Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Linking Stories and Games, Part 4: A Brief Example

This is my fourth and final post in a series on linking stories to games. Readers may want to read my three previous posts to put this into context.

A few years ago, I created a hakpak for NWN1 called the Vampire Hak Pak. Included with the downloadable file was a short demo module entitled “Vampire Kobolds from Outer Space.” I deliberately made the module silly because I didn’t want to waste my better ideas on a mere demo. Nevertheless, the plot follows the basic formula that I outlined in an earlier blog post on story writing.

Act 1. A band of wights attacks everyone in the village where the PC is staying. The PC has to find out where the wights are coming from before more of them return.

Act 2. In a nearby cave, the PC discovers a large group of vampire kobolds from outer space led by Count Alucard, another vampire kobold. The kobolds plan to turn all the villagers into undead creatures and have been creating wights for that purpose. While trying to chase down Count Alucard, the PC steps on a magical trap that divests him and his cleric henchman Virginia of all their items. Without armor and weapons, the PC and Virginia will surely fall to the touch of the vampires.

Act 3. Virginia calls upon her deity, who grants them a powerful weapon that is especially lethal to vampires. With it, the PC can dispatch the remaining vampire kobolds and their leader with ease.


Because this was a demo module, I did not provide multiple endings for this story. As an exercise, we can do this now. Here are the ones I came up with:

  1. The PC kills all the vampire kobolds, thereby making life at the village safe once more.

  2. The PC willingly allows Count Alucard to turn him into a vampire and leads a fresh pack of wights to transform the villagers into undead.

  3. The PC willingly allows Count Alucard to turn him into a vampire and, with the help of Virginia, dispatches Alucard and his minions, thereby paving the way to becoming the vampire lord of the village.

Considering the small scope of the story, three alternative endings should more than suffice for the module. In addition to the above, I thought of a fourth ending in which the PC flees the village, leaving it open to Count Alucard’s depredations. I eventually rejected this idea because having the PC give up without a fight is ultimately unsatisfying. If I’m going to make a few alternative endings, I might as well stick with the ones that are interesting.

Having come up with the above endings, I have to check which portions of the plot need revising to accommodate them. The first ending I listed above already goes with my original plot, so no changes are needed there.

The second ending suffers from a lack of motive, however. Why would the PC hunt down whoever was creating the wights, only to join forces with the enemy? I need to provide the PC a suitable motive. Perhaps the villagers are xenophobic and immediately treated the PC with suspicion and contempt upon the latter’s arrival. Perhaps the mayor and his bodyguards extorted a significant amount of gold pieces from the PC to allow this complete stranger to roam around freely instead of rotting in jail. Despite this ill treatment, a good-hearted PC may still save the villagers from the undead, but an evil PC will now have the motivation to give the villagers their comeuppance.

On the other hand, why would Count Alucard agree to this plan instead of turning the PC into a more dispensable wight? This is where the PC’s skills may come in. The PC can probably make a Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate check to convince Alucard that his abilities would go to waste if he were transformed into a wight. As a vampire of no mean skill, however, he can make himself exceedingly useful to Alucard.

This module is too short for me to show the consequences of the PC’s evil deeds. Had the module spanned several quests, I would have made the PC’s dialog sound more paranoid over time. I would also have added different kinds of vampire hunters to vex the PC.

The third ending has a similar problem to that of the second one. It’s easy for a power-hungry PC to find the motive to become a vampire lord, especially if the villagers haven’t been kind to him. The PC will need the aid of his henchman Virginia to pull this off because once he becomes a vampire, he will never raise a hand against the one who turned him. But why would the undead-hunting cleric Virginia agree to the PC’s plan?

Convincing Virginia to go along with the PC won’t be easy. Nevertheless, if Virginia is blinded against her better judgment by her love for the PC, she may be compelled to do whatever the PC wants. This means that opportunities for romance are in order.

As may be seen, coming up with alternative endings requires that some groundwork be laid out to accommodate them. If too much work is needed for a particular ending, a developer may choose to scrap it. In the above example, I’m thinking that the third ending and the requisite romance seem like too much work to handle. If I were to accommodate alternative endings in my demo module, I’d probably implement only the first two.

This concludes my series on linking stories with games. I hope these musings have been helpful to the game designers among us. As always, the things I write are just suggestions that readers are free to apply or ignore. I make no claim to being an expert, but I do have a few ideas that may be helpful to others.

Happy modding, everyone.

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