Card-Based Tools For RPGs – Part 2
From Johnn Four
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #334
- Card-Based Tools For RPGs, Part 2
- A Brief Word From Johnn
- Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
Last week, we looked as several possibilities for card-based RPG tools, based on a reader request. Presented here are more ideas for how to use cards of any type to help make GMing easier and gaming more fun.
Thanks again to Patrick Waddington, Thorsten Hunsicker, and Heather Grove for their tips. You can also find a couple more card tips in the Readers Tips section.
Cards are perfect for random generation. Put them in a deck or a box, blind draw, and voila, you have a generator. What you can generate is almost unlimited. The question is, what randomly generated results would help you out?
Here are a few ideas:
- Get a list of names together, perhaps from Internet resources, and put one name at the top of each card. Lay the deck of cards face down, shuffle, and draw them as you need them during games. Use the cards you draw to make notes about the NPC you assign the name to, and file cards away in box for ongoing reference and updating.
- Determine a name generation system by race or culture. Create random cards in a separate deck for each part of the system. As you need names, draw a card from each deck and put them together to form a name. After recording the name, put the cards at the bottom of their decks. Shuffle decks at the beginning each session.
For example, a culture in your world might have a pattern of syllable + apostrophe + vowel + syllable. Syllable one, vowel, and syllable two each get their own deck. As you need names, you draw three cards, put them in order, and add the apostrophe. With several cards per deck, you have an unending source of names.
Are your games always bright and sunny? Build a card-based weather generator. You can keep it simple (sunny, partly cloudy, precipitation, windy, windy + precipitation, extreme event). You can also make it as complex as you like, perhaps with each of the above cards containing random tables for more refined weather (amount of precipitation, temperature, wind speed, wind direction, and so on).
A great system might be pre-plotting your weather according to month (i.e. 30 cards x 12 months, each card has a random weather report for the day, customized to month). This would take awhile to set-up, but it means during games you just draw a random card for the month you’re in and get a complete weather report. As the day passes, you put the card at the back. Then you can shuffle right away, only at the start of sessions, or never so it won’t get drawn again that month.
Maps: Dungeons, Wilderness, City
As mentioned last week, you can craft terrain tiles according to environment (i.e. forest, ruins, city block, standard dungeon, caverns) and lay cards out, at random, for quick encounter map generation.
Certain dungeon or environment designs are perfect for random generation via cards. For example, if you made a dungeon modeled after the one in the movie Cube, each card could be a room colour with trap or contents. As the dungeon moves around, just shuffle the cards, leaving the room the PCs are currently in on the table. Make notes as required on the cards or use Post-Its so that rooms previously entered retain the state they were left in (unless a reset sweep hasbeen performed).
Repurposing Source Materials
Suppose you had a deck of cards for each of the major game elements that make up encounters? If you needed inspiration or complete generation when designing or in-game, you’d just draw what you need from one or more decks:
- NPCs (perhaps separate decks for stats, hooks, personalities, goals/motives, pocket contents, and so on)
- Special mundane treasures
- Interesting magic items
- Hooks or encounter seeds
If you are like me, you stumble across good RPG ideas all the time at websites, on forums, in magazines, and even in e-zines. 🙂 If you are keen on card-based tools, consider this:
- Create a Word, OpenOffice, or other text file template to match the size of your blank index cards for each deck category you want.
- As you read or surf, keep an eye out for ideas. Alternatively, do a search for ideas on a specific topic.
- For each idea, copy/paste or type it into your template onto a new page.
- When you have a few spare minutes, print out the contents of your text files onto your index cards (for personal use only). If you batch process these (i.e. sit by your printer and feed in index cards) the task is fairly quick.
- Empty out your text files and repeat.
Over time (or right away if you spend a dedicated evening building this) you’ll accumulate a bunch of cards in each deck. Next time you need a trap, draw a card. What a great tool!
The D&D 2nd Edition D&D Decks
I grabbed up the random encounter decks for D&D 2nd Ed. When they came out. I still use them, though not always for random generation. If you can get your hands on these, they are useful.
Here’s a commercial PDF of them: Laws of the Night: Sabbat Guide
Once Upon a Time Card Game
I have a cool game from Atlas Games called Once Upon a Time. Two readers wrote in a tip about this as well. During the game, players draw a hand of cards from a fantasy-styled deck.
Each card has a picture and a word, such as Cave, Tower, Hidden, Lost, Sleeping, Giant, Prince, and so on.
There is also a deck of Happy Ever After cards that list the last sentence of a story.
The goal of the game is to play the cards in your hand and tell a story with them that ultimately ends in the sentence on your Happy Ever After card.
As you can imagine, these are awesome for generating campaign, story, and encounter ideas.
Computers make random generation, especially with complex algorithms, easy. However, card-based generators are easy too, especially if you employ more than one deck, or put extra information on cards. You can also use the data files of electronic generators to fill out your card generators, if you are so inclined.
Cards make awesome player handouts. They are sturdier than paper and they’re compact. Commercial products are often colourful or evocative. Alternatively, blank cards, if you prefer that route, are cheap.
Here are some ideas for card-based player handouts:
The Black Deck
Check out this cool tip from Jon Thompson: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/readissue.php?number=302#R3
Equipment is served well by the card format. Give each piece of equipment a separate card. As PCs travel, explore, or visit, have them put the equipment they’re carrying into decks for fast reference and refereeing.
For mounts and vehicles, players can clip together the cards of equipment stored on those to create distinct piles – one per mount/vehicle. Same goes with backpacks, portable holes and bags of holding, hirelings, and other containers and carriers.
You can also note special properties or rules on equipment cards to speed up gameplay. For example, you could make a backpack card that you always keep on top of the stack of cards of the equipment it’s holding.
The backpack card lists carrying capacity along with rules for how long it takes to fish something out of the backpack during combat. You might also note the weight of each item on its equipment card in the lower right corner to make calculating current backpack weight fast – just add up the numbers in the right corners of the cards in the backpack stack.
Players can note ammunition supplies and usage on equipment cards too. For the CCGs we play at work, we use a lot of glass beads to represent mana, wounds, points, and other constantly changing pools or totals. You can do the same for equipment for quantities or ammunition.
For example, if a PC has 5 thunderstones, grab five beads and put them on his thunderstone card rather than making the player erase or update notes. As each stone is used, remove a bead. When the last bead is used, the player hands you back the card until more stones are found or purchased.
Treasure cards add a lot of fun and excitement to gameplay. For each treasure item, craft a card and hand it out as the item is found. You can make notes on cards about the treasure item, add a picture, pass the card in secret to players, note rules, and so on.
In addition, you can rule that ownership of the card indicates ownership of the item to reduce arguments about who’s got what at any given time.
Check out this interesting product, GameMastery Item Packs, from Paizo: http://paizo.com/store/gameAids/gameMasteryProducts/itemPacks/v5748btpy7m6a
The art and blank back sides make these a cool and useful option for handing out treasure.
As with ammunition, magic treasure with doses, charges, slots, and other accounting requirements make cards an excellent tracking solution.
Transform money from a boring accounting task to something more interesting with card-based money. Card money has pros and cons you should consider before implementing in your games:
You need enough pieces of money to represent the money in the game.
That’s why cards are a great solution – they’re cheap and customizable. You can have a stack of cards ready, with denominations written on them.
For example, what would you do if the PCs found 553 copper pieces? The general solution is to craft different denominations of money. Rather than handing out 553 cards of gold, you’d hand out 5 x 100, 1 x 50, 3 x 1.
Other formats are possible, such as beads, poker chips, and counters, but with cards you can write denominations on them rather than forcing folks to remember red chips are 50, blue are 5, etc.
Game World Currency.
If you do use a denomination system, does it match your game world currency? If not, there’s a small break in immersion. Not a big deal, but something to note. For example, if there’s no 100 gold unit of currency in the world, but players have 100 gold card denominations, then what the players have doesn’t exactly match what their PCs have (your players might also notice the cards aren’t made of real gold too :).
You Need a Banker
Currently, players are penciling in their updated wealth totals, leaving GMs free to do other things. If you move to a card currency system, someone needs to sort, hand out, and take in money during transactions. You can make a player a banker to save you time, but just be aware the banker function is required – unless you let your players make their own change and transactions.
Card Money is Fun
With a stack of money, everyone is clear on their funds. Card money can be stacked in with equipment and container cards, if you use such a system, so that everyone knows where their money is. The location of party wealth (and encumbrance) is also clear.
Some card money resource ideas: If you don’t want to design your own money, here’s a commercial product, Fantasy Money by E.N. Publishing:
Monopoly money is cheap to purchase, if you don’t mind the designs.
Tickets are cheap (i.e. tickets on rolls you buy for admission, raffles, etc.) and come in different colours.
Settlers of Catan cards are fun too. For example:
- brick = cps
- wheat = gps
- ore = sps or pps
If your game includes written or visual clues, cards are a great solution. Format writing and art to your desire on your computer and print, or draw and write clues out manually. Use colour, if possible, to create evocative handouts.
Clue cards can be passed around, stored, and referenced at will by players. Also, players often miss noticing clues dropped by GMs. If you hand them a clue on a card, however, they’ll take notice, keeping your plot and plans intact – for the moment, at least. 🙂
Some clue ideas:
- Poem fragments. A poem that provides the key or solution to a puzzle can be chopped up and found in pieces (cards) as the PCs explore.
- Map fragments. Put pieces of maps on cards. Let the players puzzle over how the map fits together.
- Picture puzzles. Design your own, or do a Google search for “picture puzzles”.
- Diary entries.
- Letters and notes written by NPCs.
Check out this cool tip from RatPunk at the ENWorld forums:
“Whenever the party kills a bad guy, I throw an envelope on the table that contains index cards for all of hi equipment. Whoever grabs the envelope is searching the body.”
RatPunk goes on to explain the rest of his card treasure system:
“Initially, the cards just say the name of the item (i.e. longsword) and its weight on the top line. If it’s masterwork or has a special description (i.e. large red ruby on the handle), that is written in the body of the index card. On the lower right corner, I make a notation of where the item was found (i.e. WC:7 = Room 7 of the Whispering Cairn). This allows me to look it up quickly when they sell it or get it identified. Once they get the item identified (if it’s magic), they give the card back to me and I write what it is on the card. It’s up to them to add any relevant stats.
This works out really well for one shot items like potions and scrolls, since once they use it they just give me the card and I throw it in the pile to be recycled. Plus, the party rogue loves it because he can pocket stuff without anyone else knowing what it was. All in all, it’s been a big hit with the group.”
Clip art el-remmen at ENWorld had this good tip about crafting item cards:
“I use Google Image Search and other clip art to find what I need and use MS Publisher to create the template – but I am sure it can just be as easily made in Word.”
Consider putting ammunition on separate cards. When the players find or buy more ammo, hand out more cards. For example, if a PC has 20 crossbow bolts or hand grenades, deal out 20 cards from the ammo deck. As each piece of ammunition is consumed, players hand back the card.
This allows you to integrate special ammunition easily too. Each piece of magic or exceptional ammunition goes on its own card.
This system lets PCs divide ammo up easily, especially if they are passing it around during combat.
Super Pocket Points
My group uses pocket points (PPs), encouraged by player Dave who uses them in his own games, and based on this tip: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/readissue.php?number=93#r1
You could enhance this system with card-based super PPs. In my campaign, we use poker chips as PPs, but you could use cards instead. On some or all of the cards you could add special text that generates special results.
For example, “Give this card to a player whose character acts bravely. This card is worth +2 when used.”
Cards are excellent reference tools. You can hold them easily in your hand, store them in boxes, sort them, and create your own card references in a short time.
A good approach is to determine what card references you could create that would benefit your group’s gameplay most: speed, accuracy, knowledge, accounting.
For example, if combats are slow, craft some combat reference cards. If spellcasters are slow, figure out how cards could speed up spell use.
Many GMs swear by these:
Do you tend to look up the same rules all the time? Do one or more PCs trigger the same rules frequently, causing pauses while charts and books are referenced? Do you wish you could be more creative or tactical with the options your game’s rules present, but don’t have the time or inclination to memorize a lot of new rules?
Create rules cards. Put one rule or rule sub-set on a card. Keep them handy for fast reference in-game. For example, in D&D you might craft cards for:
- Bull rush
- Nauseated, Fatigued, Exhausted
Create copies of cards to hand to multiple players. Have idle players create reference cards for you (as long as their handwriting is legible).
Create cards that can be placed in front of players to indicate modifiers or current states. For example, you might create a set of Fatigued rules D&D cards. If a PC is fatigued, you hand them a card, which summarizes the rules on one side, and displays on the other side, in giant red letters, -2 STRENGTH / -2 DEXTERITY. Players keep the -2 side up unless they need to glance at the rules.
Cards with flavour text are awesome as reference and player handouts. Imagine having key NPCs described and pictured on cards the players can read during encounters or sessions later as reference.
Same goes with game world information. Rather than fielding the same questions over and over, create reference cards so players can get the information fast without interrupting. For example, create a calendar card with day and month names, or craft a money card with all the currencies and exchange rates listed.
Information such as kingdom and race profiles are served well by card format too. Whenever places and people enter the campaign, hand out the cards for players to read and study when they’re not involved in play.
If you craft enough fluff cards, consider giving the players their own card box to file cards in. You might have your own box full of GM-only info, and the players have theirs. If you game in the same world often, you can just hand the players a box of reference cards.
Monopoly property cards
For inspiration, check out the property cards from the Monopoly game. Look at all the info jammed onto them, front and back. They are colour coded, contain icons, have a chart, and contain game rule information. Very well designed. What design could you craft for cards that would benefit your GMing, players, and game sessions?
Your design could be a template. Then you could print out blank cards and fill them out in-game to track info effortlessly. For example, you could craft an NPC template and give the players a stack of blank cards. As the PCs meet NPCs, players can fill out cards as part of a PC reference system. Such cards would be more useful and dynamic than static player game logs.
Spells and effects
Andre has a great tip at ENWorld:
“As for feats, I’m seriously considering printing cards for feats, abilities, and spells that have temporary effects. My group plays at a table, so if, for example, bless is cast, the caster could just place the card on the table. Ditto if the barbarian rages, or the bard sings. I think it would make it much easier to remember all the various stuff going on.”
VV_GM over at Treasure Tables has a good tip:
“I try to limit my notes nowadays. After one of my posts here one day I realized that I was keeping track of too much stuff. Now I try to focus on developing a strong plot before the game that entices the players to roleplay. I write the minimal details of the scenes on a card, and then add notes to that particular card during play. The cards are all indexed by a number/letter in the upper left corner. This way I’m not thinking in terms of ‘I should make a note of every NPC the players meet,’ but instead I’m focused on making a note of what is unique to that scene in particular.”
Spells and buffs
Do the PCs use a standard array of spell defenses, senses, and buffs when preparing for combat? You can note this on a card and use it for reference to save a lot of game time. Create cards for various common situations, such as undead, single tough opponent, Evil sub-types, and so on.
Add checkboxes to spells and temporary effects, if you like, and check things off as each round passes for quick and easy duration tracking. If you make a card template for this on your computer, you can print out a bunch for disposable use. Alternatively, depending on the size of the cards, you can put them in card sleeves, badge holders, or luggage tags and use wet/dry erase markers so the cards are reusable. You could also laminate cards for re-use.
Combat, modifiers, and situations
In a campaign I’m playing in, my PC has three typical attack options, plus a couple of standard modifiers if the lazy cleric is in a buffing mood. I have gridded these out on paper so I don’t have to do any calculating each time I roll the dice. However, a card-based system would be even better. I just select the card relevant to the current scenario and place it in front of me.
- Power attack +3, Blessed, two-handed
- Power attack +3, Blessed
- Power attack +3, two-handed
General Card Tips
Here’s a neat tip for storing and protecting your cards from SiderisAnon at ENWorld:
“For actual use of the cards, I bought a bunch of cheap sleeves at Wal-Mart for baseball cards. The player puts them in their character folder (cheap school folders with the three prongs). We were already keeping character sheets in clear sleeves in those folders, so people could mark on them with the wet erase markers.”
Buy multi-coloured index cards, cardboard, or paper for printing on. Assign each colour to a category for whatever system you are using.
Storing cards on a ring
Scott M at Treasure Tables has this tip:
“When I’m DMing WoD games, I condense NPCs to a 3×5 card shorthand (two sided if they’re complex), punch a hole on the upper left corner, and put it on a ring.”
Paper clip tacking
Frank’s paper clip tip at Treasure Tables is cool:
“If your game system has spells or other conditions that are confusing to remember everything about, put that information on a card. You could even use a piece of writeable tape to make a reinforced place for people to mark what turn the effect ends for them (for spells). Or print a row of numbers on the bottom and use a paper clip to indicate the turn.”
Frank has another good tip:
“On index cards for magic items: I made an array of checkboxes on cards for wands so that it was easy to keep track of the charges by just crossing off boxes.”
Avery Label Templates
Avery makes cards and stickers in sheets for easy computer printing. Pick a size and start your own card system.
A Brief Word From Johnn
Reader Request: Car Chase Tips
This week’s issue wraps up a reader’s request for card-based RPG tools ideas and tips. Here’s a new reader tips request for you. I don’t have much experience GMing car chases, so I put it out to you to see if you can help:
I try and I try and I try, but I have serious issues with getting a car chase running properly for my players. I run into two main problems every time:
- The characters manage to disable the car, stop the car, stop the occupants, or generally stymie the getaway of the antagonists.
- I’m phenomenally bad at storytelling fast-paced scenes like a car chase.
Does anyone out there in RPG land have any suggestions for how to deal with these two problems?
Ultimate Game Table On eBay
If you’re a long-time reader, or if you’ve perused the archives, you’ll remember the ultimate gaming table over at Agyris.net. The owner has sent me word it’s up for sale on eBay. If only I lived in Peoria to do the pick-up. 🙁 http://tinyurl.com/y95clw
Have a great week!
Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!
Cosmetic Containers For Counters Storage
From Kate Manchester
Caboodles or train cases are great for storing counters. There’s another by Lori Greiner that is fairly large that might possibly work too (though they’re a little pricey). Also, the plastic boxes used for soap, or plastic lunch boxes (if you have smaller containers) work.
Don’t Forget The Outside Of Your GM Screen
From Joel Tolson
While GM screens can be useful for hiding die rolls and notes, or storing notes for easy access, commercial (and many make-shift) GM screens forget that the outside is nearly as important as the inside. I have made my own screen out of two thin, clear sheets of plastic sandwiched together. This allows me to slide my notes inside, facing me, and to also slide in some scenery facing out. If my players are near a waterfall, I will slide in a picture of a waterfall; if there are mountains in the distance, I’ll slide in a picture of some mountains. Pictures themselves are easy to find all over the Internet. I tend to keep an eye out for new pictures to use all the time and have a rather extensive library to choose from whenever I need a random backdrop.
Making my own GM screen also means it isn’t as high as commercial ones, so that I am not as separated from my players as I might otherwise be.
Hope this is useful, and good gaming.
Stamp Collecting Sheets For Counter Storage
Here’s another idea for storing counters/tokens. I bought some stamp collecting sheets that have clear plastic pockets on both sides and organized all my counters in a 3-ring binder. There are sheets available with many different pocket sizes for different size counters. I picked up enough sheets for all my counters for about $20 at my local stamp collecting store. Here’s what they look like:
Don’t turn your 3-ring binder upside down, though, or you will have a mess! Mine is labeled “This Side Up” on the cover.
Creative Whack Pack
There is a creativity inspiring card deck called Roger von Oech’s Creative Whack Pack.
A draw from the cards has a message to get you thinking about things and to inspire creative thinking. I’ve found it really useful when I get stuck with any number of projects, including a few times when I was designing a scenario.
Keep up the great work….your newsletter makes my Mondays so much more tolerable if I save reading it til then.
Deck O’ Names
In regard to the request for card-based RPG tools in issue #330, I know of a few with a slightly different bent than Mike mentioned in his request.
- There is a series of card decks for naming help (on the fly while gaming or just inspiration when needed), called Deck O’ Names. I designed these decks (blush) and work through Tabletop Adventures (TTA). The decks are sold at RPG Now.
- There is another series of card decks that focus on inspiration for plot and location from TTA’s Bits products (Bits of Darkness: Dungeons, Bits of the Boulevard, Bits of the Wilderness: Into the Open, etc). I have all the decks now and find inspiration just from paging through the cards. (The products come in a paginated and in a card deck format.) 3) Use Once Upon a Time cards are great for plot generation. Randomly select a few and see where your mind wanders when putting several of them together.