, the main plot involves a number of kings being assasinated explicitly to throw the North into Chaos(prior to an upcoming invasion from the South), not to mention killing this king would go against Roches duty as a government agent who was serving that particular king as well up until that particular moment.

            So the choice becomes do the right thing, kill a rapey bastard(again, who is a king leading one of the few countries not in chaos at the moment) and throw the world into even more Chaos(not to mention become a Kingkiller, which is the crime of the main antagonist) or let him live to help preserve some stability? Neither situation is optimal(and Witcher 3 mostly glosses over any decisions you made on the grand scale).

            1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

              Witcher 2 really has a lot of grey moral choices, but your example isn’t the best. Henselt was a terrible person all along before rape, and more important he’s a terrible king. Killing him would be too satisfying, even with harder consequences.

              1. Daniil says:

                IIRC he was at least somewhat competent and popular, at least among some of his people (namely the rank and file soldiers). Though I may be getting that wrong after all those years. Still a massive bastard, though, so yes, killing him may be a little too tempting once you have the chance.

                1. Liessa says:

                  I ended up letting Roche kill Henselt even though I usually had Geralt make the ‘greater good’ style decisions. My reasoning was twofold: Firstly, I was so utterly fed up of Henselt by this time that I really didn’t give a fuck about the consequences. Secondly, I figured that if he’s too stupid to realise why pulling a stunt like that was a bad idea – after I already saved him once from the consequences of his own idiocy – then he’s too stupid to be running a country, regardless of what the lore says. I might not have had Geralt directly murder him, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to prevent anyone else from doing it.

      2. krellen says:

        I get enough real in my real life. The last thing I want in my escapist entertainment is the bad guys still winning despite all best intentions and efforts.

        1. Nimrandir says:

          I agree. The only caveat is if the game goes the Tyranny route and broadcasts the status of the player characters as morally gray or outright evil.

          Granted, this approach runs into resistance from mainstream players (like me), who don’t want to play as villains or antiheroes.

          1. BlueHorus says:

            For me, Tyranny did it really well. I remember seeing my self as the Velvet Glove to someone else’s Iron Fist, trying to do the best I could with not actually that much control. It was unique – though I get why it wouldn’t appeal to everyone.

            ‘Look, you can deal with me, or you can…be dealt with, by Kyras. You don’t want the second option. Work with me here…’

          2. GloatingSwine says:

            You can join the rebels in Tyranny and stand against Kyras.

            It’s more complicated and you can very easily lock yourself out of it, but it’s there.

            (Tyranny also has a clever approach to its opening time limit. If you read the edict straight away then you have 7 days to resolve it, but if you wait until after the 7th day then read it you have a year, because it happens the next time that date comes round, it also teaches you if you do that that the edicts are very literal, which is information you can use elsewhere).

        2. Aaron B Wayman says:

          This. This right here. This is why I don’t watch much media newer than 1963. I don’t want to escape my humdrum routine into some one else’s crapsack world. I catch a lot of heat from people when I say it though. Apparently, if you aren’t entertained by being brow beat over the inequities of the world, you are the problem.

      3. Boobah says:

        In Game of Thrones‘s defense, their most remembered swerve was the Red Wedding, and Martin had gone out of his way to explain all the pieces that went into that happening; specifically Roose Bolton’s ambition combined with the petty vengeance of Tywin Lannister and Walder Frey. The only reason it was shocking was, despite Ned’s death in the previous book/season, people simply couldn’t believe that boy-hero-king Robb and his PoV mother would get treacherously murdered.

        None of which excuses the people who couldn’t see it coming, even on rewatch, and thought it was awesome because it came out of nowhere, not because it was obvious in retrospect.

        1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

          Well, I’m blaming TV series and people’s perception of it, not novels. In novels all violence, deaths, etc. conform to internal and common logic. Things happen not to gratify something, but because of sequence of events. A lot of people don’t get it, as result gruesomeness mistaken for believability.

    3. tmtvl says:

      There’s a game that did it very well, called Unrest. It used India as a setting and had a very branching storyline.

      1. Nimrandir says:

        Trying to summon the spirit of Rutskarn, eh?

  4. Decius says:

    The Grognard would not neglect to mention Lesser Restoration, which cures 1d4 points of ability score damage.

    It can be expensive to buy enough scrolls/potions to press on despite everyone having gotten poisoned, but it’s only gold.

    1. Lasius says:

      You don’t even have to buy them. There are two clerics and an alchemist companion in the game that can easily each cast the spell several times a day.

      1. Nimrandir says:

        Okay, but it’ll be a while before you can spare second-level divine spell slots for a stack of lesser restorations. Stuff like spiritual weapon, resist energy, and bull’s strength are generally more useful. Also, it’s a three-round cast, which can be problematic. I swear by potions specifically due to shadow ambushes.

        Moreover, I feel obligated to point out that having an alchemist prepare a bunch of lesser restoration extracts is spectacularly suboptimal. They have much better ways to use those slots.

        1. Lasius says:

          Well, you obviously don’t cast it in combat. And to be honest, when I know I will be fighting enemies with ability damage effects I would rather prepare lesser restoration than the other three. Bull’s strength doesn’t stack with stat items anyway and direct damage spells usually aren’t worth it unless you can exploit a weakness or sneak attack with them. Resist energy is very useful though.

          1. Nimrandir says:

            Sure, if you know ability damage is coming, prepping the spells makes sense. However, I’ve played a fair amount of Pathfinder, and the frequency of that specific bit of information has been pretty low. As a spell with no save or caster level dependence, lesser restoration always felt like scroll/potion bait to me.

            Maybe this is due to my experience being in organized play, where you don’t have a guarantee of a player willing to devote their entire character to healing everyone else.

        2. Decius says:

          At the very least, the cleric reduces the rest time from ‘one day per point of damage’ to ‘two days’.

          And once you have third level spell slots, mass resist energy frees up the second-level slots. Spiritual weapon is so niche as to be useless.

          Once you have an alchemist making infusions, those spell slots are basically worthless, since everyone will have a +4 enhancement bonus to their key ability scores via items.

          1. Nimrandir says:

            Full disclosure: I don’t play many divine spellcasters. The one I have is a warpriest, so his spell loadout is a little weird. To that end, I asked folks from my local Pathfinder group how they prepared their second-level spells. Spiritual weapon and resist energy both made the cut; bull’s strength was a solid choice at low levels, to be replaced by bear’s endurance once people obtain +4 Strength boosters. They were also in agreement that lesser restoration is generally something you want on a scroll or in a bottle, barring unusual circumstances suggesting outrageous ability damage (rather than drain, since we all know it’s worthless in that scenario). The consensus was the slot was better used via Divine Interference to avoid the damaging hit in the first place, or sound burst or burst of radiance to take the enemy out of the fight for a bit. Since I’ve been at tables with these players for pretty much my entire tabletop life (they’ve saved my characters on multiple occasions), and most of them have been consistently playing in this ruleset for years, you’ll forgive me if I rank their opinion highly.

            About alchemical extracts, I do feel qualified to speak, since I have been playing a now-level-17 investigator since Paizo rolled out its playtest of the Advanced Class Guide. I use up more second-level extracts than I do any other level; between darkvision, invisibility, see invisibility, and alchemical allocation, I long for a ring of alchemy II just so I have more level-3 slots via potion. Even, dare I say, lesser restoration potions. If all you can come up with for your second-level extract slots is ability damage repair, I’m going to have to call your playstyle suboptimal.

            At this point, I think it best we agree to disagree.

  5. Sleeping Dragon says:

    Right, so much as I love your work Bob I think I may have to skip further posts in this series, for me personally we’re getting way too far into speculation territory overanalysing every bit of promotional material there is and then judging the game by the assumptions we’re making and this just isn’t my cup of tea, it gets my blood pressure up over hypotheticals and I don’t think that’s healthy.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      If it helps, this post ends with a promise of an update on Achilles’ progress on Amn.

  6. RFS-81 says:

    Regarding the Kingmaker resting screen, why did nobody tell me that this game is a spiritual successor to Realms of Arkania?

  7. Agammamon says:

    Adam Smith. . . not the guy who invented Capitalism:

    Ackaugh! . . . The guy who laid out the framework of how a free market works and how self-interest is naturally harnessed to produce value for others, *not* the inventor of capitalism – which is just one way to organize capital and labor among many (such as partnerships, worker-owned cooperatives, etc).

    There’s this pain behind my eyes, I need to go lie down now.

  8. Zaxares says:

    Hmm… I hadn’t actually considered the possibility that Larian might let you continue playing AS a Mind Flayer if you fail to deal with the ceremorphosis before 7 days (they’ve stated that you have 7 in-game days to find a solution). That actually DOES open the game up a lot. Now I’m wondering if they’ll make Psionics a separate “magic” system to conventional magic, because if they do, then I’m definitely going to try a playthrough where I allow the process to complete, and become an Illithid Wizard. Due to the massive Intelligence bonuses illithids get as a race, you could create a truly devastating spellcaster that mixes both magic and psionics together.

  9. Tefton says:

    Hey Bob, you might never see this but I just wanted to say I’m a huge fan of your work and I hope your Baldur’s Gate series hasn’t been cancelled

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