Exceptional Events

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Events that in the eye of players distinguish themselves from other events by their unlikelihood or effect on the game state that they are memorable.

A player perceives a lot of events during most games. Many of these are not interesting in themselves either when they happen or when looking back at a whole game session or game instance. Exceptional Events are the rarer cases of events that for some reason, typically being surprising or by having significant impact on the game state or game experience, are easier to recollect later and may be seen as meaningful to retell to others.


Many Tabletop Roleplaying Games, e.g. Dungeons & Dragons, GURPS, and World of Darkness have rules that make certain outcome of die rolls have additional effects that otherwise would not happen. Although the number of these can be high in game sessions where many die are rolled, there comparable rarity still make it rather likely that they may give rise to Exceptional Events.

Exceptional Events can typically be found in games with pre-written stories where players are put in the position of making tough choices or choices that will determine one's alignment to others throughout the game; examples of such games include the Fallout series, the Walking Dead series, and the Witcher series.

Using the pattern

The main issue with designing for Exceptional Events in a game is rather obviously to choose what uncommon or rare events, and actions that can cause those events, should be possible in the game. One common requirement is however that they are Irreversible Events, at least in the sense that the consequences cannot immediately reversed.

The use of Randomness is solution that can cause Exceptional Events in itself (e.g. through making people feel Luck) of through more specific patterns that more guarantee remarkable events through having effects that otherwise would not be possible. Critical Results is the pattern that catches most of these patterns, with Critical Failures and Critical Successes as more specific case; still more specific and related to Combat is Critical Hits and Critical Misses. To a lesser degree Open-Ended Die Rolls can also cause Exceptional Events through Randomness.

Surprises can also cause Exceptional Events and do not have to be based on Randomness. These rely on Imperfect Information that can in itself cause Exceptional Events, but this is typically less likely than through the use of Surprises. For example, a Betrayal is typically a Surprise and a noteworthy event and needs Imperfect Information to work. In contrast, Leaps of Faith also rely on Imperfect Information but players are less likely to be surprised by surviving these and therefore less likely to view them as Exceptional Events.

Other patterns that can increase or more or less guarantee the likelihood of Exceptional Events include Spectacular Failure Enjoyment and Character Defining Actions which fundamentally changes the Characters.

Narration Aspects

Since Exceptional Events may be memorable and be the starting point for Game Instance Stories, it can be considered a Narration Pattern.


Exceptional Events provide potential starting points for Game Instance Stories, and can in themselves or through the stories people create about them cause Emotional Engrossment. Since they are by definition uncommon and thereby unexpected, the possibility of having Exceptional Events in a game lessens the Predictable Consequences of that game.


Can Instantiate

Emotional Engrossment, Game Instance Stories

Can Modulate


Can Be Instantiated By

Betrayal, Character Defining Actions, Critical Failures, Critical Hits, Critical Misses, Critical Successes, Critical Results, Imperfect Information, Irreversible Events, Luck, Open-Ended Die Rolls, Randomness, Spectacular Failure Enjoyment, Surprises

Can Be Modulated By


Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Predictable Consequences


New pattern created in this wiki.