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Author Topic: Plundering the PC: Divinity: Original Sin  (Read 22281 times)


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Plundering the PC: Divinity: Original Sin
« on: October 08, 2014, 09:11:18 AM »

Mainstream fantasy RPG titles are starting to get pretty cliché. Seriously, anyone else think Bioware or Bethesda fantasy RPGs of today are that much different than those company’s titles from the 90s? Beyond graphics, of course.
On the other hand, tabletop RPGs, even when they have the same name as 20 years ago, have really changed. It’s easy to forget the things that used to be so common at the table, but a recent “indie” computer game, Divinity: Original Sin really reminded me of many things worth bringing back to the table. Original Sin, incidentally, is the latest in a franchise that’s always produced interesting, if not top selling, games…and each Divinity game is markedly different from the others.
Let’s see what’s worth looting from Original Sin:

PCs and Henchmen
Original Sin’s first unique idea has you create two characters to play the game. Brother and sister? Husband and wife? The game doesn’t say, but creating two characters from scratch gives the player a good chance of seeing all he wants to see from the game. This gives a great reminder of tabletop dynamics. At the tables, there’s a line between the players and the rest of the world: the PCs are a unit…they may as well all be siblings, or all married, and they certainly pick classes to complement each other. Players pool their treasure and split resources in a way that works nowhere in the “real world”. Original Sin does much the same, of course, but it also includes something that’s all but vanished from tabletop games today:
Not only are there a few ready-made henchies available during play, you can even “roll up” whatever kind of henchman you want, provided you have the gold to hire one. The game basically assumes you’re going to have two (the maximum), although if you really don’t want them, you can play that way as well. The pre-made henchman have stories behind them, but nothing overpowering…they’ll speak up only when something happens that’s particularly relevant.
In older tabletop games, it was standard to have a henchman or two in the party. Modern games have very involved character creation, making even creating one henchman a drain on playing time. Modern games also give character a massive array of powers (compare the one or two spells of a first level AD&D magic-user to the 12+ spells and powers of a first level Pathfinder wizard to see what I mean). Keeping track of all those powers is a daunting task for the GM, and players are usually too concerned about their own players to handle the henchman well.
Even the “basic fighter” of modern RPGs is usually too complicated to play well, and the idea of multiple henchman is just not an option. Computer games, of course, can do a fine job of controlling henchmen, but back to tabletop:
Henchmen need to come back.
Bottom line, players can usually min/max a character, but even the most diligent of player can miss a key clue in a story line, or come up with a truly dunderheaded plan. Having a henchman in the party gives the DM a way of speaking up or reminding the players of important details without necessarily breaking the game. And when the players say “let’s try a mid-day frontal assault on the stronghold where cultists are gathering,” the henchman can speak up and mention that maybe the escaped slave that told the players about the cultists left by way of “not the front door at noon.”
Luckily, D&D 5E has streamlined characters enough that it should be easy to slip a henchman into my 5E campaign…if he gets used as a piece of meat and dies quickly, so be it, but I think having a mouthpiece in the party is a DM tool that needs to be back in the game.

Magic Items
Another old school idea was the usefulness of weapons in general. A Dungeons and Dragons adventure from 1979, White Plume Mountain, has a great magical trident in it, that my players started using as soon as they got it, after battling through deadly monsters and traps. I could put that trident in the open in the middle of the town square today, and I doubt there’s a single table of players of any D&D 3.0/3.5, Pathfinder, or 4th Edition that would have any use for it or even see much need to bother picking it up except to sell. “My character isn’t hyper-over-uber-specialized for trident use, so let’s just sell it” would be the response.
Original Sin has lots of magic items, but it’s really tough to appreciate. A party will have, at best, 4 characters (two PCs and two henchmen). The robes? Those pretty much have to go to the one wizard in the party. The bow? The one archer. The knives? The one rogue, who might use one-handed weapons in general. The two handed sword? Again, at most exactly one character who can use it, and armor is only a little better.
After getting slapped in the face over and over again with this problem in Original Sin, I’m definitely going to nip off hyperspecialization in the bud in 5E…I don’t see much of it so far, but I really don’t want a cool item to be “useless” because of choices the players made 5 levels earlier.
There’s more room for usefulness in rings and amulets, and these items have lots of curlicues that remind me of “old” D&D. Anyone else remember items like a +1 sword, +2 versus goblinoids, +3 versus reptiles, +4 versus demons and devils, and other items like that? It’s not a bad idea, and it’s something that’s lost in modern games, especially where the magic items can all be manufactured—every power has to be “justified” at the point of manufacture.
A ring or amulet in Original Sin can have half a dozen tiny abilities. A small bonus to saves versus poison, a small increase to a skill, even immunity to an obscure attack, all on the same item. I’ll be tossing in a few such items in my 5E campaign, without concern of “how do you make such a thing”. If the players ask, I’ll respond with “it’s magic”…I don’t see the game being broken by a ring that grants +1 saves against fire and “immune to slipping on ice” ability, but I do see far more fun and long term usefulness with it than yet another “ring of protection + 1”. There are loads of ideas here for cute, useful, items that won’t just be liquidated.
I’m still carrying around magical trinkets I found half a dozen levels ago, “just in case” I might need them, and that’s something that also was more common in older tabletop games, a bag of tricks, filled with stuff that might be useful someday.

Character Development
Original Sin has nice, deep, complicated, character development system, but with a huge flaw: you don’t really know what you need. Gain a level, and you get points to improve attributes and skills. Maybe you’ll increase your speed, to get more actions in combat. Sounds good, but five minutes later you find out you need one more point of strength to be able to wear the cool armor you just found. Oops. You find a cool new skillbook you want to read and use…too bad you already spent your skill point being better with a weapon. Oops.
It’s annoying, and happens over and over again. It’s a very common design flaw, and the end result is, when a character levels, I don’t spend my points learning new skills and improving attributes…because I have no idea what I’m going to need later. What should be a big part of the fun of a RPG simply dies: I can’t improve my character through leveling, and I’m forced to hold back on development until I know what I “really” need.
Modern games, with similarly complicated character development, have much the same problem, with a solution of “you can change your feats and skills at every level” or something similar. 5E doesn’t seem to have complicated development…but then the game’s not exactly complete just yet. All I can do is hope they don’t mess this up with odd ability and skill requirements that pop up after a few levels.

Environmental Combat
Original Sin loves to use combined effects. You cast “rain” to cover an area with water, for example, and then your lightning bolt zaps everyone standing in water. It’s cute, but doesn’t translate well to most tabletop systems, except on occasion.
On the other hand, Original Sin also loves to add environmental effects. Ok, I grant the game has way too many barrels of explosive oil just laying around, but such barrels are a great way to get more effect out of a tiny flame bolt spell. I’ll have to be more flexible as a DM to make this work well, but there really should be a few more piles of rocks, stacks of barrels, poorly-maintained floors and walkways, standing pools of water,  and yeah, maybe some explosives just to make fights more interesting. Players won’t immediately catch on, but after they get a few piles of rocks dumped on them, I bet they’ll decide turnabout is fair play…and it will be.

Crafting is mandatory in computer RPGs, but, outside of magic items, is basically ignored in tabletop RPG. Original Sin does something with magic item crafting that’s long overdue: it’s random. Magic is not Science, and really shouldn’t be. Players believe that “if I spend 6,500 GP and a feat, I can make a Wand of Fireballs, and I can do it over and over again just like Henry Ford and the Model T.” Original Sin says you have to actually find the components to make the magic item (and not many components are around), and when you make the item, what you get is pretty random. Even scrolls are random—you make the magic pixie dust, you make the blank magic scroll, you sprinkle the dust on the scroll, and voila! A scroll of a randomly chosen spell.
It’s a different point of view, but it strikes me as more fun, especially if you’re not investing all that much in the way of resources in it. I might well base a whole dungeon around it. Imagine an old research laboratory that made magic rings, each with different multiple little abilities. The players go in, loot the library to learn how it’s done, then clear out the dungeon, ultimately gathering enough materials to make one ring for each party member.
And look at that…an idea for a whole dungeon unlike any other (and nothing like it in Original Sin). That’s how you plunder a PC game!
Of course, if you’re not into new ideas, Original Sin offers another advantage. It’s an indie game, which means many tabletop players won’t have heard of it, much less played it. There are a number of dungeons worth copying wholesale, too. The point is still: don’t overlook the games you play on the computer for ideas to play on the table.

Bonus Item (for 5E):

Ring (or Amulet) of Random Powers
A standard ring has d4 random powers, although more exceptional versions exist. Roll once on the following charts for each power (this is just an example set-up). Bonuses from Random Powers do not stack from multiple rings (or amulets).

Power (d6)
1.   Obscure Bonus
2.   Save
3.   Resistance
4.   Resistance
5.   Skill
6.   Obscure Immunity

Obscure Bonus (d6): +1 (to a maximum of 14) to
1)   +1 to Initiative rolls made in Daylight
2)   +1 to Perception (spot hidden creatures only)
3)   +5’ Movement
4)   +2 to Swimming
5)   Speed does not drop when Encumbered
6)   +2 to saves versus Intoxication

Saves (d6): +1 to ability saves based on
1)   Strength
2)   Intelligence
3)   Wisdom
4)   Constitution
5)   Dexterity
6)   Charisma

Resistance (d6): + 1d2 to saves against
1)   Poison
2)   Fire
3)   Electricity
4)   Acid
5)   Enchantments
6)   Cold

Skill (d6) : +1 proficiency bonus to skill
1)   Traps
2)   Locks
3)   Medicine
4)   Persuasion
5)   Athletics
6)   Survival

Obscure Immunity: Player cannot be affected by
1)   Blindness (magical only)
2)   Poisons (ingested only)
3)   Petrification (from sight-based attacks only)
4)   Paralysis (from spells only)
5)   Movement penalties over ice/snow
6)   The Command spell


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Plundering the PC: Divinity: Original Sin
« Reply #1 on: September 19, 2016, 10:04:52 AM »
Divinity: Original Sin is one of my favorites. It just seemed to me to picking picking up where the Diablo games left off in terms of items. I didn't think it was particularly innovative. Well done, fun, but not conceptually new.

A game that relies on giving out equipment either needs to have level requirements (can't use this sword until you are level 7) or finding the item has to be worked into the quest path (legend of Zelda.) I feel like the former method is better adapted for a typical table top RPG.

More importantly I'm with you on the small benefits and niche uses of items. Makes things feel less generic.

Plundering the PC: Divinity: Original Sin
« Reply #2 on: October 27, 2017, 02:04:54 PM »
I know I'm just kind of hyperfocusing on one part of your post here, but man oh man do I want to have henchmen for games(also for real life, but let's start with games first.). I would totally make an armor-wearing Warlock ala Dr. Doom, and have a number of henchmen whose job it is to carry my throne, and a rolled up red carpet for when I'm about to enter a new location. Bonus points if they also carry Doom's wine, and fan him when he starts to feel a little hot in his armor.

Hell yeah. Henchmen, please.


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Plundering the PC: Divinity: Original Sin
« Reply #3 on: December 05, 2018, 02:45:44 AM »
I think PC games will change less because the companies have built a niche based on a certain kind of game that works for them. Like Baldur's Gate, Planescape Torment, ect. Their fans expect those games, so they've kept them the same. If it works, why change it? I get a little iffy about major changes to working mechanics/system. It's really easy to lose/disappoint all your fans. Also PC games have longer overhead. Baldur's Gate I would have taken years to build from the ground up by an indie team. Baldur's Gate II wouldn't have been so bad because of recycled elements. I'm not sure I would want to pop in Baldur's Gate II and see an action RPG. Sometimes little to no change is a good thing. Especially in economic and efficiency aspects.
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Plundering the PC: Divinity: Original Sin
« Reply #4 on: December 05, 2018, 03:58:06 AM »
Even in AD&D, you had weapon proficiencies. Chances are good your character wasn't proficient in a trident (since they are useless as weapons, really), so they had a penalty to use it.


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Plundering the PC: Divinity: Original Sin
« Reply #5 on: September 14, 2019, 11:52:17 PM »
It's a concept from older games, sort of like a Feat, but only for a weapon or family of weapons.

In AD&D, you needed to have proficiently in, say, a 3-piece flail if you wanted to use it without penalty.

In later versions of D&D, you could take a Feat and gain the ability to use such a weapon.
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