I am sorry but I am going to break from the official questions. Day 4 Favourite NPC, day 5 Favourite recurring NPC? Come on! Instead, I trialled a new tool that can be layered on top of any Role Playing Game (RPG) to add a new dimension to the story. It is also a tool that assists teaching gamers aspects of what a story based game is all about. This tool is called Storypath Cards. I Kickstartered them a couple of years back and a couple of weeks back my pledge was fulfilled. They are a quality product and so I used them in this weeks game of Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of. I used them for two reasons. Firstly I want my players to be a bit more descriptive and using these cards helps them take the centre stage. Secondly, they are new, high quality and interesting.
What are Storypath Cards?
From the back of the box…
Storypath Cards are a fun and easy-to-use accessory for virtually any tabletop roleplaying game. The cards encourage and empower players to momentarily take charge of the story by adding new elements, introducing new motivations, or providing narrative or descriptive embellishments.
And that is precisely what they are. What the box does not tell you is that they are beautiful cards with full-colour backs and black and white illustrated fronts. You get 36 cards in a pack and a detailed sheet on how to use them. The cards are about the size of a tarot card (2.75″ x 4.75″) with a beautiful linen finish. They come in a really stylish (but hard to open and close) box with the front illustrated with the image of the backs of the card. TheCreated by Nocturnal Media but their site does not feature the cards for sale just yet. They have just gone out to backers so it may be a little before they come up for sale.
How do Storypath Cards work?
Each deck of Storypath Cards has a theme to explore. I have received 5 decks of these cards being the Path of Adventure, Path of Morality, Path of Hope, Path of Horror and Path of Intrigue. The Games Master (GM) selects one of those themes that they best feel will match the adventure. Then they choose one of the cards that are labelled with a number one that is the theme card that will be investigated using the cards. Then all of the cards in the deck that are numbered two through to seven are shuffled and two to three cards are dealt to the players. This becomes their hand that they may use to influence the game. Each card has a uniques situation on it and a number. The number determines when they can be played. The card that is played by the player must have the same number as the last played card or be one higher. Therefore at the start, the only playable cards are those with the number two on them. Once a two card is played only cards with two or three can be played. Once a three is played two cards become useless and so on.
When a player plays a card, they follow the prompts on that card to build a bit of the story. For example, the number 3 card in the Intrigue pack False Identity Papers suggest the player has in their possession some falsified documents. The player could play that and call out that the group approaches the prison and hand over his papers that name him a member of the judges guild and that they are there to free a man imprisoned incorrectly. The GM approves (they have a right of veto) the addition and tells them that Jailor Sid (it is on his nametag) gives a wing to Jailor Samara (ditto) and they are ushered into the prison.
The Conan Game
So I used these, intrigued by how they may operate. I had done some designing and planned a fairly heavy NPC interaction session so I grabbed the Path of Intrigue deck. Thinking it to be a perfect choice – in the end not so much but you live and learn. I chose the Betrayal card and dealt out the cards to the players. After explaining how they worked, told them that they have all night to use them. I told them that whenever a climax labelled card was played that would end the Storypath (these cards appear between numbers four and seven). I started the game:
You stand at the top of a set of stairs that lead down from the frozen courtyard you stand in. It drops into a deep dark tunnel that has a musty smell to it and appears to be in very poor repair. Dungeons are never meant to be sunny airy affairs anyway…
And by the time I had finished the introduction, there were four cards down and we were at number 3 already! To be fair, the use of the cards made sense and built up the intrigue for the game. The choice of cards suited two of the players’ backstories perfectly and there was some great roleplaying done. I feel that there was an element of newness to the cards and so everyone felt like they wanted to use them. Using this set of cards though did hamper some cards the players “wanted” to use but were now out of the picture because they had number two on them.
The card used first had one of the players nod to another recognising this was just like the time he was a slave. It was meant to be an acknowledgement of a shared past but once it was done another player played a card that caused a look between two characters to cause tension in the group. I added in (as the GM is called on to instigate the reason for tension) that the look which was passed appeared to be threatening harm to the individual targeted.
After this initial flurry of activity, there was a massive lull in using the cards. I kept expecting them to be used but the players just did not interact with the NPC’s. To be fair they dealt with a lot of traps and then only encountered two other figures of interest but the players just, on the whole, wanted to fight them. They came across a blind pirate watchman and decided to kill rather than talk to him. One of the players tried initially revealing, through the use of a card, that his character was actually a member of the secret cult. This caused some great roleplaying among the group but all the tension occurred from within.
The Players’ thoughts
The players’ liked the cards and the addition to the game. One of them said they could see value in not using too many cards at the start. In the future, they would wait for the right moment. Another just kept saying they wished that we had used the horror cards. Most felt that I had chosen the wrong deck for the game that I presented but did like the cards. Many of them felt that the cards they had in their hand were not “usable” in the circumstances. I looked at the remainder of their hands after the game and I feel that the players need to take control a bit more in the use of the cards. There were certainly usable cards there, but they would have to really take control of the story. I am certain that this may be a bit daunting for some players used to being in the more passive role of a player.
I really liked this. I know that some of the things that made me a bit worried are only because the cards are new. Once we play with them a few times their use will improve. Choosing the Path of Intrigue cards was the right choice, it was player actions that turned it from this path. The player who stated many times it should have been the Path of Horror loves horror so I feel that this was not overly accurate but a personal desire. Despite the deck choice, I feel the card structure married well with the game. In fact, it would marry well with most RPG’s that I play. Despite a very fantasy base for many of the images, I feel that the cards would work in any setting. Will we be using them again? Absolutely. Should you take a look at them? You certainly should. Keep rolling!