Storium Theory: Finishing a Challenge – Uncertain Results (Player Role)

This post originally appeared on Gaming Creatively on May 17th, 2016.

Well, here we are–part three of my series on finishing a challenge. I’ve discussed Strong and Weak outcomes during the previous articles in this series…but now, it’s time to discuss Uncertain outcomes.

Uncertain outcomes are different than Strong and Weak outcomes. Uncertain outcomes are where the narrator has the narrative power, rather than the players…but there’s still a role for the players here, and that’s what I’m going to discuss today.

I want to preface this by saying that this is about the default Storium system. Some narrators handle Uncertain outcomes differently–some, for instance, will provide an Uncertain outcome text like the Strong/Weak ones, putting it in the comments or narration or some such, and expect players to write based on that. Others will just tell players to do something kind of between the Strong and Weak results and leave it at that. I’m not discussing the relative merits of those approaches at the moment–that may be for another time.

But the default treatment of Uncertain outcomes in Storium is this: When an Uncertain outcome comes up, players do not write the end of the challenge. Instead, they write their character’s actions, and leave the ending open.

That makes writing a final move for a challenge that is ending Uncertain a little different from writing for one ending Strong or Weak.

Now, some parts of the previous articles still apply. You should still write based on the scene so far, involve the other players, and play to your cards. I’ve been over those in the previous articles, and I think I’ve covered them enough for now, so let’s move to what’s unique about Uncertain outcomes.

For Uncertain outcomes, rather than writing based on the results text, you leave the outcome unsaid.

What does that mean?

When you leave the outcome unsaid, that means that you don’t include the things specified in the Strong or Weak outcome in your move.

If a Strong outcome means driving the enemy army away and a Weak means being surrounded, then at the end of your move you leave the question of whether you’ve driven the enemy army away open. If a Strong outcome means breaking into a building quietly and a Weak one means breaking it but setting off the alarms, you end your move at the point of entry. If a Strong outcome means inspiring the civilians and a Weak one means depressing them, you leave the crowd’s final mood vague.

You might say that you show your actions, but not the results…but I don’t think that’s quite it. You can still show the results of your actions…but in the same way you would during any move in the challenge. In a normal move in a big battle, a Strong card might mean you kill a few soldiers or strike down an enemy champion, or a Weak card might mean you get caught in an ambush or are knocked aside by a massive ogre. They can still mean that. They should still mean that.

You can still show the moment-by-moment results of your actions…just not the accumulated results of everyone’s actions. That’s for the narrator to do on an Uncertain result.

It’s not exactly this, but…it may be best to look at it like this, if you have trouble: treat a final move that leads to an Uncertain result like it is just another move on the challenge.

That is, pretend to yourself that there’s still a pip left on the challenge. In every way, write your move like there’s still a pip left. Pretend you’re leaving the situation open for another player to resolve.

You are.

It’s just that the player is the narrator.

If you do that, I think you’ll strike the right balance.

The trick with an Uncertain result is to pretend there’s a single pip left, and another player has asked to have it. You want to write things right up to the ending, without actually showing it. You want to leave everyone with the impression that the next moments, or the next major action taken on the challenge, will finish it.

It will.

It just comes from the narrator.

It doesn’t sound that hard, and really…it isn’t. But I’ve noticed that players on Storium will often be a little uncomfortable about Uncertain results. They’ll either take too much power–actually writing a solid ending–or they’ll take too little–not even showing the results of their actions that they’d normally show on any other move they make.

Just treat an Uncertain result as a late-challenge move that doesn’t quite finish things up. You can still play to your cards, still make an impact, still tell the story of the challenge and of your character. You just don’t quite finish it. That’s all.

You’re being asked whether A or B happens, and your response isn’t C…it’s “let’s see.”

And hey! When you’re leaving things open…leave things open. Throw the narrator a bone! Give him things to work with, just like you should for your fellow players on moves in the middle of the challenge. Make his life easier. Leave some toys in the sandbox for him.

Basically…treat the narrator like he’s the next player to play on the challenge. That’s all you need to do.

If you do that, I think you’ll end up feeling better about writing Uncertain results–you’ll be a happier player, and you’ll have a happier narrator.