There’s This Game I’ve Been Playing…

Normally that would be a lead in to an “I’ve been putting off writing” style post, but in an ironic twist of fate, that’s not the case. Lately, I’ve been exploring Storium, a new collaborative storytelling game that’s in alpha test mode right now. I’ve been really enjoying the game, so I thought I’d talk a little about it here. I have invitations available, so if it catches your fancy, just let me know and I can throw one your way.

The game is broken into two player responsibilities: the narrator, and a group of players. The narrator is responsible for giving an overview of the story (genre, tone, etc), setting the scenes, and presenting challenges for players to overcome within their stories. Challenges take the form of cards, which can be characters that must be interacted with to move forward, or other obstacles that must be overcome.

Players make “moves”, during which they tell how the character they have created overcomes the challenge. They do this by playing cards that address the challenge, and then writing a move that ties in with the card played and the challenge addressed.

Let’s give a little example here to clarify how this works. The narrator might present the following introduction for a scene:

As you arrive at the party, you find the house empty. No one seems to be around, though there are empty cans and open bags of chips strewn about. Without warning, a police officer steps into the living room from the kitchen.

“Do you know what happened here?” he asks.

You don’t, but you are suddenly very worried about your friends, and getting tangled up with the authorities isn’t going to let you look for them.

This isn’t the best scene by any means, but it will serve our purposes. Alongside this scene explanation, the narrator plays cards that represent challenges in the scene, with a strong and a weak outcome. In this case the card might be “Officer Kearne”, and the outcomes might be: Strong: You elude the attention of the authorities for now, and are free to investigate why your friends are missing. Weak: You are unable to convince Officer Kearne he’s not interested in you. You are lead to a waiting police cruiser for further questioning.

When a player addresses a challenge with their move, they can play either a strength, weakness, asset, or goal card. A strength might be, literally, “Strong”, which would mean your character is physically powerful. A weakness might be “Arrogant”. Assets can be anything, from items to ideas, and they are gained through play as rewards from the narrator. Goals are things your character is striving for beyond addressing challenges. A goal might be, in this example, “Hook up with Kelsy”.

So, as a player with the scene above, my move might look something like this:

Not wanting to spend all night chatting with the police, Sarah knew she had to act fast.

“Oh,” she said, taking a couple of steps back and looking at the house number, “I’m at the wrong address. Hah! I’m such a ditz sometimes.”

Along with this bit of story, I might play a strength of “Quick Talker”, for example. When a player plays strength cards, that moves the outcome toward the strong result. Weaknesses move it toward the weak result. Assets and goals are neutral cards that do not tilt the outcome in any direction.

Challenges have a number of points assigned to them, and the player who fills the pool of points with card(s) gets brief control of the narrative. In the example above, if I filled the points pool and earned a strong outcome, I might explain that Officer Kearne lets Sarah go and give some details about how Sarah plans to move forward investigating her missing friends.

That would complete the challenge, at which point the narrator either ends the scene, taking into account the outcome text, or continues the scene with a new challenge. Play goes on like that until the story is finished.

The game itself is extremely flexible, with few hard and fast rules. This is both good and bad. There is certainly room for conflict, and I’ve seen that a little in my games, as certain players have ideas about how the game “should” be played. So, a word to the wise is to choose your co-players well and establish a baseline for what you’d like to see from the game up front. Barring that, be prepared to be flexible, in case other players don’t quite toe the mental line you have for the game.

As I mentioned, this is only in alpha test, and there are already a slew of planned enhancements that will change the game fairly substantially in the next version. One of the cool things about playing at this stage, is you get to offer feedback and make recommendations that have a very real chance of being implemented as components of the game. My friends and I have already made several recommendations, and it’s cool to know that we might have a meaningful impact on the end product.

This has been a fairly high level overview. If you want to check out the game, visit the website and read all about it, or just ask. Happy writing!

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