Around two years ago, I had the notion of putting together a series of card deck for Call of Cthulhu. Each deck would focus on a key thing, like a collection of everyday non-player characters, a collection of villains (cultists, thugs, criminals), a deck of monsters and so on. The idea being that a harassed Keeper could simply hand out or use any number of these cards to help them during a game.
Picture this… the players have decided to go ‘off reservation’ into an area of scenario that you didn’t plan? No problem, pull out a card from the NPC deck – they have met ‘Frank the Handyman’. Now the players have decided to start a fight in bar – fine, pull a ‘Thug’ card from the villains deck. One of your player character’s just died/went insane about 30 minutes before the end of the session? Need a character they can play to keep them interested in the final 30 minutes? Pick an NPC card from the deck – perhaps they like the character so much they develop it fully next time into their investigator. And so on…
Anyway, I played with the idea of having a series of decks – characters, monsters, weapons, spells – having these would then allow you to create ‘scenario’ decks, where each card gave you a recipe for a scenario. For example:
Scenario Card A
Randomly draw or pick the following:
4 x villain cards
1 x monster card
5 x spell cards
5 x NPC cards
Decide which villain is the leader (give all the spells to them).
The other villains work for the leader.
Decide which NPC has been ‘eaten / killed / captured’ (decide which)
by the monster (known as NPC 1).
The monster has been unleashed by the leader (decide a cult name) and will
eat / kill / capture the another 4 NPCs over the next 4 days.
The investigators have been approached by one of the NPCs to
find out what’s happened to NPC 1.
Well, you get the idea – not sure this kind of scenario card would actually work, but the idea interested me.
I never really did anything with the deck of cards concept until we began to plan the Call of Cthulhu 7th edition kickstarter with Chaosium. The card deck idea reached out of the dark recesses of my mind and I proposed the idea to Chaosium as a possible stretch goal. The Chaosium gang liked the idea, so we discussed exactly what decks we could do and which would be most useful for Keepers. Interestingly, a couple of different playtest groups had proposed card ideas – so the notion had obviously crossed a few people’s minds.
In the end we decided on:
A deck of Curious Characters – these would essentially be fully stated NPCs (inc. skills and weapons, backstories) that the Keeper could draw upon whenever he or she needed a character in the game – the cards would serve a double purpose in this respect: the Keeper could use the character card ‘as is’ with the stats and character portrait, or simply just use the portrait as a visual player aid (assuming the Keeper was using an NPC already stated in the scenario). Additionally, if a player needed an investigator at the drop of a hat, then one of the character cards could do the trick.
An early prototype (with errors!)
A Weapons & Artefacts deck – a selection of common and unusual weapons, each fully detailed on a card, as well as a few Mythos artefacts that could fall into the investigator’s hands. Each card would tell the player all the weapon stats (range, damage, etc.) and also any special rules or information. If an investigator picks up a weapon in mid game, the Keeper can toss the appropriate card to them and get on with the game – rather than have a) find the weapon stats in the rulebook, and then b) read the stats to the player while they write them onto the investigator sheet – all of which stops the game. Giving a player a prepared card saves time and allows everyone to keep their focus on the game in hand.
A deck of Phobia cards – each card details the effects of a phobia, mania or bout of madness. Again the aim is keeping the pace of the game foremost in mind and avoiding unnecessary pauses in the game whilst the Keeper takes a player aside to explain their insanity to them. Passing the selected card to the player, allows the Keeper to keep the game moving whilst also ensuring the player has enough information to ‘enact’ their investigator’s insanity or bout of madness. The card is designed to provide guidance as well as provoke questions for the player to answer – allowing them to tailor the insanity to their investigator appropriate to the situation and conditions of the insanity’s cause. The information on the card provides enough to get them started but also assists them and the Keeper in further developing the game’s story beyond what’s written on the card.
Finally we have the Unfortunate Events deck – here are all manner of ‘Keeper Notes‘ that could be passed to a player during the game. Each card describes something that has just happened and its immediate effect upon the investigator. Sometimes the information will be clear and unambiguous (“whilst searching the room, you have found a small golden pendant inscribed with a strange symbol“), or more obscure (“you think you saw someone watching you – are you being followed?“) The cards have to be generic enough to be of use in multiple situations, yet specific enough to be worth using. I see them as useful little Keeper aids to help keep the player’s guessing and to build tension (i.e. I hope that getting one of these cards becomes something to be feared by the players!)
So far, both the Phobia and Weapon decks are complete and with Chaosium for design and art. The character deck is halfway through being written – it’s the longest of all of the decks to write (imagine stating up 40+ NPCs, with full skills and backstory details!) Once the character deck is complete I’ll move on to the event deck. I think the event deck will be challenging – making sure I have a broad enough range of ‘events’.