I only found out about Storium 36 hours before the Kickstarter closed (yes, I have been living under a rock!), but since then I have dived right into this awesome storytelling / roleplaying platform. If you have no idea what I am talking about, go here and watch the video. I’m currently playing in two stories and narrating (GMing) two others and while I haven’t been involved with Storium for very long, I thought I would share some observations. I will likely go into more detail about what exactly Storium is and can do in a later post. Today I wanted to offer some tips for Storium narrators.
If you are familiar with roleplaying games then being a Storium narrator is much like being a games master. You set up a scene, present some challenges for the players to overcome, and wrap up the scene when it is done. Along the way you might describe the actions of some of the non-player characters but it is just as likely that the players will also do this as they describe their “moves”. Here are my initial thoughts on things you should keep in mind when narrating a story in Storium.
Write an evocative story description that gives the players a good understanding of the kind of story you want to play, and offers some “hooks” for character generation. It will help put everyone on the same page before you begin.
Decide how many players and how frequent your game play will be. Storium suggests up to 5 players, though you can play with many more. It’s a double edged sword, though. The more players you have the more responses / moves you will see, the bigger you can make challenges and the more scenes you might get through. The downside is that the less-frequent participants in your story will miss a lot of the action and spend a lot of time reading what has happened since they last logged on. That may not be fun for some players.
Give some advice when you send player invites. I’ve talked about tone or general theme in these invites. I have also given newer invitees a quick rundown on the kinds of roles already filled or facts already established in play. This will help to reduce revision requests. When asking for revisions make sure you are clear about why you are asking for changes but also be tactful – they might really like their character! It doesn’t hurt to also say which bits of the character you like or you feel is working.
Use the commentary bar to define play parameters. I have seen it used to decide if swearing was okay in a game; if there are topics players want to “draw a veil” on; whether you should wait for everyone to make a move before posting your next one; and even what tense everyone will write in. Have a conversation in the comment bar to see where everyone stands and come to an agreement about some of these topics. This may be more necessary when playing with strangers (or, as I like to call them, new friends!), but is just good practice to get into.
Don’t plan too far ahead. Set up a scene, present some challenges and see where the players take the story. Everyone is establishing the fiction in a Storium story, so if a player makes an unexpected move or establishes a fact that contradicts something you were planning to do (but hadn’t already established), consider just going along with it. That doesn’t mean you should let players run roughshod over everything, but if their move is creative and makes sense in the context of your game, go with it!
Use revision requests if needed. Related to the above, if a player does narrate something that doesn’t fit, or outright contradicts an established fact, send them a revision request. This will keep the flow of the story neat for everyone. Also, the revision requests are private, so if a player makes a mistake they can adjust it without drawing too much attention to it. Do be careful not to send too many revision requests though – players need to feel comfortable to contribute to the story you are working together to create.
Set challenges that prompt the players to fill in the blanks. Don’t write the entire story – pour on the heat and then ask the players what they are going to do about it. As a game master this is one of my favourite parts of the Storium system (and all collaborative storytelling games). I can present a cool problem but don’t necessarily have to come up with the solution.
Set challenges based on the player’s moves. If a player move suggests a new challenge, chuck it in! In a recent cyberpunk story I presented the characters with the need to escape the scene of a crime. The very first player move, however, raised a question about the motivations of the Corp Executive they were protecting so I added their desire to get some answers as a challenge. Sometimes you won’t want to add a new challenge to a scene, and sometimes you can’t because you’ve used all your points for the scene. For these cases I keep a blank note open on my computer and jot these ideas down so I can use them later.
Use the challenge card to help direct moves into interesting places. Every challenge card has a spot to describe what a strong and weak outcome will look like for that challenge. I love these! In that tiny bit of description you provide suggestions to the players about where their moves might lead the story. My favourite outcomes ask the players a question (“What does he tell you?”, “Where do you go?”) which encourages players to take more ownership of the story.
Choose how to spend your points. You have a certain number of points to “build” challenges each scene and players can only play a maximum of three of their remaining cards per scene. You don’t need to use all of your points in a scene to make it interesting. In fact, some of my most entertaining scenes have had very small challenges, but were filled with character interaction and moves that expanded on the plot. Using all the available points also means that every player has to play three cards and I have already had one game that was chugging along at a good pace grind to a halt because one player was not able to participate for a few days. Also, you might not use all of your available points at the start of scene so you have a few in “reserve” later if a move suggests a new challenge.
Check the player’s cards. Players cannot refresh their strength and weakness cards until they have played them all, so its worth checking what cards the group has left from time to time. You might find that they went out all gung-ho at the start of the story, resolving challenges with strong results and now mostly have weakness cards left. In such a situation you can set up scenes that play to these cards – what would be a cool scene or challenge if it’s resolved as “weak”? Likewise, if they have a lot of strength cards left, consider really upping the stakes if they choose to resolve a scene as “weak”! Another reason to regularly remind yourself of what cards players have left is to make sure you are establishing scenes that connect with the stuff the player is interested in. Check what their subplots are and introduce these ideas into scenes.
I love the commentary bar and use it a lot between player and narrator moves and between scenes. Here are some things I have used it for:
Tell players when they do something cool! In fact, I would love a “star” or “like” button on player (and narrator) moves so you can tell others when they write something awesome – a bit like “fan mail” in Primetime Adventures.
Ask the players what they think is the next logical step for their characters. While you might be establishing and ending scenes, everyone is contributing to the story so why not ask them what kinds of scenes they want to play out?
Problem solve with the other players. Sometimes things happen in a story that just through the plot on it’s head – use the commentary bar to figure out “What next?”.
Remind the players of their options. Particularly while we’re all still learning. For instance, I have reminded players that they can play more than one card in a move, and to consider how they word their wild cards as they can be used later in the story, too.
Engage in table talk. Just like a game session where we are all seated around the same table, we can use the commentary bar to discuss anything and everything that a group of people might talk about as they enjoy each others company!
Give additional information about a scene. I have written a scene description or narrator move and then used the commentary bar to indicate the purpose of the scene (“nice easy one so everybody can introduce themselves”); explain why something is happening (“this relates to Bill’s subplot”); or make something clearer (“I just put an asset on the table, but you don’t need to go for it”).
So, these you have it: my tips for Storium narrators. I am sure I will come up with more as I get in more games. What advice do you have for narrators?