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fulldamage avatar 12:56 AM on 08.06.2014  (server time)
Open World, Opener World, Openest World

So, raise your hand if any of the following terms remind you of a time in your life:
* Play by Post
* Chat RP

Okay, I count a few hands up… and a few blank stares… and a bit of drool… right, then. Those of you who kind of glazed over are welcome to just go ahead and take a nap, or exit out the back, and have a lovely, practical, socially well-adjusted day.

Those of you who are still with me, hi! How you been? We have some stuff in common, probably.

Back when I was a Jr. High rugrat, my few friends and I spent all this time creating character ideas. Like, not for a game, not even with a plan in mind at first. Just for its own sake, because we liked inventing awesome heroes, mostly based on the format of those Marvel Universe superhero encyclopedias. In addition to the universes full of teams we created, we'd each base one character on ourselves. But when we had a field trip bus ride to kill, or it was a slow day at lunch or in study hall, then we'd have our GM "run us on an adventure."

fulldamage possesses the normal strength level for a creature his height, age, and build who engages in reluctant regular exercise

There were not really any rules to this thing, you understand. The character sheets were in our heads, and there weren't any dungeon maps. This was pure freeform. The GM came up with something to throw at us, we'd come up with a way to handle it. You'd think a bunch of kids would be just power-gaming - and we did, a little. But we also quickly learned to work with the GM to create actual drama, which was much more interesting. It got good. People's characters got killed, formed alliances, and underwent permanent changes and transfigurations in the course of these adventures. After the dust settled we'd write the results down in their character histories.

Eventually we started playing tabletop games. Years later I would get into online RP, which made me friends that have become a major part of my life in the real world. Bottom line, at the end of the day I have always been all about Making Some Shit Up with friends, and seeing where that might take us.

So maybe you could see why something like Storium would appeal.

In a way, having the freedom to come up with anything you want can indeed be a daunting limitation for a player. What if a good idea doesn't happen? What if you put something out there, and it sounds stupid and its embarrassing? What if everyone else sucks and makes it awkward? What if you get stuck?

Rules are what make a game, and near-total freedom can be paralyzing. It's not for everyone.

But if you like to write or even just like stories a lot, and if you've never tried collaborative writing before - I think you should give Storium a shot, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it works different muscles than you're used to. This is improv or freestyle, it requires you to just let go of the need to make a perfect masterpiece, and just riff with everyone else, as the spirit moves you. Sometimes it won't be great. And sometimes it will surprise you by being better than anything you would ever come up with on your own.

You can absolutely be as cool as this guy. I wouldn't shit you.

Secondly, it's good practice. Especially if you get a group going that works well together, because you'll want to dazzle them just as much as you want to BE dazzled by their ability, and each post is another opportunity to make that happen. Over time, you can get a lot of writing done this way, and the more you write, the better you get.

Thirdly - it's fun. That's the main thing.  Probably should have led with that. Cut me some slack. This is jazz, man.

You probably want to know a little more about how it works. Well, the mechanics are simple enough. You have a narrator, who runs the story, and a bunch of players. The narrator sets up scenes.  In each scene is one or more obstacles to overcome. 

Players take turns writing parts of the scene to describe what is happening with a focus on their character. There's no turn structure - you go whenever you feel moved to do so. Each character has a set of cards representing a set of character attributes - Strengths, Weaknesses, Nature, and Subplots among them. In order to actually overcome obstacles, a character has to play a card.  The cards form a limit on the amount of effective things that you can do to overcome the obstacle.

To be clear, there are no dice or randomness involved. The cards are there to represent plot devices; they can be anything. Maybe the obstacle you are trying to overcome is a Wall of Thorns, or maybe it is an Awkward Silence that has occurred after a moment of high drama. Maybe your best tool for the job is actually a personal weakness like Indigestion or Kleptomania. You can accumulate tools and strengths in a way that simulates leveling up, or maybe you're creating the tale of someone spinning increasingly out of control into failure. What you do and how you do it is entirely up to you and the narrator.

On a pure craft level, this is an elegant system in that it mimics the recipe for keeping a story on the rails. You need to have a character with a goal or desire, they need to face obstacles and overcome those obstacles with the tools at their disposal in order to resolve their need or their goal, and come away from the experience changed. That is the core of any story, and the fact that the mechanics require each player to focus on these things makes it harder to wander off on a tangent, and easier to end a scene in a way that actually feels solid.

It's not without weaknesses, and it's still in beta. For writers that already enjoy collaborating together, the rules may feel almost needless - it's possible to ignore quite a number of game mechanics if you're comfortable just writing together and trust each other's instincts. (The narrator is allowed to call for a revision of any submitted piece anyway, and everyone can discuss things in the Comments section that lives on every page; comments will send out an email alert to all players involved.) On the other hand, there seems to be some room for more competitive play - if you have a group that prefers to be a bit at odds with one another, creating gain for one player character at the expense of another player character, then you may want to take the rules and outcomes more seriously. But really it's all down to what the narrator decides to let you get away with - there's no automated system in place that can possibly prevent anyone from being hammy, or mean, or typing too much, or a hundred other annoying things.  It's up to you to make the magic work.

If you'd told me this sort of thing would ever be a popular concept, I would have given you my best skeptical face. But Storium has done really well for itself so far. The game is evolving, and there are a bunch of new features and preset worlds still coming online. Go investigate, and let me know what you think.

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