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The main thing is to have fun and save the world.

Updated: Jan 20, 2020

I invented this storytelling game last summer while hanging out with my family in a cabin where there were games about brand name trivia and other mind-numbing pursuits. It is a do-it-yourself game. Please feel free to make it and play it. And if you do play, please let me know how it goes, how you shape the game to make it more fun and flowing. Jaya's storytelling game The story is about saving the world. Along the way, there is a chance to practice inventing stories, and giving each person in the room a chance to have a voice. Two or more players will take turns making up a story inspired by the cards they draw as the game and story go on. The story can build on all the cards together, not only the most recently drawn cards. (You could also play alone—just writing or telling a story based on cards drawn.)

There are 4 types of cards: challenges; and ways to try to confront and resolve or transform these obstacles for the common good. If the card “Sea” is drawn, then something about the sea is challenging in the story you will invent. The challenge cards are all 3-letter words. The “ways to transform” or transformation cards are all 4-letter words. If you draw “GIVE,” then giving will play a role in facing the challenge of the sea.

You can also include cards with 5-letter words that bring in the impact of “human nature” (or the nature of whatever kind of characters are in your story). In this case, “human nature” may be evolved and wholesome, or uncultivated and destructive. You could draw one of these cards after every round—when each player has told one part of the story in turn. Or you could draw one every 2 or 3 rounds. If you draw “GUILT,” then guilt may make it harder for characters to experiment with how giving can transform the culture to address the difficulty with the sea.

And, lastly, there is a group of “storytelling help” cards with simple questions on them. If it is someone's turn to continue the story, but they feel stuck, then they can pick a “storytelling help” card to give them a way to begin. For example, a help card might ask you, “What time is it?” Or “What do you smell?” Then you can let the story come alive from there: “At midnight, just as the owl called out from its branch, the thunder began.” “It was early morning, and ...” “The smell of wet grass came through the cracks in the...” Other than the “storytelling help” cards, each card has one word on it.


Start by writing the words (below) on slips of paper, or on cards. You could just write the word or you could illustrate the word, too, though some of the words have more than one meaning. Fun to do with kids. For the storytelling cards, you might want to write a number and have the number correspond to a printed list of storytelling questions given below, so you don't have to write out all the questions on cards.

You can use some or all of the words and help questions that I suggest. You can add your own.

There are groups of 3-letter words, 4-letter words and 5-letter words, and the “help” cards.

Keep each group of cards separate.

The 3-letter words are the challenges or obstacles in the story: impersonal trends and natural forces in the story that we need to confront and resolve or overcome or be transformed by. Hot Sea Sky Bug Wet Dry New Old Flu Rot Air Sun Eye Ore Lot Not Ice Fly

The 4-letter transformation words are the ways characters in the story can try to respond to and work with the obstacles.. CALM ROOM BACK SURE MAKE FREE WISH HUSH GIVE TUNE FAST SLOW LOOK HEAR KIND OPEN RULE LONG WIDE FINE CLAN LOVE FEET WITH TOOL DROP PAST GROW LAND FEEL KNOW PLANT CURE LIVE

The 5-letter words are about the impact of “human nature” --whether the fearful, survival mode of human nature, or the transformed mode of a deeper “true nature” that loves sustaining life. Of course, your story may not have any humans, so these cards represent the wisdom or small-mindedness of whatever characters are living in your story. WASTE LAUGH CATCH SLAVE WHOLE GREED REPEL QUIET ANGER PROUD UPPER LOWER FIRST PEACE TRUST DOUBT SHARE THINK GUILT ANGEL DEMON WORRY SPEED CRUEL FLASH SCARY QUEST AWAKE SPACE SHAME HEART BUILD

Storytelling help cards 1) What time is it? 2) What do you or one of the characters see? 3) What do you or a character hear? 4) Does anyone taste something? 5) What does someone smell or smell like? 6) Is there a season of the year? 7) Which character of the story do you find most interesting? 8) Does someone have a secret? 9) What color is important right now? 10) What surprise is about to happen? 11) Is there a tree or forest? 12) What is the ground made of? 13) Is there a part of the landscape that you are most interested in? 14) What character or feature is least interesting to you and what change would make you interested? 15) How old is someone in the story? 16) Does anyone have a long-lost friend? 17) Is there something underground? 18) Are there non-human characters and what are their bodies like? 19) Did someone forget something? 20) Can anyone see the future? 21) What happens if everyone starts laughing? 22) Is it time to eat or sleep? 23) Does someone have a dream? 24) Who is curious about something? 25) What is a small detail about a character or place that turns out to be significant? 26) What is your favorite character feeling right now? 27) Is it a holiday? 28) Who is about to change? 29) Is someone about to tell a story within the story? 30) What or who can fall apart now to make room for something better?

HOW TO PLAY The youngest or oldest person, or the person whose age is the median age, starts by picking a 3-letter challenge card and beginning to tell the story. Then you could just go around in order of where people are sitting. The second player chooses a 4-letter transformation card and continues to tell the next part of the story.

(I found it fun to go in a different order: first oldest, then youngest, then the next to oldest, then the next to youngest, and so on.)

After the 1st and 2nd players choose the 1st challenge and transformation cards, there are several ways to play.

1) All players can have their turn to tell part of the story based on those 1st two cards only. That is one round. In the 2nd round, if there are more than 2 players, the 1st player continues the story based on the same 2 cards, and then the 2nd player draws another obstacle card. The 3rd player draws a second transformation card. The storytellers can use all 4 cards to tell the story.

2) Or after the 1st 2 players have drawn the 1st 2 cards, you could have someone draw a card every 2nd, 3rd or 4th turn—alternating between challenge cards and transformation cards. If there are 3 players, you could draw a card every 2nd or 4th turn. If there are 4 players, you could add a new card every 3rd or 5th turn. Just so that the same person is not always drawing the cards. 3) Or you could have each person draw a card each time—first a 3-letter challenge card, then the second player could choose a 4-letter card, and the 3rd player, if any could then choose another obstacle card. This can be an action-packed story.

4) Or you could make up your own rhythm to match the storytelling styles of the players.

If you are playing with 5-letter “human nature” cards, then the last person could choose a 5-letter card at the end of the round (or at the end of 2 or 3 rounds, if you prefer—just decide in advance which rhythm you will use.). The next time, you could let the next-to-last person choose a 5-letter card at the end of 1 or 2 or 3 rounds. And the next time, the next-to-next-to-last person could draw.

Any time someone feels stuck in telling their part of the story, they can choose a “storytelling help” card to get them started on their turn. You win the game when you save the world. Maybe you will have the satisfying feeling of a story winding its way around to a feeling of completion.

You can, of course, make up your own rules if you like. The main thing is to have fun and save the world.

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