Dice or Cards?

I have had a bit of a fascination with card deck vs dice based rpgs for the last year. There is a rather strange game called ABS12 (A Basic System 12) which is all based around d12 rolls. D12s give a relatively large number of possible outcomes without having to have a bell curve of probabilities. Another consequence of this is that you can play the game by drawing cards from a standard deck of playing cards. The ace, 2-10, hack, queen, king give 13 outcomes. Discard the Kings and you have a pack of d12 rolls.

ABS12 is a very strange minimalist system. I helped with the play testing and I cannot say I particularly like it. Characters have just a single stat and everything is derived from that. You need a lot of imagination to play the game. If you are familiar with solo role playing then it is a perfectly viable writing aid. Ken Wickham, the author, shared several of his solo adventures. Check out his World of the Fifth Sun blog for more.

While I am not really keen on ABS12 the idea of using a pack of playing cards as part of the game engine does appeal.

So I was thinking about putting together a superlight RPG here in a short series of posts.

Here are my initial thoughts, most of which came to me on a dog walk today, so there is nothing play tested so far.

  • First of all no classes/professions.
  • No levels

Those first two are out because I personally think they restrict player options and add bulk to a system. If by some freak of nature this little project became popular then classes/professions are a prime cause of rules bloat.

  • Skills based

I like skills based systems you do not need a huge selection of skills but they do allow different players to differentiate their characters by developing different skills.

So how about this as an initial set of mechanics?

  • Cards have their face value. Aces are one, picture cards are 10.
  • Each character has an Endurance stat. This is on a scale of 1 to 15. Each time you would normally assign experience or level up characters the player cuts a deck of playing cards and if they draw a king then their Endurance increases by one.
  • At the start of each session the GM deals cards to each player equal to their Endurance stat.
  • When you want to test a skill the GM sets a target number. The player gets a bonus for high stats and relevant skills but they draws a card from their Endurance hand and adds the value to their total. If they have not met the target number then if the test is something that can be partially completed, such as climbing, then the character can draw an additional card in their next turn. If the task was pass or fail, such as leaping a chasm, then the task failed.
  • Combat is run as a contest. The attacker draws a card plus stat bonus and combat skill bonus. The defender draw a card plus a defensive stat for dodge. If the attacker wins then the defender can choose to take a wound or draw a second card to represent dodging or evading. If the defender still has not beaten the attackers total then they can take the wound or draw another card. If the defender wins then the attacker can press the attack by drawing another card or let the attack go.
  • If the defender runs out of cards from their endurance hand then they can no longer defend themselves and they must take the wound.
  • A wound reduces the current Endurance stat by 1. One unused card must be discarded from the wounded characters hand. The card is the players choice.
  • In ranged combat there is just a single attack and defence card draw.
  • Stats are all on a 1-10 scale decided by drawing cards. Picture cards add one to the starting Endurance stat. The stats are Strength, Agility, Endurance, Empathy, Reasoning.
  • Stats of 7 to 9 give a +1 on related skill tests. Stats of 10 give a +2 on related tests.
  • Stats of 1 gives a penalty of -2. Stats of 2-4 gives a penalty of -1 on related tests.
  • Characters get 10 points to assign between all their skills. Each point gives a +1 to skill tests.
  • There should be 10 to 20 skills such as stealth, melee combat, ranged combat, observation, climbing, riding, public speaking, first aid and so on. This list is up for discussion.
  • When a skill is used in earnest it can be ticked by the player. During the experience assigning stage you get to cut the pack for each skill you have ticked and if the drawn card is worth more than the current skill then the skill increases by one. If a king is drawn then the skill always increases by one.
  • A character with no cards left in their endurance pack passes out.
  • Endurance is restored at the GMs discretion or one per hour. A first aid skill test can restore one to the endurance hand.
  • At the end of each combat, scene or adventure the players endurance hands are thrown in and the GM deals out a new hand to each up to the currency endurance value.
  • The game has no time rules, no combat rounds or turns. The time taken depends on the declared actions with an assumed time span of a two or three seconds for most actions.

Setting and Genre.

I think the ideal initial setting for a game like this would be the Wild West. I think the idea of role playing by deck of cards goes really well with poker playing cowboys. Having said that I would like the game to adaptable to any setting.

So if everything is up for discussion what are your initial thought? Do you think this could work?

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