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The Story Engine is a deck of 150 cards (now upgraded to 180 with stretch goals!) that offer endless storytelling prompts for writers, teachers, artists, DMs, RPG players, 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.
The Story Engine deck works in any setting or genre. You can use recommended patterns for generating prompts for specific writing goals, or come up with your own systems.
I've been using it to generate ideas for my weekly postcard fiction project, The Shortest Story, and using my stories to refine the deck system and simplify mechanics.
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 Story Engine anthology (now 94 with stretch goals)!
It changed my life and helped me produce my best work when I discovered a creative structure that got me over my anxieties and mental blocks about writing.
I think there are thousands of other people out there who have stories to tell, and just need a bit of help getting the words 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.
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.
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 to create a character
- Draw and play 1 Engine to give them a motivation
- Draw and play 1 Anchor to focus the Engine on an object, event or location
- Draw and play 1 Obstacle to create the central conflict of the story
- Draw and tuck 1 Aspect (place it under the Agent or Anchor, 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 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, you'll have the basic prompt for your story: a character who wants something, and an obstacle to overcome 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.
- 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.
- 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 discover the group organizers are in on it. 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.
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 spreads 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 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 fighting 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 stop them both and contain the threat.
- 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 they fail once again.
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.
Note for disambiguation: Story Engine is a Precis Intermedia trademark for its collaborative roleplaying game and rules (www.pigames.net). The Story Engine is a Peter Chiykowski trademark for his deck of story prompts (www.storyenginedeck.com).
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 can't find time or motivation to create them.
I know first-hand how frustrating that is, and how feels 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 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.
The project has grown by leaps and bounds since launch and I am excited to unveil three 60-card genre expansion decks as well as a set of six 18-card subgenre boosters for The Story Engine.
Written in Dragonfire features 60 cards for fantasy storytelling. I've teamed up with EMBERWIND, a groundbreaking tabletop RPG with stunning visuals and a world-class art team, to bring you some truly eye-watering visuals.
The 60-card deck showcases a mixture of existing art from the EMBERWIND lore and illustration library, as well as several new pieces special to this project. As a writer on the EMBERWIND team, I can tell you that the artists have been a major inspiration for pushing my storytelling and worldbuilding to new heights.
The cards feature artists from the EMBERWIND roster past and present, including CRUSH Visual, Toma Feizo Gas, William Liu, Colin Searle, Frank Yang, Jonny Hall, baimon, and more. These artists have worked on art for blockbuster movies, AAA video game titles, and tabletop classics like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and Magic: The Gathering.
You can see more of their work in the EMBERWIND lore archive, which includes short stories, free EMBERWIND DLC, and lots of pretty art. You can also download and play a free demo the first act of The Songweave Tapestry, the forthcoming campaign I've been writing with the team for the past year.
Written in the Light of Strange Worlds features 60 science -fiction prompt cards, covering ground from tech-driven science fiction, to dystopian futurism, to space travel, to alien contact, to artificial intelligence and beyond.
Written in Ash and Bone features 60 horror-themed prompt cards covering everything from psychological thrillers, to ghost stories, to slashers, to paranormal investigation, to occult musings, to creepypasta, to classic monster stories.
There also booster sets of 18 cards focused on particular subgenres. Booster sets are non-randomized and contain the following breakdown of card types.
- 5 Agent cards
- 2 Engine cards
- 5 Anchor cards
- 2 Obstacle cards
- 4 Aspect cards
- Dark Crafts & Ancient Horrors contains 18 eldritch/Lovecraftian horror-themed cards.
- Cog Hearts & Steam Souls contains 18 steampunk-themed cards and features the art of the tabletop RPG EMBERWIND.
- Circuits & Cybernetics contains 18 cyberpunk-themed cards.
- Wastelands& Wanderers contains 18 post-apocalyptic-themed cards.
- Mythwalkers & Eternals contains 18 mythology-themed cards and features the art of the tabletop RPG EMBERWIND.
- Jackboots & Chainlink contains 18 dystopian-themed cards.
The Story Engine: A Postcard Story Collection is a collection of 90 one-page mini-stories (now 94 with stretch goals) that read like postcards from alternate lives, parallel worlds, and broken timelines.
The theme of the collection is the idea that humans are story engines. 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.
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.
There will also be 6 stories narrated by Cecil Baldwin, the voice of Welcome to Night Vale, with additional stories voiced by Jonathan Sims (The Magnus Archives) and one more mystery guest. Below is a sample narrated story.
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)
- 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, editor of Gothic Tales of Haunted Futures on Kickstarter until Oct. 16)
- 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
We are thrilled to announce that our most popular rewards and add-ons come with customs-friendly shipping to Canada, the United States, the EU and the UK.
See the rewards/add-ons list below to see if that reward is customs-free to your region.
If your region is not listed on the reward or add-on you want, that just means we can't guarantee your local postal service will not charge customs, but we will make efforts to reduce the likelihood and amount.
- Digital add-ons can be added to any reward tier and are always customs-friendly.
- Physical add-ons can ONLY be added to physical reward tiers (i.e., tiers that have a base shipping cost and offer access to the physical reward pledge manager).
- There is no additional shipping charge for adding-on a reward to an order.
To add-on an item, simply click "Manage My Pledge" on the campaign mainpage and add the listed amount on top of your pledge.
Then click "Continue" and "Confirm." The credit will allow you to add the item to your reward in BackerKit after the campaign.
// THE PRINT-AND-PLAY PDF // or // EBOOK PDF //
- Digital add-on: $14 CAD (~$11 USD) to add to any reward tier
A DRM-free digital copy of either the print-and-play deck or ebook sent via email.
French and Spanish deck translations are now available as options in place of the English for your PDF. They will be translated by collaborators Benoit Chartier and Cintain M. Quintana.
Community translations may also be made available in additional languages.
// THE STORY ENGINE DECK //
- Physical add-on: $32 CAD (~$24 USD) to add to any physical reward tier (at no additional shipping cost)
One complete physical deck of The Story Engine.
// EXPANSION DECKS //
- Physical add-on: $20 CAD (~$15 USD) to add 1 expansion, or $55 CAD (~$41 USD) to add all 3 expansions to any physical reward tier (at no additional shipping cost)
- Digital add-on: unlocked expansions are automatically included free with every digital or physical deck reward
Expansion decks contain 60 cards each.
// BOOSTER SETS //
- Physical add-on: $7 CAD (~$5 USD) to add 1 booster set, or $17 CAD (~$13 USD) to add 3 booster sets, or $30 CAD (~$23 USD) to add all 6 booster sets to any physical reward tier (at no additional shipping cost)
- Digital add-on: unlocked boosters are automatically included free with every digital or physical deck reward
Each booster contains a fixed set of 18 cards.
// THE STORY ENGINE BOOK //
- Physical add-on: $25 CAD (~$19 USD) to add to any physical reward tier (at no additional shipping cost)
One copy of The Story Engine book.
// THE T-SHIRT //
- Physical add-on: $30 CAD (~$23 USD) to add to any physical reward tier (at no additional shipping cost)
100% cotton shirt available in sizes Small to 4X in Unisex and Small to 2X in Ladies'.
// 1 YEAR SUBSCRIPTION TO RECEIVE "POSTCARDS FROM THE FUTURE" //
- Physical add-on: $50 CAD (~$37 USD) with free shipping to add to any physical reward tier (at no additional shipping cost)
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.
Subscriptions begin December 2019.
// SIGNED AND MATTED CUSTOM PRINT //
- Physical add-on: $35 CAD (~$26 USD) to add to any physical reward tier (at no additional shipping cost)
- Currently available in: $220 Reward
Get your favourite Shortest Story printed, 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
- Currently available in: $90 Reward, $220 Reward
Get high-res wallpaper-ready JPGs of 12 of the author's favourite postcard stories.
// THE COMPLETE CHIZINE EBOOK LIBRARY //
- ONLY AVAILABLE in Canada and USA
- Digital add-on: $130 CAD (~$99 USD) to add to any reward tier
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 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, 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 can find credits and links to the photographers' websites on every page of my website and in the appendix of my books.
I also owe special thanks to the friends and family who helped me workshop, launch or maintain the project: Aaron, Benoit, Brett at CZP, Brett at Precis Intermedia, Cintain, Darryl, Derek, Eric, Gaelen, James, Jason, Karen, Kate, Mathias, Pedro, Sandra, Shiv, Tanya, Valerie, and many more; also, the absolutely INCREDIBLE community that has formed around this campaign!
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
- (31 days)