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The Lunch Break Blog

For those of us who would rather be leveling right now.

Author: cmagoun

Narrative Questing (or Why are my 100 rabid badgers wearing waterproof tights?)

Posted by cmagoun Monday July 2 2007 at 1:48PM
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I had thought to title this post something clever like "100 Rabid Badgers", or for you CoH lovers, "Why Aren't My Tights Waterproof?"  and then after hooking you with my awesome title, I would start in on some even MORE clever spoof on your standard mmo questing text and then after that, I would start in on a really cool, innovative idea for spicing up mmo quests.


And then the caffeine wore off... and I realized that I had rewritten the clever bits 6 times and they still sounded decidedly UNclever.


In any case, we all know by now that questing is an integral part of most mmos. It gives players short/mid-term goals and provides level-up activities other than repetitive grinding. Personally, I enjoy questing and try to avoid games without a good questing mechanism.


The problem is that questing itself is often repetitive and grindy. You have variations on "Kill 100 Rabid Badgers", "Bring Useless Widget to Stationary and Lifeless NPC", "Kill an Inane Amount of Wildlife Creatures Until You Collect 10 Sinewy Tendons" and so on. This is better than grinding, but let's face it, it isn't that much better.


I have been thinking for some time now about how game designers might bring together static, scripted and random elements together to make crpg (and mmo) quests more story-like. Tell me what you think about this:


So, let's say we are talking to the quest-giving NPC and he asks us to travel into the woods, locate a goblin lair, kill the leader and retrieve his ring. I am pretty sure we all know how this type of quest works in most games. In the Narrative System, the code that creates this quest also breaks it up into a number of "decision points", each representing a possible complication, or twist in the standard formula.


So, when we accept the quest, the engine rolls a die to determine what happens to us while we are traveling to the lair (right now, I am assuming we are playing a game with a lot of instanced dungeons). Most likely, nothing interesting happens. However, some of the results might cause us difficulty on the way:

  1. The goblins know we are coming and set up a large number of nasty traps near the entrance to their lair. The engine spawns a set of trap panels that damage those who walk over them. Certain skills and powers will allow us to see and disarm the traps, or mitigate their effects. Worse still, the goblins inside the dungeon instance will be ready for us and have a greatly increased aggro radius.
  2. Another group wants the goblin's ring and has sent a group of thugs to get it. This group will come upon the players as they approach the entrance to the dungeon. This group could be random, or it could come from one of the player's "history lists" (we'll talk about that a bit later).
  3. The NPC was mistaken as to the whereabouts of the lair. The players will have to search for the lair, or use certain skills/powers (some type of tracking or divination) to find it.
  4. The goblins are not alerted to our presence, but are wary and have posted a watch. A large group of goblin spawns are outside the lair. If we can manage to get past them without being engaged (or without being engaged for a certain length of time), then we have entered the lair stealthily and get some kind of surprise bonus. If we are engaged, the goblins inside will be alerted and have an increased aggro radius.

Once we are inside, we clear our way to the leader. Again, the system rolls a die. Many of the results do nothing to the leader encounter, but some results change it:

  1. The leader is protected by a powerful ogre minion in addition to his normal guard.
  2. The leader's ring makes him immune to certain type of attacks/powers. His immunities would be based on powers the group member have. Once they enter combat, the players would have to quickly assess the situation (messages about his immunities would pop up) and change tactics to survive the encounter.
  3. Once combat is engaged, the leader begs the players for his life (ending the combat and making the goblin host temporarily immune) because:
    1. He wants to offer the players double what they are being paid by the quest NPC to let him live. Players would get bonus cash and experience, but suffer faction changes with the NPCs in question. Of course, they can choose to complete their original contract, in which case the battle starts again.
    2. He no longer has the ring. He can tell the players where to find it if they spare him. The ring has been taken by another NPC group (chosen out of someone's "history") and players will have to get to another instanced dungeon and take out this second group to obtain their prize.
  4. The dungeon is pretty quiet as we motor through, but as we enter the final room, there is a huge battle between the goblins and another NPC faction. Players have to navigate through the mess, fighting continuously (though the enemies would likely be weakened from their ongoing battle), to get to the leader and slay him.

Once we return to the quest NPC, he could give us the reward and send us on our way, or give us another follow-up quest based on the complications of the first quest. So, if an NPC group stole the ring, the players could be sent to exact retribution for the quest NPC. If the goblin leader was protected by an ogre, the group could be sent to hire ogre mercenaries for the quest NPC... and so on.


As for the mysterious "History Lists" mentioned above, I think it would be a neat idea to keep tabs on the various NPCs and factions the players come across on their travels. When it comes time to choose a random enemy for an ambush, this list is consulted. So, when the player takes a quest against the Dark Brotherhood, the game will make it likely that the Brotherhood will show up to harass the player in future quests and events.


The goal is to break up the monotony of repeated questing by throwing these twists in and making each quest more like a mini-story. Instead of "go, kill, rinse, repeat", you get more of "We traveled to the goblin lair, only to find the Dark Brotherhood had gotten there before us. We followed the sounds of battle to the Goblin Chief's lair, only to find a massive battle raging..."


In any case, I have to get back to work. Leave a comment and tell me what you think... thanks.