Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Game Mastering Recap

So I've been toying around a lot in City of Villains (not Heroes, same universe though) with the new Mission Architect. For those of you that haven't heard, it's basically the coolest thing that a game designer has ever added to a game since the introduction of a gui interface. I've been spending a lot of time messing with it, which means, yeah, I haven't updated very much, lol.

This is not just a normal patch we're talking about, here. This update allows players to create their own user-created missions and stories and upload them directly to the CoX game servers. Other people can search for and play your content, and give feedback and ratings. You're even rewarded a little if people like your stories.

This content is also full-blown content. You enter into a number of instanced areas, each with customized spawns, dialogue, objectives, and everything else.

As we all might imagine, there is a ton of bad content, some content that exploits the system to get better experience and loot, and a small number of actually interesting and fun stories to play. That's just the nature of the beast, really. Most people have no idea what to write and Mary Sue the hell out of most of their stories.

So, in true Redefining Nerds fashion, I've decided to do a slight recap on some of the things essential to good story writing and moreover good game mastering.

Many ages ago I wrote an article about pacing. Pacing is really important. You should, in general, slowly curve up your difficulty. You should also not do a large string of 'cool' things with no breaks or buildup. Use smaller events to build tension for larger ones, and use larger events as "oh crap!" climaxes. Don't try to include super climax battles at every turn. At the same time, pace your stories so that people don't get bored with your plot (or encounters).

The characters you create should be memorable. Try to give them a little flavor, and a little feeling. You should also give them easily identifiable character traits, so that they stand out. Don't dump readers/players in the middle of your story - introduce the characters you've spent your time making slowly, so that people can learn to like them and understand them. The characters should have real feelings and motivations, and real flaws and failings. They should be human, because we remember those people better. Don't make characters that are larger than life and fantastic. Make them smaller and more readable. (If you're making them ridiculous for humor or shock value, by all means, go for it.)

As I mentioned earlier, you can't dump people in the middle of a story. Lead them into it, have them discover things, and slowly work your way towards the big moments. When you tell a story, it's a learning process. You can't throw big events with no context at people because they get confused or bored. Stick to small things to tell bigger things. Little details and clues along the path get people running like rabbits after them, wanting to know more. Slowly guide them to bigger and bigger carrots, give them a few teases here and there and you'll have some loyal readers.

Plot twists are essential to good writing. Never have a story go perfectly according to plan. Always make something go wrong and more importantly, make it go wrong in a way that makes the reader/listener/player understand what might be done to change it. Sometimes a windfall should occur too, to give the player some unexpected boons. Never make the story be too predictable. Luke got his hand cut off in Episode 5 for a reason - because having the good guys win all the time is too easy and predictable.

With regards to game design specifically, don't make enemies that are overly challenging. Playtest your stuff thoroughly and guess and check at how much damage the enemies and players might deal. This is more difficult in MA but in pen and paper it's really easy if you know your players well. Slowly scale up the challenges, but don't make things too hard that people can't finish your story. If your team spends too much time on a boss fight or worse yet, wipes, you've failed to do your job as a writer. Putting in a 'double elite boss' spawn in MA is really bad. Don't do it. If you absolutely have to make super hard fights in your story, spread them out so that they're beatable. Don't make enemies that absolutely force the players to fight a particular way - unless you're very good at establishing precedents about how the players should think in a fight.

That pretty much means don't do it except in a pnp game, by the way.

Anyway, that's all for now. Good luck, and happy writing!

(Also, for any non-CoX players reading this, my global handle is predictably @auspice if you should like to contact me)


  1. Good point on the keep to the small stuff. Normally when I have a story stuck in my head that I want to write down I always get stuck as to what to do for the filler arc. I do notice that stories that only have climatic points tend to be over too quickly, or drag out for too long, so I'll keep this in mind for when I get the inspiration to write.

  2. Thanks.

    In general, I don't like 'filler' stories. I like to keep things moving in a series of logical events that build to an eventual climax, and when that climax happens that arc ends. I try to add details to keep people thinking about what is going on and to give clues as to what they might expect, too.