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CA$ 51,427
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21days to go

All or nothing. This project will only be funded if it reaches its goal by Sat, October 12 2019 3:59 AM UTC +00:00.

THE STORY ENGINE deck of endless storytelling prompts + book

Deck of story prompts for writers, teachers, GMs, DMs & tabletop RPGs + a new book of piercing postcard stories from The Shortest Story

THE STORY ENGINE deck of endless storytelling prompts + book

Deck of story prompts for writers, teachers, GMs, DMs & tabletop RPGs + a new book of piercing postcard stories from The Shortest Story

CA$ 51,427
pledged of CA$ 20,000pledged of CA$ 20,000 goal
869
backers
21days to go

All or nothing. This project will only be funded if it reaches its goal by Sat, October 12 2019 3:59 AM UTC +00:00.

About

The Story Engine is a deck of 150 cards that offer endless storytelling prompts for writers, DMs, GMs, role-players, gamers, teachers, artists and more.

It runs on a simple, fast, open-ended system of drawing and arranging cards to create prompts for:

  • Story ideas
  • Character concepts
  • Encounter premises
  • Magical items
  • Campaign hooks

It's all in how you arrange the cards, interpret the connections between them, and bring the concept to life.

Note: This is a rendered image and not a final design.

The Story Engine deck works in any setting or genre. You can use recommended spreads and dealing patterns for generating prompts for specific writing goals, or throw away the guide book and come up with your own systems.

I've been using it to come up with ideas for my weekly postcard fiction project, The Shortest Story, and using my story-writing process to refine the deck system and simplify the mechanics. I've had DMs use my stories as ideas for adventures and encounters, and even had one of my stories adapted for a Dungeon Master's Guild encounter pack.

Because every story I write for The Shortest Story fits on a postcard and features an entirely new premise, it's the perfect testing ground for new ideas. I've collected 90 of the best stories I wrote while developing the deck into the The Story Engine anthology. 

Note: This is a rendered image and not a final design.

Finding a creative structure that helped me get over my anxieties and mental blocks about writing changed my life and helped me produce my best work. 

I think there are thousands of other people out there who have stories to tell, and just need that little bit of help getting the words to come out.

If that sounds familiar, this project is for you.

The Story Engine deck has only two core rules:

  • 1) Don't leave the table without creating something, even if it's only in your head.
  • 2) Ignore any rule or guideline that doesn't serve your creative process.

But I've consulted friends who are writers, game designers, Tarot readers and artists for their thoughts, and come up with additional guidelines and recommendations for creating powerful prompts for different purposes.

The Story Engine deck is made up of five types of cards that each tap into an element of what makes a powerful, interesting, and unique story.

To create the simplest form of a prompt:

  •  Draw and play 1 Agent card to create a character
  •  Draw and play 1 Engine card to give them a motivation
  •  Draw and play 1 Anchor card to focus the Engine on an object, event or location
  •  Draw and play 1 Obstacle card to create the central conflict of the story
  •  Draw and tuck 1 Aspect card (place it under the Agent or Anchor card, your choice) to add more detail

Every card in the deck is multi-sided, and can be rotated to create different interpretations or thematically linked variations of the same prompt.

 As you play your cards, arrange the cards so the version of the prompt you wish to use is at the bottom of each card, facing you. You can interpret cards literally (where the Agent card "Artist" means a person who creates art) or in an open-ended way (where "Artist" means anyone with creative powers, like a prolific inventor, a manic genius, or a master heist-planner). 

When you're done adjusting and interpreting, you'll have the basic prompt for your story: a character who wants something specific, and an obstacle they'll have to overcome if they want to get it. Let your imagination take it from there.

  • This could be an apocalypse survivor who finds a seemingly perfect haven community with a dark secret, and must decide whether to dig deeper and risk being thrown out.
  • Or an ageing war veteran who moves into an idyllic senior's residence, only to discover that the place is so nice because it's used to launder money. If they expose the secret, they'll lose their paradisaical new home.
  • Or an addiction survivor finds out that their online support group, previously a haven in their journey to recovery, is being used to identify vulnerable targets for identity theft. The more they investigate, they more they realize the group organizers are in on it, and that confronting this problem will mean being hated for dissolving the group.

This basic pattern takes seconds to set up and offers more than 12,000,000,000 unique prompts to get you started, but there are endless card patterns you can use to open your storytelling options or refine your prompt.

You can also use face-down cards to represent pre-existing portions of a story, such as player characters, NPCs, or important items/locations.

Here's how you create a quick random encounter with an NPC with an agenda involving a party member.

  •  This could be a clairvoyant fire mage who is spreading a rumour about a party member as a scare tactic to keep their congregation in line as their authority crumbles due to ailing health.
  • Or the fire-and-brimstone leader of an apocalypse cult, whose last failed end-of-the-world prediction didn't come true, and they're blaming it on the recent actions of the party.

Here's how you generate a sentient magic item or haunted location that wants something from a player, and will imprint its will on them.

  •  This could be a heavenly, golden trumpet, whose previous owner was tasked with closing down the fight pits, and failed. If a party member finds it, they'll have the ability to play divine anthems to buff the party, but will be imprinted with a quest to go shut down blood sports once and for all.
  • Or, the party finds an enchanted harp that plays the music of the spheres, captivating all who hear its strings. It longs to be connected to its previous owner, a disgraced bard who now plays for coin outside an illegal gambling arena on another continent. The harp will slowly possess the player character who finds it, making them play its former owner's songs until they track the bard down and give it back.

Or you can structure a story or campaign around two rivals who want the same thing:

  •  The could be the god of war, who has decided that pestilence would be a more efficient way to end humanity. Meanwhile, a demon-plagued vigilante sees the incipient outbreak as a judgment on humanity, and is searching for a way to control who the plague kills so they can wipe out those they see as guilty. The players will have to contain the threat before either side has a chance to complete their work.
  • Or a powerful demigod blamed for an ancient cataclysm is back, once again trying to end the world with a virus that sends ordinary people into sudden homicidal fits. Their old adversary, a demon, has possessed the body of a commoner and turned them into a folk hero fighting the outbreak. The party must work with them, however begrudgingly, to learn how the demigod was stopped last time and ensure their cannot complete their bloody mission.

For an adventure hook tied to a campaign concept, take the rivals spread and have the party stumble across the contested Anchor. Or replace the Anchor with an NPC who approaches the party for help.

They must either choose a side, or become a third faction with their own connection to the Anchor.

The Story Engine deck gives you endless options for creating, developing, mapping or improvising entire stories, characters, and campaigns.

I am even developing two-player prompts for collaborative storytelling or mutual writing challenges, along with genre-focused expansion decks for fantasy, science fiction, horror, and more.

I developed The Story Engine deck because I've met so many people who have incredible ideas for stories, books, characters, games and campaigns trapped in their heads, but they never find time or motivation to create them.

I know first-hand how frustrating that is, and how it can feel like you're missing out on your best creative years. 

I lost my connection with writing for a few years, and I didn't realize how much colour and depth had drained from my experience of the world until I finally picked up the pen again. I knew I might never finish a novel, so I started writing these 25-to-250-word mini-stories, often prompted by scrolling through royalty-free photography sites looking for images that sparked an interest, or jotting down words, phrases or ideas that stuck with me.

This eventually became The Shortest Story, my weekly postcard fiction project, which has been running since June 2017. 

It's also seen me through some really dark times and difficult life transitions. No matter what was going on outside of my little writing nook, I was able to turn to my stories either as an escape, or as an arena to face my down my demons on my own turf. These stories are always the scariest to write, but they're the ones people seek me out to talk to me about again and again, often to tell me about their own creative projects they want to get off the ground.

I know these stories are speaking to people, and I know people have their own things to say too, their own stories to tell.

Last year, with the help of 1,000 backers, I was able to Kickstart my first print collection of stories and get an album of short stories on the front page of Imgur.

The Story Engine: A Postcard Story Collection is a collection of 90 one-page mini-stories that read like postcards from alternate lives, parallel worlds, and broken timelines. You do not need to have read any of my work before to enjoy it.

Note: This is a rendered image and not a final design.

The larger theme of the collection is the idea that humans are story engines in the same way that sharks are ram breathers, always moving forward to convert water into oxygen through their gills. 

The way we move forward, the way we survive, is by taking our environments and experiences and transforming them into stories.  It's how we take all of our heartbreaks and victories and betrayals and trysts and journeys and make sense of them, turn them into something that powers us, that we can share with others so we aren't alone with it. Stories are a survival mechanism, are the human spirit saying, I made it through this, and you can survive this too.

The stories in The Story Engine book mix genres and overturn tropes, jumping between:

  • a parable about demons seeking refuge in the suburbs
  • a heartfelt internal monologue by a ghost hunter looking back on their resume
  • a creepy urban legend about a dark entity you can only see with your eyes closed

You get to experience it all with the flip of a few pages. 

Here are a few sample stories from the collection:

The book will be printed in full colour on at 5" x 7.5" landscape. The basic form of the book will be a perfect-bound softcover, but stretch goals will unlock additional print enhancements.

The collection also features 20 brand-new stories that have never appeared on the website before, as a special thank you for backers helping me bring this project to fruition.

It will also feature 6 stories narrated by Cecil Baldwin, the voice of Welcome to Night Vale. Below is an example of a story he narrated for my first book, Postcards From Impossible Worlds.

You can read or listen to more stories on shorteststory.com or:

The book will be published by ChiZine Publications, an award-winning publisher of dark fiction based in Peterborough Canada.

 The book also includes guest stories by some incredible contributors:

  • Sebastian A. Jones (The Untamed, Niobe: She Is Death, on Kickstarter until September 27 PST)
  • James Miller (A Small Fiction, Dear Toadington)
  • Chinelo Onwualu (editor for Anathema, currently fundraising for issue 9; co-founder of Omenana)
  • Jonathan Sims (The Magnus Archives)
  • S. M. Beiko (Scion of the Fox, Children of the Bloodlands)
  • Jordan Shiveley (Hottest Singles, Void Merch)
  • Kari Maaren (Weave a Circle Round)
  • Sandra Kasturi (Come Late to the Love of Birds, The Animal Bridegroom)
  • O. Westin (MicroSFF)
  • James Stevenson (Write With Lighting)
  • Sonya Ballantyne (Crash Site, Kerri Berry Lynn)
  • Shiv MacFarlane
  • Kat Kruger (d20 Dames, Adventure She Wrote)
  • Jason Taniguchi (Jason Taniguchi's Very Sensible Stories and Poems for Grown-ups)
  • L. X. Beckett (Gamechanger)
  • Benoit Chartier (Red Nexus, Afterdeath, The Booger Hunter's Apprentice)
  • Cintain M. Quintana

The various reward bundles are listed on the right-hand side of the page, but you can also build your own reward package by adding on items.

  •  Digital add-ons can be added to any reward tier.
  •  Physical add-ons can only be added to reward tiers that offer access to the physical reward pledge manager. There is no additional shipping charge for adding-on a reward to an order that already includes shipping.

To add-on an item, simply click "Manage My Pledge" and add the listed amount on top of your pledge. The credit will allow you to add the item to your reward in BackerKit pledge after the campaign. 

 // THE PRINT-AND-PLAY PDF // or // EBOOK PDF //

  •  Digital add-on: $14 CAD (~$11 USD) to add to any reward tier
  •  Included in: $14 Reward, $24 reward, $50 [Early Bird] Reward, $80 Reward, $90 Reward, $150 Reward, $275 Reward

A DRM-free digital copy of either the print-and-lay deck or the ebook sent to the email address of your choice as a PDF.

French and Spanish translations of the deck as print-and-play PDFs may become available as options in the second and third wave as stretch goals, translated by collaborators Benoit Chartier and Cintain Quintana.

 // THE DECK //

Note: This is a rendered image and not a final design.
  •  Physical add-on: $32 CAD (~$24 USD) to add to any physical reward tier for no additional shipping charge
  •  Included in: $30 [Early Bird] Reward, $50 [Early Bird] Reward, $80 Reward, $90 Reward, $150 Reward, $275 Reward

One complete physical deck of The Story Engine (150 cards) and a guide manual for different story prompt spreads and patterns.


 // THE BOOK //

Note: This is a rendered image and not a final design.
  •  Physical add-on: $25 CAD (~$19 USD) to add to any physical reward tier for no additional shipping charge
  •  Included in: $25 Reward, $50 [Early Bird] Reward, $80 Reward, $90 Reward, $150 Reward, $275 Reward

One copy of The Story Engine book featuring 90 postcard stories from The Shortest Story.

 // THE T-SHIRT //

Note: This is a rendered image not a final design.
  •  Physical add-on: $30 CAD (~$23 USD) to add to any physical reward tier for no additional shipping charge
  •  Included in: $80 Reward, $150 Reward, $275 Reward

One 100% cotton shirt available in sizes S to 3X.

 // 1 YEAR SUBSCRIPTION TO RECEIVE "POSTCARDS FROM THE FUTURE" //

  •  Physical add-on: $50 CAD (~$37 USD) to add to any physical reward tier for no additional shipping charge
  •  Included in: $90 Reward, $150 Reward, $275 Reward

Receive monthly story postcards in the mail. The postcards are printed on recycled matte cardstock, signed by the author, and feature stories from The Shortest Story three months before they appear on the website, along with one annual story exclusive to mail subscribers.

Subscriptions begin December 2019.

Note for existing subscribers: If you backed last year's project, the September 2019 postcard was the last on your subscription. I will be pausing mail-outs in October/November and resuming in December 2019 so nobody misses out.


 // SIGNED AND MATTED CUSTOM PRINT //

  •  Included in: $150 Reward, $275 Reward
  •  Physical add-on: $35 CAD (~$26 USD) to add to any physical reward tier (includes shipping to all regions)

Get your favourite Shortest Story printed specially for you, signed by the author, mounted on a sturdy white mat-and-board, and personalized with a hand-written dedication on the back.


 // DIGITAL STORY WALLPAPER PACK //

  •  Digital add-on: $7 CAD (~$5 USD) to add to any reward tier
  •  Included in: $80 Reward, $90 Reward, $150 Reward, $275 Reward

Get high-res wallpaper-ready JPGs of 12 of my favourite postcard stories from the new book.


 // THE COMPLETE CHIZINE EBOOK LIBRARY // 

  •  Digital add-on: $130 CAD (~$99 USD) to add to any reward tier
  •  Included in: $275 Reward

Get ebook versions of all 100+ titles published by ChiZine Publications up to June 2019 emailed to you. The ebook library includes rare and out-of-print books.

ChiZine Publications is a World Fantasy Award, British Fantasy Award, and Bram Stoker Award-winning publisher that has been championing weird, subtle, surreal, disturbing horror, science fiction, and fantasy since 2008. 

I'm the award-winning writer, editor and cartoonist behind the webcomic Rock Paper Cynic, the postcard fiction project The Shortest Story, and the viral Twitter sensation Dad Joke Han Solo.

I have published five books, fulfilled five Kickstarters, and twice won the Aurora Award for “Best Graphic Novel” from the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association. I've written for games like EMBERWIND and FRACTER, and my work has appeared or made mention in Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, Best Canadian Poetry, Best Canadian Speculative Writing, Geek and Sundry, The Globe and Mail, Asimov's Science Fiction, and more.

AND ONE LAST THING...

I'd like to say a special thank you to the photographers on Unsplash who have made sections of their portfolios available for free commercial use. You are incredibly generous with your work and your talent, and I could never have started The Shortest Story without this incredible resource you've contributed.

You can find credits and links to the photographers' websites on every page of website, and every book and project I release includes the names of every photographer whose work I used in making it.

I'd like in particular to thank the following photographers, whose work appeared prominently in the design of this project Zoltan Tasi, Tara Evans, Paul Zoetemeijer,  Natalya Letunova, Patrick Tomasso, Vojna Andrea, Mads Schmidt Rasmussen, Nathan Anderson, Pawel Nolbert, Esteban Lopez, Raquel Raclette, Ylannite Koppens, NASA, Michael Nunes, Henry Be,  Mallory Johndrow, Robert Anasch, Leo Fosdal, Philippe Verheyden, Janko Ferlic, Wasim Hossain, and more.

I also owe special thanks to the friends and family who volunteered to help me workshop the project or helped me launch The Shortest Story: Aaron, Benoit, Cintain, Darryl, Derek, Eric, Gaelen, James, Jason, Karen, Kate, Mathias, Pedro, Sandra, Shiv, Tanya, Valerie, and many more.

Risks and challenges

This is my sixth Kickstarter project, and I've become experienced at setting timelines, managing project budgets, communicating proactively with backers, planning mass shippings and digital deliveries for 1,000 backers and ensuring that all items get delivered—whatever it takes.

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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    Beth both The Story Engine deck of storytelling prompts and The Story Engine book of postcard stories from The Shortest Story. Comes with digital copies of both as a free bonus.

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    Get the new T-shirt on 100% cotton, as well as physical and digital copies of both The Story Engine deck of storytelling prompts and book of postcard stories from The Shortest Story.

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    Postcard Subscription + Deck + Book

    Along with receiving your physical and digital deck and book, you'll also receive a set of 12 high-res postcard story wallpapers and a year of monthly story postcards in the mail.

    The postcards are printed on recycled matte cardstock, signed by the author, and feature stories from The Shortest Story 3 months before they appear on the website, along with one annual story exclusive to mail subscribers.

    Subscriptions begin December 2019.

    Note for existing postcard subscribers: If you backed last year's project, the September 2019 postcard was the last of your subscription. I will be pausing mail-outs in October or November and resuming in December 2019 so nobody misses out.

    Includes:
    • 12 monthly postcard stories signed and physically mailed to you
    • Digital set of 12 high-res story postcard wallpapers (JPG)
    • Physical copy of The Story Engine deck of storytelling prompts
    • Physical copy of The Story Engine book of postcard stories
    • Digital print-and-play PDF of The Story Engine deck of prompts
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    Complete Collector's Package

    Get a copy of both the book and deck; plus a year-long subscription to signed monthly story postcards mailed to your house; plus the new 100% cotton T-shirt; plus your choice of any story from The Shortest Story custom-printed, signed and matted with a custom hand-written dedication on the back; plus digital copies of both the deck and book; plus a set of 12 high-res wallpapers of my favourite stories from the book.

    Postcard subscriptions begin December 2019.

    Note for existing postcard subscribers: If you backed last year's project, the September 2019 postcard was the last of your subscription. I will be pausing mail-outs in October or November and resuming in December 2019 so nobody misses out.

    Includes:
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    • 100% cotton T-shirt
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    • Physical copy of The Story Engine book of postcard stories
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    • Digital PDF of The Story Engine book of postcard stories
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    Complete Collector's + ChiZine Package

    In addition to everything from the Complete Collector's reward (deck, book, print and play, ebook, T-shirt, signed/matted print, wallpaper pack, 1-year postcard subscription), you'll get all 100+ ebooks published by ChiZine Publications up to June 2019 emailed to you.

    The ebook library includes rare and out-of-print books.

    ChiZine Publications is a World Fantasy Award, British Fantasy Award, and Bram Stoker Award-winning publisher that has been championing weird, subtle, surreal, disturbing horror, science fiction, and fantasy since 2008.

    Postcard subscriptions begin December 2019.

    Note for existing postcard subscribers: If you backed last year's project, the September 2019 postcard was the last of your subscription. I will be pausing mail-outs in October or November and resuming in December 2019 so nobody misses out.

    Includes:
    • Digital copies of all ChiZine Publications books up to June 2019
    • 100% cotton T-shirt
    • Physical copy of The Story Engine deck of storytelling prompts
    • Physical copy of The Story Engine book of postcard stories
    • Digital print-and-play PDF of The Story Engine deck of prompts
    • Digital PDF of The Story Engine book of postcard stories
    • Digital set of 12 high-res story postcard wallpapers (JPG)
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    Pledge CA$ 50 or more About US$ 38

    Physical Deck + Book bundle [EARLY BIRD]

    Get early bird pricing for both The Story Engine deck of storytelling prompts and The Story Engine book of postcard stories from The Shortest Story. Comes with digital copies as a free bonus.

    Includes:
    • Physical copy of The Story Engine deck of storytelling prompts
    • Physical copy of The Story Engine book of postcard stories
    • Digital print-and-play PDF of The Story Engine deck of prompts
    • Digital PDF of The Story Engine book of postcard stories
    • Access to pledge manager for physical and digital rewards
    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Reward no longer available 100 backers
    CA$
    About US$ 38

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    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  16. Reward no longer available

    Pledge CA$ 52 or more About US$ 40

    Physical Deck + Book bundle [EARLY BIRD]

    Get the second wave of early bird pricing for both The Story Engine deck of storytelling prompts and The Story Engine book of postcard stories from The Shortest Story. Comes with digital copies as a free bonus.

    Includes:
    • Physical copy of The Story Engine deck of storytelling prompts
    • Physical copy of The Story Engine book of postcard stories
    • Digital print-and-play PDF of The Story Engine deck of prompts
    • Digital PDF of The Story Engine book of postcard stories
    • Access to pledge manager for physical and digital rewards
    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Anywhere in the world
    Reward no longer available 150 backers
    CA$
    About US$ 40

    By pledging you agree to Kickstarter's Terms of Use, Privacy Policy, and Cookie Policy.

    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.