Storium Basics: Cardless Moves

This post originally appeared at Gaming Creatively on August 24th, 2017.

Last time, we discussed multi-card moves here on Storium Basics. This time, I’d like to spend a bit of time on their opposite: cardless moves.

While most moves in Storium games will probably involve cards, cardless moves are an option in Storium. Narrators will vary on how much they like them. For my part, I’m totally fine with them as they add some great color to scenes, but I do want to caution that you not allow them to overwhelm scenes. They’re great for adding detail but can also sap a scene of momentum if they are overused.

When writing a cardless move, think similarly to how you write a move for a Neutral card like a Subplot – but unlike neutral cards, cardless moves don’t push the scene closer to completion. Remember, a challenge’s remaining card slots are, in a way, the measure of how much “story” is left in the challenge, and how close it is to a conclusion. When you play cardless, you aren’t changing that at all. You also aren’t in any way tipping the challenge’s balance – cardless moves obviously don’t count as Strong or Weak, or even Neutral. In other words, the story of the challenge does not move forward in a significant fashion, and the actions of your character do not have a particularly noteworthy impact on the challenge.

When you write a cardless move it should be more about showing what your character is doing in the current status of the scene than anything else. Your move doesn’t significantly impact the scene and doesn’t move the situation forward in any notable way…but it still needs to relate to what’s going on. You’re not playing on a challenge, but…still think about the move in relation to a challenge and/or the scene all the same. It should never drift totally away from what the scene is focused on.

I’m fond of using cardless moves to show my character’s reactions to big moments – to help make other players awesome by making clear that what they’ve done got a reaction out of my character. That’s one good way of using these.

They can also be used to just develop a point a little more, without actually pushing it forward. Maybe your last move was about conversing with a character, trying to convince him of something, and while other stuff is going on in the scene, you’d like to take a moment to show that the conversation is still going on and develop the character’s motivations a bit more, without actually having the challenge’s situation change yet. That can be a good use of a cardless move.

The trick is to use them, but not abuse them. It’s easy to fall into a trap of overusing these move types when a challenge is active. They’re good for reactions, and good for further development…but don’t react to everything, and don’t develop everything. When challenges are active, keep the focus on playing on the challenges. Moves with cards, for most games, should clearly outnumber cardless moves while challenges are active…otherwise, games really risk losing momentum. Use them with restraint, and they’ll work best.

That does bring up an important side note, though: There are times when a narrator will set up or continue a scene without challenges, specifically to give you the opportunity to roleplay with cardless moves. Obviously at that point, cardless moves are what the game’s all about! Just remember to play according to the story, and even if there aren’t challenges present, don’t allow your character to overwhelm the rest of the game.

For more information on cardless moves and cardless moments, see these articles: