THE STORY ENGINE

Created by Peter Chiykowski

Create endless story prompts for writers, DMs, RPG players, teachers, and storytellers of all stripes.

Latest Updates from Our Project:

The Story Engine beta sent out + design update + COVID-19 coronavirus + free lesson plans + book production
9 days ago – Wed, Feb 19, 2020 at 01:04:22 AM

Hello backers!

I have a few updates that I wanted to get on your radar as early as possible. Here's a quick summary:

  • The Story Engine beta was distributed last week
  • Design update: simple icon system
  • COVID-19 coronavirus update (no change to ship date so far)
  • Curriculum review and free lesson plans for educators
  • Book production update

Let's tuck into it!

The Story Engine beta was sent out last week

If you signed up for The Story Engine beta and agreed to the terms, then you should have received the beta email last Thursday or Friday (depending on your timezone). I received a few bounceback errors, so if you did not receive the email, try registering again.

I will soon be sending the beta feedback form to the first set of beta testers. The eco-efficient version of the main deck print and play will also be sent out soon.

You can still register for the beta here if you like: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSd3whH9KDrbQPUvbY7D_EkmAiJqLp9W9ymb0UuLXC4YQtGVsg/viewform?usp=sf_link

I'll continue to email the files out to late sign-ups once or twice a week, so it may just take a few days for your files to arrive.

Design updates

I did a final design pass over the entire deck a few weeks ago to add a simple and unobtrusive icon system for the five types of cards.

This makes it easier to identify and sort card types easier for users who have challenges distinguishing colours, or who are home-printing decks on a budget in black and white. Ultimately, it makes the deck more accessible to all users, and will be especially helpful for educators with a tight colour printing budget.

Removing the gear from the Agent and Anchor cards required me to reposition the artwork for every card, but ultimately left more space for the visuals to shine. I also brightened some of the card images to make them easier to see.

COVID-19 coronavirus update

If you have backed any other campaigns being produced overseas, you may have heard that the COVID-19 coronavirus caused delays in all businesses in China re-opening after the Lunar New Year holiday.

My printer was very proactive in reaching out when this happened, but it has introduced 2 weeks of delays into the process of checking the new box templates and finalizing the costs of the upgraded box and holder trays. The factory was scheduled to re-open this week, and if that has happened on time, they will now be working through a month of backlog. I anticipate things may take a little longer than they originally discussed with me.

At this point in time, there is no change to the original June ship date. I planned a lot of buffer into the schedule, and if all goes well for the remaining phases of production, I don't foresee any problems fulfilling on time. However, in the interest of open and honest communication, I did want to put this on everyone's radars as any additional delays may start to push back my originally estimated delivery date, and it's hard to predict exactly how things will go with a disruption this size affecting the entire country.

For now, I'm very optimistic and continuing to push production along as fast as I can!

Also, I will not be locking anyone's addresses until we are ready to ship, so if you are concerned about change of address, you'll have the chance to update your shipping info as needed using your original survey link. I will both post a Kickstarter updated and give notice through BackerKit's automated system shortly before addresses lock.

Educator review of deck and free curriculum resources

I've hired an experienced curriculum developer that I admire and have worked with previously to do a review of the main deck, expansions, and booster sets.

She's very excited about the classroom applications of The Story Engine, and has confirmed that the main deck is thematically appropriate for elementary and secondary school students, and that the guidebook is a helpful resource for them to use (with some supervision and context-framing for younger students).

The expansions are generally classroom appropriate, but for younger students, it may help to have an additional discussion and pre-classroom review of the horror expansion and eldritch horror/dystopian/post-apocalyptic booster sets, which contain mature themes. (Note: none of the decks contains any specific elements of graphic violence.)

We're still wrapping up a review of the deck content compared to common curriculum reading lists to make sure nothing is more intense than the content in a book that might be assigned to a student. If anything does, we'll make note of it in our educator resources so teachers can choose to withdraw those cards. 

I'm also thrilled to announce that our curriculum developer will be developing some free lesson plans for using the deck with elementary and secondary school students. I'm very passionate about providing free educational resources, and after all the incredible teachers and mentors who helped me on my journey (and put up with me being an occasionally difficult student), it's an honour to finally make their lives a little easier.

Book production

For those curious about the book, I just need to collect two last guest stories before all the material is ready. When the deck is printing, I'll have my proofreaders review the book and send it to print with my usual book printer (a different company than my deck printer).

Okay, those are all the updates I have for you! Feel free to comment with any questions and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

Updates on design, cards, PDFs, closed beta, free copies, new box, postcards
about 1 month ago – Mon, Jan 27, 2020 at 11:42:23 PM

Hi backers,

I've got a batch of exciting updates to share! Below is a quick summary of points of interest, which I explain in greater detail below.

  • Design update: finished 100% of writing AND graphic design on all cards from all decks, expansions and booster sets
  • The first set of print-and-play PDFs from every deck/expansion/booster have been designed, printed, produced, and tested
  • Obstacle Deck changing to Conflict Deck
  • Sign up now for a backer-only beta for the print-and-play PDF
  • Emails re: free decks/books for schools/libraries/community groups have been sent
  • There is a new, upgraded box design with a magnetic lid
  • Postcard subscriptions started in December

Also, because I've been having so much fun with it, check out the print-and-play (more info below)!

Design update

I am thrilled to share the news that every card from every deck, expansion and booster set has been designed in full. There are still a few tweaks to come, but the bulk of the work on the entire project is now done.

In terms of cards, here is the last bit of work that needs finishing up:

  • Playtesting mix-and-matched expansions and boosters to double-check they operate nicely together
  • Any final changes based on beta feedback
  • Final proofreading
  • Inputting final high-res art for the new illustrations in Fantasy Expansion, Steampunk Booster Set and Mythology Booster
  • Adjusting colours/saturation based on print sample

Otherwise, all 468 cards are now done!

Aside from the cards, the remaining work on the game includes:

  • Drafting final language for the guidebook
  • Final design of the guidebook
  • Finalizing the files for the new box design for print
  • Translation PDFs to begin work when games are in physical production

Print-and-play PDFs

I laid out all the print-and-plays in Adobe InDesign and did a test print at my local copy shop. It came out great!

The high-quality version of the print-and-play I used to produce my sample deck cost ~$USD 13 to print in full colour on double-sided 350gsm satin card stock for the main deck. All 3 expansions and 6 boosters came to a total of ~$USD 20 more. Results may vary depending on what your local printer charges.

An 8.5x11/A4 sheet from the high-quality print-and-play.

All in all, it took about 90 minutes to cut all 468 cards with a blade trimmer, and another 45 minutes to use a tool to cut rounded corners. You can buy a rounded corner punch at most neighbourhood craft stores, or find them online. I recommend this because it looks great and makes it easier to handle the cards without damaging them.

The high-quality version of the PDF works best if:

  • You want the nicest-looking final product
  • You have a blade trimmer OR you have more time for careful cutting/finishing
  • You care about print bleeds and production details

I will also be producing an eco-friendly version of the print-and-play, and PDF backers will have access to both versions. The eco-friendly version will have cards that are ~10% smaller, but take much less paper and fewer cuts to produce. It will also not have bleeds, which means it will be easier to cut with scissor and if you cut a card a little off of its designated line, you might get a sliver of blank white page visible.

The eco-friendly version is best if:

  • You want to save money
  • You want to save paper
  • You want to save time
  • You only have scissors
  • You're less concerned about bleeds/card edges being perfect

Changing the Obstacle Deck to the Conflict Deck

I want to tell you about a small change I made while finalizing the Engines and Obstacles for the expansions and booster sets.

As I was writing more and more material, I realized that the conflicts that characters face in fiction aren't just limited to obstacles. Sometimes cards from this deck are not only barriers between them and what they want, but also consequences that follow after the decisions they make, or prices they will have to pay as a result of their decision to act on their desire.

At the same time, I also began to pair obstacles on the same card according to theme. For example, one side might read "BUT THEY WILL LOSE A FRIEND" while the other reads "BUT THEY WILL GAIN AN ENEMY."

I realized that if I repositioned the Obstacle Deck as the Conflict Deck and created linked pairs of conflicts, it would make the deck more functional in two ways:

  • 1) It would give the user more freedom in deciding if the Conflict Card presents an obstacle to the character before they pursue their Engine Card, or a consequence that happens after.
  • 2) While normally the storyteller decides which side of a Conflict Card applies to their story, by framing the two conflicts as thematically linked pairs, the storyteller also has the option of making their character choose between the two paths on the card, creating an interesting dilemma for them. This adds a whole new layer of functionality to the Conflict Deck.

It took a lot of rebalancing cards, including the main deck, but I think the quality of life improvements were well worth it.

Join the closed beta

Would you like to get an early look at the print-and-play PDF in exchange for your feedback on design and functionality?

Please sign up for the backer-only beta through this Google Form: https://forms.gle/uEDxk5dno3UBstcv9

I will not be requiring anyone to sign an NDA, but I ask that you do NOT share these work-in-progress files with anyone. If you'd like to show your print-out of the beta deck to people to test it, you are welcome to do so.

The deck is playtested and close to completion, so the target areas for some quick final feedback will be:

  • Identifying cards that are unclear, unhelpful, uninteresting, or repetitive with others
  • Checking the clarity of language of the guidebook
  • Testing strategies for working through difficult spreads/getting stuck
  • Testing the ease of use of the print and play
  • First-round proofreading

 Emails re: free decks/books for schools/libraries/groups have been sent

Anyone who signed up to receive a free deck or book before today has been emailed as to their status in the first 120 slots, or being put on the waiting list.

If you signed up your school or group and did NOT receive an email at the address you provided (or if your institutional email changed), please get in touch via DM as soon as possible and provide the name you used in the form when registering.

Details for next steps are included in the emails that were sent.

New box design

The printer has been extremely helpful consulting with me on the design of the box, and came up with a great suggestion that would make the box both more functional, and better-suited to storing the expansions and booster sets.

I was very, very attached to my original cube design, but there are just too many good reasons to upgrade the box to meet the needs that backers have been expressing, and I've decided to go forward with a new design.

The new version has a cardstock slipcover over a magnetic hinge lid, and opens to 5 trays that hold the cards so they are already in face-down piles for each deck. The holders, made from molded plastic, will have finger grooves so you can get the cards out easily. This offers a LOT of advantages:

  • It leaves room for expansion and booster set cards, or for sleeved cards, without having so much empty space that the main deck flops around if left on its own
  • Once the slipcover is removed, you can open the box in different orientations (like a book or a briefcase; right or left-handed) depending on how much space you have on the table (or just on your lap)
  • You can use the open lid as a writing surface or card mat (the final will be good for the standard prompt of 4 cards wide + 1 tucked Aspect Card)
  • I believe the hinge functionality should fold under the box to minimize the space it takes up
  • You can even turn over the top cards of each deck in their trays to create a prompt without any cards leaving the box (a good travel-friendly option if writing on commute or on vacation)

I constructed a very ugly dummy box out of boxboard to show you the approximate dimensions and functionality. 

Postcard subscriptions started in December

This is just a note to say that if your reward included a subscription to "Postcards From the Future" (monthly postcard stories signed and mailed to you every month), you should have received 1 or 2 postcards already.

Depending on your region, your December postcard was mailed mid-month and your January postcard was mailed between Jan 1 and Jan 16.

If you pledged for a postcard subscription, and you filled your survey out on time, and you have NOT received a postcard, send me a Kickstarter DM and I'll look into it ASAP.

Signing off

That's all the updates for now!

I'm on a final playtesting spree at the moment, so if you have any questions, I may take a little longer to reply than usual, but I absolutely will get back to you!

Thanks again for all your enthusiasm for this project!

Mini-update: credit cards have been processed in Stripe/BackerKit + postcard subscriptions start this month
3 months ago – Wed, Dec 04, 2019 at 10:20:24 PM

Hi backers!

This is just a mini-update to let you know that if you provided a credit card for your add-ons in BackerKit and chose Stripe instead of PayPal for your checkout options, I've now processed your payment. You should have received a confirmation email (or an error email if your card failed to run).

The payment will show as being charged by ROCKPAPERCYNIC STORE (my main online store and the vendor name tied to my Stripe account).

If you checked out via PayPal, then you paid when you checked out and you can disregard this update.

This is also just a quick note letting you know that if you've pledged or added-on a "Postcards From the Future" subscription and you completed your survey by this morning, your first postcard should be arriving this month.

Thanks so much!

Peter

Production/design update, more sample cards, stretch goals, surveys, and book changes!
3 months ago – Fri, Nov 22, 2019 at 10:25:10 PM

Hi Story Engine backers!

I've been hard at work on graphics design while waiting on confirmation on a big piece of news for a couple of weeks now. I was hoping to post an update when the news was confirmed, but I didn't want to leave you too long without a check-in, so here is an update with all the news I have confirmed to date!

Here's what's in this update:

  • Production continues to come together and expansion/booster design is going well
  • Post-campaign stretch goals revealed
  • Reminder about surveys (especially important for postcard subscribers)
  • Change of publishing plans for anthology book of The Story Engine
  • Reminder about free decks/books for schools/libraries/community groups

Production and design

After reaching out to some bigger printers about the increased print run of The Story Engine deck, I've narrowed the field to three candidates. I'm just doing some final checks on their quotes, quality, cardstock options and production support. I've seen 6 books through print production, but this is my first time producing a deck or a boxed product, so I am looking for an experienced printer that is willing to be hands-on making sure we get the best possible quality.

Meanwhile, the graphics design work has been going very well! 

I've finished writing all of the new stretch goal content for the main deck, and have finished the vast majority of the graphic design. All of the design-intensive cards (Agents and Anchors) are now print-ready, and the majority of the remaining text-only cards (Engines, Obstacles, Aspects) have been designed. It's mostly just the stretch goal additions that still need designing.

I've finished writing and designing ALL of the graphics-intensive cards (Agents and Anchors) for ALL of the expansions and boosters as well (with a few cards designed in low-res until the EMBERWIND artists finish the final card art for the fantasy, steampunk, and mythology decks). The Aspects for all expansions and boosters have also been populated and just need a design pass, and I'm about halfway through writing all of the Engines and Obstacles.

Once they're all mocked up I'll be playtesting the interactions between the main deck and expansions, tweaking a few of the cards and word distributions, and we'll be ready to go to print.

Here are some sample cards from the booster sets! 

Sample from Dark Craft & Ancient Shadows: Eldritch Horror Booster Set
Sample from Cog Hearts & Steam Souls: Steampunk Booster Set
Sample from Circuits & Cybernetics: Cyberpunk Booster Set
Sample from Wastelands & Wanderers: Post-Apocalyptic Booster Set
Sample from Mythwalkers & Eternals: Mythology Booster Set
Sample from Jackboots & Chainlink: Dystopian Booster Set

You'll notice two key differences to the layouts of the expansion/booster cards when compared to the main deck. 

  • Expansions and boosters have an icon in the bottom-right. These identify which set they belong to so they're easy to spot and sort.
  • The Agent cards in expansions/boosters do not feature a coloured word as the default reading. In the main deck, the bottom word is coloured and treated as the most "generic" reading of the card, with the other words presented as more specific variations. Because the expansions/boosters thrive on specificity, all Agent words are equally weighted and specific, and no word is coloured.

For The Story Engine book, I'll be once again using a print company that I've already produced three books with. They've been on-the-ball and detail-oriented with all my work in the past, and I anticipate a smooth printing process yet again.

I've fallen behind on sending out prompts to the guest writers, in part because of the book publishing update you'll see below, and in part because I want their prompts to include fully designed expansion and booster cards. I will make sure to have all prompts sent out to guest authors by next month.

Post-campaign stretch goals

Originally the stretch goals were to remain open until early November, but I'm extending the stretch goals until December 1st. Below are the next run of post-campaign stretch goals!

The exact cardstock upgrade may depend on which printer I end up working with.

This means any add-ons contributed before December 1 will contribute toward the remaining upgrades.

Also, until December 1, any late pledges will contribute toward unlocking goals. If you have any friends who you think would like to join the project, now is a good time to share the link http://storyenginedeck.com, where you can also follow funding progress (currently at $337,000).

Reminder about surveys

I've received 91% of the BackerKit reward surveys so far—thanks to everyone for providing your responses! If you haven't received your survey or have run into trouble filling it out, please get in touch and I'm happy to help.

If you used Stripe, the main credit card checkout system, any payment due for add-ons will be processed between December 1st and December 3rd.

If you used PayPal (or PayPal with a credit card) for your check-out, your payment was processed when you checked out.

If your pledge included a "Postcards From the Future" subscription or you'd like one as an add-on, make sure to fill out your survey by December 1 to ensure you're included in the first mail-out.

Changing publication plans for the book

This is a placeholder update while I wait for a plan to be finalized.

After a slew of recent allegations against ChiZine Publications (the press that was going to be publishing the short story collection of The Story Engine), I have formally requested the book be withdrawn the book from their 2020 publishing lineup so I can instead self-publish it.

I believe and support the victims who have spoken about their experiences. I know a lot of them personally.

I submitted my request last week. I have since spoken to the interim publisher who stepped in to handle matters after the co-founders stepped down. 

We are amicably pursuing plans to withdraw the collection from ChiZine's catalogue, but I do not yet have confirmation of exactly what will happen.

The most likely scenario is that I will instead be self-publishing the book. This should have no effect on backers' experience of the book, and the book will still be released to backers on the same timeline.

I will follow up with more updates when I have them.

Reminder about free decks/books

I am thrilled to announce that I have received 135 registrations for free decks/books for schools, libraries and community groups! This means that all 120 currently unlocked decks/books are now called for.

I'm still encouraging eligible groups to register for their free copy: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfLLTk4nxS-52qC5Rz6b2SJd0XflH5IhvNoy4HBDUB8Xbc3Xg/viewform?usp=sf_link

You'll be added to a waiting list, and even if you don't receive a physical deck or book, you're still guaranteed to be sent a free digital copy.

That's all the news for now, but I'll check in again soon!

BackerKit surveys have been sent out!
4 months ago – Wed, Oct 23, 2019 at 03:23:01 AM

Hello backers! This is just a quick update to let you know that the BackerKit surveys have gone out!

Check your email inbox for your invitation to BackerKit, which is the pledge manager where you'll be able to provide your fulfilment information and apply any extra funds from your Kickstarter pledge toward add-ons.

If you don't see the email, it may also help to double-check your spam folder and filters.

In BackerKit, you will also have the opportunity to select and pay for add-ons that you didn't pre-pay for during the campaign, and to upgrade your pledge.

If you wish to adjust your pledge, just click on the "switch your pledge level" text below the green "Get Started" button when you first open your survey.

You will be able to adjust your pledge, add-ons, and address until at least December 1, possibly later. If you selected a tier that includes the monthly postcard subscription, please do fill out your survey at your earliest convenience so I can get your postcard mail-outs started in time for December.

I'm travelling until Friday, but I will try to respond to any questions within 24 hours. BackerKit can also help you with any questions you may have about the process of filling out your survey.

Thanks so much, and I'll follow up with more details about extended stretch goals in the next update!