Bucky's Big Idea
Player's Handbook

Reluctant Hero: Chapters

I believe I've solved my time problem. Here's my solution:

  • At the start of the game, players choose the (average) number of chapters that their game will be composed of, e.g. 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 or 30 chapters.
  • Most of the quest content is procedural, emerging from a card-type system. Originally, this would be continuous, but in new the chapter system idea it is discontinuous. At the start of each chapter the game will 'draw' some cards. Some of these won't affect the player (but will still be in the world to find), others will. For instance, if they run the merchant's guild and a brigand event is drawn and assigned to a road the player trades along they will get word that brigands are attacking their trade route.
  • The player must resolve all cards which affect them directly before the end of the chapter. They can do this by direct intervention - they may fight the brigands, bribe them to move, or recruit them to a thieves guild if they own one - or indirectly by (for instance) hiring a hero to fix it for them.
  • Once all relevant quests are completed, then an 'End Chapter' option is added to all the player's buildings and locations. Using this triggers the end of the chapter, and a time advance. (The player doesn't have to use the End of Chapter option, but no new events are drawn until they do).
  • Time advances by a random number between, say, 1 and 1+{[(age range/number of chapters)-1]/2} years, where age range is (maximum age - starting age). In other words, over the length of the game, the time advances for the chapters will average out to the player characters final age.
  • The time advance is depicted by a fade to black followed by the text overlay 'x years later...', according to how much the next time advance represents. (The fewer the chapters, the bigger the time advances).
  • The player's skill paths are credited for the time advance as a result of the nature of the location they choose to trigger the chapter end, and also as a result of their own abilities.
  • I imagine a typical game will be 20 chapters, but the player can make a short game in 5 chapters. First time through, each chapter will take 1-3 hours (or more) but in replay, an hour a chapter will be fine. So at 20 chapters we have 40 hours for your first time through, and replay possible in 5 hours or less.

Many thanks for everyone who contributed to the discussion on this! Getting an external perspective really helped move me towards to this solution. More on this game soon, I'm sure.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Interesting. What exactly is the purpose of the separate chapters? How does this fit into the overarching plot I assume you still have?

The notion of a chapter is an abstraction to explain the time advances to the player, nothing more.

Think of it this way: at each chapter end, a file is saved automatically. You are therefore free to go back to any prior point in the character's life and play from there.

The chapter numbers show the sequence of events, but the player's actions determine the content of each chapter. Hope that makes sense! (It will all be clearer when you're playing the game - we're doing top down design here, which is not always prone to clarity of detail!)

There is not an overarching plot, per se, but there are elements to the life the game is built around that can play out in a number of different ways, in particular the issue of the father's unfinished quest, the issue of the player's arranged marriage (which they can run from, if they wish), and the relationship with their sister. Oh, and a few more things I don't want to mention here, of course. :)

I like this treatment of narrative in a purely temporal sense, rather than as a structural system for plot generation. I also like the aspect of choice involved. Would it be possible for a power player to start with a few five chapter games and then play a thirty chapter one in less overall time than someone starting with a fuller game?

Brilliant, Chris, simply brilliant. This solution resolves, in one fell swoop, the reservations that have been poking about in the back of my brain. I can see me spending an inordinate amount of time exploring the possibilities of such a system.

It introduces a new concern for me, though. *kniw* Those 'cards' you reference... is the cards metaphor going to be a part of the narration of the game? Meaning, will the player be aware that the cards are being dealt? Or are you merely using that metaphor to describe a system level event?

Oh, and when are you going to move to a Wordpress blog on your own site? I'd like to be able to grab a RSS feed of your comments!

This mechanic sounds much more focused than the "spent time" method. More realistic too (who is going to spend a whole year doing one thing?). I like the way that narrative can be generated, and controlled, by assigning critical card, and optional cards, Having subsequent chapters be subordinate to the completed cards. This leads to a variety of plots being generated, and replays feeling more open to exploration.

If I may offer a suggestion: restrict the passage of time a little more to create the feel of focused narrative (even if it is generative). For example, while the number of years can vary by a small amount, break the life-span into fixed periods defined by the events within. Each period can be comprised of a significant plot-like, sub-plot events, and additional tasks. The significant event then assists in determining the span of time to elapse before the next major event (which should be somewhat connected).

Perhaps you get dealt an event where you take the merchant's guild over. In doing so you cause the humiliation of a contemporary (because of the specific actions of the player - other solutions could have been achieved). This causes a 4-7 year jump in time at the end of the chapter, regardless of the number of chapters, because the plot item has a secondary component wherein your new enemy tries to destroy your reputation, and you must defend yourself. Your choices can lead to further plot developments.

You can easily turn the life of the player, no matter how it is lived specifically, into an interesting an meaningful series of connected events, i.e. a life well lived.

Sounds like something I could be happy with it. Looking forward to beta.

Could replay take the from of reincarnation?

Thanks for the lively comments! A few responses....

Patrick: I think what you suggest (play a couple of short games, then a long game) is perfectly possible. But I doubt that most players will play this way. My bet is, most will play a long game first in which they will use combat, but also learn non-combat techniques and mix and match to their benefit. Then, and only then, will they think about trying to play without fighting. But the really interesting thing with this for me is that there is the scope for every player to approach the game in a very different manner. I have always liked that property in the games I make. :)

Corvus: I meant 'card' to be understood as a game design device, not a literal card. So this is a system description; to the player, everything will be presented through narrative tools. And I'm afraid I've come to like it here at Typepad. The idea of trying to export this monster elsewhere terrifies me! :)

Duncan: you're thinking ahead of me here, as I'm no way ready to build the "deck" for events yet, but I appreciate the scouting mission! :) Because our 'deck' is for a videogame not a boardgame, we have the luxury to add consequential cards to the deck - that is, the outcome of one 'card' can lead to new cards coming into play. I plan to use this to create dynamic narrative in a very cost efficient manner. They won't be the most complex narratives around, but then you make a choice between a strong narrative and a dynamic narrative to some degree, and this clearly leans to the latter. :)

Suyi: at the moment, I plan to allow the player to store items in a special chest which will be their 'inheritence'. When the player replays the game, they gain access to this 'inheritence' as their new starting equipment in the next game.

It's possible I need to allow more rewards for replay; I would consider a bonus to time awarded that increases each time you replay if I knew the players would enjoy it! :)

I think it'd be possible to take advantage of a few overlapping mechanics related to key item trade and guild mastery and do a power game in a short time, speed run it I mean. The player may even be able to leverage these emergent exploits against the main quest and shortcut the whole thing. If you see that then you've done well.

You should consider a reincarnation mechanic where different games (within the game itself) can have an effect on each other, New Game Plus style.

I love the idea as a whole for the game but the one thing that I found I truly disliked with the game Fable was the aging of my character. The game play didn't seem to lend itself to the amount of aging reflected in the characters appearance nor did I feel that the aging added anything to the story line of the game. And lets face it I'm 50 years old and have led a rather active life but I'm absolutely NOT in good enough shape to be an adventurer lol A few motorcycle and auto accidents and the damage caused to my younger self has caught up with me at this point with very painful reminders of the accidents I had. Ten years in the military and keeping in good shape after still does not an aged adventurer allow at 50 to 70 years of age. In midevil times the average adventurer was dead before their late 40's and usually started in their early teens (10-12 as a page and by 15 or 16 an adventurer) The event's in HK would seem to me to cover a year or so of Alita's life and that was a lot of action for a year ;) regaurdless I see the tract you're taking with this but from a hack and slash adventuring view some serious consideration to the maximum age of the character and the aging process is needed to make it believable.

the one thing that I found I truly disliked with the game Fable was the aging of my character. The game play didn't seem to lend itself to the amount of aging reflected in the characters appearance nor did I feel that the aging added anything to the story line of the game.

Man, one of these days I'll bump the first post ever made in this blog with nothing to add. And then I'll be the king of necromancers!

Also, I think the biggest problem with Fable was that it was overall a pretty bad game :D

That being said, I do agree. Aging is one of the worst, most tragic aspects of life. Hardly a day goes by that I don't curse the fact that I'm yet closer to being an old man. If I'm playing a game, I certainly would rather it depicted a more idealized version of life.

Daily Jigsaw: I think it's clear that in Fable and Fable II the aging schtick isn't really used. The story controls the flow of time, not the player, so the aging adds very little. In Reluctant Hero, the player would have been in control of the time, which should have lead to a very different kind of experience.

Sirc: this is a valid objection. People play videogames often (but not always) to indulge in power fantasies, and ageing potentially conflicts with this fantasy. But I still think a cRPG with an interesting ageing mechanic could be a very engaging and rewarding experience.

This one really is brought back from the dead! Wow, this project isn't even a going concern. But that said, I still have a few tricks up my sleeve. :)

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)