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Divinity: Original Sin II - Game Master Mode

2017-05-09

In 2015 the Game Master mode was the 2 million dollar stretch goal of the Divinity: Original Sin II Kickstarter campaign. Even though they might not have expected at the start to raise this amount of money, the campaign did end just over 2 million dollars and as a result they have been working on the Game Master mode for some time now and feel the time has come to show it to the world, which is why I was invited on Monday to come to their Ghent office on Friday. I didn't want to pass up on this opportunity so I accepted and tried to overcome the hurdles that the Ghent municipality implemented in order to reach their new office location. That new office is an old villa with a history and historic elements, like a nice looking painting on the ceiling of the second floor. In the midst of the constructions that are going on in changing the inner parts of the building to make it more fitting for an office (which is restricted, given that the building is on a monuments list) they are finalizing Original Sin II and its new Game Master mode.

The Game Master mode is integrated into Original Sin II and makes use of the available functionality and game mechanics as offered by the game engine. Up to four persons can play together with one game master. For this you join one of the available campaigns that have been prepared by the game master after which you can create your character.

Character creation is the same as in Original Sin II, which means a classless system where you are free to use one of the predefined characters and tweak it or create a character from scratch. Joining me in the game were, next to the game master, 3 persons from Larian Studios. We ended up with an elven wizard, a lizard rogue, a human dumbwitted farm-boy fighter and a human rich brat pretending to be a battlemage, which was my character.

After creation of the characters we rolled for gold with the 20-sided dice. The amount we rolled would be multiplied by 10. As I was a descendent from rich parents I got to roll twice, but apparently I kind of lost money on my way here as I ended up with just 50 gold. Strangely enough the thief in our party ended up with a lot of gold...

A game starts with a map that is used by the game master to explain the setting and what the campaign is about. This map is a 2D image and can be any map the game master wants to use. It can be one of the predefined maps or a map located on the computer of the game master. For the demos that are given, Larian had the OK from Wizards of the Coast to make use of the D&D campaigns. If they will also be able to offer this upon launch of Original Sin II remains a topic of discussion with Wizards of the Coast. On the map pins can be placed and named. To these pins levels can be assigned where the party can venture to.

In our case the map of the Northern part of the Sword Coast was used. Our party was hired by the Dwarf Gundrin Rockseeker, to transport a wagon load of provisions to a settlement named Phandalin, which is located to the South-East of Neverwinter. Gundrin went ahead on horse, together with an escort, stating that he needed to take care of business before we arrived with the goods. Before we ventured onwards, we had the opportunity to get ourselves some proper gear first.

Like in D&D, in Game Master mode dice rolls also play an important role. There is the standard variety of dices of which the game master can choose. If you want to lift a rock for example, you need to roll a certain number on the dice, which the game master has in his/her head. This number can be modified by your stats. So if you have for example more than 12 in a certain stat, whatever you roll can be modified with +1. If you have more than 14 , +2 etc. If you have less than 10, it  can be modified by -1, etc. All this is to be decided by the game master.

The game takes care of the dice rolls. You can select one of the different dices to roll, the characters who should roll and the stat for which this dice roll is. Each of the selected characters will be presented with a dialog showing the dice that can be rolled and the result of that roll after pressing the button. The game master will see all of the results and can make the necessary modifications to determine if it is a success or a failure.

We started in a shop in Neverwinter, where we could buy and sell goods, like better weapons and armor. The thief in our party sneaked around and tried to steal a barrel of water. He had to roll for finesse to see how efficient he sneaked. His number was high enough, so nobody saw him stealing. Next he tried to sell the barrel of water back to the shop owner, who was suspicious and it required our thief to roll for wits as he needed to convince the owner that it was not the owner's own barrel.

While in the shop, the game master has full control of the inventory of the NPCs in that shop. He can add or remove items from the inventory of each of the characters on the fly, to make sure we can get the items we want to have.

In case the game master needs to make some changes that take more time the game can be paused, allowing the game master to do whatever needs to be done. While in pause mode, it is still possible for the players to access their inventory and review their stats, skills and spells.

After leaving the shop we traveled towards Phandolin and reached the Triboar trail where we encountered a wolf standing over a dead horse. Actually the horse looked like a dear, but with some imagination we could see a horse in it.

The area we were at was not too big, but not really small either. It turns out that in the experience of Larian large levels didn't work, as the game master quickly loses oversight of the situation when the party members wander off in different directions. By containing them to a smaller level and having multiple small levels that the party can move to, provided a better experience. That said, it is still possible to create a campaign taking place in one or more larger levels if you would so desire.

The game will ship with about 120 levels with houses, house interiors, caves, deserts, forests, ships, etc. that can be used. It is however also possible to load an existing level and use that. Once a level is loaded, it can be populated by the game master with items, creatures and NPCs. The Game Master menu has a whole range of predefined humanoid and non-humanoid creatures and NPCs. To each of them a whole range of status effects can be assigned as well as a name, stats, level, spells and whether or not they are allies, neutral or enemy. Each creature or NPC has an inventory as well. The game master can assign a price to non-common items and it is then possible to trade with that character in the game, as long as it is not an enemy.

There is also a wide range of items that can be selected. You can select a piece of armor for example and make it an epic item, whether or not it has been used, change the name of the item and also assign properties to it, like resistance to fire or the amount of physical and magical armor it provides.

Next to that there is also a surface painter, with this tool it is possible to paint the surface with blood, water, fire, clouds, etc. and also have them react on each other. Basically any surface you can find in Original Sin II can be created.

Items and also characters can also be duplicated, which allows for easy replication. They can also be saved, so that they can be used in other levels. What does not duplicate are the assigned statuses. If I would create a diseased character, duplicating it, would remove the disease status of that duplicated character.

All of this can be done in advance, but could also be done on the fly by the game master, which does not take too long, given enough experience of the game master in handling the UI.

The game is played like a tabletop game, which means there are almost no limits to what you can do. The game master can facilitate almost any request, for which some you might need to roll a dice. In our case we inspected the wagon and the game master listed the items. Then we wanted to search it for hidden items, but the dice roll turned up 11 and we found nothing.

A mushroom was found and our farm boy figured that he knew about mushrooms, so he could say if it was safe to eat it. But, by throwing a 1, it turned out that he never saw a mushroom like this before. It still was eaten by our Lizard thief who fell asleep because of it. We decided that some water would wake him up, so we dragged a water barrel close to him and dumped the contents on him, which apparently woke him up after rolling a high enough number.

To enable storytelling, the game makes use of vignettes, which are illustrated designs with a description that moves the story forward and some choices from which the party can choose. Vignettes are made up of an image, of which there is a preselection available, but can also be an image on the computer of the Game Master, a border some descriptive text with a question and several options for the party to choose from.

In our case we were presented a vignette about the wolf feasting on the dead horse's meat, baring its teeth while you approach. There were 3 options about what we could do next. We could throw a stick to lure the wolf away from the horse. We could try to get around the wolf or we could just attack it. Our farm boy, who wasn't too smart, wanted to walk up to the wolf as he mistook it for a large dog and he likes dogs. The game master modified the Vignette to add this option. We selected that one, but it didn't do much good as the wolf got very aggressive. So, in the end we decided to attack it instead.

Combat uses the same mechanics as Original Sin II. If you haven't played the Early Access version yet, it is somewhat similar to Original Sin. If you haven't played that either, know that it is turn-based and it makes a lot of use of the elements, which you can influence with your spells. The AI takes control of the NPC or creature who's turn it is, or the game master can take control of that NPC or creature to make it do what the game master wants it to do. With 4 players against 1 wolf, we defeated the wolf by throwing chloroform at it, which put it to sleep.

We inspected the blood trail leading away from the horse (another dice roll against wits) to find out that the horse was killed somewhere else and dragged here by the wolf. Inspecting the horse showed that the arrows sticking out of its necks were goblin arrows, but checking the surroundings showed no goblins in the neighborhood (failing check against wits). Inspecting the wolf showed that it has been chained, beaten and was likely to be used as a weapon. With all that information we moved forward.

Moving forward means in this case that a new level is selected by the game master and we are placed in the starting position of that level. We checked for an ambush, but given that we all failed to roll a high enough number we did not spot one. Yet, as it turned out, there was an ambush of Goblins just ahead of us. Again we were presented with a vignette providing the option, to fight them, surrender or to try and talk our way out of it. After some discussion, we decided to try and talk our way out.

That worked very well (check against intelligence) by claiming that we were escorting our somewhat dumb farm boy as he wasn't able to travel alone. The next step was to remove some crates that were blocking the road. The Globlins needed to move them, so we asked them and they agreed (another check against intelligence) but wanted something in return. That discussion derailed somewhat and we ended up in a fight with the Goblins.

While we were winning the fight the game master made one of the Goblins surrender. We accepted his surrender and interrogated the Goblin.

How this interrogation goes is fully up to the game master and obviously the party. Determining when to role a dice for what and what the Goblin is going to share or not, allowing for various outcomes of the interrogation. Obviously the game master can predict what could happen and prepare for that, but people can do unexpected things, which can have not anticipated outcomes. The game master can then pause the game to make the necessary preparations to continue the game.

Upon winning a fight the game master can decide to give players an amount of XP and/or one or more items, like gold for example. This is done by dragging the item to the player.

What the game master can also do is assign status effects to one of the players. You could climb down a rope into a well for example and based on a dice roll succeed or fail that climb. I actually failed that roll and had the status effect 'slowed' assigned to my character. This could have been removed by someone with the right spell, which we did not have, or by the game master, because someone rolled high enough as a healer.

The game master also has an inventory from which items can be moved rather quickly from that inventory into the world or to an inventory of one of the players. If something is not in the game master inventory it is still possible to get it out of the Items Menu, which holds all the items that can be placed in the game and each item can have stats and modifiers assigned to it, but it takes a bit more time to do that.

Original Sin II will be shipped with the complete toolset needed to mod the game and thus also with the tools to create your own levels. The toolset has a special mode that allows the levels to be saved for use in Game Master mode and these levels can be exported to Steam workshop, so other game masters can use them as well. In your levels you can even create a single day-night cycle, where you can start your game during the day and add a timer to it, during which it will become night. Music and sound effects can be added as well.

Like my character was assigned the status 'slowed', other statuses can be assigned to player and non-player characters as well by the game master. They can even be killed, or resurrected and could be put on fire for a certain duration or by toggling it on or off. All possible statuses can be assigned to a character, even having wings, or being changed into a chicken, which makes that character quite useless as it can't do much anymore.

As a game master it is also possible to assign new properties to characters. If you would like to have a campaign where you want to use a stat like curiosity (which is not present in DOS2),  you can just add this stat and people can use it in their character sheet and the game master can modify dice roles based on that stat for example.

As mentioned the game master can pause a game, but the game master can also enter into a peace mode. Using this option during combat will end it and make the game go into a peace mode where nobody can fight anymore.

It is also possible to play the game with less than 4 players. When there are two players, the game master can assign each player an additional character.

The status of the campaign as it is being played is saved on the computer of the game master, so that it is possible to continue a campaign at a later stage. And to get a head start the game will launch with some example campaigns.

With all that information received it was time to make my own campaign. That took some thinking about what I wanted to create. I couldn't think of something that made a lot of sense, so I just went in and figured I would came up with something while I was working on it.

What I ended up with was a farm, with some dead people lying in a puddle of blood and angry animals that were diseased, so they had this green glow about them. I made a level 3 cow, with two level 3 pigs and some level 2 chickens. All of them diseased and all of them would attack on sight. I also gave the cow a couple of spells, like throwing acid darts, so it would be a spell casting cow. Next to that I changed the terrain a bit and created an area with smoke and cursed fire. In the midst of that was a chest with some valuables.

The idea was that from this farm, positioned at the foot of the mountains, the adventurers would move into the mountains and go to the home of a wizard to search for treasures. This would be their first stop and the travelers would meet a small boy, who asked them to help him, as there is something killing his parents. That was communicated via a vignette, with the option to help him, ignore him or kill him. My reasoning was that when you helped him, you could continue to the farm and be attacked by the animals. If you ignored him, the boy would let you pass, but would change into a wizard and set the puddles of blood on fire, that were scattered around and possibly inflict damage. By killing him, the boy would vanish before you could and 3 bandits would appear in his place. I had no clue how I would establish that last option, but I thought I would figure it out when the time comes.

The party were not all convinced of the innocence of the boy and they wanted to know more about what happened. The boy explained that the animals on the farm got wild and attacked his family and now he asks for help. Some further investigations on the boy did not reveal much more (the dice rolls were too low, to reveal what the boy really was), so after some discussions about just killing the boy, the party decided to help the boy instead. I just possessed the boy and ran ahead of the party beyond where the diseased animals were. Obviously the party followed and noticed the corpses and blood before they were attacked by the animals. It turns out that having aggressive farm animals might not be the most immersive thing to create. The cow nicely fired his spell, but without any spell casting animation. None of the animals had a fighting animation either, what's worse the chickens had their own script, which made them uncontrollable and certainly not in a fighting mood. The pigs didn't attack either. I also learned that animals like these have their own default dummy weapon with which they can do damage, when they attack. What they want to change is that it will be possible to give a weapon to an animal that it can use. It would not look pretty, due to lack of animation as a cow really has a hard time holding a crossbow for example, but it would work as far as damage done is concerned.  Then again, I would have been surprised if this would have worked out as I wanted it though, as these farm animals aren't supposed to be aggressive animals. Anyway, I could get around the issue with the pigs not attacking, by using a dice roll to determine the damage inflicted by the pig biting his opponent. I would then reduce the HP of the character being attacked from the game master menu. At the moment it is not possible for the game master to role a dice for themselves, as this feature still needs to be added, but there were some physical dices that could be used instead.

About the chickens I could not do much, they were just trying to flee the combat and sit in a corner somewhere.

The party won the fight, and searched the surroundings to see what else was there. They managed to get rid of the cursed fire in order to get to the chest, which was locked, but that was fixed by a dice roll that was high enough.

The next thing that happened was that the party wanted to enter the house. That posed a bit of an issue as I didn't make the interior of the house yet, so I paused the game, quickly selected an interior that was fitting and placed a level 3 spell casting fighter in it (the party consisted of level 1 characters), who was able to heal himself. Then I moved the party in the house, without them having to wait that long for me to complete what I wanted to do.

I possessed the fighter in order to be able to control it. The fight was challenging, but in the end the party turned out to be too strong for my fighter and the fight was won. One of the party members wanted to search the body and I made them find a note with some text on it that the reader could not quite figure out. The letters looked familiar though. A dice role against intelligence (throwing a 17) was high enough to suddenly make the character remember what language it was and comprehend what the letter said:  Stop the adventurers at the Brimstone farm, so that they will not reach their destination.

There would have been more after that, something with the boy, the travel into the mountains and the final destination, but time was up and I didn't have the time to make any part of the remainder of that campaign either.

By fulfilling the Kickstarter goal, Larian Studios wanted to create the P&P experience on a PC. From my experience, it looks like they have come a great way in achieving that goal. Next to that, the Game Master mode will enable also playing an adventure with people that are not in the same room. There are still some things that need to be fixed or added, but all in all, it comes already quite close in achieving the experience and I had a great time with it.

In case you want to see how things work for yourself in the new Game Master mode, check out the below B-Roll.

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Box Art

Information about

Divinity: Original Sin II

Developer: Larian Studios

SP/MP: Single + MP
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: RPG
Combat: Turn-based
Play-time: Unknown
Voice-acting: Full

Regions & platforms
World
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Expected at 2017-09-14
· Publisher: Larian Studios

More information


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