Picking story branches for the player

After doing a lot digging on the games here I’ve noticed that many games have stats that are only used once or twice the entire game, and the personality traits tend to be the worst offenders. I like the idea of them, but if they’re ultimately arbitrary what’s the point of including them? You can be very inconsistent with your personality in these games with little to no consequence or comment.

My question is would including some branches in the story that are not dependent on a player choice and instead are personality checks feel like an unfair removal of the player’s agency? Say you have a variable tracking humble versus arrogant and at a certain point your path is picked for you based on how you’ve been acting (probably a poor example, but you get my point).

To be clear, I don’t mean this as a punishment for players doing what they want. I actually hope this would help with immersion where the world reacts to the player’s personality and encourages the player’s character to act consistently but still have room for change or growth. Thoughts?


As far as I can tell, it tends to be difficult to sell completely locked in choices based on personality. There is a delicate balance between attempting to write consistent characters and choosing for the player entirely thus in doing so somewhat diminishing the interactive aspect of IF. Far be it from me to claim this as an objective and hard law or something, just my own observations of CoG’s libraries and the forum. But I have witnessed negative backlash against such a dependency labeling it as the removal of agency that you are concerned about. Whether you give that hypothetical/potential negativity more weight than your vision in its pure form is entirely up to you.

Keep in mind though that in real life 180 decisions are very possible and how you choose to behave from moment to moment does not need to be consistent in any sense whatsoever. I would actually argue to make something more immersive, rather than have a MC be unable to choose certain actions, it would make more sense to have characters around them react/act differently or have events unfold differently if they change their mind/behavior suddenly.


I think that’s a really neat idea but, like you said, would be off putting for a lot of players to have the routes they want to take locked off because of their personality traits.

BUT I think there is kind of a way you could pull it off? I’m trying to work in a pillars of eternity (a video game) style personality trait system where your personality traits change how characters react to you. Ideally, if you had a very humble personality, certain NPCs would react favorably, while others, not so much. So, any NPC who views humble as a positive trait would offer the player more information for their quest or even give them an advantage (like a secret map) that an arrogant player wouldn’t get, therefore opening up a different ‘route’ for those players.

Vice versa though–you’d want your arrogant players to get a reward for their play style too so other NPCs would maybe favor arrogance over humility and react accordingly?

Tailoring NPC interactions, boons, and advantages to personality traits would immerse the player in the world more.
That being said there’s a balance. You don’t want your humble character getting advantages, and your arrogant one disadvantages, consistently. I’d argue then that both would get advantages for the same quest, just different kinds of advantages.

And like @anon21485497 says, 180 decisions are a thing, so I would love to see a moment where a traditionally humble character decides to be arrogant and characters reacting in surprise bc, up until now, their personality has been a humble one. Personality traits can be really immersive to the story if they’re coded right, it’s just not an easy task.


Most WiP games start with grand plans that then get pared down over time as the author/developer realizes and/or learns just how much work goes into making a game.

I am guilty of this myself.

Personality traits are usually set up as gateway mechanics and as such, the gates they are used for may be limited. Most WiP only showcase a third or so of a story (at best) so, they may not be implemented fully either.

There are threads discussing consequences and “making them matter” and if you are interested in the philosophy or design theory behind them, to pursue these threads.

In practical terms, using these stats to enable consequences is a very hard balancing act.

Perhaps I am not understanding your question.

A personality check is enabling a player to choose how to role-play their character. That might gate some content for a second or even third replay, but I view this as a feature and not a limitation.

Keep in mind that the more of any structure, variable or pathways you provide, the more you increase your workload. And it is not always a one-to-one ratio.

As an example, increasing the number of weapons useable in a game like Zombie Exodus:Safe Haven, means you are increasing your workload many times over, not just a little.

Leaving room for change is a matter of balance. You can only ask a person if they truly are wiseacres so many times before the reader gets tired of it and pushes back.

With that said, you (as an author/developer) should always leave more than one path forward for a reader/gamer and not limit their choices only to reflect what was chosen in the past.


Absolutely in agreement there and I was definitely considering that. I think a system that has characters reacting to your personality might be better as @Roast was suggesting with their system just because it gives different content while not getting in the way of how players want to act.

That is definitely part of where I was coming from. I thought it might be interesting if your personality was an impactful mechanic and you were rewarded for trying to play as different kinds of people.

Ultimately I think including a few points in the story where your personality is checked and the other characters react to it might be the best middle ground.


If you need/want a strong example of what you’re leaning towards, @malinryden’s Fallen Hero I heard has amazing character development/relationships that rewards the personality types you choose with realistic, tailored reading experiences and relevant information reveals while leaving other pieces of the puzzle for separate MC incarnations. Haven’t gotten far into it, so I cannot 100% vouch personally yet, but I trust that many, many others can. I bought it entirely on good faith in fact because it is so lauded. (And what I have read of it so far is excellent.) It’s time consuming and a struggle to write as I’m sure other IF authors could tell you, but valuable to both fans and you as the proud author. :smiley:


I am a big fan of Fallen Hero actually! You’re in for a treat.

I do have to say that is one of the few titles here that I think did personality almost perfectly, but I think that is in part due to the fact that you pretty much only have personality stats there. Strength of Mind, Subtle Manipulation, Arrogance, Ruthlessness, and Daring. Even the Infamy stat is mostly just how conspicuous you’re being. The only “hard” stat is how intact your suit is. I think it is actually a great idea to look at how they did the stats there because it worked so well.



Depending on the kind of game you are creating, it may be a good idea to set other stats aside or only add one or two of another type to focus on fleshing out your personality traits as much as possible like Fallen Hero did! We can learn so much from those that come before us. Do you mind if I message you? I’d like to talk more, but it’s somewhat off topic and I don’t want to bog down your thread.

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It boils down to how you use it, yeah. There’s games in the library (like the aforementioned FH) that use personality-stat based story changes and branches to great effect, and others that handle it so haphazardly it is a point of frustration to most of the players.

The best approach might be to put yourself into the players shoes when writing branches: Is it a situation where one might throw their general approach over board? One might not be ‘as good’ at it as a different route, but one might still do it (see e.g. pretty much all choices at the museum in FH )

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Don’t forget that 1) stats are not REQUIRED, and you could easily write a fun game/story without any stats at all and 2) you don’t have to necessarily display all stats.

Furthermore, as others have said, there’s a difference between using stats as a gate (i.e. you must have a certain number of points to proceed down the path) and as a customization feature.

For example, one author could write a scene in which only a player with more than 50 “assertiveness” points could woo (romance) an NPC. That’s a stat used as a gating mechanism. But you could make it so that an NPC responds to a player differently depending on their level of “assertiveness.” In the second case, EVERY player would be allowed to woo the NPC (i.e. “get past the gate”), but the reaction of the NPC would be customized to the player’s previous choices.


I feel that, in addition to everything that has been said, the writer should keep in mind that players might not necessarily pick a personality archetype and stick to the corresponding choices throughout the whole game, so they won’t always be picking the “friendly” option versus the “aggressive” one, for instance. If they just choose the one that feels right at the time, they might end up with pretty balanced or neutral personality stats, and in that case it would be quite jarring to have characters react as if you’re the biggest jerk ever just because you have one more point in aggression than you do in niceness. So it’s not as easy as dividing the players in two groups, because some of them are naturally going to fall in the middle.

Ideally you’d want to consider different reactions for those who are mean all the way, those who are a little mean, those with very similar “mean” and “nice” scores, and so on… Which of course can be a lot of extra work for the sake of immersion!


I think I personally like stories where flavor text is influenced by personality stats. It’s a small thing, but if I’ve been playing a MC who’s fearful, I want the text to reflect that. Think something like:

*if fear > 50
 I sneak closer to the murderer, my feet shaking in my boots.
*if fear < 51
 I sneak closer to the murderer, breathing slowly, and steadily.

If I know that the author decided arbitrarily based on my stats something ad big as a branch. That is the moment, I get PISSED. Then give the nastier rating possible and never bought anything else from that author. As simple as that.

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Yeah, I think the consensus is that those sorts of automatic stat checks that are outside of choices, and buried within the prose itself should be limited to minor flavor text (like @TheMorrigan mentioned!), or as reactions from other characters.

But I think most would frown on automatically having the MC perform a significant action based on hidden stat checks.


I don’t remember the wip but was like 8 years ago a game that in base a very arbitrary choice decided in what faction you were. Something like that has no future and certainly only does is anger your readers. And It is not immersive or realistic. You can be a jerk and a bully with your equals or inferiors. But be a totally different person when talking with Upper class. Cowards can make a bold statement to help a friend or family being offended etc … So flavour, yes. But never decide for the player.


Can you go into greater detail about how personality traits tend to be the worst offenders? I have my own gripes with personality stats, but I’d like to hear what you have to say. :slight_smile:

And given that I dislike personality stats locking you out of making a decision in the first place? Yeah, I’m not up for personality stats locking you out of an entire branch. I’m willing to play a choice where you fail for not having enough of X however!

The only way I could maybe see story branches being pre-chosen would be if they were pretty early in the game (so as not to cause gripes late game and then having to either restart or rage quit) or maybe if they were for a game that was character locked?

I’m merely speculating right now.

Like an example of the former would be Breach: The Archangel Job. You can’t not join the Archangel Crew. The choice to refuse to join is greyed out. An example of the latter would be DA2 and how Hawke always reacts with panic, regardless of personality, when Hawke’s mother gets basically abducted. Since it’s established that family means a lot to Hawke from the get-go, this reaction makes sense IMO.

I will give you an example where I feel it was done well – @Havenstone’s XoR (Choice of Rebels).

In XoR, you can be “Cosmopolitan” or you can be “Nationalistic” (called Shayardane(sp). If you are Cosmopolitan enough, rebellious soldiers from a neighboring province join your rebellion and then near the end you can flee into that neighboring province, looking for a possible rebel mage.

Not once in 10 play-sessions on the nationalistic side did I get that content.

The content itself is some of the richest world-building content Havenstone included, subtle as it is, because it shows the culture and societal constructs of a neighboring province and it contrasts well with the province you begin the game in.

There is a way to experience a third province’s culture and societal structure as well, but its gate is based on raiding choices made.

The reason I feel Havenstone did this well, is because he allowed different pathways forward to experience different culture and societal norms that showcased differences in his world through different mechanics. Following this alternative path allows for much of the same type of content, by following either branch’s decisions.


I definitely wasn’t thinking a above or below 50 sort of check, I was considering more of having say 90% in a certain stat.

I do think it makes sense to have it act as flavor text, and I suppose that will have to be enough.

As I said before, I feel like most of the time, personality stats show up once or twice in choices and don’t get brought up ever again, so they seem mostly like fancy sliders that do nothing. I was trying to think of a way to make sure you were rewarded for actually paying attention to them like your other stats.

I think one example I could think of where the branch would be decided for you that I was considering could be that you are robbing a bank or something. If you’ve consistently been stealthy the robbery is more of a heist where you have to sneak in, but if you’ve been fast and loud, it would be a more typical bank robbery.

Ultimately, my goal was to find a way to make personality stats matter more, and I suppose flavor text is the role it is meant to play for the most part.

Most people won’t boost a stat all the way to 90%, however — I guess in the end, if it’s just flavour text, it wouldn’t matter so much, but personally, unless it’s some sort of Easter egg, I feel that content should be more accessible to players.

Especially if it’s “90% percent gets you a reaction, everyone else gets nothing” (if there is a range of reactions triggered by being at 70%, 50%, and so on, everyone gets some personalised content so it’s not a problem to add something for those with very extreme personalities).

I think I remember this being discussed with Choice of the Vampire (I could be wrong though :flushed: ). That game has a lot of personalised content, depending on player background, skills… The problem is that the conditions for triggering that content are (or were, I don’t know if this was fixed later on) extremely hard to fulfill, unless you happened to know what they were beforehand and built a character to match them exactly. So the result was that most players, who don’t look through the code, weren’t even aware that there was all that extra content available, because they couldn’t access it from the game.

Tailoring a story to the player’s stats and personality can be, depending on the volume of extra text to write, hard work, so my thinking is to make sure players will get to enjoy that work.


I think that makes a lot of sense. Give that variation in content but make it easy to find. Thank you!