Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Why playing cards?

I imagine one of the first questions someone might have about Hand of Fate: Steam and Sorcery is, "Why use playing cards instead of dice?" There are actually multiple reasons for the change, and I'll try to cover the main ones here. Note that if you remain unconvinced and want to stick with dice, there will be a section describing several ways to do that, either using d12-d12 or the standard 4dF / d6-d6.

1) Setting: In the 19th Century, gentlemen and ladies played cards, and only the lower classes would play dice games. Whether you are playing in the American old west, a private club in Europe, or a casino in Monaco, you generally think of playing cards. Using cards in the RPG thus helps evoke the feeling of the setting.

2) Availability: Fate games typically use Fudge dice, which can be hard to find until the Fate Dice are released. Most people have a deck of cards though, and if they don't, they are very easily found.

3) Style: There are some great-looking decks of cards being made today, and many of them have fantasy or steampunk themes. Several years ago the U.S Playing Card Company, makers of the Bicycle brand and the leading manufacturer of playing cards in the US, began allowing ordinary folks to submit a design and pay to have their own custom decks made. This started a boom in the playing card market as everyone from magicians to design studios began creating decks. There are now many dozens of unique and beautiful decks of cards and more being created every day. This means each player can choose a deck that suits their character, and the GM might choose a different deck each week that suits the adventure... a magical looking deck if they are facing a cabal of evil mages, a deck with skulls if they are fighting undead, a steampunk-styled deck for a mystery aboard an airship, or an Arabic-themed deck if they are lost in the Sahara.

4) Additional Information: The card suits, colors, face cards vs number cards, and the Jokers all give opportunities by providing additional information that a dice roll doesn't have, and I've incorporated all of those things into the game. For instance, if your card matches the color of the task you are attempting (black cards for physical tasks, red cards for mental/social tasks), then the card's value is positive. If it's the wrong color, it's negative. This means every card in the deck is potentially positive or negative, it just depends upon when it comes up.

5) Strategy: By replacing your Fate Points with a hand of cards, and being able to substitute a Fate card for a randomly drawn card, there is a new element of strategy to spending your Fate points. If you are holding a good red card in your hand, for instance, you might attempt a mental or social test where you might ordinarily be weak because you can then play that card by invoking an aspect. And whenever you draw or play a Joker, you have a chance to trade in some or all of the Fate cards in your hand for an equal number of new random cards... do you want to trade that card that you haven't found an opportunity to use yet in hopes of getting a card you like better, or do you hang on to it? Questions like these are only possible when you have a hand of cards rather than a fistful of dice.

6) Greater variety of results: I prefer games with a bit more granularity, where a +1 or +2 isn't a massive bonus, and the likely results of most tests is greater than 3-5 numbers (-2 to +2 is common, with -1, 0, or +1 being the majority of results. A deck of cards goes from 1 (Ace) to13 (king). In Hand of Fate, you draw 2 cards and use the lower one, and the result is 0 is both cards are the same value. This is the same method as d6-d6, but with twice the range of possible results. This means I can have some + or - 1, 2, or 3 modifiers on some things without that being an overwhelming factor.

7) Uniqueness: Relatively few games use playing cards as the primary or sole means of determining success and failure at tasks. I wanted to create something that was different and stood out from the rest, and using cards instead of dice helps make the game unique.

So, those are my main reasons for using playing cards instead of dice. I'll leave you with a look at some various playing card decks to give you an idea of the range of possibilities in decks.


  1. Hi. Good work here, but I have some questions:

    Do the players have a hand of cards plus another hand equal to his current Fate Points or just the second one?

    How exactly do Fate Points work?

    How many cards are needed in any one action?

    How are the card replenished? When can anyone take more cards from the deck?

    How many cards has the DM?

    I have some other questions but let me begin with those.


  2. Hi Bas,

    Hand of Fate will be based on the Fate Core game. My answers here will assume you know how Fate Core works.

    1) Just 1 hand equal to the number of Fate points you have. If you spend all your Fate points, you'll no longer have a hand until you get more.

    2) The Fate cards will work exactly the same as Fate points in Fate Core (+2 or a do over or declare story detail) with 1 additional option: Substitution. You can replace one of the 2 random cards you drew for the test with a card from your hand by invoking an aspect.

    3) You normally draw 2 cards and use the lower card for an action. There is a way to draw a 3rd card and choose which 2 you'd like to keep, though.

    4) You replenish your hand the same way you replenish Fate Points in Fate Core, by accepting Compels. When one of your aspects would be detrimental to you the GM can make you an offer of a card in exchange for a set-back or problem for the character in the game.

    5) The GM draws a hand based on the level of opposition, but the standard is about 5 cards.

    I hope these answers made sense. If you don't know about the Fate Core RPG, here's a place to get a copy: http://www.faterpg.com/2013/the-new-era-of-fate-is-here/

    1. Hi again.

      I'm reading Fate Core and I can say it's amazing. I love the way it works.

      Using cards, on the other hand, remember me the way Castle of Falkenstein works and I like it too.

      In point 3) above, you say there is a way to draw a third card an choose the 2 I like more. I thought you always keep the lowest card. How can you draw this 3rd card? How can you keep two of them? How do you use them, adding each other?

      Another question: If Fate Points (Fate Cards) let you add +2 to a "roll"... isn't it too narrow if you are using cards?

      Thanks again.

  3. Boosts are represented by poker chips, and they are always spent before you draw cards, unlike Fate cards which are always played after you've made your random draw. Boosts may be used in 2 possible ways: Either to add a bonus to the result, or to draw 1 extra card on the random draw.

    Here's how that works: You have a Boost and you declare you're using it for a 3rd card. You draw 3 cards instead of 2... let's say you draw a 2 of Hearts, a 6 of Clubs, and a 9 of Diamonds. You now choose which 2 cards to keep for the test... If it's a physical test, you'll want to keep the 6 of Clubs and 9 of Diamonds, because then the low card is the black 6. If it's a mental test, you'll want to keep the 2 of Hearts and one of the other cards, because then the red 2 will be the low card. Whichever card you don't keep is discarded immediately, and play then proceeds normally with the 2 cards you kept, as if they were the 2 cards randomly drawn. This gives you a little bit of control over the "random draw".

    As for the +2 from Fate cards, I thought a lot about whether to increase it or not and finally decided not to. Here's why:

    1) "+2 or a reroll" is very well known by Fate players already.

    2) Boosts can have +2, +3, or +5 but that is balanced against the fact that they are spent before the draw, perhaps unnecessarily, while the cards are used after. There is a way for the King to give you a static +5 though... each of the face cards has an additional ability to increase its power when you play it out of your hand. Those abilities are listed as optional, but I like them.

    3) Most importantly, I really wanted to emphasize substitution as the best way to use the cards, rather than the very, very common +2 of standard Fate games. Reroll is only used if you rolled a -3 or -4, and otherwise everyone just uses +2's. There's no point to using cards in the game if you just spend them for flat bonuses, so I made sure that was not the most sttractive option, it's the last resort when you just need a couple more points to succeed and none of the cards in your hand will work.

  4. Have you thought on drawing just a card instead of two? Why to draw two cards if you have to choose the lower one?

    Thinking about skills and difficulties, Have you changed any of those or are they still rated the same?

  5. Drawing 2 cards and using the lower one gives you a curve with lower results being more likely than higher ones, which I like. Also, if the 2 cards are of equal value, the result is 0... you'd never have a 0 result with just 1 card.

    Skills are rated the same, but they are added to the Mode they are under, which is also rated. For instance, Stealth is under the Intrigue Mode (along with 5 other skills). If your Intrigue is 3 and your Stealth is 4, your total is 7. If you have no points in a skill (0 rating), you still get to use your Mode value, so if that character's Deceive is 0, he still has his Intrigue mode of 3. This gives you at least some proficiency in related skills.

    Difficulties are a little more complicated because they have an Active and a Passive version, but the very short answer is that they are usually doubled. So a Fair difficulty is a 4, not a 2, as it would be in Fate Core. But that could increase if they are actively used by a character rather than just being left on their own.

  6. But if you draw 2 and take the lower one you will have lots of negative results, haven't you? I mean, if you draw 6 of Clubs and 9 of Diamonds you'll take 6 of Clubs, but this card is "negative" in a social exchange.

    Could be better drawing 3 cards and keep the middle-valued one? If the lower or the higher card matches the middle you get a 0 result instead

    Or you could draw 2 cards and add them. In the example above (6 of Clubs and 9 of Diamonds) in a social situation, you will get a +3 total roll. You can use your Fate Cards to replace any of them and add them again. The bad side is that you can get totals of 18 or above...

    I don't see a fair way to handle "rolls" here

  7. Yes, half your results will be negative, unless you use you hand of Fate to modify the results. This is exactly what I want, and it's how Fate works. When you roll 4dF, your results range from -4 to +4, with the average being 0. In Hand of Fate, your results range from -12 to +12, with the average being 0. That means that most of the time you'll do about as well as you'd expect. If you have a score of 8 and you get +0, your result is 8. If you got -3, it's a result of 5. If you got +3, it's an 11. If you got the worst possible result, a -12, your total is -4. You can have negative results in fate, it happens a lot actually.

    1. How exactly can you get +12 with card drawing without using Fate cards?

    2. If you draw a King and a Queen on your random draw, the Queen is the lower card, and is worth 12 points. (10 is the highest number card, followed by Jack, which is an 11, and Queen, which is 12) This is the highest possible result because if you had 2 Kings, the result is 0 since they are the same value and neither card is lower.