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Some thoughts on good and evil choices

Discussion in 'Codex Workshop' started by Vault Dweller, Jun 10, 2003.

  1. Vault Dweller Commissar, Red Star Studio Developer

    Vault Dweller
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    I was thinking about games and the way they handle good, evil, and reputation:

    1. Most games have only one side of the story present: you are a good guy fighting something bad.
    2. If there is an option to play an "evil" character, this character must follow the same path as a "good" character but for his own totally "evil" reasons.
    3. An evil character is usually a psychotic mass-murderer or a character who always charges a fee for his/her services :roll:

    It seems to me that designers usually just think of an evil way to solve a quest, and therein lays the problem. What one person can see as evil, the other sees as psychotic or greedy or as Dr. Evil said, “semi-evil, quasi-evil, the diet-coke of evil”. :lol: The solution to that is not to define something as evil, neutral, or good ways to solve a quest, but to provide all logically fitting options and let a player figure out what’s good and what’s bad in every particular situation. Here is an example:

    You are asked to deliver a sealed letter from town A to town B within 10 days making sure that the letter would not fall into the hands of agents of town C and remains unsealed. Your payment is 100 coins, 50 with the letter, 50 upon delivery in town B. Possible options are:

    1. Complete the quest as asked
    2. Get 50 coins, throw away the letter
    3. You forget about the letter and missed the deadline (same as #2 but has a lighter shade of grey)
    4. Contact the agents of town C and see if they pay you more
    5. Demand more money from town A and/or B, threatening to deliver the letter to town C

    By now, some of you have already labeled actions as good or bad, or neutral. So let’s add another option:

    6. Open the letter and find out that town A is seeking an alliance with town B to attack town C because recently discovered silver mines have shifted trading routes from A and B to C effectively killing A and B’s economies turning their citizens into beggars and thieves.

    Now that changes a lot of things and put them in a different perspective while opening up a lot of new options:

    7. Complete the quest and offer you services as a mercenary to A and B - gives you an opportunity to save some town folks after the town is taken
    8. Contact the agents of town C and warn them about the attack, charging a lot for the info (now that you know about the silver mines) or for free – if you do that town C hires mercenaries, ambushes and slaughters A and B’s forces, invades now unprotected town A and captures the citizens to offer them a mandatory career change – mine labors.
    9. Do #9 and offer your services as a mercenary
    10. Do #9 and offer your services as an assassin to kill those behind the attack plan – if you succeed, the towns are doomed, they slowly crumble away without the leadership
    11. Contact town A and suggest a more subtle way – to sabotage the mines.
    For those who like happy endings, #12. A very skilled negotiator can convince town C to involve towns A and B into the growing trade operations, negotiate A and B’s labor rates, and try to negotiate a higher rate with C pocketing the difference

    In my rather simple, free of more complicated manipulations, example, some actions that seem good lead to bad result and visa versa, and often there is no way to tell an outcome untill you do something.

    So now here is an issue of a reputation, and a way to measure it. I don’t like the overall "goodness" system like in Fallout and Arcanum, I don’t like alignments, and I don’t like location-specific ratings like in Fallout 2, instead reputation should be tied to specific events. For example, if my character made choice #8, and then ran into a NPC who heard about the slaughter, then the NPC would associate my character with it regardless of what actually took place and what my character intents were. If the NPCs approves the events or my character actions, then he would look favourably on dealing with my character. No other checks or attempts to judge or label anybody in terms of good or bad.

    Any comments?
     
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  2. Astromarine Erudite

    Astromarine
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    Sounds fucking amazing, if you ask me. Of course, someone might raise issues of feasibility, but it actually ties in very well with something I thought while playing through Arcanum: There are WAY too many quests in an RPG.

    Usually an RPG, to be gripping, has to have two things:

    1) A good, involved, main plot that can grip you and never let go
    2) A good, open-ended, non-linear world.

    The problem with most RPGs (and yes, even Troika's) is that they equate the second point with side quests. Lots of them. Which usually detracts from the *first* point.

    Let's face it. If a guy just survived a zeppelin crash, got a dying wish from a weird gnome, and right after narrowly escaped an assassination attemp, he would work *really hard* at solving these issues, WITHOUT stopping along the way to rid an abandoned mine of it's ghost.

    The biggest issue with your idea is that, if you follow those thoughts to their logical conclusion, the basic letter-quest gets blown almost to the size of a full game of it's own. *and to me that's the way forward*.

    The current design for RPGs seems to call for a decently-written main storyline, and a small number of small, quasi-inconsequential quests. Think of a huge trunk from which, at several points along the way (the more the merrier) you can take an alternate path for a while to rejoin the main trunk later. This is your, say, BG2. Your *better* games, like Fallout, blur the lines by keeping the main trunk really thin, allowing you to proceed forwards and backwards through the trunk at your leisure, and having an absolute shitload of branches, which come at different points of the trunk and have sub-branches and all that goodness.

    I can see your post as the beginning of a new idea. Start not with a well-defined trunk that you have to branch after the fact, but start with a very small, very defined point (deliver a letter). Then, starting from that central point, define a lot of ways you can go, in several different directions, like a snow crystal or a crack in glass made by a bullet. This will give you several VERY different possibilities starting from a central point.
    Now, do this with 2 or 3 other central points. You now have 3 separate "story stars". If you then take time to look through them, and find points of contact (like, there are 4 different points at the first star that could serve as the center for the second star) you can relatively easily reach a VERY complex story ramification for a game, while keeping the basic storyline focussed on 2 or 3 very important tasks, rather than lots of irrelevant ones. All the different points define a piece of the world each, and if you did a good job you'd end up with a *truly* fleshed out world and coherent world.

    Ah, well, a gamer can dream, can't he?
     
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  3. Sabotai Liturgist

    Sabotai
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    Very interesting reading.

    As Astro points out most RPGs have only one storyline which allows for both good and evil aligned characters, but in which the outcome of good and evil are similar. The side quests often provide the possibility for the player to act either good or evil. I've very rarely seen a game where playing evil has a significantly different outcome than playing good (other than choosing the destiny/reward in the final scene).

    In essence, what do both good and evil strive to accomplish? What is their distinct motivation and their goal (when not forced along the predestined storyline)?

    Good generally wants to do well.... good. It basically boils down to beating evil and getting a better life for the people of the land. Becoming famous and rich are nice secondary benefits.

    Evil generally wants power and James Bond-like world dominance. They strive to be megalomaniacs. They are narcistic egocentrics, they are greedy for money and power.

    Designers bent themselves over backwards trying to fit good and evil in one linear storyline usually with mixed results. Why not create two or more different endings? Not just (a la BG2) have an option to use the ultimate power for either good or bad, but two really different ones.

    In BG2 I would have loved to try and take Irenicus' place. To form an alliance with the Dark Elves and Mindslayers of Underdark (or bind them to your will as well) and use them to enslave the Elven city and other parts of the surface just to satisfy some of your power hunger. I would have loved to try and steal the soul of my sister Imoen in order to augment my power. Or try and infiltrate the Cult of the Unseeing Eye and becoming Cult Leader. Or how about helping the tanner in the Bridge district with his serial murdering. I would have loved travelling in an evil party where the NPCs are scheming together and at any moment some can stage a coup and try to kill me for their own benefit. In BG2 their were a lot of nice evil plot possibilities. Too bad BIO didn't do anything with them.

    Of course this requires developers to design two main storylines, one good and one evil. The side quests can be designed seperately, with an evil and a good option. IMHO the best way to design this is with factions a la PS:T or Divine Divinity all scheming for power. It would be nice to be able to recruit NPC's for your own evil cause and thus establish your own evil faction.

    But, I can hear the response from BIOware, "Hardly anyone plays evil. It's just a waste of time to design a seperate evil story."
     
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  4. Sabotai Liturgist

    Sabotai
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    Mmmh, strange. Although I am logged in, I still have no edit button in the above post.

    As to the sealed letter and the three cities: I want the option to take control of the mines and make all three cities dependant upon me.
     
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  5. Vault Dweller Commissar, Red Star Studio Developer

    Vault Dweller
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    Agree, very good point. There are many games with an overwhelming number of pointless sidequests but you are in a hurry to level up so....

    Any quests especially side quests should follow some logic and have a reason related to the main story to do them. Prelude's food delivery quest related to one of the main story's branches is a good example of that.

    That was the best part about Fallout, you are no hero or saviour, you are not even the Chosen One, you are one unlucky bastard who drew the short stick, but if are lucky you can make it quickly to Vault 15 and return safely in a few days :wink:
     
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  6. huh Novice

    huh
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    what do you guys think of the Morrowind rep system? a couple of things I didn' like was the all knowing guards demanding the bounty everywhere, and the global karma thing that it tracked.

    other than that I loved how you could decide what's good or evil for yourself and the factions like the Houses and guilds would react to you. could never join the Camona Tong though, for some reason.

    I also dispise the alignment system of D&D and similar global things that take away 'moral' decisions away from the player, but kinda realize that it's based off the whole Tolkien fantasy cliche
     
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  7. huh Novice

    huh
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    hmmm, can't edit posts anymore? anyway, I mean the houses in Morrowind would track your actions and simply react to them based on their ideologies/interests
     
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  8. Chadeo Liturgist

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    Only problem with having very detailed, but very few in number, main quests means that the first time you play through the game it will probably happen very quickly. The only way you would get full enjoyment out of this would be to replay it many times to see how your actions would change things.

    Yes it would be possible to have a bunch of very detailed quests, but the point still remains that the vast majority of your effort would be spend on situations that might never be seen by the average player.

    It is far easier to just make a general story arc, with a general solution to it, with a bunch of pointless side quests to let people change their excel spreadsheets (err I mean “grow” their character). One would think people would see right past this type of game play, but clearly a huge number of people happily play along and wow over the fact that there are 4 dialog options when the last game only had 3 (nevermind the fact that your choice of an option has a superficial, at best, affect on the plot).

    So yes, if you are a small group, who can take as much time as you want (read: you do this as a hobby), you could use the detailed model to make a game that would have a small, but very loyal, following to it. Just don’t expect anyone like Biocrap to ever make a game like this, and only expect a 50-80% implementation of this from someone like Trokia.

    As long as you get mainstream gaming press gushing over the latest kobold quest (look at all the dialog!!) and the mainstream gamer buying such games in huge numbers, large developers will take the easy way out.

    After all as much as we love Fallout, Final Fantasy out sells it by orders of magnitude. In my mind the dialog in Final Fantasy makes Biocrap look like Shakespeare (each time I tell myself I –must- just be missing something in the translation, but in my heart I know I am not)
     
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  9. Vault Dweller Commissar, Red Star Studio Developer

    Vault Dweller
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    That's what I disagree with. What is good and what is evil? Good for the sake of good without any regard for other people's customs that could be seem as bad is as dangerous as evil. What if people disagree with a hero on his defintion of "better life for the people of the land"? What if they like their life as it is? Then the hero gets mad, kill ungrateful bastards, and..doh! :lol:

    The only way to do it properly is to include all logical options, let a player pick one, and then roll the results in the end Fallout-style. To make a separate ending would create another linear path that some people may not agree with. For example, your definition of evil is power and world domination, but it's just one out of many.

    I don't think that would make sense. I doubt that one adventurer or even a small party can take control of a mine and establish strong enough defence to withstand town's militia and mercenaries attacks. You are just a guy not a Bhaalspawn :wink:
     
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  10. Vault Dweller Commissar, Red Star Studio Developer

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    They did not force being good or evil on you, and that was good, but in reality all choices were purely cosmetic, as they had little or no effect. The only choice you had is what to do and in what order.

    Not necessarily if few detailed quests = lotsa simple quests.

    Not if the quests are tied in with the main story and make sense. They should not be mandatory but they should make sense and fit in. As for some "really average" players, it's like thinking why write the whole book, some people with short attention spin would read the beginning and then skip to the end. :)
     
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  11. huh Novice

    huh
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    yes, the quests were often dull and unimaginative. and, my good deeds towards, say House Hlaalu went unacknowledged by the Hlaalu guards, high-ups, by other Houses, etc... furthermore, there was almost no way to do high-level politicing that would affect standing between factions like alliences, in-faction wars, etc... it'd be neat to have some eager apprentice up-start try to 'unseat' you from the high position.

    however, as a general approach I like this type of system most. with more 'meat' to it this could really shine.
     
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  12. Elwro Arcane

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    This seems like a good description of evil NPCs, but I doubt if it fits the PCs. At least when I play evil characters, I usually want to spoil the successes of others, and not to achieve power myself. My characters also want to break a neck or two from time to time just for pure fun, or from sheer boredom, or because the NPC they were talking to said something wrong (that was sometimes possible in PS:T). So it seems that my characters don't actually need an 'evil plot', totally different from the 'good' one.
    But of course in a good CRPG it should be implemented and well-developed, just for those who play their characters in a different way.
     
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  13. Elwro Arcane

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    Ahhhh, this lack of 'edit' button.

    I just want to add that some orthodox D&D players might point out that the characters I'm writing about aren't 'evil', but 'chaotic'. I am aware of this, but I use the term 'evil' to cover those two types of individuals.
     
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  14. huh Novice

    huh
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    that's is a good example of the pointlesness of embedding things like good and evil into gamesystems. sure, you can call the character you described evil or chaotic if you want to. (btw, the D&D players still argue in gigantic threads about whether Robin Hood is chaotic or lawful after all these years. their own system with only 9 labels, and they cant' peg it :D ) each player should be left to contemplate these things in private, not be told by the game who their character is.

    I mean, I could call your character 'phsychotic' for example, just an example ;) I don't see 'physchotic' as a synonym for either 'good' or 'evil', just, well... 'phsychotic'. does it mean a game designer has to provide a 'phsychotic' path through the game in addition to good and evil? and that's just one example of a different motivation.

    it's a sad by-product of the popular culture that imaginative things like game plots have to settle into some templates like the 'good guys' vs. 'bad guys' tripe that 99% of games follow. and everyone just cranks this crap out. the equivalent of the pulp fantasy
     
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  15. Vault Dweller Commissar, Red Star Studio Developer

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    Yes, that is precisely the point. Player's "alignment" should be defined by his actions, but usually it's the other way around, actions are being defined by alignment.
     
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  16. DrattedTin Liturgist

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    I'd like to see a cross between Arcanum/Fallout and Gothic.

    Want to steal something? Alright, do it.

    That guy annoyed you? Well, smack the foo'!

    These actions don't make you evil. If people SEE you doing them, they're not going to like you, but I believe "evil" should be, at most, categorized as reputations (no one wants to sip tea with a babykiller).


    There is, unfortunately, this terrible predilection among RPG developers to adhere to the D&D slate. Oh, well...
     
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  17. Sabotai Liturgist

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    I really like that kind of moral ambiguity. I think it was XJEDX in an other thread who gave an example of a NPC who joins your party and who has a big influence on your decisions. And suddenly you realize that because of his influence you are doing evil things. Creating this moral ambiguity is probably wasted on most gamers. Especially the younger ones, since they prefer a clearly defined evil vs good setting. The point I was trying to make (though I expressed myself rather poorly) is that apart from the psychotic evil, games do not allow to play a rational evil player, who is only interested in gaining more power (money or influencewise). I'm talking about the clearly defined good vs evil mould in which almost all CRPG are shaped. I would love to see a game in the greyish area between good and evil, but that's probably not feasible so I've stuck with the classic design.

    Sounds great, but "all logical options" might be a bit to much. Four or five different endings might be feasible. I have high hopes for ToEE though, Tim C. mentions multiple beginnings and four major endings. All endings might differ slightly depending on the class and alignment.

    It's only one evil out of many, but it's the kind of evil which features in 90% of the books and movies.

    Haha, no we certainly don't want another game with Bhaalspawn.

    Again I expressed myself poorly. In casu I was thinking more along the lines of controlling the mines as a game ending. For this to happen, you first have to do a lot of scheming, bribing, and murdering. I was thinking about a way to manipulate and set the cities up against eachother. For example (and quite straight forward), with some scheming you have convinced the city council of city A to take control of the mines by force. City A lacks the military forces. These have to be hired. After some deft (and believable) manipulation, you gain their trust and the merchants of the city provide you with money to buy such a force. City B can be deceived similarly. Then you hire mercenaries (another quest) and use them to defeat the forces of City C and burn City C to the ground. Then you use the forces to gain control of the mines.

    A different, more diplomatic way, might be to wriggle your way into the sphere of influence of the Miners Guild of City A,B and C, hence effectively creating a monopoly. In this way the result is the same, you control the mines and call the shots.
     
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  18. Astromarine Erudite

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    Just a note. From what I've read about ToEE, it would seem that the 4 different endings differ *wildly* from one to the other. If true, this will be great. Can you think of any other games where the ending vary a lot, ADOM excluded?
     
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  19. Sabotai Liturgist

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    Yes, that's what I meant with four major endings. Additionally, each *wildly* different ending differs slightly based on your class, alignment and race.
     
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  20. Vault Dweller Commissar, Red Star Studio Developer

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    I think that most of them prefer good vs evil setting because there is no other alternative.

    If you think about it, any given situation has only so many logical options that make sense and fit it.

    Ah, I see now, very interesting and utterly evil. :twisted:
     
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  21. evilmonkey Liturgist

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    I somewhat agree.

    my biggest problem in the good/evil debate (besides the term evil) is that while evil steams from not doing what a culture says is good - but going against it.

    well most games seems to be design so that the evil can't really be roleplayed (as people don't do evil, only good, in their view) - they just jank it up saying "This is EVIL - if you do this then you are more EVIL then before" yet for some cultures in the game this is clearly not evil - clearly so as there are "evil" characters walking around that probably would do the same good as you just did - and yet by others (those by the culture in the game labeled as good) they are viewed as evil - and all this are based on what? our culture, the designers culture? :O

    if so the designers of most games view their culture to allow theft, and that demanding cash for risking your life is considered evil - while (for example in arcanum) killing people by "culture" labled more evil then you is fine.

    no it seems that games got a culture based on gameplay and Hi-Fantasy settings - and that alone alienates me.

    even if gameplay is good - and perhaps we are all assimilated into an act of software piracy and that theft is no longer considered bad.

    I dunno - yet I do feel that the Good Vs. "Evil" part of most c-RPG/c-FRGs are dumb in its comlpexity.
     
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  22. Vault Dweller Commissar, Red Star Studio Developer

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    I don't think that designers should force their choices on a player, just like they should not try to create artificial consequences for players' actions. Bioware claims that they made it very difficult to play an evil character which is bullshit and very stupid. I think that the goal should be not to provide good and evil choices and support them but make a dynamic game environment that reacts to players' actions according to the logic and common sense of a setting.
    Btw, I'm not talking about some next generation programming marvels, Spiderweb designs are way ahead of many fancy uber 3d programmings that are capable of bare minimum gameworld-wise but according to many people are very pretty to look at. :roll:
     
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  23. Walks with the Snails Erudite

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    I've never really been satisfied with how evil is done in games. It's really pretty hard to get things right when you think about it.

    The main downside about being evil is that you always have to sleep with one eye open. No matter how good you are, there's always the chance that someone saw you knife that fat merchant in the alleyway. The main problem is that consequences in games tend to be immediate and overwhelming. Pickpocketing and the like are really bad about this. You fail, you know right away, you're screwed, you reload. You should be able to succeed at doing nefarious things, but there should always be a chance someone saw you and reported you to the authorities later. Consequences should be slow in coming, too. You might not find out some guy saw you pickpocketing a merchant until you get arrested two weeks later. If you're tough, they shouldn't just throw a couple of grunts at you, then when you kill them, they get scared and leave you alone. By the time it gets to that point, it should be pretty much guaranteed you're going to have to plan your daring escape from prison and avoid being recognized in the area from then on.

    In a fantasy setting, law enforcement would have many more tools, too. You just kill a guy and run, they can cast speak with dead, find out who the murderer was, and track you down. You can try to dispose of evidence as best you can, like cremating your victims, but there's always a chance things can go wrong. Somebody might spot you and report. That scuzzy looking guy you just mugged for a few coppers might be the baron's firstborn who was slumming for the evening, and there's suddenly a very capable magic investigator tracking you down. That's what being a criminal is all about. Evil characters should be able to make tons more money and have more opportunities, but they should pay for it in ulcers. If the only way you're ever going to be able to afford that +5 vorpal sword of total pwnage is by crossing the line a few times, that's how it probably should be, but it shouldn't come without tradeoffs.
     
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  24. Volourn Pretty Princess Pretty Princess

    Volourn
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    Very good ideas here.

    One shouldn't try to pengion hole players into a role. Just create the scenario, and allow the player to determine what they feel their character would do, and have the world's inhabitants react in a meaningful manner.
     
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  25. Saint_Proverbius Arcane Patron

    Saint_Proverbius
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    This is why I'd like to see the concept of surrendering in a CRPG. If you slaughter a few town guards mercilessly and quickly, the other guards probably would be intimidated by this kind of thing, and they'd probably yield or surrender to you. At that point, you should have the run of the town, because the guards know that they can't stop you.

    Following that, though, there should be a Magnificent Seven style effect where the helpless-to-stop-you town starts planning on a way of killing you or getting rid of you. Pooling resources and hiring vigilantes would be one way of doing this, so when you show up in that town again after a set amount of time, you get ambushed.

    I agree. If they have alignment detection spells, then they should have things set up like metal detectors that tell them when Mr. Skull O'Evil walks in to town or in an important building. Charm and similar spells would go a long way towards questioning suspects.
     
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