By Zach Schuster
I’m Zach Schuster, the project coordinator for The Story Engine and I’m here today to show off a cool way of using The Story Engine Boosters you may not have tried! I like to call them "The Story Engine Booster Cocktails," but in order to be true to the online recipe bit I’m doing for this blog, I’m going to start with a preamble about my life before I tell you how they’re made.
I started working for The Story Engine to help with the Kickstarter campaign for Deck of Worlds since I had run one of my own to fund Thrud, a post-Ragnarok Norse comic I wrote and illustrated. Recently I flew to Indianapolis to set up and run The Story Engine booth at Gen Con, one of the biggest board game expos in the world. But since I’ve mostly been involved with Deck of Worlds, before I could sell The Story Engine Deck at Gen Con I decided to give it a go for myself. After a long day of setting up the booth, I didn’t want to carry one of everything back to my hotel room, so I just grabbed a couple of boosters that could fit in my pocket.
Thrud (left), and Kvasir, a talking bottle of god-spit (right) from Thrud
For those of you not familiar with The Story Engine expansions and boosters, they are genre-specific packs of cards that you can use independently, or mix in with the base deck for even more variety. The expansions are overarching genres, like Horror or Sci-Fi, while the boosters are sub-genres, like Steampunk and Dystopian. To make our booster cocktails today, we’ll be mixing two boosters together to make interesting sub-genre mashups!
Of course, combining genres isn’t unique to The Story Engine. Some of the most popular stories out there are genre mashups, like Dragon Ball (martial arts/sci-fi) or Star Wars (sci-fi/samurai/western). Even the wildly successful Marvel movie formula is to combine the superhero genre with something different, like occult horror/superheroes (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness), spy thriller/superheroes (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), or even more elaborate mythology/sci-fi/gladiator/superheroes (Thor: Ragnarok). While I’ll be talking about how to generate ideas by combining two Story Engine boosters, there are many other ways to do so. For example, listing the key archetypes, locations, tropes and conflicts from two genres and seeing which pairs evoke interesting images, plots, and ideas is another great way to find something unique!
With the six new boosters we released during the Deck of Worlds campaign (which are available here), there are now sixty-six unique combinations of two boosters you can make, let alone combining even more at a time. Anything from Cyberpunk/Western to Eldritch Horror/Military Sci-fi, these mashups will get you out of your comfort zone and help you tell some truly unique stories. As I’m sure you’ve now gleaned through context, I chose to mash up the Mythology and Post-Apocalyptic boosters to come up with some brand-new Thrud stories!
I chose to shuffle each card type from both boosters together, but you could also keep the boosters separate and choose which pile to draw from for each card type to have more control over the creative process. That’s normally what I would do, but this time I let the fates decide my cards, which seemed fitting for this Mytho-lyptic mashup. Here are the three story ideas I came up with:
A looter (post-apocalypse) hopeful (post-apocalypse) wants to thwart destiny with (mythology) a crash site (post-apocalypse) but they will have to trade their most precious resource (post-apocalypse)
A monster hunter (mythology) wants to outwit or overpower the warlord who controls (post-apocalyptic) a sacred mountain (mythology) but it will compromise the location of something important (post-apocalyptic) and golden (mythology)
As a side note, usually the Aspect card is used to flesh out Agent or Engine cards, but in this case it fit nicely at the end, as Thrud’s first quest is seeking out golden treasures. With The Story Engine there are no hard rules, as long as it’s helping you come up with ideas there’s no wrong way to be using it!
An oracle (mythology) wants to unleash the divine wrath of (mythology) a mutated (post-apocalypse) holy order (mythology) but they do not meet the terms of the prophecy (mythology)
I chose the second story, because if I was just drawing one comic I wanted it to be about Thrud. However, the other two prompts flesh out other characters and parts of my world I would love to explore more. Since the comic is told non-sequentially, I can easily go back and do those too!
After writing down the prompt at the top of my page in my sketchbook, I filled a few pages with notes and sketches, decided where this story fit chronologically in Thrud (sometime between Thrud and the Sea Billow and The Treasure of Crater Lake for those of you who have read it!), and then did thumbnails of the comic pages. Then, I drew the final pages by hand, scanned them in, and colored them in Photoshop like I did for the rest of Thrud. Here is how it turned out!
I hope that this look into my creative process inspires you to give The Story Engine Booster Cocktails a try! I can’t wait to draw those other prompts I came up with at Gen Con, and maybe even mix up some other boosters and make something completely new! If you do come up with something cool, feel free to tag @thestoryengine on social media with what you make! We love seeing what people come up with! Finally, if Thrud sounds like the kind of thing you’d want to check out, you can read the first few short stories and buy the rest here if you like what you see!
Zach Schuster is the project coordinator for The Story Engine and a freelance illustrator. He spends his time making cool things with his friends, like the recently released card game Wizlords in Space: Cosmic Card-tastrophe! He is currently hard at work on Thrud: The Ballad of Braggi. You can find more of his art at zmschuster.com or follow his Instagram.