Divinity: Original Sin II
Rolling D20s and killing Goblins in Game Master mode
PC, PS4, Xbox One
Divinity: Original Sin 2 defies being pigeon-holed. It’s a cooperative, storydriven adventure where you can craft your own origin and watch as the world reacts to it. Get into a fight and it becomes a tactical, turn-based RPG where abilities and magic can be combined with the environment. It’s elaborate, and systemic, and you can play as a giant lizard who talks to animals. And now it’s a platform for creating digital tabletop adventures with you as the Game Master in a new mode exclusive, for the time being at least, to the PC version of the game. “Game Master mode is a tool to control the game and pretty much every aspect of what you’re doing,” Larian Studios founder Swen Vincke tells us. Think of it like a massive toy box packed full of maps, monsters and magical artefacts that can be woven together to create tabletop RPG campaigns.
The mode is something you can dive right into with very little experience. Imagination and the ability to spin a yarn are more important than any other skills. Select a campaign map, pop pins in it to denote important locations, add some flavour text and you’ve already got a good foundation. From there it’s a matter of picking out areas – forests, tombs, inns – that can be filled with objects and characters, and then linking them together with customisable vignettes.
Simplicity and accessibility seem to be key. “Very early on we made the decision that we weren’t going to put any scripting in it because I think that’s a mistake that others have made in the past,” Vincke says. “You can’t script a campaign and adapt it to anything players come up with. So we gave Game Masters storytelling tools.”
Instead of relying on scripts, GMs have complete control over their campaigns, changing or adding to them on the fly. NPCs can be possessed, players teleported, and objects dropped in at any time. To move the story forward, new vignettes can be put together with Choose Your Own Adventure options while players fight Goblins, or whole new areas can be prepared while the party explores an abandoned mine.
GMs can pause the game at any time, as well, to assist with their creative endeavours. “Pausing is a tool we gave to the Game Master to stay in control,” Vincke tells us. “One of the biggest challenges we had was to make sure the GM is in full control because the moment they lose it, it’s all over for them.”
So when our party decides that we wanted to fling an oil barrel down a well and then drop a flaming Goblin on top of it, Vincke briefly pauses the action so he can make a few changes to the dungeon beneath us, adding smoke and fire, hiding our movements from the beasts dwelling inside the cavernous den. All of this could have gone badly if we’d rolled poorly, which we often do. Our rogue sets fire to a whole forest by stepping on a trap thanks to a critical failure. Curse that D20.
As well as being storytellers, GMs can also play the role of adversary, conjuring up tricky combat encounters and taking direct control of the party’s enemies instead of leaving it up to the AI. We watch with dismay as Vincke, chuckling to himself, crafts an arena out of two colliding ships in a storm. He makes a group of mercenaries, picking their magical abilities, and then coats the ships in oil so that one spark will set everything aflame. It doesn’t take long for the whole place to start looking a lot like Hell. Thankfully, his sense of fair play takes over, and after a couple of rounds he puts out the fires, reasoning that the heavy rain will be able to douse them.
It’s moments like this that capture the spirit of tabletop RPGs – the idea that it’s not merely about having the tools to destroy players, but also having the tools to create interesting and fun scenarios that feel properly reactive. And it’s also handy to be able to turn a particularly cheeky player (we’re saying nothing) into a chicken.
While these campaigns are surprisingly easy to put together, and Vincke expects that players will design their own and then share them on the Steam Workshop, there are also plans for predefined campaigns. Even if you don’t have the time to craft your own epic adventures, you’ll still be able to experience Game Master mode. And judging by what Larian has shown off so far, you’ll definitely want to do so.
“One of the biggest challenges we had was to make sure the GM is in full control”
Giant spiders, green oozes and angry goatmen – the staples of any good Game Master’s arsenal
ABOVE Make your own maps, import them from your favourite games or just use Larian’s – there are plenty
Game Masters can take full control of enemies in a battle, or just let the AI handle it while they pop out to make a cup of tea
TOP LEFT Conversations with NPCs can play out with the Game Master winging it, putting on silly voices on the fly.
ABOVE Rolling a critical failure can have fatal, often explosive, consequences. Never trust your D20s
LEFT Prepared Game Masters can create vignettes for conversations or scene introductions with custom art and dialogue choices