Storium Theory: Story Scope

Hello, everyone. I’m Robert Mohr, @Matjaza on Storium, and blogger at Gaming Creatively, where I discuss tabletop RPGs, character creation in video games, 3d art tools, and most recently and extensively, Storium. I’ve started posting articles on things I’ve learned over the course of my time as a Storium player and narrator in hopes of helping other players and narrators.

I’ve been asked to start cross-posting the Storium content here, and I’ll be doing so on a regular basis. I’ll be posting three times a week starting out until this content is caught up with my blog, and then I will start posting things one day after they appear on Gaming Creatively.

These posts are my own views and do not necessarily reflect the reviews of the Storium Arc podcast members. There are many ways to play Storium–these are just the things I, personally, have found to help.

All right–introduction over, on to the first post!

This post originally appeared on Gaming Creatively on 11/11/2015.

One of the most important tasks for a narrator, which begins before the game even starts, is managing the story’s scope. Just how much is going to happen? How many different plot threads are going to start up? How many lands are there to explore?

It can be tempting to think of Storium like an RPG campaign. Plant a ton of threads, knowing that you’ll explore them all with time, and the game will go on and on in adventure after adventure. But that’s not what Storium handles best, from what I’ve found.

  • Storium games aren’t RPG campaigns–they’re RPG adventures.
  • Storium games aren’t TV shows–they’re movies, or miniseries.
  • Storium games aren’t comic book series–they’re graphic novels.
  • Storium games aren’t short story collections–they’re novels.

The central point is that Storium games best handle a pretty focused story. Successful games set up a situation to be resolved, and end when that situation is resolved. They maintain good focus on that destination and don’t go off on tangents.

That isn’t to say you can’t have subplots (indeed, subplots are one of the main card types in Storium, and should be used and explored). The point is that you should be thinking of the game as all one story, working together, with a beginning and an end–not as a bunch of separate plots that all have starting and stopping points. Tell a single tale, with a single main plot, and when that plot is resolved, bring the game to a close.

Storium‘s “Story Formats” are a wonderful aid in this, by the way. They’re a pretty simple little system, but they really do seem to help keep you focused and remind you where you are in your tale.

But if you want to tell a larger, more complex story, then…what do you do?

That’s why movies have sequels.

Treat a longer Storium concept, one that you know needs to have multiple adventures, as a movie trilogy or novel series. Set up a game, and make sure that game has a definitive central plot, with a clear beginning and ending. But at the same time, put in place themes that the overall trilogy or series can explore. Leave the suggestion of more to come, but make sure the game’s individual plot threads are resolved.

Look at Star Wars. At the end of A New Hope, Darth Vader is still around, the Empire is still around, and the war will go on. That’s clear. But at the same time, the movie has a strong resolution of its own–the Death Star has been bested, and the momentum of the war feels like it is turning to the side of the Rebel Alliance. If you only ever watched the first Star Wars film, you could still feel like you got a complete story…but you’d also know there was the opening for many more things that could come.

That’s one way you can do it. Picture your first game as the start of a trilogy. Plan out a larger story, but give it three natural beginning and ending points. Make your players and readers feel satisfied with the first story as its own tale. Then, start a sequel game (Same cast? Different cast? See how it goes!) and further explore the underlying currents of the tale, like The Empire Strikes Back does–bringing more details to the Jedi Order and expanding the Vader and Luke plot.

Each game builds on those prior, and feels like a continuing plot–but each is also a separate game.

Another way to do it? You can always take the Indiana Jones model instead. The same themes, perhaps the same characters, but adventures that are pretty much independent. If you don’t have a huge epic that you want to produce, but you just want to have a lot of adventures with the group you’ve set up, that’s the way.

Build each game around a single adventure, with a clear ending. Then, for a new adventure, start up another game.

This methodology helps stories remain focused, which helps stories avoid fizzling out…but still allows you to have as many adventures and as long an epic tale as you want.

2 Comments

  1. Justin Hall
    Apr 1, 2016

    Great thoughts. I think if more people thought this way, there would be more completed Storium games. A lot of narrators take on too much. IF they would just narrow the focus, they could learn how to nurture a story to completion. That said, once you learn to tell a focused story, you can then pull back the lens, and start telling broader more complex stories.

    Storium can handle a TV series type game. The narrator just has to treat each chapter arc as an episode. Within that chapter should be a small three act structure. Act 1 identify the problem. Act two Fight the problem and find out how to fix the problem. Act three fix the problem. This is just truncated into three to seven scenes. Each chapter also needs to be contributing to a larger arc. The first couple chapters is identifying the threat. The middle chapters is again fighting the threat and realizing how big it is. The last couple chapters is putting an end to the threat.

    This is very difficult to do. Even for experienced narrators. It is less about good writing, and more about identifying and cultivating plot threads. One can’t have a definite villain or problem, but should go in with a theme. Corporate corruption, who can you trust, or rising tension. This is how DAO works. I know human/non human relations is the main theme for season two. How this will all play out is still up in the air, but as each chapter plays out, the end becomes more in focus. It’s a little like the opposite of foreshadowing.

    • Robert Mohr
      Apr 4, 2016

      Yeah, that’s pretty much my thought. You can always decide to expand your approach later on in your narrating “career,” as it were, and do some huge epic plot. But…don’t *start* with that.

      I advise new narrators to take on smaller, more focused stories at first. Pick one plot and tell it to completion. Get a game or two under your belt that way, and then if you feel like you can, you can start exploring ways to expand your plots.

      On the note of expansion, your “Safe Haven Games” was a great example of the approach that you’re talking about with the “TV Series” concept, I think. You told multiple shorter stories inside a longer larger story, but the whole thing still felt of reasonable length. Each segment felt like an episode of a TV show, and felt nicely explored, but they didn’t feel *huge*.

      I think the problem a lot of narrators run into is that they try to do this big multi-arc story but make each arc as large as a full *game* on its own, and that can just become a real drain on players (not to mention that it can get *really* hard to go back and reference earlier scenes).

      If you want to do multiple arcs in the same “campaign” and have them all be big, I’d suggest doing them as multiple games as I suggest above. If you can tell shorter, more concise arcs (that still feel fun), the “Safe Haven Games” approach is a good model.