Choices for a prologue

Hi all,

I am currently well underway in writing my first IF story and close to finishing chapter 1.

You will be playing a character in search of Dr Livingstone in 1870’s East Africa. The game will be very loosely based on Stanley’s journey and set in this time in history but I have given myself some leeway in some areas to give me freedom to write the story.

I am currently struggling a bit with choices for the prologue. I want to tell the reader a bit about the story of Dr Livingstone here, and so write the prologue from Livingstone’s perspective rather than the MC as in the rest of the story. Because of this I find it difficult to give the player any choices, but this means a lot of only text, which I don’t like. Alternatively, if I use a made-up character I could have more freedom but I would prefer to give the player a taste of a true story (Dr Livingstone’s journals are very elaborate) to make the whole thing feel more real.

Any ideas for choices where you are not directly influencing the story but still feel like you are not just reading pages of text?

Another idea I have is to keep it very short and put a bit of Livingstone’s story in between every chapter showing what’s happening with him at the same time.

This is not going to be a fun trip through Africa - I want to make it as accurate a portrait of these times as possible, including the negative parts. It will be about the hardships of an expedition and I hope I can pull it off having been there myself and written a thesis on the topic.

Thanks for any ideas, I hope to bring you all along on the adventure soon!


Hi there,

Sounds an interesting concept but you’re right, no one wants to be rail roaded. How about playing someone within Dr Livingstone’s sphere of influence? So you can portray him accurately but then you can play an external fictional element that can influence him in ways that might not be historically accurate?

I know I would prefer to have more choice over historically accuracy but it depends on what you’re trying to achieve.


Stanley was a pretty horrific human being, even by the standards of the time. I really hope that you’re going to allow the player the option to be less of a vile colonialist exploiter than he was!

As to your question, personally I really like the idea of putting bits of Livingstone’s story in between chapters, as you suggested. You could even potentially tie it to player progress. If you think about it, there’s an investigative element to what the MC has to do: they’re trying to find out what happened to Livingstone and his expedition. So you could put little story snippets in between chapters which relate to information that the player has uncovered in the previous chapter. That way you’d really get a sense that the player was uncovering Livingstone’s story as they progress. That’s how I’d prob do it, for what it’s worth!


That’s not a bad idea. I don’t want to make it too long though bu this might actually work

That was exactly the idea of this book! Be Stanley, but better!

I do want to do it like this, just looking for choices to put in these snippets. Small updates would be ok but the story I have in the prologue would be a bit larger, so looking for some ideas for choices here.


As @ChaoticMind said, playing as someone within Livingstone’s sphere of influence seems like a great way to start the story while stile having choices. Give the player an mini-origin (e.g. they could be a native, an assistant of Livingstone, or another explorer in the area) and some degree of agency over what happens, but always have end the prologue with Livingstone disappearing into the jungle.

For the actual MC, my only recommendations would be that they get their own origin story with a unique reason to find Livingstone; this could easily be country based (an American character would do it as a journalist, a British one could do it as a missionary, etc). Oh, also the obvious gender/sexuality choice.

If you’re looking up people to read about who were like Stanley but not as absurdly morally bankrupt, I’d highly recommend reading about Roger Casement and his time exploring Africa, as well as George Washington Williams.


Have you considered setting the prologue as an “Interview” letting the reader framing the choices as the questions being asked. So they choose the questions and the tone.

It would allow you to introduce the Dr Livingstone and set up what he was doing when he went missing?


Another advice about snippets of Other characters lore or story. Make sure of being skippable.

Being skippable and tied to player choice to investigate is a wonderful way to encourage replaying.

It also allows people who don’t like being in other character’s shoes to skip that content.

Also please, if you let be a woman (there were wonderful explorer women) please don’t make them look like brainless missionaries. Because I particularly don’t want to be forced to play a missionary destroying the local culture.


Agreed. Even if rare, some women still made waves. A good example is Alexandra David-Neel, a French-Belgian explorer, spiritualist, anarchist.

Zelia Nuttal is an archeologist who studied pre-Aztec Meso-America.

So if you wish to include women, many were in scientific fields…and yes, you can make a case for a female doctor as well, even if it was say studying native remedies, etc. (Just throwing ideas off my head). You can go Egyptologist, spiritualist, etc.


The MC can be male, female or non-binary. You can also pick genders for some of the NPC’s.

Interesting idea!


It might be interesting for the PC to craft their backstory via reaction to blocks of worldbuilding. For instance:

In 1921 came the plague of drought locusts which infected orphans with ear dysentery.
#I remember. I volunteered to study buckets full of spewn-out ear wax, searching for a cure.
*set bucket_doctor true
*set trait %+4
#Thats where I first learned to love my machete. I chopped so many drought locusts, they gave me the nickname “crazy guy who cuts bugs.” It sounds better in the native tongue.
*set trailblazer true
*set trait %-2

And so forth. So, if you did ten blocks of context text, the PC will have made 10 choices to define their starting stats and labels. Just a thought. Good luck! Cheers! And congrats! @lisamarlin


Instead of making Dr. Livingston the focus of the prologue, I’d love to see you use those precious early pages to establish the player and their world. What are they up to BEFORE they’re pulled into the task of seeking out Dr. Livingston? What aspirations do they have that the adventure interferes with or advances? Then the player is pulled out of their routine and told about Dr. Livingston’s situation.

Building on @Nocturnal_Stillness’s suggestion, I’m imagining the player being summoned by two mustache twirling bankers who financed Livingston’s quest to tame Africa and expect a return on their investment. The player is being employed to ensure that return. Whoever you have setting the player on their quest, break their exposition into “tactical chunks.”

Two paragraphs of expertly crafted information followed by…
A choice of how that information informs the players plan to find Livingston.


Here’s the route Dr. Livingston took before he disappeared.
At what point do you plan on picking up his trail?

Here’s some information about the villages he was interacting with.
Which tribe do you want to start with?
What individual from that village do you want to contact first?

Here’s a dirty secret about Dr. Livingston we want to keep out of the papers.
What do you intend to do with that dirty little secret?

None of these answers need to have story impact. Remember them. Call back to them, but all the player is doing is “making a plan.” And no plan survives contact… with malaria. Like @dwsnee suggests, you can make this planning be part of building the character’s stats. If the player intends to talk to the priests instead of the farmers, the player get +2 to the Pious stat.

Good luck, I’m excited to see this come to life.


@nickcotton @dwsnee (love your work btw)

That’s so funny because that’s close to how I had already written my original prologue (the Suez Canal apparently agreed with having a boat stuck in it, although I made it happen on opening day 1869 :rofl:). I was thinking about using this part (I did scrap the boat as timelines did not match) for the start of chapter 1 as I do feel Livingstone’s story has a much better hook for the prologue and will give more feels to the story. Chapter 1 will then move to Zanzibar where you go and ‘investigate’ and assemble your expedition. How I planned it now is that you, for example, will hear stories and gather information in Zanzibar and make your decisions (it is up to you how you run your expedition) and after every chapter you hear Livingstone’s real semi-linear storyline (that is, up till the last chapters of the book when he really gets lost). I really like your suggestions to let the story develop through investigative means, I just want to make sure there is a particular part that no one misses regardless of their choices (and while I was writing this I thought of a way to do this, so thanks for that!!).

Although I set the goal to have a WIPup this month, I will not be able to finish the remaining part of the first chapter, but I’m close so I hope to show you something soon!