Author Topic: Thanking Ray Dyer for Ravenloft  (Read 5496 times)

Offline vaustein

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Thanking Ray Dyer for Ravenloft
« on: July 01, 2010, 11:29:34 PM »
i just finished Ray Dyer's conversion of I6, the original Tracy & Laura Hickman version of Ravenloft. Yes, it is the definitive conversion, and that is no idle boast. I actually had a copy of the 25th anniversary reprint as I played, using it as a walkthrough. It's the best time I've ever had with FRUA, and a memorable gaming experience. The craft and attention to detail shows the labor of love, right down to the meticulously accurate mapping of stairways and alcoves. Bioshock 2 and Mount & Blade have sat unplayed while I purged Barovia of the Devil Strahd. To enhance the experience, I "converted" my Buck Roger: Countdown to Doomsday party into characters in Heirs to Skull Crag, then imported them into The Realm. Now, with my six intrepid explorers at levels 8 to 11 since finishing Ravenloft, the city of Rapture may have to wait a while longer while we venture through the Realm.

Mr. Dyer's inventiveness shows in the creative trade-offs between the paper module and FRUA. (IMHO, FRUA and Realms of Arkania are the best simluation of the live dungeon-mastering experience on a PC. I'm not as impressed with Bioware's Neverwinter Nights, although it's certainly a great game with many unique features that FRUA will never have.) For example, the original Ravenloft module randomizes the Vistani card reading, the location of artifacts in Castle Ravenloft, and of Strahd. However, FRUA has no on-the-fly mutability features, so Mr. Dyer place otherwise random objects and characters in a way that makes the most sense. Also, the printed module varies the "motive of Strahd". Ray Dyer picked the "motive" that was most playable and coherent within the confines of the FRUA feature set. The meant writing some original dialog and description that did not appear in the printed version, and his writing does not disappoint.

Two muted complaints. First, it would have been nice to have a vault somewhere. I had to dump about 6,000 platinum before the final battle in order to move effectively during combat. This would have been an apocryphal addition to the module, but it still would have been nice to have. The village where the party begins and ends would have been a good spot for this. Also, some traps seem hard-wired to set off the first time the party moves through them, then the party wisely avoids them on subsequent movement through the same area, e.g. the slide trap right before the catacombs and the guardian portrait in the spires. Then again, perhaps I should have cast a detection spell.

Workmanlike, fun to play, accurate and respectful of the source material. The craft of this module conversion really shames the buggy, sloppy mess that is Heirs to Skull Crag, the out-of-box FRUA experience. Ray Dyer, if you still post here, thank you for Ravenloft!

EDIT: This post may belong under Module Reviews. Mods, feel free to move, or I can repost this if you like.
« Last Edit: July 01, 2010, 11:37:34 PM by vaustein »

Offline Ray

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Re: Thanking Ray Dyer for Ravenloft
« Reply #1 on: July 02, 2010, 08:23:05 AM »

Hi, Vaustein...and thanks!

Out of all the games I've designed, you found the one that means the most to me, and delivered some of the kindest compliments I've received.  I really can't express how much you've just made my day, and to learn of your experience with the conversion is even better.  Thanks for sharing some of your time in Barovia along with your praise!

Part pf the reason that this game in particular is so meaningful to me is that I have a long (personal) history with the module.  I was seven or eight when the module came out, and I had to save my allowance to buy it; it came out right around the height of my dad teaching me the importance of saving money.  I went into the hobby store every week to stare longingly at the cover, and to count how close my dollars stacked to the price tag.

When I finally got it, I brought it home, and my dad rolled up a group of fifth-level characters.  We spent that weekend playing the module.  I was so young, I didn't even know what an "alcove" was...and I still remember pronouncing it "aclove" throughout the day.  He kept returning to rooms with alcoves in them, and every time I stumbled over the word...

After that, on the first warm spring day of each year, my dad and I took a weekend and played Ravenloft.  He made a group of characters, and I ran the game, each time a little deadlier and a little more amped up than the time before, but always with the same  module calling the shots.  We did that till I was in twelfth grade and moved away from home, and once or twice thereafter. 

Probably too much information, but it really struck a chord with me that of all the designs in the Realm, you came across this one and wrote such kind words.  You've really made my whole weekend now. 

Also, as if I haven't harped on Ravenloft enough, my obsession with it has led to three P&P Ravenloft games, one of which started in 1999 and is still going on today.  Links to The Vagabonds, Ergosia, and The Missed, are all on the same page that links to the Realm site over on Flopsyville.com. 

You're so right that this was a labor of love.  The whole Realm has been, but Ravenloft much more than any of the rest.  I can thank you enough for taking the time to provide your thoughts and experiences...I only hope this lengthy reply hasn't left you more tired than slogging through the crypts!


P.S. I hear you about the vault.  If I could recreate the Realm, that's one of the things I would change.  When I started the hack for these games back in '97, I could get past the craziness of every vault having every item you need.  Now, almost fifteen years later, I've got a half dozen ways around that banging around in my head...

P.P.S. In all Realm games; find traps is totally your friend...highly recommended!!!   ;)


Offline vaustein

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Re: Thanking Ray Dyer for Ravenloft
« Reply #2 on: July 02, 2010, 05:20:50 PM »
Not at all, Ray, and thanks for the reply.  :) By the way, regarding the "creative trade-offs", I'm curious how you handled the Sunsword. In your conversion, the Sunsword is an equippable +3 longsword. I didn't check to see whether it also appears as a quest item. I noticed that Strahd had curiously few hitpoints during combat. Was this effectively a combat bonus for having the Sunsword? Would Strahd have more hitpoints if the Sunsword were not procured before the final battle?

The vault thing isn't even the real issue, I guess. The real issue is that once you hit levels 8 to 10, does money even really matter? Is there anything you can spend your money on that your characters would need or want to buy? Could you possibly buy any equipment superior to what your party already has?

In fairness, though, this is a weakness of the classic tabletop experience as well. In real life, people who get rich either stop adventuring or they adventure under controlled conditions. (Think Richard Branson pretending to defy death in a hot-air balloon.) In D&D, whether tabletop or desktop, great riches don't serve a purpose unless the campaign includes kingdom management or wargaming.

That's what the Realm needs - a spot on the map where I can build my own castle and hire troops. Since the vault can be exported along with characters, you could use the vault as hidden "storage" to track whether the party has built a castle yet. You could even manage treasuries and armies this way. Just saying... 8)

Offline Olivier Leroux

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Re: Thanking Ray Dyer for Ravenloft
« Reply #3 on: July 02, 2010, 06:20:45 PM »
That's what the Realm needs - a spot on the map where I can build my own castle and hire troops. Since the vault can be exported along with characters, you could use the vault as hidden "storage" to track whether the party has built a castle yet. You could even manage treasuries and armies this way. Just saying... 8)

That's a pretty cool idea and it wouldn't be hard to implement, either in Game00.dsn or as a stand-alone design based on the Realm haks (the latter could be done by anyone who feels like doing it - ever tried designing yourself?  ;) ). The trick is to offer content that's interesting enough so that players would want to spend their money on it; e.g. additional encounters, side quests, areas, information etc.

Offline nologgie

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Re: Thanking Ray Dyer for Ravenloft
« Reply #4 on: July 02, 2010, 07:50:19 PM »
The vault can transfer with the saved game, but all the Quest stages, Items, Keys, and a record of events that have occurred in each dungeon will transfer as well. Starting from a tranferred saved game in a new design will virtually never work because of this. Removing and re-adding the characters will clear all the game data, but also clears the vault.

One way around this is to copy the saved game, remove and re-add the characters, save the game to the same slot as before, and then copy the old vault.dat file over the new one. I've repeatedly tried and failed to devise a more elegant method. If anyone has any ideas on a good way to do this, I'd love to hear them!

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Offline Ray

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Re: Thanking Ray Dyer for Ravenloft
« Reply #5 on: July 03, 2010, 09:41:58 PM »

For a moment there, I was seriously thinking, "That's it!  I just need to put a Vault in Game00, and we're set.  All my worries are over!"

Then, of course, reality hit me.  It would only be useful while the characters were in Game00.  I don't believe most folks would appreciate a lengthy series of steps regarding how to preserve their Vault contents between adventures...especially when they could only access their vault between games.  Bummer.  For a moment there, everything seemed to click.


As far as the Sunsword, I had to go back and crack open the editor to find out.  I forgot some of the inner workings of the module, actually.  While I couldn't find the specific powers of the sunsword just now, I did find some of the battles with the Count.  For instance, along one pathway, if you confront the Count in his crypt with the holy symbol, it results in a much easier battle.  Along a different path, though, Strahd is powerful in the tower but weaker in the basement. 

I was surprised to find that I had actually randomized the Count's goals for Eva's tarokka readings.  The reading with Eva won't always go the same way, depending on the cards she draws, and that will actually change the adventure, much like the module!


Offline vaustein

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Re: Thanking Ray Dyer for Ravenloft
« Reply #6 on: July 05, 2010, 11:28:13 AM »
I was surprised to find that I had actually randomized the Count's goals for Eva's tarokka readings.  The reading with Eva won't always go the same way, depending on the cards she draws, and that will actually change the adventure, much like the module!

Really? So the location of Stradh, the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, Sergei's Sunsword, and the Tome of Stradh changes between playings? Very impressive - how did you pull this off?

Offline Ray

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Re: Thanking Ray Dyer for Ravenloft
« Reply #7 on: July 05, 2010, 11:38:30 AM »

Different quest events at the time of the fortune telling.  If I remember correctly, there is a battery of quest events (without text) that take place right before you get to the castle...in case you bypassed the vistani encampment...  ;)

Offline vaustein

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Re: Thanking Ray Dyer for Ravenloft
« Reply #8 on: July 05, 2010, 03:20:56 PM »
On a related note, I decided to roll up new characters with the same names, classes, and attribute scores as my Ravenloft party in order to really experience The Realm. So far, my party has completed game27 "Saltmarsh", game25 "Skeletons", game29 "Isle of Dread", and now I'm working through game26 "Temple of Elemental Evil". A few comments:

- Game27 "Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh" is the perfect Level 1 adventure. It provides the right amount of hand-holding, the setting is intriguing yet easily navigable, and the conversion to FRUA just works.

- Game29 "Isle of Dread" is a legend among early D&D players. FRUA of course aligns with AD&D 2nd Edition rules, and the conversion from D&D Expert rules is seamless. Overall, "Isle of Dread" is my 2nd favorite conversion after Ravenloft. A real ball-buster for my party, who entered as 3rd-level callow youths and emerged as 5th-level blooded veterans.

Also, "Isle" is intentionally opened-ended and offers little dialog, so again we see a good deal of original writing. I especially appreciated the character development of the merchant master from a self-conscious, care-worn man gambling his hard-won dignity on six unlikely heroes to a stout, wealthy man looking forward to a princely retirement. Really, this is novella quality writing.

- Game26 "Temple of Elemental Evil" is another module that "just works" with the FRUA engine. In fact, there have been a couple more modern, isometric CRPGs based on ToEE; I haven't yet played them, though. Also, good call importing wall textures from Id Software's "Doom". It really fits the setting.

[Update, March 24, 2012]
Finished Game26 as explained below and had a fun time with it, though it clearly wasn't a one-sitting module.

- Game33, "Drums on Fire Mountain" is in the same series of D&D Expert printed modules as "Isle of Dread" and "War Rafts of Kron". If "Isle of Dread" is the main course, "Drums on Fire Mountain" is the sweet dessert. It captures the same adventure-in-a-tropical-paradise feeling and complements it with a proper dungeon crawl that uncovers the plot. Also, by skillfully managing quest variables, this FRUA conversion enables the player to be awarded varying degrees of gold and XP in the end based on which treasures were found and which mysteries were solved. This is a rare case in which most of the possibilities of open ended tabletop gaming are accounted for in the conversion to a computer game. Finally, it remains true to the source material down to the last dialog box. 5-star work.

- Game32, "The War Rafts of Kron"
Another classic module in the same series as "Isle of Dread" and "Drums on Fire Mountain", it exchanges the tropical paradise for an underwater civilization. Most of the complements mentioned for "Drums" apply here: excellent tabletop-to-desktop conversion that captures most of the possible moves of a live role-playing session; variable degrees of success depending on how deeply the party explores the plot; and, true to the source material. Adding to this, the printed module does not map the primary plot location, so an original map was created with a layout that makes perfect sense. More 5-star work.

Game01, "Aerie of the Slave Lords"
Based on four printed modules combined into a campaign, the FRUA conversion combined the four printed module into a single FRUA module. As expected for Realm conversions, this is top-notch work. However, the source material doesn't fully live up to its potential. This is not a comment on the FRUA conversion, but on the printed modules themselves. The poor narrative flow left me scratching my head about how the four parts were supposed to fit together into coherent story. Also, the authors had a penchant for back-filling plot points whenever convenient, further breaking the cohesion. Still, it deserves its status as a classic on the merits of the individual parts.

Game09, "Hidden Shrine of Tomoachan"
Printed modules often exhort the DM to create their own adventure hook linked to a larger campaign. This FRUA conversion takes that advice very explicitly, using the events at the end of "Aerie of the Slave Lords" as the opening to "Hidden Shrine". The MIDI versions of soundtracks from Michael Mann's "Last of the Mohicans" and similar sources were a fitting touch. Also, faithfulness to the source material is crucial to this particular conversion since the party literally is working against the clock in a life-or-death struggle. This urgency is accurately modeled by zone placement and on-step-X events. Good payoff at the end, as well.

Game18, "Swamplight"
This somewhat obscure printed module positively begs for the FRUA treatment. Some serious FRUA skills were required in order to account for the plot twists and surprise encounters. Unfortunately, this FRUA conversion suffers from one weakness. I complemented other Realm modules for capturing most of the possible moves that human players would make and a live DM would react to during a live gaming session. This particular module relies heavily on this dynamic since the plot involves sleuthing and detective work, yet the implementation is almost strictly linear. For example, when the party enters the village of lizard people, live players would be casting Detect Magic, Dispel Illusion, etc., hoping for clues. In this FRUA conversion, your options are limited to "negotiate", "flee", and "commit lizardman genocide". This most likely is a limitation of FRUA itself, and it's possible that I'm misunderstanding the intent of the source material. Also, I did enjoy the module. I just wish that it could have better captured the possibilities of its source material.

-Game00, Realm tutorial
Not a conversion, but mentioned because I edited this module for convenience. After ToEE, I noticed my party was positively bulging with treasure but had no place to store or spend it. My solution was editing Game00 to add a Small Town event and Shop event in the mountains of the Southlands. The shops sell the full range of magical items, every single magical item that can be purchased at a shop in the Realm, but with a 1.5x price multiplier for added difficulty. After finishing a module, I export each member of the party, copy the CCH files to game00.dsn\save, load a game, import each member of the party, and purchase equipment. Also, I store excess money and items in the Small Town vault. After all this, I export the party from Game00, save Game A, and copy the CCH files into the *.dsn\save folder for the next adventure. To preserve the contents of the Game00 vault between adventures, I created a character called "Placeholder". Whenever I import into Game00, I first load Game A, which has Placeholder as the single party member. I import 5 of my characters, export Placeholder, then import my 6th character. When exporting to another module, I export 5 of my characters, import Placeholder, then export the 6th and save Game A. This works around the "exporting all characters clears the vault" behavior of FRUA.
« Last Edit: March 24, 2012, 12:38:05 PM by vaustein »

Offline Ray

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Re: Thanking Ray Dyer for Ravenloft
« Reply #9 on: July 05, 2010, 03:59:23 PM »

Wow!  You're really touring the Realm!    :D

Thanks for the feedback...and kind words!   :)

I can't take credit for the Doom art, aside from selecting it from everything that was available.  My artistic ability is almost negligible, so I'm at the mercy of the far greater genius of the artists of FRUAdom.  In truth, it wasn't till I found the online community that I realized that a project like the Realm could be possible.  Till then, I knew I could never do justice to any of these ideas...I've always described The Realm as my "Thank you" to the hard work the rest of the community has put into this hobby of ours.  I'm so glad it's working for you!!! 





Offline vaustein

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Re: Thanking Ray Dyer for Ravenloft
« Reply #10 on: March 18, 2012, 11:37:32 PM »
I just finished Game26, "Temple of Elemental Evil". My party started at level 5 and finished at level 8.  ;D

And it only took 24-30 hours spread over 20 months.  ::)

I'm very grateful that the module wasn't password protected. I had to slightly edit Dungeon 4 in order to get the endgame sequence. There is an event chain that fires when you report to Otis after locating the [spoiler]Yellowskull and 4 elemental power gems[\spoiler] quest items. However, the Text event and chained Guided Tour event did not happen until I modified both events from "Chain Always" to "Chain If Event Happens" and removed the "Do Event Only Once" flags from each.

I'm a little disappointed that my party couldn't walk through the light in the Greater Temple without taking negative energy damage and getting knocked back, even after collecting the aforementioned quest items. Also, Iuz should not have been able to summon creatures against my party once we had these items. Otherwise, it's yet another flawless conversion.

I recently bought the isometric Atari version of "Temple of Elemental Evil". It'll be interesting to compare and contrast the depth and attention to detail of the commercial product and this labor-of-love FRUA module.
« Last Edit: March 18, 2012, 11:41:52 PM by vaustein »

Offline Ray

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Re: Thanking Ray Dyer for Ravenloft
« Reply #11 on: March 19, 2012, 07:44:47 PM »

Thanks, Vaustein!  It's always awesome to hear that someone managed to get through something as enormous as the Temple.  I don't know anyone who managed to get through the P&P version (I hope to try myself in a couple years), and it seems like the FRUA version is almost as daunting.  Sorry about the event errors.  I'm not sure why, but it seems like that series of events got too big and "buggy."  I don't think there's a string that long in any other Realm design (and I'm pretty certain this is the most involved and crammed-full Realm game).  Unfortunately, others have encountered other bugs in the concluding series, but I haven't been able to duplicate any of them.  I think the game is just too involved for my feeble understanding of programming...  :-[

Please let me know what you think of Atari's version.  I got it as soon as I could and was supremely let down, but that didn't have anything to do with the FRUA conversion.  It was just my personal obsession with the source material.  I've talked to a bunch of other folks, though, who disagree vehemently.  They say it is a very strong adaptation and swear by it.  Anxious to hear what you think!



Offline vaustein

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Re: Thanking Ray Dyer for Ravenloft
« Reply #12 on: March 24, 2012, 11:30:21 AM »
Challenge accepted - I'll play through the Atari version this weekend, at least to the 1st dungeon level of the ToEE.  8)

I just installed and played the tutorial, and I have a few impressions so far.

- The opening cinematic is fun to watch, though its creators very clearly took inspiration from the first 3 minutes of Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring. Too bad the whole thing is stuck at 800x600 resolution.

- Speaking of screen resolution, I had to hack the config file to play at proper widescreen resolution (1280x720). According to Widescreen Gaming Forum, ToEE is unplayable at 1920x1080. This leads to a huge criticism: why did Troika build their own engine? They should have licensed the NWN1 engine instead. NWN was released a year earlier than ToEE and boasts full 3D rotation and scaling, the cleanest CRPG interface ever, and fully playable widescreen support. From playing the tutorial, the Troika team took this project seriously and wanted to deliver quality, but they shifted resources toward building their own GUI from scratch, stealing resources from gameplay, textures, and audio; unfortunately, all the elements combined end up suffering (no pun intended). Some of the textures are downright ugly, spell casting is a cumbersome click-fest (NWN makes it easy by comparison); and, for some unfathomable reason, their radial interface inspired by / stolen from NWN1 uses text instead of icons + tool tips. But the worst part is that NWN has conditioned me to scroll the mouse wheel to zoom the camera. In ToEE, the camera is always in one position, high above the party. Shame.

- Speaking of NWN1, it looks like a couple fellows named "Ray&Ben" accepted the challenge to re-create ToEE in NWN. I was hoping that Ray&Ben == Ray Dyer and Ben Sanderfer, but that's probably wishful thinking.  ;D
http://nwvault.ign.com/View.php?view=Modules.Detail&id=2072
« Last Edit: March 24, 2012, 12:18:33 PM by vaustein »

Offline Ray

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Re: Thanking Ray Dyer for Ravenloft
« Reply #13 on: March 25, 2012, 05:48:40 PM »

I wish I had the chops to pull that off in NWN!  Thanks for the kind thought, but unfortunately the Ray part is definitely not me...

I made one foray into the world of NWN, and I had to rely on a script generator for nearly everything I did.  Despite that, and despite the fact that I playtested start to finish with six different character classes (in other words, YES, a Wizard can survive this game, people)...people still encountered game-ending bugs that I could never duplicate...and that I had no idea how to correct.

Too much "I don't know" for a control freak like me...

As for ToEE, I'm really anxious to hear what you think.  I have to admit that the engine grew on me.  I LOVE being able to tactically run a party in turn-based combat.  Close enough to FRUA to really excite me.  But that wasn't enough to save the game for me, in the end...


Offline ProphetSword

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Re: Thanking Ray Dyer for Ravenloft
« Reply #14 on: March 25, 2012, 06:25:42 PM »
- Speaking of NWN1, it looks like a couple fellows named "Ray&Ben" accepted the challenge to re-create ToEE in NWN. I was hoping that Ray&Ben == Ray Dyer and Ben Sanderfer, but that's probably wishful thinking.  ;D
http://nwvault.ign.com/View.php?view=Modules.Detail&id=2072

Definitely wishful thinking.  Though I do have my own NWN PW server.  Does that count?
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