RPG A Day 27: Alternate alternate.

I have already answered this question in the past.  The answer has not changed.  Originally the post was in response to something written by Contessa and can be found here.  Then I decided to do an alternate question.  When I went and looked there were none there that was appealing to me.  I am old and curmudgeonly so I apologize for my snootiness.  Instead I am going to look at something alternate of my own.  I am going to drag out Tank Girl RPG and talk about the thing that intrigues me about it the most.

The Masterbook System

Tank Girl is a West End Games RPG that utilised the Masterbook system.  I never, ever played this system!  What that means is that the game (a boxed set) came with a black book (the Masterbook) and a setting book.  In this case it was the Masterbook and the Tank Girl setting.  But the other thing that it came with in boxed sets only (according to the Masterbook) was a set of cards…

Tank Girl

For those of you that don’t know Tank Girl originated as a British comic book set in futuristic post apocalypse Australia.  My favourite quote (taken from the wiki of pedias) is;

The strip features various elements with origins in surrealist techniques, fanzines, collage, cut-up technique, stream of consciousness, and metafiction, with very little regard or interest for conventional plot or committed narrative.

In other words, my type of comic.  Definitely fringe and alternate in the 90’s.  They also made a movie.  It was pretty bad but the images that fill the RPG are pretty good.

Tank Girl RPG
One of the more special items in my collection

The cards

So this is what I am going to talk about.  I have two little decks of cards and it was kind of the 90’s way of giving some of the narrative ability back to the players from what I can tell.  The cards in the deck were individually numbered (and so unique) so that if the game had to wind up the players would write down the cards they had and draw them again at the start of next game.  There is a whole set of rules about how many cards you can have and when they can be used or swapped which I will largely ignore and just talk about the cards themselves.  In the decks there were three types of cards;

  1. Enhancement cards: Red and black cards that had an effect and also a detail of initiative in a standard or dramatic context.  The card also dictated the approved actions that allowed players to acquire extra cards;
  2. Subplot cards which allowed a subplot to be introduced affecting the player that drew it;
  3. Picture cards

Enhancement Cards

These cards seem to give the player a list of bonuses depending on the card.  This is in the black section of the card, the red was used for initiative on a round by round basis from the GM  For example, One on top of my decks is the card (10) Double Cross: Gain +6 to any action performed that directly betrays the rest of the party.  There are more generic versions but you can see that if a player uses this card it is immediately going to be affecting the story.

Subplot Cards

These cards offered some kind of alternate subplot that the GM would immediately rule as a in or not applicable.  For example there is a card called Common Ground (18) that states: Establish “common ground” with an otherwise alien or unknown being or group.  This was obviously a very interesting way of changing the way an entire story may flow when a player drew one of these.

Picture Cards

Players could use these Joker like cards in different ways.  Also, in some of the Worldbooks (the book that you used for the specific setting) they may have more specified uses.  This is not the case in Tank Girl.  Two cards were added for the GM to completely decide how they were to be used.

Interesting alternate idea but why do you care?

Not sure really.  In all honesty I like the idea of this and see how this feeds into my learn through play philosophy.  I should have run the game when I got it!  Players adding to the narrative should be in every game.  Pity I came to it so late.

The system is still out there and you can pick up copies of the Masterbook system and the decks in PDF as far as I know.  The idea of the cards is great but the mechanics need softening.  If you have played with it in the past let me know in the comments!  Keep rolling.

1 Comment

  1. My only experience with MasterBook was reading a borrowed copy of the “Species” movie setting. I never played it either.

    I always thought the mechanics looked interesting, but I didn’t know there were cards. Thsnks for the awesome review. I agree the cards would be cool. Think they can be adapted to other systems?

    I mean, it would take a special frame of play group to not freak out every time another player yoinked the story line with a card play. But, since ive always felt the point of RPGs was collective storytelling, this sounds pretty cool. Thanks for the review 🙂


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