Friday, November 02, 2012

Story Forge: My New Go-To GM Accessory

Earlier this year, I was an early and enthusiastic backer of the Story Forge Kickstarter. Aside from the DungeonMorph Dice (to which I contributed and from which I benefited), this is by far my favorite product to emerge from the new funding mechanism. Even before I had heard of StoryForge, I had been noodling with similar ideas of using playing cards or a Tarot deck as idea generators and possibly resolution mechanics for gaming. It just hadn't occurred to me to make new cards entirely. What I love about StoryForge as compared to a good Tarot deck is that the text of the StoryForge cards cut to the chase and describe a specific (yet generically applicable) gaming/writing element. There's no extra step of interpreting art or remembering the occult symbology of a particular Tarot card. I draw a card and I have an idea right away.

And I've been using these babies a lot lately. They've really been adding something to both game preparation and actual play. For example, here's how I prepared for my last session of Slaying Solomon (arguable the best episode we've had in a while):

I created a three-act structural outline of the episode and inserted questions like so:


  • Where/When Are We Now?
  • What Is Threatening?
  • Why Is He/She/It Threatening?
  • What's Going On With [PC name]?
  • What's the Villain's First Move?
  • What's a Likely End Point of the Teaser?

Act I

  • Where/When Are We Now?
  • What's the Essential Mystery?
  • What is [NPC name] doing?
  • What is the Expected Twist/Act Transition?

Act II

  • What Is [NPC name]'s Next Move?
  • What Is The Complication?
  • How is [NPC name] Involved?
  • What's the Twist?
  • What is the Expected Act Transition?


  • Where is the Final Confrontation?
  • What is the Villain's Weakness?
  • What is the Twist?
  • What is Expected to Conclude the Showdown?
  • What's the Surprise in the Epilogue?
To each of these questions I made a pull from the Story Forge deck. If another question presented itself, I'd pull again to answer that question. The key thing is that the whole process didn't take much time (a couple of lunch hours at work) and was enormously fun. It was fun because I didn't necessarily know what the answers would be (though I had a basic situation in mind). The results took me to places I was not expecting and it lead to a much more satisfying session.

Of course, in play, things often diverged greatly from the outline that I generated. But even then, I made draws from the Story Forge deck to come up with ideas during play. And even though the actual events of the session didn't match my notes (and it never does), the ideas that I came up with during preparation really drove the session.

I'll be using this method today/tonight as I prepare for tomorrow's Knights of the Astral Sea game.


Paul Thornton said...

i think I must have missed this one when it was finding... if you don't mind me asking, is it genre specific? I know fantasy is a popular setting within which to run games, but could the cards work for sci-fi etc.?

Tim Ballew said...

Oh yes, I've used it in a variety of genres. The cards are plot/literary concepts rather than specific genre elements. I also dig that there are suits/categories for an additional layer of meaning (Identity, Will, Emotion, Destiny, and Wealth/Materials).

Aos said...

I notice on the site that you can buy more than one deck at a time- is there a point to that?

Anyway, I have some gaming money I'm hell bent on spending before Tuesday. If nothing else comes up, I'll go with these. Thanks

Tim Ballew said...

@Aos: Your welcome. No point of extra sets except to have a spare or to give them as gifts. One set is more than sufficient.

Guy Hoyle said...

Very interesting! I just got my copy,and I think I'll try it out with Campbell's Hero's Journey (or rather, Vogel's Writer's Journey).

Tim Ballew said...

@Guy: Cool, I'll be curious to see if you find it as useful as me. I used my deck for my last two sessions and I'll be using it again this upcoming weekend.

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