5 Most Common Writing Pitfalls

I think that some examples of good and bad writing in existing amateur RPGs, while it runs the risk of pissing people off, might be instructive towards this topic. However, it probably wouldn't be a good political move, unless you were finding examples of good and bad writing in the same amateur game.

Also, it seems to me that you are talking a lot more about PLOTTING (and some Characterization) then writing. For me, writing in RPGs is always more about dialog, which this article doesn't really address.

Yes, I definitely did not want to provide examples of real/existing amateur indie games, whether I knew the person would look at this post or not. One of the primary reasons was because enough horrible commercial games have been released for a single platform alone (take your pick), that I couldn't justify using amateur games as examples of good and bad writing.

Also, it would have started major flame wars, which I definitely want to avoid. I have enough drama outside of any forum.

To me, dialog abd plot are not only equally important--they are both crucial to conveying a believable story. I will definitely create a dialog tutorial, hopefully sooner rather than later, and it will address certain downfalls and common cliches to avoid in dialog---and when a cliche is perfectly acceptable. They will be, of course, packed with examples and theories.

Till then! BTW, I replied to your e-mail in reference to our conversation.

Naming your characters

author=Blitzen link=topic=1644.msg26472#msg26472 date=1217970001
That's the inherent difference in crafting names for games and for stories, however. In the most mechanical video games, names are identifiers and have little else to do with the game. For example, anyone who plays Tetris knows the peices, but it is not nescessary that they have names, because the player has an idea of the properties of the piece without having to have it labelled. The pieces, although without names or shapes that exist in the real world, become symbols and thus the player gives them an IMPLIED meaning through thier interaction with them.

When it comes to CHARACTERS, they are essentially units of your game mechanic, in this case the basic RPG Mechanic structure. Any meaning you give them, ie names or graphical uniqueness that doesn't serve a discretlely function purpose, in an IMPOSED meaning. This means that you actually TAKE AWAY some oppourtunity for the player to be creative and attribute thier own meaning to those objects. An example is your typical RPG cast, where the characters are funtional representations of the stats they represent. Let's say you have a tank-style character, and as a designer you put the title of Knight on it. What you have actually just done is LIMITED the interactive experience by applying a label rather than no label. While the player could have attributed to the lableless object any value that they wished, you as a designer had gone ahead and done it for them.

It all depends what you are trying to do as a game designer if you think this is a good thing or not. Sometimes it is nescessary for identification purposes (ie the player needs to know which object is a KEY style object and which is a LOCK style object in order to progress in the game). Or, if you're designig the game with the aesthetic as vital to the gameplay experience, then it will play a huge role in your presentation.

Personally, I would think that the best games are the ones where you can take away the atmospheric elements and be left with something that is still a hell of a lot of fun. There is still a creativity in good design that can exist without an aesthetic focus. That being said, themes and aesthetics help differentiate your design if it is similar to others, to the point where it develops to become a mechanic in itself that differentiates it from other designs.

I'm not taking either side of this dialectic, but keep this in mind when you are designing your games.

I love this!! This is exactly how I feel in terms of game design. Everyone who didn't read this for whatever reason should read it again---it's inspiring!!

I just wanted to reinforce the idea that a good game, stripped of all of its atmosphere and story (in theory) would still make it FUN! Of course, an RPG stripped of its story would be somewhat lifeless, and a little confusing--but all of the elements of the game (outside of its story) should aim to be fun.

If we all did this, the story and characters would only be a part of the package, and not the entire focus.

Crafting good story/characters

I'm going to try to answer this question for Omni, since the topic deviated (even in my post!) the way it did.

This is a very difficult question to answer, if only because we don't have your story to constructively criticize. Who knows, maybe your past stories have a great CONCEPT, but since you overly criticize your own work, it will never be released because you thought it was crap.

A good example of something like this is a game here on RMN called Twilight Fantasy. Now, I'm not going to talk much about this game here on this post (especially since I'm still writing a review for it), but the original concept and where the developer WANTED to take the story was actually pretty good.

I can tell that he had good ideas when he thought about that game, and it just could have used more planning (and much better programming---but that's another story).

Now, to attempt to answer your question, basically you want your story to answer a few questions. Please note: this isn't an all-encompassing question list. Many developers here have a different set of questions, and they can feel free to post what works for them. This happens to be what works for ME.

1) When is your proposed storyline set?
Present time? Futuristic? Dinosaur Age? Feudal Japan? Medieval Europe? All of the above? None of the above?

2) Who is in your storyline, and WHY?
Now is the time to possibly flesh out characters. You don't need NAMES, and you don't even need HEROES. You definitely will need VILLAINS, however. Why would I say this? Well, usually, when you have a conflict, a hero will rise and attempt to solve the conflict. Villains will create the conflict, and creating the hero will be easier.

3) What is the central conflict in your storyline? Are there extra/outside conflicts?
List out all of the conflicts in the story, and how they affect each other and the world. Note, that a conflict can be global, national, or personal. Pollution and greenhouse effect is a global conflict---America's contribution to the greenhouse effect is a national conflict---and the people who fly personal jets every day are a personal contribution to that conflict.
In a game, an empire who is trying to take over the world is a global conflict, a country who wants to overthrow that empire is a national conflict, and the an individual who is spying for both sides for profit and intelligence is a personal conflict.

4) How are these conflicts resolved? (i.e. how does it end) Who, ideally, would resolve these conflicts? Are there any conflicts that are never fully resolved? Why?
List out how you think each conflict should be resolved. Ideally, what type of person could resolve this conflict? For example, our next president should bring our global pollution to light, and list various ways he can promote change in our contribution towards global warming. What problems can never be fully resolved? Why?

5) Is there any other question that needs explaining? IE Why does the main hero HAVE to solve this problem? Why do his team-mates feel they HAVE to contribute to the cause? Is there anyone who is in the party for purely personal gain? Does s/he decide to stay once s/he completes his/her goal, or not? Why?
Even though I spoke about character issues and development, any question that doesn't fall into the last four would go here.

And, if you can fill in those questions (the more detail, the better) you probably have the makings of a good storyline going on. Let me know if this helped at all.

Need some staff.

RPG Maker XP. I may get to learn a little more RGSS along the way, but if I do any real custom programming, it will be within the original programs parameters, and not using RGSS code. Battle style will be side-view, however, and I will have a custom menu.

Story will be shared when I decide on my crew; however, I will try to create/release a trailer this Monday. If not, middle of the week FOR SURE. Which brings me to my next point:

Privacy Notice
I have a wife, and a five-month-old child. I know about having literally no time on your hands. Right now, my daughter is crying in her walker and I'm struggling to finish this post.

The crew who I decide on will be dedicated, intelligent, unafraid to innovate and share their thoughts, proactive (all artists/composers/etc can beta-test, if they'd like) and productive with their time.

Also, the team will not share storyline/game secrets; My team will not upload sections, demos, or anything that isnt approved; My team will use discretion when talking about the game, and not release important/classified information.

Ideally, my artists would be creative. The job would consist of:

Custom Charsets (Important)
Custom Battle Charsets (Important)
Custom Backdrop
Custom Battle Material
Custom Chipsets (IMPORTANT!)
Custom Facesets (Only a few)
Custom Enemy Graphics (Important)

And, I may employ an extra artists for some animation.

The artists will be working directly with me. Instructions will be sent to you, files will be sent to me. Programming knowledge is unnecessary, and if one of the artists does have extensive programming skills, they can double as an assistant programmer.

When I recieve enough graphics to complete part of the game, I forward it to the composer.

Above all, should be creative. My comporser(s) should be able to take a game with no music, and by looking at the events and following my guidelines, creating music pieces for the scenes.

If they have RM knowledge--they can inputting the musical pieces themsleves and forwarding them to the beta tester to test and comment. Of course, if they see multiple scenes where a single piece would fit, they could use their discretion and fit the piece in. Also, if there is a composer who has programming knowledge, they can take on both roles.

Assistant Programmer
The assistant programmer would essentially take parts of the storyline every week and create them game. This basically means you will have your own artist (or the artist will be good enough/have enough time to work with both of us) and your own composer (ditto).

Think of it as creating sections: You will know the whole story (of course) and have everything at your fingertips and basically just help me put everything together. I would do Intro - Part A, you will do Part B - C for this week, etc. Basically help move things forward.

Beta Tester
Beta tester would play the sections of the game, section-per-section, and try to find bugs. If a section would take 15 minutes to get through, I expect a beta-tester to play that section for at least 30 minutes to TRY to make the game freeze. Obviously, as the story and characters move along, the testing will get more difficult...but, since the game will be created section-for-section, the finished product should be generally bug-free--and the testing shouldn't be so difficult.

A second beta tester, if I decide to have one, will test all the items and skills and weapons and armors and basically everything interchangeable in the game. They will try draining a ghost (which would actually damage the player, for example) They will make sure Death doesn't work on a boss; etc etc etc.

Need some staff.


My name is Seraph, some of you guys know me by now, some don't.

For those who don't know me, well, my hobbies are:

Writing articles for job.
Writing articles for forums.
Writing stories/ideas for book/game/movie.
Playing homebrewn RPGs and
Writing reviews.
Playing PSP/PS2.
Programming a little.
Learning programming languages.
Learning new things.
Repairing computers.

Not all emcompassing list, of course, but just some of what I do on a daily basis. I am now looking for STAFF to finally create a game that I have 70% of the storyline/map written and drawn out*.

Details will be given to the staff whom I choose, but I am in need of the following:

Artist, quite possibly two (plenty of work)
-PM me general interest, and what you are good at drawing. I need to know your schedule; I will need at least four to eight hours a week from your schedule (depending how efficient you are)

Composer/midi modifier, perhaps two (plenty of work)
-PM me general interest, and what sort of music you are good at creating. I need to know your schedule; I will need at least two to four hours a week from your schedule (depending on how efficient you are)

Maybe an assist programmer (no RGSS required) Feel free to apply.
-May or may not need one. PM for interest, and what you have done before (specific!)
Will need anywhere from zero to ten hours a given week.

One (1) beta-tester for now (not too much to test yet, however).
-PM me general interest. Will need anywhere from zero to six hours a week from your schedule.

Post may be edited in the future; stay tuned. I may need more positions filled depending on where I take the project.

Crafting good story/characters

FF7 (please hold the flames) is a great example of how the characters are very interesting with lots of back story and motives however when it came down to mechanics they were essentially the same with some very minor tweaks.

Well, in your RPG, you would want all of your characters to be controlled the same way (i.e. mechanics). And if you are actually talking about defined roles in battle, then you essentially are asking for the pre-FFV days, where there was a cleric, a mage, a thief and a warrior (and every other variation of these names you can think of, including priest, wizard, rogue and barbarian).

FF7 skill development was actually more balanced then 6, 8, 10, and 12 because of the fact that you needed the materia equipped in order to have the spells, and the amount materia that you could equip was limited. If we look back to the games mentioned here:

FF6 involved learning spells though Espers.
Once you had the spell, they were yours indefinitely.

FF8 involved "drawing" spells from enemies.
Not only could you have 99 of each spell with time, they were available to that character until they ran out. Because of the expendibility, it was a little more balanced than the others.

FF10 involved a skill/spell grid where you expended AP to move across the board.
Every character could eventually run across the entire board, and own every skill/spell.

FF12 was a similar skill/spell "license" grid to FF10. Once you had the license (and bought the skill/spell) you could use it indefinitely.

In comparison,

FF4: Pre-determined character roles.
FF5: Different classes available. You could have every skill, but you were only allowed an extra skill-set 'equipped' outside of your classes skillset.
FF7: Materia system; explained above.
FF9: Weapons had learnable abilities. Could only wear specific weapons; i.e. skills were specific to character.
FFX-2: Garment Sphere system. Basically the same as FF5, but you needed to be wearing the sphere to use the spells.

*shrug* I might be taking this too far into details, but I don't think FF7's character mechanics were the same. The customization didn't allow you to have *everything*--although, if you wanted to, you could have three characters that were equal.

Writing Tactics: Innovative Writing for RPGs

author=GreatRedSpirit link=topic=2137.msg35577#msg35577 date=1222986261
Here's a great example of the Chronological and Finish-Start-Finish plots: Astroboy for the GBA. The final stage is Astroboy trying to save the world from the lose/lose war that is going on between two sides who used to work together, one side plays their trump card, the other side gets annahilated, Astroboy dies and the big bad villians wins. Well shit.

What happens next? Astroboy gets revived and sent back in time to when it all started.

I think of it as one of the best plots in video games. None of the characters are particularly interesting but the plot is incredibly well executed.

Fantastic! Thank you for this example, and I'm surprised that it is so similar to what I was thinking about. I will have to play this game now!!

author=GreatRedSpirit link=topic=2137.msg35577#msg35577 date=1222986261
I think a reporter following the FF7 crew would be interesting. "In today's news, Shinra's attempt to blow up the meteor failed after some terrorists boarded the rocket intended to stop meteor, took out the main explosive, and escaped!"

Wow, this is a better, and more direct example of the Bystander idea! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I'm glad you liked it; again, it's definitely something to think about, and (of course) these three are only SOME possibilities of innovative writing--not the only possibilities.

Writing Tactics: Innovative Writing for RPGs

Not so different from the Lufia I/Lufia II bit, this could consist of a band of heroes who come across some unusually powerful wizard. The group is completely annihilated/world is destroyed, and the storyline rolls back to a previous point in the story to explain how this calamity could have come to pass. Perhaps a twist is that our hero dreamt about this calamity happening (which would make it forward chronological) or perhaps our hero was somehow saved and reverted back in time to correct the disaster. Again, this is only an example, and creativity is especially necessary when telling a storyline in reverse. Even Lufia I didn't have it this bad, because perhaps Natsume just threw in Maxim to explain why his descendant had the swordfighting ability that he did, and then looked back and said heeeey....we can make a second game out of that guy..etc.

Bystander Storytelling
I semi-explained this in the Point of View section above, but basically this involved a third person who may or may not have some affiliation with the main character. Of course, since the third person isn't really part of the game, multiple events can be streamed in one for a better storytelling experience. For example, the omniscient bystander may happen to know the exact date of births of the hero(s) and villain(s) of the story. They would also know exactly when specific events happened, and what caused the events to happen (whereas following a character, the character would only know what happened, and would be hard-pressed to find out why).

Even though a certain amount of mystery is possibly lost in the Bystander Storytelling point of view, a possible twist could be events that would unfold in the present tense involving the bystander...or maybe the bystander is a surprise person that was throughout the whole game, and the audience didn't know about it..etc.

Event-oriented Storytelling
Event-oriented storytelling (EOS) involves the story revolving around an event. Instead of a character encountering multiple events, we can think of it as an event which multiple characters encounter. The closest movie I can think of that utilizes this style of storytelling is Vantage Point, a relatively new movie that was recently released. In this movie, the storyline is revolved around one event that is seen through the eyes of many different characters in the film. In fact, the movie was ultimately labelled redundant, because it involved the same event, over and over again, through the point-of-view of various different characters.

Here's another way to visualize this: When the towers fell in 2001, exactly where were you when it happened? What were you doing? What were you thinking about at the time? Were you watching TV when it happened? If not, how did you ultimately find out about it? Now, multiply and quantify that throughout the rest of the world (most of whom will be able to answer the questions I just presented) and you have an EO scenario, where the characters are revolving around the event.

While I have my doubts about how interesting one event would be in an entire RPG game, we can borrow this element from Vantage Point for specific events in our storyline. For example, if you've ever played through Earthbound for the SNES, at the end of the game the group is fighting Giygas for the sake of the planet, and you are supposed to make Paula pray during a certain amount of times to ultimately win the battle. Every time Paula prays, we get a new scene that shows a friend/group of friends from every corner of the world offering their strength in prayers.

In Jack's case, our Super CIA-Operative infused with Type-1 enhancers in my last article (5 Common Writing Pitfalls), perhaps he comes across a character in the story who he believes will help him recover his wife and children. So while he is explaining exactly what happened to this new character, the screen fades out and the character is thinking about the role he played in that event, or during that time frame. This is a rather weakish example, but I'm sure you guys get the point.

Object-oriented Storytelling
Object-oriented storytelling (OOS) is very similar to EOS in that the story doesn't follow the character. However, in OOS, the story is following a specific object, as opposed to an event.

I can't think of an RPG whose whole storyline is OOS-based. However, in Lufia I and II, parts of the storyline are based on the Dual Blade, which the main character must secure at some point during that storyline. You get a few lines of background dialogue here and there, and parts of the story follow the Dual Blade. Again, the whole storyline isn't based on the Dual Blade, but only a certain percentage of it. Once you find out, and acquire, the Dual Blade, it's mentioned a few more times by very angry villains, and the storyline is close to the end.

Again, there would be striking similarities comparing EOS and OOS side by side, but the greatest difference is that the creativity required for an object-oriented RPG is substantially higher than either event-oriented, or traditional storyline. The reasons lie, first of all, in character development. For example, let's assume that we decide to make a game that's based on a cursed sword. So we start with the creation of this cursed sword, which may be a blacksmith who is possessed with making the most powerful blade in the world. His greed, and lust for blood attracts the attention of a demon who infuses powers into the blacksmith, and upon creating the cursed sword, the sword consumes his soul and moves on to another owner.

Obviously, since the storyline is following a sword, we can assume that any character that comes in contact with this powerful sword will have incredible fighting prowess; but their days numbered. Therefore, one of the creative aspects is to figure out how to present the gameplay in an interesting, and perhaps innovative, but definitely fun way. If the player becomes discouraged because every time he levels up a new character, the character ends up dying, s/he is not going to like your game. Or you.

Perhaps a twist would be that our blacksmith creates an artifact along with the sword that nullifies its curse, and the aim of the game is to find the artifact within certain restrictions before it completely consumes you. Or perhaps the sword finds its way to a character who is insistant on surviving with this powerful blade, and it creates a string of conflicts, including hero vs. his arrogance, hero vs. sword, etc.

Another creative roadblock to an OOS-based game is the ending. I honestly can't think of an ending to the above example without using the demon as a final stopping point (destroy the demon to break the curse) or somehow throwing more characters into the mix. However, an OOS game would probably be refreshing, and interesting for the creator.

In conclusion...
So overall, there are several different creation styles, and point-of-views to any one event. While I'm not suggesting that you confine a single game to a single style presented in this article, it wouldn't hurt at all to spice up your game by borrowing a few of these ideas (or creating your own!) for specific points in the storyline. It would certainly add flavor to your game, and set you apart from the crowd in terms of creativity.

Writing Tactics: Innovative Writing for RPGs

Bad Guy Notice
Please do not distribute, post, or profit from this material. This material is only allowed to be posted on my website, the forums with which I associate with, and on any webmaster/forum member's website/blog space whom has asked permission before posting or blogging it. Sale of this and any of my material, whether online or physically, is strictly prohibited.

Entertainment Notice
This material, and any material that I post, is strictly for entertainment and knowledge/learning purposes. It is not designed as a be-all, end-all tutorial. It is not designed to fix and/or alleviate your game or book of any negative criticism or hype, all of which should be expected when creating either a game or book. This material should solely be used as a guideline in addition to your current writing and creation styles. Use at your own risk--I cannot guarantee or take responsibility for the use of this material.

Writing Style Notice
I am a very technical and theoretical writer. To me, it is just as important to know the background and theories of various subjects, supported by various opposed to, for example, listing items and offering vague descriptions and suggestions for what I think you should do with your game. Knowledge is power, and doing is learning.


My intention with this article is to attempt to introduce different screenplay and storytelling styles for the sake of originality, self-improvement and interest factor. Again, please note that I will not be focusing much on the character side of things in this article, but instead purely on the storyline side. Any characters that are mentioned are purely consequential and necessary for example purposes.

Speaking of examples, this article may be lacking in a wide variety of examples from commercial video games. The reason is mostly because these ideas would be fairly difficult to utilize in a video game, and are much easier in a piece of fiction---however, creative minds who can use some of the examples listed here will certainly gain the attention and support of gamers who are tired of the same threaded storylines.

There are many RPGs out today, all of which follow different storytelling method. Interesting, innovative games that tend to stand out apart from the crowd story-telling wise are extremely rare. The reason that most of these games will want to follow a basic linear storytelling style encompasses two main reasons:
  • a) To avoid utter failure and disrespect from gamers and consumers;
  • b) To preserve interest in the main characters, and to promote familiarity within the gaming community.

What this means, is that commercial developers would rather remain in the confines of comfortable developing while generating profits, as opposed to taking a chance and risking failure and huge losses. Also, by deriving from a generic linear storyline, developers realize that they would risk trading overall character development for the sake of a better, or originally-conveyed story. A perfect example of this would be SaGa Frontier 2, which feature various different characters while conveying one whole plot. You can advance with the game however you please, and the story will make sense regardless of which way you opt to continue.

Linear vs. Non Linear
The Real Brickroad from wrote a huge piece about Linear vs. Non Linear RPGs, describing in full detail what they mean respectively and the pros and cons of each. I will now formally thank him for saving my fingers a bunch of grief. If you don't know what's the difference between a linear, and a non-linear storyline, I suggest you read his article titled: When Linearity Attacks! The reason that I bring this up in my article is because, with few exceptions, the specific writing tactics that I will outline are designed for linear storyline---not so much non-linear, although it is possible. However, for simplification purposes, any writing style that I introduce will be introduced in a linear style.

Let's get down to some theory.

Innovative Writing Styles for RPGs: Chronology
As far as RPGs go, although the elements that are in the RPG can vary drastically from project to project (animation, graphics, sounds, storyline, elements, etc), the way the storyline is conveyed is traditionally chronologically, starting from a point where the character realizes a conflict/crisis, and ending at the point where the conflict is resolved, usually with the added benefit of saving the world in the process. And if you can think of one commercial RPG that isn't designed in this manner, you would be better off than me, because I'm hard pressed to think of more than a scant few.

In Lufia I: The Fortress of Doom, you start out as Maxim, Selan, Guy and Arty, who will make an appearance in Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals. The significance of this is, while the individual games follow a chronological storytelling method, the entire story is told in reverse, with the hero of legend Maxim appearing in the second game, and his descendant appearing in the first. It's a very interesting way to portray the storyline, and the second game does a fantastic job of portraying the legendary heroes and closing every loose end, up until the final scenes.

In Final Fantasy X, Tidus begins in his dream world of Zanarkand, which no longer exists in the world, playing Blitzball and being his usual cool self. He then somehow gets tossed into present-day Spira, which is somehow technologically de-vanced, yet sometime in the future (or perhaps just not Dream World). Again, the storyline is portrayed chronologically (which is almost impossible to avoid) but with the twist of time/space travel.

Same thing with Chrono Trigger. The storyline is portrayed chronologically--but only to the player. Crono is warping across various instances of time and space attempting to restore the natural order of things, and it makes for interesting dialogue and ultimately, innovative style. It's ultimately a shame that I cannot think of any other instances where storyline derives from the usual dual-chronological setting (both the character and the player see a chronological story unfolding).

Innovative Writing Styles for RPGs: Point of View
Another common RPG storytelling element that I see is the character Point of View element. While this one is much more difficult to innovate on, it's not impossible to come up with solutions to make your game follow something else other than the character. For example, Final Fantasy XII's storyline is partly told by an unknown third person, who is explaining the details of the background storyline and Ivalice, as the story unfolds. And while, again, I'd be hard pressed to remember them, I'm sure there are a few games whose storylines are dependant on a third person depicting the tale.

The innovation of having a bystander storyteller is that they can relay events that happened in true chronological order. For instance, if while our hero is fighting a giant rat, an explosion occurs in the southwest sector of the labyrinth he's currently located at, we can change scenes to reflect that our bystander is conveying this information to us. Otherwise, realistically, our hero (and us) would not know about the explosion unless they heard it, or somehow found out about it.

Enough theory! Next are some innovative writing ideas and storyline deviations that this community can have fun with.

5 Most Common Writing Pitfalls


I just finished proofing Writing Tactics: Innovative Writing for RPGs!
I will do my best to post it in the next fifteen minutes.