FUNDAMENTALS OF GAME DESIGN, SECOND EDITION

CHARACTER-AGNOSTIC PLOTS AND KING OF DRAGON PASS

In most role-playing games (RPGs), the player gets to design her avatar from scratch at the beginning of the game-to choose the avatar's race, sex, profession, and many other details. The game's plot, therefore, must be character-agnostic, which is to say, the details of the plot do not depend on the character. Such plots have some of the same problems as plots created for nonspecific avatars, which were introduced in Chapter 6, “Character Development.” However, there is a difference. Nonspecific avatars have no details the designer can work with. When a player creates an avatar, she creates those details, and the core mechanics and storytelling engine can work with them.

The plots of the stories in most RPGs aren't very sophisticated, so for the most part this doesn't matter much. The player completes a quest, usually by killing a lot of monsters, and the plot moves forward. It may branch one way if the player is choosing to role-play as an evil character, and another if she is good; but it's usually a large foldback story that ends up in the same place regardless.

The game King of Dragon Pass, published in 1999 by A-Sharp, is an important exception that deserves more attention than it received. The game is set in Glorantha, the magical world of the RuneQuesttabletop RPG games. Superficially, King of Dragon Pass appears to be a sort of management simulation. The player spends much of her time managing food production and looking after her tribe. What sets King of Dragon Pass apart, how­ever, is its storytelling mechanism.

The goal of the game is to become king of an entire region known as Dragon Pass, through a combination of economic growth, warfare, and diplomacy. The player leads her tribe assisted by a Council of Elders, consisting of seven NPCs. Each Elder has his or her own appearance, personality, and other attributes, and the player may call on any of them for advice when a critical situation arises that demands a decision. The advice the player gets naturally depends on the personal characteristics of the Elder that the player asks—some Elders are aggressive, some timid, some diplomatic, and so on. The player may also send Elders on missions of one kind and another, and the outcome of the mis­sion may depend on which Elder the player sends. Sending a warmonger on a diplomatic mission can have disastrous consequences; sending a skilled negotiator on a purchasing mission can be highly profitable.

Ordinary RPGs treat the story as a journey, and their character-agnostic plot situations are normally associated with a particular location. If the player avoids visiting the loca­tion, she never experiences the situation. Also, most of the situations in ordinary RPGs must be resolved through combat, so no matter who the player has in her party, she has to fight her way out of it one way or another.

 

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dramatic actions in a game may be divided into those taken to surmount a challenge and those in which the player makes a choice.

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