Role-playing Games Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for gamemasters and players of tabletop, paper-and-pencil role-playing games. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I see many questions on here for helping a GM run a game in the general sense but I'm wondering if anyone has used or knows of a tool that will aid in creating branching dialog. What I'm looking for is an application that supports adding a primary scenario and dialog options based on that scenario.

As an example; My PC's enter an Inn occupied by several patrons, a couple of serving maids, and of course the innkeeper currently behind the bar. What I'd like to have available to me is a list of those NPC's with dialog options branching from each of them in a format similar to how a file-browsing tool works to show the contents of folders on a computer, but instead of file contents each 'folder' is a possible response to a question that the PC's might ask.

So the PC's approach the innkeep to ask what rumors he has heard; the tree might be like this:

Innkeeper - 
   Questions - 
      Heard any rumors lately? - 
         Response 1
         Response 2
      Do you have anything to trade?
         Yes, here are my wares
         No, I don't trade with the likes of you

Anyone know of a tool that does this?


locked by SevenSidedDie Jun 13 at 14:36

This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. This question and its answers are frozen and cannot be changed. More info: help center.

closed as off-topic by BESW, TuggyNE, Wibbs, Purple Monkey, Miniman Jun 13 at 7:22

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Why do you want such thing? I see tree based dialog a necessary evil in videogames, where you cant represent the infinite possibilities of real convesation. But in a game played talking, why reduce conversation un such a way? Isnt it better to play the conversation un a natural flow? – Flamma Mar 9 '14 at 13:54
Are you looking for a software allowing you create such branching dialogs, or are you looking for existing and ready-to-use dialogs ? – Trajan Mar 9 '14 at 16:50
I'm looking for software to aid in the process of creating such conversations. In response to Flamma, everyone has different strengths, I personally am not great at adhoc conversations thus a tool to help me work the possibilities out prior to the game would be useful. – HeavyAl Mar 9 '14 at 18:33
Important question for clarification: do you want an actual tree, or do you want a mostly-tree-like graph? The latter option includes the ability to return to previous nodes and jump between branches. The former does not. – Brian S Mar 10 '14 at 15:00
@BrianS Considering that this is being used strictly as a planning tool, it's safe to say that the actual use of the dialogue won't be limited if there are no return loops in the model. – SevenSidedDie Mar 10 '14 at 19:56
up vote 11 down vote accepted

One tool that might suit your needs is Freemind. It's meant to be used for any kind of idea jotting (I've used it to take campaign notes). And being tree-based it's probably good to give it a shot. It's free and open source.

It looks something like this: Dialog using Freemind

(Tree branches are collapsable. The third question is collapsed in the image above)

Mind maps that don't link arbitrarily are equivalent to outlines, btw. – gomad Mar 9 '14 at 18:10
Thanks gomad, I have used Freemind for application design in the past but had forgotten about it! Thanks for the reminder! I'll give that one a shot. – HeavyAl Mar 9 '14 at 18:35
I prefer using Freeplane which is a fork of Freemind having more features. For a list of the new features see… – mawimawi Oct 25 '14 at 7:15


The simplest iteration of what you are looking for is an outliner - an editor for hierarchal text. What you presented above is exactly an outline. There are many of these available for any operating system.

Two good, free, online examples are:

Both can collapse branches to keep your focus on the current state of the conversation. And I think both can "hoist" a branch - making it look like the root, which is also useful for focusing attention in a big or complex outline.

These are just two tools of many - but the principles are similar across the board.

Nice, a couple more apps I've never heard of. I'll check them out, thanks! – HeavyAl Mar 9 '14 at 18:41
fargo requires a link to a Dropbox account. – Jason_c_o Mar 9 '14 at 21:00
Or, Microsoft Word (and I presume free clones such as LibreOffice/OpenOffice Writer, too) in Outline Mode. – Matt Thomason Mar 9 '14 at 23:13

There are quite a lot of programs out there to help you in your task. Some recommendations I can make, though, are as follows:

  • Chat Mapper
    This is probably the program I would recommend you look at first. I've not personally used it, but know of it, and it seems to meet your needs quite specifically. There is a free version for download, though its missing a lot of features of the paid version.

  • Papel (Original found here)
    This one is a very simple drag and drop organizer. Draw lines in between notes to manually create branching ideas (like conversations). It also feels, due to its simplistic interface, like you are drag and dropping files within a folder.

  • Masterplan Design Studio
    This program has a section that lets you outline your plot, which would be easy to adapt into branching conversations. It is made specifically with tabletop play in mind.

For paid options, there is one program I would recommend looking into (though it is very expensive.)

  • Articy:Draft
    This is one of my favourite pieces of software for world/plot-building. The one downside? Its very pricey, beyond the scope of casual use. (I've only used the demo.) A little bit cheaper is Articy:Draft SE on Steam, but it is still very expensive.

Scrivener is a piece of feature-rich software geared toward writers/authors for Windows/Mac to organize their thoughts. A big part of it is a method of outlining in a tree form similar to the way you describe (albeit, for chapters and scenes).

It also utilizes character cards that could be helpful in keeping track of your NPCs.

Wow, yet another gem! This one would be interesting to my daughter who is a budding writer, she has dozens of stories that she's started (mostly fan fiction) but often never really finishes a story. Might be good for her to synchronize her thoughts and realize that she could finish several stories by tying the ideas together. And yes, it could definitely be used to work out dialog. Great stuff, thanks! – HeavyAl Mar 10 '14 at 20:24
@HeavyAl - Scrivener is beyond awesome. I don't see how it particularly fits this question (yes, you could crowbar the organization tools into a dialog tree, but that's not really what it's for), but many writers of any stripe (academic, legal, fiction, screen, game) could probably benefit from it. – gomad Apr 3 '14 at 14:52
I haven't purchased a copy of Scrivener yet but I just checked their site again and another tool they offer called "Scapple" is similar to many mind-mapping apps. It's similar to mind mapping in that it allows drawing lines between thoughts but it allows linking any thought to any other thought without a specific tree system so its got a lot more flexibility. The icing on the cake is that it integrates beautifully with Scrivener allowing you even more flexibility than either tool on its' own. Good stuff! – HeavyAl Apr 5 '14 at 2:14

For lovers of Scrivener, there's also the similar and very flexible Gingko App that I've used for my dialog maps.

It's extremely versatile, and easy to use once you get the hang of it. You can also use it for reference data, character sheets, designing campaigns, writing backstories, etc... all in the same document.

But how well does it work for the question topic? – SevenSidedDie Apr 10 '15 at 21:28
I've used it for this. I don't tend to get very specific with my dialog maps (I find it too restrictive, and PCs always throw a wrench in things!). Worth a try. – AdrianoFerrari Apr 10 '15 at 21:33
Just that tiny bit of extra info — that you've successfully used it for this — is very helpful. Thanks! I've added it to your answer in an edit. – SevenSidedDie Apr 10 '15 at 21:42

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.