This is an older post I dug up when exploring the notes I had, and I figured it might be worth publishing. I have tried to edit out the old ideas and concepts from it.
Game design is hard sometimes, especially to challenge people. I’m not talking traps, I’m not talking combat. I’m talking actually challenge someone. Put someone in a situation where they may not know what the right answer is or know the best course of action to take, but they have to go with a choice and stick with it. Sort of like a Lone Wolf book where you choose your path based on your abilities and choice and rolls you make. Also, Lone Wolf would make a great storyline for a party, so much so they made an RPG about it. It could also make a great monk solo storyline.
What are some of the examples? There are some simple ones we can directly reference. The first Men In Black movie is a great one with the job test scenes, where Will Smith’s character comes up with what could be considered innovative solutions to the problems faced with in job testing. In the end it seems it could be those choices that seemed completely out there at the start are what lead him to his career.
Another great example, Star Wars. Yoda puts Luke through tests from the moment he lands on the Dagobah with offering to lead him to Yoda and pushing his buttons before revealing himself to see how he reacts. Then there’s the Dagobah cave to see if he trusts his abilities, which he doesn’t by bringing a blaster. And then we have the famous ‘And that is why you fail’ scene of lifting the X-Wing.
But some other examples may be tests that you aren’t quite expecting. The first one that I can think of is the story of Noh, an interesting challenge that was created for the players which literally took a life of its own. I posted that earlier as it was a good post worth sharing
Some challenges may be as simple as how far will a player go before hitting their limit and saying no more. Gawain and the Green Knight, for example, where the knight must follow through on a promise and risk having himself be killed because of a promise he made. With the magic of the gods at your disposal, and powerful magic spells and the like, just imagine how things like that could be problematic if someone chose to break the rules.
- The Guardians of the Veil (a sort of wizard intelligence agency) in White Wolf’s Mage: The Awakening have a series of moral tests for prospective members. They are told to do a series of more and more morally questionable actions. In the final test they are asked to do something completely reprehensible. If they obey, they are refused membership and monitored from then on as a potential risk. If they refuse, they are granted membership. The Guardians don’t want mindless drones; they want strong-willed individuals who will do what is right.
- The Princess Bride. Westley returns and discovers that Buttercup, his One True Love, is about to be married to Prince Humperdinck. After he rescues her from her kidnappers (under an alias of the Dread Pirate Roberts), he doesn’t reveal his true identity, in the hope of finding out whether or not she still loves Westley, whom he claims to have killed.
- Dangerous Journeys – Mythus main rulebook, adventure “High Time at the Winged Pig”. The PCs go to an inn to interview with a merchant for jobs. It’s actually a setup: all of the occupants in the inn are there to play out various scenarios to test the PCs and find out if they have appropriate personalities to be the merchant’s employees.
- In the “Merlin’s Crystal” quest in Runescape, there’s a portion where thePlayer Character visits the Lady of the Lake in a quest to find Excalibur. She instructs you to visit a jewelry shop. On your way, you’re approached by a beggar who asks you for food. If you give him a loaf of bread, he reveals himself as the Lady of the Lake in disguise and tells you that you’ve proven yourself to be generous and pure of heart and thus worthy of wielding Excalibur.
- In the original Thief, Garrett is hired partway through the game to steal a sword from eccentric rich guy Constantine. After succeeding at this, it turns out that Constantine himself was the one who hired Garrett: the whole job was a test of Garrett’s thieving skills, which he passed with flying colors. Constantine then gives Garrett his real job: a considerably tougher caper that takes the next six missions to pull off.
As you see, there’s various sorts of things that you can do to test parts of the players, and decide if they have met your criteria. Also, you can use a shifting scale to decide maybe they only met certain things if you want to be nice. Just try and remember one important piece in your designing:
Not everything is a test, but make it look like one.
Your players won’t know if they’re being judged on it. I mentioned before earlier examples of Ultima, but while in Ultima 4 you would get karmic penalties for doing ‘evil’ things like killing people, but when you are in a dungeon the game marks everything as a monster, so it doesn’t hurt you to kill them. The game has it ingrained into you, so you begin to feel that you’re being judged by all the actions you take.