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In my RPG, I have a companion NPC who is overconfident in his abilities and lacks self-control. I wanted to create a few situations where the player needs to reign them in and tell them "no". One such situation basically boiled down to this:

Companion: Hey boss, I want to do this really stupid thing that will almost certainly make things harder for us down the road and possibly jeopardize our goal. Is that okay?

Player Choices:

  • Yes, go ahead!
  • No, don't do that!

My hypothesis was that the vast majority of playtesters would choose "No". To my surprise, the vast majority chose "Yes"! And then when the consequences played out and indeed made things worse, playtesters wanted to reload from an earlier save point and pick the other option (choosing "Yes" wasn't game-ending, but it did mean that a perfect outcome wasn't achievable).

When I asked the playtesters why they chose yes, they made it clear that they understood that saying yes was undesirable and saying no was desirable. They also weren't seeking a challenge or anything. Instead, the most common thing I heard was:

I was afraid that if I said "No", then I'd miss out on a sidequest or XP.

One of them even said that in other RPGs he played, the only way to get a 100% playthrough was to say yes at every opportunity, and so they assumed that was the case for mine.

I don't want players to assume that saying "yes" is always the right answer, and for now, I'd like to keep the situation of having to tell the NPC "no" every once in a while. But I don't know how to overcome these player expectations and their fear of missing out of content, especially without just flat out saying "this isn't like other games, you won't miss out if you say 'no'".

So how do I get players to say "no" when they are afraid of missing out on sidequests or XP?

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you don't want your players to pick a particular option, why do you offer it to them? \$\endgroup\$ – Abigail Oct 1 '17 at 19:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Abigail I want the players to pick the other option, but feel empowered because they chose it after weighing two options. My game has several points where good planning and decision making is rewarded, and so I was surprised that in this particular case, players were overwhelmingly choosing not to make a bad decision, even if though they were perfectly aware that it was one. Removing the choice seems like a nuclear option, and I'd like to keep it in if possible. \$\endgroup\$ – Thunderforge Oct 1 '17 at 20:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Abigail Why does any game have any option that hurts you? In turn-based combat we should just have a "win battle" button instead of all these silly weapons and potions and things. \$\endgroup\$ – immibis Oct 2 '17 at 0:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think maybe a better way to describe the situation is you gave the player a plot hook. You took the time to create a scenario and prompted the player if they wanted to play through it. They chose to experience the content you took the time to develop. \$\endgroup\$ – Hurkyl Oct 2 '17 at 5:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ I suspect its more about missing out on content than XP. If I have a game and I know that people have lovingly written a bunch of sidequests then I want to see all those sidequests. Consider that many players will see the question as "Do you want to see this content or not?" - why would I say no to that? \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Oct 2 '17 at 11:04

25 Answers 25

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That is a common concept in nearly all existing videogames: you either say yes to accept a new quest or no to not take it. Players get used to this pattern by encountering it over and over, and finally simply start to assume beforehand that this pattern is also true for your game.

A good example of handling this problem is Deus Ex: Human Revolution. In the beginning of the game, the player is told to not waste time exploring and rush in for the quest, or else "people will die". Many players simply assume that comment is simply an "in-game immersion" statement which wouldn't affect the gameplay at any rate. Consequently, not two minutes after they are told that hostages were killed and they are too late, thus breaking the pattern players were used to very early in the game while still allowing them to rollback the two minutes they already spent exploring and instead prioritize the quest.

That could be a solution in your case. If many players think your game follows already established patterns, show them that it does not! Give them a small quest (or better yet, a few of them) that would require players to reason and use their judgement to make a choice, so that they get used to the new concept. You could also display a "help window" during the first time they get a quest that "not all of the quests should be taken" or "player shouldn't agree to everything they're told". Once they are familiar with the concept, throw in your important quests, which they will immediately recognize as one of the problems they'd have to think about.

Another thing you might want to consider: if there is an important decision for players to make, give them as much information as possible and give them the time to think. That is, instead of having an NPC make a simple statement that looks like a quest offer ("Let's try this totally silly thing!"), elaborate on what they're offering and allow players to inquire for details and possible drawbacks. Make it feel like an important decision to be made, and your players will treat is as such.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Another alternative would be to offer them a "maybe later" option instead of a flat out "no". That would tell RPG players "OK, I can come back to this later/it will be offered again later, I don't have to do it now". As a player I really appreciate these opportunities because I do hate to miss out on potential XP/game play. \$\endgroup\$ – TylerH Oct 1 '17 at 22:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TylerH You really ought to make that a full answer. Maybe flesh it out a bit, but still give it as an answer. Something like that might actually be enough without drastic changes. \$\endgroup\$ – trlkly Oct 2 '17 at 6:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 This is exactly what I was thinking. Build it into the tutorial, using relatively minor consequences at first if you'd like. It's just like teaching players to think with portals or jump to hit ? blocks. \$\endgroup\$ – David Starkey Oct 2 '17 at 13:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ The takeaway about the DX:HR story is that it follows a classic software development pattern "fail early, fail loudly" (or fast-often-whatever the speaker wants). The idea is to give early feedback and make sure the intended recipient gets it, so he can use it further along the process. On a sidenote, I can't think of any other DX:HR quest further in the game which is so time-critical again... \$\endgroup\$ – Konerak Oct 3 '17 at 9:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Personally, my ingrained sense of how video games work lead me to hack literally everything in the building I could before heading up to go on the hostage mission. And even when I was told that the hostages had already died, I assumed it had nothing to do with my decision to dawdle around and that it was impossible to save the hostages. This idea was further reinforced when I didn't even find the room with the dead hostages. It wasn't until I saw online somewhere about an achievement for saving them that I realized that it was even possible to save them. \$\endgroup\$ – Shufflepants Oct 3 '17 at 14:37
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Change the options to Left-Right rather than Yes-No.

A Yes-No choice is an option. Add this extra bit in or ignore it. A Left-Right choice is a choice. You can have this or that, but not both.

So instead of having a single character offer an option, have two characters offer conflicting paths. Make it clear that either way the play will miss out on some content.

I think this is likely to be treated as the classic good vs evil play style choice that many games offer. ie, players will assume that the story will remain essentially the same but with a different ending/character dialogue and put the choice down as a 'no right answer' dilemma.

So you may need to either tweak your 'bad' choice so it is not completely negative, or show players early on that there are game ending mistakes and they are expected to play it in a rogue-like way.

Also maybe you are just making a bad game. If you get to the very end after hours of game play and find that I can't enter the evil lair because I did/didn't do something seemingly innocuous hours ago. Is that fun?

Sure it might be realistic and challenging, but a lot of people will stop playing and write you a bad review at that point.

You would really have to make it clear that your game is more of a puzzle and you expect them to have to do multiple play throughs to solve it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for removing the 'No' option. If the NPC suggests to storm the enemy base, instead of the choices 'yes / no', give the choices 'attack the base head on / look for way in unseen'. \$\endgroup\$ – Kruga Oct 2 '17 at 8:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ "If you get to the very end after hours of game play and find that I can't enter the evil lair because [you] did/didn't do something seemingly innocuous hours ago." This is a good point. Either the decision should have immediate consequences (obvious within a minute or less), or players should understand from the beginning of the game that their choices affect later parts of the game (e.g. Walking Dead; "Clementine will remember that."). \$\endgroup\$ – mouseas Oct 3 '17 at 19:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Dishonored 2 actually does a poor job at this in several places. You're warned from the beginning that killing people will result in more vermin and your choices will affect the end credits scene. That part is fine. There are other places where seemingly innocuous choices make things different later on. SPOILERS: In the last level, if you interact with the statues early in the level, the final boss knows you're coming and has guards with her, instead of being engrossed in a painting. The statues look like a "do this or miss out on content" decision, but are actually a left/right decision. \$\endgroup\$ – mouseas Oct 3 '17 at 19:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mouseas It might also help to work nearer the distinction between a game and the sandbox or software toy design. This answer almost suggests such an approach, but then seems to change direction. \$\endgroup\$ – can-ned_food Oct 7 '17 at 5:09
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A way to show which answer is the "right one" without taking away the choice, would be to weight the options through meta-information.

Instead of just showing one "yes" option and one "no" option you can provide a list of options for the side you prefer.

For example:

  1. No. You're going to get yourself killed.
  2. No. We don't have time for that.
  3. No. That would put all of us in danger.
  4. Yes. I don't care if you're going to get yourself killed.

In addition to providing a hint, which option is considered the better one, it also gives you a chance to restate the consequences of the decision.

The above answer also takes advantage of a second learned convention from modern gaming: "Don't judge logically, judge empathically". The "right" choice, more often than not, is the one that is empathic towards another characters plight. The phrasing of your answer should be done in a way, that makes it clear that this is the better choice for the character you're talking to, not just yourself.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps "Yes, but it's not my fault if you get killed" as an alternative to 4 - this is a companion NPC and not a Scrappy. \$\endgroup\$ – wizzwizz4 Oct 4 '17 at 17:21
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I love these because there's always a multitude of ways to do this.

  • The first thing that comes to mind is to not make it such a blind choice. If it is a decision that has the potential to ruin a perfect ending, perhaps it's worth making the "no" choice look like a "yes" choice. Something like:

    Hey, I think we should go do this ridiculous thing that will probably have a really bad impact on our future decisions!

    1. Yeah, I don't think that's a good idea, let's pass on this one.
    2. No, you're totally right, let's go do this ridiculous thing that will totally ruin our perfect score!

    In this alternative we make it more clear that the "default" option of "yes" means skip it, and that "no" is not the best option. (You would obviously reword it to fit better, but this is the basic idea.)

  • As mentioned in other answers, build a pattern of the "yes" decision not being appropriate. You can do this on a game-wide level, or just for this NPC. Add a couple other side-quests that have minimal impact, but work in the same way offered by this same person. If the player sees that their two previous "yes" options had a net-negative effect, they might reconsider a "yes" option here. (Especially if the net-negative effect here is more adequately shown, such as "Yes, let's risk this <really important thing> on your silly idea."

  • Build a slightly longer dialogue on the decision, where the player asks some more important questions:

    Hey, I think we should go do this ridiculous thing that will probably have a really bad impact on our future decisions!

    • Doesn't that influence ____ in a horribly negative way?

    Well, probably, but what else are you going to do?

    • Will I gain any more valuable skills/items/what-have-you?

    I don't think so, I'm pretty sure we'll get nothing out of this.

    • Then why would I do this?

    Because it'll be super fun!

    1. Okay, I think this is a bad idea but let's go ahead. (Possibly meta-game about not needing to do this quest, or give the player a meta-game description of the conclusion the character came to based on the questions.)
    2. Nah, I think I'll carry on with our traditional path.
  • Give them the opportunity to back out when they start seeing that this decision is bad. There's not much to elaborate on here, but you can possibly provide "tips" or such that show this idea is not going to have a positive gain.

  • And lastly, you could give them two side-quests to do, "Yes" being the bad idea and "No" being an alternative good idea. This would mean they can choose between A and B, and gain equivalent experience/completion in each. (Thus, there's no need to choose A to get 100% completion.)

    Hey, I think we should go do this ridiculous thing that will probably have a really bad impact on our future decisions!

    1. Yeah, let's do that.
    2. No, let's do <this other thing> instead.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Was going to suggest an early, minimally bad example of this type of decision to prime players that the choice matters. \$\endgroup\$ – TripeHound Oct 2 '17 at 23:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Interestingly making it clear that a choice will have terrible consequences won't stop a player picking it. engadget.com/2017/05/27/… \$\endgroup\$ – gmatht Oct 3 '17 at 3:20
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I find your argument for the Option-less version very compelling, but lacks the insight, why a player would choose the easier option.

As your play tester stated, they feared they might miss on content: XP, items, quests... What that means is, you have to show the players what their options really are.

On way could be the direct way. Tell them directly what each option means. This is more a meta way of doing things.

  • Yes, do that! (You may not be able to complete some quests, no bonus XP)

    • No, don't! (Normal gameplay)

And now you might see, why you don't empower the player at all, by choosing one of these options. Why pick one option, if you know you don't get anything, but just loose? Why shoot yourself in the leg, if you don't get a fancy new bionic leg afterwards? You basically just punish your player for doing the wrong thing. That's why the players reloaded the game to change their decision.

The other way would be to show the player beforehand, what his decision could mean. So before the player first had the option of saying no, this Npc could have done something similar without asking, and you find him in a dangerous situation with a broken quest item, killed enemies (that won't give Xp any more) and so on. This way, the player might realize that this might be worse if he does that again and might say no. Problem is, games teached us to do reckless but cool actions, with bonus items, archivements and what not, so this might be not as compelling as the meta approach.

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    \$\begingroup\$ counter argument to this suggestion - it can break immersion or the 'importance' of decisions as the outcome is clearly stated. How many games have you used a dialogue option to find out you just insulted someone and now they want your head, contrast to games where its "Some text (Random Guy Becomes Hostile)". Not that it is a bad solution, it just leads to a different kind of experience \$\endgroup\$ – nickson104 Oct 2 '17 at 7:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ That is true, and that's why i prefer the the second way of showing what happens. It's not as reliable as the meta way. On the other hand, even very atmospheric games like "The Walking Dead" did tell you, what happened after your decision. And in my opinion, that didn't break the game in any way. im not sure, but didn't games like KOTOR 1 and 2 tell you, when you were choosing a good or bad way, in terms of aliment? \$\endgroup\$ – PSquall Oct 2 '17 at 8:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ I believe it just falls down to what kind of approach the developers take to the narratives, there are numerous examples for both ways. One interesting example is fallout which moved towards dialogues that showed the outcome/point of what you were going to say/do rather than the actual content so as to simplify dialogues. \$\endgroup\$ – nickson104 Oct 2 '17 at 9:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PSquall As far as I remember, KOTOR 1 and 2 didn't show whether something would give light or dark side points. the TOR MMO based on the same IP did do that if you enable the option to show point changes. \$\endgroup\$ – Nzall Oct 2 '17 at 13:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nzall An important caveat though is to not do it like SWTOR did, and provide dialogue options that say one thing, and then have your character say something entirely different. I have lost count of the number of times I have picked an option based on what it said and how I wanted my character to come across, and then the actual line for that option was something totally different, with totally different details and consequences. Very bad editing/reviewing by the staff there, in my opinion. \$\endgroup\$ – TylerH Oct 4 '17 at 19:29
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Answered per @trlkly's comment suggestion:

You are presenting a "yes vs no" dichotomy to your players. A lot of the time, this is fine; players regularly run into scenarios where they have to make a choice and there are immediate consequences for that choice. This does not appear to be one of those times.

In this scenario, you've got a companion who wants to go do a Stupid Thing. Depending on what that Stupid Thing is, the companion could either do it later, or do it next time. If it's something that arises during an exigent circumstance, offer the player the choice of:

"I don't think that's a good idea. Maybe next time."

If it's something that can be delayed (like "I want to address an elephant in the room" or "I want to flip this switch to release a horde of bad guys", give the player the option to say:

"Not yet. Let's do it on our way out/later/next time we see one of those switches".

That would tell players accustomed to doing every possible scenario "you can come back to this later/it will be offered again later; you don't have to do it right now".

As a player, I really appreciate these opportunities because I do hate to miss out on potential XP/game play, just like your testers. This would solve the problem you're having of players complaining that they can't achieve optimal results simply because they're playing in a style different from one you've anticipated.

In other words, you are recognizing that the player values experience over logic or efficient game play, and you're allowing them to move forward the way you want (do the logical/efficient thing to get the perfect score), while still offering them the opportunity to play the way they want (organically and whimsically).

The downside to this is that it may require a bit more development time to implement the option later on down the road in the story line.

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    \$\begingroup\$ My problem with this answer is that it still presents the decision as "this is a side quest", but allows the player to delay making a decision. It reduces the urgency of the decision, but doesn't change the player's perception of what type of decision it is. OP is asking how to present it so players don't think of it as a potential side quest. \$\endgroup\$ – mouseas Oct 3 '17 at 19:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mouseas In my opinion it is an XY problem. Players are not behaving as he expects, and are apparently complaining about the consequences. Apparently players are perceiving this as "here's an option to go do something" and they are thinking "this is an opportunity to do something right now; if I don't do it now I will miss out". My suggestion is to change how the option is presented or add a new option; in other words, there's no problem with the fact that this is or is not a side quest; the problem is that players detect a sense of immediacy to the option. But really, it's hard to tell (1/2) \$\endgroup\$ – TylerH Oct 3 '17 at 19:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mouseas exactly how best to proceed without hearing my details from OP. All we know is the companion "wants to do a stupid thing". We don't know the stupid thing, the companion's request, the implications down the road, or even the atmosphere or subgenre of the game. So my advice is tuned as broadly as possible to help both OP and future readers who have similar, but different, scenarios. \$\endgroup\$ – TylerH Oct 3 '17 at 19:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Don't get me wrong, I think this is a great option for decisions on optional content. I, too, appreciate it when games let me come back to optional content later without penalty. But I think OP is asking how to avoid presenting the decision as optional content in the first place. \$\endgroup\$ – mouseas Oct 3 '17 at 19:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mouseas Hmm, I don't agree, seeing as how he is the one offering the option in the first place; if OP really wanted to shoehorn players into saying yes, he wouldn't give them the dialogue option to say no. \$\endgroup\$ – TylerH Oct 3 '17 at 19:25
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The key is to help players see trade-offs, specifically content-access trade-offs. Players, especially on a first run, usually care a lot more about experiencing everything than getting high scores. Since games almost always allow you to recover from mistakes, it makes the most sense to accept every quest, saying yes to everything, accessing all the content a game has to offer. You need to break this mindset by showing that it is impossible to do everything in a single game.

One example that did this well is Stardew Valley. Early in the game, you discover that you can buy a membership to JojaMart, but you probably do not have the money to buy the membership at that point. Soon, before you would normally save enough for the membership, you find out about what the old Community Center has to offer and are told that it will be torn down if you buy the membership.

Many will still want to see what happens when you choose a worse choice, though. I know I would be willing to start a new game file and choose the bad option just to trigger a new cut-scene or line of dialog. If you make it clear though, that by choosing the better option, they wouldn't be missing any more content than they would by choosing the worse option, most players would choose the obviously better option the first time through, unless they already saw a friend pick that option.

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    \$\begingroup\$ to summarize: Make it really clear in the choice what the consequences of choosing the bad result are. \$\endgroup\$ – Mooing Duck Oct 3 '17 at 0:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ From my experience, the better RPGs do often attempt to improve their replay value by more–or–less requiring the user to run through with more than one player character so as to see everything. Depends on the ethos of the studio, and whether they care about fans loyal to the longevity of classic titles or about rapid–fire release schedules. Bethesda, for example, have a history of bug–ridden games, but those same games nevertheless have gained many players, and much in terms of expanded universe, over the years. \$\endgroup\$ – can-ned_food Oct 7 '17 at 5:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @can-ned_food, I totally agree. Limiting content on a single run is great for replayablility. My answer was more focused on the first run, when players are supposed to weigh their options for the first time. If the "wrong" choice is not so bad that, if chosen, the game is still fun, it could really add value to the next run. \$\endgroup\$ – tyjkenn Oct 7 '17 at 18:49
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My first thought is to not present the situation in a yes / no fashion. For instance if the player is already on a quest & needs to arrive on time to complete it, you might present the choices as:

  • Option A: tell [NPC] that the current mission is too important to jeopardize in favor of doing [poor choice]
  • Option B: send word to [quest giver] that you and [NPC] are going to do [poor choice] & you are forfeiting the current mission

The second thing I would consider is having prior experiences to guide the player. For instance the first time the player concedes to the NPC maybe the stakes are low & there's a clear, negative consequence. Each subsequent time raise the stakes & on a few occasions, include a bit of flavor text that reflects back on what happened last time. Not only does this provide some clear signalling to the player, but it's also a bit more realistic in that it's common for an accumulation of bad choices to cause progressively bigger problems.

Next, consider having an early example where the player doesn't have a choice. By this, I mean include some narrative beat or plot point in which the clearly demonstrates how deferring to the NPC's poor decision making has an undesirable result. As the designer, you'll need to weigh this option carefully, as taking control away from the player can often leave a bad impression.

Finally, if you plan to offer some sort of new game plus (NG+) option, you could make certain decisions mandatory the first time through, but give control back to the player in subsequent play-throughs. NG+ play-throughs are often intended to offer additional challenges. Allowing the player to opt into a hard experience by deferring to the NPC might be a natural, less contrived way to do that.

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I think the first thing you have to realize is that whichever reason you write software for you users, you have to learn from them and adapt in a strict feedback/development circle, instead of teaching them how you meant your game/product to be used. That said, there are still ways to adapt both your needs and the common sense (I've learnt how many times the common sense differs from that of a single point of view). A good solution in your case require a little bit different approach to the game mechanics: instead of having the things going worse when the player took the wrong decision and make them wish to

reload from an earlier save point and pick the other option (choosing "Yes" wasn't game-ending, but it did mean that a perfect outcome wasn't achievable)

you could have the players somehow ending up at the same point as they where before the wrong decision was made. So they would simply progress slower and not worse. We play games for having fun and forget than wrong real life decision are irreversible. Since the early days of gaming, players where brought back to where they fail to leave them the possibility of succed in the best possible way. Player want to feel successful in games, want to feel better and have always the opportunity of making the things going better. You could argue that in action/combat game they simply fail if they did not behave better than the opponent/AI, but action/combat games either have a quick rollback option when there is a storyline, or the players simply could start another match to play better and achieve the best performance. Develop the story so that wrong decisions make player waste time and not have things going wrong.

For example: if the wrong option is to bring an item to the evil dude, after completing the wrong task, a sudden intervention of an NPC hero would rescue the item and bring them safe in the hands of the NPC that issued the task.

About the XP rewards, you could have wrong option reward X points, and good option reward Y points; if players take the wrong decision they will rewarded X point for that and Y-X when the they take the right one at a later time.

Having players play more time in your game won't make them feel frustrated as having them feel they made something irremediably wrong.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This reminds me of The Dig: effectively, the user was prevented from provoking any event which was not part of the storyline. Doesn't work with every approach to simulation design, but it has some value even if not entirely implemented. \$\endgroup\$ – can-ned_food Oct 7 '17 at 5:31
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A lot of answers give good ways to indicate to the player the consequences of the action, and guide them in making the choice knowing those consequences. Even doing this, you'll still have players wanting to pick the yes option and watch their NPC face the consequences. Some people just want to watch the world burn...

Make the bad choice unique and interesting (Fail with style)

Since some players are going to pick the option anyway, you can make the content worth the mechanical cost. For an example take Stellaris. If your empire delves into psionics too deeply, you are eventually presented with the option of using your psionics to summon massive powers. You get a huge mechanical boost for 50 years, at which point overpowered enemies will spawn and methodically wipe out all life in the galaxy. The game indicates "DON'T DO THIS" when it gives you the two options. People still pick the second option to see what will happen.

Some ways you might incorporate this into your scenario:

  • The NPC gets a cool cutscene. He may be overconfident, but he fought with bravery. Overcoming the complications created will be satisfying knowing you honored his bravery
  • The NPC has a falling out with the PC. The failure has affected the relationship with this NPC, and now he is the complication as the player tries to continue on the main mission
  • The goal is jeopardized. Optional side quest A has now become a mandatory quest in order to save any hope of succeeding. (Could also be an exclusive quest, only available if player chose the bad option)

The main thing is to make it so that the player does not regret their decision, despite the complications it created. If you can do this, the choice becomes more difficult, more meaningful, and will make the final victory more sweet.

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Train them how cause and effect of choices works in your game. In training, tutorial, instructions, and/or at various points players will encounter when starting to play and learn the game, give them clues, information, and experience about the types of choices and their consequences that will be present in later play, perhaps even with some examples that contradict training your playtesters are showing you they have learned in other games.

You might also want to think carefully about how your experience & reward systems work (for example, you could consider giving an appropriate reward as well as the natural consequence of doing the smart thing).

And you could also consider what the effect of the save game mechanic is on your choices and their effects. Making an unwise decision is much less tempting when you expect to actually be stuck with the consequences as opposed to expecting to be able to be allowed to try anything and then pretend it didn't happen and restore from a saved position with zero consequences.

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Do you have a second NPC with them?

I suggest that the first such decision you offer should be of little consequence. If the player chooses the 'bad' option, and after the harm is done, have the second NPC comment that the decision was kinda stupid.

As an aside, I also suggest that you reward a bit the 'bad' decisions, giving your players a bit of comedy/goofyness for having chosen the 'impulsive' action.

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The choice currently looks like this:

  • Yes! Let's do some extra stuff I couldn't do otherwise and get back to the normal gameplay afterwards.
  • No. Let's skip the extra stuff and do the normal gameplay I could have done anyway.

Who wants to skip out on the extra gameplay that you've programmed in for the player? Who doesn't want to experience as much as possible? Who doesn't want to adventure?

Of course players will pick choice "Yes".

So, what you need to do is make it more like:

  • Yes, let's risk the endgame doing this [extra] stuff. We won't be able to do [additional] stuff though.
  • No, let's do [additional] stuff instead. Even though we miss the risky [extra] stuff at least we get to do [additional] stuff.

Originally you had the choice "Do you want to do X and then Y or just Y?"

Now you have the much harder no-right-answer-choice "Do you want to do X or Y?"

Let the player know that picking "No" is going to let them experience gameplay they can't experience if they pick "Yes".

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Require the player to perform an in-game action other than simply clicking on an option or pressing a button.

Your NPC might say, "I'd like to go on this dangerous quest that will probably get me killed. I need to borrow the trans-dynamic hyper forcefield generator."

To engage in the side quest, the player must go into their inventory, select the trans-dynamic hyper forcefield generator, and transfer it to the NPC.

Requiring the user to engage in this extra effort makes the action more meaningful to them, and it emphasizes that he is doing something out of the ordinary and that he could suffer a loss (obviously with respect to losing the generator, and more remotely losing the NPC).

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Based on my experience and games like "Until Dawn" or "The Stanley Parable", I learned the "easiest" way to make your players think and decide carefully is to give them choices with "consequences" very early on.

Attention: Small "Until Dawn" Spoiler

Like in Until Dawn, you would get early on choices where something "terrible" would happen. When I understood it correctly, there is one spot where you can choose what you want, but these two persons will die no mater what, because they are part of the story. Don't think that any following choice would be just "ehm.. just choose one", but like of "what are the worst possible outcomes for each choice". There also was a point in the game that said "don't move" (the controller), but it somehow bugged and slightly moved upper until it reached the end and counted as movement and two characters just plain died.. (I'm sorry guys). I completely changed my way of "sitting" so I could guarantee that the controller won't move the next time.

Spoiler End

It's been a while, but I can remember a bit that in "The Stanley Parable" there were similar choices where one can lead to a.. bad outcome.

So my plan would be to give the player a few choices in the beginning, where choosing "yes" would make the NPC angry or won't let you continue if you choose "yes" the whole time and only let you continue if you also choose "no". Based on your game you could also decide to implement critical questions that will change the following contents by a huge way (like Until Dawn where a character can even die for the whole storyline).

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Though not strictly an RPG, Tropico handles this quite well through the character of Penultimo. Early in this game, this character - your closest advisor - will horribly screw up multiple times without your input, and you will feel the consequences. Only later he starts asking permission or providing options for his schemes.

Not only does the above set a precedence for being careful with this guy, but in Tropico specifically they make sure that all options chosen at the very least have a comparable fun factor, so 'bad' consequences don't become as much of a burden through compensation by comedy. In addition, even when he screws up, Penultimo always feels he can turn it around somehow - an attitude which actively prevents reloading behavior.

So, yeah, in short:

  1. Set Precedence
  2. Reward both paths, but play into different rewards (resources vs comedy, in this case)
  3. Make consequences longer-term, so to see it play out reloading is not an option.
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Introduce the NPC's terrible character flaws early on with decisions which result in something less permanent or more easily backtracked. You could really have fun with it and write something which would be memorable, teaching the player to consider the downside more carefully and, as a bonus, make the game stand out.

For example...

The NPC makes an irresponsible boast as to his drinking prowess. He bets he could drink that big fellow over there under the table. Your options are:

  • "Go ahead, I dare you!" (for the hell of it)
  • "I'd take that bet" (could earn some coin)
  • "Let's just grab a pint and plan our quest" (essentially no)

If you used either of the "yes" responses, (optional bet amount dialog box) then your companion drinks to the point of blacking out. In your adventures the next day, the NPC will be of varying degrees of uselessness (read: random value from a range based on last night's events).

Possible combat situations? In the midst of battle, he goes to take a turn and instead vomits, inflicting minor damage to himself. You instruct him to use an item on you, but instead...

"Sure thing, Boss." hic--!
*rummages in sack*
"...Wait, what was I doing?"

...and/or gives you an item at random instead of what you asked for.

The pub scene above or other similar bad decision making could result in the NPC explicitly ignoring your directions when adventuring.

You: "Okay, we're going right here."
NPC: *wanders left*

At that point, you have no choice but to follow him and make sure he doesn't get into trouble.

Essentially just insert situations which firmly establish that always saying "yes" for the sake of the content is not the best course of action and could instead hinder your future play options. Gradually ramping up the absurdity of the NPC's decision making prompts or including an insta-death situation (with the option to go directly back to that box, of course) would cement the idea that your decisions have consequences.

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One approach would be to have a second NPC who acts as the voice of reason. Then, instead of asking the player to choose between "Yes" and "No," you're asking the player to choose one of two courses of action, one of which is clearly more reasonable than the other.

The advantage to this - that it's the sort of decision players are used to making in RPGs - is also the downside. It's not very exciting, is it?

But here's an alternative:

  • Early in the game, the player has to choose to side with the poor-judgement character or a second, more reasonable character. The player can choose either. The path of reason is the obvious right choice, but even if the player chooses wrong, the consequences are fairly minor.
  • Later, the choice comes up a second time. It works exactly the same way as before.
  • Finally, near the end of the game, there's the big choice you mention. The "voice of reason" character is not present. (Maybe they're dead or otherwise unavailable as a direct result of the impulsive character's recklessness?) And so: the player gets a real Yes/No question! But now, the player has already learned to say no to this particular character - they're used to siding with the voice of reason, but this time they have to step up and be the voice of reason, which means overcoming their own FOMO - it's a challenge for the player as well as the character, which ups the ante, but it's a challenge the player was carefully groomed for, hopefully without their realizing it.

Then, once the player says "No," the payoff had better be good. I don't mean a good in-game reward - I mean something exciting and dramatic that makes the player feel they're on the "right course" through the game, so they're not sitting around wondering what they might have missed out on.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In addition to this you could have the player character give the reason before giving a final answer. \$\endgroup\$ – PStag Oct 8 '17 at 13:36
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Late answer, but if you want your players to acknowledge the differences your game has with the "general" case, teach them!

Early in the game, add a choice where [Yes] has bad consequences, but non-lasting ones. It could cost them some money to repair what they broke. Or they could be lectured by a guard/policeman about their behavior. As the game progress, add some more cases where the bad consequences increases in intensity or last longer.

It can cost them money, get them to be lectured, get them into a more difficult fight, make them lost a part of the reward, apply a condition on them, hinder them with a temporary debuff... If they already encountered choices where yes have bad consequences, they'll thought more on their following choices.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This does not bring anything new to the answers already posted. \$\endgroup\$ – Alexandre Vaillancourt Oct 4 '17 at 12:49
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Make them have to supply the guy.

Companion: Hey boss, I want to do this really stupid thing that will almost certainly make things harder for us down the road and possibly jeopardize our goal. Is that okay?

Player: OK

Companion: OK, I need 4000 fruit, 3200 bolts of cloth, 7 boats, 16 horses, 4 mules, 32 firearms... Gather this for me while I prepare myself!

Player: Forget it!

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    \$\begingroup\$ If the companion asks for resources that can only be used for the quest, then it will all the more like the "Complete this task so you can complete this other task" paradigm that players are used to. If the resources can be used for other things, then players might still reason "If it costs this much, then the reward must be really large." \$\endgroup\$ – Acccumulation Oct 6 '17 at 18:59
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To add to altskop's comment: (insufficient rep to add directly)

You can build up to this concept gradually as part of educating players as to how your game works. For example: Present an early-game option with a foolish "yes" option. Let them take it, make something obviously bad happen, but let them recover most of the way easily, but to the point where they are slightly worse off for the decision, and they know it. Later on, present another foolish "yes" option. If they take it, make it sting, make it really clear that it was directly as a result of their action, it's going to take some effort to recover, and they'll never completely recover. By the time the foolish "yes" option comes around a third time, perhaps the crucial one you want to include, your players will understand that saying "yes" to foolish options comes with a price.

Another concept that people tend to be familiar with is the "Are you sure?" option to reconsider a potentially bad action. An NPC suggests something foolish, and the player chooses "yes". At that point another NPC speaks up, strenuously objects to the plan, and the player is presented with a choice that essentially says "Are you sure you still want to proceed with this plan?". Players will generally recognise this last-chance option for what it is, and if they take it anyway, it will have been a deliberate choice.

I hope this helps.

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Make the players suffer for their actions. Imagine a quest, where the king sends you to get an elixir from the alchemist far, far away, that will cure his daughter. Later on, when returning with the elixir, the companion might suggest that while you're in the area, you could check out some place that has loads of loot and should be totally unguarded at the moment. If the player decides to check it out, he will find some mediocre loot there, and when coming back home, he will learn that the king's daughter has died because the player was too late with the elixir. From that point on, the player will learn not to always trust the companion and wage the possible benefits of detours vs the primary quest.

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Instead of 'no', offer the choice to do it later when stronger/better equipped/etc. - this makes it clear that the player won't be missing out gameplay/xp, but that this is an unnecessary challenge. You can improve this effect by wording the options appropriately: "Yes - we will be severely outmatched for no significant gain, but I'm up for a challenge!" against "No - we will come back to this when our equipment is more appropriate/we have disabled their defenses/they are asleep/..."

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I honestly think that, no matter what you do, players will want to try both options. I would want to see what would happen. The content is there, so I want to see it. Unless you make a bunch of choices where they'd just have to go back and play the game again making the opposite choices, they'll want to save, try the bad choice, and then come back and do the good choice.

So that's my suggestion. Make enough choices where they'll want to just replay the game and try the other choices, rather than feel the need to do it right then.

Either that, or just let them save and try it. They know it's a bad choice, so let them make it to see, while giving them the ability to then go back and do what they really wanted to choose.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Not everyone goes back and plays the game the other way around. I do that on some games but I know a lot of people who never go back once they "finish" the game. \$\endgroup\$ – John Hamilton Oct 9 '17 at 10:46
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In the tabletop RPG, one of the traps that awaits for beginner GMs is not following the rule:

Don't expect the player to figure it out. Don't expect the player to be smart and use brain.

The whole game you give him quests. Yes is accept, No is reject. Why would he think that this particular encounter is different?

If you want the player to know what the options are, teach it to him. Several times.

You can't expect the player to fear the consequences if he doesn't know they are there. If you always provide player with Yes/No scheme, where saying Yes will benefit them - they won't expect the punishment, even if the very antagonist comes in with an offer to help them kill player's parents.

The game is not a real life. People don't treat their choices like they would in real life. You need to outsmart the players to make them happy. One of the blogs that talk about this is this one.

What are the potential solutions? Varying on what you want to achieve:

  • You may want to introduce some quests that punish players to show them that accepting all quests is not desirable.

  • You may want to blow the situation out of proportion - make it crystal clear that it's not a good idea to help these guys.

  • Drop the choice or make it ilusory. If there is absolutely nothing positive coming out of the other choice, leaving it might not be a good idea after all.

  • Consider adding some NPCs or player's friends who will help him by being the voice of reason ("Are we really going to rob the bank when we might need Mayor's help later?")

As I said, Tabletop RPG players deal with it all the time, although you have greater control when you're DM. You need to alter the way you present the situation to the player to get satisfactory outcome.

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