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Keeping a Narrative Fresh

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Toa Lewa
Toa Lewa's picture
Joined: 10/31/2013

I have ideas for a choose your own adventurish game. It will be cooperative, and the main thing I'm concerned about is replayability. The game is going to be kind of like Tales of the Arabian Nights where you look up paragraphs and sentences describing what is going on in the world around you. In addition, as events are triggered (card draw), NPC's and enemies will have certain areas on their cards indicating paragraphs to lookup. For example, after the game plays a turret card, players will look up it's intro text. The intro text in the quest book might say something like this, "All of a sudden, you hear metal clanking. An ominous looking turret emerges out of the floor and starts locking onto you.". After the turret shoots at you but fails to hit, the card will have a section saying where to lookup a failed shot. An example sentence may look like this, "The turret says in a menacingly low voice, 'Goodbye losers.' and you hear a clicking sound. The turret says, 'Blast! My gun jammed! I'll take care of you in just a minute.'"

As I said before, I'm concerned about replayability. I am going to try and randomize things by having a deck of events, so that should make the order of events in the quests different each time. The main thing I'm concerned about is the narrative getting stale. If the flavor text is the same each time a card pops out, I think the game will get boring from repetition. Here is my idea of how to combat this. Each narrative event lookup will have a static page number plus a variable paragraph number (a d20 or something). When a narrative is activated the player will roll a die and lookup the text in that paragraph.

Obviously, this is going to be annoying to design because I'd like to have about 10 different narratives per event and this will require a lot of writing. But, do you think this would be a good way of keeping the narrative fresh?

Joined: 03/02/2014
Well, you fundamentally are

Well, you fundamentally are going to have issues with this, as every "choose your own adventure" that includes any kind of story will have. And, frankly, the ones without a story are just a boring series of random encounters that start out being "not fresh."

You can increase the amount of branching, such that in any one successful run through the game the player is only likely to see only 1/4 of the scenario, and there are many different endings. But that means a huge amount of work for you -- you have to write up enough that is at least 4 times the amount that would be an appropriate length for a single game. And making the endings different and interesting is a huge challenge for your writing abilities.

That said, here's one idea that I came up with as I was writing the above:

You can make some of your story forks dependent on more than just the current action, in this way: At different points, based on player choices and/or random events, the result is just "Take a blue token" (or red, green, black, etc.) Then you can have story forks be based on thing like, "If you have more green tokens than red ones, go to ..., otherwise go to ..." Or "If you have any gold tokens go to ..., else continue."

This would allow you to put a section of the story in multiple places without throwing the players into a loop. If you know that they only get, say, a black token at an important, late milestone, then you could have one entire encounter that is used twice in the overall story, since it ends with, "If you have a black token, go to ..."

You wouldn't necessarily just have to use tokens, you could use different equipment, such as boots of flying to enable otherwise inaccessible areas, vorpal blade which would allow the players to survive an otherwise hopeless battle, etc.

Having these repeats and potentially different ways that common sections fit together, based on choices the player made early on could effectively increase the total amount of adventure text you have. It could make an encounter that the players have been through already seem quite different because they are reaching it with different tokens, abilities, equipment, etc.

Joined: 12/25/2012
Keeping the players' attention...

First, I really like Zag's idea of using various equipment options where each one naturally leads the players down different accessible paths.

The other option of having players pick up a colored token at a fork in the game and then using the tokens to reference what path(s) are in front of them.

But first, you need to ask yourself how much players are going to have to reference a book or some other player aid. Just from your short description, you made it sound like they are going to be jumping around a book quite frequently, even for minor/small decisions. As an avid gamer, nothing stifles game play then having to dig through a book to find a reference... if a game requires it multiple times within a single game, I normally won't play it again.

There are other alternatives to a CYOA game, though. At the start of each session, players could have multiple options of victory (or failure). And whichever path they go down, would determine the next game session. If that's not quite enough of a CYOA for you, maybe have a half-way point, where a single session allows players to make two major decisions within the game session.

Really, you just want to make sure the game is fluid and fun. If you get an idea, don't be afraid to prototype it and try it out. That's going to be the best indicator; that and getting someone ELSE to play it and give you an opinion.

Don't worry too much about the narrative being stale. Honestly, it's going to be during the prototype and design phase, as it should be. Making a finished narrative is going to be one of the last details.

Work on the core mechanics first, and as those are played and proven, expand the content and add additional details.

My mantra to board game design is prototype, playtest, revise, rinse, and repeat.

Good luck!

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