Storium Theory: Refreshing Cards – “What’s Important Now?”

This post originally appeared on Gaming Creatively on February 11th, 2016.

“Great Ideas” is a category of posts on Gaming Creatively in which I cover some ideas I’ve found, mostly in gaming, which seem particularly noteworthy for one reason or another. Storium’s card refresh mechanic rated a post in that category.

Based on my latest Great Ideas post, you’d obviously know that I’m rather fond of Storium‘s card refresh mechanic–but the mechanical benefits of the approach aren’t the only reason.

No, the refresh is also another great way that Storium allows you to show changes that have come over your character over the course of the game’s story.

When you get the chance to refresh your cards, you’re asked to choose three Strengths and three Weaknesses out of all the ones you’ve played since your last refresh. At minimum, then–assuming no extra wild cards were earned due to completed goals or subplots–you’re choosing three Strengths from among four Strengths (and three Weaknesses from among four Weaknesses).

This is an opportunity to evaluate what is important to the portrayal of your character now.

Whenever you refresh, you’re presented with the opportunity to determine which of your character’s established traits is going to show up in the story next. At the start of the game, for instance, you begin with two copies of the same Strength card (same for Weaknesses). This obviously gives your character a particularly strong theme related to that Strength–that concept will show up multiple times before the next refresh.

But when you refresh…do you pick both copies of that card? Or only one? (Unless you have five or more Strengths to pick from due to goal / subplot completion, you’re going to have at least one copy.)

If you pick both copies, that card is still a heavy theme for your character. You’re going to once again see it multiple times before the next refresh. If you pick only one copy, though, that theme has decreased in importance for portraying your character. Now, other traits are rising in importance.

Say you pick that first card again only once. Now, when you get to the second refresh, you can pick that one card again…or you can remove it from your hand completely.

Picking the card again shows that your character is still tied to his initial focus–that’s still the grounding element, a central part of the character. But if you discard it…

If you discard it, something has changed. An essential element of your character, the thing that was his primary trait at the start of the game, is no longer going to be featured.

That’s a pretty big moment.

Consider what that might indicate. Perhaps the person tried to resolve all his problems in one way before–let’s say the Strength was “Forceful.” But now, he’s calmed and gotten wiser, and when you get to that second refresh, “Forceful” just doesn’t seem right anymore. So you discard it, keeping three other cards instead (wild Strengths you came up with over the game that showed his changing approach to situations).

You see? Pretty big moment. The guy who always rushed in headlong and succeeded by sheer bullheadedness is learning other ways to do things.

Same thing with Weaknesses. If you take both copies of your initial Weakness card when you refresh, you show that it remains a strong theme–that same thing that was a real trouble for the character earlier in the game remains strong now.

If you only take one copy, maybe he’s learning. He’s managed to distance himself from some of his earlier troubles. Or, maybe the problem is evolving–those other wild Weaknesses you took instead might be further developments on his original issue.

And when that second refresh comes up, do you keep the original Weakness around? Or do you toss it? What does it mean?

It isn’t just about the originals, of course. The wild cards you’ve come up with deserve some thought too. Was this wild Strength more situational? More of a one-shot? Or is it a new theme you’ve established with the character, something that should come up again and again? Was that wild Weakness a momentary failing, or a new development that will come back to trouble the character?

The refresh system gives you back your spent narrative power…but it also helps define your character and guide it into the next stage of its development. It’s worth taking a little time to think about what you want to be emphasized in the character’s story going forward. Sometimes it’s appropriate to keep the original themes around. Sometimes, they need to change. Here’s where you’re making that decision.

What’s important now?