Episode 65 - The Story Engine with Peter Chiykowski
Play • 1 hr 2 min

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Mentioned in this episode:

The Dancing Plague of 1518

MICE quotient

The House of Untold Stories 

storyenginedeck.com/demo

deckofworlds.com

Peter on Twitter and everywhere

 

Transcript (by Rekka, uncaught mistakes by Temi)

 

[Upbeat Ukulele Intro Music] Rekka:

This is We Make Books, a podcast about writing publishing and everything in between. Rekka is a published Science Fiction and Fantasy author, and Kaelyn is a professional genre fiction editor. Together, they'll tackle the things you never knew you never knew about getting a book from concept to finished product, with explanations, examples, and a lot of laughter. Get your moleskin notebook ready. It's time for We Make Books.

 

Rekka:

Peter, I'm going to have you introduce yourself—because I completely failed to have you pronounce your name for me before we started recording—and tell us how you came to stories.

 

Peter:

Yeah. so my name is Peter Chiykowski, or at least that's how I say it. And I write, I illustrate I do some graphic design. I've designed some creative tools for writers and artists and storytellers. And I do create content for tabletop RPGs. And I write songs as well—Um mostly like comedy styled songs. But I do, I do a bunch of things creatively. And I would say that story has been a very big link between them. And definitely one of my passion areas is looking at how different creative disciplines and different like creative techniques and skillsets can combine to create story in different ways or to tell stories in different ways. Or even if like you're not doing something multimedia and you're only working in your one medium, how learning from other mediums gives you more tools for telling stories.

 

Peter:

And I always find that really exciting. But yeah, I think like my, before I was writing anything as a kid, I loved role-playing games. I remember there was this sort of very improvised six-sided die-based game that my friends and I would play in at recess in like grade three that was, there were no rules written down. I don't think it was based on anything, but I do think that we, one of our dads had played D&D and had somehow rubbed off the concept of like rolling dice to tell a story and telling a story collectively. And there was no table top because we were not at a table. We were like out on the playground at recess, but we would like bowl these dice across the entire playground and then run and see what the number was and the story would evolve from there.

 

Peter:

And it was all kinds of silly fantasy adventure stuff. That's the first time that I remember like really getting hooked into telling the story and getting excited about collaborative storytelling. And then it's all been downhill from there. Once, once, once tabletop roleplay gets its hooks into you you, you get, yeah, you look for any avenue to tell stories. So I've done everything from like poetry to short fiction. I've written campaigns for tabletop RPGs, like Ember Wind. I wrote a bunch of poems for a video game. That's now unintended switch called Fracter. We were trying to tell story, but also give clues for solving puzzles in this like existential platform or game, called Fracter. And I've just kind of loved playing in the story space and finding different ways to tell stories. Yeah, and that's kind of the weird mixed bag of experiences that I, I come to story with, but it's such a, such a passion area for me.

 

Rekka:

It does seem like you're absolutely perfect for the topic that we're going to talk about today. You're the perfect person to put this together, and that is the Story Engine, which is almost a role-playing game, almost a multiplayer game.

 

Kaelyn:

I was trying to describe this to somebody recently and I couldn't. So maybe you can.

 

Rekka:

Yeah, well, let's, you're the perfect person because you've probably seen all the marketing. If you didn't create it all yourself for the Story Engine, what is it? And how did you conceive of it? Like, did it come out of a need or did it come out of a like 10 minute space of time where you weren't actually doing something else? Cause it sounds like you're as busy as we are.

 

Peter:

Yeah. Yeah. I definitely wear too many creative hats and I jump from project to project, but Story Engine was something that was definitely, it was definitely filling a need that I had. I write a lot of micro fiction. Like one of my more consistent projects I've worked on is called the shortest story and it's basically, I call them postcard stories. They're stories that fit on postcards. And I actually format them in like a, as like a four by six style postcard, but it's text over an image. And it's meant to be like a little pocket universe that you, you read something from, or like a, a story that's almost an alternate life or a path you never took in your own life. That's that your you get to read. So I called them like post "postcards from alternate worlds" or "postcards from impossible worlds" is kind of like the tagline for that project. And what I was finding, I used to write longer fiction. I used to write poetry and longer fiction and submit to journals. And when I was really getting into the grind of like trying to become a creative full-time and I was working a full-time job, and then also trying to do comics on the side and publishing there was just like, I, it was so hard to maintain enough energy and to find inspiration. And there was so much pressure on the rare pockets of creative time that I would find that I'd often block myself out from creating by feeling like I'd have to optimize this hour and a half I have before work. There's so much pressure cause like maybe I won't have time for another week and I would freak myself out by, by putting that pressure on it.

 

Peter:

And it took a lot of joy out of the creative process. And I found that I was having less and less time to create longer projects as a result, like even long short fiction, like anything longer than a thousand words. So I started creating micro fiction. And this was amazing for me because it meant that I could like pick up a project or pick something up and put it down an hour and a half later and feel like I've created something that stands on its own. That's like a contained creative ecosystem. And that I feel good about it and I can share that with people. And what I found is that I was getting a lot of the ideas from, for stories, from a combination of looking up like publicly available free-for-use photography.

 

Peter:

So I would, I would see an image and the image would start something in my head. And then sometimes it wouldn't be the image. It would be like, I'd have a sense of a conflict coming in as a story seed in my head that like, oh, I want to have a story about somebody who has to choose between like a friend and like a dream that matters to them. And that would be kind of the story seed or it would sometimes cement like the idea of a particular character. Like I'd love to do a story from the perspective of like an entomologist, like suddenly all of an entomologist in my head. So I was paying attention to what was inspiring a lot of these stories seeds in where a lot of the stories were coming from and trying to think like, well, how can I create a tool that would help other people find stories, seeds, or build their own stories, seeds from the parts that speak to them?

 

Peter:

And that's when I started playing with the idea of a story prompting deck and, you know, it's not the first story prompting deck. There's, there's many of these tools out there and people create them in different ways. But I wanted to create something that was really open-ended because I find that with a lot of writing prompts, they're really interesting, but sometimes the prompt is so closed as a system, but it doesn't really give you room to create your own idea. It's just kind of there to see, like, what's your take on this? And that's great, but it's hard to generate a lot of, like, it's hard for those ideas to be reusable. If the card has a really closed system where like the only thing you can do with it is this. Then once you've gone through 60 cards, the deck is is not obsolete, but like you've tapped it out.

 

Peter:

And that's like, great from a marketing perspective, because then you can sell someone the next deck, but I really wanted to create something that was like, you could just keep using it forever. And the creative force behind it was not the idea of putting the cards, but using the cards as a space for someone to create their own idea or bring their own idea to the spread. So from there, it was basically like mixing a bunch of different influences to create a tool that would do this. So like, it was a huge inspiration from tarot. You know, this is a system of cards it's been used for hundreds of years to understand and analyze patterns and have people tell their story or understand their lives in ways that make sense. And that are like interpretable and re interpretable that you can rotate to create new meanings.

 

Peter:

And like all of that went into the deck. Some of it was borrowed consciously from tarot and some of it was like I realized afterwards, I, oh, that's basically what tarot does. Like the fact that you can combine the cards in different spreads and patterns is like, it was very consciously tarot inspired. And then the other like influence that I like to acknowledge it that I think was really big is basically this one sentence from a Canadian novelist who wrote a lot about story and what a story and Douglas Glover wrote in a book called the enamored night that a story consists of someone wanting something and having trouble getting it. And that's such a simple sentence and I don't, I don't generally like, like reductive definitions of this is what a story is, and this is under, this is what this counts as writing and this doesn't that's, those definitions are often very artificial, but I do think that's one really helpful tool for understanding the anatomy of story and how you can combine these parts and, and slot different things in for who the someone is and what they want and what the trouble is.

 

Peter:

And if you look at the Story Engine deck, a lot of the w five card types map against the elements in those sentence and that sentence where like the, someone is the agent card, it's that your character and the wanting is the engine card. It's the thing that motivates them. The something that they want is the anchor, usually an anchor card or another agent card. And then the trouble is the conflict card. And then the aspect cards are there to, to layer more detailed or make the story feel like more like your own. So that was kinda the other influence that, that came together to make this tool. But it's, it's hard to explain what it is cause it's very, like, it is a story prompting system, but it's very, open-ended like, you can play it like it's an RPG. You can use it as inspiration for a solo RPG. You can use it to just create character ideas. You can use it to create art prompts. Like it's, it's hard to market a multi-tool because you kind of need to tell people like a simple story about what it's going to do for them.

 

Kaelyn:

But you did a great job marketing it because this was on Kickstarter and oh boy, did you hit your goal there!

 

Peter:

Yeah. This, this Kickstarter took off in a much bigger way than I had anticipated. I launched it in, I think September, 2019, and I was blown away by how fast it took off. And I had thought at the time that I was launching like a new collection of my stories and then also, "Hey, this cool tool that went into creating a lot of these stories and that might help you." And very quickly it became like, okay, there's a book there. That's just going to be an add on the main thing was like, people were really interested in the deck and what it could do.

 

Kaelyn:

And do you have how many booster packs now at this point? 6?

 

Peter:

Yeah. So the, the, the core deck that, that, that launched off that Kickstarter was one main deck, three expansions and six boosters. So that way people can like dabble with different genres and they can kind of almost make their own like genre cocktails by combining different elements from different genres. And then the latest Kickstarter for my world building deck, the Deck of Worlds that that's introducing three new expansions for the Story Engine and six new boosters for the Story Engine, so that's going to be 12 and six. And the main deck ended up a bunch of expansions for the world building deck. So there's a lot of cards.

 

Kaelyn:

That is, yeah, that is a lot. Wow. That's awesome.

 

Peter:

What I tried to do with both those systems is make them so that it's like, it's about how you layer the cards. Like I think the, just the main deck, that main Story Engine deck has 32 billion possible permutations, just, just including the main deck, just in the simple prompt format where you have the five, one of each card of the five cards laid out in a certain order. And so like the extra stuff there in case you want to bring in genre elements, or you want more to work with, but like, I tried to make a system where if you just want the core deck that's gonna like, that should do you for, for, for decades of story ideas, if you personally exhaust all of the possible combinations in your deck in your lifetime, you know, I, I will personally come and bring you an expansion.

 

Rekka:

Challenge accepted. Well, I happen to have a base Story Engine deck with me, and I was looking through it and looking through the instruction booklet and you're right. Like, there are so many ways that you could do a story with this, lay them out. You were talking about like the tarot arrangements. It's very much like that. The direction that you read your cards in, the way that you layer them, the orientation of them, turning them so that they fit your story more. But I also really appreciate how much of the instruction booklet is, like "throw out whatever is holding you back." And they're also very broad. Like I realized like a science fiction writer and a romance writer could get the same spread and write two very different books. You know, and obviously that was your intention, but it really does open it up rather than close it down.

 

Rekka:

Like, you know, you hear the story prompt, like, "oh, if you're stuck, make something explode." Well, it, explosion is a very specific thing, but yours might be something like, you know, a possessed assassin walks in kind of thing. Like, and that works in any genre. I mean, like, you know, there's no specificity to these cards, it's that our brains do all the work of figuring out what that means for the way we write, the way we write stories, or the specific story we're talking about. What was the process of narrowing down something that you felt confident enough in to print? Because that's a scary thing for me as a graphic designer also, like when it's time to actually print the thing, you're like, okay, that means no more revisions, you know. How'd you get to that point?

 

Peter:

Yeah. So I eased myself into it a few ways and I definitely had had help and input. I I had a brain trust that I was emailing with questions usually with more specific focused questions around like like the name for the agent deck versus it could have been called the character deck or like "what are your thoughts and how these come together?" But there were a few people who I handed early prototypes to, and just like, didn't tell them what it was and asked them to just play with it and see what came out and then got their feedback. And then within the specific questions. And definitely I got some really, really helpful feedback, like the entire system of using... When I first conceived it. I only had in mind that basic spread the story seed. That's just like basically the first page of the the guide book now.

 

Peter:

And it was my friend Cintain, who's done a lot of tarot reading. And who's also a writer who looked at it and said actually this was we were, at the time we were doing like a Skype call or a video call. So I had the deck and he would tell me what to do with it. And he said, "okay, I want you to tell me this card and then this card, and then this type of card and this, and then do the same thing backwards." And he created what is pretty close to now, the circle of fate format. And he's like, "I want to, like, when you give me those cards, I want to play, play with it and like create different spreads and directions." And this is like, you know, tarot, once you get to advanced tarot, creating different styles of spreads can be its own art.

 

Peter:

And that really blew my mind. And that really opened up like a huge amount of functionality in the deck because it was both like getting to create these different pre-packaged spreads that people could use and then also just trying to teach people to treat the deck as a system where like once you've learned the spreads, what I've really done is kind of given you the basic building blocks for creating your own spreads and patterns. And that's helpful not only because it gets you more use out of the deck, but it also helps you realize that story itself is malleable. Story itself is modular. You can always out a character in switch in a different character and see how that changes the particular resonances of their struggle. Or you can transfer a character's motivation from one object or character to another, and that creates a change in the story or a shift in the story. How all of these elements are things you can play with and have fun. And I think that the reason that it really helps dismantle a lot of what I, you know, we all have theories about what writer's block is and if it's real, what it, whatever it is, it definitely there - people get stuck.

 

Kaelyn:

It's, it's real. What it's a function of, I can't say, but it is real.

 

Peter:

Yeah. And I think people come at writer's block for different reasons and, and can solve it in different ways. But I think that one of the things that helps about this tool is that A, it brings a sense of play back to writing and to story development. And B it helps you make choices that, you know, you can undo. Okay. Cause sometimes the hard part, the, the, where you get locked up is feeling like, well, there's so many directions I can go and I don't want to go down the wrong one. And then I see what the deck, so it lets you literally visualize, like here are the choices that I've made about what I'm including in the story and what the story is. And if this one starts to not work for me, I can just chuck that card and replace it or I can rotate the card because this meaning this particular interpretation isn't quite working for me.

 

Peter:

But if I turn that card 90 degrees, now I have a new meaning that I'm tapping and that's one that I'm connecting with. And it also limits the choices that you're dealing with. You're not dealing with 32 billion story ideas at once. You're dealing with the two to four options per card and making those limited choices that you can always redo. And it, I think it helps people get to the starting line where like, they're just having fun with the story and pass those like really pressuring questions of like, is this good enough of an idea to write about? Or where am I going with this?

 

Kaelyn:

It's very interesting because in my experience, in my encounters, you know, with writers over the years, I, the, again, I hate the binary. I hate, you know, it's this or this, but like, I will say like there's two dominant large groups that I come into contact with people who have a story in their heads already that they just really want to write and people who really want to write, but don't have a story. And they each are coming across like gonna come across their own problems, their own conflicts in that. But you know, the people who are like, like you and Rekka like writers and creatives and are, you know, constantly coming up and generating new ideas. What I really liked about this deck was like, I think every, I think like to the outside world, we hear like, oh, a writer, like, you know, will they just come up with a story and then they write it. It's like, that is not how this works. And what's really cool about this deck is kind of, you can take all of those elements, break them out into pieces that you can see, move and shift them around, modify them, tweak them to, you know, where you want it to go. And could you do this on a piece of paper? Sure. But one, it's not as fun to, it's not as organized and three, these are colorful.

 

Rekka:

I also think there's a certain element and probably not for everyone, but like the hand of fate, you know, that you've been dealt these cards, you've drawn them. And then you feel like this is a challenge that I can rise to as opposed to like, well, that's my crummy idea. Something else would be better.

 

Kaelyn:

And I think that's why anthologies are such a good thing for emerging or new writers because it gives you something—it's a challenge in some regards. So it's also very good for, you know, experienced writers—but it gives you something saying, I need this. And I think that's one of the things that's so scary about. Just write a novel is it's. So open-ended, it's just

 

Rekka:

Also long. A long commitment to an open-ended idea that you came up with in silence. Yeah.

 

Kaelyn:

And it's like, well, what do you want me to write? And so then there's this pressure to go, well, what's popular? What's everyone going to read? Well, by the time you get this written and published, that's not going to matter. So don't worry about that. Okay. Well, what do I like? Well, I like these things. I'm not sure I can write a whole book about that and I'm worried it will ruin that thing for me. So I, it is good to either have someone give you, or in the case of the Story Engine, give yourself direction in a way to organize your thoughts.

 

Rekka:

And that was one thing that occurred to me was like very frequently when I start getting the seed of an idea, it's a concept; it's a sentence. It's like elements, ingredients, like you said, here are things I like, I want to combine them. Do I have a plot? No.

 

Kaelyn:

Those aren't important.

 

Rekka:

Well, eventually you're supposed to maybe have a plot. And what I like about the Story Engine deck is that in your instructions, you say like if you know an aspect or if you're writing in an existing world, there are parts of this. You can lock in place, you can go and dig and find the cartoon to read or write it, you know, yourself or whatever or you just know that it's locked in what you're looking for are the other elements, which create a plot. And that just, I knew the Story Engine deck was for creating ideas, but I didn't realize what it could do for the ideas I already have and getting them to the point where I'm ready to write something with them.

 

Rekka:

Cause I'll let something percolate for a year or more and just write it, write what I know down so that I don't forget it, but it can take a long time before I figure out how that fits into point A to point B to point C and how many characters and what are their desires and all the things that could be decided for me, or at least inspired for me by drawing a random card and just getting an idea. And now, do I think that writing that story from the story engine would get me the same story that I would have come up with after a year or more of letting a story percolate? Probably not, but it's really interesting. The immediate sense of, "oh, I know what to do with that." When you get a suggestion, like Kaelyn was saying an anthology theme, all of a sudden you're like, "oh. Oh, I know what to do with that."

 

Rekka:

And a story engine deck really reads to me in a similar way that like what I have put, you know, a, a series of things together, like the cards are going to come out in whatever orientation I choose? Almost absolutely not. You know, unless I'm really being finicky and like digging for the cards I want across the entire thing. And then maybe I'm just drawing out an idea. I didn't know I had, which is also useful. It's really flexible. And I really, I, I I'm really impressed by that. There's a lot, there's a lot of brain in this box.

 

Kaelyn:

I think that one of the things that is very, as you know—that's exactly it, there's a lot of brain in this box, but really it's just, it's just kind of leeching onto your brain and like, you know, like some little like computer chip, that's going like, "ehhhh, it's a little bit of a mess in here. Let's, let's clean this up." but I think what is good about it is it gives writers a way to provide their own prompts, to, you know, just take things that maybe they wouldn't have considered, but, or it could be interesting, engaging, advancing elements to a story that's sort of half exists in their head already. You don't need to come to this with a blank slate.

 

Peter:

Yeah. Yeah. You can come with as much of the story as you have formed and work with what you've already got, or you can come with nothing and just it'll lay out some track for you and you don't have to use all the elements of the track that you lay out. You can swap things out, you can ignore it. Like I ignore parts of the prompt all the time, because I just wanted to get started on. I wanted to find something to be excited enough about that I just start writing. And if that's this half of the prompt and not this half, then I'm going to pretend that the card I drew was actually this, cause this works better in my head, but the rest of it, I'm going to use the conflict and I'm going to use the aspect and the the descriptive part. And I'm going to use that the story is anchored in some way on a meal. A meal between two people or something. Cause that's what I drew. But yeah, like I said, like there's yeah, the reason that it works is because the brain, the brain is not in the box. I would, I would counter that and say like, the brain is 100%.

 

Rekka:

No, I'm sorry. You can't come on our podcast and tell us we're wrong. I'm talking about like the brain that put this together neatly and you managed to get out of the way of the end user.

 

Peter:

That was exactly. That's yeah. That's exactly the language that I use when I talk about it. It was getting out of the way of people and letting them bring their ideas to it. Like there were early drafts of this that were more focused on like... Like one thing I love about the writing prompts subreddit on Reddit is that there's some really interesting creative prompts that are just like, wow, I never would've thought of that in a million years. But the thing that I have trouble with is that they're always very closed. Like it's almost always like write your version of this highly specific high concept premise. And so there's less mileage to work with there. And I found that I was trying to do some of the, the, like, I want to create a really dazzling idea with the writing in some of the early drafts.

 

Peter:

And the more I tried to make that work, the more that those ideas couldn't plug very easily into A, like what the reader wanted to do with it, or sorry, what the writer wanted to do with it. The creator wanted to do with it, the end user. The more it made it hard for them to read something into it or bring their own idea to it. The more I realized those ideas aren't working and then the more trouble that those ideas had plugging into other cards and connecting to other cards in an open-ended way that also ended up being what I discarded. So I ended up like scratching a bunch of material that I thought was extraordinarily clever. But that really wouldn't have served the end purpose and like the question that I asked myself now when I'm looking at prompts and deciding like, will this work is is it going to be useful for the writer, for the end user?

 

Peter:

And is it going to leave enough room for them to bring their own gift basically? Like it's a little bit like button soup, the story button soup, where like someone starts off and like, "oh, I'm gonna make this special soup. The first thing I need is a button and then, oh, hold on. Do you have any carrots? Do you have any...?" And you know, the, the town brings ingredients. And it's very much that, like it's, it's the, the, the deck is a button that gets you started making a soup and it's just an excuse for soup and who doesn't, who doesn't want an excuse for soup? That's my new, that's my new marketing logline. "The Story Engine is an excuse for soup."

 

Rekka:

Yeah. And the the cleverness is, has gotta be tempting, but the, the terms that you ended up using for example, I just drawing a random card. I have these are the agent cards, the four corners, or the four sides of this card are an introvert, a dreamer, a grump, a wanderer. Those are pretty dry and pretty basic terms. And even so, whatever genre you like to write in, whatever world is, you know, your brain is currently marinating in, you've already got an idea of who each of those four people are, and they're not the same as mine. And that's, that's really nice. And that can not be easy to create that openness, like you were saying.

 

Peter:

It took a lot of, a lot of rebalancing the cards and the, the, what was going onto the cues. One thing that I found was really important was like some of the play tests that I did early on, some of them were with writers and creative people who could like get a simple prompt and spin out this fantastical universe and they could run with it. And then I would also show it to people who work in science and they would have like a very literal interpretation of what the cards would mean. So I realized quickly that like, while the primary target is writers, there's lots of different ways to use cards. And some people don't want the open ended things. Some people want literal prompts. So for the main deck, especially the prompts are designed to be... So like the agent cards are balanced in a particular way where there's a main, very open-ended prompt. That is the prompt that faces you when the card is in its like neutral position, basically. The cards are meant to not really read as being like this way is up or down, but there is kind of a neutral position. So that that's meant to be the most open-ended generic interpretation on that card. And then the other three around the edges are different facets of that concept. Either zoomed in on, in a more specific detail or blown up in a in a bigger, more exaggerated way.

 

Rekka:

So the neutral way is the way that has like the little portrait.

 

Peter:

Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So the healer is the generic sense. Whereas a therapist is a very specific expression of, of a healer. So if someone who was being very literal got that card and like, didn't really know what to imagine for a healer, it's too big, therapist gives them a very specific thing that they can work with. We all know roughly what a therapist does and, and that would give you a very literal way to start. And that's, I think for the other card that you drew, I think grump was the thing where like we all, literally we can understand what a grump is pretty literally. Yeah. whereas an introvert it's more generic that gives you a lot more room to operate. A wanderer is a bit more specific and active. So there was a, there was a lot of thought that went into how we balanced the levels of narrow prompt versus broad prompt, especially on the agents for the anchors bouncing those cards is more a function of making sure that every card has a setting, a prop something that's a little less non-literal and more interpretable and that all of those felt thematically linked.

 

Peter:

So like a prison and a cage and a key are all thematically linked. And it's meant to keep things in a bit, a bit of a tight space so that people aren't, it doesn't feel like they're dealing with a huge scattershot of different ideas at the same time. Like they understand, okay, I'm thinking about introverts. And I'm thinking about what it means to withdraw from people and that's kind of a headspace you're in for the character, and they can choose different ways to express that same thing when the same balancing act went into the anchors. So yeah, again, a lot of the goal was to put my brain power and not into like making the individual cards impressive, but for removing as many barriers to the system, just working out of the box as possible by balancing things. And like the, it was interesting because for the, the world building deck, world building in some ways is a more specific and yet even more broad and open thing to do. Because there's so many ways to build what is a world and what differentiates one area from another, and what, what makes us having interesting, like there's so many different ways you can differentiate a setting and figuring out, figuring out how to balance those cards was its own...

 

Peter:

Like I had to start again, like none of the lessons that I learned from Story Engine got to be carried over. Like I completely had to start from ground zero again. And and it took, it took a long time to get that one, right. Oh my gosh. I think like Story Engine came together fairly quickly, I think because I had a pretty intuitive model of how I wanted it to work between tarot and that sort of definition of story that has often informed my storytelling choices. But yeah, the world building one, I, that one took so many more iterations to get the balance on those cards. Right.

 

Kaelyn:

So how did you have to tackle the world building deck versus, you know, the story and character building one? And I know it is more of the first, the first set is more of a story-building, but there's definitely some character elements to it as well. Are you going to do a character building one at some point?

 

Peter:

I I've thought about that, but honestly, the, the Story Engine does so much character building stuff and it can be, you can, you can do informed choices with it to make so many different types of characters that I don't think there'd be a whole lot to add to it. Like, I, I, I'm not saying no to that, but I feel like the main thing does such a good job of it. And I don't like developing products just to have new products. Like I would really like to give people something that, that adds a ton of value to their creative process. And right now, I don't know how to add enough value to the character creation process that isn't already there in the Story Engine deck. So that's an idea that's like it's in my notebook, but unless I really have an aha moment where I'm like, oh, this is a way to really open this process up for people and I can justify their time and explaining why this is different from this thing I've already made. Then I'll definitely do that.

 

Rekka:

They need a deck to help you create decks.

 

Peter:

Oh, now that would, I would get, I would, that would be perfect. I could retire, I could retire young and and just let that work. So the, the, the concept that I'm kicking around right now in my head is an open-ended solo RPG that you play by writing. And so it's meant to be like a, almost a campaign where at the end of it, you have 50 new pieces of writing, inspired by different things. And that might actually use draws from the Story Engine deck to generate the content that you're playing in. But the goal is that you write the scene. So it's like a solo thing. But that is basically as far as I've gotten on developing it is that would be really fun and cool. And how the heck would that work? And I have not I've yet to answer even a single part of that question, but it's kicking around in my head cause the other decks have everything you need to generate the content.

 

Peter:

And then the goal is to just give you more reasons to write. And also the thing that I think I'm really after with this idea is like the things that make us love RPGs, the things that like, that make us feel like we're advancing and we're developing a character and we're part of a story and we're... You know, also the cool stuff. Like I got cool equipment and I leveled up like all those things that, that make games easy to say yes to would be amazing if we could turn those things toward generating, you know, our, toward pursuing our creative goals. So being able to like hijack some of those, those dopamine button pushes that we get from from games and make that something that benefits the creative process, I think would be really cool. So that's, that's the that was my, my latest dog walk idea that I've been obsessing over, but not letting myself get too deep into because I have I still have a lot to of like just card rebalancing and design exports have to do with Decker worlds. And I, I like to land one plane before I take off with another one. So that's, that's on the back burner, but it's not quite a deck for making decks, but it is a deck for using decks for making ideas. Yeah. Yeah. So that'd be, that'd be interesting to see how that plays it. Yeah.

 

Rekka:

I haven't seen the world building deck. Is it as broad as the Story Engine in that, like, it would work for somebody writing a contemporary story on Earth and they just needed the situation and that like the community level, as much as it would be for someone like me who likes to write stories where they've never even heard of earth and also I throw physics out the window? So does it work on that broad scale like the Story Engine does and how much of a challenge was it to decide and then cater to ?

 

Peter:

What the world building deck does is create lore. And as long as you're comfortable with like your lore set in the real world being invented lower, which a lot of us are then that's totally, it works for that. It's not what I designed it for, but it definitely works for that. So it runs on, on six types of cards rather than five for the story engine. Two of those cards are almost for like assembling map pieces. So there's like a drone photography style image of different types of terrain and landscapes for the region deck, which kind of sets up like you're dealing with forest land or river land or wetland or canyons or mountains or beach, like it sets a kind of a train type up for you. And then there's a landmark deck, which gives you specific points of interest.

 

Peter:

Some of which are I say human-made and human, here's a short form for whoever made it doesn't have to be humans, but are constructed things. And some of which are naturally occurring things. Like when you have like a, a giant rock or an interesting tree or a waterfall. So you can definitely create these interesting dynamic settings using those. And all of the cards in the main deck are things that exist normally in our reality on Earth. And then there's a namesake deck, which basically you, you pair that with either a landmark or a region. And it gives a specific nickname to that area. I find that this is one of my favorite decks because it immediately creates a sense of lore. So you might end up with you draw like a, a creation that really got sunk into my head.

 

Peter:

Recently when I was playing around with it, it was I think I drew the card arena for landmark or an arena. And then I drew of chimes for the namesake card. So it was the arena of chimes. And for some reason I started thinking about this like a gladiatorial arena where the bones of the dead are hung as like wind chimes, after they fall. And that, I just imagined these rafters all, like, you have this pit in the middle and you have these rafters all around where every time the wind blows through it, and it was set in like a barren area without much wind cover. You just hear that gentle clinking and like the dead are speaking around you and warning you of what could come.

 

Kaelyn:

Real quick Rekka, because I'm sure when you heard that you came up with something mentally. Cause I did too. And it was completely different from yours. I was, I was thinking more of same thing, kind of like a fighting arena, but full of like strange metal poles and like, you know, the chaos of the like bouncing off of that and like making like the screaming and the clanking of swords, you know, everything with that.

 

Peter:

Yeah. So the chimes are those active combat sounds. Yeah.

 

Kaelyn:

Yeah. Well, like also just, you know, like just pieces of metal will be the, you know, naturally occurring or put there sticking up like round sticking up of the ground. So yeah.

 

Peter:

You could do so much cool choreography with that too. Right. Like the swinging on the poles and like gymnastics.

 

Kaelyn:

Yeah. Like, you know, and then like of course like picturing like Roman gladiators, where they used to like put, you know, animals and like captured peoples in there and like have them like hunted. I've got like some weird Hunger Games stuff going on in my head now. So yeah. So, no, it's very funny because like you said that, and you went one direction, I went a completely different direction, but they still, you know, are kind of functionally doing the same thing a little bit.

 

Rekka:

But from the same prompt yes. Which is the perfect example of how flexible this is.

 

Peter:

Yeah. So that's those, those are three of the decks and those, those kind of create your almost like map pieces and you can assemble different shapes out of these cards by tucking them in different patterns. And you can assemble what I call micro setting clusters, and you assemble the clusters into a world map and you can actually apply a scale to it. You can explore it. And then you can use the Story Engine to furnish that world with your characters, with conflicts, with artifacts and other places of interest. But the other three card types, this was the really hard part because I didn't want to do more than six card types. Cause if you've done more than six card types, you've made something that's just too complicated to use out of the box. And there's so many different aspects of what makes a world interesting.

 

Peter:

And it was also, it's very different how you furnish a an, uncolonized setting, like a, just a natural setting versus a space that has been either colonized or urbanized in some way. And we're using the impact of, of civilization. So like how, how do you acknowledge all the different ways that land can be used and that people can co-exist and there's tons of them. So what I ended up doing for my mental categories was coming up with an origin deck, which gives you a fixed point in the past which either is how this place was created or a significant event that shaped it or previous use that it had or some function that's, that's an anchor point in its past for the origin deck. And then there's an attributes deck, which is the current day status quo, how the space is used or what it's known for, or what lives there.

 

Peter:

And then a advent deck, which are current changes that are happening right now that could impact the future of this place. And that category basically past present future is what I think really finally unlocked the worldly aspects because it let me cover so much more material on the cards themselves that way, rather than trying to do like a deck, that's just the politics and a deck that's just the ecosystem at a deck that's just fashion and a deck like that... That's too many decks. What this does is it lets you sprinkle out different types of world, building detail and starting points for prompts. Like it's known for a particular style of textile or it's known for its scholars, or it has an anarchic government system or they worship nature. Like there's so many different things you can bring into that.

 

Peter:

And those all went into the attributes deck, but it lets you still create kind of a larger sense of narrative for the place that you have. And it sets up your setting as a space for story to happen because it gives you here's where they were in the past. Here's where they are now. And here's what's happening that could change the future. And that advent deck that is that change for the future is such a great entry point for telling stories because it's usually the former of a crisis or a change. And it's something where like a Dungeons and Dragons party could get involved and insert themselves into the conflict and try and do something involving it or where your main characters could. This is their inciting incident, is that there's a new tax being levied on like a staple food. That's a really interesting point for like maybe that's where your character starts to to, to become ra…

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