Baldur’s Gate – What Extra Credits teaches a GM

For those that haven’t seen the Design Club, click the link below; it starts at the first of 5 Episodes of Baldur’s Gate.

Baldur’s Gate – Design Club

It sometimes helps to see how someone pulls together key elements in order to create a whole and Extra Credits has finally done just that.  The Baldur’s Game design club pulls together a variety of their original pieces:

Difference in Scale and Kind

Narrative Mechanics

How to handle Difficulty

Exploration in Games

What I want to look at though is how I am likely to use this 5 Episode series in order to make me a better as a GM.

Note these are purely my opinions.  Another dead hand situation.

Firstly the way they interpret and analyse the rooms:

  • Combat
  • Narrative
  • Puzzle
  • Reward

A simple way of analysing and actually highly effective.

The trick is you can technically flip this; asking instead ‘using these four tools how do I make the next bit interesting?’

Personally for GMing I would change the terms slightly; using Advancement instead of Reward as I believe that everything you gain as reward allows you to advance the story.  I would exchange Combat for Challenge as it can be anything that blocks your path, Social, Exploration and Combat.

Narrative would stay the same as would Puzzle.  They both allow foreshadowing and allow clues to be dropped about future story lines.

Secondly you can have differences in kind with a small number of elements.

In Durlag Tower’s first floor there are at most 5 enemy types; Doppelganger, Skeletons, Ghasts, Flesh Golem and Slime.  There are several places encounter’s occur; open space, narrow corridor, a bottleneck, surrounded by traps which can change how the enemies will approach.

At the same time, by changing who enters the room first, the room shape, the number of enemies and different types.

Just by changing one or two elements I should be able to change the entire encounter for a group.  At the same time a single change can ramp up the difficulty as well.

The first two were straight forward and you could actually draw them from the 5 Episodes.

However it also teaches a few other things:

Teach then Subvert

This is actually something similar to what Mario does on every level of every game and the tower (for the fist floor at least) uses this tactic three times.

Firstly by placing a Skeleton in the game they give a baseline for the players to face; after a while the game puts the same skeleton shape however it’s more powerful but requires the player to check.

Secondly the first floor is filled with traps so the rule for this floor is check for traps and that means your Rogue will be likely to open the door, face to face with triggered enemies.

Finally the reward; you think you’ll get a reward when you complete the level only to be turned on by the quest giver and forced to fight.

You can create an impossible challenge

The Baldur’s Gate expansion shows human nature where a player wants to explore but the challenge is so hard that they can’t advance so the question them becomes, “how do I get out of this mess?”

In a tabletop, there is risk that deploying an impossible challenge will actually create a TPW (total party wipe) unless you create enough hints before and during the battle that they can’t win… after the battle is too late… unlike PC games there is no restart buttons on the table.

Nothing should remain fixed

There was a point made by the two Skeleton Warrior encounters; the point made by the team was that it would have been better to have two single Warriors at two different locations.

However as a GM you can use one as a baseline and another as a harder challenge; the first room they enter I can use a single new enemy and see how they handle it, then I can modify the second enemy based on how they handled it.

If they handle it well or it appears easy, then you can escalate it.  If they struggle then you can change the next challenge the enemy is involved in or give more items to make it easier.

Stock can change an encounter

The last thing that was mentioned was that the majority of rewards are basic items (apart from key items).

Reducing the number of items would have made it harder, changing the item type would require thinking to use them most effectively.

Its also adds to the story and danger whatever the threat was it was swift and ruthless; there wasn’t enough time to gather resources and repel the threat… less items would dictate a longer drawn out battle.

The point I’m trying to make is that we can learn from things around us and in different ways; the original idea was to create an analysis tool to but I’ve learnt things from it that a GM can use to make better games…

… or maybe they did think that?



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