Another post-game posting (SPOILERS!)

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Another post-game posting (SPOILERS!)

Postby Narsham » Sat Sep 12, 2009 10:05 pm

OK, one final warning. I'm not avoiding spoilers in this post-game analysis. I'll try to be vague enough that people who haven't reached certain points in the game might not be sure what I'm saying, though.

First off--kudos for the game design. I've played the A & G series modules IRL as well as in several cRPG iterations. I found this version the most addictive. The SRD implementation is great (with one quibble I'll get to later), the encounter design clever, and the combat AI is so good that it makes me angry we've not seen AI this good in commercial games designed by teams of professionals. From what I can tell, you have scripting available when you want it, but you can generally leave the AI to make its own decisions and it will make good ones--without always doing the same thing in a predictable manner. Some of the footsoldiers are a little too willing to accept AoOs in order to rush a wizard, IMO, but that's a judgment call.

Purchased Sept. 6th, completed (except for the post-game challenge battle) Sept. 12th after 21 hours of logged play. Since I'm not in college any more, I'd call that a complement to the design and playability.

A few points in the story don't quite mesh properly if you're not following the linear path. For example, triggering the Giants before you finished the Slavers might take you off-track if you're not heavily metagaming, as the Giant threat appears urgent and the Slavers seem less so. This false urgency issue comes up several times in the game, including at the endgame. (I rushed to save the Duke and then the Princess because the plot seemed to demand it, then got stuck at the big "foozle" battle before I expected it.) And the Colossus outside that one village read to me as a "designer doesn't want you going into this town yet" encounter, not as something I needed to blow through when the PCs were tough enough to do so. The plot is pretty linear, and the design seemed that way, too, but perhaps the intent was to offer a chance to sequence break and fight Hill Giants for a while?

A few encounter design critiques: Especially in the early part of the game, I felt like too many encounters generated challenge through surprising the party, even in instances where being surprised didn't seem to make a lot of sense. By mid-game, I found this less of a problem, partly because the characters could survive being surprised and partly because as the game progressed, there were more opportunities for the PCs to score some surprise rounds (not to mention sneak up on some sleeping foes). But it was a problem early on, especially since a low-level group can easily lose 1-2 PCs before they get to act, which means reloading a save. If I make a mistake and lose a fight, that's fine, but if it's a matter of initial conditions and I have to wait until my PCs make saves or are missed by certain attacks to have a chance at winning, that's a problem.

For the early encounters, the Undead/Spider encounter in the cave would be an excellent model for what to do. The monsters are more effective for getting the drop on the PCs, but they aren't going to kill anyone while they're flat-footed and it's possible to use some strategy even when triggering that fight if you lose it the first time. OTOH, several fights in the Orc Fort are major offenders. In particular, the Gnolls at the secret exit and the "boss" fight on the lower level can kill fully prepared PCs before they receive an action. Taking Improved Initiative in these instances won't help much, either. Granted, I'm judging the "boss" fight based on cutting a deal with Icarus, because that's as hard as that fight gets. That's not the only fight which triggers, teleports the party into a fixed location and cuts off their escape, although the others generally afford the PC a better starting position or happen when the PCs are at higher level and can endure the fight. My especial annoyance in this combat was being teleported into the room and having the door shut behind the party--good tactics would have dictated trying to hold the door, at least until prep spells are up. I think the fight would have remained difficult under those circumstances (in particular, a Confusion spell on a party that's holding the doorway would be quite effective), and it wouldn't have appeared to be generating difficulty through an arbitrary and unavoidable designer's choice.

Even the climactic fight of the game offers the chance to pull out of the big chamber and draw enemies into the smaller one. In fact, that's how I managed to beat it in the end.

I suspect some of the spells need some tweaking in terms of their ranges. A few spells, especially at high level, are ridiculously useful because they can be used at long range (Dehydrate is the star, here), while others that should be more useful are limited by their short range (especially the single-target, touch-attack damage spells). I also felt like clerics needed a few more of their damage spells implemented, especially given some of the problems with damage reduction (which I'll cover in a moment). The Inflict/Harm spells aren't bad (although not being able to "hold the charge" makes them less powerful), but a cleric who "readies versus spell" and who wants to use magic instead of a crossbow attack has almost no options available. It's pretty much a 2nd level spell or a Mass Inflict. At least make Flame Strike available in KotC 2, please.

The other big problem I had with the game design involved how DR was implemented, especially in conjunction with a variety of other design choices. 3.5 improved upon 3.0 damage reduction by making the weapon type actually matter, and it also balanced it by reducing the AMOUNT of reduction creatures received. A creature with 5 or even 10 DR could still be damaged by fighter or rogue-types, or by clerics with Divine Favor, while spellcasters simply used magic spells against them. However, KotC removes or nerfs most of the techniques used to deal with DR-equipped monsters:
1. The Align Weapon spell, which enchants a weapon for a short time to allow it to pierce DR, does not exist.
2. Power Attack, which allows a decent fighter to take a penalty to hit in order to punch some damage through DR, does not exist. (3.5 Power attack with 2-handed weapons, which IMO is broken, is especially good at punching through DR.)
3. Scoring a critical hit against a creature with DR will help punch through the DR. Since KotC house-rules crits to drastically reduce their damage, only a high-damage weapon with a X 3 or X 4 crit is likely to score anything at all against high DR. (Greataxe might do as little as 3 extra points or as much as 36...)
4. Carrying multiple kinds of weapons so as to have the right kind to get through a target's DR is complicated, mainly because the game doesn't allow for switching weapons in the middle of combat without triggering an attack of opportunity. Taking the Quick Draw feat is the only work-around to this problem, and pretty much the only viable way to get around DR in-game.
5. At higher levels, many creatures have DR levels far in excess of what 3.5 normally dictates. A quick search through the hypertext 3.5 SRD finds only epic-level creatures with DR 20/anything, with the exception of dragons, which at the high end of their age categories receive DR 20/magic (in other words, no DR against any PCs but near immunity to mundane weapons). The lowest CR creature with DR 20 and some specific type of weapon was a CR 25 golem. Nothing has DR 25; the only mention of DR 30 is in the context of discussing a feat which gods can take to boost their DR.

Removing everything the game system offers to compensate for or bypass DR, while setting DR levels higher than the system is designed to bear with the INCLUSION of those options, has the effect of overly nerfing weapon attacks in certain specific situations. It's only generally a problem past DR 10, although some of the early game DR creatures are extremely annoying. The dragons are the main offenders, carrying DR 20 to DR 30 bypassed only by a specific alignment enchantment. Did a player decide to play knights with neutral alignments and thus no holy weapons? Hope she has enough XP and GP at her last save before the final battle to enchant some +5 holy weapons, because the dragon will otherwise be immune to physical attack to go along with the 32 SR. Granted that by endgame, there's plenty of XP and GP to equip two knights with multiple changes of weapon, if your main weapons were ones you found or were rewarded with, the odds are good they're not any of the three special metal-types. Designed a party with two LN knights? Those axiomatic weapons won't help you at all against a number of high DR monsters.

Even granting that at high level, a lot of your weapon damage will come from enchantments (elemental or alignment, or the 3d6 destruction or wounding's -1 Con), DR 20 is too high and DR 30 is system-breaking. That's not even taking into account that some monsters with DR also have force shield or other such effects which return damage per attack. If the knight is relying on extra dice to score on a high DR monster, it's pretty common to see an attack land for 0 regular and 12-15 alignment and elemental, before the knights takes 25 back. (Giving so many monsters the X shield effect seems to break parity on the prep-spell thing. I'm fine with the 1d6 acid shields, but 4d6 or 6d6, especially when it's non-elemental damage? At least change Fire and Ice Shield back to caster only and let me prep my wizard with one of them before a fight!)

Generating challenge is good. But generating frustration, not so much. The big fight of the game involves an enemy capable of doing 100 damage (through maximum fire resists) in an area, who becomes immune to crits if Foresight is cast on him (and a knight with a +37 attack will need a "20" to hit him), has 32 SR (meaning spells fizzle about half the time) and immunity to a broad range of spells which you'd normally use to have a chance against a foe like this. Ranged touch spells in particular would be the weapon of choice, but without the negative-level-bestowing spells working, there's no way to lower the critter's saves to the point where even a maximally boosted DC will succeed on any save roll other than a "1." Surviving while you wait for your guys to roll "20" or the foe to roll a "1" isn't especially fun, by my lights. I won this fight in the end through good strategy when it came to everything else in play, but with this foe it depended upon an enemy not casting Foresight on him and his decision to spend several rounds throwing Heightened Dispels instead of dealing damage. (BTW, making Dispel work off Will saves makes it another 1 in 20 situation to strip spells off this target.)

From a player (and designer) standpoint, I'd prefer to see you grant this particular boss another 500 hp, lower his saves somewhat, drop some of the long list of immunities, set the DR to 20/magic (or even 15/anything), and lower the AC a bit. Two enemies who last an equal amount of time in a combat are functionally equivalent, but when one survives by simply not being affected by attacks or spells and the second survives DESPITE taking damage or negative spell effects, the second will make a player feel like he's accomplishing something. Watching 20th level characters achieve NOTHING in an attack round despite making all the right choices isn't fun, just frustrating.

A few other encounters suffered from the DR problem. I didn't find any other foes who suffered from the same "I can't even touch this guy" syndrome, although the DR 20/anarchic dragon came close. (At least my spellcasters could take him apart because he lacked all the immunities.)

All that said, I'll be eagerly awaiting KotC 2, as well as the perhaps eventual release of a "design your own adventure" kit...
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Another post-game posting (SPOILERS!)


Re: Another post-game posting (SPOILERS!)

Postby BlueSalamander » Sat Sep 12, 2009 11:23 pm

Thank you for the insightful comments! Good stuff. Regarding dispel, in the sequel I'm planning to have it work based on the caster level of the wizard responsible for the effect being dispelled. This is significantly more complicated than what KotC uses currently.
Good points on the DR and hit points of bosses. KotC DR is easier in one way though, as none of the enemies have DR with multiple requirements to bypass.
'Say there is a chunk of meat. Pirates will have a banquet and eat it! But heroes will share it with other people. I want all the meat!!' - Luffy in One Piece
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Re: Another post-game posting (SPOILERS!)

Postby Narsham » Mon Sep 14, 2009 12:46 am

Finally won the post-game challenge battle (after maybe 20-30 attempts) with my initial party, 2 knights, 1 cleric and 1 wizard.

There were plenty of ways to immediately lose the fight: Spider petrifies my wizard; wizard blows Fort save against the humanoid slaying arrows (since several Thri-Kreen archers always went before my wizard or cleric); one or both Trolls open with a Mass Harm before anyone goes, followed by the spider doing an Acid Blast for around 100 hp damage. After some failed attempts to fight straight out (with the wizard Dehydrating from around the corner), I went for the Dominate strategy. Once one of the demons (or more than one) is dominated, the fight becomes winnable. At that point, the main issues were successful Dispel Magic or counter-dominate spells and the sleep breath weapon (which seemed remarkably effective against the demons).

My most frustrating run saw my wizard Dominate both Balors, which then dominated the Vrock and both dragons in turn. I thought that one was in the bag, with my cleric hiding in a corner, when two Dispel Magic spells managed to undominate both Balors and both dragons. Since the Balors had been holding the doorway, they promptly charged inside and killed all the PCs.

My successful run saw both the NPCs go down quickly (they were frequently detriments to victory). A successful Dominate on the Vrock, which was never dispelled, virtually won the combat on its own. In large part, I think I won because the trolls charged into melee and then didn't tend to cast Heal spells (although one Healed the green dragon, which had 1 hp after several rounds of being Shock Shielded while bouncing off the Vrock's DR).

My cleric's job was to hide and use Heal and True Resurrection to bring one PC back into the fight every round. Except for a few rounds where a dominated Balor or vampire held off the foes, I could expect to lose whoever I stuck in the doorway in 1-2 rounds. After a while, I was stuck holding the door with my wizard in order to keep the cleric from getting surrounded. He'd get resurrected or healed, move to the doorway and drop a spell (Dehydrate, Great Shout or Empowered Cone of Cold were my favorites). Then something would drop him.

The Vrock's shock shield dropped one Balor, the Green Dragon and a golem, and it along with the Vrock's attacks killed a number of other enemies. (The Kreen seemed to run low on arrows after a while and ran forward to die in melee.) But the monsters not fighting the Vrock managed to push me back into the fort, making it impossible to administer healing to the Vrock, and it fell to the second Balor.

I had one knight, my wizard and my cleric. The wizard was out of dominate spells; the cleric was out of 6L and 9L slots, had 3 Still Heals left via 7L slots and otherwise had to use Raise Dead spells. The enemy had one vampire (with low hp), an injured Balor, a golem, one Thri-kreen and the blue dragon (who was around 200 hp still).

As before, the cleric couldn't keep up with the incoming damage. The knight could damage the vampire, but couldn't bypass the DR on the other monsters; with only Raise Dead available, I tended to bring the wizard back instead of Raising the second (dead) knight who had cold iron. I did manage to deploy him one round but had to send him up against the Balor without a full Heal (the last of which I'd had to use on the cleric after two electrical breaths from the golem).

That didn't go well.

At long, long last, I ended up with my wizard (with around 45 hp) and the cleric huddled at the doorway towards the stairs, with the dragon on top of them and the golem about 40' away (unable to get past the dragon). After a few Mass Cure Critical spells to keep the characters up and a very lucky save against the sleep breath, the golem fell. Then my wizard was knocked unconscious by the dragon when I hit "use inventory" to see if he had a scroll left instead of hitting the number key... ending his turn without using his Greater Disintegration scroll. Since the dragon had around 80 hp left, I was able to finish up with two Fire Storm spells, which seemed more useful than relying on the wizard's remaining slots.

Tense doesn't even begin to describe the experience, although I still can't say that fight can be won, exactly. Just not lost...
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Re: Another post-game posting (SPOILERS!)

Postby crpgnut » Mon Sep 14, 2009 1:29 am

I went and looked at that final battle, counted the creatures and the hitpoints and chose discretion :) I just skipped it. I had won the game and had hit level 20 long ago, so there was no impetus for fighting that monstrous battle. The Red Dragon was bad enough! Glad to read that it was beatable if you wanted to bash your brains out over it. I've been trying to get up the gumption to play through the game again, but I don't think it's going to happen. Very few games have made me want to play again immediately after winning them the first time. Still, I'll probably tack this game onto my list of replayables. It'll be fun again in a year or so, once the memories fade a bit. Maybe I'll tackle ToEE again, and see if I can stave off the boredom.

I'm hoping that if Blue-S decides to make a sequel that he doesn't totally nerf the clerics next time. Turning Undead and Outsiders are the high-level clerics bread and butter. The Balors and such would have been a more reasonable foe, with a real cleric. Even if he allowed multi-class fighter/clerics that'd help too. I'm thinking I would have rather had my second knight be a fighter/cleric. Really missed Flame Strike too. Could have used some divine magic. These are quibbles though. It was a fun ride.
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Re: Another post-game posting (SPOILERS!)

Postby Narsham » Mon Sep 14, 2009 4:27 am

crpgnut wrote:I went and looked at that final battle, counted the creatures and the hitpoints and chose discretion :) I just skipped it.

Yeah, I can be kind of stubborn that way. I was convinced the battle could theoretically be won; it was just a matter of doing it.

I have to say that negating the enemy Ready vs. Spell action by having your wizard die or go unconscious probably isn't your best tactic most of the time...

In the end, I didn't so much beat the fight as make the critters beat each other. Since the monsters had so many attacks, they could quite easily take 150 points per round from the Vrock's shock shield. The Vrock rarely suffered damage from these attacks.

3.5 clerics deserve some degree of nerfing. Blue Salamander's solution of basically removing prep spells seems a good nerf, especially given the duration boost to some of their spells to compensate. (I really wish Mass Heal/Harm were back at 8th level, though...)
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Re: Another post-game posting (SPOILERS!)

Postby VentilatorOfDoom » Mon Sep 14, 2009 12:07 pm

This final battle well... here are my thoughts. SPOILERS:

The first time I played it I had 2 knight, cleric, wizard. It's very hard that way. I couldn't save the NPCs either.
The more casters you have, be it clerics or wizard, the easier it gets. You are double as fast when it comes to casting or recasting crucial buffs and other spells, so I figure that 2 clerics, 2 wizards are the optimal party for this fight. That way it's also quite possible to save the NPCs, although I already made that with 2 cleric, wizard, knight. Also if you kill the Vrock in the cave instead of banishing him, he won't be there. Not that it's easy to kill him, best is probably trying to Dominate Monster until success.

I think it should be done this way:
you need the following buffs asap:
- Mass Death Ward, odds are you will be dispelled more than once so have scrolls of that ready and reapply asap
- Mass Pro Evil
Include the Balors in that spells if possible, after you dominated them. Other buffs like haste, Foresight etc should be cast if there is nothing more urgent to do.
Next thing is: dominate monster and dominate undead are the spells for this fight. Together with dehydrate. Have a lot of scrolls.
Speaking of 2 cleric, 2 wizards an optimal scenario would be:
- Balor on the right has initiative, approaches
- wizard has spider & balor in range of Dominate Monster, succeeds on both
-cleric: Mass Death ward
-cleric: Mass Pro Evil
- wizard: WEB! but watch out that the whole party is webbed too, especially Karef who likes to commit suicide by wandering towards the monsters outside of Mass Heal range
Because of the web many enemies like the golems, muls, vampires etc won't approach that quickly and Karef can't wander off, so you can cast restoration, heal etc on him should need arise
If that works and you have said buffs up without anyone killed, things look good. From now on it's just a matter of getting Mass Death ward/Pro Evil up again after being dispelled before something bad happens and casting mass heals/mass harms. If nothing is in Domination range of your wizards you should dehydrate the area. Greater Disintegrate the golems when there is a possibility. If you have knights you should have slaying arrows for them. Shooting arrows is probably the best they can do. vs golemns, animal, humanoids they work at least somehow ok (against the golemns they do work very good, odds are you get rid of them immediately their fort saves are not very high). On dragons etc they don't work good, but chances are the dragons are busy with the Balors anyway. It helps if your casters have greater spell penetration and greater focus enchantment.

To be honest this same approach works very well vs Tyrannosaurus or what's his name, the red Dragon. You just do that until everyone is dead except him. That's the moment you cast Irresistible Dance on him and kill him at your leisure.
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