Thoughts or Feelings about Tragic ROs

Like, that apothecarys will do anything for a buck? :rofl:

Absolutely, all good advice. As the discussion has been going, I’ve been tweaking the character’s story outline, I think it is much better with the added insights I’ve gleaned from everyone. I appreciate everyone weighing in, it’s been very helpful.


Look, it’s okay if you don’t find sad stories entertaining. But please don’t ever tell an artist in any medium that there are parts of the human experience that are off-limits for them to explore in that medium just because it doesn’t suit your tastes.


It really depends on how it was handled. If I felt like I was set up to fail, the tragedy would wreck the game for me. I would not play it again. I would warn friends against playing it. I have an expectation in most IF, but especially ChoiceScript games, that success is always possible. It may not be easy, but it is never unattainable. Instead of feeling like the game was doing something new, I would feel betrayed as a reader. All the internal foreshadowing you included would mean nothing as I would still assume in the attainability of success.

If I knew going in that the romance was tragic, I might choose to engage with it and fully enjoy it because of the complicated emotions involved. Honestly, knowing would improve my enjoyment because it would ratchet up the tragic suspense. It is the bomb under the table. If you don’t tell anyone, its explosion is a surprise. If you tell the audience, but not the characters, then it is suspense. It changes everything.

Alternatively, if I didn’t know and then just…wasn’t given any options or opportunities to fix things, then I’d still be a bit dismayed, but I’d feel less betrayed. If saving the beloved or the relationship is never even hinted at being on the table, I’m less likely to get upset when tragedy strikes.


“Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy,” as the old adage goes.

Honestly though as a reader I find tragic love stories heart-breaking but also compelling. Titanic is my favourite movie :laughing: I do think warnings at the beginning may be the best though as people have said. Because otherwise some readers may get p*ssed if they romance that character and it turns out…anticlimactic - sorry if that’s not the right word? I’m half- asleep posting this lol.

Anyways it’s your story, do what makes you happy. :slightly_smiling_face:


My suggestion is if they’re doomed to die or leave no matter what happens, then make the time that they share with the MC be so obviously impactful to their happiness that readers have no other choice but to believe that choosing their route was worth all the pain that follows their loss.


I understand all of the different points of view I’m hearing. However, I think that if done well that’s the tricky part, not for the sake of shock or just to mess about, but to elicit an emotional response. The unexpected is precisely what modern audiences of stories are looking for, even if they may not think they do. There is so much media swirling about, most of it rather shallow, I think if a story can reach those places that most of us don’t have a whole lot of time to focus on (happy or sad), then that seems like a win to me. While I can appreciate that some IF authors and readers consume the medium purely for the game aspect and want to ‘win’ or at least feel like their choices led to the outcome of their story, which I agree with, there is something to be said about pulling off an unexpected twist and tugging on the reader’s heartstrings while doing it. I mean no one wanted Marley to die, but that movie still gets me misty-eyed just thinking about it. I applaud any writer that can do it. I mean, if that wasn’t the case, would movies like “Forrest Gump”, “My Girl”, “Stand by Me”,

Books like “The Road”, “The Giver”, “Of Mice and Men”, “Bridge to Terabitha” and on and on, exist and be as memorable and successful as they became?

Now, I’m not saying that I am anywhere near good enough of a writer to pull off some of these masterful manipulations of audience angst, but it could be worth a shot.


Absolutely, writing is a skill that improves with practice. By attempting to create a tragic RO, you’re giving yourself an opportunity to grow as a writer.


I’ve not read The Road, but The Giver, Of Mice and Men, and Bridge to Terabitha signposted their tragedies. I remember being sad reading them, but never surprised. They weren’t unexpected tragedies.^

Plus, these are a different medium. Novels and IF are not the same. They make different implied promises to their readers. What I enjoy and ache over in a novel is just like to infuriate me in IF.

I’m not sure how you’re thinking about “unexpected,” but I’d caution against putting too much weight on the idea of surprise. Surprise is, in my opinion, a gimmick. Maybe I’m just tired of twists. A twist based on earlier, but downplayed plot or character actions is fantastic. A twist to just defy reader expectations makes me stop reading. Someone being able to see the road ahead does not mean the work is poorly done.

The episode from the Freakonomics podcast is a fantastic listen. How to Create Suspense - Freakonomics

Emotional responses are great, but they aren’t because something is unexpected. To me the greatest tragedies are the ones you can see, but cannot prevent – that even trying to prevent would mean breaking your own moral/ethical code or who you are as a person.

Anyway. I know my thoughts are disjointed on this. My key points are that

  • IF is not a linear narrative and should not be treated as such
  • Surprise =/= suspense or pathos or what have you
  • Twists for the sake of twists are boring, imo

Oh! One more thought! Look into the tabletop rpg, Fate. In Fate, players often take a very meta or directorial stance toward their characters. Instead of backstory being secret, players know each other’s weakness (Trouble) and plot goals/etc. This knowledge ends up enhancing play because the players work together to choreograph the character stories. And sometimes that leads to excellent moments of awesome. And sometimes it is horribly heartwrenching.

So my final point:

  • Often, audience knowledge enhances a story instead of detracting from it because it invites the audience / reader into the story

And this is particularly true with IF as the player is a character in the story. The more the player knows, the more weight they can give to character decisions.

^ ETA: With movies, people watch previews, read reviews, talk with friends, read synopses, look at movie posters, etc so they know what to expect. No one went into Titanic expecting a happy story. If the film betrays those expectations, people tend to get upset. (You can, of course, do an ‘and.’ This and that…as long as the ‘that’ doesn’t undermine the ‘this’ everyone went in to see.)

(Another way I’d enjoy a tragic romance: You can avert the tragedy. It is an option. However, doing that requires heavy costs elsewhere. So you have to choose to accept the tragedy or you have to accept the consequences. For an example I’d point you to Life is Strange, which I adored. Make me complicit, not failed).


I am apparently an asshole because, to me, the most interesting part here is the new romance with the other character that would come out of it. I like doomed and angsty stuff, but only if I know what I’m getting into and it adds to the escapism. A terminal illness is a personal turn-off for me, and even a self-destructive character that I have to “save” could easily feel more than a chore than a fulfilling romance (though I’m sure that it can be done well and also has an audience).

So, no, I’d probably have no interest in romancing this type of tragic character unless the other romance is strong or intriguing due to the shared loss. Especially if it comes with additional complications (romancing the person’s relative/best friend, falling in love “too soon” after suffering the loss, “betraying” the first RO by moving on).

TL;DR: I’m not interested in the experience of loss (enough of that IRL) but in seeing the cathartic machinations of grief and the magic of healing together. Or, if that’s an option, making each other worse.


Just yes. Let us suffer.


That’s not what I meant. I was saying that personally I don’t like it. I don’t get horror movies either. But I never told anyone not to do anything


Are tragedies, especially romantic tragedies, something that I ever seek out? Hell no, I want my romance to make me feel good, the real world is hard enough without seeking out misery in fiction as well.

Conversely. Is “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller one of my favourite books of all time, even though it makes me weep uncontrollably in parts? Yes, you’re damn right it is.

All that to say, anything is permitted if you are a good enough writer.


Tragedy and loss are part of the human experience every bit as much as love and happiness are. I wouldn’t recommend writing something like that solely for the purpose of shocking readers or subverting expectations, but at the same time, I wouldn’t discourage it just because it defies genre conventions for IF either. If you feel like you have a story to tell that has something to say about those experiences, then I’d actually encourage you to go ahead and tell it.


You know, there was a time a few years back where I seemed to be getting doomed ROs in every game I played. I actually had a list of “dead boyfriends” – at least five or six of them, which doesn’t seem like that many (especially when the only one I really remember now ended up surviving in the published game), but at the time it really felt as though every other RO I liked ended up dead.
I don’t know why. Maybe I’m just unlucky, or maybe I just happen to be most attracted to the kind of person authors see as the best to kill off.
Either way, it sucked. It really was not an enjoyable experience, and I definitely think it’s shaped how I look at romances (especially doomed romances) in IF.
Now, are there people who would enjoy playing through such a doomed romance? Clearly, but unless you make it very clear from the beginning, the people who would want to play through it probably wouldn’t find it, and the majority of people who did end up playing it probably wouldn’t enjoy it, especially if it was just a shock twist.
And as for the replacement RO, I don’t really know how well that would work. If they’re too different from the original, then you risk them no longer being appealing to the people who ended up on that route, and if they’re too similar, why even bother killing off the original?

And as for the commenter who mentioned Romeo and Juliet: it’s not a romance. It’s a tragedy. Romeo and Juliet aren’t “the world’s greatest lovers”, they’re a couple of idiot teenagers, one of whom is experiencing her first crush, the other of whom has literally just moved on from his previous love, both of whom have convinced themselves that this is the truest love ever. In all likelihood, if they had been allowed to court, Romeo would have fallen in love with someone else pretty quickly, and Juliet would have been sad, but gotten over it. The story isn’t about their true and wonderful love; it’s about how their parents’ feud got a couple of children killed (plus Tybalt, Mercutio, and Paris, who probably weren’t that much older).


This is 100% accurate, but to be fair, Shakespeare so perfectly captures the experience of being an infatuated kid who thinks they’re living an epic love story that it’s hard not to buy into their adolescent bullshit just a little, even when you know better.



I like doomed RO- it is a very refreshing experience. But I believe that it may require a lot of effort in the execution department, namely the plot must be at least logical and the narrative sound. That means no killing the RO purely out of the shock value.

Not sure about the replacement RO though. I think ending the romance route at a tragic note is enough to leave a lasting impression, and the replacement may kind of ruin the vibe. But that is just my personal opinion, and I am sure there are a lot of people who would disagree.


Wow! This has been great. I’m so glad I decided to ask this question before I got too deep into the weeds with outlining this character. I’ve gained insight into what people might like and what they might tar and feather me for doing to their beloved RO. And most importantly, this conversation has reminded me of what I believe to be the strength of writing in CS. This isn’t necessarily that you can make a ‘game’ from a story but that you give the reader agency over their story. So, I think it would be important to allow the reader to alter somehow the outcome of a tragic trajectory in a romance, I understand readers get attached to a character they are romancing (especially if you are doing an excellent job as an author), so I can respect that readers wouldn’t want to see their beloved become a snack for a hungry dragon(this doesn’t happen in the story, sorry no dragons :cry:).

I should’ve prefaced my question by mentioning that I’m not writing a romance specifically or a story where the MC always gets to watch their show on Netflix(that actually doesn’t happen in my story, but again I thought it illustrated the point) The point is that the intention was never to present the story as anything other than a story where bad shit can happen, to anyone, at any time. But, in a world where the MC’s actions can keep some of those bad things from happening or mitigate/fix them.

My goal with the story is to give the reader opportunities to better themselves and their circumstances and show that bad stuff sometimes happens regardless. Still, it’s how they deal with it that is important. Important lessons for the readers to take from the story into the real world; I don’t want to write escapism fiction because, at the end of the day, the reader is back in the real world dealing with many of the same things that their characters were. However, showing a character that must persevere through all kinds of conflicts but continue to get to the end of the story creates a powerful parallel to real life. It shows that even through pain along the road, there is happiness. Most importantly, the journey, the moments between the inevitable tough stuff are what matters. And the struggle together, even when there is loss, makes for a memorable romance.


You absolutely should, it’s a fantastic novel, and Cormac McCarthy is a wonderful writer. I’d recommend any of his books.

I’ll have to check this out, thanks for the suggestion.

I just read this article yesterday, but this post of yours reminded me of it.

Basically, this article is from a writer/designer discussing the decisions he made when writing “The Bloody Wallpaper.” He wanted to create a story that might validate people’s experiences in the service industry or other jobs where they’re ‘invisible’ to others. He also wanted to create some empathy for them.

He writes:

If someone has never worked in the service industry, then playing this Exceptional Story, of course, might provide a basic level of insight. Being able to feel the grind through the gameplay is radically different than just being told about it. Or perhaps someone has service-industry experience, but not hospitality experience; perhaps they have hospitality experience, but not luxury hospitality experience—in which case, “The Bloody Wallpaper” might still offer new perspectives while providing entertainment.

The vast majority of the game’s audience, however, does not belong to the elite social class whose members conscript you into servitude in this story. It’s common for people to play Fallen London as an escape from the harsh reality of our own capitalist society—even if the dystopian hellscape of an alternate-history Victorian era might not seem the likeliest escape. For those players, the game offers a little breathing room while also reflecting contemporary problems. Like holding a carnival mirror up to modern life, Fallen London twists the world into bizarre shapes, revealing new angles from which to view difficult issues—and making people laugh at the same time.

2023 was a challenging year for me personally, and I wrote “The Bloody Wallpaper” at a low point. Despite my own life’s stressful circumstances—and also because of them—I wanted to design an Exceptional Story that would brighten the player’s day. “The Bloody Wallpaper” is meant to evoke frustration, but also to evoke a sense of understanding. If the narrative works as intended, then the player character might struggle through their shift at the hotel, but the player should feel that the text is sympathetic, and the overall experience should hopefully be uplifting.

So the entire article is about how he worked to create a story that felt like a monotonous and frustrating grind without actually boring or angering players.

I thought you might enjoy seeing how he handled that balance between player expectations and the story he wanted to tell.