The story opens with the protagonist having been drugged, robbed, and thrown on a dung heap in Caer Maed, a boom town of adventurers looting the fortress of a fallen villain.
His first quest is to find the unknown assailant; not an easy task but not as hard as discovering the reason behind the assault.
The PC is just one of many seasoned adventurers seeking their fortune in Caer Maed, trying to profit from the sudden demise of Yrun Vynblud, the evil boss mage who ruled the world in a clandestine manner from this hidden backwoods location. Yrun had been eradicated by a legendary Mighty One and his party of adventurers several months before the story begins. Soon after, this part of the world was devastated by a mysterious firestorm and the local rulers overthrown. Now, the Mighty One and his companions have disappeared and the shire survivors are struggling to recover from chaos. Yrun has already been forgotten but the Mighty One has been elevated to near mythic status.
The second challenge for the protagonist is competing against the reputation of the Mighty One and building his own reputation.
But in Caer Maed the PC discovers a different kind of antagonist, Sylfeung Adventuring, Inc. SAI is a commercial venture from the never-seen, far-off city of Sylfeung; they sell adventure experiences to wannabe heroes. The PC immediately realizes that SAI’s canned adventure program is the death of his trade as he knows it, as well as a deceit and danger to the inexperienced customers. To his distress, everywhere he goes he notes their insidious takeover, and must decide how to negotiate with them.
The ongoing dilemma is to remain faithful to tradition or subvert it.
In general, the existential situation of the protagonist is that of a professional who has become bored with his profession to some extent, and works to regain the early thrill of exploration and danger as much as to gain loot or please others. In Caer Maed, the PC first learns that there are other worlds besides Eupherea which gives him hope for newer and better thrills, but it isn’t easy to get to these new planes.
The protagonist is motivated in general to find newer and better thrills.
Tortured Hearts™ is driven by conversations and exploring. The player doesn’t have to take every quest or talk to every NPC but he would be missing many opportunities in character development and riches, depending on the relationships he cultivates. For instance, one of the possible new companions is Sir Leonard Wildbrand, the former ruler of Pikedale, who desires to rebuild his fief out of remorse for his previous poor management. If the PC helps him do so, a very long process, he will gain a number of benefits. If he refuses, or doesn’t get along with Leonard, Leonard will eventually leave the party and go back to Pikedale by himself. Branching developments like this relate to different game outcomes also.
There are 200+ areas and hundreds of conversations. Not all the areas are immediately available, but all those that are can be approached in any sequence the player chooses. Similarly the conversations can be taken in many orders, and lead to different outcomes. The construction of the game imposes a minimal order that keeps the plot events from conflicting, but the overall effect is immersion and freedom in a complex world. Many quests will not be completed without visiting several areas. Many conversations or actions in one area will trigger the spawning of new characters and new possibilities in other areas, so the more the player does to be involved, the more things there are to be involved with.
The whole story behind the drugging and robbery which started the player on his main quest is slowly revealed, with twists and red herrings up to the last areas he can reach. There are several possible outcomes to this heroic saga, all determined by the sum of the player’s actions up to the end.