The Cards Will Tell

With Hand of Fate having gone gold, it has made me consider a few ideas of game design for tabletop, mainly the use of cards for adventure design. In the game, you start with a small selection of cards for equipment and for encounters. At various times, you will gain a token to get more cards if you succeed in the challenge you are given. You then make a deck of these equipment and encounters, with some being forced in your deck until you solve them. This allows you to balance between the events, having ones to grant you new tokens, others to give you some sort of boon if you can overcome the challenge of the card.

There are many variety of cards for monster decks and random encounters, ranging from using playing cards as placeholders to specially designed decks with the relevant information on them. However,  there is usually little to tie them together, like designing encounters from random tables. The way Hand of Fate does it is still random, with the stories being woven through the cards by what you unlock for completing specific events. Event 1 gives you event 2 in that chain of events, giving some continuity to the overarcing boss fight challenges.

By having the cards revealed per storyline allows to have personalized encounters as you can bring out events for the players to encounter in your overarching story. Betrayal at the House on the Hill had various Omens, Items and Events, and triggering them in a room in random can give your tale a bit of a twist. Now imagine if wandering around a dungeon you suddenly encounter a body hanging from the ceiling in a noose or you stumble upon an ancient tower in the wilds. It is a whole encounter that can come into play at any time, even something as simple as a beggar.

Another good example of a deck driven storyline is Fallen London. They call them storylets, and you can see some of how it works in their blog at this post and this one. It is an online browser based game where storylines are driven by specific qualities which are unlocked and improved by going through various storylets. Also, by having a ‘random encounters’ deck to go to from time to time instead of the story encounters, it adds a bit of extra randomness beyond the story encounters that you prepared.

You can make these decks yourself, having them as key bits of the story you want to tell thus allowing the players to encounter them sometime during an adventure. You can also buy decks from places like Drive Thru RPG and such, for creature decks, encounters and items and so forth. Just make sure that you know where you want to set the story to go to.

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