21

I'm writing a storyline for a game where the forces of evil have humanity cornered. Truly everything seems lost, that is, until our main character decides to step in. Let's call him Bob. The Chosen.

Bob is extremely strong and has a special ability that's seemingly designed to counter the evil monsters. As a result he defeats enemy after enemy effortlessly, becoming humanity's last hope. He is stationed in a small village on the front lines where he gets to know the villagers and protects them from the monster assaults. Word spreads about his deeds and a second character is introduced: Sir Dave the Brave, the Virtuous, Vigilant Paragon of Hope, Knighted by the King, Slayer of Monsters.

Dave is currently the kingdom's greatest swordsman and leads the royal knights against the forces of evil. He's beloved by the citizens because of how many of them he has saved. He and his army set up camp in the village on order and from that point on Dave serves as the face of the kingdom.

The problem is that Dave is only human - he does not have the unique superpowers Chosen like Bob have. He is still very strong, but very strong for a human. After he set up camp the player isn't going to look at him anymore unless he decides to raise his affection level with Dave. Dave only has a single chance to prove himself as the competent knight he is. But I'm afraid that it doesn't matter how many mobs I let him defeat, the player will invariably compare those feats to his own. I can't have him be strong enough to defeat the bosses, the player is supposed to do that on his own.

When he tags along to scout for one of the bosses and he gets swatted aside it doesn't really give the wanted reaction of "Goodness, that monster is strong!", but rather something of an "Haha, silly Dave got defeated again." His competence as a swordsman has become an informed attribute. Even if I let him defeat a few monsters on his own he still feels weak because the great Bob kills those in his free time to farm xp.

I don't want Dave to be strong strong, but I do want the player to acknowledge him. Is there a way to make Dave look like a competent knight without affecting his or Bob's power level?

  • 23
    This is not an answer to the question, but a comment: If Bob is completely invincible, I fail to see how this is not a boring story. If Bob needs nobody else, this is a boring story. It is simple wish fulfillment. There is no conflict, every battle of Bob is a foregone conclusion. I don't think there is a way to save the story without giving Bob a significant weakness, something he wants and does not know how to achieve, and fails at achieving. Then a sidekick can have a strength in that area. You have chosen the wrong sidekick, you need someone that can do something Bob can't. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica May 1 '18 at 12:52
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    I can comment on fiction, not games. In fiction this isn't much of a story if Dave has no valid in-story purpose, and making Bob look better is not one. Get rid of Dave, or make him a middling wizard, or locksmith, or love interest, or child, or puzzle-solver that helps Bob or hinders Bob but Bob can't bring himself to ditch him/her, so his battles are complicated by the need to protect one and fight another. Bob can be invincible but not a genius; Dave (or Laura) can provide clues or insight Bob needs to move forward. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica May 1 '18 at 13:10
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    The solution to that problem is to stop trying! You have made Bob too powerful for Dave to compete, there is no solution other than defining Dave differently than Bob. You don't need a "Dave" for anything more than a cameo; Bob defeats the world's greatest swordsman "Tom" in a tournament; easily. Tom exits the stage (or was never on it; the story is told between Dave and Kim). Dave (or Davina) is someone else Bob needs. Wise. Magic. Clever. A persuader. A love interest. His child. Not a warrior. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica May 1 '18 at 15:30
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    Do you know One Punch Man? – Vincenzo Oliva May 1 '18 at 15:30
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    @NotAVampire: Take the simple example of The Last Airbender. The chosen one is the only person (alive) who can master the four elements. However, he is only trained in one. He must seek out the best trainers of the three other elements; in order to learn them. As the story mostly focuses on his journey to achieve these powers, that means that the others are more proficient than the chosen one (except for the chosen's element). It takes the chosen many tries to finally learn the new method (and subsequently outshine their teachers because of his raw talent). – Flater May 2 '18 at 12:07

13 Answers 13

25

You need to think about your protagonists weaknesses – now!

If your protagonist is simply above and beyond everything and everybody else it will get really, really boring. Your character needs some form of development, some things to strive for. Dave has to be better in something, and that something is not necessarily bashing monster's heads in.

Think about other aspects. Investigating a murder for example. Maybe your character is just bad at deducting stuff and needs to look up to Dave for being good at this stuff. Or talking to the locals. Maybe he is just not that good with people. Organizing people – a great leader can make an inspiring speech every day to send search parties so that he can help at multiple places at the same time. Not by himself, but by organizing everything. Dave has connections to the higher-ups. Dave has experience that tell him about monsters' weaknesses and strengths, when to fight and when to flee, when a dungeon will collapse and bury every character, no matter how strong ... Dave knows his way around town quickly in case you need to follow something. Or maybe he is good with medicine and can heal people?

Whatever it is, he didn't get to where is just by being good with a sword. Fighting is not all that there is to life. And brute strength is not everything that counts in the world, not even in a videogame world that is trying to make the player feel powerful.

12

Let Dave save Bob's life.
Bob is strong against super evil but he is just a guy. He lacks Dave;s experience, and inner strength. He also is not as strong at solving mundane problems. Have human enemies, followers of the super evil. Let those be a problem for Bob who's magic does nothing on them. Then let Dave step in with his sword skills and save the day. Then Bob can get back to blasting magic enemies.

If humans can't be enemies. Just put in 1 magic enemy immune to Bob's magic. Same idea applies. Like in Wheel of Time there is an enemy immune to weaves so the martial artist gets to shine.

Also let Dave rally Bob in the darkest hour. Dave knows a lot better than Bob how to overcome adversity.

  • Another suggestion in the same vein here would be crowd-control: Bob can "finish" the evil monsters, but it takes time - too many monsters, and they kill him faster than he kills them. Dave is able to beat back & stun the monsters fast, but lacks the ability to defeat them permanently - eventually, they get back up and rejoin the fray and he would (eventually) tire and be defeated. But, as a pair, Dave beats the enemy back and stuns them, Bob comes in with a slow finishing blow. For an outpost where you just need to keep enemies outside the gate, Dave is fine - but you need Bob to attack – Chronocidal May 3 '18 at 9:56
10

Here are a few simple solutions which spring to mind:

1) Have Bob's powers develop over the course of the game

This is a very common mechanic in RPGs as it allows the player to learn a few features at a time, and offers rewards for hitting milestones in the game. You already mention Bob earning experience points, so your game does not seem too different to games in the RPG genre. For this to work, Dave would start out as stronger than Bob owing to his many years of combat experience. Bob, as the Chosen One, will develop very quickly in comparison. A good example of this approach is in the JRPG Suikoden II, where the player is aided in the early game by two very capable fighters Viktor and Flik. As the game progresses the player starts to out-class these fighters through the use of magic runes.

2) Give Dave more to do

Dave would be the ideal character to take the role of mentor, guiding the player through the tutorial stages of the game. Dave, as an influential and respected figure, could also have plot-driving connections to other figures (such as Kings) who can play a part in the battle versus evil. Whereas Bob gets by on pure power, Dave brings a much broader skill-set to the team. A good example of this relationship is to compare the strengths of Batman (Dave) and Superman (Bob).

Dave could also be a master strategist. Bob can't be everywhere at once, and might have to choose between two time-sensitive missions. Dave could be in charge of directing the mission that Bob does not choose, which is a great way to inject Meaningful ConsequencesTM into the game. Whereas Bob would be sweeping away the forces of evil, Dave would be trying to organise very messy fighting retreats. This preserves Dave's status as capable and brave, without challenging Bob's superiority.

6

It will be hard to make this work unless you reverse the order you introduce your characters. People always compare the new to the known. If Dave is first established as the Kingdom's greatest swordsman, and then Bob defeats him, Bob looks amazing. If Bob is first established as invincible, and then he defeats Dave, everyone yawns. One way of solving this problem would be to change the game so the player plays as Dave first, and then switches to Bob later.

There's a very close analog to what you want to do in the classic movie The Princess Bride. Three characters are introduced as the greatest swordsman, the strongest man, and the smartest man in the world. And yet, right after being introduced, each one is defeated by a mysterious fourth character (who is thus firmly established as utterly amazing). Even though none of them actually wins, you still come away convinced by their skills because (1) they are introduced in the correct order, (2) they are given some compelling backstories that establish their legitimacy and (3) the mysterious stranger really has to struggle to overcome them. This last point does give a second possible route to establish Dave (although not quite as strongly as the first). If Dave is one of the earlier boss battles, before they become friends, and it's a real struggle to defeat him, then we at least know he's stronger than the monsters Bob defeats so easily.

Conversely, your own setup is played for laughs in the Neverending Story. Bastian, the protagonist, defeats the empire's three greatest heroes in tour de force of strength and skill. But it's all quite hollow --which is a deliberate choice on the behalf of the author. Since we know Bastian has been magically enhanced, and his victories preordained, there's no real suspense for the reader. The real point of the episode is to allow Bastian to show off in front of his friend --deep in his heart, even he knows it's a sham. So your last option is just give in to your setup, and let Dave be a hollow joke.

3

It depends on what you're going for with this. Rather then wondering about how Dave is perceived, you need to figure out what Daves role in all of this is. Why is he tagging along? What is he hoping to accomplish? Why does Bob let him tag along?

Drawing from game examples specifically, you have a similar situation in Final Fantasy X with the Crusaders. They are brave to self sacrificial levels and skilled warriors as well. However, they do not have the powers to defeat their enemy - that is something only summoners are capable of. However, they still have a role - they made it their goal to save as many lives as possible, by at least trying to divert and delay the big bad if they can't defeat it. Ultimately their attempts are futile, but they don't come across as comical or useless in the story.

Now when it comes to gameplay, that's another question entirely. Don't force sidekicks that don't contribute anything to the game part of the game on the player.

That aside, it appears that there is a fundamental confusion on your part regarding the nature of a player character - you correctly observe that ultimately, they are invincible from the players perspective because the player has the capability to start over if he fails. This is not an attribute of the protagonist. This is an attribute of the player. Separate the two. They are not the same. Just because the eventual victory of the player is an inevitable certainty, as is their ultimate superiority when it comes in actually getting things done in the game world, this is not by necessity a foregone conclusion from the point of view of the characters. The protagonist doesn't need to be actually invincible and unique in-universe just because they are special from a game mechanics point of view. If you do make them invincible in universe, that should be a conscious decision on your part of the sake of the story and/or worldbuilding rather than the result of attempting to reconcile story and gameplay.

3

You have several options.

Bob isn't a competent swordsman. If so, as you noted, there is little reason for anyone to care about Dave in particular. So Dave can do his famous swordplay, and Bob can use his special ability in other ways to fight evil. Bob could have magic, puzzle-solving skills, or some special tool that is specifically attuned to him.

You need more than one swordsman, so they are both relevant. Most battles require coordination and teamwork. Sometimes important tasks pull the characters in different directions so they can shine apart from each other.

Dave has other important skills. Maybe they both need to be skilled swordsman. But as an experienced knight, Dave probably has training in military tactics, logistics, and leadership. Dave can exercise those skills while Bob performs other important tasks. In fact, it would be unrealistic for Bob to serve as a military leader if he has no training or experience as an officer.

Dave trains Bob. Bob may be a passable swordsman, but Dave trains him to true mastery as events unfold. You could show Bob experiencing trouble or even failure prior to Dave's intervention. There are a few games that require the protagonist to "die" before they can complete the game, so you can take failure to an extreme---if you want.

2

You have a contradiction in roles.

On the one hand, you want Dave to be "the kingdom's greatest swordsman", and on the other he is supposed to be Bobs' sidekick, cheering him on. That doesn't work. A character cannot be both the greatest in something and incompetent at it. The role of the sidekick – and you may want to read up on that – is to serve as a contrast for the ability of the protagonist, therefore he has to be bad at what the protagonist is good at.

What you can do is either of the following:

  • Dave is Bob's teammate.

    Both characters are equally good and both contribute to the tasks equally. Sometimes Bob slays the dragon with Dave's help, sometimes Dave with Bob's.

  • Dave is not Bob's sidekick but his mentor.

    Dave is better than Bob, who learning from Dave. Dave holds back to allow Bob the experince of failure. Once Bob has become better than Dave (and bested him in a fight), Dave returns to his hut in the woods and Bob is on his own.

  • Dave pretends to be bad at swordfighting.

    Dave follows Bob around pretending to be his fanboy. But when Bob is close to achieving his goal, Dave pulls off his mask, bests Bob, and marries the princess himself.

2

In most games I've experienced, the characters available to the players have been roughly equal. One may be better at one thing, another at something else, but for the most part, it can be fun to play as any of a number of characters.

You seem to be almost forcing your players to play Bob. Why is that? Games are less rigid about character development (when there is any) than novels, but there should be some. I think this is why Witcher, from an obscure company in Poland, became such a huge hit. The characters could communicate and that was an important part of the game. It wasn't just monster-hunting.

You seem to have taken things backwards. Not only is only one character, Bob, the only really competent one in this game (from your description). And it sounds like "affection level" is something you put experience points into rather than actual work (communication is a good start).

I'm not much of a gamer, but I don't picture myself playing your game. Dave, the greatest swordsman of the kingdom, has become a comedy character. It doesn't feel right.

To fix things a bit, I'd lower Bob's power a bit so that an exceptional human could keep up with him. Maybe Dave always fights with a small unit of elite fighters. It sounds like it is important that Dave not be a laughing-stock, and that's what he is now.

Read some stories where there are extremely exceptional characters. For example, the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordon has a main character who is a reincarnation of an eternal hero, destined to drive back the dark. And yet he isn't any stronger or faster than an exceptional human, at least at first. But he learns to use magic (which is highly dangerous for a man, always leading to insanity and death). He has exceptional mentors who teach him to fight in various ways, and fight alongside him. The training started with his father.

And the important part is that some people can fight him or outdo him at some things. And some of his problems are political, which is difficult even for one favored by the pattern.

But the most important thing: even though Rand is the chosen one, he has too friends who may not be as chosen, but they can fight some of the battles with him.

Good luck.

2

Until now, Bob had one way to solve problems: Stumble into them and then punch them until they fall. It works for the monsters he has encountered, because they were minor monsters. Too powerful for humans, too weak for him.

However, recently the big bad has decided to send stronger monsters out. The monsters are armored and smart enough to set traps. Bob can still defeat them, but his hands hurt after punching their thick armor and they injure him as well when they surprise him. Not a lot, just a scratch here and there. Bob tried to wield a sword or axe, but he ended up hitting himself with it. That wasn't fun.

Dave recognizes Bobs weaknesses. He sees that Bob doesn't even recognize obvious ambushes and is too clumsy to wield a weapon, so he decides to train him. Of course in a straight up fight he wouldn't win against the raw strength of Bob, but he can still teach him finesse. You don't have to be stronger or smarter to teach someone, as long as you have more knowledge and experience.

Examples (in prose, not in videogame form):
Bob and Dave are walking around in the forest when Dave stops, a concerned look on his face. Bob looks around confused, seeing nothing.
"Do you hear the birds?" Dave asks.
Bob shrugs. "What birds? I don't hear anything."
Dave smirks. "Exactly. Now look at that bush over there."
"It's a bush. There are many around here. Plenty for you to beat around, for that matter."
"Stay patient, Bob. I'm getting to the point. Look closer. You see that broken branch? And the footprint?"
Bob shrugs again. "Plenty of animals in a forest."
"Not with that footprint."
"Ambush?"
"Ambush."
They draw their weapons and charge the bush, surprising the hidden monster.

"Now hit the target dummy, Bob," Dave said.
Bob raised his sword and slashed down on the dummy, but only hit the ground next to it.
Dave rolled his eyes. "Remember what I told you about your stance? Keep your feet on the ground. Try again."
Bob adjusted his stance and tried again, this time hitting the shoulder of the dummy.
"That's better, Bob. Let's try it a few more times."

2

Dave is human, human use tool

Humanity as a whole didn't got where it is now by cheer strenght, but by using tools to "cheat". Don't have the size and strenght of a mammoth? Trap him in a hole and light him on fire. Can't swim accross a ocean? Build something that can, and use that to cross the ocean.

Dave can be the same. He don't have the raw strenght to kill a monster? Fine, he'll just use more dakka (warning: tvtropes link), traps, poison, any tools that get the job done.

Dave can use Bob as a tool

Bob is the Chosen, the Chosen kill monster. But do he know how to help? Killing monster is useful, sure, but if Bob protect only a small village while the monsters are raiding the capital, Bob is useless as a whole.

Dave seems to be important in your game's world. He have more information, he have ressources. And when he know of Bob, he can use Bob more effectively.

Having Dave as a quest giver is a twofold advantage: it show Dave more, giving you more time to tell his story, and show him as somebody important.

Moreover, Dave is strong, not as strong as Bob, but you don't become the greatest swordman in a day. He have experience, he know the monsters, he know their weakness (since that's the only way he could kill them).

Dave is a mentor for the player and Bob alike, have him be the guy from the tutorial, but moreover, take the time where Bob is weak (be it by not yet knowing how the game work, or having low stats) to show Dave fighting monsters. Show normal soldiers fighting monsters too. Show that typical humans are steamrolled, where Dave is at least a bump. Depending on the monster, Dave simply surviving the encounter can be shown as a feat itself, especially when the monster can steamroll the player too.

When the player have gained experience, stats and equipment, at some point into the game, sure he can one-hit-kill thoses. But who helped him find monster that he could handle when all Bob had was a stick ? Who protected him from that appeared in the first hour? Who is taking care of all thoses annoying "save the neighboor's kitten from the goblins" quest that Bob can't be bothered to do now that he is a demi-god? Who stalled that monster that was raiding the village so that there was still a village to save when Bob finally arrived?

Dave.

Dave is the maximum of what human can achieve in that world, when even Dave couldn't get here, that mean the game is about to get hard even for Bob. Even for thoses late-game dungeon, show by the information the player get at the beggining on the quest that Dave got there, and the only reason he couldn't clear that dungeon or get that legendary sword was, he was not the Chosen. So Dave give you the key to the dungeon, or the map of the first floor, or warn you that you will need to be prepared for this or that type of monster, or leave the first part of the dungeon empty, since Dave already got there and cleared it. And Dave is human, even you player had to wait for the endgame to know about that dungeon, and Dave already started it before you even started the game. Dave is that awesome.

Dave will be outclassed at some point, accept it, play around it, use it to show why everybody was waiting for the Chosen.

(Answer rewritten after getting information about the type of game OP is working on)

2

There are certain tricks available to you when writing for a video game that aren't available in other media, and it's well worth taking advantage of them.

Because players have direct agency over player characters, players tend to like characters who help the player character. You can break this - many a game has had a jerky sidekick who players grow to hate - but quirky characters like Solaire, in Dark Souls, who is memorable and offers assistance in the rare times he crops up, are beloved by players even though they only appear infrequently.

Try a similar approach: have Dave's path cross with Bob's on occasion before he becomes a regular face, and always have Dave lend some kind of assistance to Bob when he appears. This doesn't have to involve Dave actually killing monsters alongside Bob; if Dave keeps turning up in dangerous areas, players will infer that Dave can handle himself.

1

I'm going to preface this with the fact that this is more game design advice than writing advice.

Is Bob also a swordsman or melee fighter? Consider classing them differently. If Bob's the world's best melee fighter, Dave could be the best ranged fighter. This is honestly a killer combination in most games, it allows Dave to help by thinning the crowd of enemies, or weakening a strong enemy while allowing Bob to go all out. A great example of this is Ike and Soren from the Fire Emblem series, a powerful swordsman and mage, respectively.

Speaking of Fire Emblem, one thing that series does well is that it rewards you for having pairs of characters fight together. If your game does not do this and only awards experience for time spent fighting/enemies killed, obviously your players will always use Bob and only use Dave when necessary, seeing Dave as someone who is 'stealing' experience from their main fighter, Bob. Consider bonus xp or powerups for things like two characters assisting in the same kill, or fighting near each other.

1

The way to answer this question now and also the next time it comes up is to examine another question: "Why are you introducing Dave?" What purpose does he fulfill in the story? Is he primarily just there to admire Bob? If so, what makes him different than all the countrymen who are already telling legends about Bob's deeds? Is he there to help Bob complete tasks? If so, that sounds like there's at least something Bob can't do by himself, so what is that and what is he lacking? Is he there as a companion, to make the journey less boring for Bob and/or the player? If so, what is a personal quality that would endear him to Bob? For that, you need to understand Bob as a person to know what kind of person would make a good emotional connection. Alternately, perhaps the main emotional beat of the game is how lonely it is for Bob at the top, how isolating fame can be, or how Bob has devoted his life to his passion/calling at the cost of fellowship and building a normal life. Maybe Bob becomes curious about humans and wants to learn about them. Or maybe even, Dave doesn't feel unadulterated admiration for Bob. Has Bob's actions caused problems (like an Avengers/Sokovia situation or a Walmart/death of local economy situation)? Or does Dave resent Bob simply for being too perfect? Does Dave think Bob's arrogant or condescending? There are so many ways that could go.

Determine if you want Bob and Dave's relationship to be based on partnership, detachment and observation, or conflict. Then sketch out a backstory for why Dave would want to journey with Bob in the first place. Once you get there, you should have a clearer idea of where you want to go after that.

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