THE STORY ENGINE

Created by Peter Chiykowski, creator of The Story Engine

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

Latest Updates from Our Project:

Update on free educator decks + activity sheet/lesson plans + live Q&A today
6 days ago – Tue, Mar 31, 2020 at 12:52:26 AM

Hello again backers and newcomers!

I wanted to follow up with a few exciting updates! The topics covered include:

  • An activity sheet and 2 lesson plans with notes for adapting to the home setting have been released for free for all backers
  • Reward surveys have been sent  to all recipients of the 120 free educational decks/books and the waitlisted educators/volunteers
  • I will be hosting a live fireside chat Q&A today at 3pm EST / 8pm BST / noon PST on my Twitch
  • The French and Spanish deck translations are underway
  • Production/timeline check-in
  • Shipping addresses will remain editable until May
  • Update on free family quarantine PDF decks
  • Another postcard story for uncertain times

Let's get started!

An activity sheet and 2 lesson plans have been released

Kendra, the wonderful curriculum developer I have been working with, has assembled a helpful sheet of 9 activities for using The Story Engine deck. She also worked with me to develop two full-length lesson plans teaching storytelling using The Story Engine, along with notes for adapting the lessons for use at home in quarantine.

I want to thank Kendra for making time to accelerate the development of these materials for families in need of activities, especially while taking care of her own family in the growing health crisis.

You will likely receive a notification from BackerKit soon summarizing the updated download files available to you, but you can access this resource as of right now.

(This is just the first page. See below for the download link the full package.)

You can access the lesson plans from your BackerKit downloads section, or from http://storyenginedeck.com/lessons

When I was 9ish, my school closed for a provincial teachers' strike. I have vague memories of my mum and friend's mum running a few home lessons for us. I forget the lessons, but I remember the feeling: a moment of normalcy in an uncertain time. It's a happy memory.

20 years later, having forgotten everything else, I still remember that feeling: how it felt to know someone cared that I was comfortable and learning something new every day.

And now I have the chance to give that feeling to other kids facing uncertainty, and it means a lot to me. If there's something I can do to help you and your family have the most fulfilling quarantine possible, let me know, and I'll do my best to help. If you have requests for areas you would like to see future lessons explore, let me know in the comments section!

Educator copy surveys sent

As you may recall from last year, your support for this project unlocked stretch goals donating 120 copies of The Story Engine deck or story anthology to schools, libraries, and community groups. I received over 180 registrations before closing the registration form, and all applicants have now received an invitation to a BackerKit reward survey. (Schools can still get a free digital copy of the deck from the quarantine PDF link.)

Educators that were among the first 120 applicants have been asked to supply their mailing address by April 21 to secure their copy before it gets passed to the next school down on the waiting list.

Waitlisted educators have been sent a survey to set them up with access to the free digital copy while they wait to see if another allocation opens up. The PDF deck is available immediately and the ebook will be available in your downloads as soon as it is released.

If you applied for an educator copy and have since lost your job due to Covid-19, or your job is at risk due to the general state of uncertainty in the world, please keep the free deck/book with my blessing and take it with you into the next stage of your career. I know you will find a good place for it and for yourself to continue the excellent work you do. You and your expertise are valuable to your community, and whatever I can do to make your journey smoother, I am pleased to do.

If you registered for an educator copy and did not receive a BackerKit notification in your inbox or spam, please DM me directly for support.

Live fireside Q&A chat with me today at 3pm EST / 5pm BST / noon PST

I've learned so many lessons from running this Kickstarter, and from the last 10+ years working as a writer and creative professional. (And I've been getting a bit of cabin fever after 3 weeks of self-isolation, so I thought I'd invite you to join me by the fire for a Q&A session!)

The plan is to livestream on my otherwise completely disused Twitch channel at 3pm EST / 5pm BST / noon PST. (That said, I have never done this sort of thing and am pretty nervous about it, so it's possible there will be slight delays as I get everything to work.)

I spent the winter cozying up my little Edinburgh rental flat and I've never had a fireplace before, so I wanted to share it with you! 

I took some questions on my Twitter and Facebook, and will take some live questions as well. My areas of expertise include:

  • Making really good grilled cheese
  • Storytelling
  • Webcomics
  • Crowdfunding
  • Dog fostering
  • Creative career-building
  • Publishing (traditional and self-pub)
  • Making pretty good pancakes

I hope you'll join me!

Shipping addresses will remain editable until May

For people who are moving, have moved, or may move before shipping in June: you will be able to change your address up until a few weeks before items ship. Visit your original BackerKit survey and you should be able to change the address you provided.

You should receive a 48-hour notice from BackerKIt when shipping addresses are about to lock.

The French and Spanish deck translations are underway

The translated PDF decks are underway for their June delivery!

The French translation of the cards in the main deck is finished, and the translation of the guidebook is underway. The translator has been checking in with me regularly about the best range of meanings available for translated words, as well as the best way to handle gendered nouns and adjective agreements. It's been a very interesting process! 

The deck spreadsheet and guidebook have been sent to the Spanish translator, who will be working on them for the June delivery timeline.

Production/timeline check-in

I've been going back and forth with the printer adjusting and updating the files as they check them. This process is going a little slower than it has on previous print projects, but seeing as we're printing the main deck, 3 expansions, and 6 boosters at the same time, this is to be expected.

At present, we are still on track for me to be shipping decks in June, but I am keeping an eye on the clock as we finish the pre-print review and will be in touch if I expect shipping delays.

The current plan is to distribute North American copies from a local distribution partner near the Canadian-US border, and for me to personally distribute copies from Edinburgh, Scotland, for the UK/EU/rest of world. I have personally fulfilled as many as 900 parcels in the span of a week for my previous Kickstarter, so while this will be my biggest shipping endeavour yet, I anticipate it will go relatively smoothly.

At present, it does not look like Covid-19 will affect shipping, but the world is changing every day, so I want us all to be prepared to roll with whatever changes come our way. I promise to keep you updated through it all.

I will have more news on production of the book for the next update, but for now, the graphic design is complete, all guest stories are finalized, and I am waiting on a few last items to be confirmed before sharing a fuller update.

Shipping addresses will remain editable until May

While your orders are locked in BackerKit, your address will remain unlocked until May. This means you can still update your address by revisiting your BackerKit survey.

At some point in May, I will be locking down shipping addresses. BackerKit will automatically send you a 48-hour notice to give you a chance to update your address.

Update on free family quarantine PDF decks

Since my last update, we have distributed free PDF decks and lessons plans to 942 families in quarantine. I was nervous while posting the last update announcing the free PDFs, knowing many of you paid for something that others are now able to request for free. It can sting knowing you had to pay for something that someone else didn't have to pay for, and I didn't want to ruffle any feathers.

Every comment I received was wholeheartedly positive about sharing the benefits of this campaign with people need of a way to stay creative during the long isolation periods we're all going through.

Thanks for your ongoing understanding, kindness, and generosity of spirit. It has been incredible to see this campaign positively touch so many people's lives. I know it has transformed mine.

I'll be keeping the link for free quarantine PDFs open for at least another week.

Another postcard story for uncertain times

In my usual way, I've been processing the news by writing. Here's a new postcard story I'd like to leave you with, entitled "The Day We Took Our Masks Off."

I think that's everything I needed to cover, but if you'd like an update about something not covered here, just let me know in the comments.

Stay safe, take care, and hopefully see you on today's livestream!

Peter

Digital deck PDFs delivered + free deck PDFs as quarantine activities for families
19 days ago – Wed, Mar 18, 2020 at 12:56:24 AM

Hello Kickstarter backers! There's a lot to share with you today!

 All deck PDF rewards have been distributed 

In light of the coming quarantines, I decided to expedite finalizing all of the digital PDF decks so I could get those sent to backers. The Story Engine makes for an excellent home activity and the decks are easy to assemble.

If you filled out your BackerKit survey, you should have recently received an email notification from BackerKit with a link to your digital rewards. If not, check your spam. If you still can't find it, please DM me and I'll check in on your account.

Originally, the plan was to give PDFs of every stretch goal expansion and booster to every backer receiving the main deck in any format, but not to provide the main deck PDF unless it was specifically added on. Given how much time we're about to be spending indoors with our own thoughts, I've decided to add the main digital deck to the bundle as well. Some people were only set to receive the physical version in June, but I'd like people to have what they need to make the coming weeks as manageable as possible.

The ebook of the story anthology has been designed, but not yet proofread, and will hopefully be sent out in the coming weeks.

 If you already downloaded your rewards

If you downloaded your digital rewards before 11am EST this morning, you may wish to go back and download them again.

There was one typo in the guidebook and the crop marks had vanished from the HQ versions of the main deck, mythology booster, and post-apocalyptic booster. These errors popped up as I was migrating from beta to final, and I've since fixed them.

Free PDF decks for families in need of quarantine activities

I've lost count of the number of provinces, states, and counties that have closed, and I know it's a hard time for parents and caregivers right now.

For at least the next 10 days, I've decided to make the printable PDF of The Story Engine deck free to any family in need of quarantine activities.

For all of you who put money into this Kickstarter to get your decks, let me say thank you the bottom of my heart for doing so. This wouldn't be possible without you. Thanks to your generosity last year, hundreds of kids will have a happier, healthier way to make it through this difficult isolation period.

If you know a parent/guardian/caregiver in need of engaging activities for their kids, please let them know. You can share the announcement on:

The deck has been reviewed by a curriculum developer who made sure the simple prompts section works as a fun, creative, engaging activity for kids. 

We are trying to expedite the timeline for lesson/activity plans as well, so stay tuned for updates on those.

There are two ways to get a family quarantine copy:

I would make it instantly available for free, but BackerKit does not allow $0 checkouts.

Production updates

I received the templates from the printer and have almost finished adapting everything to the exact specification. We should be in physical production very, very soon.

As mentioned above, the design for the story anthology is also complete. I hope to have it proofread soon, and then sent off to the printer for pre-print review. I will try to make the ebooks available as early as possible without compromising quality.

A timely story

I don't usually write about current events, but I've been processing the state of the world through my weekly microfiction project, The Shortest Story, and I wanted to share a story that felt particularly timely.

I hope you are all keeping well and being kind to yourselves and others, and I'll be in touch with more updates as they happen!

Beta complete, factory back in action, final materials with proofreaders
about 1 month ago – Tue, Mar 03, 2020 at 10:27:51 PM

Hello, lovely backers of The Story Engine!

I just wanted to give you a few very quick updates on progress, which has been zipping along nicely.

Here are the headlines!

  • The beta is complete (but you can still register and submit feedback)
  • The fully designed guidebook is complete
  • Digital rewards should be delivered in 2-3 weeks
  • Our factory is back up and running

The beta is complete

I got some extraordinarily helpful feedback from beta testers, which I was able to implement in waves over the past few weeks. I have been tracking all changes in a changelog available in the root of the beta folder.

Beta feedback is now semi-closed; I am not looking to make further changes to the current deck configuration, but I am still very open to feedback that can help inform future decks and expansions.

The high-quality print-and-play.

After implementing changes suggested through the beta, I sent the decks to the proofreaders, who have finished their review and are now doing a final round of checks to make sure no new errors were introduced during the editorial process.

I will keep the beta registration form open for another week or so for those interested in getting an early look: https://forms.gle/EMFbCACnjZ7zxnZc8

I fell behind in emailing the file link to new registrants as I was working on updating files with beta feedback and will try to keep up with this going forward. If you signed up and have not received the beta link by the end of today, please try registering again or DMing me directly for the link.

The guidebook is complete

The final guidebook has been designed and the proofreaders will review that next. Here's a sneak peek!

Note: This is with the proofreaders now.

Finally, the proofreaders will review the packaging and inserts, and then it's off to print.

Digital rewards being sent out in 2-3 weeks

I should be sending out digital rewards to backers in roughly 2-3 weeks. Exciting!

This will include both the high-quality version of the print-and-play PDF (show above), as well as an eco-efficient version that uses less paper and also prints better in back and white. Here's a set of sample pages from the eco-efficient edition of the main deck.

A sample set of pages from the eco-efficient print-and-play.

Here's an example of how beta tester/backer Roy printed the eco deck in black and white and then used markers to colour the edges--a great option for budget printing and classroom activities.

Cards can also be printed on coloured paper or placed in coloured sleeves for easy sorting when printed in black and white.

I am looking into exporting a higher-contrast version of the card fronts for users who would benefit from high-visibility cards.

Our factory is back up and running

After the closure for Lunar New Year and the COVID-19 coronavirus, the printer I’m working with on The Story Engine has reopened and has been very available in communications. They are providing me with final template files. We will get my designs fitted to the final specifications, produce a sample, and then it's off to the races.

I will let you know if the shutdown will affect the future shipping timeline in any way. So far, so good!

The Story Engine beta sent out + design update + COVID-19 coronavirus + free lesson plans + book production
about 2 months 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
2 months 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!