Using Stop Signs

Posted by The Architect on June - 27 - 2016

117044-you-shall-not-pass(Inspired by this thread.)

Before thinking about ways to block off an area, we must first decide whether we want to implement such blockades at all. I’m not talking about locked doors here, but large-scale blockades which impede the journey into the next part of the game world until a certain requirement is reached. The opposite approach is to have the game world be completely open to the player from the start (although this freedom of ways usually finds its limit in encounters too tough for the party to overcome). In general, leaving it to the player how he wants to play the game is the better idea, but there are still good reasons for sometimes keeping the player out of an area at first.

Story / Discovery Progress: This is probably the most common reason. If a linear storyline is the center of our game, we often want the player to experience the story events in a certain order. Allowing freeform exploration can ruin this. The same is true if there are areas we simply don’t want the player to visit at first because it would spoil too much of what’s going on. Accordingly, this can also be used to excite the player by inciting his curiosity and giving him a goal to work for.

Player Guidance: While the game world may be open from the beginning, we will usually still have a certain progress order for the various regions in mind, dictated by how dangerous the encounters are and what items/knowledge/skills must be available to the player to accomplish anything in the region. Rather than having the player do a lot of trial and error experiments until he has a rough idea of that progress order, we could block off certain key areas to give him direction. However, this could also be achieved by having the game’s quests (more or less subtle) define a traveling route through the game world. If the player still wants to do some trial and error exploration – it’s his choice.

Exploration Overkill: Related to the above point – if the player gets the impression that the events and quests of all areas are interrelated, rather than following a certain order, the amount of possible exploration he has to do and the information he has to gather may seem overwhelming. In this case, a blockade can actually make the player’s life easier by telling him, if a bit bluntly, “the information, characters etc. in this area will only become relevant later in the game”.

Now if we decide to place such a barrier, we should also have an in-game explanation for it, so it feels natural to the player and not like a pure gameplay mechanism. Well, we could of course place an actual roadsign… but I think we can do better than that. If the barrier is to blend in with the world, there are some general questions that the blockade and its circumstances should answer:

Who/what is blocking the passage?

  • friendly guards
  • hostile guards
  • an enormous creature just following its instincts
  • natural causes (avalanche, destroyed bridge…)
  • a magical barrier

Why is it being blocked?

  • area behind must be protected
  • area behind must be sealed so nothing comes out
  • guardians view this as an opportunity to demand an extremely high price for letting someone pass
  • no intention, it just happens to be blocked (usually in case of natural causes, but maybe also because of an ancient rule)
  • unknown, lost in time

How can the blockade be removed, at least for the player?


  • bribe the guardian
  • slay the guardian
  • fulfill a quest for the guardian
  • disguise to pass
  • powerful magic to remove the blocking object
  • powerful magic to circumvent the blocking object
  • destroy the object that is the cause for the blocking magic
  • get allowance to pass by someone with that authority

It is important to provide a clear in-game way to remove the roadblock. Otherwise, the player will feel somewhat frustrated, because the game presents him with an obstacle, but no way to deal with it. Naturally, this will feel like an arbitrary game designer decision instead of something that happens within the game world. An example would be “I cannot bring you to the next continent, the seas are too rough” and then have the seas strangely calm down once the player has solved all quests in the area. Lazy game design.

Why has nobody else removed the blockade yet?

  • too much effort
  • too costly
  • too dangerous
  • someone in power doesn’t want it removed

Similarly important. To create an immersive game world, it should appear like things are moving without the player, not just waiting for him to take action. Three bandits have been blocking the road for a while? Why hasn’t the town guard done anything about it? Is it really so difficult to repair a wooden bridge? And so on…

Of course, combinations of all things are possible. So let’s construct some examples from these elements:

  1. A bridge has been destroyed by natural causes. It wouldn’t be difficult to repair it, but the river merchants bribe the mayor so that it doesn’t happen – if people and goods cannot be transported via the road, more must use the river ferries.
  2. A stone titan has chosen a mountain pass as a place for his rest, which might take months. It is too powerful to just be slain, but there is a ritual that would awaken it and cause it to rest somewhere else. (Players who don’t find the ritual still might try to remove the titan by force – good luck.)
  3. Royal guards block the way to the high city, the quarter where the rich and powerful dwell / where only members of the high temple are welcome. The heroes can only enter with an invitation from someone living there, or if they get a spell or artifact that would allow them to turn invisible.
  4. Royal guards block the way to the cemetery because there have been reports about undead and even demons. The heroes will eventually get a quest to clean up the mess, but they have to be at a certain level first.
  5. A tribe of hill savages blocks a mountain pass. They demand a holy relic of their tribe back which was stolen by the servants of a powerful and feared baron. The heroes can somehow convince the baron to give up the relic, steal it, try to battle their way through or disguise themselves as tribe members.
  6. Specially trained camels are needed to traverse the desert of salts, but the nomad merchants demand extremely high prices for them. However, they also trade for dwarf slaves – evil characters would probably accept that offer…
  7. For unknown reasons, an ancient curse bars the way into a hidden valley. It is said there is a ritual with which the curse could be lifted, but nobody knows the components. (Alternatively, the curse wouldn’t block the way, but drain the lifeforce of those who entered; as the magic power of the heroes increases, they can start ever longer expeditions into the valley.)
  8. The ancient stairway to the skies has been shattered by the enemy. There are very few ways to get up to the cloud realm now, and they all require extreme effort: Convince an air genie to carry you up, or find and maneuver a magic carpet.

Any other cool ideas? In any way, happy crafting!

Categories: Allgemein

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