Category Archives: Story Design

The Beat – Interactive Storytelling Series Part I

It starts with a beat.

In screenwriting, a beat is the smallest unit of story. It can be an action that propels the plot, a twist that alters the story’s direction, a shot that establishes tone, mood, theme; or dialog that reveals characters. Beats are the bricks in which the story is build, and it is how the audience experiences the story.

One of the steps of screenwriting involves writing out the beat sheet*, a list of all the story elements that can be assembled into the actual story. When seen this way, we can see how each beat effects one another; and when properly ordered, how the story unfolds. It’s a basic framework in which writers use to grow stories, adding details, shading and depth as needed to create a deeper resonant experience for the audience.

Then John Mehdi disagrees, and rips out the Dean's heart screaming, "NO ONE LIES TO ME"

Then John Mehdi disagrees, and rips out the Dean’s heart screaming, “NO ONE LIES TO ME”

 

I like to think the beat sheet is a good framework to use when designing a game that wants to tell stories through its systems, mechanics and world, a game that provides players the tools, and vocabulary to craft his own experience and create his own story. A game where any meaningful action the player takes becomes a beat in their story.

I scrounged the wreckage for what food and materials I could find. A nearby fireaxe became the key in which I hacked scattered luggage for what treasures they held. When darkness descended, that same fireaxe bore me the gift of firewood. Then dried leaves, and a lick of flame from a liberated lighter birth me a flame to last me through the night, hopefully. Tomorrow, I had to see what else I could do.”

The Forest

First I’ll chop the tree, then I’ll chop that creepy figure standing in the distance there.

 

Of course the game has to respond in kind. Good games are build on strong player feedback, and these feedback range from cheerful celebrations of color and sound, impressive animated sequences, to digital loot that triggers that endorphin drip in your brain. These can be the beats of the story as well. “I got this fantastic sword from surviving an epic battle with the dungeon’s final demon.”

But it can’t just be a list of cool things happening next to one another.

Here, I’ll let Film Crit Hulk explain it.

“Stories are defined by cause and effect. Perpetually. Constantly. Vividly. Stories are built on that simplest of mechanisms. This causes that and that causes this and so on and so forth. It’s about setups and payoffs. It’s about action and reaction. It’s about information followed by dramatic consequence. Cause and effect lend meaning to events. They link scenes together. They give wholeness to seemingly separate ideas. Cause and effect are the linking of your chain. They make a story a story”*

hulk_reading_header__index

HULK READ! because hulk think that stories are the connection has with other human not-hulks.

 

So when the game responds to the player’s action with a beat of its own that moves the story forward, or reveal part of its world, it contributes to the players overall experience of his story. And when the response isn’t entirely predictable, it can become this constant back and forth, between player and system, between character and world, to create a story that’s unique to the player’s decision.

That’s what games can do that the other mediums can’t. Where their story has to be ordered as some point; filmed, written, animated and told, a game’s story can unfold as long as the player has meaningful actions to take, and the game has the responses to return in kind.

Or course, all this works under a certain context, and context is key in the telling of stories.

Hopefully, I’ll get to that idea next week.

Stray Thoughts

* – Another good example of this idea is Trey Stone’s and Matt Parker’s “But” and “Therefore” talk. Where they essential explain the idea of how each beat affect the following beat into order to create the story.

– I was trying to work the phrase “Player actions are the verbs of the game” somewhere up there, but it didn’t work. But I like it as a phrase, because it essentially sums up what I’m trying to do in thinking of game mechanics and features as vocabulary in telling a story.

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Craft work.

There’s a craft to storytelling.

The storyteller does not invent story; the storyteller utilized craft to invoke story. Images, music, vocabulary, style are all in the service of imparting ideas, emotions and characters in their audience’s mind.

There are tons on books on the craft of screenwriting, easily as many essays and thoughts on the process of novel writing. Poetry, song, painting have had years of studies devoted to the –ology of their particular type of storytelling.

Yet there is no similar craft for the kind of stories games can tell.

Early games borrowed a lot from traditional pen and paper RPGs, with tons of texts and the occasional image to prop them up. Later on, it borrowed the language of cinema, and brought it with it the cinematic experience, but also the unskippable cutscene.

 

Also include deep ruminations on the nature of war.

Also includes deep ruminations on the nature of war.

These days, both styles are wielded with immense skill and experience to give us the rollercoaster thrill ride of the Call of Duty series, the expansive, the lore filled text heavy Skyrim, or a deft combination of the two in Mass Effect. Yet these are all examples of games still appropriating other storytelling techniques in service to the story that the designers want to tell. Don’t get me wrong, they’re fantastic, and highly enjoyable but I don’t think they are all great examples of just how different game stories can be told.

It’s in the player experience; that should be key to the story that the game is trying to tell.

I'm a survivor!

I’m a survivor!

Games are interactive, the actions the player takes, the decisions that they have to make, the situation that the game places them in; these are tools in which games can invoke a kind of story to the player, making the experience a part of the greater story.

But we have no craft for that.

We do have terminology; phrases and concepts unique to the problem of telling stories in games. The most popular being “ludonarrative dissonance.” We’re throwing buzzwords like “player-authored”, or story generation around more as well, to achieve the holy grail of “procedural storytelling”. Granted, some of these are useful, but only up to a point of arguing about the merits of particular design.

More often than not though, we’re still in service of the game being fun, and the story of the game being secondary to that fun, that trying to tell a meaningful story with those mechanics is a lot like the story paragraph game: Entertaining,, but ultimately meaningless.

Obviously, I’m stumbling my way to some sort of a point here, in that I’d like to understand more about the kind of craft that games can employ in order to tell the kind of stories in can tell. What vocabulary can games employ in their use of mechanics, systems and other tools it has at its disposal to craft the kind of story for their players that resonate.

I have some ideas.

Let’s see if I actually manage to write them.

frustrated-writer-2

One of them has my bank code!

 


The Noob Tube.

I watch a lot of TV

There’s a lot of good television running. Currently on my slate is Orphan Black, Person of Interest, Elementary, Game of Thrones, New Girl and Arrow. Previously, I’ve watched seasons of Justified, The West Wing, The Wire, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Scrubs, Generation Kill, Fringe. The list is long and generally varied. If the AVclub covers it, I’ll probably watch it at some point.

Games can learn a lot from the storytelling structure of good television.

My current favourite series

See, television also advertises with Men holding guns.

Games have long been trying to ape film’s more cinematic style in their visual presentation and their storytelling style. In an industry that’s constantly in some sort of visual arms race, drawing from cinematic visual aesthetic is certainly a great strategy. But films are generally two hours long, with a storytelling structure designed to make the best use of that time. The classical Hollywood style is the oft repeated 3 act structure, usually with the mythic journey grafted on.

Games can stretch from anywhere between 5- 20 hours long. A Hollywood three act structure is going to seem limiting when your Act II lasts several hours and your audience might have stopped paying attention, either because the plot was lost in their meandering, or they can’t get pass certain gameplay sections. That isn’t it doesn’t work, and there are plenty of examples to cite with a strong storytelling in games emanating from the cinematic structure of storytelling.

Yet games have much more in common with Television.

Click here for comedy

“You’ve never read a book and 3 chapters in, the book goes, “what are the major themes of the book.”

Note: I originally expanded a bit more on the following thoughts on how games can draw from television’s storytelling style, but each point spiralled out into these massive walls of text. I’ll probably want to expand on them in individual posts on subsequent days then.

Hour Long Experiences

Research has shown that players play their games in hourly sessions, be it an hour or two, maybe three. Those sessions are further divided into 15 mins game play loops, where design feedbacks rewards, teases, plot development in an effort to keep players engaged, entertained and feel like their hour was meaningful. Television is similarly build from 15 min ACTs, usually written to its act breaks in order for ads to do their thing. Stories are twisted and turned based on that 15 minute structure, (A 30 min episode has a somewhat different structure, but the concept is the same, it’s writing to the act breaks) so audiences will stay tuned through the commercials.

Story Arcs and World Building

Serialized television have long story arcs spanning multiple episodes. During this time, they’re laying the groundwork for that story, building their worlds with locations, a cast of characters, and a thematic through line that keeps the premise and the story coherent. Games excel at world building, and arguably is the best medium at allowing its audience to best experience a world unlike their own.

Where television builds their worlds slowly, adding pieces to it when necessary to unfold longer stories, games can adopt the same method when parcelling out information about the world to the player.

Seasons == Sequels

Shows want seasons, sometimes 6 seasons and a movie, and there’s nothing more a publisher wants more than a sequel. When television goes into multiple seasons, audiences will remark that it’s a sign of its quality, and there are some seasons that are just better than others. Often, it takes some shows a season or two before it gets to telling that really great story, using the cast, world, and premise it has long since established to get around to it. Justified’s season 2 wouldn’t be possible with season 1.

Game sequels on the other hand, are more often thought of as milking the cash cow, rarely deviating too much from the original. Developers are more likely to design more of the same, but BIGGER in an attempt to placate, or satiate the fans of the series. There is a the possibility where games can develop it sequels as extensions of the original premise, market them as more seasons, more reasons to spend time with characters you like, game play mechanics you think are fun, and still have the leeway to explore, and iterate on what has been build before.

The Player Character and his Cast

We’re going to be spending several hours in the company of the player character. The best of which we can identify with, relate to, and hopefully feel some empathy for. We’d probably also want to like their supporting cast of characters. Snake and Otagon is probably one of the more famous bromances of games, and Nathan Drake wouldn’t be much of a likable character without Sully and Elena. Establishing a likable ensemble of characters enables the game to fill out more of its world with charm and personality, and attaches the player to the story that surrounds these characters. Good television often has strong ensemble cast; the downside of which is less focus is placed upon the central character. I thinks there’s a balance that can be explored, creating an interesting cast of characters around the PC, exploring their stories and their relation to the game alongside the game itself, and develop more than just 1 interesting character per game.

Summary

It’s probably too much to say that games should be emulating television entirely in their storytelling and conceptualisation. Yet while TV has since evolved multiple storytellings styles in the past decade, games have somehow moved at a much slower pace. Arguably, games aren’t always the medium in which story takes priority, but since television provides so many good examples of long form storytelling, world building, relatable characters, and hours upon hours of entertainment, there’s possibly a lot games can learn from how its done.

Stray Thoughts

– I’ve tried avoiding the word “Episodic” since that has troubling connotations when we recall what happened with Half Life 2, or virtually what other games promised back in the early 00s. but if Telltale has proven anything, episode gaming can work, and can span stories into a wider set of situations and plot. The Walking Dead is probably the best example of how episodic gaming, with a story structure that owes a lot of televised seasons can work.

– Grantland recently published an exceptional article on how Game of Thrones will change the future of television storytelling. It’s a bit optimistic to be sure, but the success of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Justified in this new era, while network television struggle beyond its few hits is possibly key to the article’s insight. At best, perhaps it’s prescience for future games as well, that we’ll do well to start chasing and consolidating niche markets, as the big mainstream guys dwindle into the few remaining IP.

– Themes are for 8th grade book reports.

– Of course, Television can, and often does work with a much larger ensemble cast, since they can cut away from the main character for quite a long time, and there are plenty more difference between the mediums that a one on one grafting is impossible. Hopefully, I’ll get down to penning my actual thoughts about how it might work.


I'm building a consensus.

It’s hard to be disappointed with Mass Effect 2. There are so many things it does well and so many concerns it addresses from its prequel that calling it an unabashed improvement of the first game, and an innovative entry into the science fiction is easy. Mass Effect 2 is an extraordinary game, that makes bold choices that often pay off.

So while everyone is giddily excited about what Mass Effect does right, and they have every reason to be, I thought I’d take a look at where Mass Effect 2 didn’t do so well.

LACK OF COMPELLING STORY STRUCTURE:

The main bulk of the game is spent flying across the galaxy and recruiting teammates for this suicide mission into the great unknown. At first, I though this was just the first act of the game, with the rest of the story and development opening up once you’ve established your team. This was not the case. It turned out to be the whole meat of the game, with the suicide mission as the climatic finale.

Personally, the recruit teammates and do their loyalty quests felt like a first act story development. That it was the whole game felt kinda disappointed as you’re left with the sense that you’re going through the game without half your allies.

Part of the fun of these party based RPGs is that your ragtag group grows together as a family, as a team as they make their way through difficult scenarios. The shared experiences will cement their loyalty and their teamwork. In ME2, you can complete the game right after you recruit everyone, so if you’re aren’t invested into your teammates, you don’t even need to get to know them before you complete the game. It’s almost as if they are slots to be filled up, ammo to be loaded so your big gun can be fired. This wouldn’t be such a disappointment if Bioware didn’t conceptualise these NPCs so well.

I like Tali. I like Garrus, and Legion,  and Samara and Mordin and Joker and the 2 engineers, and Dr Chakwas and EDI. I like them all.* I want to spend more time with all these people. I want to bring them on missions and listen to them banter. I want to come back from a mission, kick back and chat with these people about their feelings and thoughts on whatever the hell we’re doing. I want to build a sense of camaraderie with these people. It’s a shame that the structure of the game doesn’t really allow me to. It’s two major missions with these people, in which they don’t interact with the mission or you much and then BAM!, the end.

The game wants you to invest in these characters, it’s the only way to really make sure the suicide part of the mission will have any resonance. It why the loyalty missions are so well crafted into exploring a character’s motivation and position within the greater fiction of the mass effect universe. Yet, the loyalty missions are so distinct from the main mission that you really don’t have to play them. In fact, if you don’t, the characters are more likely to die in the final mission. It’s an odd catch 22. If I don’t care enough to invest game time into the loyalty mission, will I care enough when they bite it in the final mission?

I was hoping for an act 2, when the team has been pulled together, when you’re off investigating more collector’s perfidy and Reaper’s presence in the world. More opportunities for intra-team bickering or banter. One of my favourite parts of the game was when Garrus was asking Tali if she missed those conversations in the elevators. I don’t miss the loading times, but I do miss those conversations. Those really helped build a connection with your team, make them seem like real people outside of how they relate to Commander Shepard.

I suppose it’s a testament to the fiction and experience that my main gribe boils down to “I want more” and that it’s possible that they could have had all that act 2 team development planned but no time to actually produce it. Mass Effect 2 was made in 2 years after all, and for the current version we got, that’s an impressive feat.

*Ok, not all. Jacob and Jack can bite it, and Thane was interesting until his story devolved into some “I’m so lonely, I have no friends.” territory. He would have stayed interesting had they explored more of his morality versus his occupation and played his interest into Shepard as a sort of, “I see your will governs what you do. I appreciate that, even if it is not what Drell are meant to do. Will and body are seperate.” Shepard: “Does your will want what your body wants? With me?” Ok that might be a little too unsubtle, but Bioware’s romance options aren’t known for their subtlety.

Lack of Compelling Loot.

Honestly, this did not impact my overall enjoyment of the game by much, other than occasionally wishing that I would find more interesting weapons. As it stands, the weapon variety and effects were interesting, especially combined with the tech and biotic powers. It’s perhaps a holdover from my mindset that an RPGs needs a decent loot system to satisfying the loot whore in us all. ME2 streamlining of weapons and upgrade definitely made the game less of a management hassle than its predecessor and Dragon Age, but it also took away the joy of finding an awesome new weapon and the chance to see it in action. Except the M60 Cain of course. That was awesome, unless your first chance to fire it was in a small crowded room, than it’s slightly less awesome.

Minigames

The mining minigame is strangely compelling. It isn’t fun per se, and I can’t say I enjoyed moving my scanner slowly across the planet, looking for minor spikes in the visual display, but I was compelled to do it. It also doesn’t seem to fit within the fiction of the game. How is it Shepard has the time to run around and probe planets for materials. Can’t she** ask the Illusive man for help? The alliance? Anyone?  Either way, it was a strange edition that didn’t seem to fit the streamline effort of the rest of the game. I suppose it’s a vestigial bit of design from when the game was a more full-fledged RPG, (assuming it was one)

By contrast, the hacking minigames did quite a bit to involve me in the fiction. It isn’t much of a game, but it does look pretty cool and it isn’t tedious enough to mar the flow of the game play. I suppose there are other ways to deal with lock-picking and hacking, but for a game that relies on the forward momentum of the story and shooting, what Mass Effect 2 had was adequate. At the very least, all the minigames were much more interesting that its predecessor and less annoying that checking for a lockpick skill. It behooves me to mention that my favourite hacking/lockpicking minigames are done by Bethesda, though I might alone in that opinion.

**There’s an excellent destructoid article about how playing Mass Effect as a female is a much better experience than playing as a male. I have to agree as I’ve never made it more than 20 minutes playing as a male Shepard. Hale’s excellent voice acting and the quality of the gender neutral writing does it make it seem that it’s more natural that Shepard is female. I can’t imagine half the emotional conversation you have with Garrus, Grunt, or Mordin if you’re male Shep.

Conclusion

If Mass Effect 2 represents the new direction of where RPGs are going, then I hope they find a happy medium between the streamlined momentum of Mass Effect, the exploration of Fallout 3 and the party interaction of Dragon Age. I don’t need a stat heavy game to roleplay my character, nor an immense amount of loot to sift through as I venture into wild unknown missions but I do need the sense of discovery that bound in the fiction and more chances to interact with the world, whether it’s poking around an abandoned vault, or exploring the dialog options of an interesting NPC, or finding a legendary item that’ll lay waste to my enemies.

What I don’t want, is the streamlining of the story and game play and what’s left are just “big” choices and visceral combat.

P.S. Things I do love about Mass Effect 2

– Interesting Unique Sidequests
– The Codex
– Tali
– Joker and Edi’s relationship
– Legion and the reveal of the Geth’s story.
– Mordin singing and his role in the genophage.
– The fact that the Normandy SR2 has toilets.
– That conversation about Newton being the deadliest son of a bitch in the whole galaxy.


Planet Fall

I”m going to jot this down fairly quickly. It’s an idea I came up with during my recent stint in reservists and judging from the scope and concept, something is unlikely to see production anytime soon. It is however, a cool little story, or at least I think so. I’m apt to, I came up with it. 🙂

Anyway, the story is set some years in the future where Humanity is beginnig to terraform terrestial planets for colonizations. The main character is one John Keenan Hunter, a veteran of a Plantery Survey Team for the Government Corporation Oxxon Galactic. He has been stationed on the planet Rayinji for the past year or so, with his team as they conduct research, surveys and general ecological and scientific testing for a planet that is soon to be terraformed. The story starts when The huge Terraforming machine is dropped onto the world to begin stage 1 of the mission and Hunter and his team is scheduled to return to the capital ship for psychological and biological evaluation.

Right before they leave, several strange things happen.

First, John and his spotter, Warren (an ex-sniper spec ops soldier) notice movement on the dropped Machine. This is  a future where aliens have yet to make first contact, so in part, the story revolves around the secrecy and intrique of a possible first contact. Not a pleasant first contact, mind you, because the second thing that is out of place is that when John and his team head out to link up with another PST on the planet, they find a deserted outpost, with scattered clues of their whereabouts and little else.

Reporting to their superior, they are told that the matter will be investigated and that they should stay out of it. Here is where I would ahve introduced Commander Eliza Ayami, the captain of the Capital ship, the Resolute Progress. For all intents and purposes, she is the femme fatale of the story.

The whole idea and story was to be constructed as a semi-noir mystery set on a distant planet in the early throes of terraformation. John Hunter is the lead, a fairly typical detective, tough as nails, anti-hero archetype who has to uncover several murders, (one of his team will get murdered early) and the secret of which everyone is hiding. All while the planet is being terraformed and possibly undergoing major ecological and environmental changes.

It was to focus on characters.

The whole thing was a response to having read 5 pages of Peter Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star and being bored out of my freaking skull. It’s probably me, but I’m wondering when Science Fiction as a genre decided to jettison interesting characters in favour of glacial plots and every weird little futurist fetish these authors have. It’s hard to relate to anything going on in the story because it comes from a very weird place I can’t identify with and the characters are all to bland to be intriguing. One could argue that the science-fiction genre is meant to advance futuristic concepts, but all I’m asking for is relatable characters in a genre that has a cornucopia of weird things gonig on. At the very least, I would be able to frame these futuristic concepts with something more contemporary. Yeah, it’s most probably me, maybe the science fiction genre isn’t really for me.

Planet Fall (working title) would have been a noir science fiction story that focused on the characters reaction to the events around him. While effort would have been made to at get the science of the terraformation accurate, as well as as the space travel, isolation dementia, first contact, and various other elements that might help the story, I really wanted to focus it on the characters and the mystery. If I had my way, it would have been a 10 episode mini-series on HBO, told with a more deconstructionist pacing. I have no idea how to pull that off, of course, but this blog is meant for concepts, not execution. I’ll probably get to writing the story again some day, since I do like what I had envisioned for the first three episodes. One of which would have been a homage to Carpenter’s Thing. and the other, a Homage to Peter David’s X-factor issue where the characters all went to see a psychiatrist.

The larger underlying mystery would have involved first contact, a conspiracy of murder, and the general theme of Men escaping their destiny by denying what others claim is their future. In short, ignoring false prophets and all that. Although that could have just been my pretentious ambition going, while the story turns out to be some quirky noir set in a strange location.

It can also be a comic. We’ll see how this new IFS thing goes.


Swamp Things

1.5 The Liar, the Witch and the War God.

There really isn’t a War God in this section, but the phrasing was too good not to write down. Perhaps I’ll use it for another story idea somewhere in the future.

There is however, a witch, and she lives in the swamp. Original, I know, but sometimes you just run with the RPG conventions you have and don’t strain you brain coming up with something fantastically new. Either way, since the point of the game is not to go on a magical adventure of wonder and beauty, a dirty, mucky swamp is called for. Especially a swamp crawling with barely literate lizard men, swamp creatures and other fairly low level enemies for you to hack through. Also, flowers and other sundries that might help in side quests from the village. The witch on the other hand, does have a point.

Zzeribah was the tribal’s wisdom chief prior to the arrival of Father Tully, and she held that esteemed position until a major kerfuffle with the wandering missionary. I’d write kerfuffle, but in truth, it was a brutal battle of magical might. She has since retired to the swamps and is suspected of abducting tribals for use in her strange necromantic shamanistic magic. Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to venture forth and kill her. And it is a choice, because you can actually not kill her, because when you do run into her in the middle of the swamp. She’ll invite in for tea.

Zzeribah, as it turns out, denies any responsibilities for the missing tribals. She’s a witch, so she must be lying right. So you have a choice; Kill her, or join her for tea. Killing her is simple, just select the “Your evil must be stopped” Option from the dialogue and proceed to wail on her with your limited abilities as a low level character. She’ll put up a fight but if you’re good enough, you’ll manage to stab her to the happiness of Chief Hariman and Father Tully. Shyean will have a conversation where you’ll discuss why you did what you did* and then you can head back to the village for the next part in the story.

Join her for tea instead and she will tell you a story.

The story includes an abandoned tomb nearby, the tomb of a dead god. He could be a war god, but more accurately, he’s a forgotten god. She tells you that he is an evil power and he is possibly responsible for the missing tribals. Personally, she has no truck with dead gods, because as she thinks, you can’t trust them. They dead for reason, if people stopped believing in a dead god, there must be a reason they had to do so. But he could be responsible, she had heard rumblings of his power for sometime now. She then tell you that Father Tully is not to be trusted and that he’s the titular liar. Either way, she offers you no harm and directs you to investigate the ruins of the dead god if you wish to find out more about the missing tribals. She would join you, but her old bones are not made for spelunking. She also asks how Hariman is, and displays a fondness for the chief, saying that she did not wish to abandon her tribe when they need her most, but fear her life is in danger from Father Tully and his influence.

So after all this talk. You can still kill her*, of you can head down to the ruins and check it out.

*The Shyaen conversation will have you attempt to justify why you felt the need to kill her. Usually, these conversation would pop up at major dramatic moments of the story. Killing a witch in cold blood on the say so of a bunch of strangers is one such example. Examining the missing tribals situation further will spark a short dialogue, but ideally, you will only discuss the “ethics” of your actions to Shyaen when a major chapter has been closed in terms of the story.

So if you kill Zzeribah before going to the ruins, Shyaen will ask whether it was necessary and that she did not seem harmful. The response would include:

1> “Evil Doers are always liars and you cannot trust them simply on appearance. Do let them talk, less their serpentine tongue sway your righteous path”  This of course leads adds to Shyaen invisible morality counter the need for righteous might and Deontological ethics.

2> “Father Tully and Chief Hariman gave us permission and we need to do this to move forward. No sense wasting time here in listening to the ramblings of a crazy old witch.” Which leads to chaos and Utilitarian principals.

Either way. Heading back to the village to report the deed to Chief Hariman and Father Tully will move you forward in the storyline.

Next Up: Something Dead this way comes.


Lost

1.4 The Village of Lost things.

After the Kobolds have been dealt with,  Rroak will lead you to his village. It’s a tribal little thing made up of a couple of little huts. There aren’t any shops here, though one of the tribals will trade you for stuff he found on the beach. For gold no less, but this is one of the RPG conventions I don’t intend to muck about with. You need a shop, game design needs you to have a shop, you have a shop, and a flimsy story excuse on why it’s there. But he’s not the important guy in this story so let’s move on.

Rroak will introduce you to Chief Hariman, the tribal leader. The first thing you’ll realize is that Chief Hariman and his tribe are pretty civilized for primitives. They, like Rroak can converse roughly in your language, (a game convetion I did intend to highlight) and they’re pretty kindly towards strangers. Though, you helping them kill a bunch of Kobolds probably swung them into favour. The real reason for their civilized ways of course, is Father Admonton Tully.

Father Admonton Tully is a missionary for Llamos the Lost, a minor deity in this world.* Llamos is the god of lost things, or more appropiately, he’s the god of travel. His power, and thus Father’s Tully charge is derived from travelling to lost tribal villages and preaching about the existence (not really benevolence) of Llamos, as well as protecting travellers in the far flung reaches of civilization.

Father Tully himself seems like your typical cleric. A kindly man, of indeterminate age. He tells you his story. He arrived at the village around 3 years ago. Clerics under his order travel to villages such as these and educate them on civilization and culture in order to provide safe havens to travllers around the world. He himself, has served this capacity for over 15 years, converting and educating at least 4 villages world wide.

So perhaps it’s fortutious that you stumble onto him; he might be able to help you return to the mainland and Shyaen’s home.

Unfortunately, Father Tully can be of no help here. The boat that he came here on has been destroyed. Chief Hariman and Father Tully then tell you of the missing tribals and the witch Zzeribah. Apparently, apart of Kobolds, this little village has been suffering from a series of missing persons. Both Chief Hariman Father Tully suspects the witch, who holds a special grudge against him for usurping her position as village cleric and is known to dabble in more necromantic shamanistic magic. They suspects she’s been abducting the villages for some purpose unknown to them.

Father Tully promises you aid, since that is what his God does, if you agree to investigate the missing persons and kill the Witch.

There are several other side quests around the village if you choose to explore**, but the main one above is the one that will advance the story. You can ask around the village about the history of Father Tully and Zzeribah and you’ll learn that Zzeribah was once considered the village elder because of her magic. She left after a fight with Father Tully, the details of which, most people don’t remember. 

So the course of your next action is clear. Time to muck about a swamp. 

* I have little to no familiarity with whatever pantheon DnD has nor am I interested. This is set neither in Faerun, Eberron or whatever else worlds there could possibly be. I really am making this up as I go along, or made this up as I went along.

** I never really actually designed any side quests here but thought that it had potential for a couple. These include gathering herbs from the swamp, helping find some stuff from the beach, going back to acquire stuff from your shipwreck to givethe trader and maybe killing a bunch of wolves. They’re the stuff of standard sidequests, meant to flesh the tribal village out a little.