Ancestral Lineage in Character Creation or Gameplay
II Methods of Implementation
– Question Series
– Minigame Series
– Revealed Through Gameplay
– Select from a Branching List
– Combining Multiple Systems
III Effects on the Character
– Base Attributes or Skills
– Attribute or Skill Progression
– Affinity, Hatred, or Understanding
– Starting Zone
– Starting Story
– Unlockable Skills or Abilities
– Navigating the Spirit Realm
IV Effects on Gameplay Interactions
– Hometown Reputation
– Factional Relations
– Inherit Responsibility
– Mentoring Relatives
– Generational Aggressors
– Relatives Struggling Over Ancestral Relics
– Ancestor-Related Generated Content
– Constant Judgment
V. Other Thoughts
This document explores ways in which the character’s lineage can be included as a factor in gameplay, both for character attributes as well as in-game content and events. This might be tied to the character creation process, and there shouldn’t necessarily be right or wrong choices, just things which may or may not fit the player’s style or the kind of history they want to be tied to when they interact with the world. This can also serve as an extra form of content for players to indulge, if their family history is not immediately revealed to them through character creation. Discovering a character’s family history can be a way to promote further discovery and uncovering of content for each character.
Lineages can be done as a unique, instanced thing for each player (or possibly each account) or done in a way that is shared in common with other players. Depending on how much players can select their lineage, groups of players using the same race could actually give themselves a lot of ancestors in common.
There is no way to separate nature and nurture when looking at the whole product of a person, who they are, what they are, and how they got there. In a fictional world of wondrous content, many heroic features and traits can be passed down through the generations. Some may be latent, some may be present in every generation. Likewise, certain deficiencies and fears may also be passed down, ingrained in their being and difficult to overcome.
Earlier in life I had wondered if reproducing younger vs reproducing older would produce the same product under the exact same conditions, or if the product would be different from one to the other. This has been revealed to me definitively as “yes” as modern science has been able to prove this. One study that particularly reminded me of my curiosity of the subject is a recent study I saw, where phobias could actually be passed down directly to offspring after learning it as a behavior. This means two players can even end up with two different sets of inherited traits from the same common ancestor. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/10486479/Phobias-may-be-memories-passed-down-in-genes-from-ancestors.html
II Methods of Implementation
Below are different ways in which a lineage system can be implemented. Each has distinctly different features, but there are ways in which some of them can be blended together to create an even more dynamic system.
Question Series – This method has been used in many games in the past for many different purposes. In those games, the player is asked a series of questions, sometimes they seem to have relevance, sometimes they are completely abstract and arbitrary. This would have to be a meaningful and worthwhile series of questions, asking about their ancestors and their achievements and how they failed when they did. How the player’s answers determine the character’s ancestry could be implemented in many ways, but it should not produce results that makes a character better than another at the start or over time.
Minigame Series – This would significantly expand the character creation process, and possibly instead be an app or game of its own. I think of a rapid aptitude test barrage (like WarioWare), or a series of micro-adventures (like Half-Minute Hero) that rapidly play out the events in the world up to that point, though it could really be approached in many ways if this route were chosen. The games must not punish the player for the choices they make, but each result should simply be part of the overall influence that will determine which ancestor they will have (or the properties of that ancestor).†
Revealed Through Gameplay – The character already has a lineage, but they don’t remember it or never learned of it. Amnesia, adopted as a child, born into slavery, or perhaps the known lineage only goes back a couple generations then gets hazy. This lineage is revealed through gameplay events. This could be predefined with the character without any input from the player. For example, visiting a town where an ancestor had lived may get you recognized by one of the elders, who may have stories to tell and details to reveal that unlock a bit of the family lineage. Family history could be something which is unlocked through gameplay, and applies things the player is actually doing to the events they’ll see in their family history. A miner could learn of their family’s pickaxe somewhere in an abandoned mining ghost town and be on a soft quest to reveal their history, or a warrior could learn about how their great grandfather was the captain of the guard at a revered city long ago and be on a journey to learn more about them and their achievements.
Select from a Branching List – All of the families and lineages are known, and since there isn’t really racial cross-breeding, it shouldn’t be too expansive. Start from the furthest ancestor, and each selection gives more branching options for the next ancestor, and this goes until the player has connected the tree all the way down to them. Each person they can select has a back-story, positive traits, negative traits, trade-specific artifacts and relics somewhere in the world, and history that the player can somehow encounter through gameplay. There may be additional ways to filter available choices for players, such as character name or starting aptitudes, in order to make sure that every player doesn’t have the exact same choices for their lineage.
Fully-Randomized – The family lineage is randomly generated and assigned at character creation, without any input from the player or any way to choose it. The importance and worth of each ancestor’s deeds will also be randomized, but weighted in such a way to make sure every has at least a few worthwhile ancestors whose deeds are recorded in history. In order to prevent any dissatisfaction over not being able to share ancestors in common with friends without deleting and remaking the character many times, it may be easiest to make sure no players have any direct ancestors in common whatsoever.
Combining Multiple Systems – Many of the above systems are not exclusive from one another, and would be possible to blend. For example, branching list selection options could be generated based on the success of the minigame barrage or question series. Depending on the level of player choice, desired effect, and amount of history revealed for a character post-creation vs during creation.
III Effects on the Character
Below are explorations of the different ways in which lineage can have an impact on the character. Whether it has impact on the character only at the start of the game, throughout the game, or only after they’ve played for a while, could all be a factor.
Base Attributes or Skills – Instead of the base attributes or skills of the character being based on racial defaults, they are instead based on the achievements and physiology of all their prior ancestors. The professions and achievements of previous ancestors could be the things which provide the basis for what attributes or attribute ranges could be, such as a 10th generation miner starting stronger and able to carry more than others, as well as having family-taught techniques to work with. This may apply to other things, like resistances to elements or forms of magic, affinity to certain foods or drinks, and other gameplay features.
Attribute or Skill Progression – Whether or not the base attributes or skills are affected by ancestral lineage, the rate and difficulty of progression may be influenced by the family’s past. Some people can naturally put on muscle easier than others, some proportions naturally give people advantages at some activities compared to others, some physical or knowledge-based skills may be easier to develop aptitude in because of the way the brain developed. These could raise the speed of development, or reduce the difficulty of training needed for increases of higher levels.
Affinity, Hatred, or Understanding – This comes specifically from the inspiration about passing down phobias. It is possible that ancestral lineage will allow the character to take a liking to certain things, and their affinity for those things may give them natural bonuses when dealing with it, or natural compulsion to interact with it above other things. Likewise, hatred passed down through traumatizing experiences could easily lead to the character having an immediate dislike or distrust that cannot be easily overcome, and may even impact interactions like providing less healing to disliked races than healing their own kind. Understanding is passing down traits that help someone learn and figure out something naturally compared to others.
Starting Zone – Where your most recent of ancestors lives / lived is where you’ll start. This helps with early depth and immersion, as that ancestor’s deeds can be spoken about by NPCs through interactions, and may determine what kind of starting home (if any) you may get. This would be great for promoting meaningful interactions in one’s hometown, and give the player a sense that the location is truly home for their character, at least when they began their adventure.
Starting Story – Before the player is brought to a common area, their lineage determines the instanced single-player history / flashback scene that the player goes through in order to learn gameplay controls. How the player completes their intro instance could determine where they start and what they start with.
Unlockable Skills or Abilities – Not fully knowing one’s lineage opens the door for them to unlock new skills or abilities through gameplay. These may be skills or abilities that can otherwise be acquired or learned from other sources, or they are the same racial abilities for every race but the order in which they can be unlocked is affected by lineage. Likewise, advanced skills might be limited until the later lineage has been learned about and that ancestor’s achievements are fully known to the character.
Navigating the Spirit Realm – When a character dies, their essence must fight it’s way out of a dark region of the Spirit Realm to return to life. The powers and abilities of the character are granted to them by their ancestors from beyond all planes of life, who lend the character power as they try to struggle back to the realm of the living. Each death lets the player choose which powers and abilities they use to fight their way out, but each ancestor who they ask power from will be spiritually exhausted and unable to provide aid for a period of time.
IV. Effects on Gameplay Interactions
Below are different types of gameplay interactions which may occur as a result of the ancestral lineage. The deeds, achievements, debts, and caches of ancestors still have lasting impact in the world. Relatives who are players or NPCs may also be a factor in these interactions.
Hometown Reputation – In the place where the character starts, they are already known to the rest of the town. Whether they grew up there, or are a new arrival who was a subject of much local gossip for a time, the character’s presence in town is established. Some friends they’ve made, some relatives they may have who live there, some competitors whose business they compete for, may all be impacted by ancestral lineage and their ancestor’s past relations with the town.
Factional Relations – Depending on the actions of your ancestors, different groups and factions may view you differently. Whatever different types of factions there may be, both player-with-NPC as well as NPC-only, will potentially have different reactions based on the lineage. This could also be racial or town-specific instead of faction-specific, depending how the game is designed. A great-granddaughter of a famous Ogre warrior who was also an Elf-cooking master of great renown may be known far and wide for their utilization of family recipes, but be hated by all Elves everywhere.
Inherit Responsibility – When the game begins, there is already a mundane role or job that the player can choose to perform or forsake, because it is what the character does in town. This may pair with crafting role selection at character creation, where the player would assign a role and that is what they do as their first job, but have extra aptitude and possibly quality tools for that role which nobody else would otherwise start with. This could also create opportunities for claiming on old debts owed to the ancestor, or fulfilling their old debts to help them rest peacefully in the afterlife.
Mentoring Relatives – The parents, siblings, or other relatives of the character may act as an early mentor and help give the player guidance in learning their past, as well as a possible source of quests or other content. Relatives are meant to give the sense of family in the world, so characters don’t seem like they were generated from thin air and instead have tangible flesh-and-blood NPCs for the character to interact with.
Generational Aggressors – Just as some people may be friends for generations, there can easily be aggressors who are hostile as the result of generational struggle between the families. Whether local, located in another town, or met exclusively out of town, these aggressors will always show hostility or even attack when they see the character. Rival families of crafters or traders, assassins from a cult trying to recover a long-lost artifact an ancestor may have stolen, bandits whose ransom plans were foiled by an ancestor, and so forth.
Relatives Struggling Over Ancestral Relics – As a way to infuse competition or rivalry between family members who share a legendary ancestor in common, there may be quests or events which lead characters towards a goal of acquiring relics of their ancestors and claiming them as family heirlooms. This can get both players and NPCs involved, allowing multiple parties with their own interests in mind to compete for access to these items. They might not even be that powerful, but owning them may grant special benefits due to the people who know the legend of that ancestor acknowledging you as the heir. This may allow access to bank vaults or other secret places which that ancestor stashed loot or clues to something even bigger.
Ancestor-Related Generated Content – Whenever players are questing out in the wilderness, there’s a chance that they’ll stumble across a clue or lead related to one party member’s distant lineage. It may or may not immediately be revealed to players that it is the case, but instead could be revealed as the events unfold. Story elements which that ancestor’s history interacted with could be used to continue the content and push the team deeper towards discovering amazing secrets (and loot) that had been lost to the ages.
Constant Judgment – Every character’s conscience is weighed upon by the deeds and actions of their ancestors. When they are faced with a tough decision, they will consult their conscience and dwell upon their ancestors actions in a similar situation. When they cannot find the right answer, they may be visited by their ancestors, especially ones who have become restless in the afterlife due to the deeds of the character. This can be interwoven during rests, loading sequences, or even upon death or restoration from death. Living relatives may also nag on a character’s conscience.
V. Other Thoughts
This is meant to really increase the level of immersion. I am personally really glad to see where the concept has gone since I initially set out to design it, and I’m hoping there can be suggestions from the rest of the community for more ways which these concepts can be implemented. After writing this, I really like the idea of characters knowing who their ancestors were 2 tor 3 generations back, but the rest beyond that is a haze which they have to uncover.
Whether the players are Role-Players or just looking to enjoy the game, this system provides advantages for everyone. There are plenty of gameplay opportunities and chances to access meaningful loot, as well as a plethora of interactions that can further push along gameplay. Players may get a sense of duty and familial responsibility (or choose to reject it) for their character by fulfilling tasks related to the family and discovering more about their lineage.
However complex or simple the character’s lineage may be, it could be great to have at least something which ties the character to the world’s history, so they don’t seem like they spawned out of nowhere as an adult whatever-class-they-choose or washed ashore as a family-lacking amnesiac like every other player in the game. Instead, lineage and ancestry means they are part of a long line of whatever their ancestors were.
†In typing the part on a minigame series, I recall the game Heimdall in the 90s which featured a minigame at the start of the game to determine who your starting crew would consist of. While this isn’t necessarily a lineage-defining minigame series, I feel its worth noting because it does impact initial gameplay decisions.