Storium Basics: Playing Off Each Other

This post originally appeared at Gaming Creatively on July 20th, 2017.

Welcome back to Storium Basics, where each week I’m going through a basic aspect of Storium play. This week, I’m going to talk about something that’s a little bit more advanced: playing off of each other and leaving openings. 

Storium games are stories, and that means that scenes work best when they feel interconnected. It’s easy to lose sight of that when you are writing independently, often at different times from the other players. However, it is important to make a conscious effort to tell a continuous story between your moves and those of other players. You’re not just writing the tale of your own character – you are writing the story of the challenge, and the scene, overall.

When you write a move, look back at what has happened so far in the scene and call upon it to set the stage for your move or give you things to react to. Is a statue falling over? Show it crashing to the ground. Did a friend just get hit? Call out if he’s okay, or go to his aid. Did someone just do something totally awesome? React to it!

Tell the overall story, not just your own actions.

Additionally, I encourage you to leave openings in your moves for others to use. You don’t have to call out specific other players to use them – in fact, unless you have a very good relationship with a player I advise against doing that – but it’s very helpful to your fellow writers if you raise a situation in your move that you do not resolve or close.

This could be noting that a bandit escaped and you couldn’t get him, or that you got kicked into something heavy and now it is starting to fall, or that there’s an enemy starting to draw a bead on you and you don’t see it, or an enemy wizard casting a spell…as appropriate for the situation and story, of course, but you get the idea. If you are writing something other than the final move of a challenge, leave cues out there people can pick up on.

If someone does leave those cues out there for you, use them. You can resolve them quickly (maybe you call a warning or shoot the enemy who was lining up a shot on the previous player, then go on to do other things), or make them the focus of your move (your entire move is about how you race against time and get there before the shot, maybe, or about the fight between you and the bandit when you get there).

Then, leave your own openings too!

One quick further note on this: This is another reason you want to have detail and story to your moves. It is much easier for people to play off of moves if there are details they can latch on to, and if you show your impact. So when writing moves, Add some detail, and especially remember that if you play a card you need to show what impact the card has on the scene. Don’t just explain how your trait is good or bad – show the effect it has, and make us feel it.

For instance, if you’re “Clumsy,” maybe you trip up and bandits get past you…and run straight for a group of villagers, brandishing their weapons and putting them in danger. If you have “Mighty Muscles,” you move a heavy stone in front of the gate…and the bandits struggle with it before being forced to go another way, giving you time to send some guards that way too. Things like that. Don’t write the entire battle in one move, of course, but be sure we feel the impact of each move.

Finally, Storium works best if there’s at least a little shared writing rights to the player characters—and definitely to the NPCs. Here are my rules – these are what I find work well, but different games may have different rules on this, so be sure to check on this with your narrator.

Player Characters: Players should allow other players to use their character for basic statements, basic questions, or assistance with actions as required for moves without requiring them to ask beforehand. They can always politely request a change if they want, and the writer should be amenable to doing so. If you want to write more heavily for another player character, I advise then asking for permission first, unless you’ve already established a good collaborative relationship. And, of course, if you’re writing for someone else’s character, keep their portrayal consistent as you can.

Non-Player Characters: Non-Player characters, especially those established by the Narrator, are generally totally free for players to write in whatever way they choose, within the bounds set by a challenge. I may sometimes provide guidelines for NPCs, but by and large, they’re your tools to play with. In rare cases an NPC heavily important to the storyline may be treated more like a player character, but I’ll always say so if that’s the case.

Those are what work well for me, but again, this is a good thing to check on with your narrator. Some games have a tighter atmosphere where characters need to be more solidly held by their creators, and others have a very loose atmosphere where even more is allowed. Some players, as well, will permit more with their specific character even if the rest of the game is tight.

If in doubt, there’s no harm asking.

Want to know more about playing off of each other and leaving things open? Here are some further articles I’ve written on this and related topics: