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Feedback wanted on gem selection in The Calling

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Spoilers ahead, you've been warned.

As part of the current quest to help Thalantyr track down the cursed bracers, he asks you to select three gems to power the scrying device. subtledoctor provided some feedback over yonder, which I've included in its entirety:

On 7/15/2022 at 11:37 AM, subtledoctor said:

Okay I'm going to go a little bit out of order here and give some mod feedback because it just popped into my head. Slight spoilers ahead!

I am playing with "The Calling," a mod hosted here on G3. This mod includes a quest that springs from the bit where you help Thalantyr change Melicamp from a chicken back into a human. It seems basically like a MacGuffin quest - you have to find these powerful cursed bracers. It's a nice jumping-off point, after all this is powerful and dangerous, ancient magic - these things are Netherese, everyone's favorite magical bugbear (whoops, can't use that term figuratively, there are actual bugbears in my game).

Anyway you have to find a scrying device to find this MacGuffin, and for that you need some gems, and when Thalantyr gives me the quest I'm like "okay, what gems?" And he's like "gems my boy, you know, gems, the shiny crystally things." And I'm like "yeah duh, I know what a gem is but like which gem in particular do you need me to bring back here?" And he's like "it doesn't matter, just get three gems, any gems will do." And I'm wondering "Are you sure? Because in my experience in a past life as a higher-level adventurer to the south of here I found that you usually need to use more expensive gems for more powerful and/or successful magical effects." And Thalantyr goes "Dude relax, nobody is judging you, listen: gems are kind of see-through, right? And they have colors? And color is light, and light is what lets you see. And seeing something far away is 'divination' and we need to make a divination thingy. So just get me a couple gems, okay? Any old gems will do. I promise."

And so i spend some time and I literally collect one of every kind of gem that exists on the Sword Coast. (Thank you, Gnoll Fortress!) And I bring them back to Thalantyr, and I'm like "Look at all the gems I got!" And he says "Great, great, now give me three of them." And I'm like "Okay, which three?" And he's like "My dude, seriously, I don't care! Nobody cares. Nothing is riding on this choice. I gave you a little quest and you did some very nice fetching. Go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back, and then close your eyes and give me three gems at random, okay? It's going to be fine."

So I give him three gems and he makes the thingy and he goes "Gods, you did a shitty job choosing gems for this device. It's a scrying device, dude. How could you be so bad at this? Were you dropped on your head as a baby or something?"

And it's just kind of annoying. Like, maybe it's meant to be funny? It is kind of funny now, in the telling. Maybe it's characterization, to show that Melicamp isn't a bad wizard, he just has a shitty boss who likes to move the goalposts on him? That could work, from a writing perspective. Except, here, there actually do seem to be right and wrong answers. Some gems are actually better than others. I reloaded and I choose the three most valuable gems I had - but that didn't get a good result. reloaded again and gave him the three cheapest - no good. I tried giving him the most colorful gems, or all white ones, or all black ones, or all ones named after celestial bodies. Et cetera. I could not find a figure-out-able solution; I just found several gems that work better than the others, based on trial-and-error and reloading.

So, we've had discussions about MacGuffin quests before, recently in the context of giving players reasons to delay starting chapter 3 in BG2. What I tried to get across there is, you can make players feel like they have agency while in fact staying in control of events from off-screen. It's like a game of Three-Card Monte, and it can be similarly rigged: you, the Dungeon Master, i.e. the mod author, i.e. the ad-hoc would-be game developer, can make sure the player always guesses wrong twice and then gets it right on the third time - thereby synchronizing whatever events you need to synchronize to make the story go forward. The player will feel like they 'got it right' but really you have just manipulated things off-screen to get them to the right place at the right time. So things like deadlines that the player can miss - looking at you, Pathfinder - are actually terrible, because it is bad design. It shifts onto the player a responsibility that actually belongs to the people designing the story. It doesn't give the player more 'agency' - in fact it gives them less, because it forces them to tip-toe carefully across some arbitrary threshold that they could leap across with whatever grace or speed they want. Let the player leap across that threshold whenever and however they please, and still tell the story you want them to experience, including possibly making them think they were too slow if that's the story. This is harder but it's better design.

I don't mean to rag on The Calling too much here, but I just want to point out that in the moment, the gem thing didn't feel funny or whatever. It mostly felt annoying. If there are right or wrong answers than let the player figure them out - that is giving the player agency. If the answers don't matter and you want the player to experience a funny or mildly-but-jokingly-frustrating scene, then write that scene out making sure the player is in on the joke. Maybe just make every gem be bad. Or have no gems be better or worse than any others, but write different funny dialogue lines relating to each one, giving the player a better reason to try different ones and even maybe reload if they want to get more fun out of it. This some-are-good-some-are-bad with no rhyme or reason to it, seems like a wasted opportunity.

This is a very, very small quibble. It's still a good mod, I'm glad I installed it, and I would install it again. I still haven't actually seen most of it. But I had thoughts. So.

I replied in thread:

9 minutes ago, CamDawg said:

I'm sorry I didn't see this sooner. First, thanks for the feedback, and I'll try to explain where I was coming from with the parts you have issues with. Spoilers in reply!

The Calling was intended to be a series of class-specific quests that I'll probably never get to; in its current form it's just the quest intended for mages, but made available to all classes. The idea was to try and emphasize class-specific elements--in the mage part specifically, I tried to emphasize research and intelligence-based puzzle solving. It's why the end bit is pattern-matching spell challenge with Thalantyr and Melicamp, and the gem selection.

I'll be honest, I didn't think the gem selection was that much of an issue, as the answers are in the descriptions. The 'correct' answers are Black Pearl, Rogue Stone, and Water Opal. The Water Opal description states:

It is rare and valuable in the realms, where it is used in scrying devices.

The Water Opal description was the bit that prompted the whole gem selection puzzle, as it's in the unmodded game.

The Calling adds Black Pearls, one guaranteed on the Lighthouse area plus a chance on any given sirine. Their description includes:

 Black pearls are highly valued for their unique magical properties, particularly by diviners.

Granted Rogue Stones aren't as explicit, but even getting the other two correct guarantees you to the third-best scrying result ("solid choices") out of five, and one good selection from the second-best result ("excellent choices"). Even picking the three most expensive stones should get you "solid choices" at worst.

I felt it was in character for Thalantyr to let the player twist: he strikes me as the swimming instructor who throws you into the deep end and, if you can't hack it, is not sure if he should rescue you.

Thanks for the feedback--I'll think about it and see if I can give the players a bit more guidance without compromising the puzzle.

So, I wanted to post here and ask players specifically how they approached the gem selection.

In general I love feedback, so if you've got other issues you'd like to share feel free!

Edited by CamDawg
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I've not yet played The Calling, meaning I can't fairly state my experiences with the quest, but when I saw "Thalantyr" and "quest" and "gems," I assumed some divination was happening.  By a Conjurer.  Who shouldn't be able to do that by BG rules, but oh well.

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Here's how I approached it: save scum 🤣

Ok, that has probably more to do with my OC beahviour in games to see 'what happens if I do this' than an actual issue with this quest; I actually almost got it right the first time, going with the 'round gems' theory, plus 'a rogue stone is almost always the right answer' theory. Never thought about looking in the actual item descriptions, that's neat. However, I kind of agree with what Subtledoctor said, especially the case where you return to Thalantyr with pretty much every gem in the game. This could be a good opportunity for some kind of 'overachieving adventurer' joke, or just an alternative way to progress the quest bypassing the 'puzzle'.

In my opinion, the real headscratcher in this quest is the premise: the main goal is discovering the location of a very dangerous item that could harm innocent people, as vanilla Thalantyr himself says; if the protagonist agrees to help, it makes sense to point him/her towards the fastest route to success, instead of playing a 'let's see how good you are at choosing small coloured stones' game. I know this is supposed to be a mage only quest, therefore should require a modicum of mental agility, role-played or otherwise, but I think the point is still valid: we need to find this thing fast, or peopole will die.

As an alternative, Thalantyr could tell the protagonist 'we need to figure out wich three gems are the right ones to find this particular item because they're more attuned to it after it teleported itself away or some other magic reason, imma cast a few spells while you read this tome - insert math puzzle here - so we can quickly find what we need.' It's a rather crude way to phrase it, but I think it makes a little bit more sense story-wise.

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Guest TheMadViking

Hey everybody.

About the scrying quest. I did not get the right combination but Thalantyr said that it was somewhere north of firewine and something about flowers. I have now travelled the sword coast without luck.

Can someone give me some more hints here. My immidiate guess would be Gullykin but again, I have been everywhere :-)

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I absolutely loved the lack of direction that Thalantyr gives. It made me pop open my gem bag and actually read the descriptions of the gems I had, and wouldn't you know it, some mentioned scrying! I expect that these descriptions were modified by The Calling, but even if not, it's an excellent touch.

Not everything needs to be spoonfed to the player. Now if only I could find Melicamp in the Nashkel mines...

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I would agree with agris: I used the black pearl as it was mentioned in the dialogue and then some gems that have been available. Afterwards I checked the description of some gems (never did this before). Therefore a quite useful experience. 

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It’s interesting experience to find proper gems. I used black pearl as Thalantyr mentioned it during conversation. Other gems were found during my journey. I read description of each gem I found. 


Black pearl can be given to you by Kelddath Ormlyr in Beregost’s Temple. Other 2 gems which works fine: Water Opal, which can be found in Lonely Peaks, and Zircon, which is common gem.


Edited by Zoltanavr
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