And now, I am going to be schooled again.
You see, classes started this week for me. So far I've been spending a lot of time trying to reorient myself to the schedule I'm on, which mostly consists of me trying not to stay up so late. So far sleep is losing out on the deal, but last night was pretty promising in the waking refreshed and ready to go department.
But enough about that, let's get to what's been keeping me up late as of, well, late. Viz and to wit, I am speaking of Dragon Age: Origins. It's the latest offering from Bioware (as far as I know), and while it's not the revolutionary game I'd hoped it would be, it was still pretty fun.
What's more, while playing it, I kept imagining the game I'd like to play, imagining what I'd do differently if I had designed the game. Or any game, really. This last thought is the one that drove me to see the end of it, to keep exploring and playing and trying to see the shape of the game that could have been.
You see, in doing so, I found some really nifty ideas that I could use when running my next game, that will hopefully make it a more robust experience for everyone involved.
I'll start with my biggest issue with the game; it's a problem I have with many rpgs in video game form, limited options. Now, I understand perfectly well that the resources of a programmer are limited and there are only so many things you can program in. Sure, and in a game you have the flexibility to allow players to come up with ideas you might not have thought of (which is another post in and of itself), but the ideas you plan for don't always have to be the same binary template that many games lay before you: one good option and one bad option for completing each quest.
For example: I've fought my way through an ancient temple and retrieved a sacred artifact as part of a quest. This is pretty standard but often hearty fantasy fare, the meat and potatoes if you will, of many an adventure. You can do all kinds
of things with this idea. The artifact can be holy, unholy, prove the existence of a forgotten deity, exonerate someone who has been wronged, and so on. And that's not even counting getting there, the temple can be all kinds of things as well. But then when the adventure is done, and the heroes return with the artifact, a lot of times, there's only two things to be done. Either use the artifact positively (and in doing so, generally benefitting society as a whole) or negatively (either for solely personal gain, or to the direct detriment of the people invested in the artifact). Dragon Age is no different.
But what else can you do? Well, one thing I'd like to see, and would absolutely love
to play around with, is the idea of competing factions, each with a valid claim to or plan for the artifact. Suppose I have found the resting place of the Lost Branch of EL TREE
, Mightiest of the Ancient Trees and Lord of ALL FORESTS! Pretty awesome, no? Now getting there is a perilous endeavor (or endeavour if I'm British) which only I and my trusty companions can undertake. You with me so far?
Now for the interesting part, let's say that there are a number of people interested in our party's undertakings. So how about a group of druids who want to use the branch to breathe life into a nearby wasteland? And then we'll create a group of mages who can use the branch to weave a protective spell around something important. Then we have a group of priests who can use the branch to help grow more food for the people of the land.
And that's just on the "good" side of things. Let's assume that I like to keep my options open, and have been at least a little evil-curious, so there's a shadowy order of mages that can distill the branch down to concentrated essence of EL TREE
, Mightiest of the Ancient Trees and Lord of ALL FORESTS! With this essence, they can bind a powerful demon to serve them. And let's say that there's a ritual I've found that will let me imbibe the concentrated essence, making myself even more powerful than I already am. And last but not least we'll say there's an organization who can use the branch to subjugate all living on the land connected to it, bending them to their will, and they'll let me rule in exchange for this.
Now the branch can only go to one group/person, so I've got to decide to whom to give it. Which is pretty cool already, because it means my actions have a meaningful impact on the world. We'll go beyond the personal power that the decision places in my hands, and say that it causes me, as a player, to become more invested in the quest, because now that I've decided which group to throw in with, I have a personal stake in the endeavor (unless I'm British). Beyond that, I could have members of my party who work for one of the other organizations, leading to conflict within my group, and depending on who I choose (if indeed I choose any) I could have to deal with attempts by the others to take the Lost Branch of EL TREE
, Mightiest of the Ancient Trees and Lord of ALL FORESTS! for themselves.
This also adds to the depth of a game, because it reinforces the idea that my actions in the game have consequences, and that I'm not limited to being rewarded by one group and attacked by the other. It also imposes some responsibility on myself, as I must consider what the implications of my actions are. The important thing is for every option to have both positive and negative consequences. It makes them all equally appealing.
Lastly, it adds to the flexibility of the world, which helps it seem more real. Because nothing quite disrupts the suspension of disbelief like not being able to do something I've thought of, and want to do, but can't because someone else hasn't thought of it. This goes for both video games and pen-and-paper games like D&D. I think this is why both dungeon master's guides encourage you to say "yes" to nearly every player idea and action. It helps that as DM you're able to adapt on the fly, sure, but even in video games, giving me more than just the standard really good or really horrible options, especially giving me multiple good and evil options, helps me to feel more like I'm experiencing the game, rather than just doing a slightly more active version of reading a book.
Such is the power of choice.