Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Little about Deathlord and a Bunch of Thoughts on a Mistborn RPG


The party battles a large group in some ruins.
      
Ugh. Despite being "off" for the entire month, I'm having the worst time making progress with Deathlord. I never give up and look at online maps this early in a game, but with this one I've been tempted so many times that I keep forcing myself to stop playing rather than spoil the game.

What commenters told me about training was true. A few more combats and everyone had his "+". I headed back to Tokugawa, which had the only training center I'd found, and leveled everyone up. It just about doubled their hit points, but my mages only started with 2, so they remain pushovers compared to their fighter colleagues.
      
Leveling up in the training hall.
       
I resumed my systematic exploration of the continent, focusing on the interior this time. During my travels I again came upon the ruins of Wakuzi, which is supposed to have pirate treasure, and decided to explore it fully. This didn't take long, but I'm sure I missed a lot, considering I never found any pirate treasure. The western edge was all water. I don't know if you can bring boats into dungeons, but if so, perhaps there's more to find across the water (it will be a long time before I have the Level-6 water-walking spell). There were also some poison squares that I declined to cross because just a few steps kills my spellcasters.

An NPC standing by a wall said "pay up!" I consulted the manual and saw that I could bribe such NPCs with one of the "orate" subcommands. I think I've missed such opportunities in other places. I gave him 20 gold and he told me that the pirates' treasure would be found in the "caves under the town." But I never found a way to those caves, so again perhaps the entrance is beyond the water or poison.
     
How much more for directions to those caves?
   
Outside, day had turned to night again. The exploration window becomes so small at night that the manual just encourages you to sleep until morning. It's a good idea anyway. Hit points and spell points regenerate at a rate of about 1 every 70 moves, or about every 25 game minutes. I've been able to make it through most days with that slow regeneration, bolstered by castings of my one "heal" spell. But by the end of the day, I'm usually at the end of my resources, and a restorative night's sleep is the best approach. My food still continues to deplete at a slow rate--I'm on about 88 of my original 100 meals.
 
Pitching camp for the night.
      
After exploring the interior of the entire continent, I had only found one "new" location: a dungeon in the eastern part of the island. (I might have missed something, though.) The two-level dungeon was full of zombies, skeletons, ghouls (who can paralyze, a reload condition since I have no spell to cure it and it never wears off), harpies, gremlins (who can summon other gremlins), kobitos, and something called "stonebrows," which are hard to hit but die easily. I confirmed that monsters do re-spawn in dungeons. 
     
"Stonebrows" sensibly look like stone creatures with large brows.
     
The levels were large enough but had no special encounters or treasures. As usual, I felt like I must have missed something, but I did test every wall square and search each one for secret doors. I'm hoping it isn't the case that I need to search each wall square multiple times for secret doors. That might be a deal-breaker. In any event, when I left the dungeon, "+"-es were starting to appear next to the characters' names again, so it was time well-spent.
     
I repeated this process on every wall square.
     
At this point, I basically decided it was time to start over, systematically explore every inch of the towns and dungeons, and re-engage each NPC with the full range of dialogue options. I still don't know about mapping. The game manual suggests mapping on graph paper and insists that each dungeon level will fit on a standard 8.5 x 11 sheet. This may be true of dungeons, but I'm skeptical that it's true of towns, which seem a lot larger. 

I did find several secret doors in Kawa, but they all just led to unproductive dialogues with guards.
     
I suppose he could be blocking yet another secret door, but this doesn't seem like the kind of game where you kill innocent guards just to find secret doors.
        
I also smashed my way into a graveyard, and then to a small area beyond with graves surrounding some kind of mausoleum, but I couldn't find anything to do there.
       
This seems like a location that ought to have some purpose.
     
Since I'm basically starting over in my exploration efforts, I might punt Deathlord a little later on the list and focus on something that lets me achieve more momentum. I don't really like the game, but it's a bit too early to call it quits. I haven't really accomplished anything yet.

Time so far: 13 hours

*****
      
Since this post is so short, let me talk about something else that's been occupying my attention this week: how you might make an RPG out of Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn setting. I've been re-reading through all 7 books in the series and I've become obsessed with how good an RPG it would make, particularly if the game was set in between the original trilogy and the more recent "Wax & Wayne" series. I particularly like the idea of playing it with guns, so I suppose it would have to be closer to the latter.

If you're not familiar with the setting, the series uses an ingenious magic system based on metals. The original trilogy only has 10 metals, but by the latter books, the characters have discovered 16. The magic-using characters, called "allomancers," swallow metals and "burn" them to achieve various magical effects, including being able to push or pull against a metal object, strengthen their own bodies or senses, inflame or soothe emotions, and predict an opponent's moves in combat. The pushing-and-pulling mechanic is perhaps the most detailed of the powers. Sanderson pairs the magic with realistic physics: You can only push directly away from you or pull directly towards you. If you push against something heavier than yourself, you go flying backwards; something lighter, and it goes flying backwards. The characters in the novels use these powers somewhat like Magneto, shooting metal objects at enemies, sending armored opponents flying off castle ramparts, deflecting bullets, or imparting additional force to their own bullets.

Much is made of the allomancer's ability to essentially fly using his push-and-pull powers. They use all the accoutrements of cities--nails in doors, window latches, lamp poles, and so forth--to launch themselves high into the air and fly over the streets. When they lack an obvious object to push against, they drop coins or bullet casings on the ground and use those.

I'm not a huge fan of action RPGs, but I don't see how you'd make this one fun without an action approach. I figure a Dishonored-style interface would work well. You'd have to have a meter for each metal, which deplete depending on the speed at which you use the associated powers. You'd pick the powers themselves from a wheel on a console or function keys on a keyboard. Pushing and pulling would be so common that you'd have map those to easily-accessible controls--perhaps the two triggers on a console or the two CTRL keys on a keyboard.

You'd have to use some kind of highlighting system to determine the metal object against which you're pushing or pulling, as well as available metal objects in the area. A simple mouse approach would handle that on the PC; on a console, you'd have to combine looking with the left stick with perhaps a "cycling" approach using the arrow pad. Either way, you'd have to give the player the ability to pause the action to fine-tune the selection of the metal object. Perhaps you'd do this in a VATS-style interface in which the action kept going, albeit slowly.

What I haven't decided is how you'd handle the acquisition of allomantic powers. In the books, characters are either "mistings," with one power, or "mistborn," with all of them. Mistborn acquire their powers by "snapping," and then they get them all at once. But for a classic RPG approach, you'd have to make the character earn his powers through experience and leveling. While this isn't supported by the novels, you could come up with some plot device that makes it necessary for the RPG protagonist. Levels would also impart health and perhaps the ability to burn metals more efficiently so they'd last longer.

I also don't know how you'd handle atium and the "atium shadows" that it produces, showing which actions an enemy is likely to take next, allowing you to fine-tune your own attacks. But if you set the game after the original trilogy, I think all the atium is gone (sorry--spoilers), so perhaps it's a non-issue. Gold and electrum wouldn't be very useful in-game but might serve at various plot points.

What really excites me is how you'd incorporate feruchemy and hemalurgy into the game. Feruchemy is another magic system by which the character stores attributes--speed, healing, strength, weight, and so forth--in pieces of metal and then draws upon them later. The neat thing about the system is that the character has to purposefully weaken himself in order to store attributes. To be able to move at double speed for a few minutes, he has to move at half-speed for a few hours first. Imagine how cool that would be in an RPG. You have to spend a few game hours walking around at half-health to store up healing abilities for later. You have to suffer with an encumbrance of only 50 pounds for a few hours so that later you can jack up the encumbrance to 400 pounds for a while. There would be a lot of tactics associated with this trade-off.

Hemalurgy, meanwhile, basically allows the allomancer to "steal" the allomantic powers of another allomancer by killing him with a metal spike and then driving that spike into himself. It's considered an evil power, and thus it would give evil characters a way to acquire powers without having to level.

There are a lot of ways you could take the plot. There are something like 300 years between the two sets of novels, so you could envision plenty of adventures during that period as the new world finds its legs, as cities grow and pioneers begin populating the "roughs." It's too bad that you wouldn't see the ashmounts and ashfall, but perhaps there could be mechanisms for "flashing back" to the time of the original trilogy. Ironeyes, Harmony, and some other obvious characters would appear as NPCs. Enemies would be tough since Sanderson doesn't really put any "monsters" into his setting, except perhaps the koloss. I think they would mostly be other allomancers, and you'd have to study their powers to figure out how to defeat them. Or maybe the plot could involve the kandra taking various bestial forms. Maybe you could play as a kandra, swapping out various "blessings" as needed--that could be really cool. (I've long since lost people who haven't read the novels.)

Whether they take my advice or not, some developer really needs to get moving and make this. After Downfall, of course.

52 comments:

  1. Interesting idea. I only read the first two Mistborn books, and while I liked them they never really hooked me. Conversely, I've devoured his Stormlight Archive books, even though I'd usually put books like that aside as "too long and trying-to-be-epic-y."

    I think the "seeing the future" power could work by dropping into the slo-mo VATS interface you mention while you're burning the metal and show a ghost of what the AI thinks should be the enemy's next move moving at regular speed. So, you'd see the enemy moving slowly but a ghost version of him moving at regular speed that, say, charges at you and stabs. Once the stab is complete, the ghost could vanish and start again. Once you unpause, the enemy would proceed to do that move and you'd have to dodge, block, etc.

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    1. What I'd really like to see is a Fate: Gates of Dawn-inspired Sword of Truth CRPG.

      That'd have some long dungeons.

      /s

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    2. That's a good idea, Salathor. I could see it working the way you describe.

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  2. A mistborn rpg is a good idea. Brandon Sanderson writes stories that would be much better as videogames than they are as standalone stories.

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    1. I don't know if I agree with that, but his insistence on hard magic does make a direct video game adaptation easier.

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  3. I've thought about a Mistborn RPG as well, but I get hung up on how to implement the metal push/pull mechanic in a universe-faithful way. Someone like Wax using Steelpushes exclusively is making hundreds of subtle, instinctual adjustments against various objects to achieve controlled flight. When Mistborn fight, they manipulate objects that the other is pushing/pulling on to affect combat in dramatic and surprising ways. I don't know how you replicate the feel of that system, in real-time, with a keyboard and a mouse.

    I suppose you could limit the implementation of pushing/pulling to a defined set of skills/feats, so that doing anything really impressive just requires pushing a button to activate a skill. But at that point it feels like you're just playing any other RPG.

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    1. I don't think the combat part would have to be that hard. You'd have one key to highlight all of the metal objects in the scene. Click on the one you want to manipulate, then hit other keys to push or pull. Didn't The Force Unleashed games do something similar?

      As for flying, I was thinking it would work something like climbing in Assassin's Creed, where most walls have so many handholds that you jut have to point yourself at the wall and the character climbs automatically. Only when the building has smooth surfaces do you really have to search for handholds. Out in the open, you can't climb at all. So during most of the Mistborn game, the character can just specify a direction and bounce along, but when he reaches sparsely-populated areas, you actually have to point to particular metal objects on which to push and pull.

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  4. I read some of 'Steelheart', because the premise sounded cool - Superheros are real and they're all bad guys, but it was way too basic and silly. I knew going in that it was YA fiction, but it seemed to emphasise the Y.

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  5. About halved attributes: I'd just block controls with somethinf heavy and let my character walk around room while nearly crippled from all these halved attributes/abilities. Not much strategy in that.

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    1. Perhaps for game purposes the storing of attributes could only be performed as voluntary disadvantages during battles or challenges. Ie., as soon as you meet an enemy you would have the option to engage in the encounter at -50% attack power, giving you the ability to get +25% attack power in a future battle.

      Still seems like it'd be vulnerable to grinding.

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    2. Either your suggestion or a lot of timed quests

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    3. Or you just let some players play like jackasses. I mean, in Skyrim and Oblivion, you could level "sneak" to 100 by just engaging it near a sleeping NPC, taping the control, and walking away. It does't ruin the game if you don't play it that way.

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    4. @Addict, if statistics play a major role in your character's power, then cutting your attributes in half is a major problem and getting anything done would be a big problem and having them doubled or higher by half of their value would be a gigantic boost, so all you could do would be run around doing simple FedEx quests. On the other hand if they wouldn't play a big role, having them increased wouldn't be very profitable, so this boost could be easily ignored altogether asking with this mechanic. I suppose it would be possible to experiment with values and find some point where it would be viable, but I'm sceptical about it to be honest.

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  6. There *is* a Mistborn tabletop RPG, and it's pretty good. I've both run it and played in it. The mechanics aren't perfect, but they're good and fast-moving. Sanderson was actually involved in the game's writing and design.

    Links:
    https://www.crafty-games.com/buy-now/mistborn-adventure-game/
    http://coppermind.net/wiki/Mistborn_Adventure_Game

    There *was* a computer game in the works, but Coppermind now lists it as defunct:
    http://coppermind.net/wiki/Mistborn:_Birthright

    Also, if you really like Brandon's work, treat Coppermind the same way you' treat TVTropes.

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    1. Do you know anything about the backstory and setting for the game? Judging by what I'm reading online, it seems like an alternative history to the original series rather than fitting into the canon.

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    2. I'm disappointed Birthright is defunct. I would love a Mistborn (video game) RPG. L2 for pull on the selected object or direction, R2 for push, menu toggle for the enhancement powers, dialogue options for emotional allomancy (or maybe make it like pickpocketing in Skyrim where you have to be near the person and select them with the right option)...the options lend themselves very well to RPG interactions.

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  7. Just wanted to make a quick comment/hint on Deathlord secret doors that I think might save you some time: (ROT13d)

    Genqvgvbany frperg qbbef jvyy BAYL nccrne ba "oevpx" jnyyf. Vyyhfbel jnyyf lbh pna whfg jnyx guebhtu pna or nalguvat, ohg frperg qbbef lbh unir gb frnepu sbe ner oevpx jnyyf bayl. V abgvprq lbh frnepuvat n pnir jnyy va n fperrafubg--fvapr vg'f abg n oevpx jnyy lbh'er thnenagrrq gb svaq abguvat gurer. Naq lrf, V'z nsenvq lbh znl unir gb frnepu sbe frperg qbbef zber guna bapr--punenpgref jvgu uvture VAG unir n orggre punapr gb svaq gurz. Vyyhfbel jnyyf ner zhpu zber pbzzba gubhtu.

    Also a mapping/game area hint:

    "Bhgqbbe" nernf ner 56k56 gvyr nernf. "Vaqbbe" nernf ner 64k64 gvyr nernf. "Qhatrbaf" ner nyfb 64k64 gvyrf--ohg gurl'er (hfhnyyl) pneirq vagb 4 32k32 dhnqenagf, rnpu bs juvpu vf vgf bja qhatrba yriry. Sbe guvf ernfba yriryf va n qhatrba nyzbfg nyjnlf ner n zhygvcyr bs 4, fb lbh xabj jura gb fgbc frnepuvat.

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    1. Thanks. I decoded because I feel like I need all the help I can get with this one. That will help me with the exploration and mapping, and knowing about the secret doors does save a lot of time.

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  8. I can't wait for you to play Geneforge, my favorite CRPG ever in my favorite fictional world.

    I'm loving the blog.

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    1. Geneforge is right up there for me on both counts as well. I think I slightly prefer Geneforge 2 for it's better balance and much larger variety of spells and summons.

      It doesn't convey quite the same level of wonder as the first game does in the exploration, but the plot is more detailed and characters more interesting.

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    2. This is exciting for me to hear! I am about 50 hours into my first playthrough of Avernum: EftP (hard mode, so I'm dying a lot), and getting pretty close to the end.

      I've been liking it so much I've been considering moving on to Geneforge, since I got all of Spiderweb's older games in a humble bundle a few years back.

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    3. Geneforge would be my recommended option, though jumping to Avernum 4 is also reasonable - I don't think you really miss out storywise, the games each stand alone just fine in that regard. 4 has better writing and a better engine than Crystal Souls imo (despite being released in '05).

      I'd give Avadon a miss. Too linear and the world is a bit bland.

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    4. What about Avernum 3? I know he's remaking it now, but the story and concept sounded cool enough that I was considering that one.

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    5. I enjoyed a lot Avadon 1 and 2. Yes, it is more linear than Geneforge, but it is still enjoyable and the game world and lore are a great addition to the Spiderweb games.

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    6. If you want more Avernum, I suggest you try Avernum 4, and if you prefer that engine you play that trilogy, and if you prefer EftP engine then you play Crystal Souls and the new Avernum 3 (when released).

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    7. I wouldn't bother with the early Avernum games at this point - the more recent remakes of 1 and 2 are a better experience and I believe the Avernum 3 remake is up next. I'd typically recommend starting with Geneforge at this point if you want to make a comprehensive survey of Spiderweb games since it's the oldest title that hasn't been remade and thus you can experience the UI design and player-friendliness going up as you make your way through the series rather than dropping from one of the newest designs to old and fiddly. But since you're already playing the new breed...if you can deal with the downgrades in UI and graphics I'd still pop back to Geneforge and work your way up from there, but if not, the Avadon games are well worth playing, if more linear, and then once Avernum 3's remake is out if you want to proceed to 4 (I don't know if he plans to remake the second trilogy or not), so much the better.

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    8. Would there be an advantage to playing the pre-avernum exile games? I'm really interested in Spiderweb, and the completionist in me is curious about the differences between versions, I'm just concerned I will feel burnt out by the time I get to the remakes...

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    9. Story and setting wise, Exile 1 and Avernum 1 are identical, they share almost exactly the same set of in-game locations as well. Avernum's world is better realised - there's double the dialogue - but combat complexity is reduced (4 party members vs 6, smaller, less zany spell list). Exile has Ultima-style conversations - You need to type keywords. Avernum let's you choose options from a list.

      I think a reasonable option would be: Play Avernum 1 & 2, and play Exile 3. Exile 3 is regarded by some of the old-school fans as the best work Vogel has ever done, and that'll give you an idea of what Exile was like.

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    10. I'm curious about the recommendation of E3 over Avernum 3. Could you give a few examples of why that's better than the later engine's remake of the games? I was thinking that the more modern (term used very loosely) engine of A3 would make the game a little more palatable.

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    11. Avernum is more palatable for the more modern gamer. I never felt like playing Exile (I can't deal with keyword dialogue) - much like some of today's gamers who played A:EftP have no interest in playing the original Avernum. But if one is interested in what Spiderweb's first trilogy was like, then E3 is the one to play, as it has a few quality of life improvements over the first two games in the trilogy, and was the best regarded at the time.

      Avernum is simpler, mechanically though and EftP is simpler again - I am pretty confident that Exile is the most mechanically interesting version of Spiderweb's flagship trilogy.

      Delete
  9. I'm sorry you're not quite digging Deathlord. :( I was kinda afraid that would happen. It's just so ball-breaking.

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    1. I'm waiting for anyone to write and say that they really like it.

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    2. I really like it, even though I were critical about single feature :)

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  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  11. So the great CRPG addict has finally met his match. I guess if he can't even get through Deathlord, nobody can. I suppose I'm not all that surprised, but there was a part of me that had hoped for more.

    Still, it's not over yet. He may still hang in there a bit longer.

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    1. Why did you "hope for more?" Do you like the game?

      I really dig it when commenters make moving on from a boring, unrewarding game sound like some kind of personal failing.

      Delete
    2. It might get better, there might be late game mechanics that influenced other games, it might suddenly get a lot better as you unlock more options.

      We've not seen much of that last one oddly. A number of tabletop games suffer from it, as, for example, 3e D&D works the best at 6-12th levels, since surveys indicated that we where most people play at, so they spent a lot of time playtesting there. Whereas it seems most CRPGs playtest the openings a lot, then let the economy fall off the rails, or whatever later in the game. I'm wondering what the first game where they focused on the late game powers a lot and made a cool late game, but didn't get the opening balance quite right, with it being too easy or just a murder fest? Or have we had that already?

      I bet a number of raid-focused MMOs have that issue, with lots of work on the high level players, and not much for new players.

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    3. I love the game. And it's one of the most exciting and rewarding games I've played because the difficulty and permanence for failure that make you feel a greater sense of accomplishment.

      But since you're copping out and save scumming. I suppose I can see why you're not liking it. I guess I've lost a little respect for you. Not so much of a CRPG Addict as I thought.

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    4. GaelicVigil: I suppose Chet is able to beat this game withouts save scumming, but I don't think anyone here wants a year or so of mainly Deathlord posts. I know I don't.

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    5. GaelicVigil: I suppose Chet is able to beat this game withouts save scumming, but I don't think anyone here wants a year or so of mainly Deathlord posts. I know I don't.

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    6. Was there supposed to be some implied sarcasm here that I missed? "Not playing an Ultima/Wizardy mash-up for 200+ hours" doesn't seem like a very fair place to put the dividing line between a "hardcore gamer" and "filthy casual".

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    7. Chet's demonstrated perseverance plenty of times. But there comes a point where perseverance turns into wasting time and a 'W' alone ain't worth 50 hours.

      Delete
  12. Mistborn sounds like it was almost made with gameplay mechanics in mind... Regarding the question of developing skills over time- in the witcher series you start out with almost all of your powers, they just get better over time. I wish more games took this approach, as opposed to starting you with no clothes, money, weapons or power. You're a mercenary who showed up for fame and fortune, but you forgot to bring a sword?

    Regarding Deathlord... Just don't know how you do it! Since reading the blog, I've tried to be better about actually finishing games. Generally what happens is I will get about 1/2 or 2/3s through before taking a break and playing something else, but returning to it 3-6 months later to finish up. After Fate, I don't think anyone will think less of you if your focus wanders on this one, and you take it a little slow.

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    1. Sanderson's big thing is elaborate and thoroughly thought out magic systems. (or superpowers, in the Reckoners series). So yeah, they lend themselves well to RPGs.

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  13. You could simulate the unlocking of powers by controlling access to the required metals through plot / quests / economy / ...

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    1. That's true. Combined with a leveling system by which the meters deplete less rapidly as you gain levels, it could work well.

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  14. I suppose he could be blocking yet another secret door, but this doesn't seem like the kind of game where you kill innocent guards just to find secret doors.

    Proof that this game hates you, in ROT13: Va bar gbja, gurer vf n thneq ng gur raq bs n unyyjnl. Ur vf fgnaqvat va sebag bs n fvta. Gb ernq gur fvta, lbh zhfg xvyy gur thneq. Gur fvta fnlf "qrnq raq".

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    1. That's actually kind of funny. I was worried your text was going to say that killing guards is completely necessary.

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  15. Well, if they ever do make an RPG based on a Brandon Sanderson novel, at least you won't have to worry about nudity.

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