Creating content players might want to play

Added two brand new chapters HERE (reply #18)

***An always updated and downloadable version can always be found HERE. This includes all additions and changes that don’t make it into the first page of this posting.***

This article is to help new content creators establish good practices to making unique and fun Foundry content. It is also designed to help authors overcome creative blocks by helping them think through creative or writers blocks rather then tell them how to proceed. It will give authors entry points, where they can then use their own imagination to build a deeper story.
From now on out, I will often substitute the terms User generated content, user content, user quests, player made quest, player made content, blah blah you get the idea with UGC. (User Generated Content).

I. I Had a Dream
So you have a brilliant idea for a quest in Neverwinter. You have bits and pieces of the story in your head, some ideas for the scenes, but you are not sure where to start. Well, this is the tricky part. Everyone has their own way of starting with an idea and then reaching their goal. I will attempt to help you out with some tips, some strategies, and some ways to storyboard and script your UGC. This article however is not a guide on how to work the Foundry itself.
(Author note, yes the game is not out yet, so you can ignore the following pragraph) The first step you should do, before you do anything, is get in the Foundry and play around. Learn what you can and cannot do, so you don’t plan your entire quest around a mechanic that the Foundry will not even let you make. On the contrary the last thing you should do is just start throwing a quest together on a whim, unless you do not intend to publish it. Your name is important, there will be a lot of quality UGC, and players will have to decide what to play and what to ignore. Therefore, your first published quest will want to be something that gets your name out there, and not something that puts your name a someones ‘Do no play’ list. Experimentation is good, but keep it to yourself. Learn the Foundry by making practice quests and only playing them locally.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to sully your name! Do not use others as lab assistants to test out your ideas by releasing half-produced content. It’s all about first impressions. If you read a really bad book, you think you will go back and get another book by that author?

II. You’re Not in Kansas
Having a fantastic story to tell is not enough to have a playable Neverwinter quest. A common mistake I tended to see with UGC is that authors’ stories, while in and of itself are great, are far to removed from what’s going on in the world around it. You have to remember that a lot of the players that will be delving into your story, have already been playing the game for a bit and are learning what is happening in the game world. If you then take them into a story, that completely ignores what the players have been experiencing for the last twenty levels, it will alienate them. So, you have a story about a band of bandits that kidnap some guys love interest. You have plot twists, you have betrayal, you have action, you have everything you need…so you think. You’re missing one important thing. Regardless of what the story involves, it is still taking place in the lands in and around Neverwinter. So, while you might have this story in your head from before you even heard of Neverwinter, you should now go through it and somehow tie it into current events. Not saying anything major either. Here are a few tips and things to think of, that will lead to a better story:

Location: Yes, you can make up your own location, but try and place it smartly in the overall map. The best way to create a new location, is to make it feel that it was there all along, just waiting to be discovered, or it could be a location that was always known about, just not often talked about. Explore ways to introduce this location in a believable way.
Motivations: Regardless of what your characters are experiencing in your story, remember, they still LIVE in the game. They have experienced at some level the catastrophes that have lead to the current state of Neverwinter. While they may not be apparent, try to determine how your characters might have reacted or changed to what happened in the past. As you think of these things, you will begin to develop new ideas for your story that will help plant it firmly in the game world. In a nutshell, A giant volcano erupted and destroyed half of Neverwinter, this tends to affect people in some way.
Tie-ins: Even if you plan to have your quest far removed from current events, which is perfectly acceptable, throwing some minor tie-ins are important. Just something that the player can see or hear and mentally link with what they have experienced outside of your quest. It could be off-handed chatter between NPC’s, an item the player can examine, a bit of lore found on a bookshelf, or something a bit more major, like a main quest NPC speaking of certain events in the game and how they impacted them.

The biggest thing to remember is to find some way that will make the story feel APART of the world, and not some extra-dimensional event that disconnects the players from the game they have been playing for some time. This will help to make the story more believable.

It’s not about taking events or elements in the game and creating a story around them. Rather it’s about taking YOUR story, and then putting into the game world in a believable way, while being mindful of those events happening in the game. You can tell your story however you want, but remember that the story you tell is by it’s nature a part of the game world for the players playing it. Choosing to ignore that fact creates a disconnect between players and your content. Embrace the setting of the game.

III. Knowledge is Power
If you’re like me, then your knowledge of everything Forgotten Realms is limited. While I have read many of Salvatores books, I never made it to the books that talk about the Spellplague or the eruption of Mount Hotenow, and I never played the Pen and Paper game. Therefore, I had some catching up to do. The campaign I am planning for the game is actually a re-imagining of a book I am writing. The world that the book takes place in is of my own imagining. Yet I was always interested in telling the story in a more interactive way. Neverwinter allows me to do just that. However, it means reworking many of the elements to fit into the game world. When planning and story boarding the campaign, I did some reading on various things related to current events. During the process of writing dialogue or designing maps and such, I would make an effort to look for a more D&D way to do something. While the basic story remains the same, I have found many ways to plant the story into Neverwinter in a way that you would never realize the original story is as far from D&D as you can get.
Some may say I am watering down my vision. But to me, it’s a way to use my imagination in a new way. Having the vast amounts of lore and locations developed over the decades is a huge bonus. Now, whether your story is an original concept, or one that from the beginning was always planned to take place in the world of Neverwinter, you can benefit greatly from what is already there. In my cases, I have changed names of locations to their closest counterpart around Neverwinter, certain ideologies have been modified to fit the lore, and I even added some completely new story elements that plant the game into current events. While I have done a lot of these things to help make my campaign more Forgotten Realms, the story is still my own. And more importantly, how I write the dialogue and story elements still conforms to my own vision.
In any case, for you, there are many ways in which you can use already established lore to help you, both build your story, as well as further immerse the player. This ranges from physical locations to place your quest, historical events that can be the catalyst for your story, Gods and Deities that can be the influence behind your characters motivations, creatures to fight, organizations, cults, groups that can be tied into your quest as the bad or good guys. Even when making your own unique elements of the game, you can use established reference to make it more believable. Instead of just creating an arbitrary band of maniacal mages and leaving it at that, figure out what their motivations are, use past example in D&D lore, or attach to them a Deity that can be influencing them. Do something that makes them feel apart of the world in a tangible way. Same for a new town or village. I am creating a wholly new village for part of my campaign. However, I am implementing story elements that establish it in the world, explaining why it has not really been heard of by most, a quick (yet optional backstory) on the town, the residents, and their motivations. I could have just said, you’re in a town of <insert name> and left it at that, but there will be plenty of these ad nauseam towns throughout the Foundry.

Do your research. At the very least, read up in the internet about the events most relevant to the game, such as the Spellplague and it’s effects, the eruption of Mount Hotenow, and then go a little deeper on more specific subject matter related to your quest. Google has it all, and you never need to really open up an actual D&D campaign book.

  IV. The Meat and Potatoes
So you have your idea in head, you worked out some motivations, and you just want to start fleshing it out. Well, you could just jump into the foundry and start at it. But this can leave you with large holes, both in gameplay and in story. The best thing to do from here is storyboard your quest. There are many ways to do this, from simply getting a pencil and some paper and drawing a rough outline, to more complex methods such as I use. As the game is far from release, I have began work on my campaign using various methods to speed up development once the Foundry is live. I will now share with you some of my techniques.
First, the best thing you can do is start your draft or storyboard on a cloud based service, such as Google Drive, so that you can develop anywhere. If an idea pops into your head, you have access to your documents as long as you have access to the internet. I use my tablet at work because its compact, and allows me to access most of google drive. For some stuff I need a real computer, but I can create new word documents, type up my ideas, and when I get home it’s all there on my computer.
My development is broken into about five parts. I utilize several Google Drive add-ons to achieve this. Below is a breakdown of what I use, how I use them and some screenshot examples.. The tools I use are: Diagram: Allows you to create flowcharts that statically mimic the dialoge trees in the Foundry.
Floorplanner: A tool that allows you to build up maps and scenes. It is really a house layout tool, but is easily adapted. It’s free for one building, but you can have many many “designs” for each floor in a building. Each design is independent of others. You can build outdoor maps as well as indoor maps. You can get a 3d view of the interior of a building to help with size. While the Foundry uses pre-designed elements to make an interior map, you have a lot of input how it will turn out. And you can decorate the interior as you see fit. This tool helps me to determine flow of an area to better write out the dialoge and objectives.
Documents: The standard document creator in Drive. Essentially an online version of Word.
Spreadsheet: It’s Googles version of Excel. I use this to database elements that I will need to reference when I make the game. Mainly it’s where I have all my lore I want to reference. On the map I will just tag a location as being a lore item, then I can look in the spreadsheet to find the actual lore text I will put into the game.

The Outline and Drafts: This is the living document of all the ideas pertaining to my story. In this I will type up rough drafts of dialogues, lore ideas, overall flow of the quest, and anything else of relevance. This is also what I add-to when on my tablet, as it’s easy and fast to update. It uses the default document creator.

Overview: This is the overall flow of the quest. It uses the addon to create a flowchart that I can use to work up what and when stuff will happen both in terms of moving to another scene, opening up dialogue, adding objectives to the quest log, etc. Screenshot of Overview

Dialogue Creator: This uses the same addon as the overview, but is where I make a dialogue tree of each dialogue in the quest. I break it down to where on the far left is where you will see DM style text describing non-visual elements. Screenshot of Dialogue Tree

Scene Creator: I use the floor planner add-on for this. I use the term Scene instead of map, as its more then just a visual representation of the map, but also includes all elements of the flow, including pathing (as seen in blue line), item locations, keys to certain dialogue etc. Screenshot of Scene designer Also here is a 3D view of the scene, which helps you with getting an idea of overall scope. Everything in the Floor Planner addon is to scale with each other, this allows you to get a good idea of everything in relation to a standard sized person.

Lore Database: I use the spreadsheet to keep a database of lore items I want to put into the game. Generally when I make a scene, I will fit in some appropriate lore items or NPC’s and tag them with a key. I will then put into the database what I actually want the lore text to be when you interact with the subject. I have hidden columns that include quest and map names I have already decided upon for the campaign so they show up in the drop down lists. This allows everything to be entered easily, and prevents inaccuracy. Screenshot of an example Lore Datebase.

Character Datebase: It’s also good to keep a database or document on all the characters in your story. This serves two purposes, one, it allows you to avoid the mistake of forgetting a characters name, two it allows you to save for later use characters you might want to put into other quests. In your record of characters, its good to include some key points of who they are, what they previously did, as well as a few tags on their major locations in your quests.

You can see I get pretty organized and detailed. However, you can do as little or as much pre-planning as you want. The important thing to remember is that you work out the overall flow of the story before you get knee deep and realize you have major continuity issues or elements that contradict what previously happened.

V. Where Do I Go From Here?
Here are some more helpful tips on getting started.

If you can’t decide where to place your quest, and for an advanced but rewarding approach then the game is your friend. Find a particularly interesting area you quested through, and pull from that a quest you feel was left open ended. Now try and write a quest that progresses from the official quest. The challenge is to do it in a way that feels natural to the player, does not contradict already established events, and is fun. If you’re going to do this, signify in your quest introduction, what the players see before they accept the quest, that it should be done after official quest blah blah. While this is dangerous, as it can turn a lot of players off, if you already established yourself as a good quest creator, then you have little to fear.
For a simpler approach, and for new content authors, simply picking the setting of a zone in the game and jumping from there works well as well. The big advantage is that players can view quests that take place only in the zone they are in, making them easily accessible for players wanted a next without having to leave the zone to start it. If you choose to create a quest for a specific questing zone, try to keep tangents to a minimum. For example, take the Orc area in Neverwinter. While it has it’s own quest chain involving the Orcs, there is lots of room for side quests that involve the same theme. A mistake would be however, having a quest start in the Orc zone, that has nothing to do with the theme of the area, that then takes you across Neverwinter to do a completely random objective. Since the zone is overrun with Orcs, I highly doubt little miss Susie is going to be living in one of the houses surrounded by a hundred Orcs looking for her necklace on the other side of the city.
Use other inspirations outside of D&D and modify. Take something from mythology or real world historical events, and see if you can’t bend and twist it to make a believable Forgotten Realms tale. Do not rip it off completely, but use it as a starting point. Once you do that, and then start to do the other tips I have mentioned, such as character motivations, Forgotten Realms histories and locations, then you will start to create a completely unique story.

Some pitfalls to avoid include:

Overused cliches: While they will always be there in any story, the better you cover them up the better you quest will be.
To much “Time travel”: Temporal events(i.e flashbacks, time travel, etc) are a powerful tool to tell a story outside of current events in the game. They will allow you to write a completely unique story that does not need to conform to what is happening in the now of Neverwinter. However, it can be overused. You may think you have a great idea and you’re being a better author by moving your quest outside the current time frame, as opposed to just having a quest that makes no sense being in current times, but it’s better to rework your quest to fit with the present. Save that time travel event for when you really need it! It’s a tool you can only use rarely to be effective, don’t use it on a run of the mill quest.
Contradictions: This is a huge issue if you just ‘wing it”. If you don’t take the time to draft out your story first, then you run the very real risk of being halfway through your quest development, and realizing (if you’re lucky) that you just contradicted some major plot point earlier on.
Generic Quests: While the lure of just plopping out some generic go kill x number of rats, or find my lucky ring, quest is a strong one, ignore it. There are plenty of these in the game already, and plenty more will be flooding the Foundry. If you must have that sort of quest, then introduce some effective story elements into it. If you wan’t to create a hack-em up adventure that is light on story, then you must have some really interesting level and fight mechanics to hold players interest. A few puzzles also helps.

There are two brand new chapters HERE (reply #18) or see the first post for the link to the entire article on Google Drive.