Predetermined Story Structures

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Narration structures whose order presentation in a game exists before game instances begin.

All games creates stories since the players' experience of playing a game is are stories in their own right, as is the sequence of events that take place as the game state evolves. However, games can also be created so they retell stories within a fictional setting and when the parts that make up these stories are created before gameplay begins the games have Predetermined Story Structures.


Many Tabletop Roleplaying Games provides Predetermined Story Structures in the form of adventures or campaigns that consist of a series of adventures. These have detailed descriptions of interesting locations, important characters, and possible events but in most cases not the characters that players should play. Early examples of adventures are "The Keep on the Borderlands", "Rahasia", and "Ravenloft", all for Dungeons & Dragons. Well-known examples of campaigns include "Queen of the Spiders"[1] for Dungeons & Dragons and "The Enemy Within campaign"[2] for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Live Action Roleplaying Games are often less pre-planned regarding events since coordinating these with all players poses huge practical problems but may still have a few important event planned. 1942 – Noen å stole på, Conspiracy for Good, and Trenne Byar are examples of this; Krigshjärta is an example of a LARP series where parts of previous LARPs carry on to the next ones in the series.

Adventure Games as the Myst, King's Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, The Secret of Monkey Island series are based upon telling stories. Similarly Computer-based Roleplaying Games typically contains whole stories as Predetermined Story Structures, with the Dragon Age, Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and Final Fantasy series as examples. The only have vague relations between games in the series but the Ultima and Witcher series are examples of where the stories of the games continue between individual games. In contrast Massively Multiplayer Online Games such as MUD2 and World of Warcraft have many Predetermined Story Structures in the form of quests but these are used repeatedly by different players and often completing one does not affect others besides what the direct changes in the game states do.

The Crusader Kings series and Europa Universalis series show how Predetermined Story Structures can be used in Strategy Games through events that can be randomly triggered if the right requirements have been met by a character or country.

As books that provide players with gameplay while reading, Gamebooks[3] like The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Scorpion Swamp, Clash of the Princes, and the Lone Wolf series have Predetermined Story Structures.

Using the pattern

Predetermined Story Structures are explicit Narration Structures that designers create before gameplay begins and are used to provide a narrative layer to gameplay. An important consideration for the design of any Predetermined Story Structures is if they should support Single-Player or Multiplayer Games. The former can be easier to design for since there is only one Focus Loci to consider through which players can affect the narration and it is easier to satisfy Freedom of Choice for one player than many in choosing Predetermined Story Structures. Both can give rise to Social Interaction related to the narration, the latter due to Social Interaction between players can be part of the actual narration and the former because players may discuss what narrative experiences they had with other player who have also played the game.

Depending on which medium the game uses to present these structures to players, the use of Predetermined Story Structures may require the presence of Dedicated Game Facilitators but any type of Mediated Gameplay makes it easier to control the presentation and feasibility of being able to use Predetermined Story Structures (Phasing is an advanced use of this to share some but not all game elements between players to be able to use Predetermined Story Structures for some players without revealing it to others). In games with Alternate Reality Gameplay, it can be used to differentiate the game from the real world and in games with Crossmedia Gameplay the structures can be spread out over several different mediums. Detective Structures and Melodramatic Structures are two categories of Predetermined Story Structures based upon how players receive information about the events, the former limiting to individual Characters while the other letting players know more than the Characters in the games. Never Ending Stories is another category which can be created through continuous reuse of Predetermined Story Structures. Adventures are short Predetermined Story Structures while Campaigns are collections of Adventures. Scenarios are setups for Wargames and Board Games (e.g. Advanced Squad Leader, Memoir '44, and Space Alert); these may include backstories, descriptions of what happened in events that inspired the Scenarios, and may make certain gameplay developments be very likely do to the positions and amounts of Units of each side. Instances can have self-contained Predetermined Story Structures in games which multiple different player groups can experience independently without affecting each other. On an elemental level, Predetermined Story Structures consist of two main parts: the important game entities in the Game Worlds and the events that are planned to occur which affect them. A major design choice related to the events are if players should have some Freedom of Choice related to which events take place; this typically means that the Predetermined Story Structures changes from being a linear structure to a branching tree structure. Another if is Randomness should be used to determine which elements should be used or which types of structures; this can go as far being used to create completely Procedurally Generated Game Worlds.

Game Worlds as a whole can be seen as Predetermined Story Structures since they can contain and organize many individual diegetic elements with story relevance within them. Common story elements related to the physical aspects of Game Worlds include Alarms, Alien Space Bats (often explained by an introductory Summary Update), Big Dumb Objects, Controllers, Environmental Storytelling, Game Items, MacGuffins, Self-Service Kiosks, Switches, Traces, Traps, and Warp Zones. Clues can also be used, as long as they work within the Thematic Consistency. Games then commonly create Predetermined Story Structures by putting these in relation to how players move in Game Worlds (similar to aspects of the narrative Monomyth[4] pattern and the "Road Movie"[5] genre). Props can be used to add flavor and details to Predetermined Story Structures but are not in-themselves Predetermined Story Structures unless combined with some other pattern. The elements can be compartmentalized by Inaccessible Areas and Levels, while Privileged Movement (given as a New Ability and Conditional Passageways can be used to progress a game's narration by opening up new areas. While not necessarily a part of the Predetermined Story Structures, requiring Puzzle Solving at specific locations can serve the same role as Conditional Passageways; one example of this can be found in the Myst series. One-Way Travel can hinder players from spending time in areas which no more narration is supposed to take place within. Quests can motivate players to move between places in Game Worlds, as can gameplay specific goals such as Reconnaissance, Rescue, and Traverse. Introducing story elements that are also gameplay elements during gameplay requires the use of Game Element Insertion.

Players can primarily be engaged into Predetermined Story Structures through how their goals and their Focus Loci is related to the structures. Predefined Goals are the easiest way to tie players goals to the Predetermined Story Structures but often many of these goals are also Unknown Goals to not reveal the narration prematurely. For Focus Loci, Characters, especially Player Characters and Companions, are often important in planning the narration that is to take place during gameplay - Companions can be placed in focus rather than Player Characters through Companion Quests. This is since they both provide points of Emotional Engrossment to the players and are Agents which are needed so that something can act in the Game World and be the target of actions (Agents can be used without Characters if the game can suffice with flat characterization). The relations these Characters can have also provide possibilities for Predetermined Story Structures, e.g. Betrayal, Enemies, Internal Conflicts, Loyalty, and Social Dilemmas. Player-Created Characters are per definition not Predetermined Story Structures (from the designers' perspective) but many Predetermined Story Structures may influence of be part of these Characters, so the pattern described here can influence Player-Created Characters in order to support certain narrations in a game. The use of Characters as Predetermined Story Structures often motivates the construction of Dialogues as additional structures to develop the narration. While Avatars more has to do with presentation that narration and Abstract Player Constructs can be difficultly creating Emotional Engrossment, both can be used to support some Predetermined Story Structures if the Character pattern is not being used. Granting them Privileged Abilities is common as a way of distinguishing important Characters from regular NPCs but these NPCs may of course also be important for planned events, for example by being Helpers or belonging to Factions (which also can provide goals for players to join and opportunities to design for Loyalty or Internal Rivalry between members). Helpers can beside moving narration forward also be used to support any Predetermined Story Structures by reminding or pointing players in the "right" direction. NPCs in general also provide possibilities for delivering or elaborating on Predetermined Story Structures through Information Passing. Boss Monsters can be driving forces of the Predetermined Story Structures (and are often given Privileged Abilities) but games with no or limited overarching Predetermined Story Structures can use local ones to provide more substance to Boss Monsters. An issue that need to be considered when using NPCs in conjunction with Predetermined Story Structures is how to deal with their possible deaths, in some cases Invulnerabilities may be required to guarantee that they can performed their planned roles. Similar to the case of Game Element Insertion above, introduction of new Characters are in effect a form of Spawning.

Actions and events make up the second category of structural elements in Predetermined Story Structures, and these typically need to be Irreversible Events for a story line to be able to progress meaningfully. Scripted Information Sequences are actual actions and events that progress Narration Structures while being designed beforehand for specifically story purposes. Cutscenes do the same but does not provide players with opportunities for interaction; Quick Time Events do but unlike Scripted Information Sequences forces players to focus upon these. While Predetermined Story Structures can be built from Cutscenes among other things, individual Cutscenes are themselves Predetermined Story Structures so the patterns can instantiate each other. In general, Enforced Agent Behavior and Ultra-Powerful Events can be used to ensure the development of Predetermined Story Structures but may do so on the cost of players' Freedom of Choice. Many times actions and events in Predetermined Story Structures are made to foreshadow what will or may occur later on in the gameplay, i.e. Predetermined Story Structures can be designed to create Predictable Consequences and Tension in gameplay. The opposite is of course also true, Predetermined Story Structures can contain Ambiguous Responses and Surprises. Specific events may also be used to enforce Character Defining Actions for Characters or make players experience that they have Luck (but the latter only works if it is unexpected). Related to this is the design choice if Agents in the game should have Open Destinies, and if so which Agents should have them and should the Open Destinies be Predetermined Story Structures or be allowed to emerge from gameplay. Algorithmic Agents allows game designers to not only create Agents and events they can be part of, but also make systems so they can vary the actions (and thereby the narration) depending on the specifics of particular game instances. All these patterns relate to the fact that Predetermined Story Structures have a dual relationship with Exaggerated Perception of Influence; it can both limit it through limiting what players can do and let players have exaggerated influence regarding the things they can do.

There is typically a staggering of how important, difficult, or significant actions and events are in both narration and gameplay. For this reason, Predetermined Story Structures often make use of pattern such as Ever Increasing Difficulty, Higher-Level Closures as Gameplay Progresses, and Increasing Rewards. Varying Rule Sets can be used to create many of these effects and Access Rewards can be used to make sure that events happen in specific orders wanted to narration purposes.

Game designs typically want to ensure that players have gameplay goals that work together with Predetermined Story Structures as well as support each other. Entrenching Gameplay can provide structures without relying on Characters but Agents or Characters are typically fundamental for this, with the above note on Emotional Engrossment presenting one way in which this is done. Quests is another very common way to do this, with Main Quests being the ones that are related to the storyline players are intended to experience and Sidequests offer additional material for those players that either simply wish for more narration and gameplay or want specific experiences. A third way is to let players have some say in how the story will end, which often is done through providing players with a Selectable Set of Goals that corresponds to the different ends possible in the story (the Fallout series and Witcher series are two examples of this). Gain Competence goals typically can combine gameplay goal of improving one's position in the game with narrative goals, and closures of these can lead to Character Development regardless if they result in New Abilities or Ability Losses. Red Herrings can be used to make players have to think critically about what they are experiencing or set up players for Surprises. Ephemeral Goals can give more detail to Game Worlds with Predetermined Story Structures but may annoy players that are set on gameplay which is tightly coupled to the narration.

In contrast to Levels, Scenes (including Cutscenes) allow gameplay not only to be spatially separated but also temporally separated. They may need Summary Updates between them if the change in context is not apparent, Loading Hints can serve a similar purpose in reminding players of previous narrative events as they load Save Files. Quick Travel is needed whenever Scenes move between spatial locations and can be used to avoid having players spend time in transit with little narrative development occurring. Persistent Game World Changes based upon story events is a way to clearly indicate development of the game narration. While Predetermined Story Structures with Temporal Consistency may be the easiest to follow, breaking or making Temporal Consistency vague is one way to modulate narration through Predetermined Story Structures and Scenes can be used to do this.

Several patterns can be difficult to use with Predetermined Story Structures or make the use of these structures difficult. Games that encourage Speedruns basically asks players to disregard everything but the most efficient gameplay when doing these. Unwinnable Games by their definition have no natural ending besides failure which limits which types of stories can be told through them; in addition, the potential length of them is often indefinite which is also difficult to combine with non-repetitive narration. This is also the reason why Grind Achievements may be difficult to combine meaningfully with Predetermined Story Structures. Permadeath, either in the form of Player Elimination or Death Consequences applied to narratively important Characters, can break planned use of Predetermined Story Structures since Agents intended to perform actions may no longer be available. Early Leaving Players and Late Arriving Players can cause problems both in that Agents may not be present when they are needed and that Late Arriving Players may have missed the narration so far and may need individual Summary Updates with can cause Downtime for other players; more generally Negotiable Game Instance Duration make the use of Predetermined Story Structures more difficult to design since they must be flexible regarding their length. Coupled Games have a slightly similar problem in that the gameplay of a single player in two different games needs to have compatible Predetermined Story Structures for both of them to function well. Giving Randomness to large part of a game design can make Predetermined Story Structures irrelevant. Procedurally Generated Game Worlds can be an example of this although this can be avoided if algorithms to create Predetermined Story Structures are part of the procedural generation process. Self-Facilitated Games puts players in power positions to ignore or modify Predetermined Story Structures, thereby questioning the predetermined aspect of the pattern. Persistent Game Worlds either make Predetermined Story Structures only useable once or only part of localized stories with no narrative consequence on the Game World at large.

The usefulness of Predetermined Story Structures can in some games be increased by adding patterns that allow flexibility in how they are used. Dedicated Game Facilitators can perform this functionality, and Game Masters is probably the most powerful in this sense even if they may not be practical to use in all types of games. One example of how Game Masters can help ensure that Predetermined Story Structures can work is Feigned Die Rolls. Non-Consistent Narration is one example of how Predetermined Story Structures can be modified to support gameplay better at the expense of different types of consistency in the game (using Instances to provide interesting and localized challenges for players of MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft is one example of this).

Diegetic Aspects

Predetermined Story Structures is a Diegetic Pattern in the way that all patterns used in relation to it need to comply with Diegetic or Thematic Consistency if a game is that have these. The most important parts of Predetermined Story Structures can be designed to be Diegetically Outstanding Features to ensure that players pay more attention to them.

Interface Aspects

Player Aids are Props that help convey Predetermined Story Structures.

Narrative Aspects

Predetermined Story Structures is a Narration Pattern.


Predetermined Story Structures provide games with Storytelling and Narration Structures. Since they tend to focus on the Player Characters and their Character Development, the story structures are ways of affect these and can motivate players' Roleplaying. In many cases players' are pitted against the designed Characters of the Predetermined Story Structures, making the pattern create PvE gameplay. The Clues provided as part of Predetermined Story Structures can give players goals to Gain Information or Ownership of diegetic items. All these aspects, and the simple fact that players may be thinking of how the game's story may be developing, causes Predetermined Story Structures to encourage Stimulated Planning.

Since the pattern introduces specific events into gameplay (if they are activated), it lowers players' Freedom of Choice (especially in Multiplayer Games) even if this may be to create more interesting stories than would be otherwise possible (it can also modify Freedom of Choice between a number of goals by adding a narrative layers to these goals). Predetermined Story Structures may cause a game to have Predictable Consequences when players can predict future events based on what the story structures have revealed so far or when specific narrative devices such as foreshadowing as used. This becomes more apparent when games are played several times and Predetermined Story Structures are reused; this may work against the Replayability of a game (and especially Surprises in them) with this pattern even if Selectable Set of Goals linked to ending can motivate replays for each possible ending.

For a purely game state perspective, much of the experiences players get from Predetermined Story Structures are Extra-Game Consequences since a majority of the narration of these do not influence the game state or do so with much more detail than is necessary in order to convey the information of how the game state has been updated.


Can Instantiate

Companions, Cutscenes, Exaggerated Perception of Influence, Extra-Game Consequences, Narration Structures, Never Ending Stories, Luck, Predictable Consequences, PvE, Stimulated Planning, Storytelling, Tension

with Characters

Character Defining Actions

with Clues

Gain Information, Gain Ownership

with Single-Player Games or Multiplayer Games

Social Interaction

Can Modulate

Alternate Reality Gameplay, Boss Monsters, Character Development, Gain Competence, Instances, Persistent Game Worlds, Player Characters, Player-Created Characters, Roleplaying

Can Be Instantiated By

Ability Losses, Abstract Player Constructs, Access Rewards, Adventures, Agents, Alarms, Algorithmic Agents, Alien Space Bats, Ambiguous Responses, Avatars, Betrayal, Big Dumb Objects, Boss Monsters, Campaigns, Characters, Companions, Companion Quests, Conditional Passageways, Controllers, Crossmedia Gameplay, Cutscenes, Dialogues, Enemies, Enforced Agent Behavior, Entrenching Gameplay, Environmental Storytelling, Factions, Game Worlds, Helpers, Inaccessible Areas, Information Passing, Internal Conflicts, Internal Rivalry, Irreversible Events, Levels, Loyalty, MacGuffins, Main Quests, Mediated Gameplay, New Abilities, NPCs, One-Way Travel, Persistent Game World Changes, Player Characters, Privileged Abilities, Privileged Movement, Quests, Quick Time Events, Quick Travel, Reconnaissance, Rescue, Scenarios, Scenes, Scripted Information Sequences, Self-Service Kiosks, Sidequests, Social Dilemmas, Switches, Traces, Traps, Traverse, Ultra-Powerful Events, Warp Zones

Clues together with Thematic Consistency

Invulnerabilities together with NPCs

Can Be Modulated By

Dedicated Game Facilitators, Detective Structures, Diegetically Outstanding Features, Ephemeral Goals, Ever Increasing Difficulty, Factions, Feigned Die Rolls, Focus Loci, Freedom of Choice, Game Element Insertion, Game Masters, Helpers, Higher-Level Closures as Gameplay Progresses, Increasing Rewards, Information Passing, Loading Hints, Melodramatic Structures, Multiplayer Games, Non-Consistent Narration, Open Destiny, Permadeath, Player Aids, Predefined Goals, Props, Puzzle Solving, Randomness, Red Herrings, Selectable Set of Goals, Single-Player Games, Spawning, Summary Updates, Surprises, Temporal Consistency, Unknown Goals, Varying Rule Sets

Phasing in Multiplayer Games with Mediated Gameplay

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Coupled Games, Early Leaving Players, Exaggerated Perception of Influence, Freedom of Choice, Grind Achievements, Late Arriving Players, Negotiable Game Instance Duration, Persistent Game Worlds, Player Elimination, Player-Created Characters, Procedurally Generated Game Worlds, Randomness, Replayability, Self-Facilitated Games, Speedruns, Unwinnable Games

Death Consequences when these can apply to Characters important to the narrative

Freedom of Choice in Multiplayer Games


New pattern created in this wiki. However parts of it was taken from the pattern "Narrative Structures" from the book Patterns in Game Design[6].


  1. Entry for "Queen of the Spiders" on Wikipedia.
  2. Entry for "The Enemy Within campaign" on Wikipedia.
  3. Wikipedia entry for Gamebooks.
  4. Entry for "Monomyth" on Wikipedia.
  5. Entry for "Road Movie" on Wikipedia.
  6. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.