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I have a shakey idea for a game, and I need help fleshing out what mechanics could make this work.

I want to make a game that, on the surface, is a fun little exploration/dungeon crawler/rpg-lite sort of game. There's some story, a large map, and basic quests to go off to various dungeons and defeat all the monsters that are threatening the kingdom.

The idea is that a player can play through, and defeat the game by just going and defeating the monsters everywhere, and that should be a rewarding enough way to play the game.

However, I don't want that to be the only way to play the game. What if the monsters attacking the kingdom from a nearby "dungeon" are just misunderstood, or are being provoked? What if they could instead be made into allies?

For each set of set of monsters threatening the kingdom, I want the player to either be able to just go and kill them all, or find some other solution, but for killing all the monsters to be the only obvious thing to do.

The idea being that finding a different solution should feel very rewarding, or a suggestion that there are other solutions should come late in the game and provide motivation for the player to replay the game.

My question is: What sort of game mechanics could be used to provide an alternative way of progressing through the game while not making it obvious that the alternative exists? I think if a dialog tree open up with the first monster you met in each dungeon, it would telegraph the idea that there's an alternative solution. So how could there be a dungeon of monsters that you can wade into and immediately start fighting, while at the same time there being a non-violent solution?

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    \$\begingroup\$ In dark souls nothing is apparent for each NPC story line either. Things happen depending on the order you do stuff and even then you have to pay close attention to the events that are happening. It's pretty much hardcore "go find out yourself". So what is the setting for your game? Do you intent to have replayability from scratch or is it a continuous play with recurring events? It sounds like NPC's in your idea drop hints, or perhaps items give descriptions that lead to clues? \$\endgroup\$
    – Sidar
    Nov 21, 2017 at 2:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ I see this question has close votes as opinion-based, but I think it hits the 4 criteria for game-design questions: it sets the context, explains the feature being designed, defines a desired outcome, and asks for a strategy to achieve that outcome. We can rate answers on "does this design effectively camouflage access to alternative solutions, under the guise of a kill-all-the-monsters dungeon crawler?" There will of course be some opinion & subjectivity in evaluating how well the designs do that, but the voting system can handle that \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Nov 21, 2017 at 2:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you played Undertale? The game does exactly what you want to do. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Nov 21, 2017 at 14:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do be careful how early it is revealed that you don't have to kill everything, and be consistent about it. If it's introduced too early and there is a faction that must be killed, players may end up wasting a lot of time trying to figure out a way to be peaceful with them \$\endgroup\$
    – phflack
    Nov 22, 2017 at 14:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, not a full answer, but the history of what caused them to attack could be important. The player could be thrown into the action quickly, and only later find out that somebody stole their prized jewel, which the player or a NPC may have seen earlier and looted for themself \$\endgroup\$
    – phflack
    Nov 22, 2017 at 14:02

2 Answers 2

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Here are a bunch of ideas you could try standalone or in combination:

  1. Rosetta Stone

    To speak with the monsters, the player needs to learn their language. Of course, we don't tell the player they even have one. ;) But there can be clues - marks in their dwelling places or in items they carry. If the player collects enough of them, they can use it as a guide to translate.

    Now, if we make it an obvious collectable, players will tend to collect it out of sheer completionist habit, and might stumble into this route by accident. To make this less likely, we can either make the necessary items hard to find, or hide them in plain sight by making them look mundane. Say the monsters drop gold coins/nuggets or gems (pretty standard) which the player can trade for goods in town. These items can't be equipped or consumed, and don't stack in your inventory, so players will tend to want to trade them out regularly for gear. An astute player might notice that they're not all the same though, with different inscriptions on each. If the player collects a full set in their inventory, and puts them in the right order (say based on writings in the monsters' dwellings), they unlock a primer/key they can use to start translating some of the monsters' language.

    At this point you can have a puzzle the player needs to solve to gain the monsters' trust, but the instructions written in monsterese, so only a player who's learned the language can complete the trial. Or, you can have the player try to speak with the monsters directly, which means first we need to get them to listen...

  2. A show of force (spoiler warning for Spec Ops: the Line)

    There's a moment in the game where you're surrounded by civilians and it looks like the only way to proceed is to shoot them. But if you aim up and shoot into the sky, they take the threat and scatter without you needing to injure anyone (assuming the bullets never land...)

    Give the player an option to deliberately miss a monster in a showy way, or destroy a prop like a big tree, boulder, or statue where they can see it. This proves to the monsters that the player has the means to destroy them, but also the restraint to not use it, and they can back down and give the player an opportunity to parlay. (Which the player might need the language as above to be able to act on)

    To pull this off well, the demonstration needs to be something the player wouldn't do by accident - maybe requiring a special weapon or multiple consecutive hits, or a reckless disregard for their own safety...

  3. Impersonation / homage (spoiler warning for Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons)

    In the game you come across a hostile tribe who won't let you pass. But observing them from a distance you can discover that they worship a tall, 4-armed deity of some kind. By stacking the brothers one on the other's shoulders, you can impersonate this deity and use this to get past.

    (See also: impersonating the Ilwrath's god, or learning the words that give the Khor-Ah pause in Star Control II)

    Leave enough environmental details in the monster's caves, dress, or in items they drop for an observant player to glean something about their culture. A god they worship, a mark of status or royalty they regard, a traditional gift or offering used on special occasions. A stealthy or evasive player can glean this information or steal the required artifacts without necessarily killing for them.

    Then give the player a means to act on the information. If your dungeon crawler has an equipment system, let them equip what would otherwise be junk loot in a particular combination to, say, imitate a divine figure in the monsters' mythology, or a high-ranking royal or shaman. Monsters encountering the player in this state don't attack right away (but you may still need something like the language key to be able to act on this opportunity). Or, if you have a drop mechanic, let the player gather a very specific gift or offering the monsters will like, and drop it in a combat encounter to signal good-will.

  4. Pacifist play

    In the game Bastion, the player has a shield that can block enemy attacks. Putting up the shield at exactly the right moment deflects the attack, damaging the attacker. In my playthrough, I chose to use the shield alone when fighting a particular in-game faction, and never strike them with my weapon, because I felt a lot of empathy for them and didn't want to be an aggressor. The shield can only damage an attacker in self-defense, so it was my way of saying "I'm willing to make peace if you are." Unfortunately, the game doesn't seem to recognize that avenue for expression. But yours could!

    Give the player a similar defensive ability, and track streaks when they use it exclusively without taking aggressive action in-between. After a while, your monsters can catch on, and pause in their attacks as they try to figure out why this adventurer doesn't attack like the others. That can put them in a state where you can talk to them directly, or set them up for a further puzzle (like the language example)

  5. Friendship dance

    This slightly silly idea came to me from thinking about bees communicating through dancing. What if when encountering the monsters, they initially rush right up to you, but don't attack immediately. They have a particular set of dance steps they're looking for to know if you're friend or foe. If you step the wrong way (or run, or attack them), they know you're an invader and they pounce. Otherwise they keep on you in what looks to the player like a combat strafe, circling to attack.

    Through trial and error, players can discern the particular sequence of movements the monsters will accept without attacking, discovering something like a cheat code to de-escalate the confrontation. ;)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Those are some fantastic ideas! \$\endgroup\$ Nov 21, 2017 at 10:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh wow great answer D! \$\endgroup\$
    – Casanova
    Nov 21, 2017 at 11:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Now you proved to the universe that you know game design. Amazing answer. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 21, 2017 at 12:23
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Expanding on my comment, I was once designing a game where I had a specific "boss monster" encounter (in this case, a dragon). Much of the game's treasure rewards were hidden behind obtuse puzzles with few/no hints as to how to get them (see also: Tower of Druaga). But that's only ancillary to this particular puzzle.

The whole way through the game the player's trained to assume that monsters are inherently hostile (as every one up until this point has only existed to attack the player), so upon entering the floor with a giant sleeping dragon, they naturally assume that the only interaction with this singular monster would be to fight--e.g. walk up and wave their sword around.

But I also let this specific boss monster react to the generic "Use" action which would open up the alternative: a dialog box where they can converse with the dragon instead. The game never points out that the Use key is available in this situation (or really, any, beyond the semi-tutorial that indicates that the key exists) so it isn't telegraphed any: no "E to Open", no "E to Talk" popups anywhere.

On top of that, the dragon is asleep when it is first encountered, so its not immediately hostile, giving the player the opening needed to walk up and talk to it, or walk up and start poking it with a pointy stick. What the player does is entirely in the hands of the player.

The item the player got (regardless of approach) was always good, just that the one they get from talking rather than fighting was 'better.' There might've even been three possible outcomes, but I've lost track at this point. I never finished the game and I haven't worked on it in probably ten years (I had most of the content done, but was missing art for a good portion of the enemies).

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