Your donations keep RPGWatch running!
Box Art

Copper Dreams - Dialogue vs. Player Agency

by Silver, 2017-04-24 12:47:38

Copper Dreams' latest update focuses on dialogue vs. player agency and the roleplaying goals behind the system.

Dialogue vs. Player Agency

Copper Dreams uses tag-based dialogue, which we talk about a little bit in the initial Kickstarter overview of the ruleset. In this update we just wanted to go over how that will influence gameplay and roleplaying, and our reasoning for why we decided to use it in our original design doc.

Roleplaying Goals

Our goal was to make dialogue another tool in the player's belt. Dialogue doesn't take away player agency, and is instead something that's either strictly for the player to get information from NPCs or playful banter - usually somewhere in-between. For Copper Dreams we came up with a few guidelines for dialogue:

  • Never author events in dialogue that the player could use gameplay to actually play through. Limiting the large amount of tools we've given the player for gameplay to push some story/dialogue/cinematic would be insulting to the player and systems, and ultimately make a bad DM experience. Players need to be able to respond to dialogue or cinematic situations with ALL their tools and gameplay mechanics normally available.
  • The player isn't important or destined for greatness, conversations need to reflect that. It's a dungeon crawl where you play as cyborg monsters, you're not sitting down for tea, so NPCs shouldn't be to open to a stranger like yourself.
  • Allow player agency by making dialogue events predictable by making the tools at your disposal during conversation very consistent in their application. If you try to bribe one person, you can try to bribe them all, whenever you want during a dialogue.

More P&P Feels

Tags were initially a difficult choice for us, as it's very easy to fall into the trap of dragging the player by the ear to show or tell them something just the way you want to through some dialogue event. Any DM knows the experience of setting up a great event or character encounter for a story to have a player evade or change it through clever or unexpected means. That's awesome though, allowing player agency for creative problem solving is the crux for most [good] tabletop roleplaying we know. If we're under the assumption that games should be a challenge, which we are, selecting through a handful of dialogue options for choice/consequence isn't a challenge, it's just a storybook with a no-lose scenario.

After assessing what we then wanted, we couldn't use the typical CYOA events usually done in roleplaying games. CYOA style text options in a gameplay focused RPG is the equivalent of quicktime events to an action game. There's often a contradiction in design for RPGs where they give players an immense amount of tools and ways of completing tasks, but then in a conversation or cinematic players are often shoehorned into a situation where they can only access a fraction of those tools in story contextual ways. No amount of choice and consequence can make up for the fact that the DM took away the rules and tools you were relying on up to that point to be cinematic or story heavy for their own agenda, taking away from your experience.

We had to think about how we use it and make it fun in actual p&p gaming. Rolling for risky (permanent) social disposition changes for NPCs is a big part of that, as well as the focus of using them as a tool for gameplay and not story-dumps. The conversation flow of an NPC saying something and the player asking about keyword highlights is a comfortable flow and encourages the idea that you're purposefully asking these questions, that these NPCs are a tool at your disposal instead of there to tell you about your story.


Information about


SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Modern
Genre: Tactical RPG
Platform: PC
Release: Released