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Article - 'Article Grab Bag: Series One' by Death Ritual

An item about Miscellanious posted on Apr 8, 2004

Blurb

A useful collection of several articles wrapped in one big article! This isn't like those old GW articles where it's only one paragraph per point, but instead is an entire short article, complete with details and examples!

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ARTICLE GRAB BAG
Series One

Welcome to the Article Grab Bag. I’ll try to submit these on a regular basis, but I don’t think that’ll be too possible. Expect them once every three weeks or so. Instead of just focusing on one topic, the Grab Bag (as the title will probably tell you) has several short articles on different topics of an RPG, usually four to six. I’ll cover such topics as map design, character development, and general game design as well as things that relate more directly to you, the author; this is stuff like motivation (which Mateui wrote a good article on) and psychology of the game maker.

In this first issue I cover battle dialogue, civilization design, hero naming, and minor gaming psychology. Hope you like it.


Interesting Battle Dialogue
I included this because I see a general lack of battle dialogue, and what little I see is not too impressive (one exception is “The Book of Three.” Look that game up.) The examples I’ve seen of battle dialogue till now – even my own – suck. Therefore, I’ve been looking for ways to spice it up. These are some of the best ways I can come up with:

- Randomize your dialogue. This is too easy to explain, so I won’t even bother. A good thing you can add is combining it with any of the other functions I list here.

Example: When he fights a dragon, Masaki, the party’s thief, says either “I hate dragons,” “I should really think about changing jobs . . .” or “Where the hell is Andrew now?”

- Use “Character In Party” functions. Set one switch to check if a character is in the party, and then you can have different characters say different things.

Example: When encountering a slime, Andrew, the party’s fighter, says “Oh, come on. A slime? My granny can beat that!” But the party’s white mage, Kara, would say, “I’ve got to be careful.”

- Condition them to certain turns or conditions. Use the conditions dialog. You could even use things like the hero’s weapon or whether he has certain skills learned.

Example: Lars, a wizard, says “Darn it. I hate water,” when he encounters a dragon turtle. But when he has a lightning-based weapon or has learned lightning spells, he would say, “This is going to be easy!”

- Check if certain story events have happened. This way, the party could be arguing over a recent encounter with an enemy, or their failure to rescue the Avatar of Something Or Other.

Example: Before falling to the Dark Dragon, the party’s encounters in Dew Wood were normally silent. But after their horrendous defeat, Lars and Andrew start fighting over and over during each battle. “You should have . . .” “What about your responsibilities?” “Oh, go to hell! . . .”

That’s about all I have for this topic. I hope to contribute some more things in the future. Oh yeah, there are some things I’ve said before or seen before that I didn’t include, but as they’re essentially too obvious, I won’t discuss them.

Creating a Civilization
Now, my history teacher said that there are three things you need for civilization to exist: laws, or a political system; economy, or a trading system; and culture. RPG makers don’t need to worry so much about the first two – well, yes, but not too much. The third is where we do need to focus, and where we trip a lot. Most of the time, this is because not many of us know exactly what culture encompasses.

Once again from my history teacher (who shall remain anonymous), culture includes the aspects of background or ethnicity, history, tradition, religion, clothing, food and language. This is why it’s tough to create a civilization that seems realistic. Often, a creator goes to one of the two extremes: either the country’s ridiculously uniform (i.e. in an aristocracy, the nobles speak like peasants) or the country’s not uniform enough (i.e. in that same aristocracy, peasants live in castles). Here are some tips to improve your civilizations’ culture.

- First, make sure everybody has some uniform elements. This is especially true of history, tradition and religion, because all three of them are based on long periods of time. Everyone should know some rudimentary history, know the civilization’s basic tradition, and believe in the same gods – unless you have a Northern Ireland-style civilization where two factions are killing one another over religion.

- Second, you want to make sure that people have class distinctions. Nobles, merchants and peasants will dress differently, eat differently, and speak differently. In the latter case, you need to be especially careful when adding dialect and accent. Unlike Fighter, whose gameplay tutorial added the accent directly into dialogue (and worse, called it “dialect”), try finding a way you can suggest that accent. For example, a Southern girl’s dialogue would go, “How’s it going, sugar?” instead of “How’s it goin’, shugah?” Once again, another tutorial provides an example of what not to do.

- Third, and I can’t stress this enough, add history and traditions! I mentioned it in the first step, but you’ll have to eventually deal with it head-on. Did your country get in wars? With who? Did it win? If it did, what did it win (spoils)? Did it lose? What happened? How long has it existed? When did its great leaders reign? So on. You need to ask yourself a lot of questions. Pick up a history textbook or something similar and look at their chapters on Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek or Roman civilizations – the four that will most likely be best described. For wars, schisms and military things, it might be a better idea to check the Middle Ages and afterwards. In this way, you create a very cohesive picture of your civilization.

Naming Your Characters
I think game-making newbies take training in how to not name your characters (or yourself, for that matter). Now I’m not saying it’s their fault; Geistlünd knows it’s impossible to not make mistakes your first or second time around. But since I’ve already tried a few times to make a game with some interesting names (I said tried; you won’t see my games for a while) I have some experience to offer.

- First, make sure the name is interesting. If your hero’s name is “Alex,” I can guarantee you people will automatically shut your game down and delete it from their computer. But what if you took that name and lengthened it, so that it was “Alexander?” That sounds okay, doesn’t it? Then you could have his mother or father call him “Alexander” and the rest of the characters just call him as they wish.

- Second, make sure the name sounds right. Not only do I mean for the character (for example, “Billy” doesn’t sound like an old man with a hunched back and a powerful magical artifact – or does it?) but also in your world (you can’t have a character named “Aurelianus” and then another one named “Sandy” in the same game, or it breaks continuity).

- Third, you should make the character’s class or personality relate to the name. For example, “Morrigan” was a Celtic war goddess with a penchant for killing off heroes who didn’t want to sleep with her and using the raven as her bird. So in one of my games, a black-haired witch with a penchant for murder was named Morrigan. (Obviously she was evil). “Raja” is a form of “rajah,” a warrior-king common to ancient India. In another of my games, a Princess-type character with throwing knives and healing magic is named “Raja.” See what I mean? It is all in the name.

Minor Gaming Tricks
This is a short list of tricks I haven’t seen much in games lately. Angroth wrote an excellent article on the whole of it, so I won’t just rip his off. Instead, I’ll actually talk about ways to implement his mind tricks into your game. (Sorry if I go into your territory, Angroth – I don’t mean to).

- Change the color of your hero’s name at the top of a dialogue box, so that it’s a different color from the text. This way, people have another way to know which hero speaks beside the face GFX. Do this (with another color) for important words or emphasized phrases in something, i.e. “I should kill you for what you’ve done.”

- Angroth stressed correct grammar and spelling, and I must say that I am a complete purist when it comes to this. I just cannot play a game with bad grammar and spelling – it ticks me off that people who can find the time to program a full game that can engross us for about 12-24 hours of gameplay can’t find the time to learn to spell and construct sentences in the correct way. I’m not perfect at it either, and I don’t pretend to be, but I just hate it when this happens.

- While we’re on the subject of language, let me add a few notes on Internet lingo in the game: Don’t do it. Unless your heroes are chatting over the Internet (chances are they’re not), it’s base and it degrades your game’s quality. I can’t stand it even in forums, and especially when the topic is serious. As I stand on the topic, Internet lingo is crap invented by the lazy majority. Don’t use it in your game. All it does is make you look like a newbie who can’t take a hint.

- One thing that I’ve seen mentioned a lot, and I say I must agree, is foreshadowing. It makes your game truly awesome. Why? Foreshadowing hints at something in the future. Guess what? It shows that you thought out your story and that you know what you’re doing. If you don’t use this feature of the game, your story looks as though it was improvised. Think about it. Hint about everything, but don’t reveal too much. For example, if your ending involves your heroes destroying the evil mage with a crystal, you want to introduce the crystal long before they use it. Once again, don’t say right away “This is what can kill him!” but rather “This crystal is capable of channeling even the weakest power into the strongest magic available to mortal beings . . .” So on.


Conclusion
Well, looks like it’s time to go. I’ll be grasping on other topics, probably skill balancing among them, when I return for Series Two. Until then, this is Death Ritual, signing off.

Above all, remember: this is your world, your masterpiece, and ultimately, you are its creator. There is no greater power.

- Death Ritual’s credo