Deep dive with Pillars of Eternity project lead Josh Sawyer: The full interview

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Is there THAC0?

JS: No! Feel free to edit all these details out later.

Nope, I’m running this thing as-is. Including all the foxes and everything.

JS: All attacks, whether it’s a spell or I’m hitting you with a stick or all of that stuff—all go through the same attack resolution system. You attack one of four defenses: deflection, fortitude, reflexes, or will. Typically the most common is deflection, that’s kind of like AC. You’re always trying to hit that number.

So if you’re a wizard and you’re casting spell missile or you’re casting fireball or you’re a monk who’s punching a guy and trying to quivering palm paralyze them or whatever, those all use attack, this defense. Relative to that defense, if you roll very high you will critically hit. If you critically hit, it’s either increased damage or increased duration of the effect. So if it’s like a stun, which obviously the only numeric value is the duration, if you critically hit with that stun the guy’s going to be paralyzed longer. If it’s just raw damage, he’s going to take more damage.

To kind of ameliorate the swinging craziness of old D&D, below a standard hit which is normal damage and normal effect, we have something called a “graze,” and a graze is, “Eh, you kind of hit him.” And that does half duration or half damage.

Pillars of Eternity

Even at low levels, you'll probably be able to damage these trolls a little.

And then below that we have miss, but that’s not very common unless you’re completely out-of-bounds, like, “I attack the dragon with my toothbrush.” Well, you miss! Congratulations, you’re going to miss a lot.

But the main thing is that all that stuff works the same way. When you look at the accuracy of one character and the accuracy of another character, those are comparable thingts. My wizard casting a spell and my fighter swinging a sword, those are both using accuracy. And when I look at defenses, the difference is what I care about in both cases. Hopefully across all your charactes you don’t have to learn, “Oh these guys use saving throws and these guys use this thing and there’s a special formula for...” None of that stuff.

Try to hit that defense and what you roll, based on the difference between them determines hit, crit, graze, or miss.

So the graze effect ameliorates the problem with the original Baldur’s Gate with that super-hard fight right in the beginning of the game, where you’d just go miss-miss-miss-miss-miss...

JS: Yeah, we don’t like the sense of it’s all or nothing. Miss-miss-miss, big hit, foxing murder.

So the grazes tend to do, because of our armor system, they tend to do less than half damage typically because the armor absorbs a lot of it, but you’re still making progress. It normalizes the output and makes it a little more regular as opposed to sitting there watching and it’s like, “Yahtzee! A character explodes!” So that’s kind of the goal.


In Baldur's Gate, every attack roll was a crapshoot.

How does the magic system work? Is it still a “memorize overnight, use it once, and your wizard is useless for the rest of the day” situation?

JS: No. There’s a couple things for that. One, wizards can use various weapons, especially wands and stuff like that as high-rate-of-fire ranged weapons. They don’t do a ton of damage but even if you’ve exhausted all your daily encounter stuff you can still be like [pew-pew-pew] and they do little AOEs with them. They’re still useful in that regard. You don’t have to be like, “Well, good luck guys.”

And then with spells, we are using something similar to the old Vancian System. It varies a little bit from class to class. You get a number of spells—as a wizard, for example, or a priest or a druid—you get a number of spells you can cast per level, per day, or per encounter if you’re really good. The way it works is, for priests and druids, any spells they know they can pick from. Kind of like a sorcerer in D&D, “Whatever spells you know, cast as many as you—you’re out of third level spells. Move on to something else.” For priests and druids, whatever spells you know you can pick from them, cast up to your limit, and then you’re done.

Wizards have more spells period, but they can only pick from spells that are in their currently equipped grimoire, which is their spell book. So the theoretical number of spells you have is much bigger than priests or druids, but you have to pick. “Do I really want fireball right now or do I want this other one?” You can only have a certain number. But it’s the same thing: you can cast a certain number per day and then you’re done, but you can pick from whatever is in your book at the time. If you wind up in a situation where you don’t have it, either you have to pick something else or switch your spell book out, but there’s an opportunity cost. If you do it in combat, you basically lock out all your spells for a while. Better occupy yourself with your wand or something.

And then with our classes—like the Cipher, actually, is more like a Psionicist in D&D where they have a pool of focus points that they use, and then they regenerate those by performing actual physical attacks with weapons, which is kind of part of their background. So that’s how they use it, it’s just a points-based system.

How many classes are there?

JS: Eleven.

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