Storium Basics: Overview

This post originally appeared at Gaming Creatively on June 22nd, 2017.

Today’s article – and the next several – are going to be of a different sort than what I’ve done so far on this blog. Today, I’m beginning a series I’ll call “Storium Basics.” This series is targeted at new Storium players rather than those who already know a bit about it and want to explore it further. It is drawn from my writing for beginners’ games that I have run. This series will largely be targeted at the player side of Storium, rather than the narrator side, but should help either come to a general understanding of how the system works.

If you are a new player, I hope that these articles will be helpful for you and help you get started in Storium. If you find these interesting and want to explore further, please take a look at my prior articles on this blog – I’ve written on quite a lot of different topics since starting up, and there will be articles that explore issues I raise here in more detail. I will try to link to articles that I feel could provide additional help as I go through these basics.

First up, let’s take a look at the first question a player will want answered: What is Storium, anyway?

Storium is a play-by-post storytelling game where the players and narrator work together to tell a fun, exciting, interesting story. Narrative control is shared by means of cards: the narrator uses his cards to set up challenges that focus the story on particular characters or events, and the players play their cards to address those challenges and determine how they work out. As this happens, control of the narrative shifts from narrator, to players, and back to the narrator. They cooperate to tell an entertaining story.

Storium is not about winning or losing – it’s about telling a good story. The narrator’s cards are not meant to be a tactical challenge – they’re meant to provide players with interesting things to write about, and provide branches for the story that could either let the heroes show off or add complications and drama to their journey. When the narrator sets up challenges, he’s not trying to push the players tactically, make them figure things out, or set up a difficult situation for them. All these things may in fact be true for the characters, but for the players, the narrator’s only goal is to give them the opportunity to write a fun and interesting tale and bring out aspects of their characters.

Storium is, in fact, set up to ensure that narrative rises and falls will happen. The card system is designed so that characters will have to have their strong times and their weak times. It is based around storytelling principles, and in a good story, the heroes have their moments of glory and their moments of struggle. Struggle, in writing a story, is not something to be avoided – it’s something to be pursued for the sake of adding suspense and interest.

What this means – what I really want to emphasize – is that challenge results are not determined by how well you play. Whether things go Strong or Weak isn’t about tactical skill or anything like that: they’re story choices, not successes or failures on the part of the players. The characters may be perceived to have failed sometimes, or at least to have succeeded with complications, but the players should never feel that they have. A Weak outcome is not a result of the players making a mistake – it’s just where the story went, or even the result of the players deciding that yeah, going Weak sounded interesting.

Storium is about telling stories, and if you’re telling a fun story with lots of twists and turns, rises and falls, that’s victory for it. 🙂

From a player perspective, then, I find it’s best to take the mindset that I am trying to tell a story, not I am trying to beat the challenge. You will have more fun in Storium if you are enthusiastic about getting any outcome, not just Strong ones. Come to the game wanting to see your characters struggle at times, and you’ll have more of a fun time.

If you take nothing else away from what I write, I hope you take this: Go with the flow and play to find out what happens next. That doesn’t mean you can’t sometimes aim for a particular outcome – sometimes, something will just feel better for the tale – but try to play for an interesting story, not for tactical success. You will have more fun with Storium that way, and I think in the end you’ll find you’ve written stories you love to go back and read.

I know I have.

Storium is about stories – approach it with that mindset, and you’ll find the system’s power and how it becomes the most fun.

For more on the general concept of Storium, see: