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Torment Torment: Tides of Numenera Thread

Xamenos

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Put otherwise, it seems to me that in the post-Planescape: Torment RPG community, for narrative RPGs the only acceptable use of dialogue skill checks is (1) to let the player choose which key opens the door (not whether the door gets open) or (2) to let players skip a few squares of the Candyland board that they otherwise would have to grind through without having passed the skill check. What is not acceptable is a door that you can't open and what is definitely not acceptable is a door that you can open, but only if you roll the right number. The last scenario will just lead to save-scumming or, in TTON's case, a mix of save scumming and Effort.
I don't think that's exactly true, and Disco Elysium showed a better way. The players really do hate a closed door, and will either reload or bitch and moan until it opens and they can taste that sweet, sweet content. But they don't really care which door opens, as long as one does open.

So basically, what you need to do is make failure as interesting as success. Failing a check and being told "no" to your face is boring. Savescumming is guaranteed because people want to play a game, not have a roll determine whether you can play it. But if you make that failure interesting? If you have it move the discussion to a different direction, or have your character do something entertainingly bad, or whatever? Then you've solved savescumming. For most people at least.

This is what good tabletop GMs have been doing for decades. It is certainly more difficult in a cRPG where you have to actually write and program all those different outcomes instead of coming up with them on the spot, but it can be done. And it is the only correct way to do it.
 

MRY

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I like that approach from the standpoint of the player's experience -- the text affirms the character either way. But as a designer, it makes me recoil, since now I need not only success and fail messages, but variants of each, not to mention interesting outcomes from the failure state.

With Fallen Gods (can't wait to get back to it once Strangeland is behind me), the approach we use is:

- The game is always Iron Man, though generally when the god dies, you can come back to life and keep playing (though it costs you time, which is limited).
- For most checks, you are explicitly told what is being checked and whether it succeeds, fails, or yields a middling result.
- For some checks, the check is hidden because the character would be unaware that he's being tested.
- Most failures lead to penalty states. Some of those penalty states are interesting, but they are always worse than succeeding.
- Most penalty states are relatively mild, but a decent number impose permanent maluses, and a limited number can end the game entirely. The last category is always signaled pretty clearly in the text. ("Do you want to jump over a pit that seems bottomless?" If the player says yes and loses the game, he knew the risk he was taking.)

So essentially, every choice is a gamble: not knowing exactly what the upside or downside is, not knowing exactly the odds, do I want to take a chance on this option? You take many such gambles over the course of the game. You can pass them up often, but you can't win the whole game by playing it safe, so it's all about calculated risks.

I'm not sure that this approach works in what I consider to be the standard post-PS:T narrative RPG. The game is a rogue-lite, the "companions" are really just hirelings, the events are vignettes rather than substantial, interconnected dialogues, etc. All of these factors make it easier to impose penalties and easier to have branching structure without things getting out of control.

Xamenos I think that's true, but D.E. is unique and maybe not replicable.
 

Xamenos

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Xamenos I think that's true, but D.E. is unique and maybe not replicable.
How so? I see nothing at all that is unique or non-replicable about its approach. It does require more effort, probably more than double. But I see no other way you can make it work. It's either this, or you accept your players will savescum. Or you forbid savescumming and filter the vast majority who doesn't enjoy that.
 

Zombra

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I like that approach from the standpoint of the player's experience -- the text affirms the character either way. But as a designer, it makes me recoil, since now I need not only success and fail messages, but variants of each, not to mention interesting outcomes from the failure state.
Completely understood. Again, I'm coming from the tabletop tradition, where a GM improvises reactions on the fly and can always acknowledge the qualities of the PCs with no extra groundwork. I partly excuse myself because in thinking about all this I've had TTON's "more words than the Bible" brag in the back of my mind. What if, instead of hours upon hours of exposition, those millions of words were used to tailor the experience to the variable qualities of the protagonist?
 
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MRY

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Xamenos I think that's true, but D.E. is unique and maybe not replicable.
How so? I see nothing at all that is unique or non-replicable about its approach. It does require more effort, probably more than double. But I see no other way you can make it work. It's either this, or you accept your players will savescum. Or you forbid savescumming and filter the vast majority who doesn't enjoy that.
My experience of the game was that a substantial reason why this approach worked so well in DE was the internal dialogue in which your skills spoke to you, a second reason it worked well was because the writing was very good, and a third reason was the "drawing room" scale of the game. Obviously "drawing room" is overstating it, but DE has a narrows that permits depth.
 

The_Mask

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Strap Yourselves In Codex Year of the Donut Steve gets a Kidney but I don't even get a tag. Pathfinder: Wrath I helped put crap in Monomyth
you accept your players will savescum. Or you forbid savescumming and filter the vast majority who doesn't enjoy that.
I prefer the Dark Souls option. You start from the idea that there are 2 time flows you have to keep track of. The player and the player character.

You make a bonfire(save spot), where the player character loses inconsequential things, such as souls, when they die. The player loses their time anyway. (hopefully having fun)
 

Alpan

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Grab the Codex by the pussy Pathfinder: Wrath
So basically, what you need to do is make failure as interesting as success. Failing a check and being told "no" to your face is boring. Savescumming is guaranteed because people want to play a game, not have a roll determine whether you can play it. But if you make that failure interesting? If you have it move the discussion to a different direction, or have your character do something entertainingly bad, or whatever? Then you've solved savescumming. For most people at least.

People commonly claim this is what Disco Elysium does, but I'm not convinced. As long as you frame one path as success and the other as failure, as DE does, people will prefer to be on the successful path, and nothing I saw in DE convinced me of a new order of things.

Off the top of my head, a good example of a game that does this correctly is... Starcraft II. In the Terran campaign (the only one I've played), there are certain bifurcation points, exclusive missions between which a player must pick to proceed. These are presented as dilemmas at time of choice. It is only after making the choice and finishing the mission that the design genius reveals itself: I'm not going to spoil anything, but suffice it to say, whatever the player picks, the player turns out to be right. The story simply adapts to the mission choice the player makes without it feeling wrong, either way.
 

Xamenos

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My experience of the game was that a substantial reason why this approach worked so well in DE was the internal dialogue in which your skills spoke to you, a second reason it worked well was because the writing was very good, and a third reason was the "drawing room" scale of the game. Obviously "drawing room" is overstating it, but DE has a narrows that permits depth.
Good writing is absolutely required, no arguments here. But then again, if you have a story rpg without good writing then what have you? The skills speaking to you was just what DE did, there's no reason to do the same. You could have the party, or NPCs, or actions happen differently. And the small scale is, unfortunately, necessary for this method. Given that your budged and your time are finite, you necessarily have to make the game shorter to offer more branching paths.

you accept your players will savescum. Or you forbid savescumming and filter the vast majority who doesn't enjoy that.
I prefer the Dark Souls option. You start from the idea that there are 2 time flows you have to keep track of. The player and the player character.

You make a bonfire(save spot), where the player character loses inconsequential things, such as souls, when they die. The player loses their time anyway. (hopefully having fun)
Never played Dark Souls. Not my cup of tea. But how is it any different than any other RPG that uses save spots instead of letting you save everywhere?

People commonly claim this is what Disco Elysium does, but I'm not convinced. As long as you frame one path as success and the other as failure, as DE does, people will prefer to be on the successful path, and nothing I saw in DE convinced me of a new order of things.

Off the top of my head, a good example of a game that does this correctly is... Starcraft II. In the Terran campaign (the only one I've played), there are certain bifurcation points, exclusive missions between which a player must pick to proceed. These are presented as dilemmas at time of choice. It is only after making the choice and finishing the mission that the design genius reveals itself: I'm not going to spoil anything, but suffice it to say, whatever the player picks, the player turns out to be right. The story simply adapts to the mission choice the player makes without it feeling wrong, either way.
Speaking from personal experience, that was certainly not the case. Some choices I did not mind at all. Roll the dice and whatever happens happens. But in others I actually found the failures MORE entertaining. I want have fuck with you, the karaoke, stuff like that were memorable. It did help that you were playing as an alcoholic failure of a cop and those things felt entirely in character, but I'm sure a good enough writer can do it with any kind of protagonist. As I said earlier, nerds in their basement playing with dice have been creating interesting failures for decades. It is possible, even if difficult.
 

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As long as you frame one path as success and the other as failure, as DE does, people will prefer to be on the successful path.
This is critical. Even if one dialogue result is dramatically less favorable than another, whether from a failed skill check or simply a bad choice, it should not be signposted as "this is the bad/wrong result, reload now".

EDIT: Where Disco Elysium shines is that failures are often signposted as "good" i.e. interesting and content-rich results ... but usually only after you have actually failed them, which could be done better, I think.
 
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The_Mask

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Never played Dark Souls. Not my cup of tea. But how is it any different than any other RPG that uses save spots instead of letting you save everywhere?
This is actually a lesser known thing about Dark Souls: it actually saves pretty much after every single significant move the player makes, in case the entertainment system crashes. I was just trying to say that you don't have to be straight-forward with the player. Create bright, visible things for the player to see (such as a bright bonfire that acts like a save point), save the game every second anyway, but make sure gameplay and/or C&C is only affected in a carefully calculated loop.

Or not. And make it obvious why not. Play with your player's tension. etc.

A good RPG designer is a person that, in theory, would have a very high perception. What is annoying. What isn't. These things can be taught up to a point, but after a point, you need to simply *know* if what you're designing is "tense", "challenging", "cute" or... "annoying".
And when you do *know* these things, be a sort-of magician. Be transparent with some aspects. Others be obtuse.

There is a reason we respect MCA.
 
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Thinking back to Goldbox days, fireball was the moment when a wizard felt most like a wizard (he was doing something radically different from what others could do, in a way that felt really wizardly); sweeping low-level enemies was when a fighter was validated; a gigantic backstab for a thief; cure serious wounds for a cleric. Dialogue skills should be thought of the same way. Not every round needs the pyrotechnics of a fireball (a wizard can't cast a fireball every round in combat) or the gore of a sweep, but that can't just happen once or twice a game, either. It needs to be frequent and clear.

Would such things like having an option to intimidate for high str char or seduce for high charisma ones be enough here? I think there should be gameplay differences rather than having just a simple choice between different colored dialogue option. Something like searching for what a given character my find intimidating or what situation lends itself better to seduce the person. The problem with this approach is that we will end up with a system in which gameplay for each choice ends up being just a different kind of information search.
 

Harthwain

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Here's the thing. Suppose a computer hack is a 1d10 rolled against your Computer skill, rated 1 to 9 -- if the roll is equal to or lower than the skill, then you hack the computer; if it is greater than the skill, you fail to hack the computer. A player who encounters that computer has exactly the same option whether he has built his character as a hacker or not. Both players have a chance of success, both players have a chance at failure. After they attempt to hack the computer, the computer is either hacked or it isn't. So the hacker character who succeeds and the non-hacker character who succeeds have literally the same experience. The game in no way signals they are different characters. The player can LARP his own narrative about how frustrated the Computer 9 character is who fails, or how exultant the Computer 1 character is who succeeds. But the game makes no distinction. Both characters are, or are not, hackers.
But you don't have to use only Computer skill when it comes to players and players' interactions. Let's say you have your hacker, who can't see anything past the computer. And then you have a Sherlock Holmes-esque type of character: someone who lacks social skills and isn't good with computers (1 Computer skill), but can glean a lot of information from just *being* in the room. This is where having different skills at different levels (and hidden checks) can come into play and direct the player in unique way, while at the same time giving the player the feeling of his build being meaningful by providing him with something to work with.

My friend at Riot talks about this a lot; what everyone wants is a matchmaking system where they are just a bit better than the other guy.
Having similar matchmaking accomplishes this. As long as the player knew he had a good shoot at it, he ought to be satisfied (or craving for more). Of course, there are people want to win forever more, but such cases are hopeless and these people should be told to git gud.

People commonly claim this is what Disco Elysium does, but I'm not convinced. As long as you frame one path as success and the other as failure, as DE does, people will prefer to be on the successful path, and nothing I saw in DE convinced me of a new order of things.
In Disco Elysium a failure - at times - could generate better results than a success. So being successful all the time wouldn't always be the most optimal path. And regardless of how you did, it was always hilarious and in-line with the theme of the game, which really helped a lot to carry on.

Off the top of my head, a good example of a game that does this correctly is... Starcraft II. In the Terran campaign (the only one I've played), there are certain bifurcation points, exclusive missions between which a player must pick to proceed. These are presented as dilemmas at time of choice. It is only after making the choice and finishing the mission that the design genius reveals itself: I'm not going to spoil anything, but suffice it to say, whatever the player picks, the player turns out to be right. The story simply adapts to the mission choice the player makes without it feeling wrong, either way.
StarCraft II did this, but saying it did this correctly rather than "correctly" is wrong, in my opinion. And it's not how Disco Elysium does things. Just because a failure doesn't mean you are locked out of something it doesn't mean you - the player - are always right.
 

Ol' Willy

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Off the top of my head, a good example of a game that does this correctly is... Starcraft II. In the Terran campaign (the only one I've played), there are certain bifurcation points, exclusive missions between which a player must pick to proceed. These are presented as dilemmas at time of choice. It is only after making the choice and finishing the mission that the design genius reveals itself: I'm not going to spoil anything, but suffice it to say, whatever the player picks, the player turns out to be right. The story simply adapts to the mission choice the player makes without it feeling wrong, either way.
RPG is the genre that's supposed to have great reactivity and nonlinearity, but it's ironic how strategy games are actually outdoing most RPGs in that regard. Take Panzer General, for example. Major victory in France opens up Sealion for you, where another major kicks out Britain off the war completely, removing Western front altogether and opening up a possible way for Washington. If you get minor in any of these, you're presented with a choice of Balkan or African campaigns. Successful African campaign allows you to invade USSR through Caucasus, while with Balkan one you go OTL way, through Belarus, both of these lead you to Moscow if successful. Such paths encourage multiple playthroughs, and even the last scenario is reserved for three different maps: Washington, Balaton and Berlin. In fact, the best performance gets you the shortest campaign possible, while some minors here and there provide you with the longest path.

Now, RPGs don't have scenarios, but they have locations and sublocations. There are few RPGs, like AoD, which have such remarkable branching, but even AoD has only two final locations though similar distinction between major and minor success is present to some degree. Sadly, as I understand, the RPG market is filled with people who play the game only once and it's unlikely that we see a lot of games with TRULY non-linear and reactive playthroughs. Flavour text is the best we can hope for.
 

Endemic

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With an RPG you're tracking a lot more than 2-3 global variables, for starters. If the factions, towns, NPCs etc don't react logically to your choices or actions, it will break immersion or seem more linear than it is.

As we've seen with RPGs like AoD, a high degree of branching requires a more limited scope. Or you go with artificial boundaries on what the player can affect in the gameworld, which isn't ideal.
 

Imrahil

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Years ago, I wrote an article about why RPGs should impose consequences on the characters that are less than death but more than trivial. I'm now somewhat skeptical that this is possible; player psychology may simply be too rigid on this point to shift, at least as far as it comes to narrative.
I'm still pretty much where you *were* - I believe if it's conveyed that the player will still proceed, but an additional burden is imposed (not necessarily a malus) like an additional (tiny) quest, or even an additional combat, players might be more inclined to accept, or even seek out fail states.

I've experienced this myself - I remember some riddles or tests in BG2 where I knew all the answers, but I also knew which *wrong* answers would trigger an additional combat without closing off ultimate success. Now, this was achieved with a high Hindsight skill; I'm not saying BG2 conveyed this to me. Just that I was OK with, even welcomed, failing at certain checks if I knew I could still proceed afterwards but it would be slightly more difficult for me, but maybe I got some XP or items.

So if there was a way for the Quest-Giver/Riddle-Asker to adequately convey through dialogue "success will simply make your path easier" but the Player knows he will still be able to proceed, then a fail state is not viewed as inherently negative. In Tides terms, I might be willing to take a 30% success rate with no Effort knowing I can maybe handle what's coming but don't want to waste the resources needed to get to a 90% success rate, especially since if I hit that 10% fail anyway that Effort is lost. The rewards for failure shouldn't necessarily be be better than success, just different.
 

The_Mask

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I've been replaying this over the weekend, and they made some (stealth) updates.

Some crises have been fixed so that their objectives are much clearer and/or easier to conclude. Warp Dash cannot go through solid objects anymore and thus it is less broken, but still very good. Some AI's have been improved. Party banter happens more often, and thus it gives a bit more flavour to the game.

So nothing that fixes its real issues. Obviously. But there you have it, just in case anyone that played it when it came out feels like they need an update. :lol:
 

MRY

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I'm still pretty much where you *were* - I believe if it's conveyed that the player will still proceed, but an additional burden is imposed (not necessarily a malus) like an additional (tiny) quest, or even an additional combat, players might be more inclined to accept, or even seek out fail states.
Maybe, but I'm not so sure. Again, I consider Disco Elysium pretty much as good as you could possibly get in this regard in terms of managing player psychology and incentivizing fail states, and even there, my understanding is that there is rampant save scumming by players. In a setting where the protagonist is not meant to be a goofy failure and where you don't have a superstructure of witty internal monologue re: failure, I am skeptical that players would be on board. I also think that whenever something is decided by random chance, if you show the player what is happening, the "failure avoidance" mentality will be very strong. Players simply don't want to fail rolls. This, too, inclines me toward thresholds rather than rolls in most instances.
 

Imrahil

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Well, I don't disagree with you there, but I'd put it on the game that does not adequately convey that fail states convey different approaches required & should not be viewed as literal FAIL states. I mean, even with DE, I played it through a 2nd time maxing out certain Skills (Inland Empire & Shivers in this case), thinking I'd see different outcomes & just accept fail states in other stuff, & it was only then that I realized that "oh, no, there was no point to this".

I experienced a few extra inner conversations I hadn't before, but nothing that mattered. I still ultimately succeeded at everything that counted. I actually finished the game earlier than my first run when I tried to be a little more balanced (EDIT: b/c I upped Hindsight skill). I simply wound up pulling back the curtain on the game & discovered that while this was still a great game, all the fail-states were illusions & made no real difference. Didn't change my opinion of DE, & I still highly recommend it to anyone that asks, but now I tell them to just build whatever they like, knowing that it doesn't really matter.

I do tell them to not care about failing stuff, though. But the game doesn't.
 

IHaveHugeNick

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Responsible parents should force young whippersnappers to play and beat all the Sierra adventures before allowing them to try modern gaming.

Problem solved.
 

agris

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5 year olds should be able to configure dosbox to play Crusader No Remorse before getting an iDevice and downloading Fortnite.
 

MRY

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I was literally just talking about this in the context of an interview re: Strangeland. When merely getting a game to run was an exercise in puzzle-solving (IRQ and DMA settings, freeing up conventional memory, hole-punching floppies for saves, etc.), the designer could expect a certain level of tolerance for challenge and frustration that you can no longer expect when someone comes at your product by way of an iPad or whatever.
 

IHaveHugeNick

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I only became aware of this phenomenon after noticing that folks on Steam forums saw Age of Decadence as a brutal unforgiving game. Which couldn't be further from the truth, the combat is trivial if you actually build your guy for combat, and pacifist playthrough is even easier, just max the relevant skills and it's smooth sailing to the finale.

But some folks seemed to have no mental concept that sometimes to win you have to fail. Instead of specializing they tried to do everything on the same character, who then ends up sucking at everything and then they blame the game for being too difficult and unfair.

It's not necessarily that modern games lack challenge and frustration, but they sweeten the deal by constantly offering you rewards and distractions. A collectible here, a new weapon there. Whereas in older games failure meant black screen and starting over, and so you're not going to lose sleep over failing a skill check.
 

Imrahil

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Some updates (spoilers obviously):

Left the Sagus Cliffs on the airship for the Valley of the Dead, so, final thoughts on Sagus Cliffs...
- It's a bunch of go-here-do-this-go-back stuff, not exactly fetch quests, so that's good, but...
- None of it really ties together, like each area & each quest seems really independent of each other & doesn't really convey anything about WTF is going here initially
- not saying none of it is *interesting* - taken in little chunks, some of it is quite interesting, just that I still have no idea what my purpose is; what am I trying to achieve in this game? what is my goal? to check off quests & defeat bad guys? I have no idea why I don't just fuck off & spend my shins in a brothel. For example...
- Do I care who the First Castoff is? Or the Changing God? Why? In PS:T, I wanted to find out who *I* am. *I* had lost my memory & other people reacted to that. I got some early indications even early on (Morte, Deionarra, for example). Here, 99% of the people I interact with could no more care about who I am than I do. I did some exploration anyway (because it's a game), got some vague hints on prior Castoffs, but I'm really only motivated because it's a game I, the player, am playing. Not because my character really has a reason to care.
- Why is everything a weird mix of swords & sorcery & psionics? I get stories about "bolt rifles" or whatever & cybernetic implants & psychic powers & Micromesh armor while wielding a fucking Rapier & Shield? The setting just makes no sense.
- It has no connection to any edition of D&D or PS:T that I can tell. I think I'd like it more if it was advertised as a brand new game that didn't rely on being a "successor to PS:T". Given that that barometer does exist though, I must admit I'm inclined to judge it more harshly. In PS:T at least I knew the underlying "system" - I didn't have to figure out the story AND understand the game AND decipher the entire game system at the same time.

Anyway, on to the The Valley of Dead Heroes:
- More disjointed "quests". Go talk to this person. OK, go back & talk to this person. None of these people camped out here asking me favors have any idea about the guy sitting 20 feet away from them asking me for another favor? Come on. Some of that is OK. But a "Hey, what's up with that guy?" dialogue goes a long way to making this seem like a "real" place, not a game quest hub, even if the answer is "I dunno - he's crazy" (& he says the same thing). Just don't make it so obvious these quests were designed by different people who had no idea what other characters would be in this area & what they want. Ok, eventually reaching the actual Tombs...
- Doing the Tombs - wow this is dull - I guess that was the point, as Tantalum says he was "teaching me a lesson", but it's a dull lesson. No one wants to experience a dull lesson.
- Inifere is actually mildly interesting (but so wordy & rambling & another CYOA). If he was the first person like this, I'd find him more interesting, but he just rambles & rambles & his CYOA is mildly interesting but has dulled my opinion of him once I got through the Gate.
- Speaking of which - these Merecaster CYOAs are overall boring. I get the whole "OMG you can change the past!" aspect of them - that's intriguing - but they could definitely be be shorter (PoE & Deadfire suffered from this as well). I wound up save-scumming one of them (the one where you lead a company protecting an Aeon Priest) just to see the outcomes, because I was finally curious if they mattered, & they don't, apparently. The ending is always the same, no matter what choices you make. I get that some of them can actually alter the past. But there's too many that are just filler. First time through, haven't finished, could be wrong, but that's my impression so far.

Ok, with all that out of my system, me, Callistege, Rhin, & Erritis are heading to Miel Avest next. I mean, on the plus side for this game, I'm still playing it, which counts for something I guess.
 

The_Mask

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Location
The land of ice and snow.
Strap Yourselves In Codex Year of the Donut Steve gets a Kidney but I don't even get a tag. Pathfinder: Wrath I helped put crap in Monomyth
Be sure to do the most retarded thing in the world and click on 50 grave stones, so you get all the merecasters. Whoever came up with that trash, should get his head examined.
 

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