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» Intro to RPG Design Part 3
Introduction to RPG Design Part 3
Written by KingSpoom

The plot is the pattern of events over the course of a medium. It has four main parts: Scenario, problem, solution, and main result.

The scenario is the main setting of the game, both time and place. Since most Rpgs aren't from our own world, this usually involves a lot more than two simple answers. A whole world, with laws, customs, and traditions should be created. It doesn't have to take place all at once (even though most of it should), but it should be recorded somewhere for reference. The problem is a conflict within the story. A tree blocks the road ahead, some thugs have come to rough you up, a village lies in the path of destruction... all three present problems that are to be solved by the character (and player). The solution is how the problem is dealt with. The hero could simply step over the tree, show the thugs his true power, and ignore the village. It doesn't matter how the problem is solved, but once it stops existing it isn't a problem anymore. The last part, main result, is the biggest and most important result of the problem that was overcome. The hero can now make it to the cave of doom, the thugs respect his space and property, and the hero no longer has to worry about saving said village. There can be as many results from a solution as you want, but the main result is what you would expect to be told about an event. Back in the dark ages (scenario), there was a demon that forged an evil army (problem), but was stopped shortly after by an old man's magic (solution) and peace enveloped the land (main result). It will always appear in that order (unless time is messed with, including flashbacks and amnesia), but several problems can arise before a single one is dealt with. You see this often in commercial games, but even then rarely more than once. In FF6, Kefka threatens to enslave Espers and dominate the populace. You meet him rather early in the game, and even though he presents many problems, the main threat of Kefka isn't stopped until the end. Of course the only reason you didn't take care of him earlier is because of more immediate problems, as Kefka took a back seat for a while, it sets the overall goal of the game. Making the plot before you make the characters usually helps the flow of ideas, and often makes character creation easier and more relevant to the story.

Simply knowing what you need to fill up a plot isn't enough. One thing most amateur games lack is direction. Direction is the driving force behind characters and the story itself. Without direction, your whole game takes a hit; characters seem less lively and believable, links between anything seem weak; it can even confuse the player. There are several things to keep in mind when trying to keep direction in a game. First, the player must know where to go. Telling him to, “Go northwest to the cave of doom” can do this. Both the direction and the object you want them to enter are good to know. Between commonly traveled grounds, such as towns, you can put roads or lighter grass areas. It is a small task, but it does help a lot. An objective is also a great thing to know. It gives the player an idea of what he is heading towards. Each person thinks differently, so clues as to what is going to happen help people to stay on the same track. When I think of what might happen in the cave of doom, I imagine a boss battle. However, someone else might think it is just a name to keep children or thieves away from it and expect it to be a treasure filled dungeon. Lastly, giving a hint at a solution will clear up all but the craziest of adventures. Knowing that the beast in the cave of doom has weak knees will give me an advantage, knowing that someone in town knows a cure to the disease my friend has been overtaken by gives me a direct route to helping him. Depending on the type of situation you are in, you will want to give varying amounts of direction. If players view your game as too hard, and it has nothing to do with the mechanics (a battle), then you probably lack direction.

Before I list those ideas, I want to explain a bit about clichés. A cliché, as you may know, is something that has been done so many times that is has become old and stale. "Mario, Bowser has kidnapped the princess... go save her!" It happens all the time, Mario is apparently the only one who can save her, and it usually turns out the same way. However, many people tout the word cliché around as if to judge everything by it, as if only original stuff can be entertaining and without really the knowledge to use such a word. It happens almost as much as I read the words "with a couple twists". The truth is that most summaries you read about someone else's game are going to sound cliché just from the lack of extreme details. To go just a step farther it really isn't even their fault, because it would be a tremendous effort to give the details you need to change it around. Here are some examples:

Cliché version: An evil demon creates 4 magical crystals so he can conquer the world. You play the role of Malvin Toldas, an apprentice wizard, and try to stop him.

Detailed version: The evil demon, Makkr, was stripped of his powers and banished to the human world by his master. Fearing destruction with his weakened powers, and wanting revenge on his master, he fabricates a plan to accomplish his dreams and more. By draining the souls of the four most powerful wizards on Earth into four identical crystals, great power can be achieved. Power so great, that can rip apart the divide between this world and the next. All Makkr must do now is secure the crystals until the next full moon. You play the role of Malvin Toldas, a wizard who was apprenticed to the 4th most powerful wizard, Tazel. He learned of the demon's plot after the death of the first two wizards, and with the help of the other remaining wizard, tried to stop Makkr. Upon his death, spells were triggered in his tower instructing you of his demise. With a few magical items that Tazel had gathered over the years and what little magic you know, you head out seeking help to end Makkr's evil plot.

Not exactly the most interesting story you have heard, but when compared to the first it should take away some of your doubts about the crystals, the demon, and the main characters motivation in the story. I wouldn't even rate the first story as a 1, where as the second story might earn a 7 or 8. Of course, the important thing is that the story that is presented in your game represents the same thing. It's one thing to give a summary; it's another to have the summary be accurate. After all, many games contain more story on the back of the box than in the game.

One of the important things to remember in story telling (including the stories in games) is that there is a certain requirement for active exposition. Passive exposition is when you are simply told about events, active exposition is when you see what is going on. It is almost always better to show what has happened and let people gather their own opinions than to have a character explain what happened and have it relate to his view of the situation. Often referred to as "speaking through your characters", you should remember that even though the number 1 rule for films and books is that "Nothing should be said unless it adds to the story in some way", you should also keep in mind that each character should maintain his personality in all situations he can. Someone who earlier wasn't concerned about the destruction of an ally's home shouldn't be the one bringing it up later in a tense moment.


01: Your master, who has raised you for all but the first years of your life, has taken ill. A seemingly unstoppable disease has immobilized him and threatens his life. Your mission is now to save him and no life holds more value than your masters! (Note: I'd be careful about how a cure, if any, is obtained. Both a self-sacrificial cure and an evil cure sound interesting)

02: Three kingdoms are at war on a single (triangle shaped?) continent. Each of them has seemingly equal armies, and there is no end in sight. A couple villages have been destroyed; many more have been taken over to help win the war. You take control of a person from one of the villages that have been taken over. There are many things you can attempt, but your main goal is to free your village. To make matters worse, each kingdom is rushing to develop new weapons to win the war. Pick your allies and enemies carefully! (Note: Gunpowder makes an excellent new weapon if you are in that age. So much can go right... or wrong for them. Try to make a lot of different ways to win, as each different path can change the story greatly.)

03: 10 years ago you were cursed by a demon before he was slain. Now a hero of your town, you live the good life. The citizens were never told that your life was essentially linked to a fist-sized gem in your efforts to stop the demon. While sleeping one day, your house is robbed! Not only are most of your valuables gone, but also your gem... the gem that holds your very life is missing. Travel about the world in search of your gem, group with law authorities, get help from previous victims, and bust some thugs while you are at it. (Note: At some point the main character will probably question the purpose of risking his life just to save his life. Perhaps if the gem is in the hands of someone evil (merchant?) then his mind shifts slowly towards that angle.)

04: You have lived in a small village ever since you could remember. Of course, that isn't very long because you lost your memory just a few years ago. You have a natural aptitude for a certain weapon (or perhaps magic) that isn't common in the village. Recently, strange markings have been appearing on your body. They are almost like tattoos, except they sometimes glow. It is, of course, unheard of in this area, and you don't know how it is being triggered. You set out on a journey to find out who you were before you arrived at the village, party because you want to know, and partly because the villagers have become unrest. (Note: There isn't anything in particular I would enjoy seeing here that I can think of. He probably has had this magical tattoo since just after his birth. It's either a religious thing, or has to do with an event that happened near his birth.)

05: A wizard has always lived in the tower upstream, but he hasn't always polluted the water. Until recently your village has lived easy. A nearby stream has provided it with all the water it needed to grow crops, drink, and give to livestock. Recently, waste from the wizards tower has begun to pollute it beyond use. If the wizard isn't stopped, the town will fall apart, leaving everyone to go their separate ways. You just happen to be the best-suited villager to take care of this problem. (Note: The story can work one of two ways. It can either be a story leading to a game like Diablo... except you travel UP a tower, instead of down. Or it can be a large tower that you keep returning that remains part of the main plot. The first way is simple, but the second way involves fetching artifacts, ingredients, spells, or tools from various other towns or caves to break some sort of seal/barrier/door/obstruction that you need to reach the wizard who remains locked at the top.)

In addition to the story in this article, you may use any of these plots as your own, giving me no credit if you don't want to. I would, however, like to be informed if you want to use any of them for my own personal records. Please inform me by sending an email to:

Subject: RPG maker stories
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