Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 13, 2013
Did I mention that my design document for Frayed Knights outlining guidelines and principles for designing adventures got kinda big? No? Well, it did. . This is a multi-part series describing my level-design guidelines, taken from the design document for Frayed Knights 2: The Khan of Wrath. I drew upon my experience as a gamer, a dice-and-paper GM, and from my experience making Frayed Knights 1: The Skull of S’makh-Daon and put some of these guidelines and thoughts on (virtual) paper, and here is the result. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, and part 4 here. We’re getting to the end of the “general” principles, with probably one more post about ‘em, and then we’ll move on to some of the more specific, technical principles.
Warning – there are a few spoilers here from the first game, so if you still haven’t finished it and wish to remain completely unsullied, you should quit now.
#11 – Avoid excessive backtracking
Avoid making the player go back-and-forth over previously explored territory (or any other kind of busy-work). One way to avoid this is to make the challenge or goal clear before discovering the tool(s) needed to solve it. For example, there’s the ring-like artifact in FK1’s lizardman lair that the party can discuss in detail, realizing they need three stones to activate it (while they should have only encountered one of the stones by this point under normal play progression – and there are more than three available). In the Temple of Anarchy, the party can see the inner sanctum across the chasm, and the hanging bridge to cross the chasm, before they learn of the mechanisms necessary to lower the bridge.
One of the places where I kinda screwed up on this was in the basement of the Tower of Almost Certain Death. There’s a point where the “best” (?) solution for an obstacle requires a trip back to town and following a quest sequence. Fortunately, once you are back in town, the entire quest sequence is self-contained. But it’s a bit of a hike to be forced to make. I love the quest, and I wanted to make it semi-mandatory and not just a side-quest, but encouraging the player to backtrack from down in a dungeon was not the greatest move on my part.
#12 – In-Game Suggestions for Course of Action
Frayed Knights doesn’t lead the player around by the nose to their next course of action. But it does prompt the player. A lot, if necessary. Between journal entries, NPC dialog, in-party dialog, visual cues, and so forth, the player shouldn’t ever be at a loss for what to do next. In this case, a little redundancy is fine. If the game can detect that the party has gone too far without picking up the magic key, it’s okay to trigger a conversation where Dirk asks, “Uh, okay, what are we supposed to be doing here again?”
#13 – Meaningful and Moral Decisions
In any map of medium or larger size (although it’s okay in a smaller map!), there should be at least one “interesting” decision – certainly meaningful, hopefully a moral or ethical quandary, and definitely non-trivial. It’s best if it is something that could come back and haunt the player later (in the dungeon, or in the game). These should not be “lawful stupid” versus “psychotic evil” decisions (and may have options that try to choose a middle-road or alternative). Some of the more interesting ones (like whether or not to rescue the potentially dangerous prisoners or kill a surrendering enemy in FK1) may be a choice between rational practicality and idealism.
The game should avoid passing judgement. In fact, as easy way to do this is to make what would seem like a no-brainer pretty complicated. Telegraph potential consequences. And reward whatever decision the player makes with at least one drama star point.
And as far as consequences – yes, there should be consequences to these decisions. If the are telegraphed at the time the choice is made, then they do not have to be immediate. Since this is Frayed Knights, it’s a good idea to play up all the consequences (where possible) for comedic value. Sometimes the very best consequence is simply to have people refer to it later in the game – maybe much later. Word gets around, and dialogs will include references to which choice the player made (if that makes logical sense). This means lots of dialog variations (and I mean *LOTS*, speaking from experience), but I feel it makes for a satisfying gaming experience. Consequences don’t have to be earth-shaking to be meaningful – sometimes small and personal is better.
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