Personally, I like to use a huge tree layout. I devote a wall in my appartment to a storytree.. and go to it. I write rough ideas down first, and then put up a huge sheet of paper. Then i start drawing, where you start.. where you go, etc, etc.
Of course, I''m still working up to a model of true-life. True-life is really right place at the right time, and that''s the way i want a game to be (single player RPG, at least). I want to chart EVERY NPC out, what choices they could make at different points in the game, etc.
Now, say you have 5 NPCs (small game.. i know, just an example). Each one of those NPCs has 5 options to pick from throughout the story timeline. That means that 25 different games come out of one storytree. Now, apply this to realistic numbers. Say you have 200 NPCs, and they have an average of 50 choices in the game timeline. That means over 10,000 DIFFERENT choices are possible all-together. Now, add in your character who has NO scripted story AT ALL.
What you end up with is NPCs meeting at certain times and places. If the player happens to be there, then they''re able to be included in THAT storyline. Of course, the player will hear news, rumors, etc.. which might lead them one way or another. But it also depends on which rumors and news they happen to hear as to what side of the story they hear, etc.
Now, let''s say there is a main plot.. and overall thing. 5 NPCs are involved in this main plot, and their storyline doesn''t begin until half-way through the timeline of the game. The player can learn of this ahead of time, and be part of or foil the plot early on, or they might learn of it mere days before the final act is to be played out.. and they''re under intense pressure to go stop this now.. weither they''re ready or not.
This is a lot more true-to-life than anything else. I absolutely think Baldur''s Gate 2 is kinda dumbed down in this respect. You walk onto a map, go to a certain place at a certain time of day, and something will happen.. regardless of what day it is. I think if the player is ignorant of things going on, and the evil lords hatch their plan, then.. oh well
I''d like to make it so they can live in the aftermath of what happens.. hehe. That way, you simply can''t just roam around all you want till you feel you''re ready to make the story go forwards (i think landfish had something to say about this like a year ago..).
Well.. anyways, that''s what i''m aiming for.. takes a lot of time to write each individual NPC''s story-line out than it does to make a main plot and several side-stories that happen whenever.. hehe
DYNAMIC WORLDS RULE! ;p
p.s. in this example.. if the player were to kill an NPC, they would effectively "prune" the tree. Kinda funny to think about, eh?