[This is part of the ongoing series on narrative engineering: design, organisation and writing. These short articles (which are republished from our wiki) deal with a few specifics of StoryNexus.]
Storylets in Sometimes decks are not always available. There’s less chance of them being available at any one time as the deck they’re in gets bigger. Also, once they do appear, they take up a slot in the player’s hand until they’re played. So they’re hard to ignore.
The player can’t deliberately ‘grind’ (repeat and repeat playing) a Sometimes storylet. So, assuming you’ve got a decent sized deck, you can create Sometimes storylets that deliberately have generous or mean or unusual quality results. If your deck has 24 storylets, having only one that gives out a particular quality will mean that the card showing up will be a bit of a treat if the quality is useful.
Sometimes cards also provide some choice – which card to play first. It’s not a particularly significant choice though – it generally doesn’t cost anything to play a card, so the player will usually play all their cards at every draw. Sometimes cards are good for gathering resources and other repeatable content. This is because there’s no temptation to hammer at a single action over and over, which might be efficient but is very dull. Sometimes cards are poor for major goals that the character is working towards, as it’s harder to keep track of how close they are to the goal than when it’s on an Always card. Also remember that a Sometimes card effectively costs fewer actions than an Always card, as one action gets you one Always card or a handful of Sometimes cards.
Branches per Storylet
How many branches should you have on one storylet? You need at least one (and you need one that’s always playable on any Sometimes storylet). But how many should you have?
To a certain extent, it’s a matter of taste. If you’re doing a chain of ten branches, you could have ten storylets, each with a single branch. Or you could have a single branch with ten storylets, each set up to only be visible at the right stage in the story.
One branch per storylet has the advantage of more text available. You have more root text, so you can lay out each situation a bit more before the player plays the action. But it’s a bit harder to keep track of, and you do have to write out all that extra text whether you need it or not. The opposite is true for multiple branches. It’s easier to keep track of because it’s all in one place. But your root text is shared across all the branches, which might not work so well for you.
The best thing to do is to experiment with both and see which works best for you, and in which situations.
Why qualities should count up
When someone plays your world, there’s a good chance it won’t be the first game they’ve played. And people who play games are used to numbers starting low and going up. Qualities that start high and then count down are confusing – especially when they’re mixed in with qualities that go up.
And the quality change messages in StoryNexus have been built with the assumption that status qualities will generally go up rather than down as things progress. So you should usually have your qualities count upwards.