Path of Exile: Ultimatum - Creating the Trialmaster

Chaos, the guy you may know from all the orbs, exerts his influence over the world of Path of Exile in the latest Ultimatum expansion through the so-called Trialmaster. And if you'd like to know more about the origins of this mysterious new NPC, you should check out this article on the game's website.

Have a look:

In Path of Exile's Ultimatum League, we introduced the Trialmaster, a mysterious immortal figure that seeks to challenge Exiles on behalf of his master, the Vaal entity known as Chaos. Our narrative designer, Matt Dymerski, has written an overview of creating the Trialmaster.

You're a Path of Exile player. You're entering a new league. You're going to encounter the league NPC in every. single. area. How do I, the Narrative Designer, help make that experience fun rather than repetitive? The answer might just involve leaning into the iteration rather than trying to avoid it. Thus, the Trialmaster was forged.

The Trialmaster is not Path of Exile's first foray into creating personalities that remember what you, the player, have done. Betrayal League had a one-step system in which the NPCs said different things based on the last interaction they had with you. However, their memory didn't extend beyond that, because keeping track of relationships with nineteen different characters would have been a mess. The Trialmaster, on the other hand, has a very personal relationship with you, and you are far more likely to remember the thrill of your own victories and the sting of your own defeats.

The key here is 'your' victories and defeats. A few players have noticed that the Trialmaster still remembers your past record when you switch to another character. That's because he's not talking to your character. He's talking to you! If you've seen my talk about our Narrative Design philosophies at ExileCon, there's a bit here where I talk about how players are 'entities of pure chaos.' Across the population of players, if something is possible, someone will do it. All the possibilities must be accounted for, because they can and will happen.

Sound familiar? The Trialmaster serves a Vaal entity known as Chaos, who sees all of the possibilities. The Trialmaster directly tells you that he is challenging other exiles in other outcomes even while he's talking to you. In their possibilities, they survived the initial boat wreck, not you. Chaos is the first (and possibly only) entity in the world of Wraeclast aware of our timelines structure, in which all of you, the players, are living different parallel adventures.

The part that was most fun to write: this isn't actually fourth-wall breaking in the traditional sense. Chaos and the Trialmaster do not know what you truly are, they only know that a higher-dimensional entity somewhat like themselves has begun making moves on Wraeclast. Sometimes, you're a Ranger. Sometimes, you're a Marauder. Your willpower sometimes jumps back into the past, going from a god-killing veteran rampaging in the Atlas back to waking up on the beach again as someone new. In short, you fascinate Chaos, something which is communicated very subtly in the purposely hidden relationship between the Trialmaster and his unseen boss. Astute players may notice hints that the Trialmaster is not exactly happy with his situation...

The Trialmaster is voiced by the talented David de Lautour, who knocked the nuance of the character out of the park. There are thousands of years layered behind the Trialmaster's emotions, resulting in a certain structure to the things he must simply accept, the things he despises, and a few things he can still enjoy, such as watching an exile fail in spectacular fashion. Too, there remain moments of sincerity in his otherwise fatalistic and tortured existence, like when an exile who has lost countless times finally wins one. All these factors combine to make it clear that the Trialmaster is an antagonist, but not an enemy—whether the same is true of Chaos, however, remains to be seen.