Side Stories

August 21, 2017

One of the more interesting aspects of converting an RPG to a board game is the natural condensing of the material that has to happen. Some of this condensing is straightforward and easy to decide on – RPG-style combat mechanics that could take a while to resolve obviously won’t fit in a 90-minute board game format. But what about something less concrete, like storytelling?

The heart of ODAM’s RPGs is the ability to use the material given to tell a great story. So how much story does The Shared Dream require to be a faithful adaptation?

This question lead to quite the curve ball in development. Fortunately, none of the play-tested elements were affected by this change, but it could have potentially altered the flow of the game [I’m just glad it came up before widespread testing!]

Originally, the players would travel to different locations within the city, and search for Dream Fragments, which have many purposes within the game. Dream Fragments serve as specific objective points within certain Shared Dream Scenarios or can be used to help empower individual players. In the course of collecting these fragments, players encounter events at the locations they end a phase on. While many of the events have either dialogue or flavor text, they are by necessity small, individual snippets of scenes that could potentially be taking place within the city.

We toyed with the idea of either replacing or supplementing this mechanic with something that eventually became the Personal Reflection Deck. They were once referred to as Side Stories. Every game of The Shared Dream starts with a scenario card. This card sets the stage for the entirety of the game: what is the objective for this play through?  What special rules apply? How does the game progress?

Now, if the only aspect of the game that the players are interacting with is the scenario card, each play through could become too simple. In the case above, all players would have nothing to do but continually search and rush Dream Fragments to find the 4 clues required to summon The Beast (In the case of Beast at the Door.) While the Shadows, Reavers, and Beast Strikes cards would all serve as obstacles, the path would always be clear. Even individual location events become more of a momentary diversion rather than an addition to the game.

Enter the Side Stories. Under this concept, each playthrough would start with not only the scenario details, but with at least one Side Story. These Side Stories would guide players through the city, allowing them to make choices on how to proceed at each stage. Should they travel to the local bar to try to find more clues, or head directly to the Docks where they know they’ll find rampant criminality and have a fight on their hands?  Each choice will lead to the players needing to take different kinds of tests and offer different rewards. Each step also allows the story to be told slightly different, allowing for replayability.

While the concept behind the Side Stories is sound and the implementation is simple (each side story would have its own deck of cards, each with its own unique letter/number combination telling the players which card to play next depending on the choices they made), there remained a design question. Why do the players interact with the Side Stories?

There are two obvious paths to go down, here. The first was to simply make them a requirement – alter the objectives or win conditions of the scenario to require completing a certain amount of Side Stories. By altering the number of Side Stories required, the difficulty and length of each individual Shared Dream Scenario becomes even more controllable and scalable.

The second was to offer rewards (or penalties) tied directly to completing each Side Story. This allows the Side Stories to remain optional, but has the pitfalls of requiring the rewards to be compelling enough to have players be willing to not just blitz through the scenario and ignore the Side Stories completely.

We eventually went with a combination of the two, with some scenarios requiring completion of all Side Stories (Personal Reflections) and some only offering bonuses for completing them. This allowed for additional variety and win conditions across all scenarios.

What do you think? How compelling or rewarding do you think a side-quest should be in order to be worth your attention? How do you usually engage in “optional” content in games?

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