Tobold's Blog
Saturday, January 02, 2016
Turning D&D into a card game

If you have ever been at a convention or elsewhere watched people seriously playing some trading card game, you might have noticed that they put their cards into so-called deck sleeves, little plastic bags with a transparent front and colored back. The funny thing is that when I was playing Magic the Gathering I never used sleeves, but today I am using those same sleeves for a completely different game: Dungeons & Dragons in the pen & paper roleplaying version.

Why sleeves? Because if you print a card-sized piece of paper in a regular printer on regular paper, the result is a bit too thin to handle well. Add a sleeve and you can handle a deck of "floppy" cards. I also use different colored backs for different cards, as unlike a trading card game there is no shuffling and randomization involved in D&D.

The first use for the sleeves are the D&D 4th edition power cards. The one big selling point of 4E for me is that it does away with the rather unfair system of some characters having spells and other characters not having anything equivalent. In 4E every 1st level character has 2 at-will, 1 encounter, and 1 daily power, and these numbers increase with level. So quickly everybody has the equivalent of "a spellbook" full of options. Putting those options onto cards really helps the flow of the adventure.

But for my next adventure in the Zeitgeist campaign I am expanding on the use of cards. As I mentioned before it is an investigative adventure, and in the past we had problems with people forgetting clues between sessions, as we only play about twice per month. So when I was reading the adventure which starts with over 20 different clues in the first chapter, I knew I needed some sort of memory aid for this to work. So I took one of the programs you can get to create power cards, and modified the template to make clue cards. When a player investigates the right spot and/or succeeds the right skill check, he'll get the clue in the form of a card.

That also solves nicely the fundamental problem of investigative adventures. The detective stories of literature or TV frequently rely on a brilliant detective coming to a conclusion that nobody else saw. That doesn't work well for a tabletop role-playing game, as there is a strong likelihood that nobody has such a stroke of brilliance and the investigation gets stuck. Gameplay of pen & paper roleplaying is better suited to an approach where the players follow up every clue and methodically gather more and more information until the solution becomes rather obvious. By having the clues as handouts on cards, that approach is much helped. And in a fantasy world, following up on clues can lead to adventure and dangerous encounters instead of boring house-to-house inquiries.


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