Designing a Better RPG – Part 3

(I mentioned in this post that it’s fun to think of ways to fill the gaps we spot in entertainment. With that in mind, what follows is one of a three-part series (a TBS first?!) about designing a better RPG – or what I currently think of as better – with each post focusing on one unique or not-seen-often-enough game feature.)

(today’s post: 500 words)

I saved the most difficult for last. And maybe that’s why we haven’t seen it yet (have we?). But I’ve thought on the idea and it can work.

So what’s the idea? For lack of something better, I’ll call it time paths.

Our 2x2 Grid

Our 2x2 Grid

Here’s my thinking. We have a 2×2 grid. Each square is self-contained. Each square contains a linear story. Time starts at unit “1” and advances through to unit”10″ when the story ends.


The top-left square is A1. It’s the story of a town’s foundation (at time 1) through to its eventual role as a key city on the map (at, say, time 7). I think that alone is more than most games attempt to accomplish – since most games feature static areas or, at best, an occasional before/after location (i.e. the village you grow up in is later burnt to the ground).

Just envision coming across a small encampment that later becomes the typically bustling city. You’d realize that this is a a living, breathing world.

But wait, there’s more!

What if the squares’ linear stories overlapped? What if, for example, the storyline of the top-right box – A2 – was about a clan of trolls who grow larger in numbers until they’re eventually so plentiful that they banded together and conquered the nearby city of A1? So instead of the city of A1 growing to great heights at time 7, they, instead, are destroyed at time 5. Our time-line for A1 is now: 1 foundation; 2-4 growth; 5 war/destruction; 6-10 wastes/overrun by trolls.

But that’s not all! There’s still more!

What if the grids not only overlapped, but you – the player – could affect these time paths?

You arrive at A1 during your adventures at time 3 and find a bustling little village. You perform a few small quests and help them grow – but ignore the rumors of nearby trolls. You leave for a long period of time. You return at time 7 and discover troll settlements amidst human ruins.

You pick the game up at some point in the future and remember how A1 fell to the trolls. You know you can’t change destiny (right?), but you decide to have fun with it. You help A1 flourish – establishing trade routes, building walls, recruiting militia, etc. At time 5, you man the walls when the trolls attack. But – you repel the trolls. The city grows to greater heights. And you discover new characters and adventures that only exist if the city survives.

Now you’re really curious how the game works and you fire it up a third time. Instead of going straight to A1 to build up, you move to the origin of the problem: A2. And that’s when you realize there are more options: attack the trolls and wipe them out; trick them/talk them into leaving the region; convince them to work with the town at A1; etc.

And that’s when you realize this is an RPG like no other. And it’s as “simple” as an array of events/scenarios matched against time/location – and coupled with some writer/designer love.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s epilogue to wrap this all up.

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