D&D Fortune Cards may have been a bit of a let-down, but to be honest, I didn’t have very high hopes. I knew they were going to be mechanical “crunch” cards instead of something a whole lot more interesting. Here’s my pitch for what Fortune Cards coulda shoulda woulda been.
The Marvel SAGA RPG has a very interesting mechanic. The game revolves around a deck of special cards, and each card has a bunch of different elements on it. Some are used for game mechanics, but some are there to provide unexpected twists in the action. Each card has a Marvel character on it, often a lesser known one like the Super-Skrull or Dazzler. It also has a phrase that could affect the situation, a plot twist like “Unstable Crowd” or “Startling Revelation.” Finally, they also have a motivation or emotional state, like “Peace of Mind” or “Vengeance.”
The GM can choose at pretty much any time to draw a card from the deck and use some element on it to affect ongoing events. Say he draws the card with Dazzler on it. He can then have Dazzler arrive on the scene to aid the heroes. Or maybe it’s the “Startling Revelation” card, so he has the villain tell one of the heroes that the hero is actually a clone, and that the original hero died in WWII. These are things that were not part of the original scenario, necessarily, but they provide both the players and the GM interesting bits of story that breathe life into each encounter and prevent things from getting predictable. Keeps you on your toes, too.
Now imagine if Fortune Cards could do that for a D&D game. The characters could be a range of interesting NPCs, from bumbling low-level heroes who’d need rescuing to powerful archmages who show up and turn the fight against the party. Each card could include very basic stats for the character: defenses, a few skills and maybe a basic power or two. Mostly it would have some key personality traits and a mannerism.
The cards could also include plot elements like the Marvel SAGA cards do. Heck, most of the same ones would work right out of the box: vengeance, betrayal, etc. They should be relatively vague, so the DM and the players can work it into their own stories, and the designers would have to resist the urge to assign mechanics to everything. Instead of “Ice Storm – all terrain is difficult terrain, and anyone who runs falls prone at the end of their movement,” the card would just say, “Sudden change in the weather.”
Some of you are saying, “I wouldn’t want cards to tell me how to role-play.” But role-playing is actually kind of difficult, even for experienced players. You can’t just plop people around a table and say, “Ok, role-play!” Even the best improv actors ever would have blank looks for a while. Role-playing needs hooks to attach itself to, and while the DM and the adventure provide a lot of those hooks, it’s always nice to have more. The cards would help make everyone’s role-playing more vivid, and give players extra elements to react to.
If nothing else, they could make encounters far more memorable. “Remember that time we were fighting kobolds in a mountain pass and that stench wafted over the whole area? Even the kobolds were gagging!” “Or that one night when that unarmed man charged into camp and tried to strangle Sir Urogar with his bare hands, screaming something about his wife?” “Ah, good times.”
There are some more card-based products in the pipeline for D&D, so hopefully things will get more interesting. But I may just make my own deck of Plot Twist Cards for our 4E group.