Creating ROs with involvement in the plot

Lately I’ve been wondering what makes people feel their ROs are relevant to the plot or rather have vested interest in the plot. Or rather have the reader feel like their important. Maybe I don’t have the magic words to describe it correctly so two examples of what I mean.

One would be someone like Alistair for DAO. Dude has his own unique backstory and personality. Also turns out he’s related to the former king giving him a claim to the throne and he also has the my whole life was destroyed and I want revenge going for him. With all this he is quite the example of an RO with involvement or investment in the story, one with much more investment than required for most ROs to fall into this category.

A good second example would be Toshie from the samurai of hyuga series. They are one of the emperor’s ninjas, a trusted one at that. Loyal to their emperor. They also help you along in the story by being the mystic seer the mc isn’t not to mention the constant advice they give you and a couple occasions they challenge you, ex. the trial on the third book.

1.So I suppose the question is what ways can an author make it so their ROs are relevant or have involvement with the main story beyond simply being romanceable with a side plot?

2.What would make their character arc be involved with the main story or stories?

3.What is the general bar for a good character like this?

4.Am I missing something with how ROs are relevant to the story?

5.What are your own examples of characters you think are like this?

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If The RO is so relevant to the plot. I am hesitant to play the game if that character is a forced companion.

I feel the author is trying HARD force in my choice game a linear novel.

Is a way to say Oh, you don’t want to romance my favourite character… Well, then you will lose half of the game Haha… ha

It is a lack of design vision and appreciation for the agency of the players.

If there’s an option to have the npc or not or if there are several NPCs romanceable with the same importance into the plot I am okay with it because you still give player choices of similar level in the plot.

But If There is only one main NPC and that is the main romance… That means the Author is forcing player on romance X or else you will lose half of the playthrough length.

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I agree with @poison_mara in that if one love interest is majorly important to the plot, others can feel like afterthoughts (I find with Dragon Age Origins, as much as I like Alistair and Morrigan as characters, they feel a lot like the main romances whereas the others feel less important.)

But it does feel satisfying when love interests are connected to the plot in some way, otherwise they can feel like added extras. Emily Short writes here about ways to help love interests feel more grounded through their motivations - it may be of interest!

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Hmm… I consider a good game should give some level of plot importance to all present characters, including ROs? I can’t see a RO being only a side thing as a good design, unless it’s actually labelled as a side or additional romance or something like that.

Keep in mind that while I do write, and I’m also game master in a lot of RP games, I do not do IF games, so not all of what I’ll say will be relevant to you, I guess. But still, I guess my opinion as a player does count too.

That one is simple, really. Create the outline of all the important characters, and then select X of them and make them ROs, then add romantic plot and variation to these. That way, you’ll naturally get plot relevant ROs. And it has the advantage of not making some ROs more important than others, which could be the case if you created two separate lists for “important characters” and “types of ROs I want”, and then had only some of them coincide. You wouldn’t want some of the ROs to steal the entire screentime.
Or you can do the thing the author of Relics of the Lost Age did, and divide the story in chapters, with a different RO or ROs being central figures in each chapter, which gives the same amount of importance to everyone - at least for that specific book.

I can’t really answer that without knowing the plot? :thinking:
And really, my answer to the previous point kinda answers this one too?

Don’t really know what to say to this one, sorry… too subjective in my opinion.

Well, I guess keep in mind depending on the structure of your story, side stories could be just as interesting as the main story. If side stories are truly engaging, then a RO who’s only important in side stories could still have appeal. With that being said, it also depends on the stakes in the story. A character central to a “saving the world” plot compared to some side quests would be kinda hard to top. But if the general stakes are lower, it’s easier to make it even.
Also, you seem to be talking about stories not focused on romance? If a story’s main focus is romance, then naturally anything about romance would be a central plot point? A good example of that are character routes in most romance-type visual novels, since the plot is then tailored to the corresponding RO.

Well, I guess Toshio and Alistair ARE good examples, as you said (and I love them so much I don’t even… ahem :sweat_smile:).
Aside from them… Hmm I have a hard time finding examples that would not be “all of the characters in (X game)”…

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This is perhaps a little vague, but I think the sort of overall answer to these questions for me is “Do I buy that there is a logical, in-universe reason for this character to be here on the page/screen/etc right now? Or do they feel like they’re just here as a selling point to attract my attention?”

A lot of games (IF or otherwise) make it feel like everyone hangs around the MC because the MC is just so magnetic and awesome and attractive that these people drop whatever lives they have to hang out with them. That can be fun in a wish-fulfillment-y way, but tends to read to me at least as unrealistically immersion-breaking and often kind of boring. I like the idea of the characters in a story having their own lives, their own wants and needs, and the fact that those may occasionally brush up against what I want, or where my own character’s arc might be going. Not to say that that’s easy to do, and I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert at it or can describe why some examples work and others don’t. :sweat_smile:

That said, I do think one character being in the plot because of their attachment to another (MC or not) is a valid reason for them to be around, as long as it makes sense to the character they are. I also think that there’s a difference between a character having a deep tie to the plot and a character having a logical, in-universe reason to be around - like, I think it’s valid for a character to be involved in the plot because they want to make money, rather than because the villain murdered their hamster - but I’m not sure how to get into that further or if it really matters.

I hope I answered some of your questions somewhere in that mess, haha. It’s a difficult nuance that I’m trying to work out for myself, too.

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I don’t mind if my favorite RO isn’t part of the main quest.
Not as long as their romance arc are given the same amount of love as the ROs who are.

Make sure that important NPCs acknowledge your relationship choices in some way. Have them comment or tease, and include the ROs in their flavour text.

If only some ROs are there for the Dark Night of the Soul and/or the Climax, make sure to give the others some equally emotional scenes of there own.

Don’t have long stretches of plot where the non-main-plot ROs aren’t at least mentioned. Spread their content across the full game, so it doesn’t come across like they have suddenly disappeared, or the game forgets their existence.
Side quest ROs should still exist outside of their quest.

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This doesn’t apply to all stories, but if your MC has a job then my suggestion is to make the ROs be colleagues of some sort. That way they are present in the same area but have their own lives since they are employed.

Another setting is the classic school or college setting where the ROs can have an easier time of feeling relevant since they’re already there with the MC.

However both these points depends on how the author executes the ROs being present and active in their own world.

Having the setting be at work and the NPCs being colleagues is the most cut and dry manner to have them involved in the main storyline.

It gets slightly trickier when you move out of the work setting and into others.

This probably won’t answer your question, but here’s my advice. Don’t think of your ROs as ROs. Think of them as characters first and then romance options as secondary… that way you can focus on how they will be relevant and important to them plot rather than having the plot bend in weird ways to accommodate them being an RO.

That’s a question only you can answer. In my opinion, NPCs who have a romance route are bonus content. Regardless if you romanced him or not, Alistair still served as the bastard son of King Maric and could become the King of Fereldan depending on the Warden’s actions.

Personally I would reframe your question into this:

How is this character relevant to the story?

Hope this helps. Best of luck.

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It can be difficult I’ve found with little bits I’ve tried writing, not to overshadow the MC, especially in IF, the reader is after all an expy of the MC. So you want to strike a good balance of having other characters and the MC’s tie in. Have the MC be the only one who matters and the others will feel like shadows. Have their stories overshadow your own and the MC becomes the shadow. Though that itself could be an interesting premise perhaps.

Not sure how relevant this is to the question but I feel it can serve to make a character more relevant to the story. I’ve read posts where people are not fond of the idea, but I find if you want RO’s to feel more engaged in the narrative or just in general then they should have an active role in pursuing the MC. It can make them feel less static as a result.

While I agree to an extent that having one particular character with more ties to the plot could make other characters feel less important as long as equal attention is given to all of them I don’t feel it should be much of an issue. Sure in some games and stories some RO’s are more fleshed out so you get the feeling they are leading you into choosing them. You could even make it part of a RO’s character arc, coming to terms with the fact that the MC should not take an interest in them, then to their surprise they do.

Hope I’ve made some sense with this. I tend to ramble. ^^

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I don’t want to make one RO the best romance but I do want to have it so that all the ROs have some sort of investment/relevance to the plot.

I understand that and is one the ways to see stories, and a very popular one.

I honestly however as a writer feel reluctant to that. Because I feel is like force players to have to romance someone to see the most important content and access to relationship with main npcs.

So many games are or you romance X or you miss most of that character arc as friendship is usually treated as a inferior content.

It also depends entirely in the focus of the game. If it is a romantic game is obviously the focus on the game romance those npcs.

But if romance is a side thing I would probably not do any main character romanceable and focus on the friendship or rivalry between Npc and Player. But that is my personal take on the genre. As I think that gives more player agency and a more flexed out interactions.

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I get the sentiment. Though I do think there is difference on the level of intimacy of relationships. Mere friendship won’t be as intimate a two lovers or best friends. And there is a difference between your company coworkers vs your drinking buddies down at the pub.

I am also curious your opinion on scenes that are blocked off from players that haven’t pursued a romance or scenes that you can see but can choose one. These scenes though don’t have any character development in them but are rather just fun times or interactions between npc and the mc

The Persona games (especially 4 and 5) do a good job of integrating the ROs into the plot, if you’re looking for an example of something that handles it well.

As for my .02: I think it’s mostly about “screen time.” Incidentally, those who are involved with the plot get seen more. And more of them gets seen. Meaning that mission circumstances allow you to see facets or reactions you wouldn’t ordinarily see. I find the 5 love languages (touch, time, talk, task, treasure) an interesting lens to view this through. The theory being that different people develop intimacy in different ways. For readers who develop feelings around shared tasks, mission ROs seems essential. @Blazin

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Hi, I think all the question of yours referring to one question which is how to make ROs entertaining and at the same time, with purpose to the story. And I agree with everyone else.

First, build the whole story… no ROs yet: just friends, bestfriend, enemies, and etc (or create some ROs if you like). Then after you’ve build your story until the end, you will notice those characters who have their own contributions to the story, and also those who have not.

So, all the characters or some who will meet the MC can be the MC’s ROs, just my suggestion (just add some or long Romantic path for them). However, the romance of the story must not be biased or too favor to someone like, I choose this R1 but then, my character says, I still love the R2 even I pursue R1 becuz I like it. After all, I am not quite good in that area. I hope it makes sense and helps you. Good luck! :grin:

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Unlike what everyone usually suggest, I actually prefer to designate and develop the romance options simultaneously with working on the plot, so that both are as flexible as possible, until the moment things feel right, and gets locked in.
(Of course, things can still change later, if necessary, but ‘soft’ locking them makes it easier for my brain to focus, and build a cohesive experience.)
I feel like ‘completing’ elements before working on others, makes you more limited in your process, and means that the different elements won’t inform and inspire each other as much.
At least for me.

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I’m not sure if I agree every RO needs to have the same significance or even plot importance :joy:

I think DAO resolved it well: some ROs are heavily involved and some RO’s aren’t, not everyone will want to romance a crucial to the plot character, where stakes are greater and while that could make RO’s feel less important and canon, not everyone is after angsty routes or is after angsty routes all the time.

I feel like what should be most important in the creation of RO’s is for them to have their own agency, their own opinions and be as human as possible, and that should determine how far they’ll involve themselves into the events that are unfolding.

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Yeah, the problem was more that the involved ones was the straight options, and the bi ones was completely miss-able, which send an unfortunate message.
But that’s a bit of an aside.

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As a reader/player, I’d say it’s about the context the RO provides…and the novelty of the character (meaning, they are adding something unique to the story that you can’t get from other characters if you removed them).

To use the Dragon Age example, one of the things Bioware always did well was using the companions to add context and world building for the overall plot. Each companion served to offer a different perspective about the various races, events, themes, or political issues in the story. They aren’t all as heavily important to the main plot, or at least not directly. In fact, there are some you can skip recruiting at all, never mind romancing…but what they all have in common is that they made you care about the plot, either by giving the MC some sort of insight into the situation or motivation to act.

A good example of this was Fenris from DA2. You could skip recruiting him, and the events of the main plot would still unfold. But his character, and side quests, offered a unique perspective on the whole mage/templar conflict. Hawke is able to influence his fate, and also he is able to influence Hawke by offering a possible motive to care about the conflict and take a side. Those are all things that made him a good RO that felt relevant, despite having smaller plot importance.

So a character like Alistair was very plot important in DAO because he could be king, sure…but that wasn’t really what made you care about him as a romance option. You cared because he was your fellow Warden, the only other one left that you knew, and your choices mattered depending how you treated him. He might refuse to be king if you didn’t encourage him to be more hardened. He might dump you if you were a mage, or he might rage quit the party and become a drunk if you made a certain other choice he didn’t like.

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sorry if I’m repeating what anyone else has said, but I think a good rule for keeping ROs involved in the plot is if they aren’t actively engaging with it (moving it forward, part of the party, etc), they should at least be actively effected by it. that’s what I’m trying to do with my game anyway! i scrapped an RO whose character arc I had completely outlined (and who was near and dear to me) because ultimately, he couldn’t naturally engage with the plot and each major part of the story he’s more of a bystander than someone truly effected by the events. so he was axed! (well, repurposed for a later project)

oh and a decent amount of ‘screen time’ is always important, but even moreso if an RO is effected by the plot instead of affecting it.
*also sorry but i gave up trying to figure out when to use ‘a’ and ‘e’ with these :sweat_smile: I’ve got a massive tension headache, hopefully ppl get what I mean anyway

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I disagree completely. Generally when I play games I’m looking for who is the most plot relevant RO option for my first playthrough. Games where there isn’t one I don’t even bother, like COG’s “Fog of War” I didn’t even bother since they were just tacked on. I also tend to be hesitant if there is a whole list of characters or if the requirements are overly specific (such as having to agree with them on everything).

Some that I think did it well are “Thieves’ Gambit: The Curse of the Black Cat” when you can get betrayed at the end chef’s kiss so sad there wasn’t a sequel. “Choice of Rebels” was really good, romancing B creates a lot of conflict.

To me a good RO should change the whole feel of the game, like DA:Inquisition the whole game hits a little different if you romance Solas. That is also kind of my argument against the demand for equal content for each RO, Solas had the least amount of content, was gender and race locked, and still one of the most popular routes. I imagine if you polled dragon age players, options like Alistair, Morrigan, or Solas, that are central to the plot, would be a lot more popular than say Sebastian in DA2.

That being said, fluffier side romances that aren’t integral to the plot can be fun too (heart eyes at Josie in Inquisition). So there is value is having both kinds.

Just a disclaimer, unlike some IF players, I’m not interested in a “self-insert” instead I’m looking for an interesting narrative, so I could care less if a RO has narrow preferences or if the MC is genderlocked, etc. I would rather have forced companions that are interesting, dynamic, and shape the events of the story rather than tacked on cardboard that are there to check boxes.

I almost feel like deciding who is romanceable should be done a little later, after you know the key plot and characters. Figure out who your characters are and how they fit into the plot, then decide if they should be interested in the player character.

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I couldn’t agree more with this, with a lot of stories I always feel like we have to choose who to pursue far too early in the plot when we don’t know anything about them, sure that could add to the charm in some aspects but a lot of the time it tends to just be the mainstay that we need to accept. Also choosing to pursue that RO often removes the content for the other characters so if there is a character we are interested in we have to spend all our time with them and the other RO’s are left in the dust.

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