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Offline ephemeralstability

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Cards
« on: August 01, 2004, 12:38:56 PM »
I'm back from holiday and have a resulting slew of RP material to post, so I'll start with an article about...

Cards

Cards are an incredible tool for GMs to use. The advantages of using cards are:

*They cut down on the amount of GM-description-time, which I find bores players to tears.

*They give the characters an individual experience of an adventure, making it much more believable and engaging.

*They give the GM an element of control over individuals, but can also be used to give the players a surprise for the GM which he isn’t expecting.

*They let the players communicate with the GM without voicing their thoughts to the other players, so sinister plots and conspiracies can take place.

*They allow more realistic playing of charm-like spells.

So what are cards? They are literally pieces of paper (or card, if you wish to be pedantic) with a single sentence written on each one. At certain points during the game, the GM gives cards to players and the players can choose to respond by writing a card back to the GM.  I stress, in the interest of speeding up game-play, cards should be no more than a sentence long. It is easy to see how this improves individual GM-player communication.

What is written on these cards and when are they handed out? There are a number of possibilities.

Atmosphere cards: These are tailored to a specific area and give a short description or vignette to add atmosphere to the game. The player can choose to keep these experiences to s/himself or to comment on them. For instance...

Abandano Reep is a nervous mage and is heading through a forest with his party. He’s a city-dweller really and isn’t used to all this nature lark. Suddenly the GM hands him a card: “You see something dart up a tree.� Abandano shrieks and tells everyone. They tell him he’s a wuss and it was just a squirrel.

Edric Kloop is a hardy fighter in the same party, and he gets a card saying “You notice some pretty blue flowers amongst the trees�. He ignores it. It has not added to the game, but it has added to his experience of the game and, just as in real life, the players will come away with slightly different experiences of the same events which will add to the realism of the whole game.

An interesting follow-up which might randomly occur would be that another party member is injured and the cleric is looking for some Azure Orchids to make a poultice. “What’re they?� asks Edric. “It’s like a blue flower...very pretty,� replies the cleric. This kind of coincidence would make the game interesting for everyone, GM included.


Encounter cards: Indistinguishable from atmosphere cards, except that the GM hands them out deliberately. These hint at coming encounters. The players will have to learn to distinguish between cards which have no importance and cards which definitely do. For instance, just before a trio of bandits ambush the party, someone may notice a bush quiver.

Communication cards: These can be prepared or written on the spot by the GM and can include things like “You notice a large purse hanging out of Edric’s back pocket...�, “You notice an interesting-looking book on the desk, but it seems no-one else has noticed it...� or “The vampire gazes into your eyes and you feel his mind prying into your own like a surgical tool...you are under his spell: you will do as he says now.� Evidently this allows the GM to tailor encounters to specific players: perhaps the book is cursed and will possess the character, forcing him to do things (the other players won’t have a clue what’s going on). And there is the obvious application to charm-spells. The other players may suspect their friend is under the vampire’s influence, but they will never be sure, so they’d have to act more cautiously.

Precise timing for handing out cards is very much down to experience. Use them wisely but don’t overuse them. No more than two per character per round, most rounds only one. Here is an example of cards in play to give you an idea.

Example:

(Ajax: Human fighter, Melvin: Dwarfish fighter, Corrine: Human Witch, Declan: Halfling thief)

The party has come upon a deserted tower in their scouting of an area of uninhabited land and, perplexed, have decided to investigate. The tower was originally a defensive outpost from an old war now long over, the war which lay waste to the lands around. Now after years of neglect the upper wooden floors are prone to collapse and a new tenant has taken residence in the cellar...

Quote
GM: The door, hanging off its hinges jerks open jarring on the floor to reveal the circular room inside. The wall is thick enough that a narrow, dank staircase is set inside it, leading down into darkness on your right. Three arrow slits fire shafts of light into the tower, showing a litter of objects: a table, chairs, pots and logs, the remains of a fire, all coated in a grey mantle of dust. A hole in the smoke-black wooden roof lets a little light in, presumably the chimney vent. There’s an untrustworthy-looking ladder leaning up through it. Most of the room, however, remains in shadow.

Ajax: Someone should have a look down that staircase, just in case.

Melvin: Yeah, I’ll do that.

Ajax: Corrine, could we have some light in this place so I can search it properly?

Corrine: Naturellement (starts casting light spell).

Melvin: You bloody humans and your weak eyes...

<Atmosphere Card to Declan: “You see a large spider crawling to safety underneath the table>
<Encounter Card to Corrine: “You feel a little shower of dust land in your hair.�>


Declan: I’m having a look around too.

Ajax: Keep an eye on him, Corrine, you know what he’s like...

Declan: I’m going to try and catch that spider under the table.

<Encounter Card to Ajax: “You smell a whiff of dung�>

Ajax: Yuck!

Corrine: What?

Ajax: Just a bit of a nasty smell. Right, well I’m going to search this place.


Thus far neither of the characters has realised that the ceiling is unstable or that there’s another creature living in the tower and one of them has acted on an atmosphere card. Fools!

Quote
GM: By the bright light of Corrine’s spell you find a pack of cards and a few coins on and around the table and some rabbit bones in one of the pots. There’s a jar of green liquid <fetid cooking sauce if anyone tries it>, a few articles of rusty cutlery lying around and a large chest in the corner.

Declan: I’ll have the cards. Do I catch my spider.

GM: <rolls a check> No, it scuttles off into a crack in the wall.

<Encounter Card to Ajax: “You feel some dust fall into your hair.�>

Ajax: Let’s get this chest open. Declan, stop chasing spiders and come here. Help me with this lock.

GM: Meanwhile, on the stairs, Melvin is descending into a murky blackness which his strong dwarfy eyes can only just penetrate.

<Atmosphere Card to Melvin: “Something slithers away from under your foot.�>

Melvin: I’ll draw my axe and proceed cautiously.

GM: You do so, remembering you lost your axe in that battle yesterday and draw your trusty wooden plank instead.

Melvin: Ooh, Mrs Miggins.

GM: Down, down, step by step you shuffle with classic dwarfish stealth. A nauseating smell of dung worsens as you descend until you find yourself in a stinking deep cellar, able to see only vague shadows. One of them moves. Meanwhile <rolls check> Declan has successfully opened the chest and you survey its contents.

<Communication Card to Declan: “A shiny gem in the chest catches your eye but no-one’s noticed it yet.�><Declan to GM: “I’ll nick the gem.�>

GM: <lays out a list of items in the chest, or better still produces item cards with them written on (see next section of article!) including: linen sheets (moth-eaten), a helmet (rusty), some coins (old currency)>

<Encounter Card to Corrine: “You feel some more dust fall into your hair.�>

Corrine: Guys, I think there’s something wrong here. I keep getting dust falling on me.

Ajax: Me too. Erm...maybe I should go upstairs and see if anything’s wrong up there?


Fools! At least they’ve realised there’s something going on. Next round would see Melvin react to his nemesis in the cellar and Ajax bringing the house down. The cards have given the place some atmosphere and life it would otherwise have lacked and have allowed the nefarious Declan pursue his thievish character. They’ve also succeeded in building up tension before the next action-packed round.

Cards can be used for more mundane purposes too, not least keeping track of items. Laugh as you will, but I own a copy of “Dragon Quest� a simplified (!) version of basic D&D and though it does live entirely in the cliched D&D genre its simplification brings with it some distinct advantages. Gone are character record sheets with ever-changing pencilled lists of items found along the way. They are replaced with cards. Cards for characters and cards for items.

Having a deck of random items is a good idea, as you can quickly cobble together the contents of a chest as above. They also let you randomly determine the outcome of room-searches in places where there are too many items for you to list exactly what’s there. It would be advisable to separate out cards into classes (e.g. things that might be found in a kitchen/armoury/library etc) in order to avoid consistency errors (“What’s this pan doing in this library?�)

Conclusion

*Cards are versatile: They take pressure off the GM and allow s/him to manipulate the game in interesting ways or to build up tension.

*Cards are compact: A player is more likely to read a sentence on a card than listen to a GM.

*Cards are individual: What would otherwise be a small and irrelevant vignette becomes a personalised experience of the campaign world and serves to bring players into the mindset that their characters are real people.

*Cards don’t require too much thought to create: The effort required to come up with twenty or so random sentences about little things that might happen in a forest is minimal. Go and walk in your nearest woodland and list the first twenty things that you happen to notice. Then put in a couple of repeats. Voila, a section of your adventure has the details sketched in and you can use it for other groups in other woodlands.

ephe!
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Offline CaptainPenguin

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« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2004, 05:11:53 PM »
Interesting... A good way to implement secrets and such.
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Offline MoonHunter

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I thought so...
« Reply #2 on: August 01, 2004, 09:16:23 PM »
The same idea, a step to the left.

http://www.rpgcitadel.com/guild/index.php?topic=653.0


<rant/>
Gamer culture, for all its use of the internet, is still fairly insular.  Our primary method of teaching is Promethean, one person hands down information to their group.  We are constantly re-inventing the same (or similar) techniques to use again and again.  If we could teach most of what was known before, we could invest more time advancing our art, rather than catching up to those who had come before and only occasionally passing them.  
</rant>
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Offline ephemeralstability

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« Reply #3 on: August 02, 2004, 03:20:21 AM »
True, but when one teacher produces such a mighty plethora of material that it is not possible for a single gamer to read and memorise it all then it is inevitable there may be overlap. Consider this article as an unwitting promotion of your idea, with some specific examples of how it might work in gameplay :)

I'd also hoped to stir some discussion to generate example cards. I'll probably be planning an adventure today so I may be able to post a few later.

ephe!
"Happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes" - H P Lovecraft, The Festival

Offline crazylittleelf

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« Reply #4 on: August 06, 2004, 10:12:55 AM »
I've been starting to use cards, both for items and communication.  I've run into a problem with the items cards, though.  Maybe someone could shed some light on how they are using cards in their game.

Problem:  How to include information about an item if it's information that's beyond what meets the eye.

If I include a full description of a magical item, it defeats the suspense and uncertainty of finding items.  If I leave the information off, how do I keep track of what the item is?

Any suggestions?

Offline ephemeralstability

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« Reply #5 on: August 06, 2004, 02:27:29 PM »
A good point I hadn't considered. One possibility is that you use carbon paper to write the "cards" on. Then the GM keeps a receipt of the items his players have. He can make notes of anything magical or untoward that the player doesn't know about and keeps the copy. Any worthless or uninteresting items can have these receipts thrown away to avoid clutter. Then the true nature of the item can be revealed through later communication cards, and the PC can update his item card by scrawling notes on it about the item's abilities.

I'll let you know if I think of anything else.

ephe!
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Offline Scrasamax

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« Reply #6 on: August 07, 2004, 06:46:20 AM »
I had a DM who used cards, and sometimes just scraps of paper, and he would pass information to an individual player. Most of the time it was something good, a secret, something no else had noticed, or somesuch. Perception based rolls often earned these secret slips as we were forbideen to share with the other players what was written on the strips.

THe thing that made the game great was sometimes the strips had simple instructions.

Smile, put this strip in your pocket like you just found out something very good.

or

Look at Player X and give them a nasty smile

or my favorite

Look at Player X and shake your head sadly


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Offline Ancient Gamer

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« Reply #7 on: August 07, 2004, 07:00:43 AM »
I have a warning concerning the usage of cards:
Sure cards are fun and adds detail in various ways to the game.
But you should be careful to give information critical to the plot/scenario/campaign in this manner.

Some players like to wrap themselves in layers of mystery and are unwilling to part with juicy information. Thus situations could arise where a player sits on the very solution to the problem at hand, but does not understand its importance.

In addition; plot information given exclusively to one player in this manner, diminish the richness and continuity of the story for the other players.
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Offline crazylittleelf

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« Reply #8 on: August 07, 2004, 09:03:00 AM »
I think I'm going to try building a database for my item cards.  I fooled around with it a little bit yesterday and think it will work.  Each card will have an entry in the database, along with a unique code, sw34 or something.  Basic info will be on the card, and anything else will in tied to it in the database.  The drawback will be that I'll either need to have a computer near-by or a printout of the items,

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« Reply #9 on: August 07, 2004, 12:25:30 PM »
I keep information about my players health, property and such on separate sheets for each character.
Then I note everything during the bookkeeping phases(i.e. breaks).

I'd advice against having a computer nearby during gameplay. It is unprofessional to stare at the screen, desperately scrolling to find the correct entry in the midst of gameplay (Just think of those new GMs that scan through the rules books to find the appropriate course of action. aargh) GM hesitation is a no-no :wink:

Finding information on a piece of paper is always much quicker. (I have the essential information on my screen and less important info on colour coded sheets)
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Offline crazylittleelf

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« Reply #10 on: August 07, 2004, 04:36:52 PM »
Hmmm.  Color coded sheets is a great idea.  I could have the cards be color coded to match.  Blue is potions, red is weapons, etc.  That might work well.  This is probably going to end up being way too much work, but I think I'll give it a go anyway.

And yes, I understand what you're saying about staring at the computer or books.  I try to have a little to look at possible, so I've got less to distract me from my players.

Offline MoonHunter

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« Reply #11 on: August 08, 2004, 05:39:23 AM »
Might I suggest a cheaper variation on color coded cards?

Run a stripe of color marker along the top of the marker (include getting ink on the top edge of the card).  This technqiue allows you to buy white cards in bulk (i.e. cheaper), always have the right color cards (because you make them), and makes sure you have colored markers.  

Regarding the cards used for magic items.  I give each item card an ID#. In my GM binder, I keep a listing of what the item was, where they found it, and who did it (the providence of the item).  If the item has any special history, I either write it in OR reference a page#, entry number in my GM notes.  

The advantage of making this a two step project is that it will deter nosey players who are going through your notes, because not only do they have to find the Item ID# log, they then have to reference the page and entry number in the GM notes.  Since I use an arcane reference of Section ## (Mechanics are #1, Characters are 2, plot threads are 3, and so on), page # (the number of the page in the section, if there is a revision and something new is inserted in the order, there is a A./B./C. code attached to it), the paragraph or important note (which is numbered in the next at a (X))   So an item would be coded 3.8.2 .  This arcane system makes sense to me (or any one who has studied bible as well), but less sense to others, so your notes are slightly protected.

Since all magic items are special things in my games (besides charms (for luck usually) there are no generic items, everything has a history and a plot consideration), every item has a write up in the GM version of the campaign history.

An Aside, addressing a point above:
Computers can be used with great success in a game.  It is all a matter of familiarity with your notes and how to access them.  If you are familiar with your notes and know where the information is, it is just like having a pile of card or paper notes.  However you really should have most of that story information memorized before the game, so you don't have to delay the game looking stuff up.  

I do recomend that you break most files down into small pieces, that are easy to launch and reference.  I always make a folder with all the various quick launches I need for the game files (and rules) and including the die roller.  I also recomend that the computer be sitting off to your side, in the 1 to 2 or 11 to 10 oclock positions.  That way you can still "act" as the GM and still see the computer notes.
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