Consider the generic fantasy RPG story of a world in peril and a chosen hero who rises up to fight back the darkness. The hero goes out on his adventure and teams up with other colorful characters who are equally motivated to save the world. Everyone works toward a common goal, completes that goal and then lives happily ever after.
This story is useful and prevalent in video games because it gives the player a central character to identify with and offers up a noble goal which acts as a lightning rod for any other adventurer who might happen along.
You want to save the world, right? Who doesn’t want to save the world?
Tabletop RPGs can often differ from this trope, however, due to the simple fact that there is not one central character controlled by a single player. There are a number of players each controlling their own autonomous character. Often it is the game master’s job to take all these disparate characters and motivations and craft a series of adventures or a campaign that will align all those motivations toward a common goal.
Saving the world is always a good option, because, seriously, who wouldn’t want to save the world? But players’ own machinations can sometimes throw wrenches into the game master’s plans – with interesting results. Maybe a thief joined up with the party to find as much treasure as possible, but now they’re spending too much time finding puppies for orphanages, so he leaves the group. Or maybe two characters disagree on who should have a magical sword that was found – a fight ensues and somebody ends up dead.
Anything can happen in a tabletop RPG when you’re dealing with a group of players who each have their own individual egos. And I wanted to capture a bit of that spirit in transferring the tabletop RPG to a board game – the idea that every character has their own motivations, which forms their opinions on which path to take in the ever-branching story.
And the idea of the ever-branching story is key here. This isn’t a linear tale of saving the world. It’s a story of a group of adventurers banding together out of necessity, all working towards their own individual goals. That might involve slaying a necromancer or helping a dragon recover its stolen eggs. The players decide how the story plays out, and when their character fulfills their individual mission, well, that character is gone and it’s time to roll up someone new (not that there’s actually any rolling of dice involved…).
Of course, there are some limitations. This is a board game after all, designed to appeal to a wide audience. Many players don’t want the freedom to dream up their character’s quirks and motivations, and the limitations of the game wouldn’t allow for that freedom, anyway. If someone wants to gather a horde of kittens for some nefarious purpose, well, there’s unfortunately no way for that to be accomplished within the confines of the game.
So how it works exactly is that whenever a new character is created, they are dealt a random career goal. These are secret, so I don’t want to reveal too much, but they could be something as simple as save up some large amount of money, or kill a certain amount of a specific type of enemy or find a specific item in a specific dungeon.
And that career goal is the character’s sole purpose for travelling to this part of the world. It is the only thing they want to do, but they can’t go out exploring dungeons on their own, so tenuous alliances must be formed with other players. Maybe not every mission you go out on will help you with your goal, but hopefully some progress is being made.
Players are also allowed to quit playing a character they feel is not making any progress toward their goal. This is akin to someone getting disgruntled and leaving the party.
Once a goal has been completed, though, that character will most certainly leave the party, having fulfilled his life-long mission. And completing career goals is one of the main ways cool new stuff gets unlocked in the game. Typically they unlock new character classes, so when they player starts up a new character to join the party, they can try a new class that hasn’t been played before (and, of course, receive a new career goal in the process).
That new character probably won’t be as powerful as the older members of the party, though. I’m developing a sort of town experience system at the moment, so that as the players go out adventuring in the wilderness, the town also improves itself and “levels up,” though at a much slower rate than the players. As the town improves, it will attract higher level adventurers looking for glory, and the shops will offer better and more diverse selections of items.
So a new character will come in at the level of the town, which will be lower than their previous character’s level. This allows for two tiers of game growth, where a player can see fast progression with an individual character to keep them interested and excited, but also a slower, permanent progression that will be fulfilling over the entire period of time a player is exploring the game.
And that’s really what persistent legacy games should be about – unlocking cool new stuff to try out and explore with a pace that keeps players constantly interested. So as players play, they see their own character grow in power and get ever closer to completing their career goal, they are constantly unlocking new dungeons to explore, new items to try out and new enemies to fight, they are progressing through a compelling story that they have a hand in creating, and they’re improving the central town, which gives them access to more powerful items and new characters to play.
I don’t know about you, but I get pretty excited thinking about all the cool stuff going on here. There’s a lot to explore, and I think players are going to have a lot of fun exploring it.
I’m almost done with this series of posts, but I do want to talk about one more thing next week. I want to talk a little bit more about the thematic elements of the world that the game inhabits. I’ve been working a lot on world-building recently, and for those people who enjoy exploring the thematic spaces of board games, I think there’s still a lot more to be excited about.