Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Card Based RPG Systems

Note: I am making one quick addendum to the once a week post comment I made.  I have tried waiting and I just do not think that is going to work.  I think it will be once a week minimum plus whenever the mood strikes.  I really enjoy the act of blogging and I do not think I want to impose a strict once a week only mandate.  
Shortly after it was released, I received the Dragonlance: Fifth Age Dramatic Adventure Game as a gift.  I was really interested in the idea of a role-playing game that used cards instead of dice during game play.  I thought the cards were pretty slick and I enjoyed messing around with them.  I really enjoy the bits of information on the history and timeline of Krynn included in the game.  I did pick up 2 or 3 of the boxed supplements for the game but that was about it.  I only played it once while I was stationed in Korea and it just did not click with that particular group of people.  I kept the game for several years but I eventually unloaded it in one of my game purges over the years.  I never did pick up the related Marvel Super Heroes game but I hear that it was pretty neat.
Everway was another game that ditched the dice to use cards for game play and it was published a year earlier than the Dragonlance game.  I never did buy this game or even get a chance to look through the contents of the box; the only thing I saw was some of the card images.  I remember being intrigued by the ads and the look of some of the cards included in the game.  I only saw Everway a few times at the game stores I go to and never did get around to buying the game.  I have noticed that some of the online used game retailers have it available.  I may have to purchase this game to check it out some time for no other reason than to satisfy my curiosity. 
I am far from an expert on card-based role-playing games.  I know there has got to be more games - whether professional or amateur press - using cards instead of dice during game play than the two I mentioned above.  I have heard that Deadlands and Castle Falkenstein both use cards but I have not played either one.  Does anybody reading this know?  Do you have any thoughts on the games?  I guess I am just a little surprised that there are not more card-based role-playing games out there.  It seems like you could do some neat stuff with the cards - even a traditional deck - like pairs, trump, off suit penalties, and the list could go on.  I have been thinking along these lines lately and I may have to post up some ideas at some point...  


  1. Castle Falkenstein replaces the dice with cards.

    The original Deadlands also used cards as part of its initiative system.

    There are some optional rules in the LML in Lejenday Adventures for using cards for various things. I don't remember what off hand.

    I am not that surprised that there are not more card based games. I suppose cards never appealed to me. I think part of the reason for me has to do with thinking more in terms of number value for cards instead of concepts such as suits. There are enough interesting possibilities that I almost want to build a game system using it.

    My guess as for why cards never took off:

    1. Dice are 'cooler' than cards. Have you ever seen a 12 sided card? Didn't think so.

    2. Gamers have dice, but how many have a set of playing cards?

    3. Cards seem a hassle to deal with. You have to make sure you don't lose them and make sure you have them all before you begin play. It might be easier to cheat using card.

    4. Cards seem a bit fatalistic. Once the deck is suffled, the cards are in a set order. I just don't know what is next. With dice, while it could be argued that it is still determined by the laws of the natural universe, players feel they have control by rolling the dice.

    1. I think that cards would have to be used for the right genre to work. I think a Wild West game could put traditional cards to good use. An occult or witchcraft type game could use Tarot cards during play.

      1. I can't argue with Dice are definitely way cooler.

      2. I bet more people have playing cards than you might think. There are a ton of popular games such as Spades, Hearts, Pitch, etc.

      3. I think that's one of the biggest downfalls of cards - you have to make sure you keep track of all of them. One card is pretty easy to lose and you have to buy a new deck.

      4. I'm not sure what to do on this one. The only thing I know for sure is that once you reach the bottom then you would obviously reshuffle. Hmmm...I don't know?

    2. It is true many people have playing cards. But, how many 16-22 year olds have cards? I suppose the case could be made for dice. However, once you are into gaming you build your dice collection and have bags to carry it around in. I suppose it isn't a big deal to expect people to have playing cards with them as well, it just feels out of place

    3. I was in the army from the time I was 19 to 27. Everybody had a deck of cards in their room because that was just one of the things we did for fun. When I was growing up we always had easy access to cards; if not our own, then a pack from our Maybe I am relating my childhood too closely with what I am assuming to be normal? That's where I'm coming from on the cards.

    4. I had access to cards while I was growing up. I don't have access to any now. Given that, I am not sure many kids would have access to them. But, it isn't hard or expensive to find I suppose.

      In Japan, they had to use d6 instead of d20 when AD&D came out there. Pretty much all of the Japanese rpg systems use d6 because few people can get a hold of polyhedrals.

    5. Hmmm...well, it just shows that when you think your experience is "typical" for most everyone it may not be typical for everyone else.

      I didn't know that about Japan and the rarity of polyhedrals. Kind of fascinating to think about.

  2. Deadlands was kind of a mess, using dice, playing cards and poker chips for all sorts of fiddly things in the system. Savage Worlds (it's spiritual successor) uses playing cards only for initiative in combat, but it works well.

    Castle Falkenstein uses playing cards as its primary mechanic. One of the conceits of the game is that it was designed to be played by Victorian people who considered gambling (using dice) as a horrible vice, while playing cards is a refined pastime.

    There was a CCG based RPG called Dragonstorm, where your character's abilities and equipment were represented on collectible cards.

    1. Interesting clarification on the Deadlands system. That does sound like a mess.

      I like the sound of how Castle Falkenstein used the playing cards. It makes sense in the game's setting.

      I faintly remember Dragonstorm.

  3. This isn't exactly what you mean by using cards in an RPG, but your post reminded me of this.

  4. Castle Falkenstein is one of those games I'd like to play more, but never got the time to do so. The magic system is one of the best I know (to give but one example). It's a separate deck of cards. A Wizard decides what he wants to cast and starts drawing cards. Now, every spell has aspects (the colors) and to achieve a certain effect, you need to collect cards of that color until you reach that number (the time it takes to cast the spell is related to the number of cards needed). Other colors might be dismissed or weaved into the spell (producing side effects, but it's faster). I always thought it a nice touch that the deck represented the magical energies surrounding the wizard and with drawing cards, he looks into that for what he needs. Also, drawing a joker triggered the spell directly and with very chaotic consequences. We once had parts of Bayreuth 10 meters in the air :) The dueling system is also very elegant. I'd really recommend it.

    1. That sounds very fascinating and unique. I bet that would be lots of fun to use in play. I definitely need to track this game down and give it a shot.