I Like Big Decks

“I like big decks and I cannot lie
You other GM’s can’t deny
That when your party walks into a brand new place
Got that blank look on your face
You draw cards…”
Count Zero-a-Lot

For those who’ve interacted with us online for any length of time over the last six months or so, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise to know that I am a huge fan of decks.  I will go on record to say that they are, literally, the best gaming money I have ever spent.  What do I mean by decks?  Well…

  • Monte Cook Games has an entire line of decks for their games and they even have a good chunk of them on Roll20 for those that prefer to play online.
  • There are several third party publishers that also do GM aids in the form of decks.  Like these from Larcenous Designs LLC.

Now… Why do I like decks?  First off, there’s convenience.  As a long-time GM, I understand the importance of pacing and keeping things both moving and “in the story” even if I still struggle with them on occasion.  Typically, in most RPG systems that I’ve been in, random information comes in tables that you roll on for a random result.  There are many, many supplements that are like this.  One of my all-time favorites of bygone years is Ultimate Toolbox by Alderac Entertainment Group, but Cypher has some as well.  The Jade Colossus is an excellent one for Numenera.  My struggle with this is the searching and the time it takes for the GM to fumble with dice and tables during the game.

The next incarnation of solution for this problem that I ran across was simply, lists.  Have lists for all the things ready at the table – “pre-generated”.  Lists of names, lists of taverns, lists of personality quirks, lists of tics, lists of…  Eventually, I was making as many lists as tables and even though I FELT more prepared, I was still fumbling.

Then I found decks.  You need an NPC?  Draw a card from the NPC deck.  There’s a name, a couple of word prompts for demeanor, personality, and appearance, some sample modifications to NPC level for skill, and a distinguishing feature or item.  A single card and I’ve got all that at my fingertips.  Draw three and mix and match.  However I wanted to do it, the information was right there.

I am not very good at spur-of-the-moment idea generation.  But if I’ve got a tiny bit to riff off of, like the aforementioned NPC deck, or the couple of sentences of description from the Numenera Ruin Deck, or GM intrusion deck, or some of the sensory inputs from the Larcenous Designs decks, I can typically take it from there and run with it.  Draw a card or three, glance at it, start talking again.  It’s that quick.

Particularly for Face to Face games (which sadly, I don’t have any at the moment), there is also the tactile feel of “pieces” (don’t even get me STARTED on the old hex-and-counter wargames – I LOVE those).  For much the same reason we like rolling dice (“Shiny math rocks go click clack.  Needs the more, all the more!”), we like touching things.  When you give a GM intrusion and then hand a player an XP card, or an Asset, or a Cypher and they can hand it back to you when they play it, there’s just something… satisfying about that tactile nature.

Ultimately, decks are a convenience tool, but easily my favorite one.  My GM-ing experience has been vastly improved by using them, and anymore, I recommend them to everyone I talk to that struggles with some of these things the way I do.  I’m all about things that make my creative process easier and make it so I can keep pacing and immersion high in my games.  Decks rate really high on that list. Happy gaming!

  • Josh Walles

3 thoughts on “I Like Big Decks

  1. For anyone who wants to know the rest of the story at the top of this post, I give you… GM Got Decks

    I like big decks and I cannot lie
    You other GM’s can’t deny
    That when your party walks into a brand new place
    Got that blank look on your face
    You draw cards, gonna fill out the room
    Make ‘em think you had a planned-out tomb
    Only need an idea seedling
    Gonna riff cause I’m lovin’ that feeling
    Oh session, I don’t need to prep ya
    Gonna run it improv
    The PC’s work to stump me
    But with the decks I got makes (me
    adapt-y)
    Ooh, a new player
    You say you want to be in my game?
    So random…. random…
    ‘Cause it ain’t your average fandom…
    Ain’t got no worries
    Cause we’re tellin’ random stories.
    They’re blunt, quick,
    Keep me drawin’ like a trick
    I’m tired of sourcebooks
    Sayin’ tables are the thing
    Take the Emm Cee Gee crew and ask ‘em that
    Kick’s gotta stretch for decks
    So GM’s (YEAH!) GM’s (YEAH!)
    Got a deck behind the screen? (Hell YEAH!)
    Go on and mix it (shuffle it) mix it (shuffle it)
    Mix that stack of cards.
    GM got decks

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