Arcanima Mechanics: The Plot Mesh

Yorlik's picture

In this article I want to give a little insight into the concept of the "Plot Mesh" we are going to use on Arcanima to organize the scripted content of the world.

Most of you might be familiar with the concept of a plot line: A series of events leading to a result. Sometimes the PC has to return to a plot giver NPC to perform a series of tasks. This leads to relatively linear structures - plot lines. Opposed to this is the concept of an "Open World", games coming to my mind are Skyrim or Fallout and some others. Here you have a large world to explore and tons of side quests which are usually self contained:  You start them, you finish them, get rewarded and that was it. End of story.

The "Plot Mesh" is something in between. There are goals and there are ways to achieve these goals. But this is not done in a linear fashion. Instead the story content is designed as a mesh of interwoven nodes where many different paths could lead to a variety solutions or outcomes. Its like driving a car in a city.

Let me give an example: You want to join the local thieves guild and want to talk to their leader. But the local thieves don't talk to you. You have no name as a criminal capable to perform certain tasks. So you'd have to work on that by performing the related stunts: Stealing the crown jewels, breaking into a local bank, stealing a staff of the archmage, whatever. Every single of these actions would raise your reputation as a thief by an amount. (Yes - we will make heavy use of reputations and scores). Once you have made a name for yourself the local thieves guild leader might talk to you. But since the local thieves distaste murder you should be careful not to kill anyone along the way. You reputation as a killer should stay low.

The talk with the local thieves guild leader would be a so-called "Plot Node". A plot node is nothing more than a simple abstract concept or structure consisting of:

  • Entering conditions
    Example: Some reputation as a thief but still low or even zero reputation as a killer
  • Actions to be taken:
    Example: The dialogue with the local thief guild leader
  • Outcome:
    Example: Depending on your dialogue choices with the local thief guild leader some scores will change and he might give you a certain task or not or might even decide to let his people report you to the authorities because he thinks you're not worthy.

If you are sucessful in your talk with the local thieves boss you might suddenly get into dialogues with certain people not talking to you before. Or others might refuse to talk to you any longer because they saw you hanging around with certain other people.

The goal is to make the world a living one reacting accordingly to the players actions. But as usual - the devil lies in the details. In its core the term "Plot Mesh" is a very simple and primitive concept. It will not write your story for you or automagically make your world interesting. I see a bunch of difficulties to tackle when designing it:

  • Is your scoring system meaningful? Or will it just mess with the players?
  • Are the chains of cause and consequence you are designing transparent and understandable? Or will your players not recognize whats going on or find it "just weird"?
  • Do your players have a real chance to foresee the consequences of their actions?
  • Do the connections actually add to the experience of cohesion and immersion?

I personally believe that seeing your world and story content as a mesh and not as a set of unrelated plots can help to design it in a holistic way and give your players the desired experience of meaning and immersion.


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