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 isnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢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. HeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s a city-dweller really and isnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t used to all this nature lark. Suddenly the GM hands him a card: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œYou see something dart up a tree.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬? Abandano shrieks and tells everyone. They tell him heÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢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 ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œYou notice some pretty blue flowers amongst the treesÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬?. 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. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œWhatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢re they?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬? asks Edric. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s like a blue flower...very pretty,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬? 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 ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œYou notice a large purse hanging out of EdricÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s back pocket...ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬?, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œYou notice an interesting-looking book on the desk, but it seems no-one else has noticed it...ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬? or ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThe 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.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬? 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 wonÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t have a clue whatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s going on). And there is the obvious application to charm-spells. The other players may suspect their friend is under the vampireÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s influence, but they will never be sure, so theyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d have to act more cautiously.
Precise timing for handing out cards is very much down to experience. Use them wisely but donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢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...
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. ThereÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢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, IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢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: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œYou see a large spider crawling to safety underneath the table>
<Encounter Card to Corrine: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œYou feel a little shower of dust land in your hair.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬?>
Declan: IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢m having a look around too.
Ajax: Keep an eye on him, Corrine, you know what heÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s like...
Declan: IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢m going to try and catch that spider under the table.
<Encounter Card to Ajax: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œYou smell a whiff of dungÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬?>
Ajax: Just a bit of a nasty smell. Right, well IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢m going to search this place.
Thus far neither of the characters has realised that the ceiling is unstable or that thereÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s another creature living in the tower and one of them has acted on an atmosphere card. Fools!
GM: By the bright light of CorrineÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢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. ThereÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢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: IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢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: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œYou feel some dust fall into your hair.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬?>
Ajax: LetÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢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: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œSomething slithers away from under your foot.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬?>
Melvin: IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢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: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œA shiny gem in the chest catches your eye but no-oneÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s noticed it yet.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬?><Declan to GM: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œIÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ll nick the gem.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬?>
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: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œYou feel some more dust fall into your hair.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬?>
Corrine: Guys, I think thereÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s something wrong here. I keep getting dust falling on me.
Ajax: Me too. Erm...maybe I should go upstairs and see if anythingÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s wrong up there?
Fools! At least theyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ve realised thereÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢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. TheyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢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 ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œDragon QuestÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬? 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 whatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢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 (ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œWhatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s this pan doing in this library?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬?)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 donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢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.