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  • How To Write a Quest-Based RPG

    [08.31.21]
    - Giannis Georgiou

  • Writing

    To write, I used Arcweave, my tool of choice when it comes to designing interactive stories. I can quickly set up key plot points with broad strokes and then dive deeper and write scenes, without losing the bigger picture.

    When I started adding my first elements and connections, I still had no content.

    Structure first

    The first diagram I did was of a very general plot flow. I arbitrarily declared that the plot would have 5 or 6 main steps and named them "MQ1," "MQ2," etc-"MQ" standing in for "Main Quest."

    Of course this didn't mean much, but it was a much better way to start, than looking at an empty page.

    Then, also completely arbitrarily, I added some side quests here and there, naming them "SQ1," "SQ2," etc. I still had no idea what they would be. I only wanted to have an overview of the size and the form.

    I also knew I wanted a couple of the side quests to be related-for example SQ5 to be available only if you have completed SQ2. (Although this didn't end up being a case.)

    Screenshot from the project environment on Arcweave, showing the game's general structure as a diagram.
    The first plot flow diagram looked like this. This is obviously not a functional flow chart-it doesn't have two-way connections (so you can't return from a side quest), let alone specific content-but it was more inspiring than staring at a blank board.

    Placeholders are magical things. While waiting for the idea to join you, you keep a seat for it. It felt like laying down a row of empty plates, to be filled with a variety of delicacies. I just didn't know what the food would be, yet.

    Writing the quests

    I liked the idea of starting the plot in a city. I had just recently finished Sorcery!2 with its unforgettable city of Kharé-and Moonrunner took place in a city, as well. Both very well-written and inspiring stories.

    Of course, I knew I wasn't going to expand the story to a full game, neither did I want the whole plot to stay in a city. Still, it felt cool to start in a busy place, before going through the wilderness of Rocky Valley.

    Screenshot from the project's environment on Arcweave showing the diagram of one of the side quests.
    The diagram of the pickpocket sequence. Arcweave allows breaking down the plot in multiple diagrams-called boards. This means each scene or side quest can have its own board, without cluttering the main story's flowchart.

    The first side quest I wrote was the pickpocket sequence. Once I finished writing it, I felt I needed a plan.

    I took one step away from the diagram, opened a plain text file, and forced myself to fill in some gaps:

    MARKET OF LAM'IA (MQ1)
    ----------------------
    MAIN GOAL:
    Get to the Chaotic Neutral Tavern.
    OPTIONAL STUFF:
    * help a merchant carry wheat. REWARD: str + gold.
    * someone picks your pocket. Do you pursue?
    CHAOTIC NEUTRAL TAVERN (MQ2)
    ----------------------------
    MAIN GOAL:
    Talk to the person called The Shadow.
    OPTIONAL STUFF:
    * beat local drinking champion in contest. REWARD: money.
    * take part in a brawl. REWARD: ???
    * do nothing and quietly drink your ale.
    ...

    What I needed to keep in mind is that every scene had to have a clear objective for the player. Moreover, all those scene objectives had to be parts of the overall goal of finding and catching the villain.

    To stick with this, I tricked my intellect into filling in this boring report-there is nothing fancy about a plain text file and that's where its power lies. The report had the strict format of "LOCATION/MAIN GOAL/OPTIONAL STUFF" and left no room for shying away from the necessary points I wanted to nail down:

    1. find one goal per MQ step that advances the main plot.
    2. break down the MQ in a variety of locations.
    3. pin down the SQs.

    After delivering myself this report, I could go back to having fun with Arcweave diagrams and start writing the game scene by scene.

    Breaking it down to multiple boards

    One of the things I love about Arcweave is the option to break the story down in multiple boards. You can then access those from the list on the sidebar, as in the classic folder structure found in various apps.

    Screenshot from Arcweave's UI: the sidebar shows the list of the project's boards.
    Keeping each side quest on its own board, I could easily jump back and forth during the writing process.

    This helps expand the whole story in as many chapters as you like, while keeping its parts easy to read and access.

    As each side quest expanded in multiple elements, I moved it to its own board and used jumpers to access it from the Main.

    Screenshot from Arcweave demonstrating the use of jumpers, which are basically aliases for the project's nodes (or elements, as they are called).
    To pass the story flow from one board to another, Arcweave uses jumpers. In this screenshot from the project, two jumpers send the flow to two elements on the "dialogue Druid" board.

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