Handling My Deck Again: Card and Deck Types

In 2016 I gave some thought to a card-based dungeon crawl game (Keeping My Hands off My Deck, Just Decking Around), and I’ve recently been thinking about it some more.

Not all the details are settled yet, but some are more firmly decided and some are different from before. I’m drawing ideas from several other games for this one.

  • Mistfall, from NSKN. Each player character starts with a dedicated and specific deck of cards, and can add to this during play. I don’t plan to keep the ‘loop’ mechanism of play or the timer, but I do like the ‘encounter cards’ and ‘quest cards’ that outline the goals for the encounters and quests. For instance, while most encounters are successfully completed by destroying all the enemies, there are different win conditions possible. I like that. Also, the different ‘lands’ (borderlands, deadlands, wildlands) mean you face different types of opponents and encounters.
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse, from Greater Than Games. Each player has a specific deck of cards (that they cannot add to in play), the villain has a specific deck, and the environment has a deck. Each round, all players get to act, the villain acts, and the environment acts.
  • Heroes of Metro City, from 3Sone Games (apparently defunct years ago, sadly). Deck builder of super heroes defending a city from destruction by an archenemy. Unlike Sentinels of the Multiverse, the villains act after each player. I think this helps balance different party sizes better than basing effects on how many heroes there are. That is, instead of doing “H+3 points of damage to the hero with the most hit points”, once per round, the villain might do “2 points of damage to the hero with the most hit points” after each hero acts. It might amount to the same total damage but be spread differently, or other options come out depending on the current situation. In Heroes of Metro City the heroes don’t have individual decks (unless an optional rule is used that allows for specific cards to be unique to a hero), and I don’t plan to do that.
  • Hero Realms, from White Wizard. Currently one of my favorite deck builders, and I like the idea of the factions. I might center things around the nature of a hero’s power (martial, arcane, etc.) rather than social grouping, but that’s still not far off.
  • Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, from Paizo. I’m not a big fan of having to use dice in resolving player actions (and in capturing new cards), but there’s quite a bit here to unpack that I might use.

Regarding card types, I see quite a few possibilities. I am likely to start development at the most generic forms and work toward the most specific. I can imagine, for publication, trying to minimize the number of duplicated cards. For instance, if I were to have a ‘base game’ with 108 cards, there might be a 54-card ‘class pack’ deck that has only the class-specific cards and reuses the common ones from the base game. In the case of the Hero Realms ‘cleric’ cards, I’d need the cleric, resurrect, prayer beads, spiked mace, and followers cards (six cards total, rather than the twelve that come in the cleric expansion pack). This lets me get nine ‘classed heroes’ into the ‘class pack’ deck. (Don’t get me started on how many ‘Blessing of the Gods’ cards there are when you get all the class packs for Pathfinder Adventure Card Game.)

From most general to most specific in each type, I imagine something like the following:

  • Hero cards.
    • ‘Generic hero’, as with Hero Realms (where everyone starts with seven gold, one ruby, one dagger, one shortsword).
    • ‘Classed hero’, as with Hero Realms (each class starts with a slightly different mix of cards, including a unique ability — the cleric starts with six gold, a once-per-day ‘resurrect’, prayer beads that give gold or healing or both, a spiked mace that does damage as a shortsword, and two followers with the ‘guard’ trait).
    • ‘Specific hero’, something like Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (each hero has some shared characteristics with those of its class, but each has some unique elements).
  • Ability/gear cards. These can be found in hero and boss decks, and possibly elsewhere. They can be bought ‘outside the dungeon’.
    • ‘Gear cards’ that represent weapons, armor, tools, etc. that might be of use to a character (hero or boss). These can be bought outside the dungeon (probably a market — random selection of what’s available) for gold, but it might be possible to buy them in play (Clank! allows it while you’re sneaking around, I can see doing so as well, why not?).
    • ‘Ability cards’ representing new skills or abilities. ‘Level cards’ get connected to the character card, ‘ability cards’ get added to the deck.
  • Location cards. I suspect I’d use a mix of these for any particular location (Lost Sepulcher is a specific location, but might also use cards from the terrain location).
    • ‘Generic location’… I’m pretty sure I want locations to be more specific than generic, but I can imagine not wanting to overly duplicate things such as traps and hazards.
    • ‘Terrain location’, like Mistfall‘s Deadlands, Borderlands, and Wildlands cards. I’m more inclined to go with biomes and the like instead, but the idea is similar.
    • ‘Site location’, like Sentinels of the Multiverse environment cards. Site-specific hazards and conditions and so on.
  • Opponent cards.
    • ‘General monsters’. These are probably split by challenge level or somehow scalable (‘goblins’ might just mean ‘goblins sufficient to be a threat to the PCs’ and scale with location level — low-level places have small numbers of goblins, while a high-level place has a mob). Or both. I can imagine a library of cards that get used to build a location deck. The ‘Goblin Warren’ site location might have a location deck containing ‘three traps, six goblins, two hazards, six terrain’, so it is a little different if the Goblin Warren is in the swamp versus in the mountains.
    • ‘Bosses’, like Sentinel of the Multiverse villains. Each boss has cards specific to the villain’s personality and abilities. This likely includes one or two ‘level cards’ (or I might treat bosses like heroes-but-bad-guys, where they have much the same structure and abilities, and the ‘level cards’ are a function of where you meet them… and add to the boss’s abilities and scores).
  • Reward cards.
    • ‘General treasure’. Gold, jewels, etc. These likely serve little purpose when on a mission, and even inhibit your efforts because they clutter your deck, but have value on completing or escaping. They can probably be used to ‘buy new cards’ representing gear or other salable goods, and I expect they could be freely trashed on your turn if you decide you don’t want it anymore (from your hand — a treasure rides in your deck until you draw it and decide to discard it, or until you complete the mission).
    • ‘Experience points’. Monsters you defeat are also added to your deck if you want, and provide experience points that can be used to buy new ability cards (things you can do).
    • ‘Level cards’ containing new abilities that are grafted onto a character, and improves one of the character’s abilities. A particular level card likely has two options (one on each long edge), to allow for both increased variation in bosses, and to give a choice to the player who gains it.

Sample Character Card: Shalaenra, Heaven’s Knight

I was mucking about a while ago and came up with this hero card.

This is a primarily martial character (two crossed sword icons) with a divine element (one wreath and crown icon). Normally she does two points of damage when attacking, but does four if she’s attacking an evil target [note: should add tags to this character as well –kjd]. When defending against attack she gets to add her divine rating to her defense. She can use two one-handed weapons and adds both together when attacking. If she has a shortsword (2 points) and dagger (1 point) equipped, she does five points of damage, seven against evil targets. If the weapons get augmented, it’s better yet.

When she gains a level (gets a level card) she can choose which ability to add, then slides the card under the bottom edge of her character card so it lines up with the others. To use an example from Keeping My Hands Off My Deck, defeating the Necromancer might give a card that has Guardian of Life (divine ability that gives an ability to apply her defense on someone else’s behalf, against undead attacks) and Dread Arcanist (arcane ability giving more power to dark magic spells). This character would probably use the Guardian of Life option (increases her Divine score, thereby improving her God’s Grace ability and ability to use channeling cards, and thematically fitting), but there’s nothing that says she can’t use the Dread Arcanist option.

While adventuring, she might find a potion of healing (treasure item, usable once), buy a scroll of healing (spend gold in the market, usable once), or learn a spell of healing (spend experience points to learn a permanent ability that is usable when the card is in hand, then discarded).

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