Storium Basics: Wild Cards

This post originally appeared at Gaming Creatively on July 27th, 2017.

Welcome back to my series on Storium basics. Today, we’ll be discussing Wild Cards.

When you create a character, you start with a defined Strength and a defined Weakness. Usually you’ll start with more than one copy of each, making it your character’s strong theme – the amount can vary depending on your game’s settings. However, in addition to those, you’ll also usually start with a few wild cards – some Strengths, and some Weaknesses.

These are how Storium handles the mechanical side of character development.

Wild Strength and Wild Weakness cards are Storium’s way of letting you develop your character and reveal new traits about them. When you pick one, Storium will ask you to title it and write a description for it, just as if you were creating custom cards during character creation. You can also select from other cards the narrator had as options for character creation, or from cards you’ve already played in the game.

Which should you do? Well, that’s up to you.

Early in the game, it’s probably best to either pick another card from the character creation list that seems to apply to your character, or write a custom card.

Picking another card from the list is pretty simple – just find one on the “Existing Cards” list and select it. Make sure to pick something that feels like it applies to your character – something that fits with your concept.

My preferred method, though? I prefer to write my own Wild Cards. Once you’ve started the game, you’re probably starting to develop your character’s identity and traits in your head. The other existing cards might apply, but I tend to find that only works for one additional card, two tops. To really reveal who my character is, I find it’s best to write up some custom cards.

It’s also lots of fun.

When you’re writing a new card, what you want is to aim for something that feels broad but still descriptive. Strengths and Weaknesses in Storium work best when they can apply to a wide variety of situations, but they still need to say something specific about your character. Not that you can’t use very specific facts from time to time, but overall, I find it easier to write things you can use again and again. For more on that, see the links below.

The other thing you want to do here is say something new about your character. Something that spins off of what we know about them, but that is different in some way from what we knew before. You’ll get the most fun out of Wild Cards if they differ from cards you’ve already played. They can be similar, but there should be differences. As an example, if your original Strength card was something like Brilliant, reflecting your ability to use intellect to find a way through your problems, maybe your new Strength might be something like Lateral Thinking, reflecting a particular and unusual strategy that allows you to find creative solutions, or Multitasking, reflecting your ability to split your brainpower to handle multiple tasks at once. They still relate to your intellect, but they tell you something new.

Now, it doesn’t have to be that direct of a link all the time, but it’s important to try to link Wild Cards to your character concept. You’re describing new elements of your character, but they shouldn’t (generally) feel like they come entirely out of nowhere. Build on what you’ve done so far or formalize traits you’ve hinted at in the past. There may be times where it’s appropriate to reveal a totally surprising character element, but done improperly, or especially done too often, it ends up just feeling like bad writing. So: Tell us something new about your character, but not something outlandish about your character. In general.

Late in the game, when you’ve already made a lot of wild cards, you may find it easier to start using the “Previously Used Cards” tab to select cards you’ve played earlier in the game. In the late game, you’ve already got a pretty decent list designed and it may be hard to think of new traits for your character. That’s when I find it handy to sometimes use this list and just bring another of my existing traits to the fore. In the early game, there’s just not enough on this tab and using it will stop you from adding new traits to your character – but in the late game, it can be very handy.

Whatever you do, you’ll then play that card just like any other card – write your move according to the traits you’ve revealed. Once you’ve written the card, there’s nothing particularly different about using it than using other cards.

At Refresh (more on that next week), any wild cards you’ve played will show up with their names and descriptions as options you can choose. This is how you can change your character’s primary, noted traits over the course of a game. A paladin who starts out with Toughness as his starting Strength may turn out to concentrate on Inspirational Leadership and Empathy by the end of the game – so Wild Cards don’t just let you reveal new things about yourself, they can ultimately let you change your character in accordance with the story.

For more on Wild Cards and writing Strengths and Weaknesses, see these articles: