16.20: Branching Narratives

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, James L. Sutter, Dan Wells, Cassandra Khaw, and Howard Tayler

How do you give players meaningful choices while still keeping the story within a reasonable set of boundaries? In this episode James and Cassandra lead us in a discussion of branching narratives, and the ways in which we as writers can create them.

Credits: this episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Liner Notes: Dan mentioned this collection of “Choose your own adventure” plot maps.
Howard illustrated the concept of “narrative bumper pool” in Tracy Hickman’s X-TREME DUNGEON MASTERY

A branching path which begins at point A, and ends at either point X, Y, or Z.
Narrative Bumper Pool from X-TREME DUNGEON MASTERY, used with permission

Write a short “choose-your-own-adventure” story.

The Planet Mercenary RPG, created by Alan Bahr, Howard Tayler, and Sandra Tayler.

3 thoughts on “16.20: Branching Narratives”

  1. This week, the quest for the secret to role playing games took Mary Robinette, James, Dan, Cassandra, and Howard into the twisty little tunnels of branching narratives. Howard wanted to go left, but… as usual, the final advice was to go right. Or maybe go write? Anyway, you can read all about it in the transcript available now in the archives.

  2. Is breaking into a castle vault (16:50) a good example of a branching narrative? Aren’t these just branches in the “physics game”? Sure, you might have different outcomes: A) you are successful, B) you have to escape or C) you get caught, but all of this can happen regardless of how you infiltrate the castle.

    While a generic tabletop adventure might present multiple options to cater for as many groups as possible, each group of players is probably already on a fixed course determined by their skill sets and / or previous events.

    A narrative branch would be the option to switch sides – e.g. you provide the players with additional information when they are already in the castle, which sheds a different light on the mission. But if the players don’t agree on a decision, you might end up with some fun mayhem or, more likely, with everybody being unhappy with the result of the game session.

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