Quest Arcanis (2017-2019)

What is it? 

Quest Arcanis Design Document & Rationale

Quest Arcanis is a tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) meant to introduce new players and audiences to the TTRPG genre. The project was my capstone these in the NYU Games for Learning Program, where it earned the Outstanding Scholarship Award.

The game is a streamlined and simplified story-telling game where 3-6 players explore a fantastic mystery story by acting as characters in the story. The design also supports meta-cognitive and social skill development, such as increasing player empathy, teamwork, and systems thinking.

thesis intro

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The primary design goals for Adventure Quest were:

  • Provide a simple on-ramp for new players to learn the complex genre of RPGs
  • For the game to be fun, interesting, and motivating for future exploration of RPGs
  • The game should be familiar and fun for veteran RPG players, who would introduce their friends new to RPGs to QA
  • To create an RPG that emphasizes and creates situations where players are interacting with elements that lead to increased meta-cognitive and pro-social outcomes
  • To overcome the historic shortcomings and pain points of mainstream entry-point RPGs, including a dramatic gender disparity and a culturally insular design

Research Driven Considerations

In order to maximize the learning potential, and create the best design I can, I pone deep research into the tabletop RPG genre, as well as the research into cognitive and social psychology surrounding role-playing, social games, learning design, and much more.

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By performing market research and user testing, and developing accompanying personas, I have designed Adventure Quest to appeal to a particular market – new, younger gamers who are just beginning to discover tabletop RPGs. Throughout my research, I have narrowed down the interests of that audience, and emphasized those elements in my design. For example, this new audience tends to be very driven by narrative and connecting with characters in the story. In order to include this element in my design, I created the ‘Contacts’ mechanic, which gives each player a handful of Non-Player Characters (NPCs) whom they can go to for favors and advice.

Agent Howe NPC Card Davinthar NPC Card Donde NPC Card Sanjuro NPC Card Vorsav NPC Card Yaya NPC Card

NPC Card
The second iteration of NPC design included greater narrative and detail to increase narrative engagement.

Vampyre Card

Based on play testing and user feedback, I have also included more affective elements into the game design, including a soundtrack for each level, a colored map, and colorful gemstones to represent Arcanis Points, an important resource in the game.

Characters Laid Out

Contemporary Design Approach

Part of Adventure Quest‘s design approach is to ‘re-create the wheel’, to reimagine RPGs from the ground up, without needing to be tied to any of the historical features that the games have maintained. Although I did want to capture the spirit of traditional tabletop RPGs, particularly those that follow the d20 system, I developed my theory of change around overcoming the hurdles that traditional RPGs place before new players.

My goal is to deconstruct the RPG genre and extract its most salient and meaningful elements to include in my design. My goal has been to streamline the play experience so that players are playing and having fun within 30 minutes of starting to learn the game. I have scaffolded the narrative and encounters so that players are slowly introduced to each of the major mechanics of game play without any major interruptions.

Aesthetics & Asset Development

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NOTE: This concept art was collected on Pintrest. I did not create any of it.

I have been developing an art style and aesthetic for the game that I have been including throughout the game’s design. The in-world narrative is set in a genre I am developing called Crystalpunk.


This noblebright, fantastic setting is defined by unbounded potential, contrasted by urban realism. This setting and art direction were developed based on my years of experience playing through fantasy tropes, developed with a goal of allowing players as much freedom as possible when considering their options during game play. I iterated this initial concept by performing user testing and feedback and market research related to fantasy genres and aesthetics that players found original and engaging.

Setting Tone

Crystalpunk as a setting is intended to feel both fantastic and technological, with a generally optimistic tone. The aesthetic is defined by bright colors, crystal structures, magical technology, and urban fantasy. It blends familiar tropes such as knights with swords and fire-blasting wizards with a contemporary tone and feel, with conveniences such like cell phones, and problems like traffic jams and organized crime, sprinkled with a bit of the truly fantastic and outlandish.

Color Palette

Art was selected to support the emotional design facilitated through color choice.

The narrative arc, royalty intrigue was derived from market trends in media such as television, films, fiction books, and games that are popular with the demographics I am designing for. Many of the top selling media for young adults in 2018-2019 revolves around royalty, fantasy, and mystery. Building from that framework, the narrative of the game involves players tracking down a kidnapped prince and princess in a magical metropolis.

In addition to developing mood boards and other reference content that I am using to develop the visual style for the game, I have commissioned artists to create art to depict the characters and important scenes throughout the game. I have developed a color palette, mood board, and visual description for each character and scene in the game, and have worked with artists and visual designers to create the assets that will be used in the final version of the game.

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The Evolution of Adventure Quest

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Adventure Quest’s design has undergone four major iterations. Although the exact design goals have differed across each evolution, the emphasis of the game’s design has always been to teach new players how to play d20-based RPGs, and to be an engaging, meaningful and fun experience. The game’s framework has been designed to be flexible, meaning that although there is fantasy content in it presently, that design could be changed to fit any aesthetic or content. This design is intended to suit future modules, where learning content related to other subjects, such as history or science, could be included. This was a central element to the game’s design during its development at the RIDDLE Lab Boss Level Workshops (2017-2019).

Future design considerations would be aimed at further streamlining the gameplay and learning. I would also develop a scaffolding system for both players and Game Masters, where more control is given to each role over time. Additionally, expanding the narrative and game content would be a critical next step, as well as increasing the production quality through higher fidelity assets.

Jean Victory
A successful playtest, January 2019