RPGs and dice are like peanut butter and jelly. Inseparable. Dice and maybe a table or two are the de facto tools of the trade.
However, I’ve noticed that I like using cards. A lot. And, there are a growing number of gaming accessories that come in the form of cards.
I think collecting and using playing cards in our games really started because of Savage Worlds, whose initiative mechanic uses playing cards. But PEG also introduced the Adventure Deck, Status Cards, Power and Gear, adding some additional randomness and fun twists to the game, as well as an easy and quick reference instead of flipping through books.
Of course, other companies have released similar decks for other games. Spell and power cards. Gear cards. NPC cards.
My use of cards doesn’t end there though. As a low-prep GM that frequently (ok almost always) has less time to spend on games, especially preparing for game sessions, than I’d like I began finding card-based supplements that actually make my life easier.
First, there are the game aids. These are the cards that help add flavor to the game like the Adventure Deck in Savage Worlds; Backstory Cards to help you and your players quickly build rich connections and, well, backstories to tie characters together; Power Cards, Combat Description Cards; Even the cool NPC Portraits Deck show in the picture here which are great for quickly describing an NPC.
Then there are randomizers. As a player, there’s nothing like the feeling of plastic polyhedrals clinking in my palm and clattering to the table. It’s an integral part of the game. But as a GM holding a deck of cards that can be quickly and quietly flipped, dealt or pulled from offers a pretty seamless experience without the die rolling distraction. A card can be pulled, glanced at, and the story moved along much quicker than rolling dice.
I really love the Mythic Game Master Emulator Deck, that’s the one with the big Yes and No in the picture. I’ve always loved Mythic as both a GM aid and a solo-play engine. Tana Pigeon’s release of this system as a deck was a real game-changer. Not only does the deck streamline the more cumbersome mechanic of rolling dice and then consulting a table to simply flipping over a card, but there are additional aids on the deck to quickly answer questions. Each card includes probabilities, random events, and descriptive words to help the GM on the fly. This is a great tool that incorporates GM aids as well as a basic randomizer, using Mythic’s Yes/No question method.
Another of my favorites is Dicecards. Dicecards include LOTs of images and randomizers on each card. Everything from dice, to playing cards, to dungeon tiles, to directions, to letters … it’s all there.
Lastly, of the most useful to me lately are the GameMaster’s Apprentice decks. In addition to randomizers such as dice, symbols, odds, and directions, you also get instant charts. These include descriptions for the four senses, belongings, locations, and catalysts as well as names. I really appreciate the names since I can quickly glance at a card to pull a name. This can happen so smoothly that they don’t know if the NPC is important or just another schmuck on the street.
While dice will long remain my mainstay, and the only randomizer as a player, cards have added an interesting depth to my GMing. They seem less intrusive than dice, and with cards that include random tables, descriptors, and names help me keep a session moving, avoiding page-flipping and chart consulting. Further, they allow me to reduce prep time by not having to contemplate every possible NPC, location or action that may happen at the table, without having to worry about a mental block or lack of creativity on my part.
NPC Portraits Deck*
Dicecards* (no longer seem to be available)
Mythic Game Master Emulator Deck*
Firefly poker deck*
Savage Worlds Adventure Deck*
Savage Worlds Action Deck*
GameMaster’s Apprentice: Base Deck*
GameMaster’s Apprentice: Sci-Fi Deck*
Combat Description Cards
*Shown in picture