• Justin Handlin

Story Branching



Listen: Episode 26 Story Branching


Satisfying Dungeons and Dragons stories differ from other narrative forms in one major way: D&D stories don’t follow a single predetermined storyline through a series of turning points. Instead, each turning point presents the opportunity for the story to branch in an unexpected direction. By anticipating branches, you can ensure that the story keeps moving in an exciting and unexpected direction.


A strong branch point engages players and can move the story in two or more directions. In this episode we discuss in great detail leveraging dice rolls to create story branches that enhance the game regardless of success or failure of the roll.


Main Topic: Story Branching

When you call for a check you determine an action that affects the story. Creating a pass/fail branching point.

A successful check lets the PC’s pass the test and gain a benefit. Often releasing any tension.

This carries them to the next turning point.

When they fail a check, or flee they fail the encounter and should suffer any negative consequences.

  • This should increase tension in some way

  • This should still carry them to the next turning point, even one not of their choosing but a result of the roll


Example: A rogue picking a lock and fails his check. Do you continue to ask for checks until he succeeds?

  • No! Instead push the story forward. The check represents that PC’s ability to deal with that particular lock.

  • Maybe something breaks, is damaged, or he just isn’t good enough.


A branch that has a null result and doesn’t move the story forward, can cause players frustration


If players are unable to overcome a road block, there should always be another branch for them to take.


Create strong pass/fail branch points and build up that tension

  • Example crossing a chasm on a tight rope. Let them know the dangers of failure

  • A golden statue is on the other side of a room full of trip wires to temp them and reward their success.


Avoid Dead Branches

When looking at the outcome of two branch points, don’t let either lead to a narrative dead end.

  • Occurs most often when PCs can’t devise a solution to a problem

  • Or with very frequent and petty obstacles are in their path with no real consequence of failure.

If you are unable to device a consequence of failure that can take the story anywhere, it’s ok to allow the players an automatic success

  • Sometimes the players get lucky and the guards are asleep at their post

  • Maybe the bandits they stumble upon just robbed a wagon full of ale and are in a drunken stupor.

Turn all dead branches into a scene that moves the story forward