From the Shadows: Divinity: Original Sin II – GM Mode
I’m sure the folks who tolerate me in their social media circles are going to be tired of hearing about this, but for me, this is a Massive Deal.
Now, I played a little bit of Divinty: Original Sin. This is an old-school RPG in the finest sense, with some modern upgrades. Right off the bat, you’re tasked with solving a murder, the investigation of which is murder in and of itself; I got frustrated with my inability to figure things out that I dropped the game in keeping with my usual pattern. Still, there’s a lot to love about DOS if you are looking for a hard-core, old-school, in-depth RPG that will make you curse the fact that you have to get up in the morning for work or school.
Straight out of the blue, however, I saw a tweet from Harebrained Schemes congratulating Larian Studios on the release of Divinity: Original Sin II.
— Harebrained Schemes (@WeBeHarebrained) September 14, 2017
I’m sure this wasn’t news for anyone who really loved DOS and had been following Larian’s media, but I had no idea that the game was this close to release. There had been no big run-up spectacle (Larian is indie now so that’s to be expected) and I don’t think I follow anyone who is big-time into CRPGs enough to be counted on to sound the alarm at times like this. I thought it was cool because should I ever desire to give the series another go, I would have another entry to roll into once I wiki’d myself through DOS.
That was, of course, until I found out that DOSII has a GM mode.
GM mode is one of those things that a lot of RPGeeks always dream about, but which almost everyone who attempts to include it gets horribly wrong. To this day, the best GM implementation still lies comfortably at the feet of Neverwinter Nights and it’s Aurora Toolset. The last game to try making a GM mode work was Sword Coast Legends, a train-wreck of a game that barely allowed the GM any latitude of control.
After only about 10 minutes of the above video, I jumped on DOSII. It doesn’t go as far as NWN did in allowing for customization of the game, but it seems to strike a decent balance between CRPG and traditional tabletop. If a game leans too much towards the “computer” aspect, we get SCL which puts too much responsibility on the application and hobbles the GM to the point where he or she might as well not even be present. But if it leans too much towards the “tabletop” aspect, then everyone would be better served by a vtable app and a set of player handbooks.
DOSII allows the GM to use 3D maps provided by Larian but can place NPCs and a whole lot of items in the scene as befits the scenario. Stories are started on the world map and locations to visit are denoted by pins. Players “tell” the GM which pin they want to visit and the GM can load that scene for them (contrast this to NWN where doors and hotspots allowed players to transition themselves). Once in the scene, the players have autonomy to look around as if they were playing the provided DOSII campaign, with a few exceptions. The GM cannot script NPCs, and must “speak” for them (ideally using something like Discord voice comms, because I don’t know if there’s text chat) and can even “possess” NPCs to control them directly as if they themselves were a player character. The GM has ultimate powers, though, and can create and destroy items, NPCs, monsters, encounters, and conditions in the world. He or she can set the mood for the scene using lighting, background music, and one-off audio. For those who want to alter the stock materials provided by Larian, many aspects of the props available can be modified, such as the Strength value of an NPC, or the condition damage done by a sword. The GM can even pause the game for everyone for those OOC conversations, or put the entire game in “peace mode” in order to prevent the players from going full murderhobo and sink the plot.
For those interested, I went through the GM tools via the included tutorial scenario which does a pretty good job of at least showing you what tools are available. Without having played DOSII proper, there’s several aspects of the game which I’m not sure on, or how they translate to GM mode, but if you’re interested in getting away from scripted content and want to create some free-form action RPGs for your friends without forcing everyone to invest in massive books and the logistics of getting everyone set up, then DOSII‘s GM mode might be the best option for you.