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Discussion on modding BG:EE so that the main plot is more flexible


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I am interested in modding BG:EE so that the main plot is more flexible (at the very least, the player can complete the Nashkel Mines, Bandit Camp, and Cloakwood Mines in any order).

I posted a query about a related specific technical issue in the Modding Q&A sub-forum, and the responses broadened the thread into a more general discussion of obstacles facing anybody wanting to mod BG:EE in this fashion, and the pros and cons of trying to do so. I think that there might be an interesting discussion to be had but, either way, I wanted to put that in a different thread.

So: Would anybody be interested in playing BG:EE were it modded so that the main plot is more flexible? Exactly how much effort would it take to mod the game in this fashion? And what, in your view, would the pros and cons of such a mod be?

The original thread is here: https://www.gibberlings3.net/forums/topic/32558-modding-chapter-transitions-and-dream-sequences-in-bgee-edited/

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@temnix wrote a post in the original thread in the Modding Q&A sub-forum; I'm pasting and replying to it below:

On 3/26/2021 at 7:46 PM, temnix said:

Open a saved game in NI and have a look at globals that are set there. There is a CHAPTER global, this is what scripts check. And the script that looks for these things is generally BALDUR.BCS itself, when it's not something in the area script (Sarevok's death at the temple leads to the game's end only because of the area script there.) That's all I'll say about the technical aspect, but the real obstacle here is getting such plot shortcuts to make sense in the game - this is one, and make sure they enrich and not diminish the experience - this is two. I'm all for an open-world concept where it can be had, but if the player simply bypasses the Bandit Camp, not only is that going to require a lot of rewriting, in letters, conversations and everywhere (one of the voice-overs for the MOS intros also specifically mentions Tazok), but a sizeable chunk of the world will fall out. Going back to the bandit camp after the Cloakwood mines may be possible, but is it going to be satisfying? The enemies will be too easy, unless you take a special effort to increase the difficulty in the event of such a choice. But you would have to do big and small adjustments across the board. That's something that really takes a company, it's too much work for a single person. BG was never planned as a Morrowind or even, say, Faery Tale Adventure 2 or the Ultima games.

Trust me, you don't want to pour a year of your life into this. Lovely hand-drawn sprites and music, simple pleasures lure us and keep us, but this is just one game of very many. I don't want to sound jaded, but after years of sitting at these games' engine I have realized that no matter what I do, with my resources, I'm not going to turn these games into something completely different, nor force players to take the role-playing aspect seriously. Give them something a little different to do than hack-and-slash, yes, new activities, rewrite some situations where role-playing and open choices should have been but weren't, yes, but any bigger effort that you can mount should be poured into a new game. If you feel the designer's itch, reach out to independent developers out there, maybe even make your own company. Don't waste your time and strength here. I wish I knew this before.

Perhaps I’m underestimating the amount of work required for what I want to do, but I have my reasons for wanting to try. There are other games, but this one has a nostalgic value to me that others do not (and cannot) have. And while I could in theory create my own plot, and design my own rule system, tweaking an existing plot and rule system is far, far easier. Finally, while I don't have the technical skills required to get involved in game design as a profession, I hope I do have the ability to learn to apply existing tools and knowledge provided by others (Near Infinity, Weidu, the IESDP, etc) to accomplish what I want with Baldur’s Gate. So, really, while your proposed option – pouring effort into a new game – may be the correct choice for some people, but I don’t think it’s a realistic prospect for me. My options are actually (a) carry on with Baldur’s Gate; or (b) give up.

I also think you may be overestimating the extent to which I'm willing to try to change the game. I'm not aiming to try to "turn these games into something completely different, nor force players to take the role-playing aspect seriously", as you said you were looking at doing; I just want to loosen up some artificially-imposed restrictions. I understand why the game was designed with a linear plot, but it reduces my desire to play the game again. Of course, the interesting thing about Baldur's Gate is that the game world is already fairly open. But, in my opinion, the satisfaction derived from that freedom is constrained because: (a) the plot still tries to railroad you into going to the Nashkel Mines straight away; (b) the plot tells you the Nashkel Mines are a scary pit in which Amnian soldiers and adventurers are disappearing; (c) makes the Nashkel Mines easy enough to complete with level 1-2 characters, which makes going there at mid-levels a snooze-fest; and (d) prevents you from addressing the bandit problem before doing the mines, while at the same time often assuming that, if you are off the beaten track of the Candlekeep -> Friendly Arm Inn -> Beregost -> Nashkel route, you are in Chapter 3. It could be a lot better.

The obstacles you cite, and the examples given, are noted and understood. I believe that the existing audio can be edited to produce text screen voice-overs which make sense for any of 6 alternative pathways through Chapters 2-3-4-5 but, if not, I'm willing to lose the audio (or, more likely, have the first 1-2 sentences of the text screen accompanied by a voice-over; something the game already does with NPC conversations). However, I view the dream sequences as integral to Baldur's Gate, so if I can't get them to work as intended then it's time to give up! I think that the only "chunk of the world" that "falls out" with a less linear plot is the sense of uncovering a mystery layer-by-layer. Yet that sense doesn't go away entirely and, in my opinion, the trade-off is well worth it (for a modded game looking to maximise replayability; perhaps not so much for a commercial venture). Happy to discuss this in more detail!

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3 hours ago, The_Baffled_King said:

Perhaps I’m underestimating the amount of work required for what I want to do, but I have my reasons for wanting to try. There are other games, but this one has a nostalgic value to me that others do not (and cannot) have. And while I could in theory create my own plot, and design my own rule system, tweaking an existing plot and rule system is far, far easier. Finally, while I don't have the technical skills required to get involved in game design as a profession, I hope I do have the ability to learn to apply existing tools and knowledge provided by others (Near Infinity, Weidu, the IESDP, etc) to accomplish what I want with Baldur’s Gate. So, really, while your proposed option – pouring effort into a new game – may be the correct choice for some people, but I don’t think it’s a realistic prospect for me. My options are actually (a) carry on with Baldur’s Gate; or (b) give up.

That is just how I felt when I was getting into the modding, except that instead of "nostalgic value" I would speak of an enormous appreciation of the quality of this game, as modest in its scope and objective as it was. My choice of outlets for my creative ideas seemed very limited. I had no contact with any game developers anywhere, I suspected they could write as well as myself and could certainly code better, and my machine was already far behind the times to try playing most new and demanding games. Besides, their logic was already rather alien to me, who grew up in a literate age and a literary country, so all in all I felt intimidated into staying with this engine. It had the great advantage of being easily changeable, almost like a basic toolset for simple fetch-and-carry, go-kill adventures. And the graphics and music were very important. I simply didn't care to invent anything for Exile or Mordor; Arcanum made me gloomy. BG seemed like an excellent sandbox, especially when I still hoped that players and other modders would take to innovations of the basic formula with enthusiasm.

What I should have foreseen, as Emperor Palpatine would say, was that just that ease of making simple stuff would soon take away my satisfaction with it. At this point the problem is that if I can quite envision a game change and have a good notion of how to go about it, the change loses interest in my eyes. For some time I blamed the "community" at the three forums for their lack of interest in anything more original than an arrows conversion or a class tweak, but now I realize that just as these are the wrong people to seek co-creators among, so is this engine and the lovely old game the wrong medium to revolutionize. In some fields I've driven Infinity Engine to the limit of possibility, but there is simply no helping the fact that the AD&D rules are unacceptably obsolete in some respects, that the game is two-dimensional, that new areas, with fresh backgrounds, are impossible or very difficult to make, that new, exciting monsters, with which the Monstrous Manual and its supplements are so replete, are completely impossible here - who would draw them? - and that mechanics that would really make a difference, such as swimming, wading through water, are also never going to happen here, even though the 1998 technology was quite up to such things. I also realized that I could do very little about the terrible future of BG1 - BG2, with its plot and writing.

It took me time to understand all this, but in that time I poured some of my best effort into fantasies that are never going to be appreciated or make a difference, sorcering away in this teeny weeny corner of a crumbling old videogame world. I was wrong about my limitations until they became real. Having read the writing, having looked at the concepts of some of these indie developers, I now know I could have outdone many of them. Yes, I might have lost at the tournament, too, but I never fought. I let myself be scared into hiding out here for years - like most of the other regulars here, at Beamdog's and Spellhold. Had I failed to make contact with game developers or entrepreneurs, I would have, should have dropped out entirely and made my statements, such as they are, in the arts in the real world. I used to have many interests, but learning the tricks of this engine consumed so much of my time, I can just clutch my head! Outside the world has moved on in so many ways while I was juggling apples here (literally). Even now, for example, I know how to make a simple change to the main script of BG so that the party can adventure without the main character or put someone else in that position. The game can be about Imoen or Kagain. Interesting, right? Wrong. This is the sort of time-wasting I will never forgive myself later. The change would have to be tested, too, and different scenarios tried, and potential players, all ten of them, would need to be informed and warned of possible side effects before I could call this a proper mod. But hardly anybody is going to give a damn about my selfless ingenuity, and rightly - there are so many better things to do in life than replay BG for the hundredth time, only a little differently.

Likewise, the changes to the plot you propose make plenty of sense. Especially the part about the choice of the first problem: the Nashkel mine or the bandit camp? Yes, it would be better, it will be better to have this choice. On the smaller scale of things, this is something worth pouring your enthusiasm in. But look on the bigger scale. While you earn this shadowy reknown here, all the other things you could be doing are running away. You will spend days, weeks immersed in this idea, and when you pull your head from under the blanket again, what are you going to see? The month of July, most likely! Sparkling with the middle of the summer. The next time you dip in this, you will reappear in September, among falling leaves. Don't fucking do it. It's a good idea, but don't do it. Maybe two people will write "hey, great job!", but you deserve more than two for your time, and in real life. Let the stupid game stay stupid. It's over. Let Tazok go where he wants. He's already forgotten. The Bioware people are granddads now. Let's none of us do anything more here, honestly! I'm just finishing some stuff I promised or have half-made already, then I'm officially shooting myself in the fucking head.

Edited by temnix
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Heh, I should probably clarify that I, too, like Baldur's Gate 1 for what it IS, not just for the nostalgia or for visions of what it could be. I'm glad you mention the music, because I think the score for BG is fantastic. The music on Wyrm's Crossing, on the bridge itself, is just perfect for that moment in the game - it's truly majestic. As an aside, that sharpening of anticipation probably fed my sense of disappointment with the city of Baldur's Gate, which tends to be the point where my interest wanes (So, Scar, you want me to investigate the Seven Suns by... walking into their building and choosing ANY dialogue option? For which I get 2000 gold? Up to 6000 for killing 5 puny doppelgangers? When I am stinking rich already, and the shops in the big city are somehow less well-stocked than those I've already been to? Okaaaaaaaay).

You mention revolutionary change but, like I said before, I don't think I'm trying to affect the same outcome as you. To the contrary, I like the idea of solving a problem by making a lot of smaller tweaks at the same time, all of which contribute towards solving the aforementioned problem (while maybe doing something else as well). Take the Iron Crisis, for example. I like it as a plot device, but I thought its (neglibile) effect on gameplay left a lot to be desired. And one can change that by addressing the issue from multiple directions. There are tweaks that make the Iron Crisis affect armour. SCS has a tweak that makes most +1 weapons non-magical and, optionally, affected by the Iron Crisis. With the right blend of tweaks - some of one's own devising; some which build on the work of others; some which a previous modder has already done perfectly - the existing game can start to look very different, albeit within those limitations which you mention. I agree that the AD&D rules can be an uncomfortable straightjacket but, again, there are tweaks which depart from the rules. I view the search for the right mix as akin in some respects to solving a puzzle, which can sometimes be an enjoyable way to pass the time. As far as the issue of modding the plot to add flexibility is concerned, one of the things that makes the prospect attractive is that it requires a fair number of different skills. It may be pure escapism, but it can be good to stretch oneself regardless.

I don't really want to delve into the question of whether the community as a whole is appreciative of innovation. All I'll say is that I'm surprised at the extent of the interest in modding (and playing with) interjections, banter, friendship paths, romances and the like. It's not really my thing. Moreover, even in the best-case scenario, where the new content is pitch-perfect in almost every respect, it won't be voiced by the original actors! But I guess its a matter of taste. I also don't really get what it is that makes some ideas/problems attract help or comment (I mean aside from familiarity, or the limited time that others have), while others do not. The kind of thing produced by the community that makes me think "wow, that is great" is stuff like Jastey's Endless BG1. Back in the day I thought it was a real shame that I couldn't beat Sarevok, then move on to adventures new at Durlag's Tower. It kind of prices you into doing the TotSC content first, which is restrictive, and in turn makes Sarevok less of a challenge. From a technical standpoint, I don't know how difficult Endless BG1 was to produce. But I have to applaud the fact that it (a) makes sense; and (b) gives the player (and CHARNAME) precious choice.

Anyway. While I can assure you that I am not looking for renown - either in general, or through modding Baldur's Gate - I can very well appreciate that everything else you said might be firmly on the nose. I may well decide that it's all too much effort. But at this point, I'm still by no means sure how much effort is actually required! And I should probably finish up by saying that, in the course of lurking, and digging for info to try to answer my questions, I've seen a few of your ideas, and they struck me as fantastic. Disguises? Sold. Sold sold sold. But I did read what you wrote, and I guess that me saying what I just said makes no difference in the grand scheme of things.

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You know that for a fact? Well, Diablo comes closer to perfection, to my mind, and used the atmosphere more effectively. With BG the problem was straight away that it was perceived, and meant, as a contemporary reincarnation of the AD&D system, after a hiatus that followed Eye of the Beholder etc. I read that in an interview. Put AD&D back on the screen, better than ever! With articulated sprites! But AD&D is a much broader, grander game system, where even a mediocre DM can add a lot of depth without much effort. It doesn't have great depth, but it has incredible breadth, as wide as one's imagination wants to make it. (I think this is one of the trumps D&D generally has over many other, smarter, more involving and nuanced systems - it has got more freedom.) So naturally quite a few players wanted to see more than just the action. I mean, Charisma had to be for something other than store discounts, right? The system is there, but it's not used. This is what keeps teasing people.

Well, this is enough from me. The author of this thread was already forced to change the thread name... I'll just say this last thing to him: if you don't mind investing your time in the business, then, well, at least you don't have to make as many mistakes as others did. For example, I said scary things about balancing everything out and testing, which can really drive one to exhaustion, but actually you don't need to guarantee players a perfect balance and an ideally polished experience. So what if the bandit camp does feel a bit of a letdown after Cloakwood? At least you'll have added something new and different. Don't break yourself on the stones, just do what you really want done for these games. You are only one guy, not a software company. You may feel like you have the strength of ten, but it takes twenty. So that's something to remember. Cheers!

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I don't really have anything to add about Diablo. For the most part, @temnix, I was/am happy to discuss matters outside of the scope of the intial technical question(s) I asked! I only split my reply to you into a separate thread because I didn't want it to get in the way of any replies regarding the technical question posed.

Because the fact is that sometimes people get technical help when they ask for it, and sometimes they don't. Yes, people have other things to do with their lives than answer questions on forums, and yes, strangers are less likely to receive help than acquaintances. But there's more to it than that. And I figured that when the intial question is already a wall of text, I  may be better served not adding further walls of text that aren't strictly related to the technical issue - regardless of how interesting the discussion might be : )

While I'm here, I will respond briefly to the point about the Bandit Camp feeling like a bit of a letdown after Cloakwood. For me, the Bandit Camp is far more difficult than Cloakwood, at least if CHARNAME stands and fights rather than infiltrating the place and running away after finding Tazok's letters. Bear in mind that my comment assumes that SCS is installed, with better calls for help and the tougher end of chapter battles - and with the Bandit Camp, the whole area is one big end of chapter battle! Sure, some players might not install SCS, and some players might not be interested in the main plot walking the walk in terms of difficulty. But they are not the demographic I would be catering for.

There are two exceptions, or potential exceptions, to my comments about relative difficulty in the Cloakwood: Drasus' party, and Davaeorn himself (certainly if the SCS improvements are used for these encounters). But then, if CHARNAME hasn't already wiped the floor with Mulahey, and caused all kinds of commotion at the Bandit Camp, why would Drasus and co. be at the Cloakwood Mines in the first place? Both his dialogue and the letter he carries make it crystal clear that he was deployed there in anticipation of CHARNAME's arrival.

As for Davaeorn, perhaps the more interesting question to be asked is why, in a more open world, does CHARNAME have to paint the walls of every level of the Cloakwood Mines red with blood on first sight of the place? The answer is that they don't. Perhaps they could sneak in and rescue Yeslick, and return to finish the job after gaining a few levels. And I have several more ideas of things that can be done in the mines before flooding them. Of course, on returning to the Cloakwood, no doubt CHARNAME would find Drasus in their way (and of course, if CHARNAME flooded the mines on their first visit, no doubt Drasus would pop up elsewhere...).

Yes, it is necessary to achieve some kind of balance in the game. But people frequently complete the game solo on insane difficulty, so there is plenty of scope to ramp up the difficulty in a few places so that one does not end up with the kind of letdown to which you refer! After all, the game was designed with an XP cap of 89k in mind, and without the additional items and loot from TotSC in mind. The more important thing is ensuring that the player still has easy quests and encounters with which to get themselves started. And as far as that is concerned, well, there are plenty of opportunities for that in Baldur's Gate. If the game was all about a linear plot, then changing a few things would throw the whole thing out of balance, but its because there is already so much else going on that the plot restrictions can be loosened up without unbalancing the game as a whole.

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On 3/31/2021 at 2:06 PM, The_Baffled_King said:

So: Would anybody be interested in playing BG:EE were it modded so that the main plot is more flexible? Exactly how much effort would it take to mod the game in this fashion?

I think EVERYBODY would be very interested in playing BGEE modded such that the chapter order was more flexible. But I suspect you didn't get much in the way of a response to the 'how much effort' question because very few people probably have a good sense of that.

Off the top of my head: I'd say 1) you would need to comb through every script and replace all chapter-based triggers with GlobalGT triggers, and then set the appropriate global variables upon advancing to new chapters. Then 2) you would need to consider story issues and adjust how certain things play out if things are done out of order. Then 3) you would need to consider game balance issues and adjust certain encounters. (E.g. who wants to wade through a cave full of kobolds after destroying a a nest of bandits and flooding a stolen mine?) Then, 4) you would discover a hundred arcane little facets of the game that would screw up your careful adjustments, and have to respond to them. Or not? Who knows?

Now, I make rule-tweak mods; this sort of thing is way outside my wheelhouse, so I'm not sure about most of that. Again, I think most people don't have answers for how to do this, and everyone is basically hoping that you forge ahead anyway and figure it out, and the share the result with us. :D

As I think about this I have two ideas.

  1. Nashkel should still be the first thing. It's your only lead; Charname has no direction after leaving Candlekeep except to drift down to Naskel. And, compared the other end-chapter areas it is the only one suitable for level 2 characters. So the beginning through Mulahey can be left as-is. But, after defeating Mulahey and stopping the iron from being tainted anymore, then everything could open up to you. You could get two leads to pursue, one leading to the bandits and one leading to the Cloakwood. Plus, with the source of the Iron Crisis identified, there is reason to open the bridge to Baldur's Gate. Which leads me to my next thought:
  2. Ideally, you could open up BG City at the same time, and let players explore there and set up a base of operations, and maybe do TotSC content, before heading back south to investigate the bandits and the Cloakwood. This could freshen up the way players get through the game; many have discussed how reaching BG City is often a let-down, and somewhat aimless urban exploring after a game's worth of adventuring can lead to fatigue that sometimes leads to games being abandoned.

How easy it would be to open the city early, I have no idea? How many things are there to stumble upon that assume you have completed both the Bandit Camp and the Cloakwood? I have no idea. Certainly more than 1 thing... but for all I know it could be anywhere between 2 and 20. But, if you figured that out and let people intersperse city exploration among more distant adventures, it could be amazingly good.

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I wrote Imoen4Ever which gives you Imoen back in chapter 2 of BGII. For the mod, I needed to erase any trace of "Imoen is kidnapped" from the game. And then the problems only started: literally every mod assumes/assumed that - if Imoen is in the party after Irenicus' Dungeon - she was in Spellhold. So, none of the interactions where scripted so that they actually checked whether that was true. "Imoen is in group" is the only check that was needed for the original game story, so all NPCs banter with Imoen about her time in Spellhold, in chapter 2. Or, if triggers are adjusted, they do not banter at all until after Spellhold, and then talk with her about her long, long time of captivity (which in I4E is rather short).

My EndlessBG1 mod lets the BG1 game remain in the BG1 world (as it was for BGT) for BG:EE. So, I had to go through the game ressources and erase any reference to Sarevok still being alive and a threat for that. BGT already did that to some 98%. It was tideous, I can tell you.

Your mod idea attempts to open up the whole story arch of BG1, well except leaving Candlekeep and getting ambushed. I do not even dare to imagine how many - big or little - references there are in the game where it is just assumed that things happened in the original order because there was no need to actually check for them. And for making all these references consistent your mod will have to change/patch/replace so many ingame dialogue and references that it will probably make a lot of mods incompatible just because of the adjusted dialogues. On top of that any NPC mods will probably be incompatible as they are now because BG1 story events are assumed to follow in a specific order.

I don't know whether it's my knowledge about how much work - and changes - would be needed to make such an open-up of the BG1 story consistent, but I am not fond of the idea to open it up completely. I always thought the story to be consistent in itself, following clue after clue, BG city only opening up after the bandits are gone etc. I think @subtledoctor's ideas are a good start to make this project more realistic: leave Nashkel mines at the start. And I'd add to this: leave the opening of the BG city until doing the bandit camp. That would be consistent in my opinion since it was the bandits the city closed the gates for (well any of course bcause devs wanted to restrict the access until the game progressed, of course). So it would more or less be the Cloakwood mines one could do any time in between. It would still open up the possibilities and also exploring BG city while still looking for foes in the wilderness.

But even only implementing this would lead to a bigload full of adjustments you'd need to do - and all NPC mods would need to be adjusted as well - probably. If you'd succeed to make a mod that opens up BG world after the ambush completely, it would probably be incompatible with most other mods out there.

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Posted (edited)

Thanks @subtledoctor and @jastey for the replies! Making long posts on message boards as a newcomer sort of feels like shouting into the void, with the view-count ticking up and the post-count non-existent. And the particular worry in this instance was that what I want to do isn't remotely feasible, but nobody fancied telling me. That's why I'm asking the technical questions about the essential infrastructure (journal, chapter, dreams) from the outset; if what I want to do is wholly unrealistic, I don't want to invest any time in trying to mod.

Before I forget, I should say that I'm aware of the Imoen4Ever mod and, like the Endless BG1 Mod - which I mentioned in the third paragraph of my third post, above - I think the concept is a really good one. Along with SCS, and some of the more interesting rule-tweak mods, it’s the kind of mod that piques my interest. Anyway, I think I'll make this a reply about the plot and game balance issues you both raise, and save the cross-mod compatibility issues for a subsequent post.

I feel that the proper way to begin all of this is to consider the world that the writers devised, but ignore at this initial stage the decisions made regarding the specific order in which the plot is to be advanced. And I also think it important to proceed on the basis that the resulting game can equip any prospective player with the knowledge they need, regardless of whether or not they have played Baldur’s Gate in the past. With that in mind:

The Sword Coast is a land in crisis, weakened by the iron plague and ravaged by bandits. The authorities in the lands controlled by Baldur's Gate and on the fringes of Amn are beset by a perfect storm of challenges they find themselves unable to meet, in part because of the deepening mistrust between the two nations. Recall that the Flaming Fist are sent to garrison Beregost in case of Amnian attack, and Amn is wracked by "the Sythillisian uprising", during which time I imagine a border town like Nashkel was left to fend for itself. Gorion's Ward awakens bereaved, alone, and pursued by powerful assassins for reasons that are entirely unknown. They may seek safety in numbers, to hide in plain sight among the masses, or to fade away in the wilderness. Yet, as their bio makes clear, they have longed to live the life of an adventurer, and to expand their horizons beyond the walls of Candlekeep.

There can be no doubt whatsoever that Gorion's Ward will pit themself against the forces causing the iron crisis, uncover a wider conspiracy, and track down and unmask the masterminds behind what will be an unfolding mystery – a journey which will take them to the city of Baldur’s Gate. In the process, they will dream unsettling dreams, gain strange new powers, and face further assassination attempts. In a strange twist, their path will ultimately lead back to Candlekeep, where these disparate threads coalesce into a story with only one conclusion: a fight to the death in a ruined temple to a dead god, hidden beneath the very foundations of Baldur’s Gate.

The question is, where do they start? And, with respect, I think that Nashkel is the wrong answer. But I think that the Bandit Camp is also the wrong answer, as is the Cloakwood Forest. I think these answers are all something of a red herring - not to Gorion's Ward, but to us. In reality, Gorion's Ward will test themself by defeating hobgoblins, gnolls, ogrillons, ogres, and spiders, in the process returning items to their owners, or claiming those items as the spoils of conquest. As players, I don’t believe we should think about if Gorion’s Ward has any leads, because I think we should remember that there is (apparently) no suggestion of a conspiracy until the beginning of Chapter 3.

In my view, the whole point of doing this would be that there is no correct answer about where Gorion's Ward should start! And I’m glad that going to the city of Baldur’s Gate early was mentioned, because I think that the plot can allow that to happen even from the beginning, albeit subject to significant restrictions. It would really open up the world, wouldn’t it? How about being able to recruit Skie, Yeslick, Faldorn, Xan, Coran, and basically everybody in Chapter 2, albeit again subject to some restrictions? Sounds good to me. I was hesitant to mention going to Baldur's Gate early because I assume that this may take a lot of work, but heck, seeing as it was suggested...

Anyway, I’m going to post what I've written and come back to this thread fairly shortly, at which point I will make a few more concrete suggestions, involving fewer words.

Edited by The_Baffled_King
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Well, you are totally correct as far as the story goes. But the biggest question is, what kind if work needs to be done to make this a reality? If all was open and a player went Bandit Camp -> Cloakwood -> dip into BG City -> Nashkel, then the Nashkel Mines and other southern areas (xvart village, gnoll stronghold) would be suuuper boring. Not fun at all. So are you willing to completely redesign that dungeon? 

Maybe yes, and that’s fine. But it need not be a requirement for getting anything done; no reason to increase your up-front workload. So maybe consider starting with smaller ambition and giving yourself an easier task to begin with, and then making iterative improvements after that. 

Your point that we don’t even know there’s a conspiracy until chapter 3 is good, but it also cuts the other way: Charname needs to stumble onto the conspiracy somehow, right? The introduction to a plot requires a certain amount of guidance, or you might miss it altogether. The whole south of the map is very good for low-level adventuring, and the first party members you are likely to meet (Xzar/Montaron/Jaheira/Khalid) all pester you about Nashkel. So let that remain the first place to go. Just for now! Put a pin in it. 

After defeating Mulahey, devise two clues for continuing instead of just one. One pointing to the Cloakwood, and one pointing to the Bandit Camp. You’ll have to invent something for the former... it can be elaborate or very simple. Maybe start simple, just as a proof-of-concept...  an extra letter on Tranzig’s person, or something. Replace the chapter triggers relating to those two chapters, and replace the information in the Bandit Camp that points to Cloakwood. 

Boom! A limited-scope mod that improves the mid-game and is a reasonable amount of work - maybe! - such that this won’t end up as vaporware. 

Then you can start on v2, which could maybe try opening the city earlier. That would involve a lot more work, but you’ll have familiarity with the systems now. 

Then in v3, you can circle back to the Nashkel conundrum. Make the Bandit Camp and Cloakwood available; maybe redesign them a bit in case the party is very inexperienced when going there; redesign the Nashkel mine in case the party is highly experienced when going there; and set up a new set of plot breadcrumbs that allow discovery of the conspiracy from any of the three directions (Naskel south, Bandit Camp northeast, or Cloakwood northwest). 

Or switch v2 and v3. Whatever. My main point is to strongly recommend doing that v1 first, reducing scope in order to get something real and playable out the door. 

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The main change I want is for Gorion’s Ward to be encouraged to earn their spurs through generic low-level adventuring before applying themselves to solve the bigger problems facing the Sword Coast. Only this time, the aforementioned problems will be more of a challenge, and will live up to the billing they are given by the plot and by the dialogue. The player will have greater freedom in terms of the direction that they take, but all paths begin to uncover the wider conspiracy. There will also be time to adventure for wealth and magic items in dungeons like Firewine, because I figure that anyone tackling a sprawling conspiracy threatening a whole region should be reminded of the need for decent gear!

The low-level adventuring is provided in the corridor of FarmlandsWyrm’s CrossingFishing Village – Friendly Arm – Coast Way / Lion’s Way / Candlekeep – Beregost – South Beregost Road – North Nashkel Road – Nashkel / Nashkel Carnival – Nashkel Mines. As has been pointed out, the south and the detour to the Gnoll Stronghold is similar, obviously having been designed to allow for recruiting Minsc, Edwin, and Dynaheir before or after the Nashkel Mines.

And it is while travelling in this corridor that Gorion’s Ward is told by all and sundry of the twin drivers of the Iron Crisis: bandit raids and tainted ore. In my view there is only one thing in terms of the plot that makes the Nashkel Mines the more likely focus for closing out Chapter 2:

10 hours ago, subtledoctor said:

The whole south of the map is very good for low-level adventuring, and the first party members you are likely to meet (Xzar/Montaron/Jaheira/Khalid) all pester you about Nashkel. So let that remain the first place to go.

As an aside, I would like to see minor randomisation of the starting location of these and a few other NPCs (from a creative standpoint, it’s easy to write), but that is not something for this proposed mod. There is also the fact that Chapter 2 conspicuously begins on arrival in any of the three Nashkel areas, but it's not a plot point in itself.

10 hours ago, subtledoctor said:

If all was open and a player went Bandit Camp -> Cloakwood -> dip into BG City -> Nashkel, then the Nashkel Mines and other southern areas (xvart village, gnoll stronghold) would be suuuper boring. Not fun at all. So are you willing to completely redesign that dungeon? 

Maybe yes, and that’s fine. But it need not be a requirement for getting anything done; no reason to increase your up-front workload. So maybe consider starting with smaller ambition and giving yourself an easier task to begin with, and then making iterative improvements after that.

I think it’s clear that the Nashkel Mines are the area that requires the most attention in order for the open world concept to work well (see for example the second paragraph of my second post). I think that the SCS components ‘Improved kobolds’ and ‘Tougher chapter-two end battle’ already do a very good job of increasing the difficulty, albeit while respecting the fact that the battle with Mulahey marks the beginning of Chapter 3. I would like to build on that, and I have a few ideas about how to increase the difficulty.

I would want to do little with levels 1 and 2, as they’re pretty good for building the plot. The question is whether levels 3 and 4 provide enough space, or another level is needed. I would not look into creating an original area, and none of the exisiting levels are suitable for duplication, but I am considering the possibility of using the Werewolf Caverns map as the starting point for an additional level. But I didn’t quote you in order to disagree with you; I think you (and Jastey) are absolutely right.

10 hours ago, subtledoctor said:

After defeating Mulahey, devise two clues for continuing instead of just one. One pointing to the Cloakwood, and one pointing to the Bandit Camp. You’ll have to invent something for the former... it can be elaborate or very simple. Maybe start simple, just as a proof-of-concept...  an extra letter on Tranzig’s person, or something. Replace the chapter triggers relating to those two chapters, and replace the information in the Bandit Camp that points to Cloakwood.

This is exactly what I had planned. It’s simple, and it’s how Baldur’s Gate already works. Of course Mulahey writes to Tazok; the player just doesn’t see those letters because they are not needed to advance the existing plot. And does Davaeorn not write to Mulahey, and vice-versa? I thought about having each location have two potential clues, one to each of the other two locations, with the actual clue generated in each game left to chance. But that is just too much hassle, especially given the additional text screens required. I think that after getting to Chapter 3 and finding Tranzig, the route to both Chapters 4 and 5 should be attainable.

10 hours ago, subtledoctor said:

Your point that we don’t even know there’s a conspiracy until chapter 3 is good, but it also cuts the other way: Charname needs to stumble onto the conspiracy somehow, right? The introduction to a plot requires a certain amount of guidance, or you might miss it altogether.

Notwithstanding my comments at the beginning of this post, this is right on the money, although I think that there is very little chance that a player would somehow miss the Nashkel Mines, the Bandit Camp, and the Cloakwood Mines. But, on a closely-related note, I have thought about the importance of ensuring that the player doesn’t feel isolated from the main plot, or forced to trudge through generic low-level adventuring that is of little interest to them in order to level up to face the main plot. But I believe that I have the solution to both of these problems, for Nashkel, Bandit Camp, and Cloakwood, so I’ll just put them out there.

I think that the solution is (a) to ensure all of these locations incorporate separate mini-quests that advance or complement the main plot, but can be completed before the chapter-end battles; and (b) to ensure that all of these locations have alternative routes that can be followed in order to complete a chapter without endless higher-difficulty encounters, in case that kind of thing is not appealing to the player at that time. But the great thing about these ideas is that, to a certain extent, they already feature in the game! The trick is to make them a little more prominent.

I put forward this idea in general terms in relation to the Cloakwood Mines; it’s in paragraph 5 of my fourth post. Bear in mind that the quests for Khalid, Jaheira, Xzar, and Monty end with checking in with Berrun Ghastkill; after that, there is no rush. It should be an option to blend the chapters together a little, while retaining a final showdown for each. Players should not feel that they have to complete the chapters in silos, nor should they feel bad at retreating now and then. It doesn't happen at the moment because of the linear plot and the general ease of the game. l'll elaborate on this in due course using Nashkel Mines as an example.

21 hours ago, subtledoctor said:

But, after defeating Mulahey and stopping the iron from being tainted anymore, then everything could open up to you. You could get two leads to pursue, one leading to the bandits and one leading to the Cloakwood. Plus, with the source of the Iron Crisis identified, there is reason to open the bridge to Baldur's Gate.

17 hours ago, jastey said:

And I'd add to this: leave the opening of the BG city until doing the bandit camp. That would be consistent in my opinion since it was the bandits the city closed the gates for (well any of course bcause devs wanted to restrict the access until the game progressed, of course). So it would more or less be the Cloakwood mines one could do any time in between. It would still open up the possibilities and also exploring BG city while still looking for foes in the wilderness.

If Baldur's Gate is to reopened with few modications, I've always been in favour of the route Jastey proposes. The route after the Bandit Camp has always been bizarre. There is no requirement to clear the camp, or to report its location to the Flaming Fist so that they can do so. Yet, for reasons unknown, Wyrm's Crossing will reopen after the Bandit Camp is dealt with - so long as the player journeys there via Cloakwood. It is nonsensical. As Jastey says, this her route is consistent with the plot, and I would add that the bandit activity taxed the resources of the Flaming Fist more than the trouble in the Nashkel Mines ever did.

But my idea for Baldur’s Gate is actually to have Wyrm’s Crossing open, but the passage between the upper and lower halves of the city closed off. Moreover, many of the buildings would be magically locked, others locked with a high DC, and most of the commoners would be gone. Why? The damage to trade caused by the Iron Crisis and the doppelganger takeover of the other merchant consortions; the Flaming Fist being pulled in seventeen directions at once; and elusive murderers killing the citizens of Baldur's Gate with seeming impunity (and I'd wager the Fist would not patrol alone). The idea would be to use new areas, and replace them afer the plot is advanced, like the two versions of Candlekeep. I don’t know if that actually works with the way the world map is set up. The elusive murders are of course to be found in the sewers (which in my view can quite reasonably double in size), and who knows - perhaps the Sewer Ogre Mage is another tendril of the Iron Throne's disruption operation... they do employ them, after all...

Edited by The_Baffled_King
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Using the Nashkel Mines as my example, this is what I mean by making the chapter-end areas a little more modular in nature. I have similar ideas for the Cloakwood Mines in particular, but they will keep. If anybody is curious about how I would solve any apparent contradictions or plot constraints, feel free to ask, especially if it might lead to greater interest in helping out with a few queries. I have the ideas, and it makes for an interesting thought exercise, but it becomes laborious to type them out if it's ultimately for nothing.

Nashkel Mines

Assume for the sake of argument that the difficulty is increased either with an additional level, or beginning on the level without any (live) miners. Aside from the minor diversion (pun intended) to give Kylee his dagger, there are by my reckoning 14 different beneficial tasks/quests that Gorion’s Ward can accomplish in the mines:

Quests and encounters relating to the plot

1. Find out what has happened to miner Joseph;

2. Find out what is making the miners disappear;

3. Find out what is tainting the iron ore;

4. Find a way to treat tainted iron to remove its taint;

5. Rescue the missing Amnian soldiers, or recover their bodies;

6. Rescue Xan;

7. Locate Xan’s Moonblade;

8. Grab the filthy lucre belonging to adventurers who have already perished in the mines;

9. Stop whatever is tainting the iron ore (surely easier than treating the taint);

10. Stop whatever is killing or disappearing the miners;

11. Stop whatever is killing or disappearing the soldiers;

12. Discover the whereabouts of an interesting fellow named Tranzig;

13. Uncover links between Mulahey and the bandits, including clues to the location of their camp;

14. Uncover links between Mulahey and some sort of hidden base in the Cloakwood.

There are several different NPCs with different levels of investment in each of these tasks, some of whom have surprisingly little to say about it in their existing dialogue. Many of these tasks are either already completed before the end-of-chapter battle, or could quite conceivably be tweaked to make that the case. So, consider:

(a) who is already primarily interested in each of these tasks;

(b) who, if anyone, should be made to be interested in them; and

(c) should anything about the task be changed at all.

RE. 1: (a) Joseph’s wife; (b) Nobody; (c) In common with most quests given by townsfolk, it sure would be nice to get given the quest through a conversation that does not amount to “Oh, you have broken into my home! You are exactly the type of person required for this problem I have”. Unlock the door at least...

RE. 2 & 10: (a) Berrun Ghastkill, as representative of the common folk of Nashkel. (b) He has one incongruous line of dialogue in which he scorns “superstitious” miners “prone to exaggeration” about “demons”, and worries only about the state of the iron. I would edit the aforementioned line so it matches the rest, and he still expresses concern about the missing miners; (c) This is the main quest, and both parts work fine.

RE. 3, 4, & 9: (a) Taerom Fuiruim, albeit after the fact; (b) Emerson, who is the owner of the mine; (c) 9 is part and parcel of killing Mulahey and solving the main quest. But 3 is solved upon picking up a vial, and 4 is solved upon giving a vial to Taerom Fuirium. Giving a vial to Taerom offers no reward of XP or GP, which should be changed. The vials are found on level 2, before any real increase in difficulty, and it marks a good waypoint for a low-level character wanting to interact with the plot (much like the Joseph quest).

But the behaviour of Emerson during this quest is odd. He has to remain vague about what is in the mines in order to preserve the mystery, and he can be a little bit in denial/uncaring about the missing miners, but he doesn't much seem to care about the mine he owns! He should clearly supplement the reward offered by Berrun Ghastkill. There is also already a second copy of the vial of mysterious liquid to give to him partway through the investigation.

RE. 5 & 11: (a) Nobody; (b) Oublek; (c) This is simple. Oublek is an employee of the Amnian military. He should care about missing/dead soliders. He awards bounties. The soldiers/corpses could be found on level 3 or on the putative additional level, so there is more content before the chapter-end battle.

RE. 6: (a) Gorion’s Ward; (b) Nobody (players should be ‘surprised’ by Xan’s presence); (c) Yes. Xan can be made available towards the end of what is currently level 3 - mods should not make it more difficult to access companions! There need only be two specific references to Mulahey scrubbed from his dialogue.

RE. 7: (a) Xan/Gorion’s Ward; (b) Nobody; (c) Perhaps the Moonblade is in Mulahey’s chest, or perhaps it is on the additional level, if one is ever made. Either way, separating it from Xan makes it in into a nice little quest (heck, perhaps it finds its way out of the mines somehow...).

RE. 8-14: (a) Gorion’s Ward, Khalid and Jaheira, Xzar and Montaron, Officer Vai, Elminster, and so on (b) Nobody; (c) It’s the chapter end battle with Mulahey. Nothing more to add other than a further slight increase in difficulty in terms of strength and numbers, and the lead to the Cloakwood Forest (albeit perhaps only via Tranzig).

The only thing to add is that I am not a fan of adding additional gold to a game already overflowing with it, so I would reasign some of the 5000gp reward for killing Bassilus.

Methods of completing the Nashkel Mines for those less keen on an increase in difficulty

(1) The player already has the ability to control the difficulty by means of the dialogue with Mulahey. Show mercy, and you will face a further helping of his summoned allies;

(2) I’ve talked about adding an additional level. I like the idea of any additional level including a difficult set-piece encounter that the player can avoid, at least if the level is non-linear;

(3) In the Valley of the Tombs there is a rear entrance to Mulahey’s lair, or at least I assume that the area could be modded so that the one-way exit becomes an entrance as well. It certainly makes sense – just exactly how is Tranzig popping in and out of the mines otherwise without being noticed? Perhaps the player finds out about it from Xan, from a rescued Amnian soldier, from an NPC, or of course by doing the Bandit Camp or Cloakwood first. The reference doesn’t have to be so explicit as to give the exact location.

Edited by The_Baffled_King
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18 hours ago, jastey said:

My EndlessBG1 mod lets the BG1 game remain in the BG1 world (as it was for BGT) for BG:EE. So, I had to go through the game ressources and erase any reference to Sarevok still being alive and a threat for that. BGT already did that to some 98%. It was tideous, I can tell you.

Out of curiosity, roughly how much time do you think you spent on the technical side of the task?

18 hours ago, jastey said:

I do not even dare to imagine how many - big or little - references there are in the game where it is just assumed that things happened in the original order because there was no need to actually check for them.

Again, this is why I hoped to pick the brains of others about the precise workings of the dreams and the journal. It's why I'm leary about using a copy of the existing 2DAs for the dream texts, on the basis that they happen to still recognise Rep and deploy the appropriate string. If I don't know why it works, I don't know what could cause it to stop working!

18 hours ago, jastey said:

And for making all these references consistent your mod will have to change/patch/replace so many ingame dialogue and references that it will probably make a lot of mods incompatible just because of the adjusted dialogues. On top of that any NPC mods will probably be incompatible as they are now because BG1 story events are assumed to follow in a specific order.

But even only implementing this would lead to a bigload full of adjustments you'd need to do - and all NPC mods would need to be adjusted as well - probably. If you'd succeed to make a mod that opens up BG world after the ambush completely, it would probably be incompatible with most other mods out there.

Cross-mod compatibility with interjections and romances is a problem (more than I realise, I expect). And doubtless that has a knock-on effect on the degree of interest in the idea. I was thinking that activity that depends on progress of the CHAPTER and DREAM globals could be addressed with a textual substitution. With what I'm proposing, the central plot elements remain in place, the dreams that follow are the same, and the order of events is still tracked. It should be possible to have a mod react to a dream about the Cloakwood in the same way, for example. The difficulty arises if the mod reaction assumes that the Bandit Camp and Nashkel have already been done, and refers to them.

But it is what it is, I suppose. I don't think there is anything wrong with giving people options, and least so long as no-one is trying to shut another mod down.

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Would this mod let people enter Baldur's Gate city sooner?  If so, when?

How would Durlag's Tower and Ulgoth's Beard factor into the plot?  What about the Circus, the basilisk garden, and otherwise?  NPC companion quests?

Thankee!

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