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Development Info Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous Kickstarter Update #36: Chris Avellone on Narrative Paths

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Tags: Chris Avellone; Owlcat Games; Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous

Today's Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous Kickstarter update is a special guest post by none other than Chris Avellone. Like the update he wrote for the Kingmaker campaign back in 2017, it's about the process of adapting the original tabletop adventure path, although this one is much more comprehensive. Owlcat's plan is to first lay out the game's main storyline, and then overlay the eight Mythic Paths on top of it, each one with its own narrative arc. The companions will also be added to the game's script during this stage.

Translating a Pathfinder Adventure Path like Wrath of the Righteous is no easy task. Wrath, like Pathfinder: Kingmaker, has the enormous challenge of translating one of Paizo’s Pathfinder Adventure Paths into the digital realm.

For those not familiar with Adventure Paths, they are a series of six interconnected modules that take Pathfinder adventurers from Level 1 to… well… a frighteningly high level. A table top playthrough of an Adventure Path can be akin like playing six seasons of Game of Thrones, it’s that epic. And intricate. Also, in Wrath’s case, it also comes with a healthy splash of demons and demon lords.

The effort in translating the core story line doesn’t even take into account the additional story layers the Mythic Paths and the companion interactions provide the core story experience – it’s like taking the core story, adding six more interwoven stories (now 8, with the stretch goals met – thank you all!), and then interweaving the companion stories on top of that.

So the question is how to adapt this amount of narrative content into the computer gaming realm. I’ll go into some detail about how it’s done from a narrative standpoint, courtesy of the efforts of our writing lead, Alexander Komzolov.

First, a pass of the core story is done, usually taking the base adventure path, breaking the modules into chapters and outlining the major beats in each chapter. Often, because most everyone at Owlcat has played the modules, this layout process is made easier by simply referencing the major figures and events without needing to go into the same depth as described in the module, which makes everyone’s lives easier.

This process is far from a strict literal translation. Each story beat is weighed with a resource cost (something that is easy for a tabletop game may not be easy in the digital space and vice versa), and there’s also an examination to see if we want to move any of the Adventure Paths’ beats, NPCs, or even antagonists to different points in the adventure – if a major villain only happens to be prominently featured in the fifth or sixth module, we may want to foreshadow them earlier or their threat earlier so their presentation as an adversary is consistent throughout.

Aside from adjustments to major characters and introductions, this process is also applied to the protagonist, especially with regards for emotional highs and lows and story beats intimately tied to the character’s journey (this is in addition to the Mythic Path choices). As we did with Kingmaker, we’d work with Paizo on developing new themes or additional elements that we could use with the protagonist (and other characters’ arcs) in the digital game – what internal struggles they face, what questions and themes they may struggle with, and so on. As important as the Fifth Crusade is to the future of Golarion, its importance to the protagonist and the player are equally important.

But what of companions and the Mythic Paths? Good question. So the companions and Mythic paths aren’t integrated in this initial story treatment, it solely focuses on the existing plot of the adventure path, what we want to include, and also any significant changes in the adventure path, its characters, the lore, or character backstories - these changes can be significant indeed, but they are all done to build upon the existing material and bring a new experience to those who may be familiar with the adventure path. Once we’re confident we have a strong spine for the core story, then we look at building upon it and expanding it – starting with the Mythic Paths.

Mythic Paths are a major part of the Wrath narrative. Separate storyline docs are drafted for each Mythic Path (these are not usually as long as the core story doc, but they are still intricate). These individual Mythic Path narrative docs highlight the major figures involved in the Path – and these may be figures already existing in the core modules, or they might be brand new allies and unexpected arrivals that appear over the course of the game. Whenever possible, however, we do go back to the Adventure Path and see what hooks can be drawn to characters and events in the core story that would fit in well for the Mythic Path.

For example, with the Aeon Mythic Path and its focus on uncovering and correcting imbalances, we might take a close look at characters in the Wrath Adventure Path and see if any figures might draw the Aeon’s eye… and their judgment.

The focus of these Paths, much like the core story itself, is to outline the reactivity, the significant choices, and for lack of a more drawn-out explanation, the “fun” and “cool” moments, abilities, and choices each Mythic Path can make that affect the adventure. The intention is that two players playing different Mythic Paths (and even multiple players playing the same Path) will have a different, unique experience they can contrast and compare with other players… and not only do these Mythic Paths give great role-playing opportunities, but they can provide new perspectives on the Fifth Crusade and your battle against the demons of the Worldwound. If a player wants to replay Wrath and try a new Path, they get the benefit of having a new story experience and reactivity as well, which is what role-playing games are all about.

Around the same time the Mythic Paths are drafted and reviewed, we also incorporate the companion design docs. Special care is taken to insure to not only create interesting intrigues, romances, conflicts, and friendships among the player and the companions (as well as each other) but also that the player can build a balanced party of allies that reflects the alignment of the protagonist and would be willing to accompany the player on the journey. It is a principle of the narrative design that no matter what alignment, the player can recruit allies that will share (or at least tolerate) the protagonist’s approach to the Fifth Crusade – as well as provide interesting perspectives, pushback, and interactions even though all may have a similar alignment and approach. Classes, alignments, and overt/hidden agendas are all part of this companion design, the examples of which you’ve already seen in earlier updates.

This is only the initial part of the process, however. Not every story element or companion arc may make it into the game – some may change, some may be added to, or new interesting hooks may be discovered during quests or area design that may give additional depth to these characters based on interactions with other parts of the design.

But that’s what makes it fun, and what makes being a narrative designer a joy – sometimes the characters themselves take you down narrative roads you wouldn’t expect, but the end destination is true to their personalities and their motivations you meant them to be.
Very cool. I like that the Mythic Paths are just as much a narrative element as they are a game mechanics element.
 

Cnaiur

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I prefer people who actively contributed to one of my hobbies over random internet shitposters with cheeto dust over their undies.
 

DeepOcean

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Wake me up when I hear from those kickstarters: "We will make Chris Avellone our lead writer."
 
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Seeing someone past their prime being used as a marketing stunt is actually kinda sad.
His prime will only start when/if he starts working for Owlcats full-time.

I always wondered why he didnt join them full time, they seem like a competent, likeable bunch

I doubt Avellone wants to live in Russia and he would need to in order to be competitive next to the writers they already employ full-time, writers who Owlcat may quite plausibly be happy with and feel no desire to replace.

Besides, being a freelancer probably has its advantages after being aimlessly committed to Obsidian for 15 years. Thanks to his unique reputation, he has his pick of projects and doesn't have to be married to the failed and cancelled projects that accompany full-time employment in a game development company, the projects he picks can always be ones he knows will clear production.
 

Daedalos

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Most games that MCA just touched or was involved with, was successful good games.

Kingmaker, very sucessful game, and had cool chapters and story
Prey was goty 2017, amazing game, amazing story
Pillars of Eternity 1 had an overall great story and decent writing throughout
Star Wars: The Fallen Order I haven't played, but I hear the story is decent, but gameplay shit.

Divinity Original Sin 2
Torment

Those are the only two games that I don't like story and writing wise, but they were nevertheless pretty sucessful, especially D:OS 2.

Dying Light 2 is looking to have some decent writing and C&C, we will see.

MCA isn't past his prime, and said mentioned games above, is a testament to, that he still can write and direct, even if he's not lead writer.
 

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