Storium Basics: Assets and Goals

This post originally appeared at Gaming Creatively on August 10th, 2017.

We’ve already discussed Storium‘s first (and my favorite) Neutral card type, the Subplot, but that’s not the only Neutral card type in Storium. Today, I’m going to discuss the other two types: Assets and Goals.

Unlike all the other cards in Storium, Assets and Goals are not things that you start with – they aren’t part of your character from the beginning, and they aren’t chosen at Refreshes or upon spending a stack or anything like that. Whether you have these cards or not isn’t up to you, entirely – it depends on the narrator. These are both given to players – or provided for pickup – by the narrator at his will.

Assets represent things like items, people, or other resources that are sufficiently important to the story to be specifically noted. Narrators vary in how they use them—some toss out a ton, some toss out generic ones that players can customize (more on that later), and some provide only very specific, story-critical assets. The use is the same, regardless: You play the card and move things forward, telling how that resource is important in pushing the challenge closer to conclusion. It can sometimes be easier to write asset moves if you play a Strength or Weakness with them, so you can write how you use that asset well or badly.

Goals are kind of like Subplots, but they’re things the narrator would like to see you address during the game. Like assets, narrators use these for all sorts of purposes. I’ve seen them used to represent injuries, enchantments, objectives…I’ve seen them used as requests to world-build or create NPCs that the narrator can use…all sorts of things. They work similarly to subplots – you get a stack, and when you play all the cards of that stack, you get a free Wild Strength as a reward. Basically, these are the narrator’s way of saying, “Hey, talk about this in the story or show this happening, and if you do it, you can get a Strength card for making the story more interesting.”

Narrators may give Assets or Goals to you directly, or may lay them out to be picked up. You can pick up a card that a narrator set out by using the “pick up cards” button at the bottom of your move editing window when writing a move. If picking a card up, you’ll often want to actually show the item being picked up as part of your move, or show your character now thinking about the Goal and deciding to take it up, but that isn’t always necessary (for instance, I often use Assets to represent other characters traveling with the group).

Whether given to you or picked up by you, you can then hold on to the asset card until you feel like playing it. You can also pick up and play an asset card in the same move.

Like subplots, assets and goals are neutral cards–they push a challenge closer to conclusion but don’t themselves tip the scale one way or another. I look at it like this: You might have a gun, and that might matter to a scene, but whether it is a good thing or a bad thing really depends on how you use it…so Strengths and Weaknesses are still what you use to affect outcomes. That’s not to say you have to play one of those cards along with an asset or goal, but I do have to say I generally find it easier to write moves for asset or goal cards if I play them with a Strength or Weakness myself.

If you play an asset or goal card on its own, think like you do for Subplot cards: the card is important to the scene and pushes things towards a conclusion, but doesn’t change the current Strong/Weak balance so things still feel like they’re headed for the ending they were headed for before, overall. As with Subplots, that can feel good if things were headed towards a Strong outcome, or bad if they were headed for a Weak outcome, or just…well…uncertain if they were headed for an Uncertain outcome. The overall feel of the situation hasn’t changed, but now there’s less time to change it.

Asset cards can be rewritten, as I’ve noted above. If an asset card has multiple uses (a “stack”), you can use the “browse your cards” button in your move writing window to look at it and rewrite the asset. This consumes one use of the asset card stack, but lets you rename it to something that seems more narratively important at the time. That means that if you have, say, a stack of asset cards representing a gun and you don’t have access to that gun in the story presently, you can just rewrite the stack into something else–maybe your character always keeps a city map around.

Note that not all narrators allow that – some really prefer assets to represent one thing and one thing only. But the basic idea of how they’re set up is to give you something to use when you feel like your character would have something to help out and you want to highlight that. I believe Stephen Hood called them “ways to plug holes in the plot,” and that’s a pretty apt description.

Assets and Goals will feature majorly in some games, and barely at all in others, depending on the narrator’s style, but they’re cards you need to be aware of. I actually haven’t written all that much on Assets and Goals over the course of my writing on this blog, as in my own narration they are cards I don’t use much! This is a case where I suggest talking with other players and narrators on Storium more than looking to my writing for advice. That said, here are a few articles that cover Neutral cards more generally: