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RPGs that use Cards instead of Dice

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    This is an idea I’ve been playing around with in my head for a while now. There are all sorts of things you can do with a deck of playing cards that you can’t do with dice. It ensures a balanced distrobution of “rolls” and if you do it right you can even give your players some control over when they roll well or poor.

    So my question is, does anyone know any tabletop RPGs made to use playing cards instead of dice? If so, what are they? And to what effect do they use their dice-alternative?

    And if not, I’d still love to get a discussion going and hear some of the pros and cons you can think up.

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    Steve from Terrible Warriors have been working on one for a bit now. (Link to the episodes where he runs it)

    It seems like he’s using blackjack rules and having players get as close to 21 without going over. It doesn’t look like they have the rules from the second playtest posted though.

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    I thought there was some sort of commercial western themed rpg that ran with cards instead of dice. (Poker hands maybe?)

    The name was sort of western-ish… poker-ish … … something.
    I’m drawing blank.


    I can’t think of any that uses cards instead of dice. I played some DnD once were we had critical failure cards which you drew to determine the effect and that added an extra bit of tension and interest. It took some of the control out of the DM’s plans but that also meant that it was harder to blame the DM when something went really wacky. There was at least one instance of a boss miscasting and sending himself to hell.

    The main advantage that comes to mind is more control on number distribution. Instead of having dice values with a flat distribution or on a curve you could have a lot more control over individual values. You could also make things like critical successes and failures independent of dice value.

    If the entire group shares a single card pool then it would actually be possible to use up good and bad rolls and that could be interesting as well. A string of draws would make players increasingly nervous, while a string of failures could make them more hopeful.

    Players could have abilities based around the deck: peek ahead, redraw, draw twice, reshuffle, pull from the discard and set the next card. Those could be really interesting. Imagine having a feat that would let you determine the next roll of the NPC that comes after you. Or setting up a player with a guaranteed high roll. If players had a hand of cards then they could determine when they are willing to use their rolls. Their hands would tend to accumulate low rolls if they didn’t spend them on occasion.

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    Savage Worlds and 4th ed Gamma World both have a card component as I recall, but they don’t replace the dice for random number generation. I can’t think of any that are strictly based on numerical card draws, unless you count Tarot card reading as a form of role play.



    I’ve had many of the same thoughts. Hacing a hand of cards would allow a player to decide when they really need to roll well, while stilling forcing them to roll badly as they build up bad cards. There is also great potential for player abilities which manipulate the deck. It could be anything from drawing extra cards to interacting with the discard pile to cheating the top card of the deck. You could even manipulate the values of certain cards, and if ever you need a result that the player didn’t pick in advanced, you could still just topdeck.

    On the down side-side of things, using this manner for RNG would almost certainly introduce more strategy and premeditation into what was previously as simple as rolling a die. Depending on the audience and game, the extra strategy could actually be a good thing, but it also might not be. I’m also conflicted over whether it would be better for everyone to draw cards from a single deck or if each person should have their own. Maybe one for the the GM and one for the players? I don’t know.


    I read that Savage worlds uses cards, but as I understand it these are more like trading cards than playing cards, they don’t replace dice as you have said, and I think they may be an optional rule in the first place, though I’m not 100% on that.

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    What about how deck building games work, like Dominion?

    Shaded Spriter

    It was more than a decade ago but I know there is one urban fantasy game which uses a deck of Tarot cards instead of dice. If you drew a minor Archana then it was basically numbers but the major arcana meant something big happened. (don’t draw a Death card for a “saving roll” sort of thing.)

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    That Tarot card system sounds cool andatmospheric.

    Castle Falkenstein used cards instead of dice essentially giving you two or three randomized rolls at the same time, numerical amounts, suits and maybe the jacks-Kings had an additional effect.

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