Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Oblivion Mod Review - House of Healing at Weye

Mod Review - House of Healing at Weye
( )

Overall: Educational. Uninstall when done.

Why You Would Download This: To sample a better style of quest-making.

The author warns that the mod is more or less abandoned, and if you are running lots of Weye mods, it can conflict. I don't run any Weye mods myself, so for me it was a clean and simple installation.

The highlight of this mod is the quests, though the actual completion of the quests are disappointing, for complex reasons. First, the quests:

The quests are strongly themed around what the mod is about -- a place of healing. Sort of a like a sad charity running more on goodwill than anything else. Very much like many of the smaller social services that don't receive a lot (or any) funding. Like such places, there's a lot of work to be done, and most of it is thankless.

The "work" (i.e., the quests you are given) are designed and scripted to be much more interesting than kill-this-get-that or the typical "Fedex" get-me-this-i'm-too-lazy-to-get-it quest that plagues not just Oblivion but many other computer RPGs. For this reason, and this reason alone, you may be interested in having a close look at this mod.

If you are looking for an actual reward from this quest, something to take away with your character when you're "done", even if it is a keepsake, this mod won't do it in the long run. The problem is that Oblivion is a game, and there is a certain distance and detachment that comes with it. For starters, you don't even need to eat or sleep. You don't really have friends or a social life. You could get a mod that gives you a companion, but often they are more of a chore to keep alive and micromanage than anything. What, then, can volunteering do for your character?

In the real world, sustainable volunteering typically has tangible benefits. It is generally acknowledged by organizations that the mere wanting-to-help is typically not enough. To have a stable and committed volunteer base generally requires at least periodic recognition of volunteers and other real world benefits, either in goods (e.g., free tickets, volunteer appreciation party), services (e.g., discounts if you shop at the thrift store), or prestige (e.g., formal recognition and celebration). Otherwise, it would take a severe amount of self-motivation and loyalty, and such a volunteer would probably end up going elsewhere to do the same thing, but with more benefits.

If you examine the quests in unmodded Oblivion, even the simplest task almost always ends in some sort of reward, even if it is a bit of gold. A mere pat on the back means nothing in a world where you largely act with impunity anyway, where wealth is easy to come by, and you rarely feel any actual relationship with anyone. Some few times you are rewarded with humour (e.g., you get potato bread -- whoop de doo), but those are few and far between.
Even the official "house plugins" such as Deepscorn Hollow and Battlehorn Castle come with benefits above and beyond merely being a home (e.g. Deepscorn Hollow is the only source of ChokeBerries, which has an effect similar to the Dark Brotherhood's Poisoned Apples, except you need not do anything complicated like join the Dark Brotherhood).

With the House of Healing, then, you will probably come to a point where you feel or realize that it is pointless to keep going. You will just be wasting your time here when you could be furthering some other quest. And the mod does in fact acknowledge this possibility with a "resignation letter" from some previous hero who was persuaded to help them.

For the story-telling skill involved, it's worth checking out if you are interested in story and not as focussed on interesting loot (after a while, even lots of money gets boring in Oblivion, when there's nothing to spend it on). When you are no longer doing anything with it in-game, you might as well uninstall the whole thing. Sadly, the time you put in will probably not make any difference.

How could this mod be made better? We've talked about rewards, but the backstory precludes gold or valuable goods -- such would have instead been used by the House of Healing to maintain operations. Going back to our analysis of what helps volunteer retention, we can try three things: goods, services, and prestige.

Prestige is probably the simplest, but is still limited in its usefulness, especially if you use money (e.g., one of the later quests requires you to raise 1000 gold per day to keep the House running) to trade for points of Fame or a reduction in Infamy. Either way, there's a limit to the usefulness of Fame / Infamy, and once reached (or maybe it can be reached more easily another way), House of Healing becomes boring.

Services, or access to better services, might be implemented in a manner similar to the Mage's Guild, where tasks must be completed to access services. Here are some possible services to make the House of Healing interesting and relevant throughout the character's game:
  • Whereas the House of Healing may procure many ingredients, they might be interested in a greater quantity of generally useful ones rather than having exotic ones of limited use. A larger quantity of common ingredients and potions with a healing component (e.g., Restore Health, Cure Disease) could be swapped for rare ingredients or ingredients that are predominantly harmful (e.g., Harrada, which only has harmful effects).
  • Free on-demand healing (or an AI scripted to cast them on the player automatically) for disease, poison, and health.
  • The House of Healing uses unorthodox methods, which might be more useful than "regular" Alchemy. A character could learn:
    • How to cast more efficient Restoration spells (a small Fortify Restoration ability, that can be swapped for a stronger one as they complete certain quests)
    • How to make better potions: Swap one potion for a lighter version, or a version with a longer duration.
    • Tap previously unknown ingredient properties: Swap one type of ingredient into the same, but with effects not normally available to the ingredient. For example, Frost Salts could be changed to have Frost Damage, Burden, and Paralysis effects (a different version of their harmful effects, caused by a slow-down due to cold).
  • Make the healers into merchants that can sell donations (like a thrift store) or alchemy. They could have little or no trading gold, low Mercantile ability, high Disposition toward the player, and sell poisons (normally not easily buyable -- it's even tricky getting them from the main official source, Shady Sam), assorted clutter (like a thrift store; for story and immersion only, as it is unlikely that players will need any), and a few very rare ingredients, such as human skin, human heart, and imp fluid (not actually placed in-game, but available in the Construction Set).
Giving Goods is probably the simplest and most boring quest reward and therefore in a way the trickiest. Oblivion tried to tackle this, somewhat awkwardly, with levelled quest rewards so that you would get items that were level-appropriate, and theoretically useful at the level at which you got them. Here are some suggestions for an implementation that would make the mod a keeper.
  • Access to free (and zero-valued) items, such as Cure Disease potions and scrolls (as well as on-demand healing. These could also be special 0-weight versions but only occasionally available (since the House of Healing would need such themselves).
  • Portable statue of Mara or Meridia, which can be used occasionally for a blessing regardless of Fame or Infamy.

No comments:

Post a Comment