Finally the Game Master mode for Divinity: Original Sin 2 has been revealed - and it may be the best example of one person controlling an adventure, outside of a pen and paper game, I've seen.
Larian demonstrated the Game Master mode to me in London recently (it's not in the Early Access build but will soon be in closed beta - it may not be publicly available until the game's launch). My team of three sat around a table while Swen Vincke, studio founder and creative director, led us through a campaign.
He used a selection of map drawings, multiple-choice vignettes, forced dice rolls, and of course the game's entire toolbox of areas, enemies and mechanics to bring to life a very familiar campaign.
Nothing was scripted - that's a crucial point. Vincke was in control, pausing each scenario while he set the scene and heard what we wanted to do. And nothing was out of bounds.
For instance: our captive goblin sung through the night so we doused him in oil, set him on fire and threw him down a secret-entrance-well to ignite any traps below. There was a big boom and it didn't go well for us. Nor did trying to impersonate enemy agents while we tried to infiltrate their base. But Vincke refused to let our hapless lot die.
Instead, he - on the fly and quite outside of the campaign template he was following - built a prison to detain us in, then created a bumbling but brutish guard who offered a glimpse of hope for escape.
The possibilities appear endless. You can level characters up, kill them, possess them, spawn them - manipulate almost mechanic in Divinity: Original Sin 2. You can prepare scenarios - or import other people's - beforehand and veer off enormously during play. Those templates could even be very well known, transposed campaigns from elsewhere...
Plus, with a separate editor and Steam Workshop support, there's the option of pulling in bespoke content - creating a sci-fi adventure for example.
But Game Master mode is niche. Even with pre-made campaigns and a pause, being game master is a skill, and gathering a handful of talkative people for hours to pursue a campaign (it can be saved and achieved in instalments) won't be something many people can - or will want to - do.Why did ancient Egypt spend 3000 years playing a game nobody else liked? One of the great gaming mysteries explored.
Larian is aware of this; Larian isn't sure how it will go. Perhaps it will inspire an active Twitch community (the Game Master mode is being streamed at midnight tonight on Larian's Twitch channel, incidentally). Or perhaps game masters need some kind of incentive or reward.
Regardless, Game Master won't detract from the core of what Divinity: Original Sin 2 is. That remains beautifully intact. A lot of work has gone Game Master mode but it's an extra nonetheless. Maybe it takes off, maybe it doesn't - it's not crucial to the game's success.
But I hope it does fly. Game Master mode isn't tabletop role-playing but it's the most convincing bridge between the two worlds of role-playing games I've come across.
A portion of Divinity: Original Sin 2 is currently in Early Access on PC. The final, much bigger game will definitely be released this year, Vincke told me, but he's not yet ready to say when. Console versions depend on the success of the game on PC. Once that has been released a decision can be made.