Rasher’s Scenario Design Series

Heaven’s Design Pages


Chapter 1: What kind of scenario?

Before you even open up your Scenario Editor, you will probably want to have a basic idea of what you are going to do. First of all, you must choose what type of scenario you intend to create. There are three basic types of scenarios:

1. The Historically Accurate Scenario 
This type of scenario is based on a real event that happened sometime in history. From the Garden of Eden to World War II, anything that really happened is acceptable. When attempting to create this type of scenario, make sure you do your research. Nothing ruins a scenario more than finding mistakes that could have easily been corrected with only a little research.

Be careful not to fall into the trap of sticking too closely to history; allow yourself some room for creativity. It is very rare for a piece of history to fit perfectly into scenario form. You will need to elaborate some parts to make it more fun to play. Use your imagination, but be careful not to go too far the other way either – a scenario that is totally beyond the realm of history will not go over well. You will need to find a balance between fact and fiction, and only experimentation will show you what is acceptable.

Overall, I feel the Historical Scenario is probably the hardest to create, although it can be the most rewarding. Gordon Farrell is known as master of the Historical scenario, and his series “The Persian Wars”, is one of the greatest of all-time.
Another expert at this style of scenario is Imhotep. Though he is now retired, his “David Saga” campaigns are two of the best-ever.

2. The Fantasy Scenario 
A Fantasy scenario is made up almost totally from the author’s imagination. It may be based on an actual tribe, civilization, or person, but in the end it is almost totally, or at least partially, made up. This type of scenario allows for much more creativity and room to work with than the Historical Scenario, as it is not based on history. The author has the free reign to create his own world, any aspect he wants can be included. Many things that people would not even dream of for a Historical Scenario can be found in Fantasy. The author has his chance to play God. He is in total control – free to decide what happens, when it happens, how it happens, and why it happens. That is why the Fantasy Scenario is so popular: It’s flexibility.

In order to create a good Fantasy Scenario, you must have a good imagination. In the end, that is what will make or break this type of campaign. You can have great Map Design, the scenario can be well balanced with beautiful Bitmaps, but if your creativity flops, so does the whole campaign. Much focus must go into the story, as well as the creativity part.

Overall, the fantasy scenario gives you much flexibility, but it is not the right style for everyone. The unchallenged king of the Fantasy scenario has to be Ingo van Thiel. To see what is my opinion of the ultimate fantasy campaign, check out “Budonian Tales”, by Ingo van Thiel.

3. The Fiction-Based Scenario
Although this type of scenario may not be as popular as the other two already mentioned, it does have many strong points that make it worth mentioning. One of the main advantages is that with this type of scenario, it is like a fantasy scenario with the story already designed for you! The Fiction-Based can be based on any medium: Book, Television, Radio, or just about anything else. All you have to do is adapt it to a scenario form. You will not have as much room for flexibility as you do with the Fantasy Scenario, but you have the story already made up for you. Another advantage is that people may recognize the story it is based on, and will try it out because of that fact.

I have created numerous scenarios of this type, and in doing so I have found one thing: You don’t have to stick to the story exactly. If you want to add or change something, by all means go ahead. You think a certain puzzle would go well with your scenario? Add it. For example, take the final scenario in my campaign “Magnus#4 – Merlin’s Destiny”, which is based on the book “Magnus” by Sigmund Brouwer; the final scenario is totally made up! The book actually ends after the second scenario, but I felt the ending provided in the book would not suit the campaign, so I made up a new one, which I feel drastically improved the quality of the campaign. So you see, you do not need to stick exactly to the story.

Overall, the Fiction-Based Scenario would be a good choice for a scenario; however, the hard part is finding a story to base your scenario on. 

Before you even open up the scenario editor, you will need to have your topic and basic storyline worked out. You need at least some idea of what you plan to do. However, don’t fall into the trap of totally mapping everything out. Leave some room for new ideas and creativity.

The next step is to choose what style your scenario will be. There are a number of different options:

1. The “Build-Up” and Conquest Style.
This is your basic, in-your-face AoE style. You will find it in random maps, as well as the majority of scenarios. You will start with at least a villager, and most likely some buildings. You must gather resources and build your army until you are ready to attack. Although not the most exciting style of scenario, if handled right it can be just what you are looking for.

2. The “Fixed-Force” Style

This style of scenario is second in popularity only to the “Build-Up” and Conquest style. With the “Fixed-Force”, the human player starts off with a number of units – no villagers. You must use what units you are given, as you are unable to produce more. Along the way you may be able to convert or rescue villagers or buildings so you can produce more units, but at the start of the scenario you must work with what you are given.

3. The “Puzzle” Style

This style is one of my favorites. Most times you would start with a fixed number of units, usually a small number, and you must solve a variety of puzzles en-route to your goal. Whether they are battles that require a certain technique to win, a variety of tasks to be accomplished, certain units to be rescued, paths to follow, or even riddles to solve, just about anything will work. The key here is to be creative. Always be thinking of new ideas. One of my favorite puzzles that I have made is found in my scenario “Like a Thief in the Night”. In this scenario, one of your hero’s goals is to rescue a Blind Lame Priest stranded in the middle of a lake. To do this, you must accomplish a variety of tasks: you need to locate the Composite Bowman, who in turn must locate the dock, at which you must build a ship to locate the transport which can bring the Priest to safety. Nice and detailed, and the puzzle requires a good deal of thought to figure it out. One of the most satisfying things in AoE to a player can be solving a challenging puzzle. One great example of an almost totally “Puzzle” style scenario is Steve Ryan’s classic “The Relay” 

4. The “Diplomatic” Style.
This is one of the more complex styles – it focuses on diplomacy, and is usually difficult to create, although it can be very rewarding. Most of the time this style involves getting enough gold or resources to tribute to a computer player, making him become your ally. In more complicated scenarios, there is a lot of switching alliances, tribute, and complex diplomacy issues that need to be dealt with. The final goal of the scenario can be making the computer player your ally, or it can merely be one of the things you must do en-route to your final goal.

Many times the challenge in this style of scenario is either locating the gold you need to tribute, or figuring out which computer player to ally with. Many times this style is only a small part of the scenario, and it works well when combined with almost any other style.

To see the ultimate example of a “Diplomatic” style scenario, check out Rich Parker’s scenario “Diplomacy, Deceit, Destruction”, from the campaign “The Martial Emperor” 

5. The “Defend” Style
This style involves the human player starting off with a base of some kind, and coming under attack from at least one enemy. You goal may be to protect a certain object until the attack ends, or merely to hold off the enemy for a certain period of time. This style also works well when combined with other styles. For example, you can have it so that you must hold off an attack until it ends, and then you must continue on with the rest of the scenario. The key with this style of scenario is to keep the player’s interest. Try to keep the action fast-paced, and make the player us his head. Have attacks happening at different places, with different units, and with various strategies. In this style of scenario, you want to keep the player on his toes.

6. The “Quest” Style
This style has very close ties to “Puzzle”. Most of the time you have between 15 units, and you must fight a variety of battles and accomplish a certain number of tasks. As already mentioned, this style is very close to “Puzzle”. In fact, mant times they cannot be distinguished. The main difference is this: A “Puzzle” style mainly requires brain power, while a “Quest” style demands a fast-acting mouse clicking finger.

These are the six basic styles of scenarios. There may be others, but these are the main ones. Now, a word about styles:

In most cases, you will want to COMBINE DIFFERENT STYLES. A scenario that is simply “Build-Up” and “Conquest” will most likely be very dull, the same as a totally “Fixed-Force” would be. Try combining different styles. For example, you could start off with a fixed-force, with which you must go through a number of battles and puzzles until you can rescue a gaia town. Once you have located the town, you must build up your units until you are powerful enough to attack the enemy. The possibilities are almost endless. Any combination of styles will work if handled right, and will make your scenario MUCH more interesting. Some times you may want to stick with one main style, although you should include minor parts of other styles in your scenario. The final scenario in my campaign “Magnus#4 – Merlin’s Destiny” is mostly “Puzzle”, but notice how even a “Puzzle” scenario still has elements of “Diplomacy”, “Fixed-Force”, “Quest”, and “Build-Up.”

The ultimate example of a combined-style scenario would have to be Ingo van Thiel’s single-player scenario “Mago”. You must solve a number of puzzles until you are able to locate some gaia units, then must fight a number of small battles, until you are able to locate some docks and trade ships to trade for gold. Once you have acquired enough gold, you must tribute it to a nearby computer town, so that they will allow you access to the town. Once inside, you will find a small gaia base, so that you can build up until you are powerful enough to conquer the enemy and accomplish a variety of tasks. Beautiful! Notice how this scenario seamlessly combines almost all styles in one perfectly balanced scenario. This is how it should be with every scenario.

As this chapter in the tutorial closes, let us go over what we have discussed:

Step 1: Choose what type of scenario you intend to create. Historical, Fantasy, or Fiction Based.
Step 2: Work out the basic storyline, as well as any things you would like to see included in your scenario.
Step 3: Choose what style or combination of styles you would like to include in your scenario. Remember, BE CREATIVE.

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