Monday, January 29, 2018

HaberDash: First Cut

I've been mulling over playing cards in a roleplaying context for quite a while now, at least since Everway and definitely since the SAGA versions of Marvel Superheroes and Dragonlance. It seemed like something that should be easy, drama powered by, instead of the proprietary decks of those previously mentioned games, the elegant probabilities and imagery of a generic traditional deck.

The Saks-Werbespiel deck, displayed on the excellent World of Playing Cards.
But for whatever strange reason, there hasn't been a card-based roleplaying game published (at least not that I've heard of. EDIT: since I wrote that, folks have reminded me of Castle Falkenstein). And my own attempts to write one kept drying out in conceptual dead-ends. Frustrated, I hadn't done anything with the project in years.

Until yesterday when, literally on the verge of sleep, the seed of a system abruptly coalesced in my mind. I've been reading several minimalist designs lately (particularly Minimal6) so perhaps my long-latent notions got hooked by a new concept, pulling things together. Whatever the genesis, here's what I've got so far. Feedback would be greatly appreciated.

  HaberDash; first cut

(Note: previously these rules were called "Cheap Suits.")

0.0 Set-Up.

These are rules for tabletop roleplaying. They assume a traditional arrangement for such, one person serving as a GM (game moderator) who presents a scenario to one or more players each running a character of their making. Play will require note-cards, pencils and a full deck of playing cards (all four suits plus jokers).

1.0 Making a Character.

Divide thirteen marks between the four suits of Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts and Spades.

Clubs represent speed, dexterity, reflex and sudden intuition.

Diamonds represent endurance, slow action and deliberation.

Hearts represent awareness, logic and erudition.

Spades represent forceful action, strength and intimidation.

Each suit may have no fewer than one mark and no more than six. Three is about average.

Describe three Qualities, each a short but evocative phrase declaring something heroic about the character. These must be things that both help the character excel in particular situations but just as often lead to complications in others.

1.1 Example Characters.

Emma “WireShadow” Bequist
(cyberpunk outlaw)
-Hacker pioneer, spelunker of the deepest data caverns.
-Modified this myself, I’m testing some new ideas.
-Everyone on the Network has heard of me.

(sword & sorcery adventurer)
-Blood-furious berzerker.
-Barbarian daughter of the Iceblue Mountains.
-Furious passions, deep melancholies.

(galactic wanderer)
-Last of the Armageddon Androids.
-Enough plasma warheads to level a city block.
-I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.

Katherine Zephrenos
(courtly wizardess)
-A weaver of illusions.
-Always dressed in sharpest fashion.
-On first-name terms with a devil or two.

2.0 Facing Challenges.

When the character is faced by a challenge of uncertain outcome, the GM will decide which suit is most appropriate. The player then draws as many cards as they have marks in that suit, meeting the challenge if any of the cards match the suit. The number value of the matching card indicates how well they succeed. If multiples of the same suit are drawn, the player acts per the single most advantageous value.

Values 1-5 mean an iffy success entailing complications. The lower the number, the worse the complication. Values 6-10 indicate a superlative success granting dividends, the higher the number the better the bonus. Drawing no matching suits means the character fails.

If the character has a quality relevant to the challenge they are facing, they may draw an additional card or improve the value of one of the cards the drew by 2.

Royalty cards (Jack, Queen and King) offer power, but at a price. Royalty can be worth 10, but taking it requires the player declare a complication based on one of the character’s qualities. If the player turns down the 10 (and connected complication) the royalty card is worth nothing.

If a joker is drawn, regardless if the player also draw any successful cards, the GM may declare a complication, up to changing the entire nature of the scene.

The deck should be reshuffled after the second joker has been drawn.


3.0 Future Cuts

Things I want to consider for the next cut:

The probabilities so far are pulled out of thin air; a suit rating of 3 as "average" just feels about right, I've no math to back it up. Actual play will likely indicate needs for adjusting the numbers.

A consequence mechanic of some kind; the obvious way is to check off suit marks, but that seems a bit blunt.

An oracular system for the GM, by which they can also draw cards to build situations and opposition.

I may or may not add skills to characters; preliminary idea is a simple binary thing that let's one draw an additional card only if a suit card hasn't been drawn yet.

I haven’t as yet thought of a mechanic to dial the difficulty of challenges, but I doubt one is really needed.

Likewise, there’s no advancement mechanic, but I’m comfortable not bothering with one.