Thursday, November 13, 2014

Action Cards: In Brief

I ran two sessions of Action Cards for Metatopia. We've been playing AC in one form or another since '99. I plan on posting my thoughts on the playtests and the convention tomorrow. I'd hoped to write up my reaction by now, but I keep thinking about new things. In any case, here's the "in brief" sheet I had but only distributed to a couple of people. 

What is Action Cards?
Action Cards is an rpg using individual character decks as a randomizer. Each deck is tailored to a particular character, with several unique cards. When a player tests for an action, they draw a card and check the results. Many cards have results across four categories, while others have special effects, offer choices, or allow the player to narrate the results. Decks can be marked up, modified, or have new cards added over the course of a campaign. Your deck acts as unique dice for your character. It evolves and changes with play.

What Do Players Have Beside Decks?
Players also have a character sheet to record skills, damage, aspects, and special abilities. Depending on how the GM wishes to set things, this sheet can be fairly minimal. Players will also have tokens for Fate points to spend and possibly dice for damage if the GM uses that option.

Character Creation: Standard
In basic character creation players receive a deck twenty-four card deck. Six of these are special cards all decks have. Eight have results pre-written in in the four areas, common to all decks: Social, Physical, Combat, and Mental. Six have blank results. Players distribute ratings among these: Catastrophic, Bad, Just Missed, OK, Great, and Amazing. Finally each deck has four blank cards. Players develop unique cards for their character- one all-around positive, two mixed, and one bad. Players also pick skills and stunts based on the setting.

Character Creation: Draft
For one shots or short campaigns, players can draft their decks. Everyone begins with a set of common result and special cards. They then draft a set of additional result cards. Finally they draft two good and one bad unique cards to fill out their deck. GM’s may tailor draft decks to the particular genre and setting, with different effects and card titles. Players may also pick skills and stunts based on the setting.

How Do You Play?
When making a test, the GM tells the player the basic result they need to succeed and what kind of draw to make (i.e. a Stealth Physical pull). They draw and check if they’re happy with the result. If not they can repull with a skill or by spending a Fate point with an aspect. Alternately they can raise the result by one degree by using an aspect & fate point. Players can use effects to redraw up to twice, but have to use their final draw.

The GM makes the players push their luck by playing off egos.

Players reshuffle their decks after each scene or after every three rounds in combat. GMs can also call for a reshuffle if decks are getting low. Players may spend a Fate point to reshuffle at any time.
Many cards have catches or dramatic options on them. Unique cards may require the player figure out how their action fits with the fiction. Players always have the opportunity to control this narration, but the GM can also take it over if they get stuck.

What Does the GM Do?
When running an active opposition- mooks, bad guys, monsters, etc- the GM uses his own deck. It contains several unique cards, but primarily result cards broken into four categories representing quality: Average, Trained, Skilled, and Elite. NPCs can be generally sketched to those levels for the four categories (Social, Physical, Mental, Combat). These can be tuned by adding Skills (redraws) or Qualities (+1 to the result for something specific). They may also have aspects and stunts.

“Potentiometers” or Game Dials
We’ve played with several variations shaped to the kind of game’s genre. For example we commonly use dice-based damage. However the system also works with simplified margin=damage mechanics and stress boxes. Skills lists can be easily modified to fit the genre; the same holds true for Stunt lists. Consequences can be player-chosen or card-driven. Mechanical elements like reshuffling and deck construction can be tuned to impact the game’s feeling.

What’s Fate Here?
Aspects, Consequences, Fate Points, Physical/Composure Stress, general approach to Stunts & Skill set up.

What’s Not Fate Here?
  • Granular Advancement: Players spend their experience points to buy up results on their cards, write in “edges,” purchase skills, acquire new stunts & powers, add new cards to their deck
  • Card Counting: There’s a “Moment of Glory” card still in my deck. Do I keep drawing? This might seem like a meta-distraction but in my experience it adds tension and fairness to the play
  • Ownership: Players can mark up and own their deck. It might sound odd, but players react positively to this- even more than doodling on their character sheet. Edges, result buy-ups, unique cards all contribute to this feeling. Players learn and appreciate each other’s decks over time.
  • Dice Damage: The default option uses dice for damage which seems weird, but it creates an interesting break in play. My only real justification for this is that players like rolling damage.
  • Loose Skills: Players can justify repull based on skills used in a different context. They’re meant to be approached broadly. Instead of a Stunt to use a skill in a new context, players and GMs can do thus through narration. There is a parallel to Fate in Stunts which allow players to draw another category for an action type, i.e. Mental for Defenses.

What Have We Used This For?
We’ve played many long-running campaigns using some flavor of Action Cards. For example, The Last Fleet, a fantasy riff on Battlestar Galactica; Ocean City Interface, a multi-dimensional game; Libri Vidicos, a steampunk fantasy school; among others. We’ve also used it to adapt other settings for campaigns including Fallout, Glorantha, Legend of the Five Rings, Changeling the Lost, HALO, and Star Wars. We’ve also used it for some one-shot games including superheroic sessions.

What Am I Imagining?
A core book which lays out the basic elements of the system. It would include several Campaign Frames used to illustrate different elements. For example we might use Guards of Abashan for city-building and granular magic. The Last Fleet for communities and vehicles. Neo-Shinobi Vendetta for powers and operation planning. Arclight Revelation Tianmar for steampunk, mecha, and social conflict.

The book/pdf would include PnP tools for making your own card decks. It would have basic cards as well as form-fillable set ups. Using something like DriveThru Cards GMs could also order basic sets of cards. We would also have available pre-developed draft decks for different genres or the specific genres from the core book. These could also be done PnP. Finally we’d also have a set of condition/consequence cards available.