Storybuilding is a system of formal negotiation using structured language. Storybuilding should not be used to determine who wins — relative strength can be determined through a Contest. It is a way to negotiate outcomes that are otherwise likely unachievable — a way to gain consent, step by step, trying to achieve at each step results that are acceptable to both parties involved. In general, we feel that anything that takes a character out of play for a long period of time, or permanently, such as more than a few days of imprisonment, or death, is best negotiated through storybuilding.
In storybuilding, the scope of the outcomes that you name must be limited to things that you and your opponent control. You can involve yourself and props that you control, and your opponent and props that he controls. You can potentially bring in other people and other props, but you should get their consent to this in advance of offering related outcomes. Moreover, if you're bringing in props where you have co-prop controllers, we strongly encourage you to talk to them in advance, so nobody's blindsided by what's going on.
Initiating a Storybuilding Conflict
Prior to initiating storybuilding, you and your opponent should already have framed your conflict, and you may have already obtained some consequences via a Contest or a War. Both you and your opponent should agree that you want to pursue a storybuilding resolution.
One of you has to initiate the conflict. We suggest that this should normally be the winner of the Contest or War that preceded the story, but you can agree on it being the loser, or flip a coin for it, or whatever.
The initiator (from now on called the "aggressor") makes an opening statement — basically, what outcome they want to see, such as, "Eric is overthrown." They do so with:
+conflict/init opponent = opening statement
His opponent (from now on called the "defender") handshakes the initiation with +conflict/accept aggressor if he agrees that this is a reasonable place to start from, or +conflict/reject aggressor if he doesn't. Note that a player is never obligated to agree to storybuilding.
The defender must now decide how to respond to the opening statement.
Responding to a Statement
There are six possible responses to an opponent's statement:
- I don't understand. (Ask the other person to rephrase/clarify. Doesn't cost anything.)
- I agree to that, but only if I get something. (Costs 1 point of Focus.)
- I don't like that. I propose, alternatively, you get something. (Costs 2 points of Focus.)
- No. You don't get that. Instead, I get something. (Costs 3 points of Focus.)
- You go too far. We can't negotiate this. We need a GM to intervene. (Doesn't cost any Focus.)
- We have an agreement. (Accept and finish the storybuilding session. Doesn't cost any focus.)
(Side note: If you respond to an opponent's "Alternatively" with an "Alternatively" of your own, it only costs 1 point of Focus, rather than 2.)
The responses correspond to six commands:
- +conflict/huh explanation of what you don't understand
- +conflict/if what you want
- +conflict/alt alternative proposal for what your opponent gets
- +conflict/no what you want
- +conflict/gm explanation of why you think you need GM intervention
You can also use +conflict/huh to formally make a statement of, "That's unacceptable" — i.e., "Please take back what you said and suggest something else entirely, or we'll need a staff intervention."
Once you have made your offer, it becomes your opponent's turn again, and he can respond to your statement with one of the above choices.
Storybuilding continues until one party does a +conflict/finish or a +conflict/gm.
As you go through this back-and-forth formal negotiation, you are agreeing to, or rejecting, statements on a statement-by-statement basis.
It's very important to note that when you respond to something with I agree to that, but only if… that you are agreeing to what your opponent proposed. Your opponent could very well respond with an Alternatively… or No, instead… which would negate what you offered, but even if he does, you still have an agreement on his previous statement.
Both parties are generally best served by coming to a relatively rapid agreement. The less Focus you have available to you, the more your options are going to be restricted, and the higher the danger that your opponent is going to propose something that you don't like and that you won't be able to easily counter.
Do not call for a GM simply because you ran out of Focus. It is incumbent upon you to come to an agreement before you run out of Focus. If you call for a GM because you ran out of Focus and you don't like your opponent's offer, the GM's going to intervene only if he feels your opponent has been manifestly abusive in his last statement; in most cases, the storybuilding contract will stand.
The end-product of storybuilding is essentially a formal contract for the outcome to the conflict. This contract is permanent, available for the staff to review, and can be made public for the general playerbase to review.
A storybuilding contract will normally be considered absolute — you and your opponent have formally negotiated something, and it would be unfair and dishonest to go back on it. If both of you decide you really hate the contract, you can, upon mutual agreement, dissolve or alter it, but note that this had better be genuine, mutual agreement. Guilt-tripping, browbeating, whining, or otherwise annoying the other player into agreeing to discard a storybuilding contract will be severely frowned upon.
The normal consent rules do not apply to storybuilding contracts, since storybuilding is essentially a structured consent system. If you don't like something, you have the option to negate it by spending points of Focus. If your opponent proposes something manifestly unfair or refuses to retract something that is personally distasteful, you may call for a GM. (Proposing something manifestly unfair or distasteful is also likely to result in consequences to yourself when a GM is called in, so we strongly suggest that you do not do so.)
Calling in a GM
If you call for a GM, the staff may elect to have one of their number resolve the matter, or they may appoint one or more other players to deal with it.
Calling for a GM is a last resort. We expect players to make every effort to settle matters among themselves. If you call for a GM, at least one of the following should apply:
- You and your opponent are in mutual agreement that you simply cannot handle dealing with each other.
- Your opponent has proposed something which is manifestly unfair and a clear example of poor sportsmanship.
- Your opponent has proposed something that is distasteful and refuses to retract it.
- Your opponent has proposed something beyond the agreed-upon scope and refuses to retract it.
You may, at any time, ask the staff for advice as to how you should handle the storybuilding negotiation. We're happy to offer assistance in determining reasonable outcomes. However, a formal call for GM intervention is essentially a statement that you and your opponent are unable to deal reasonably with one another.
In general, the scope of a GM's intervention will be limited to the last statement made, possibly the last two statements made. Anything before that is considered to be part of the ratified storybuilding contract. Therefore, consider carefully what you agree to.
In a formal GM intervention, a staff member may elect to impose a penalty on the player judged to be in the wrong, typically in the form of a deduction of Focus, or compensate the other player, typically in the form of a grant of Focus.
In other words: It's to your advantage to be reasonable and not make statements that make the other player feel like he needs to call in a GM.
If Eric and Corwin's conflict was done in our storybuilding, it'd look something like this:
Eric and Corwin have a War to settle Corwin and Bleys's invasion of Amber, and its outcome is that Corwin loses his army and is captured. Eric is going to be able to crown himself King. Here, negotiations between Eric and Corwin's players run into a snag, because Eric has decided that what he wants to do is to throw Corwin in prison indefinitely and put out his eyes.
Corwin's player doesn't simply want to say no, because Eric's in a tough spot. If Corwin goes free, he's almost certainly going to attack again, since his player really doesn't have much in the way of reasons for Corwin not to do so. Eric knows this IC, of course, and although Eric is reluctant IC (and OOC) to kill Corwin, he also feels that he needs to inflict appropriate consequences. Although Eric knows OOC that a period of fast-forward is coming (several years will quickly pass), it will still mean that Corwin is out of play for several weeks.
Since Corwin and Eric's players are at an impasse, they agree to try a storybuilding contract.
Eric's player initiates, since he won the war. He says, "Eric throws Corwin into prison and puts his eyes out."
Corwin's player responds with, "I agree, but only if Corwin is allowed to have visitors, escapes within the next month of OOC time, and is allowed to come back to Amber, free, after another month." (Cost: 1 Focus)
Eric's player replies, "I agree, but only if Corwin doesn't assault Amber again." (Cost; 1 Focus)
Corwin's player replies, "I don't like that. Alternatively, Corwin's next assault on Amber will fail." (Cost: 2 Focus)
Eric's player states, "That's not good enough for me. I say no. Instead, not only will Corwin's next assault fail, but Corwin will never be King." (Cost: 3 Focus)
Corwin's player says, "You're asking me to give up a lot. I agree, but only if I get two conditions. First, when Corwin next returns to Amber, he's treated as a hero. Second, when Corwin does return, Eric won't be able to rule Amber any longer." (Cost: 1 Focus)
Eric's player says, "That's going to be tough. And I'm not sure that anything short of death is going to get Eric to give up the throne. So, I say no. Instead, Eric will reconcile with Corwin. And Corwin can be a hero." (Cost: 3 Focus)
Corwin's player says, "Still not good enough for me. I agree, but only if Eric gives Corwin the Jewel of Judgement when he returns." (Cost: 1 Focus)
Eric's player, having already spent 7 Focus (vs. Corwin's 5), and thinking he's running dangerously low on Focus, decides, "I guess that's okay. We have an agreement."
So to recap what's been agreed to here:
- Corwin gets put into prison and his eyes get put out. He gets to escape within an OOC month and return to Amber after another month.
- Corwin's next assault on Amber will fail. He'll never be King. (Note that this agreement applies permanently. Corwin's player is obliged to find reasons to not take the throne from this point forward. Eric's player can voluntarily release him from this, but that's Corwin's only out.)
- When Corwin next returns to Amber, he'll be treated as a hero, Eric will reconcile with him, and Eric will give him the Jewel of Judgement.
This is effectively a play contract. There are lots of circumstances here that are big gaping IC holes that have to be filled in with details, but at this point, both players are obliged to find ways to make it happen.