In general I’m a conservative consumer. I don’t spend a lot of money and I don’t do so often, especially on impulse buys. So I’ve come to realize something is special when I see it for the first time and have an immediate impulse and actually purchase. This was my experience with Story Forge Cards.
What are Story Forge Cards?
The product is a writing aid created by B.J. West. It is a large deck of cards used to brainstorm ideas by presenting archetypal elements of narrative structure and have the user create meaningful representations of the elements and string the elements together.
There are 88 cards in the deck. The cards are large, I suspect the average size of a Tarot card. Each card is constructed of durable plastic with full color printing on the face and back. Like a Tarot card whether the card is upright or inverted changes the meaning; often this change is to the near opposite (such as ‘The Devil’ having an opposite of ‘The Angel’. The deck consists of five ‘suits’: Destiny, Emotion, Identity, Wealth, and Will. Destiny cards represent large life-changing events. Emotion cards represent (you guessed it) epic feels. Identity cards represent how the subject views itself and/or world views it. Wealth represents something tangible and material while Will represents a positive or negative effect of the subject’s mental fortitude.
Using The Cards
First off shuffle and cut the deck. Each time you cut the deck instructions say to twist the stack since the card’s orientation matters. Choose a ‘spread’ from the instruction booklet depending on what you are trying to accomplish. Developing a character, use the character background spread. There is also a quick pick spread to quickly add some depth to minor characters. Spreads also include genre staples such as Film Noire, The Action Film, The Hero’s Journey, Love Story, etc. You then deal cards into the spread as illustrated in the booklet. Each card position represents a point of consideration. Each card comprises a vague idea to which you specify after completing the spread.
I used the cards recently to add some depth to a central NPC being used for the recent RPG arc I’m DMing. To develop the character I used the Character Background spread.
- The Character’s Base Nature: Restraint (Wealth)
- Influence of the Universe: Lust (Emotion)
- The Character’s Achilles Heel: The Devil (Destiny)
- Influence of Friends and Family: Fortune (Destiny)
- The Character’s Driving Passion: The Burden (Will)
- The Character’s Destiny: Defeat (Destiny)
- What Stands Between the Character and Its Destiny: The Gamble (Wealth)
If you’re anything like me just reading through the list shows how great of a springboard a process like this can be. I can punctuate definite ideas for how the cards manifest for the character and naturally begin looking for ways to string them together into a comprehensive patchwork. Occasionally the something will just not work. The first solution the booklet offers is to flip the troublesome card around and uses its ‘opposite’ to see if that gets the creative juices going. Still stuck? Slap a new card down in its place.
The cards work. In the time I have played with them I feel they have really given me a boost in creativity. The cards are vague enough and varied enough to conjure possibilities and connections that are not the foremost in my mind. Even with some of the larger spreads I have run the results are complex without being overly convoluted. I did receive some card lays that were a challenge to make something coherent. I saw it as a creative challenge, a chance to really stretch the head muscles to fit something that at first glance seems out of place, off the wall, into the rest of the creation in a meaningful way.
As stated the cards are larger and the deck is thicker than your average deck of playing cards. I have pretty stubby fingers so shuffling the deck has not been a quick or graceful event. I expect I will get better dealing with the cards in time but if the subtle artistry of shuffling eludes you this product may grind your nerves. Some of the card lays are just strange. The vagueness is a blessing and a curse. Some card lays I would find myself staring at the card drawing a blank for how it fits; imagine drawing ‘The MacGuffin’ for a character’s base nature. The Story Forge Cards are a writing aid first and foremost. Yes, they are helpful for RPGs but it is not their primary focus.
I say buy it (I did after all). It’s a powerful tool that will help you develop better stories. The secondary benefit may be you have better RPG plots. I would like to try them during the character creation phase of an RPG campaign to help players develop their characters. If you’re also a fiction author (especially new to the craft) it is a useful device. It will help you write better original ideas and keep you from some of the common neophyte problems like Mary Sues and one dimensional characters.