Article - Follow the Yellow Brick Road

AuthorTopic: Article - Follow the Yellow Brick Road
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I have played many Blades scenarios, and far too many in my opinion- even solid ones- have given me difficulties in direction. Just where was I supposed to go for the dungeon again? Who did the scenario's intro text tell me to report to? What was the password I needed? Where is the crucial city? The list goes on. As a designer, you do NOT want your players to ask these questions, even if it might technically be their fault. If your scenario has a plot, you will want your players to know what it is and which physical location(s) it's taking them to at all times. There are a few ways to alleviate this sort of confusion.

The first way is the most obvious, having sufficient details of the quest given beforehand! If the mage says "Head East" (a good song, BTW), you won't know to visit Heidenburg by the river Fluss in the small copse on its southern shore. Also, your party will not know to visit the hidden wizard's hovel in the southeastern corner of town, hidden by an illusiory tree. If your plot will allow your player to know where to go, then TELL them where to go as precisely as you can manage. If you're unsure as to whether or not you should describe more or less where the party should go, describe it more. Better to have the party know where they are headed overly well than to have them be lost.

The second way is having some event helping the party along the way, such as a group of soldiers that tell the party to visit Heidenburg to the east or having the recluse wizard greet the party in town. It's an art to do this skillfully- would the party really be perceptive enough to notice that a tree isn't real? Perhaps, perhaps not. Using Nature Lore might help in some instances, ie. "You see tracks leading in this direction...". Obviously, cataclysmic events will always draw the party's attention- if a meteor crashes into Heidenburg while the party is outside, it's expected that they will visit the city in turn. (I've never seen this done, but don't have something cataclysmic happen in the place that the party ISN'T supposed to go either.)

The third way is the Quest List. The quest list is, in Avernum, a far cry from perfect. The lack of description you can give to any one quest item will prevent you from giving the most direct directions possible. Saying both where the party has to go AND what they have to do may just be too much for the description field. A possible alternative might be having a quest of the same name with (Cont.) appended to the end in order to give a more detailed description to the end.

The fourth way, connected to most of the others listed, is an intuitive outdoors. Road signs will lead the party in the right direction, as will descriptions of the terrain and which cities are in which directions. ("You see to the north, on the south shore of the lake by the copse, a bustling community...") Saying that you see a city doesn't have the draw of the other three means, but is virtually necessary in order to guide the party along. The other three means should be what drag the party from town to town, but it never hurts to have a clear path from Heidenburg to Schwenz for the party to follow.

Perhaps I'm missing a few means by which the party can know where to go. In fact, I'm sure that I am. These, however, seem like the most effective ways to me. The main point of this article is to prevent your scenarios from not being cohesive enough that the party can't make jumps between point A and point B on their own when required. Getting from Heidenburg to Schwenz is necessary, don't lose the party on the way.

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Posts: 6936 | Registered: Tuesday, September 18 2001 07:00
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What about giving the party a "Quest Tome", an item they can activate at any time and that tells them about the current quest states in some detail?

The Mad Scientist
Posts: 23 | Registered: Tuesday, October 1 2002 07:00
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I think it might be a good idea to change the focus of the article from knowing where to go next to knowing how to reach the next story beat. In Spears, I might know to go to a certain town... but the story doesn't advance until I find a secret passage in the lower level. That can be a serious pain. Your article seems to largely concern finding your way outdoors - an issue for AC3 or AtG, sure, but there's a lot more to direction than that.

But basically we're saying the same thing - each event should naturally lead the party to the next. If there's a period where the party is left wandering, that wandering should naturally lead to the next event. And so on.

Yeah, I'm being pedantic.

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Posts: 1423 | Registered: Sunday, October 7 2001 07:00
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Especially after the party is in the destination town, the best way to lead them to the next part of the story is with dialogue. Allowing the adventurers to ask people "say, I'm looking for a secret staircase, have you seen anything like that?" and making sure a few people know the answer is a good way to let the party find its own way down.

(It doesn't have to be just in a town, though. Letting the party ask people "hey, I'm supposed to find a remote fishing village, am I close?" works for outdoor navigation too. After all, this is what we do in real life when we get lost: we ask for directions.)
Posts: 33 | Registered: Thursday, October 30 2003 08:00
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No you aren't pedantic, don't hurt yourself. ;)
I agree that how guide the steps of the player throughout an area is a part of an article about how to manage "what to do next".

But I'd say that I whish that this article don't forget to also cover how not be too direct about "what to do next".

About that point and "Yellow Brick Road" I'd like to add that:
* There are some very good small puzzles arround having not fully clear path explained to the player.
* Managing well a not fully clear path could be a great way to make a player explore an area. It could become the "Yellow Brick Area delimitation".

Also about to help the player, for me, a map (just a graphic picture as in VoDT) is a great helper, particularely when this is mixed to an exploration puzzle or/and to an area exploration.

Perhaps a full sub article could be written only about the usage of that sort of maps.

[ Monday, April 26, 2004 16:06: Message edited by: Vent ]
Posts: 175 | Registered: Friday, April 2 2004 08:00