Cards to inspire scenes

edited April 2012 in Story Games
How do you make simple cards with text and/or pictures that inspire players?

My idea is to make it simple; draw one card -> look at it briefly -> frame the scene

Here's some examples of how such cards could be:

Card #1
Text: Danger in darkness
Picture: a shadowy figure that may be a man, or a monster ...

Card #2
Text: An emotional encounter
Picture: an ordinary house, and a tree in the wind

Card #3
Text: A test of wills
Picture: two faces, one on each side of the card, facing each other

Card #4
Text: A challenge for the nimble
Picture: part of a complex mechanism

Card #5
Text: The spring of magic
Picture: a figure of light, by a waterfall


The point is to make simple elements, which is drawn and read in the blink of an eye. Designing them to be easily connected to the setting, we ensure easy inspiration for the players, and make it simple to frame scenes from them.

Designing such cards to suit one particular setting, making them into true setting elements, they would help reinforce the setting and help players explore it.

Although each card is simple; having 50+ such cards would ensure variation. I believe the same card would inspire different scenes in different situations, so variation would be secured in that way too.

And with that amount of cards, we would be hard pressed to predict what card comes up next, and that would make some surprises for all players/leaders.

Any thoughts?


  • Having only the text or only a picture can work too.

    If tha cards are too abstract, they can be hard to work with. If they are too specific, the player may not click with the idea in the current context of the fiction.

    You may want to put in a safety valve that allows a player to draw another card or do a different kind of action instead of setting a scene with the card.

    Even with a low number of cards, there will be high variation in the scenes.

    You can also let players have a number of cards on the hand to choose from. This will lead to less spontaneous scenes which may or may not be what you want for your game.
  • Why cards Tomas, as opposed to something like a poster that has all of the options on the cards available to all at all times?

    (Having said that, I do love things made with cards...)

  • Ah, the reason we choose cards to do this, rather than a poster, is that a poster has to have a LOT of information. Things with lots of information tend to be less effective; we have to evaluate many elements, to choose amongst them. The point here is to feed the player with some inspiring tidbit of information that helps him be creative. By doing that fast, the game does not loose out on so much narrative energy. Drawing a card is a mechanic, and as such you need to be very careful how the application of it influence game-play.

    I believe this is a nice way to regulate the use of such cards (at least in a classical rpg);
    - a player may choose to frame scene by himself, with no card
    - if he choose to draw a card; then he must use it in some way
  • Gosh, I did something like that ages ago. I wonder if those links still work... I have the art skills of a 4th grader so I used mosaic filters to hide my shame.
  • edited April 2012
    The optional plot cards for House of Cards are are very similar to what you're talking about. One of the mechanics in the game is that a plot twist occurs when the players run through one of their decks: the plot cards are an aid for referees who aren't comfortable improvising twists out of thin air. When the task resolution deck is set out, one random plot card is drawn. It's got a keyword, some leading questions, and a little picture. The referee can mull this over; meanwhile, the card is placed under the deck so that when it runs out, the twist is revealed. The general thrust of the twist is already known to the referee, so foreshadowing can be sprinkled in during the lead-up, but the details aren't fixed until the card actually appears.
  • Sounds like you want to pick up an old copy of Everway. Which had a Tarot-like deck of cards with images and text that could be interpreted as a good or bad depending on the way the cards faces.

  • Been working in something like this lately. Drawings are a good idea, but same as words, the more specific their content, the less interpretations you may get from them. That's not necessarily a bad thing, you can narrow the focus to events and things that are more relevant to your setting. It's the same with phrases, though I'd reccomend just words instead. With 4 words per card and one drawing you could have up to 250 options in 50 cards. After testing I found that you need just one word to frame a scene, providing the game has already a setting and the PCs already have an interesting background.

    I also find this quite interesting.
  • I think F*CK YOUTH does this really well.
  • I'm using cards in a similar way for the Matrix Game I hope to have out for Gen Con.

    Snapshot: 1969 allows players to go to Woodstock, protest the war and do the sex drugs and rock n roll thing from a safe distance.

    Chris Engle
  • Posted By: ParadoxBoyTheoptional plot cardsforHouse of Cardsare are very similar to what you're talking about.
    Those are beautiful cards! But alas; they are too complex for my taste. The drawings of these cards, and the titles, is what I see as optimal for my use. I see the strength in designing the cards like it has been done here; how it would help insecure players, but for my use I'd rather like to support the players in ways that make them stretch a bit. I believe people grow on such a premise, and that the game will be better for it too.

    Scott; that Everway game sounds like something I would be glad to play. The card shown in your post is very nice, and close to what I have in mind.

    Ross; I've never tried Fuck Youth. Any good?

    Chris; your game sounds interesting! I hope you get it ready for Gen Con.
  • Thanks, Tomas! There's no reason you could ignore portions of the card; they're meant merely to assist players - to prompt ideas, not to restrict them.
  • edited April 2012
    I believe I see what you mean, Neal. However; I believe players will relate to the totality of information on the card; they will not ignore info on the card, but read everything and evaluate it, and then choose to act on some of it. That reading and evaluation takes a handful of seconds, and those seconds are repeated every time a card is drawn. I see that as something that will slow down game-play.

    I am particular in relation to mechanics that slow down game-play. My personal principles of design do not allow for such mechanics. It will be a constraint on techniques that is aimed at controlling tempo in the game. Balancing mechanics and techniques in such ways, with the intent of having game-play shift in speed on the whim of the GM/players, is something I like to do in my design.

    So I need a card of mine to serve up a simple idea, immediately, so it may prompt action; the active framing of a new scene.

    But your cards are still beautiful in design, and clearly shows support of the players. And you do not have to work tempo, like I do. I imagine players love to play with those cards. It's just not my cup of tea. :-)
  • Sounds like you want to pick up an old copy of Everway. Which had a Tarot-like deck of cards with images and text that could be interpreted as a good or bad depending on the way the cards faces.

    Good suggestion.

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