Tactile components are important for me in RPG situation. There is that feeling to having something to play with while gaming. As a Game Master, I’ve never been the one to build elaborate props, but I have a tendency to make up for that by using a good many physical objects as part of the mechanical system for the game.
Now, as much fun as dice are to use and one can’t deny the gratifying oomph of rolling them, there is a certain acquired elegance in cards that I’ve come to appreciate lately. How they feel in hand and how you usually don’t have to hunt them from under the sofa every second roll. I used a Tarot deck in the previous campaign, and for New Horizons I’m using a deck of (sort of) regular cards as an alternative to dice.
What the look and feel of my deck would be was clear from the beginning – I had participated in the Kickstarter for the Grid 2.0 deck by 4PM Design, and had a nice pile of those decks in my shelf waiting for a project to use them on. They also nicely played in unison with the blue-tinted color scheme I had planned for +H.
New Horizons is Powered by Apocalypse, in the most traditional Apocalypse World way. This means that to be a purist, the players should be throwing two six-sided dice around when executing Moves. Luckily, to make a deck of cards that imitates this randomization is not that hard.
I started with a single 2d6 spread – one 2, two 3s, three 4s, four 5s, five 6s, six 7s, five 8s, four 9s, three 10s, two Jacks (11) and one Queen (12). That gave me a very thin deck of 36 cards with the correct probability matrix, but I had to use only a few (4) cards from a second deck, leaving me with one really crippled deck that would be useless for any future projects.
So, to get a bit bigger deck and make use of more cards, I doubled the count. two of 2s, four of 3s, twelve of 7s, etc. That butchered a total three decks, but to a more satisfying results, mostly because of the next steps.
To get an accurate simulation of a 2d6 roll, a deck needs to be shuffled after each draw of a card. While that would work, it would stall the game and feel like a constant magic trick of “pick a card, any card”.
The quick and dirty fix I came up with was adding four Jokers to the deck as “reshuffle cards” – two black ones and two blues (also known as red in other card decks). Drawing one means you need to reshuffle the deck and draw another card to determine the actual result. This makes the reshuffles themselves random, causing a proper enough randomness to the method.
But something was still wrong.
After meditating on the matter, I realized that the game really didn’t need a dice simulator. If I was using a deck of cards, I should really use the deck more. So in the final version of the system, when you draw a Joker, you choose if you want to reshuffle the deck or not. After a pile of Jacks and Queens, you probably would like to. After a streak of failures because of low cards, you’d want to keep going because the deck is now stacked in your favor. And if you draw all the fourth Joker, you are forced to reshuffle.
Another tweak to them was that the Blue Joker should give a +1 to the result and a point of Confidence to the player, while a Black Joker brings a -1 to the result and adds one point of Terror to the pool. This skews the original pitch-perfect 2d6 scale just enough to justify the cards instead of dice.
And as one last detail, I added some imbalance to the blacks and blues of the deck. There are 30 blue cards in the deck (including the Jokers) and a total of 46 black cards. The colors come into play in the damage mechanics, which I will get to in a future posting.
And the good thing here is that the deck feels like a real object. It gets passed around the table and the players draw from it one by one. And the used cards spread around the table, reminders of the past actions. All in all, it has a good feel to it. You know, a solid, tactile one.