Storium Theory: Only Natural

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

I’ve spent quite a lot of time on this blog on Strength cards, Weakness cards, and Subplot cards. I haven’t spent all that much time, though…if any…on the other card type that players pick out at character creation: Nature.

So, let’s talk Natures. Specifically, I want to focus on writing your own Nature card during character creation. What is a Nature card all about? What should you do if you’re creating your own for your own character?

A Nature card is your “at a glance” statement of just what, exactly, the character is. It’s the broad strokes of the character, the central concept that defines them. In many ways, it is the single most important card you hold. You never, ever play it in the game, but it should guide every single thing that you do.

If you’re familiar with tabletop roleplaying, a Nature card is similar to your class in some regards. It defines what people should expect from your character overall. Now, Storium Natures are nowhere near as defined and spelled out as classes in some tabletop RPGs, but the purpose, in terms of expectations, is similar: They tell the narrator and other players what sorts of things they should probably expect your character to be doing over the course of the game.

It’s pretty understandable in that regard, right? If you’re a Warrior, people expect you to fight. If you’re a Thief, people expect you to sneak around and steal. Combined with your starting Strength, Weakness, and Subplot, a person can get a quick at-a-glance look at what makes your character tick.

But that’s not all a Nature card can be. The default natures are often by necessity pretty broad, right? You get things like Warrior, or Paladin, or Wizard. They’re broad, easily applied to a variety of characters. They suggest a little about what the character is, but really defining the specifics are left to the description and the other cards.

And that’s fine, for the Nature cards built into a world or game to begin with. But again, that’s not all a Nature can be.

When you’re writing a custom Nature card during character creation, go deeper. More specific. Make your character’s Nature.

When you’re creating your own Nature card while you’re creating a character, you aren’t making something anyone else is going to have to use. You’re not making something that has to be applicable to lots of different characters. You’re making something that applies to your character, and your character alone.

Your custom Nature card, then, can be more openly about your specific character. It can say things that only apply to your character. It can spell out more details about their specific variant on an overall concept, or tell how they’re entirely unique among the characters.

And in doing so, it can give a much, much stronger “at-a-glance” understanding of the character.

Here’s some examples:

  • You might explain more of a character’s story or highlight the most important element of it:
    • A character isn’t just the Chosen of a Time God, he’s the Displaced Chosen of a Time God, highlighting the fact that his personal tale is all about being displaced in time.
    • A character isn’t just a Sorcerer, he’s a Cursed Sorcerer, and the card text even notes that he was cursed for arrogantly challenging a person he shouldn’t have.
  • You might establish that you’re something different or unique, and explain the concept in more detail:
    • You’re an Experimental Computer, and because that concept is not exactly a normal one for the world, you take the time to spell out a basic form of your origin and what sort of things you might be expected to do.
    • You’re a Commune Kid, and you take some time to spell out that that means you’ve been raised with great freedom, but a general lack of restraint.
  • You might highlight something about your abilities that makes you a more focused or unusual variant on something expected:
    • You’re not a Wizard, you’re a Wizard of the Flame, focused entirely on fire and heat magics.
    • You’re not a Warrior, you’re a Bladedancer, an agile and graceful fighter for whom battle and blades are sacred and beautiful.

If you’re writing a custom Nature, take a little time with it to make it something different. There’s a reason you haven’t picked one of the existing nature cards – so take the time here to make your custom Nature something particularly interesting, or to tie it directly to what makes your character unique or separate from others that are of a similar type. Or, heck, make up something entirely new (appropriate to the game, of course)!

For names…use more than one word, or at least an unusual and evocative single word. Give your nature a name that immediately calls to mind some traits or a mental picture of what this sort of character could be. Your Nature card’s name should immediately give a feel for what your character is about.

For the text on the card, take a little time to spell things out in a bit more detail than the regular nature cards do. The regular nature cards are intended to be fairly generic in most cases, so they don’t need to go into heavy amounts of detail. People understand what a Wizard is, or what a Warrior is, or what a Thief is. In the more unusual genres, there may be some more detail and thematic content, but overall, an included Nature card is pretty basic.

Don’t be basic.

You don’t need to spell out every detail of your character here, obviously. You don’t need to go into much detail. But explain what the Nature is. What makes it interesting? What ties it in to the story and world? What sort of things is it expected to do? What sort of things might be expected to give it trouble?

Again, don’t list everything…but give a general understanding. When you define a custom Nature well, you give a narrator a great, quick picture of how you’re going to interact with the story…and you also make it much, much easier to use the Nature yourself for later inspiration! Believe me, six months in to a Storium game, it can be a little tough to remember just what you were getting at when you made the character half a year before…it helps to have taken the time to spell it out a bit.

Custom Natures are more art than science, but they are loads of fun if you take a little time on them. They’re some of my favorite things to create when making my character in a game. Sometimes I’ll start with one, sometimes I’ll come back to it once the character is done, but it’s fun just thinking of a way to “sum up” what a character is about, and it continues to help me as I go through the game and think about what, exactly, my character should be doing or how they should be doing it. So take some time, have some fun with it, and get creative – you’ll find you have a fuller-feeling character, one that feels vibrant and interesting, and one that you can play more easily as you go through the game.