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Writing adventures


#1

The most recent game news mentioned that the Chronicles of Crime Community Editor is now available. My gf and I are currently 2 scenarios into the 5 that came in the base game, but we’re looking forward to writing a scenario sometime in the future.

This also reminds me that T.I.M.E. Stories released a Scenario Designer’s Kit (zip file). While they differ in game mechanics, both of these games are similar in the way they structure stories. Because Chronicles of Crime is a mystery game, its adventures are about finding and using information: finding evidence, learning about new locations to investigate and characters to question, assembling them to solve the case. Your first runs of a T.I.M.E. Stories adventure are also about information, learning how to access initially locked away parts of the adventure so you can finally make a run that beats the scenario.

In Chronicles of Crime, each location, character, and item can be in various states: a location might be closed until the players learn the exact address to investigate; a character might be uncooperative until persuaded (say by showing them particular evidence). Player actions and events can trigger changes in state. Similarly, T.I.M.E. Stories has state tokens that keep track of events that have taken place: you convinced the thief to show you another route into the palace; you freed the prisoner, and now the guards are on alert. T.I.M.E. Stories encodes state in other ways, for example certain paths are unlocked or easier if players possess a particular item or character.

In this way, these games are a lot like adventure games where players have to find items or trigger events that unlock the way forward. So there needs to be some information / location / characters / items initially hidden until unlocked by player actions.

Reading up on such games and mystery RPGs, one universal guideline I’ve read is that to give players multiple ways forward. Players will miss things, whether by oversight, because they failed a skill check, they didn’t find it in time, etc. And it can end the game if that one thing prevents them from making further progress. If there is a linchpin to the adventure (a key NPC, the secret location where the final showdown will take place), there need to be multiple arrows pointing to it. (Adventure games seem to be exceptions to this rule, and players seem to accept that it’s okay if the only way forward is to decode the designers’ convoluted logic.)

Anyone else have advice for writing such adventures?


#2

Although it’s intended for RPGs, the best advice I’ve seen is in GURPS Mysteries:

http://www.warehouse23.com/products/gurps-mysteries-1


#3

Can you change the outcome of the case based on the state? Or simulate that by changing the result of talking to a particular pseudo-NPC who tells you the case solution based on the state?

It would be really interesting to be able to change how you handled clues in the story based on what players seemed to find most relevant.


#4

Yes, Chronicles of Crime scenarios can have multiple endings, with the ending players receive depending on the state of objects (e.g., is a witness cooperative or uncooperative, was an object found) or based on how they answer the questions.

Measuring “what players seemed to find most relevant” is tricky, but you can do something like: if characters A and B have been asked about item C, this implies the players have made that connection, so this triggers an event that switches the state of some objects. For example, characters A and D now react differently, the players receive a phone call, location E is revealed, etc.


#5

I dunno if this helps? From my experience:

A plot lynchpin that is missed, destroyed, failed or killed outside of the players control is bad game design. Avoid permanent loss by random chance at all cost. But failure doesn’t have to be a 100% negative outcome every time, if anything, failure can be the launching point for new, interesting plot arcs. In the case of a hard-coded game (rather than an RPG) having mulitple endings based on which route was taken is a good way to implement this, and make the game interesting over multiple playthroughs.


#6

Yeah, that’s the sort of thing I was thinking. Not necessarily so extreme as to ensure your guesses will always steer you right, but to avoid situations quite common in Consulting Detective where you can miss an entire dimension of the mystery and get to the end feeling like your time was wasted. Sure, you can quibble that this being possible in the first place is bad design … but the reality is its going to happen no matter how much effort you put in and good design can only get you so far without reactivity. Not having a GM, your options are a bit more limited, but it’s neat that there’s something there in Chronicles of Crime and that’s definitely worth digging into. :smiley:


#7

@Sagantine Good point. In one of our games, when we failed to solve a case, instead of ending the scenario, our chief told us to get back out there and do our jobs properly, plus a strong hint of where to look. But that may be because we were playing a scenario in a campaign and, to continue the campaign, we have to solve that case. I can see one-off cases having various endings, some of them encouraging players to try again for a better result, kind of like what T.I.M.E. Stories does with its multiple runs.

@Gwathdring Don’t think this is a spoiler: in one of the games we played, we asked a character about a certain object. The character basically said, I can’t help you with that, but who could help you is…

It’s also possible to create an event like: if 10 hours have passed and the players haven’t discovered a particular character / item / location, they get a phone call informing them.

So there are a range of ways to getting players on track, if that’s what’s desired, and the designer can choose how heavy-handed they want to be with these.


#8

That’s pretty neat. It’s one of the biggest problems in adventure games and in Consulting Detective. Well, that and the trial-and-error mode a player or group drops into when they get stuck but it seems like this kind of reactivity would help with that too much more so than time limits or penalties would.

Bending the result of the case in response to play style aside and thinking of more traditional alternative endings, I particularly like the idea of a guilty party reacting to certain lines of questioning in a way that doesn’t change the underlying mystery but does change what happens at the end of the proceedings.


#9

For myself, the main thing is making sure that players do not have to get that phone call to put them “back on track”. The more “states” that can be tracked in parallel, the better. Of course, there are hard limits to how far you can branch the story when you have to write everything in advance, but at the very least you need to make sure that the players are under the impression that the path they’ve followed is unique, and they aren’t being railroaded in one direction.


#10

I guess that sort of both goes without saying and misses a key reality of writing these sorts of stories. The more practical question is: for the players who do end up needing that phone call, do you want the phone call to be there, or are you comfortable rejecting those players?

If nothing else, it’s worth deciding what you want the fail state to be–is the fail state that you get stuck and feel frustrated or is it that the antagonist gets away or just that you don’t know all of the answers at the end and so on and so forth. If you don’t want the fail state to be “didn’t even ask the right person about this key clue” then you’re going to need to have very few clues or some kind of baked in help system because someone is going to reach your fail state.

Unless the goal is everyone gets it right, presumably someone loses. What does losing look like? And if the goal is that no one loses, what I’m saying applies double!


#11

P.S. Do keep in mind the baked in help system doesn’t have to replicate the work of the intended pathways through the provided clues–the aforementioned phone call can provide more information, less information or just different information in addition to any knock-on effects that you track for background outcomes.


#12

I’m comfortable giving them an alternative ending. Time moves on, stuff happens regardless. I’m never comfortable having every mystery resolved regardless of what choices the players make. The idea that everything must be experienced seems to be a holdover from the publications (in all sorts of media) that must appeal to the widest possible audience for the sake of sales. When writing your own stuff for your own audience, or in all kinds of “indie” endeavours, you don’t have to abide by the same constraint.

In a little more detail, these kind of things nearly always go from “node” to “node” via slightly varying paths, and unless you hit all the right beats it nearly always becomes obvious how everything is conspiring to get you to the next node, and I don’t like that. Branch, branch, branch again, as much as possible. Weave stuff back together where it can happen naturally, otherwise don’t. Have a whole bunch of “flags” that means everything can be encountered in multiple different ways.

Sure, all this is a big ask, and way more involved than the ways most mainstream stuff gets made, but this is just how I would do things. Perhaps not the best “advice” for someone new to the field, but thems my preferences and they aren’t going to change.

EDIT: Somewhat crossposted with your edits. I was replying to your first question, but it seems to scan as an answer to the extended edit too.


#14

I don’t much care what’s more “mainstream.” Presumably the goal is to present an interesting experience.

As such, I’m not so interested in whether or not one could do such a great job that getting stuck only happens to players who earn it or what-have-you. A common problem in the various intersecting genres in question is missing large chunks of investigation or getting stuck and trying random things or bashing interactibles together because nothing makes any sense.

I would note that these are not common genre problems because the authors in question lack talent or because the audiences in question were too mainstream for the offered experiences. As such, I think it’s important to think about what kind of least-successful experience you want to present and try to preempt these sorts of genre problems with reactive tools that typically don’t see much use in these genres.


#15

… I think it might be useful to communicate without being so condescending. I’m going to go with “we’re talking at cross-purposes” and leave it at that.