Storium Theory: Choose Cards You Want to Play

This post originally appeared on Gaming Creatively on August 26th, 2016.

Spinning off of last week’s post a bit…let’s talk some more about choosing your character’s cards.

Storium, like some tabletop RPG systems, allows you to pick your character’s traits–in this case, in the form of four card types: Nature, Strength, Weakness, and Subplot.

Nature cards don’t actually get played–instead, they sort of guide your character concept. This article’s about the other three types.

Strengths. Weaknesses. Subplots. You’re going to be playing the cards you picked frequently over the course of the game.

So pick the cards you want to play.

Not the cards you’re willing to play. The cards you want to play.

Remember: in Storium, you are determining when your character suffers a Weakness, negatively impacting the situation at hand. You are determining when he uses his Strength, positively impacting the situation. You are determining when his Subplot comes to his mind, exploring the character’s story and revealing more about where it will go.

Thus, it’s important to pick traits that you actually want to show up in the story!

Let’s talk Weaknesses, first…that’s where this normally comes up for people, I think. Players pick a weakness that seems “logical” for their character concept…but it isn’t actually something they want to see. It’s just something that they’re, eh, sort of okay with coming up, or worse, something that just seems like what that sort of character might have. You know, they had to pick a Weakness, so they just picked that one and figured they’d be okay with it.

When you pick a card that way, you can become reluctant at best and opposed at worst to actually playing it.

That, I believe, is why some players have problems playing Weaknesses. They picked ones that felt like they should be part of the character…not ones they wanted to be part of the character.

If you design a warrior, for instance, and just feel like “Hot-Headed” is okay as a Weakness, you’re not going to be particularly enthused about playing it. You’ll slap it down when it seems like it won’t be a big deal, and have to force yourself to play it. You’ll start playing tactically, trying to avoid laying your Weakness down unless you or someone else can immediately brush it off. Eventually…you’ll resent having to play the card.

What’ll happen, then, when you’re out of Strengths?

If, on the other hand, you pick a Weakness you want to see, you’ll be happy to see it come into play. You’ll be interested in what it means for your character’s story, and what it means for the game. What if you thought more about that warrior, and you decided that while Hot-Headed was kind of standard for a warrior, what you’re really interested in portraying was a Self-Doubting one?

You’re interested in it…so you’ll play it. You want to see what happens when your warrior hesitates, believing he can’t defeat a foe. You want to see what happens when your warrior starts mentally beating himself up over his perception of his fighting ability. You want to see that…so you’ll play the card.

Not grudgingly. Not even just willingly. Enthusiastically.

Do you see? When you’re picking cards, you need to pick things that excite you. Pick things that make the character interesting for you.

Storium doesn’t let players play perfect characters, because perfect characters are boring. But that doesn’t mean you should just pick any Weakness, just to have one. It means you should take the time to think about what sort of Weakness intrigues you. What sort of Weakness will you enjoy writing? What will be fun to dive into?

Picture yourself writing for a challenge, and looking at your card list. What Weakness makes your eyes go wide and a smile come to your face? What Weakness is it that you look at with a grin, and say, “Yes! That should happen now!”

If you’re used to tabletop roleplaying games, it can kind of be tough to get yourself in this mindset. In a lot of those (not all, but a lot), you want your character to perform at his best as much as you can. But that’s about game challenge. Storium isn’t about game challenge. Storium is about stories.

And in stories, you want to write interesting characters. So…don’t try to make your character as perfect as possible. Try to make him as interesting as possible.

And this isn’t just about Weaknesses. It applies to Strengths, too! Pick Strengths that intrigue you, that are fun, that call out as something that you’ll love tossing down on challenges. Say you’re playing a warrior…but you think Strong as an Ox is kind of dull to write.

Well…don’t pick it, then. Pick something else. Maybe your warrior is Clever. Maybe he fights with his head and outwits his opponents. That’s fine! If you’re more interested in writing that, pick it!

Just as with Weaknesses, you don’t have to pick the Strength it “feels” like your character should have. Pick the Strength you want your character to have. Pick the Strength you want to write.

And with Subplots…pick the one you want to explore. Maybe “Defeat Evil” just seems too straightforward for you? Don’t pick it, then! Don’t make yourself take a card you aren’t going to want to play! Maybe your warrior isn’t about Defeating Evil. Maybe he’s about Finding Meaning in His Blade. Maybe he’s about learning that Life is More than Violence.

Pick something that you’re going to want to explore. Pick something that’s easy to throw down on a situation, that you love to think about, that you want to dig into. Not just something you can write. Something you want to write. Something you want to tie in to the events of the game, something you want to explore as the game changes your character’s perceptions of it.

It sounds easy…but this is a common mistake I’ve seen players make. If you pick cards that seem like you should have them, rather than the cards you want to have, you’re not going to be satisfied with them…and you’re not going to want to play them.

Think of the events you want your character to be involved in. Think of the themes you want to explore. What good traits interest you? What bad traits interest you?

Think of those things.

And choose those things.

You will have a much, much more entertaining time with Storium if you pick the cards you want to play.