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Article - Building Blocks

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When it comes to making a scenario, what is that you actually make it out of? What are the bricks that make the wall, the things that the player spends 90% of his time and effort on?


In a "traditional" scenario, it's the dungeon. The player wanders through these places, usually doing a lot of fighting or solving the odd puzzle, and eventually finds or does something that allows him to advance in the scenario.


However, the advent of the "modern" scenario has brought the sequence into focus as an equally important building block. Where a dungeon is essentially a place for the party to explore, the sequence is a chain of events that the party participates in.


It's important to note that "traditional" and "modern" here do not necessarily mean that one design style is better than the other, nor that "traditional" scenarios are old hat. Shyguy's well-received Adventurer's Club series is much more recent than many "modern" scenarios, and are still primarily dungeon-based "traditional" adventures. I use the terms simply to differentiate in style.


Dungeons, and scenarios that rely heavily on them, are primarily player-driven. They sit there, waiting for the party to come and try to conquer them. Everything in a dungeon is linked by location. A dungeon is usually one place where you can find many different things, and where many different things can happen.


Sequences are primarily event-driven. While the party may have a large role in the unfolding events, this isn't necessary. Once the scenario reaches a certain point, things start happening, whether the player is ready or not. Sequences are not bound by location - they can happen within a town, over several dungeons, within the mind of a character, or even on several different continents. They are, however, bound by subject. Everything that happens must be related to everything else - while in a dungeon the player can encounter a large number of completely different things - they only have to be physically near each other.


When you find a ruined castle full of undead and have to kill the vampire that leads them, that's a dungeon. When you get to the vampire and he leads you on a merry chase through the crumbling ramparts, that's a sequence.


While both dungeons and sequences need to be a part of the central story and be justified by it, both also go beyond that. They are meant to be enjoyable in of themselves, and usually go much longer than they need to in order to convey the story beat in question. If the story is the skeleton of a scenario, the dungeons and sequences are the meat. They need to be fairly substantial, and they need to be tasty.


How do you make them good? This is a huge question I could never hope to answer completely, no matter how many articles I wrote on the subject. The best advice I can give is to make sure they are fun, and make sure they fit well within the scenario. If all of your dungeons and sequences do this, you can't go far wrong.


Which is better to use? Who knows? To a large degree it comes down to individual preference. Terror's Martyr's scenarios are usually made exclusively from sequences, while Brett Bixler tends to rely heavily on dungeons. In Falling Stars, the assault on the Big Bad is done through a long, tough dungeon gauntlet. In Spears (slith side in particular), it's done as a long sequence. Both scenarios are highly regarded.


Of course, no one says you can't use both. Spears uses mostly sequences in the main plotline, while side quests and subplots are built with dungeons. In my scenario Revenge, I used dungeons in the real world and sequences in the dream world.


So ultimately, like so many things, it's all up to you. Whatever you would most enjoy to play is probably the best choice.




Not exactly about dungeon-making, I know, but once I started thinking about it, this is what I got.

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Nobody seems to like comment articles, that's not cool. Why put them in a forum if it's not to discuss about them?


Ok a little comment.


This block point of view is very interesting but perhaps it is missing a post modern style. :p


One point isn't clear for me, it's the contents of old style dungeons. I feel it is like if there is only a row of puzzles and fights. If it's only that, I think there's something wrong because, where is the story?


In general in this article I don't see clearly the story point of view. And that worry me because "Sequences" clearly bring story stuff, but "Dungeons" don't seem to bring any story stuff.


For any RPG game I saw, you could throw a series of :

* fights,

* puzzles,

* secrets (that's different than puzzles),

* exploration (that's not mentionned in the article but I think it's a delicate but important point),

* sometimes other action types (probably not in BoA) like higher strategy action than just a puzzle or a fight, reflex, or even arcade action.


Ok but in all cases, in any rpg games, if you have strong story elements to give more flesh to that stuff, it's ALWAYS much better.


That's where I'm a bit mixed by this oposition of block types. When you do sequences you are doing story, it's less clear for dungeons.


In fact, I think BoA scenario "Diplomacy With the Dead" shows (not fully well implemented in my opinion) a typical example that's there's no oposition between sequences and dungeons (and not only that you put them both in a scenario).


There's a chase throughout a castle but it is mixed with some fights and a bit of exploration that are part of the chase. If I understood well the artcicle it's a typical sequence mixed with dungeon design.


Ok that's not so well done in this scenario but I feel it's the way to go.


It's a bit like:

* Having only pure gaming elements (dungeons), it's always less good than if they are mixed with some story construction, eventually sequences.

* Having only pure story elements (sequences?), it's always less good than if they are mixed with pure gaming elements like mentionned above (fights, ...).


That's the post modern style, do as much fusions or mixes than you can, put story in every gaming elements, don't write a novel but always think of the gaming aspect, mix as much than possible sequences with dungeon elements.


That said, as mentionned in the article, do what you want, you could always do a great scenario without any fights or another with mostly no story.


But don't be wrong this scenario with more mixed stuff would be even much better.

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Dungeons can have lots of story. Sequences can have almost no story. Sequences have a lot of events, but they may not have anything to do with the main story.


Generally, I make one sequence/dungeon for each story beat. So I have the exact same amount of story in each.


Of course, it's probably pretty hard to understand what I'm talking about if you've never played a sequence-based scenario. JV's tend to go pretty heavy on dungeons.

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One thing that I have noticed is that "dungeons" may have little to no fights at all and may be intended to drive the story. For instance, a room in the dungeon may contain several tomes which explain in unabridged detail what the heck is going on, something that would be wholly unrealistic coming from dialogue.


Secondly, the dungeon may be critical to the story and not just "the bad guy's fortress".

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Originally written by The Creator:
...they may not have anything to do with the main story.
Main story certainly, but story?

Of course, it's probably pretty hard to understand what I'm talking about if you've never played a sequence-based scenario. JV's tend to go pretty heavy on dungeons.
Well I tried to understand what you wrote. The example description you made is a bit short, perhaps you can explain more deeply with more details?

Ok that Jeff scenario could not apply, then why not use other RPG game as an example? That will be as good than BoE examples if not better. I don't have BoE and it's not a BoE forum but BoA. So for example, Neverwinter modules or even the original game and its extensions, or baldur gate series.
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Okay, here goes. In Deadly Goblins, the story beat is "The goblins set a trap for you, and you escape". It's at this point that you realise they are targeting you.


The sequence is: while wandering around in the forest, a couple of goblins shoot arrows at you. You chase them, but they run and disappear out of sight. Following them, you find a farmhouse. You go inside to see if they're there. The door closes behind you and is magically locked. A few moments later, the wall is set on fire.


You try to find a way out, and stumble into the master bedroom. The goblin wizard teleports in, summons a nasty monster, and teleports out. You kill it, and find a key in dresser. Taking it, you run back the way you came.


The fire has spread a long way by now, and you have to find a way through it. You come to the storerooms, which you unlock with your key. There's a weak wall in one of them. A way out! You smash it, and are about to escape when that goblin wizard throws up a magic barrier to block you!


You search around through the storerooms, the flames coming ever closer. You find a piercing crystal, destroy the barrier, and make your way out just in time! You collapse on the cool grass, panting and sweating as the house burns down behind you.


That's a sequence. Could have been much shorter, but where would the fun be in that?


In terms of sequences that have little story, you could probably quote the first half of Echoes: Assault. There's a large chunk where all you're doing is trying to escape, but there's a bunch of sequences with fireballs thrown about, garbage chutes dived into and so on. They don't have much story to them, but they're fun and interesting.


Note: Baldur's Gate is a terrible place to look for sequences. :p

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Thanks, it really helps. I think I understand what you mean.


I have some questions but before I'd like more explanation about "story". I don't see what you mean. For me only the sequence itself is a story. Why it isn't for you?


At the oposite a pure fight or a pure puzzle and even a pure exploration of an area aren't really story but are gaming elements.


Could you explain more what you mean with story?

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