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Story-driven Adventure Games

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Joined: 04/18/2018

If you are anything like me, you find that your creative muse drives you in directions you never expected to go. I've worked on many different designs over the years, from a small two-player card game, a semi-cooperative space adventure, a ghostly hidden movement game that takes place within a graveyard, to my only published game to-date (a dark fantasy wargame). But I now find myself trying to swim in the deepest waters yet... designing a large one-to-two player cooperative story-driven fantasy adventure game.

I have the skeleton of the game designed, and so far am pleased with the various mechanisms and how well they integrate with one another. And I've always enjoyed writing fiction and have the story arc fairly well pinned down. It's an enormous undertaking (and I may cry uncle and seek a dedicated co-designer at some point), but for now I'm trying to map out the road ahead.

My question for this forum is, what elements of narrative-rich games do you find most appealing (assuming you like them at all - if not, you're not the target audience for this game), and what do you like least? I'm talking about games like Tainted Grail, Mansions of Madness, Tales of the Arabian Nights, Sleeping Gods, and far too many more to list here. Anything where story elements are a main aspect of the game.

What is the sweet-spot for you regarding narrative vs. gameplay? Which games do you find do the best job of integrating story - and which games do the worst? Why? And, if you have experience working on these types of games yourself, what advice can you offer for what works well, and what pitfalls should I watch out for?

Thanks in advance!

Joined: 09/24/2020
Hi Tom

I am answering mostly to bump your post up, I would be interested in a proper answer by someone knowledgeable as well :)

I haven't played enough of these games to give a proper review at all, my 2 cents would be that if the main core of the game is the narrative, then the narrative needs to impact the gameplay. Some choose your own adventure games I played felt too much like reading a book, and choices mostly had a random effect. On the contrary in games like Gloomhaven, you play one scenario after the other, but the story doesn't really impact your fighting style (but it's OK, as in this case the strong mechanics is the deck building, the narrative just creates atmosphere around it).
I am not sure how Tainted Grail handles this, I haven't played it, from the reviews I watched it looked like a mess :)

In short, when I will be working on something similar, I will strive not to strike a balance between narrative and gameplay, but to interconnect them so that you cannot distinguish when one ends and the other begins.

I will think about how to do it at some point :)

Hopefully somebody else will chip in with a more practical suggestion!


questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
I too would like to get "others" feedback

I'm working on a semi-cooperative "investigation" game. The city is customized to a 5 x 5 tile set of locations with the Police HQ in the middle. The setup can be First Time (1st) which follows a pre-defined layout that first time players can try. Next there is a randomization of clue tokens with regards to the crime. Each location is given one token and therefore players must travel the board to recover 24 tokens. It's very dynamic and the die used allows for multiple movement. You don't have a specific meeple. Instead you share three (3)... Meaning on your turn you always have three meeples you can choose from to move.

The thing is, once all tokens have been collected, the 2nd Phase of the game begins: "The Manhunt".

Here's where I find a bit of a challenge. I would like to have more "investigative" work to be done while the "story-line" evolves.

And I guess that's where I am a bit "STUCK". The whole GAMING part works okay (mechanically) but it's the NARRATIVE that concerns me. In this game there would be 27 different scenarios with different "players" (people in the narrative) that "interact" with the police force. Because you are no longer "Investigators" in the 2nd Phase ... You are cop patrols that have to survive the crime (and narrative) and figure out who is the guilty party (offender).

So story-line or story-driven gameplay is something that "interests" me too...!

Would like to heard from others who are interested on this particular subject. Definitely worthwhile talking/discussing about! Cheer.

Joined: 04/08/2012

Hello Tom and everyone else,

Here is a fantastic link I found a moment ago that describes the definition between the two directions you are looking for in designing your games.

After reading the blog from the link provided, I couldn't have wrote it any better than this gentleman who wrote the blog.

For my game Dymino Monsters, it's like taking a rpg video game format and putting it on tabletop for game play.

Dymino Monsters is designed to be written as a narrative and Master narrative story driven game. The game mechanic fits the story and the game world. This is why the game in general is taking a long time to finish. It can not be rushed. If it was a rushed project, then it would of failed because the story and game mechanics would of been blahs, meh and disregarded.

Dymino Monsters is not just a role playing game but a world building game. The characters who live in the world are building it up from their point of view just as we do in real life.

World building storytelling is a huge undertaking, but fun with subtle details, mystery, drama, violence, romance , laughter and death.


Joined: 04/18/2018
Upon further reflection

I’m coming to the conclusion that how much narrative to include is completely subjective. One person may love reading multiple story entries, deeply immersing themselves in the game’s world, while others may roll their eyes every time a game calls for blocks of text to be read, just wanting to get on with it.

Upon further reflection, I find myself dividing narrative into three camps: Heavy, Mid, and Light.

Watching a playthrough of Agents of Smersh (Epic Edition) and Tales of Arabian Nights, these choose-your-own-adventure style games are heavily weighted towards complete narrative immersion, interrupted occasionally by skill checks and player choice to determine which direction the story branches. You will spend a lot of time just reading block after block of story text in these games.

Mansions of Madness (2nd Edition) is a good example of a game that offers a story introduction and conclusion narrative for each scenario, but then switches focus to gameplay, interspersing story elements throughout as specific events trigger them. Most adventure games seem to fit somewhere along this spectrum, including games like Near and Far, City of Kings, Solomon Kane, Gloomhaven, Tainted Grail, etc.. The focus on these types of adventures divides between gameplay mechanics interspersed with snippets of narrative throughout. The narrative may impact the game to some extent, or it may just be included to set the scene.

The final category are games which include flavor text, maybe character backgrounds, but don’t really focus on strong immersive narrative. Magic the Gathering and Aeon’s End come to mind as examples of this. Here, the flavor text ties to the theme, but is minimal and easily skipped without consequence.

But good narration isn't enough. The Dungeon Dive’s YouTube review of City of Kings points out that the well-written narrative on the enemy cards didn’t match the actual experience of fighting that enemy, which is an example of narrative disconnect - something definitely to watch out for. The narrative, theme, and mechanics should ideally integrate seamlessly together. Sounds obvious, but it’s something more easily said than done sometimes.

As for my own game, I’m starting to shy away from more heavy choose-your-own-adventure elements, and think I’ll focus more on “cinematic moments.” Rather than every encounter leading down multiple branching paths, I’ll attempt to paint various scenes and then have scripted “trigger events,” like in Mansions of Madness. I have enough gameplay elements already, without trying to write a novel as well. Furthermore, my soldiers are somewhat expendable, used more as resources than individual heroes. This makes character-driven quests problematic, though I can still focus on world building and interesting events. I think the trick is to find the right level of narrative integration unique to each game. But finding that perfect blend… that may be more art than science.

I agree, interconnecting narrative and gameplay is the ultimate goal. Are there any games you think do this extremely well?

Blurring the line between Heavy and Mid-weight story-driven games in the genre you’re describing are Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and Chronicles of Crime. These might be good games to review when considering your own crime-solving narratives.

Joined: 04/18/2018
Strong Story

Hey Jesse,

Thanks for the link! I agree with the concept that a strong story can compel users to want to pick up a game, and also continue playing it to unravel the details you mention - mystery, drama, violence, romance, laughter and death. (Well said!)

But it's finding that perfect balance, between story and gameplay, that every designer must strive for. Too much story, and you risk boring your audience as they grow anxious to take some meaningful action. Too little, and your game begins to lose its narrative appeal.

I hope you find that perfect balance as you continue working on Dymino Monsters!


let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
Carta SRD

I just picked up a copy of the Carta game development kit. Essentially, you create a gamified Choose-Your-Own Adventure book, using a deck of standard playing cards, maybe some dice, and a counter to track the player's position.

At first glance, it seems like a stripped-down, low-cost, non-themed version of Arkham Horror. It's a pay-what-you-can, affordable framework worth considering. There are broadly-brushed notes included that discuss resource management and ways to tweak a game beyond the basics described within.

Personally, I'd been trying to scribble down a story that's been bouncing round in my head for the longest time. Maybe this framework will work for me, and maybe it can work for you (or at least provide some inspiration).

Joined: 04/18/2018

Thanks let-off, I'll check it out!

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Thank you for the references, I will check them out!

treeves3 wrote:
Blurring the line between Heavy and Mid-weight story-driven games in the genre you’re describing are Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and Chronicles of Crime. These might be good games to review when considering your own crime-solving narratives.

Thanks Tom, I will check both of these... See if Tom Vasel has done a Dice Tower review of these two (2) games! Cheers.

Update #1: Looked at some videos about each of these games and while I think Sherlock Holmes game is more about reading and thinking and deducing clues... It's not at all the vibe that I was going for.

The 2nd game, Chronicles of Crime (CC) is more appealing but it uses an App and QR Codes. That's quite an obstacle in that will the App be compatible with future devices and will they update the App to ensure compatibility. But it is far more appealing in terms of "game play". I have locations too (25 in total all relevant to the game) and makes my game a bit closer to CC. But in CC you just use the QR Codes to visit the location and search for clues. It's far more interesting than the first game and is a bit closer to my concept (You have suspects and clues too) but no App.

In any event thank you for those references... Definitely good that from what I have seen... Neither are similar to my "concept". Still waiting for prototype material from "The Game Crafter"!

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