Advice Needed: Writing Friend Groups in Interactive Fiction

Hi all,

I’m currently in the early stages of writing my WIP, where I don’t yet have all the structural elements/features nailed down, and recently I’ve been working my way through outlining everything. It’s mostly been going well so far, with the exception of one unresolved problem, which has continued to give me grief throughout the process: How are you meant to handle friend groups in IF?

To give you some context, my game takes place in a school setting, and so it seems natural for the PC to be part of a circle of friends. Problem is, I’m not sure how to go about including a friend group without compromising the dynamism inherent to IF—the player’s ability to forge friendships with, or create adversaries out of, any character they interact with.

Consider: given the PC is allowed to react negatively or express disdain towards members of the group, how could I write around a situation where they have soured their relationship with the majority of the group—how could their continued inclusion in the friend group possibly be justified narratively?

Thinking it through, I came up with 3 potential solutions:

  1. Introducing an alternate “lone wolf” path in case the PC is ostracized from the group. While this would maintain continuity reasonably well, I suspect few players would actually be interested in playing through such a path, which makes me hesitant to commit to the time investment it would require.
  2. Offering players a choice between 2-3 smaller friend groups. From a player perspective, this would probably be the most desirable solution, but it would also be the most burdensome on my end, multiplying my workload.
  3. Just writing a fixed group, and having them be forced together by circumstance if need be. This approach seems prevalent among many writers, but it just feels like such a lazy solution to me. I’m also wary about railroading players, especially forcing them into frequent interactions with characters they may not necessarily like.

I’ve been bouncing back and forth between these options, but with each having its own drawbacks, I haven’t been able to settle on any one approach. And so I was hoping some people here might have some advice for me—whether it’s from a writer’s or a player’s perspective, it would be a great help to hear what you think. Are my assumptions flawed? Have I overlooked other viable (or superior) solutions? If not, which of the approaches mentioned strike you as most appealing? Any thoughts or suggestions you may have are welcome.

Thank you in advance for your time and insights! :grin:


You need to consider how the friend group formed.
In my experience, friend groups in schools are either based on mutual interests (hobbies, attend the same extracurricular activities, likes the same types of music, are the school rebels, etc) or they come from a shared history (lives close together, or went to the same kindergarten, so have played together from an early age) or they are friends of your other friends, and one person is kinda the one pulling everyone together.
It gets a bit more complicated, the older people get, since there’s more opportunities to meet people.


It’s probably simplest to have something that forces the group of people together. Have them be part of a band, the chess club, the ones stuck in detention, reluctant allies against the class bullies and so on. You need something the group can bond over. That way, even if the mc dislikes them all, at least there is something they need them for, or something they hate even more.

I didn’t exactly like my friends in school, I just disliked other people more. Just allow the mc to have their views, even if they need to interact with them for the plot.


I think you’re right about that – it would be a lot of time to put into something most players won’t choose.

As an option 4: you could have a core friend group of easygoing secondary characters who will be happy to hang out with the MC no matter what, along with 2-3 more striking characters who the MC can choose to either click with or alienate. That gives some of the advantages of the fixed group (the author knows that easygoing X is always there, for background dialogue and minor helpfulness) but also customizability and responsiveness to the reader’s preferences (a friend group with/without Z will have distinctive strengths and weaknesses; the long dialogues with Y won’t be there for people who find Y insufferable).

Booleans and multireplace make it relatively easy to code in small but noticeable variation in the text using this approach – you could have a Boolean like “y_here,” which is set to false if the MC doesn’t keep Y in the friend group, and then you can throw in variable dialogue snippets using multireplace like @{y_here "Dialogue in Y's style," said Y.|"Dialogue in X's style," said the ever-present X.}


@The_Lady_Luck @Havenstone
What you’re saying absolutely makes sense—my problem with it lies in the difficulty of finding/creating that focal point for the group. My story doesn’t revolve around some convenient shared interest like a club (on the contrary, I plan on letting the player pick their own club), so it’s hard to imagine what I could use that wouldn’t stretch believability. There’s also the issue I mentioned before of wanting to avoid forcing on the player lots of interactions with certain characters they may dislike.

This is actually a very interesting idea, thank you! I even have a few characters already who’d work pretty well as those core supportive members, so I’ll definitely put some real thought into this option. My only potential concern is that granting the PC sole authority over group membership could make the entire friend circle feel excessively PC-centric. In the worst case, if the other group members have no real relationships amongst themselves and everyone merely exists to orbit around the PC, it would nearly negate the purpose of having a group in the first place.

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You could lean against that PC-centric feeling a bit by having at least one of the easygoing group members leave with Y – a gesture toward the fact that the NPC-PC relationship isn’t the most important one in everyone’s case.

At some point, you face the choice of where you’re going to ask your readers to just run with you. If you pick an enormously labor-intensive coding approach for the PC-NPC relationships, such that the end result is a highly variable and customizable core friend group, it’ll be very cool…but you’re unlikely to then have a lot of energy and time left to tackle individual NPC-NPC relationships, especially since each one you code will have a good chance of not existing in a given playthrough. So you’ll probably end up asking your readers to accept a somewhat shallow Y-Z friendship in exchange for the ability to have a friend group that leaves out either Y or Z.

But you need to be satisfied with what you’re writing. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing; you’ll not finish if you’re not. So be as ambitious as you need to be to keep yourself excited, and try to keep your eyes open to where that might cross over into nice-to-have but not necessary complexity.

Edit: and if you find that the lone wolf possibility is looking like an inescapable consequence of what you want to do, make it special. Slap an achievement on it, and a scene or two that only a lone wolf MC will get. That’s not a huge amount of extra effort, but it can make that path more appealing and not just something that maximally abrasive MCs fall into by default.