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Dragon Age Official Forum Highlights & Comments For select forum posts by the game developers collected from the official Dragon Age forums, as well as comments on them. All the news items posted here also appear on the DA official forum news page of Sorcerer's Place.

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Old Sun, 1st Jul '07, 11:07pm   #1
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Here are today's Dragon Age forum highlights, taken from the Dragon Age Official Forum. Please take into account that these are only single parts of various threads and should not be taken out of context. Bear in mind also that the posts presented here are copied as-is, and that any bad spelling and grammar does not get corrected on our end.

David Gaider, Lead Writer

Linearity Vs. Sand Box- the reformed thread

I agree with Mary mostly (big shock, I know), and I think the main difference between these kinds of games is how you determine the player's personal story.

In a more linear game, what the player experiences is largely controlled at any given time. And this has some advantages, primarily the fact that you can have a coherent narrative. You can pace that experience and deliver a better experience.

Personally I think the big caveat in that case is that the illusion of freedom needs to be maintained. The illusion being, perhaps, that the player is simply stumbling onto the story and that he could if he chose go off elsewhere even if it isn't true. There is a certain amount of buy-in from the player required, and I find when I know I am being railroaded my first instinct is to be contrary and push in the other direction. Depending on how fragile the buy-in is, that may suddenly reveal the tracks for what they are. And I don't think I actually require all that much convincing to ignore those tracks... but I do require some, and I suspect the average player out there isn't all that different.

Does this mean you couldn't have a story in a more sandbox-like game? No, not really. But that story is going to have to be about what the player themselves do-- they have to drive it forward personally at all levels, whether or not that's realistic. And any narrative that exists is going to have to exist in isolation to the sandbox, if at all.

Fallout is a good example of that. You have a really simply set-up relying completely on what the player does. with the "story" being the voyage itself. As enjoyable as that can be, however, I think you can even look at that and see that there was very little in the way of narrative or larger events going on. Not that that hurt it in any way, but I think there's room for both. You're just not going to find a magic spot on the linearity/non-linearity scale where all stories will work. It won't happen.

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Well, that's part of the question then, I suppose.

Do you really need detailed, branching dialogues?

Ultima 7's writing was decent, but we are talking the keyword approach with very linear responses. You can have some character with that, but it's certainly not conversation, not even the simple sort of conversation you got in Fallout.

Thing is, do you need that? Because if not, I really would start to wonder what I'm wasting my time on with all this branching dialogue crap. If it's just as good to write short but clever blurbs for NPC's to address any selected topic... well, that would be a lot easier.

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Well, branching dialogue does indeed have its own issues... when compared to keyword-style dialogue it's really a case of "pick your poison". I have no illusions that branching dialogue is somehow perfect, but personally if it comes down to it if keyword-dialogue is considered just as good overall then I would consider branching dialogue to perhaps be a lot of effort (and comparitively it is a LOT more) for very little return.

And I think a degree of interesting keyword-dialogue could be done -- personally I'm just not sure that you can ever give that level of dialogue the sort of responsiveness that makes you feel like you're actually having a conversation. It always seems a case of prodding the NPC in question to speak at me rather than with me with keywords. Does that make sense?

Though to the person who mentioned it -- yeah, I actually would be just fine with trying to make keyword-style dialogue that was interesting and had character. If I got tired of it quickly, well quite frankly I'd be spending a lot less time writing it compared to the branching dialogue anyway. So quickly is fine.
I'd miss the interactivity, mind you -- but I know there are players who would rather lose that and get rid of the canned player responses that may or may not fit the character style they have in their mind. One benefit, I suppose, of keyword-style is that while you don't have responses you also don't have the wrong responses. It's not my cup of tea, but I know some folks would rather imagine the exchange in their head rather than having what's on-screen explicitly contradict how they imagine their character to speak or act.

--------

As far as the circular conversations thing goes, we do have one feature that's been added to our new dialogue editor that I really happen to like. It allows us to easily flag any given line as "happens once" -- meaning that once that option is selected even if you should link back to the same parent line later on, the option will not appear again.
Technically it works just as well, I suppose, to leave it up to the player not to pick response options he's already picked -- but personally I don't like to see them again as it sort of exposes the mechanics involved, and that's really an illusion that is better to maintain.

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So, in a nut shell, story linearity in a compact game world diminishes the value of conversation (except if one likes to read it); whereas the large sand box world can increase the value of dialog to the actual progress of the game.

This could be true, perhaps, if dialogue was only there to facilitate progression -- ie. to tell you where to go next on your quest.

Surely that's not the only reason dialogue is there? And if you disagree, then I'd counter that a Bioware game is probably not the sort of game you'd like, then. I see little reason to try and change our games to accomodate the sort of people who don't actually like the kind of games we make. That seems a bit like the tail wagging the dog, to me.

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So... if the customer wants us to make a Barbie's Horse Adventure RPG, it's your opinion we should do so?

Obviously we want to make a game that people want to buy, but if we were to make *all* our decisions based on what we believe the consumer might or might not want that would very much be the tail wagging the dog. At some point we need to simply make a good game and make it for the people who actually like the kind of game we make.

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Correct. There are some things which are pretty fundamental to the design which we cannot change just because someone came along and decided that doing something different would be neat. At some level we have to decide on exactly what we're making, and be comfortable with the fact that it may not be for everyone. Think that sandbox games which focus on non-linearity are for you? Super. But also not what we're making.

They have some class

I would like to point out that even in a system where you potentially have a larger number of classes right out of the gate, the differences between those classes is largely cosmetic in the early levels. Whether you call it a Paladin or a Ranger it's still essentially a Fighter at 1st level... it's not until you get a few more levels that the differences start to accumulate.

Same is true for DA. Once you begin to buy up your skills and talent trees, one Warrior or Rogue is going to start looking different from the other. And that's before you decide whether or not to branch out into an advanced class. Potentially any given character could follow a very different progression even from someone else with the same class picks -- you can decide for yourself whether that offers more variety than having more base classes with each class having exactly the same progression of abilities as everyone else in that class.

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All advanced classes require some kind of training in order to acquire, and some of them must be found in order to be acquired at all.

Though I find it interesting that this is a perceived problem at all, considering D&D is the standard. There, after all, one can multi-class between the regular classes without any sort of questing or training required at all. But there you go.

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How are they "limiting"?

You seem to be jumping to some might big conclusions there, based on I have no idea what. The fact that warrior and rogue classes can't cast spells? They are still going to have plenty of abilities to draw from and will have plenty of breadth at the higher levels.

Because if you want to look at it? What's the real difference between, say, a 1st level fighter, paladin or ranger in D&D? Very little. The paladin and ranger don't cast any spells yet. They have maybe one class ability if they're lucky. Otherwise they're armor-wearing warriors with a +1 bonus to hit -- and that's it.

A Warrior in DA would start off the same way. Then you start buying your talents and skills in the way you want him to grow. You move him into the advanced class that you want, which will give you access to all the variety of class types that you find so very not-limiting.

So, please -- I know there's not a lot of information on exactly what classes and abilities we will offer, and that will change in time. Until then, please keep the lecturing to a minimum, because I assure you that whatever you're imagining? It's probably not true. And waxing poetic on how the class system doesn't meet some standard based on the two or three bits of information out there? A bit premature, to say the least.

Is The Morrowind Camera Angle Habitual, Inescapable & Mandatory ?

We haven't really settled on exactly how the camera system will work. As we've mentioned, the switchable views based on combat/exploration is the plan -- but we'll have to see how that pans out as we play it.

I must say that I had no idea that camera angles could be "habitual", however.

"what's one thing you'd most like to see -- and what comparable feature would you give up to ge

Indeed. Giving up art fidelity, for instance, does not get you more story. We writers, after all, are not responsible for art. Having a lower art fidelity could get you more levels, a larger variety of creatures and placeables -- that sort of thing.

Remember that the original question does say what comparable feature you would sacrifice -- as in what one thing you would give up that would actually help get the other. Giving a list of "I don't like this" to match the "I like this" doesn't really help, except maybe as insight into just how little is understood about what goes into making a game like this, perhaps.

Which is not to say everyone is doing this -- some very interesting responses, from my perspective. Thank you.

Things You Would Prefer Dragon Age NOT To Have

Nope. The message, as far as I can determine, is that people get annoyed very easily. And if it's been done at least once, somebody out there is convinced it is now a cliche.

Wish lists like this aren't very helpful, as we've no idea of the importance of individual items, and rarely is there any acknowledgement of their relative value or difficulty. Just once I'd like to see a wishlist that asks for something interesting -- like "what's one thing you'd most like to see -- and what comparable feature would you give up to get it?" or something similar, something that didn't look like it could be handed over to Santa Claus.

Not to rag on wishlists all the time, but if I wanted to I could come up with one that's a mile long -- ranging from stuff I'd like to see (or not) but wouldn't really cause me more than a moment's pause to things that are clearly either deal-breakers or points of interest (I'll buy it just because I like that one feature THAT much).

*shrug* But whatever. Go on. I know it makes y'all feel good.

Lessons Learned from NWN and NWN2

The main character does indeed do all the talking in DA, being the protaganist of the story. We've gone through this discussion on this forum before, and this has not changed -- the party is not a group of interchangeable main characters.

It's a good point on the NPC skills, though. I'm not actually sure how this works in DA off the top of my head, but it's something to keep in mind, for sure.


And, another thing, from NWN2. I was told that's because of the Presistent Worlds or whatever that you can build with NWN2, but if DA won't have those, could we please, please, please have the cutomizable Autopauses back?

It's very possible.


And big parties!

If you mean bigger than the size we currently have planned, then no. Not happening.

more:

Well, we could... we simply don't. The NPC's have plenty to say, they just do it in other areas where we chose to concentrate our efforts.

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While we certainly may make a game much like NWN was, sometime in the future, and DA is planned to have a toolset of some kind, let's please keep in mind that Dragon Age is not NWN minus the D&D nor is it intended to be. It's an entirely different project with different goals entirely, and while there certainly may be lessons to learn from NWN and NWN2 not all of them are going to apply to DA for obvious reasons.

Let's also keep in mind that we didn't "subcontract" NWN2. What was done with NWN2 was entirely the business of its publisher and the license holder -- that said, we'll have no bashing of Obsidian or NWN2 here, please. Keep any comments constructive. Thanks.

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Your opinion is noted, though I would point out you are making some assumptions which are not necessarily true. For instance, must this skill that is used in conversation ONLY affect dialogue?

And greying out the skill for NPC's might indeed be a solution. I'm not sure which option we're pursuing at this point, to be honest. Even so, if that were done I don't think the player should automatically receive it at maximum. Part of gameplay is that the character has to make choices, such as where to put skill points at the expense of other skills. A player may indeed wish to load up on the dialogue skill, but that does and should come at the expense of other very useful abilities. It's the sort of thing that would make a min-maxer tear out their hair, I imagine, but there you go.

Knowing what you know about DA

Indeed. Jade Empire was done completely without any writing assistance from me.

Werewolves?


will werewolves be in this game?

Yes, actually, but they're probably not quite what you might assume.


Better yet, will they be playable?

No.

NPC Dialogue Depth Based On INT & WIS Sum ?

Yeah, that's where I am. I'm scratching my head, reading this. If I as the writer think that a character is dumb or wise or charismatic, then I will write him to sound that way. Why would his stats come into it at all?

If you're talking about the player's ability to use those stats during dialogue, such as controlling which dialogue options he gets while talking to NPC's -- well that's quite something else, and not an uncommon request. But for these stats to have some sort of systematic effect on how the NPC speaks -- just how do you think said dialogue is generated, anyhow? Certainly not by the computer.

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So if you want variety in the types of NPC's you encounter, why not just say that?

Personally, *I* was planning on making all my NPC's sort of generically intelligent, kind of blending into one another without any particular differences between any of them... but now that this alternate plan has been brought forth we might have to give it some thought. Variety, eh? Suspicious. Next you'll want everyone wearing this "denim" I hear so much about.

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Meaning what? You want them to not just *sound* more or less intelligent/wise/charismatic, you want them to actually *be* such?

Because I don't get it.

Personality is really all we can give them, as writers. If I think the NPC is smart, I write him as smart. If I think he is dumb, I write him as dumb. I'm just not sure what you're asking for, exactly.

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So this is indeed a request for more character variety, as I suggested earlier. Which is fine, and I enjoy the writing tips and all, but is it your opinion that we don't already do this? No offense, but if the suggestion is that every single character must be a marvel of uniqueness and unpredictability right from the merchant up to the party member -- well, that's unlikely to happen no matter the approach.

perfect idea but no real difference in races

I get that there are people whose idea of fantasy is a world where there are a plethora of races to play (or fight). Maybe part of that comes from D&D, maybe it's influenced by the crop of MMORPG's where race is primarily a simple choice of aesthetics, I'm not really sure. Either way I think the main driving desire behind that is the notion that more races = diversity.

This is understandable. I don't think that races are the only way to get that sort of diversity, mind you... and I would say that Dragon Age is specifically focusing more on the experience that the player will have in this world. Rather than offer a whole bunch of cosmetic choices, we offer a smaller number of choices but try to make them much deeper -- your choice of race and class affect much more than your appearance, they dictate your entire introduction into the game and the world.

I suppose there are some who will still be put out even so, lacking the option to play their favorite sort of gnome or ogre or what have you... and that really can't be helped. Every decision we make on what the Dragon Age world is means there is one more thing it isn't. We're fine with that. We're not trying to please everyone, we're trying to make one thing and make it well enough that perhaps some of these people come to love it for what it is rather than dislike it for what it isn't.

Intelligent non-humanoids

Dragons are cunning to the point of having deductive reasoning, arguably even sentience, without having the ability to communicate or possess a civilization. They are like dolphins -- that will eat you.

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No, I think some dolphins were taught to communicate wiht humans in a very sophisticated manner as part of some experiments.

Well, I suppose it would be possible to communicate with dragons in a similar manner.

Non linearity and linearity..


Can't it possibly be a linear STORY with a non-linear WORLD to explore?

Depends on what you mean.

Some people like to invoke the word "linear" in more than one context. After all, when it comes to a computer game, what is the world except part of the story?

If you mean that there should be parts of the world which can be explored which have nothing to do with the main plot, then sure. We already do that, but we can do more or less of it depending on the resources available.

If you mean you want a wide-open world where you can go anywhere and do anything in any order and at any time and yet still have all the pacing and coherent narrative of a more linear story? Then no. No, you can't. Not to say you can't have a story at all, just that pacing and narrative are rather dependant on knowing approximately where the player is at any given time in the plot.

And I really think that's all anyone's been saying on that topic.

Magic System and Magic in the DA

When looking at stuff like whether or not to use a spells/day or a mana system, one thing you really have to look at from a design perspective is what kind of behaviour you are encouraging... because, quite frankly, it may not be the behaviour you think you are encouraging.

Take a spells/day system, as in you have X spells to cast per day and need a full night's rest in order to regain those charges. What behaviour results? Well, in a D&D game, you potentially end up with parties camping out repeatedly inside a dungeon... if they're hard-pressed, you end up with a rather odd system where every 30 minutes or so of difficult encounters are alternated with a good 8 hours of rest.

Oh, there's certainly arguments that can be made about tactics and using one-shot items such as potions or scrolls... and that's valid, but really any system can be "worked" in some manner. The basic resulting behaviour is what I'm talking about here. And Gvoekle is quite correct: typically people tend to lean to the conservative no matter what system they're in.

Take, for instance, item deterioration in an MMORPG. On one level you get the intended resulting behaviour: players need to spend time fixing and/or replacing broken equipment. That creates a need, perhaps as a nod to the economy model. But what about other behaviours? In one MMO I played, the result of item deterioration was "naked battles". When groups planned on going into large fights or raids where they knew they would die repeatedly, they wore no armor and took along as poor equipment as possible. It was almost silly, really.

So you have to ask yourself as a designer: is this the behaviour I want to encourage? Does this behaviour fit in with the experience the game will have, as well as the other systems in place?

Mana systems also have their issues. Take regeneration of mana. If you have any mana regeneration over time, what happens? That's right... you end up with players having their characters waiting there on-screen in real time, doing nothing in order to regenerate their mana. Slow down the mana regeneration, and what happens? Typically, people wait longer and get more annoyed because they feel they have to do so. So take out regeneration... let's say you simply restore mana after every combat? Well, then you would probably end up with "spell binge" inside of combat-- where the goal is to use up the entire mana pool each and every single fight.

Could that work? Maybe, depending on whether the rest of the system is built to accomodate it. All I'm saying here is that no matter how you design the workings of the magic system what's important is not that you look at it from an aesthetic or theoretical standpoint but that you look at it from a behavorial one... as that's what we'll be doing.

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Maybe. Perhaps you could have mana regeneration only in combat? So the mage would have to choose between one big spell or a few smaller ones before they would then have to wait for their mana pool to regenerate in a fight.

Or perhaps you could have a system where the mana pool is *always* at 0 and the mage is effectively charging up their mana in order to reach the amount the spell needs. So, sure, they can cast that 9th level spell... if they had time to charge it up right before the fight began or if you give them a few rounds. Perhaps your level/skill then is a matter of how much mana you can attain or how quickly it charges.

Just a couple of ideas. I'm not a fan, myself, of a system where a mage is encouraged to spam magic missiles ad infinitum in some kind of weird Gauntlet simulation. In fact, my Sorcerer player in my Sunday D&D campaign has turned into just that. Initially she chose enchantment spells until the other players pestered her to get better damage spells, so she chose Magic Missile on level-up. And now? Each round that comes around you can count on exactly the same thing: "Magic Missile!" Without fail. Is that her fault? Of course not. The system is designed to encourage that behavior. For all the supposed selection in the D&D spell list, I'd say 95% of the players choose pretty much exactly the same spells every time, out of necessity.

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Good plan. We're not looking for suggestions on entire magic systems, here. We already know what we want. If anything at this point we'll be tweaking things like the resting system for the sake of useability.

Mary Kirby, Writer

Linearity Vs. Sand Box- the reformed thread

My personal feelings on linear and non-linear RPGs:

I enjoy both, in moderation. Exploring a new world, uncovering every last speck of the map, finding secrets and just sightseeing? That's part of what I play for.

Only part, though.

The complete free-form sandbox game bores me. Not because I don't feel that what I'm doing is important, but because in order to be truly free-form, I'm frequently not given enough direction. To borrow from The Neverending Story, "Do what you wish" is easy to say and hard to put into practice. What do I wish to do? If the game doesn't give me a compelling goal to strive for that I can clearly see from the beginning, I wind up abandoning it. No more wishes.

However, the goal is also, by itself, not enough to make a game enjoyable. I love story-driven games. A linear plot does not necessarily bother me. What I don't enjoy is the feeling of being inside a tunnel that is collapsing behind me. I remember playing Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, and every single chapter of the game I played through ended with the planet, ship, or space station I was on being blown up. That's an extreme example, but it illustrates my point. You can't go back. The world/universe/kitten is in danger! You are simultaneously pressured to run through the plot as fast as you can to stop it, and at the same time pressured to stop and explore every area fully, because you can never see that content again ever.

And remember: I like exploration. But if I feel as though I have to do it, it's work, and not fun anymore. I like clear goals, but I don't want them to drag me kicking and screaming through the game as things fall apart around me.

Wow. That's enough outta me. Here, have a kitten.

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Well, from a writing perspective, the first story problem is pacing. How do you make a story "riveting" that you can ignore at any time to go do other things? It has to be simultaneously a deep goal, and something you can shove onto the shelf whenever you see something shiny. How do you maintain a sense of tension in the plot that way? How do you keep it from being lost in the sea of side-content? Do you even want to try? Or is it better to leave the plot low-key enough that players can construct their own plots, the way they do in games like GTA: Testing themselves against the limits of the world. Seeing exactly how much they can get away with, or where they can go.

The trouble with adding depth of character interaction to a sandbox game is that the player can do far more things in the game than the designers can predict, and some poor sap of a writer has to sit there and account for as many as possible for that NPC to seem deep. What if Martin, in Oblivion, knew that you didn't go do his quests right away, but instead went looking for Deadric shrines or spent days just picking herbs? How many thousands of different lines would he need to account for the things you could have done just between his first two quests? And that probably still wouldn't cover half of what you could actually do.

I think you can find a happy medium. I don't think the result will be a fully expansive Oblivion/Morrowind world, though.

Lessons Learned from NWN and NWN2

All the talking, yes. There are places where your party members can interject, but they won't step in and take over the conversation. There might be places where it would be logical, but the party members are optional. There's no guarantee that you'll either have recruited them at all, or that even if you have them, you have them in your active party. As a result, we can't plan conversations around a given party member being there to speak up.

NPC Dialogue Depth Based On INT & WIS Sum ?

Intelligence and vocabulary aren't necessarily related. To use your Shale example: He might be extremely smart, but not entirely fluent in Common. (He was made by Dwarves, after all, and they speak their own language.) A character can be highly intelligent, but poorly educated, or educated enough to use the ten dollar words but not correctly. Language is complex, and affected by a lot of things that go beyond simple stats.

Breaking through the good/evil dichtonomy?

Okay, once again folks: Try to keep this about Dragon Age. There is no alignment in Dragon Age. If you want to talk about alternate paths for quests or motivations for characters, fine, but try to keep that fact in mind, okay?

Ferret A. Baudoin, Senior Designer

Lessons Learned from NWN and NWN2

Yuppers, I'm over here now - the rest of the crew wasn't involved in NWN2. To be fair, given the player could be infinitely different permutations in a roleplayer's eyes - a game has to make some assumptions about the player. I think every RPG ever made has some variety of avatar you could make that would really break down the plausibility of a given plot scenario. Ideally you enjoyed that section despite it feeling out of sorts with a dumb half-orc diplomat.

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Dave's already answered your question on how DA is handling it. I agree with him, I think the story is better if it's about your character. Your friends will chime in and say their piece, but if you're selecting dialogue options they're for your avatar. It's your story after all, not the story of Dark Nug, Avenger of the Deep. OK, so maybe he's not actually someone that joins your party - but darn it, he should be.

Derek French, Technical Producer

Required Windows Version

While no decision has been made on this as yet, I can see no current reason to try and restrict the sales of our game to a specific operating system. We currently develop under Windows XP and we will test all our upcoming PC games under Windows Vista, as well.

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I believe that for games in development where the publisher is onboard at the beginning, then have more of an influence. Since DA does not have a publisher yet, we have a lot more say in how we want our game to be.

Stanley Woo, QA Ninja

NPC Dialogue Depth Based On INT & WIS Sum ?

and this is for NPCs? If Dragon Age works the same as all of our other games, you'll never see the NPC's stats, so howw will you know if his dialogue doesn't match his stats?

Besides that, if the NPC has a voice actor, that will also play a large part in how smart he will sound. It's perfectly legitimate to have a character sound like "Durrr, da square of da hypotenuse is equal to da sum of da squares of da two udder sides in a right triangle," just as it's legitimate to have a character sound like "Might I interject that 'embiggen' is a perfectly cromulent word?"

So, just like when role-playing in a PnP game, a character in Dragon Age will likely be more than just his statistics.

Non linearity and linearity..

Oh, I dunno. I've read books that use the very medium of the printed word to its advantage, such as using different typefaces to represent dialects, using footnotes to communicate directly to the reader, or even requiring the reader to read upside down or flip back and forth between pages to get the story.

so I would disagree that one cannot compare books and games.
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