Mixed Feelings About StoryCards

StoryCards are an intriguing product that I just happened to stumble across. Turns out they’ve been around for a while now, but let’s take a look at them anyway.

StoryCards are based on a very elegant idea. That we can use a deck of cards to generate and guide an entire role playing game off the cuff. I’ve been playing with them on and off for several months now and found that while the cards are brilliant, the overall execution is lacking.

The Product

Let’s talk about the actual cards briefly. A single deck consists of 60 cards which have been heavily influenced by tarot decks. The neat thing here is that each card is packed with information. They have attributes, number values, and even keywords. They are also designed to be viewed from only one direction which means, like tarot, an inverted card will appear differently and can have alternate meaning. This is excellent stuff and just thumbing through the deck I am hit by idea after idea.

They’re also quite attractive, at least as far as cards go. Each card has a sign on it front and center and everything is laid out in an easy to read way. Really, there isn’t too much to say. They are playing cards with role playing information on them.

The System

The cards also have an associated role playing system and this is where the product kind of falls flat. The system isn’t bad, in fact it is pretty solid. It covers how to use the cards to generate characters, settings, and even adventures just by flipping over a few cards. This is done through readings and can be likened to the fortune telling process of a Tarot Reader. The rules for resolving challenges (Feats), tasks, anything else that might get thrown at your character are also pretty good. These work by having all difficulties set with a target of 1 and modifying it up based on circumstances. You then get to draw a number of cards based on your character’s skills and attributes and depending on how many rank as a success your character’s results can be anywhere from downright awful to spectacular.

It is a pretty basic system and the real meat of it lies in the generation mechanics and not so much on the resolution side of things. The problem really comes down to it being 80 pages long. The actual StoryCards are easily tucked away in a pocket or stashed with your regular game books and can be a great accessory for whatever game you normally play. You can use it to quickly generate twists, npc disposition, or just for a spot of inspiration. The need for an 80 page rulebook just seems to run counter to everything the StoryCards are aiming for and render it a bit of a pain for pick up and play purposes.

How it Plays

There are really two sides to StoryCards. There is the system and then there is the generation and inspiration mechanics. In the months I’ve had the game only once have we used the system. We did a murder on a train. A typical whodunnit setup that was nonetheless a blast to play. We used the generation mechanics to create the setting and the process felt very natural. It was fun to see how everyone would interpret the cards and the work together to come up with some exciting. In play the system was quick to use, but we found ourselves using the single reading more often for resolution than we did the actual Feats. The single reading, since I didn’t explain it earlier, is a process where a card if flipped over to give a simple yes/no answer.

I really don’t have many complaints about the game, just that it doesn’t really have that magic spark to it that really good games have. I realize that’s vague, but I just didn’t find myself with a desire to run the system again despite having a pretty good time with it. What I did find myself doing was using the cards all of the time, to the point that they have become a standard piece of my GM toolkit. I can use them to generate NPCs or quick plot lines if my players go off in a direction I hadn’t planned for. For this purpose StoryCards are wonderful.

Verdict

I love the cards. They see frequent use both as a player and as a GM. The system, I don’t like so much. It’s a pretty solid shoulder shrug for me. I don’t dislike it but I certainly can’t say that I find it particularly interesting. The generation mechanics, on the other hand, are genius. They’re just a bit too involved to memorize. For my purposes I use a 3 card reading instead of the 9 card reading and this works well to supplement other games.

What StoryCard really needs is to be adopted by the role playing community as an alternative to dice or playing cards. There is a lot of potential here for someone to take the deck and use it a little differently for another game. Ideally, this person would make the rules small enough that they could be folded up and kept in the card box.

I’d recommend this deck to someone who likes to improvise their games, but can’t recommend it on the system alone (which you can get for free here). The price tag also seems a little high for a single deck of cards, but not prohibitively so. If you like the idea of tarot style role play mechanics then this is certainly something to take a look at. Same goes for if you need a little improvisational aid but don’t like the GameMastery style products. If you like the idea of using cards in your game but aren’t too crazy about the system I linked above, then I suggest you go take a look at what 6d6 Fireball is cooking up.

[tags]Cards, RPG, Indie RPGs, GMing, Gaming Accessories, Review [/tags]

3 thoughts on “Mixed Feelings About StoryCards

Add yours

  1. I know it wasn’t your plan to begin with, but I’ve gotta say, don’t think I’ll be picking these cards up anytime soon based on your review. Thanks for saving me some cash!

    Like

  2. They’re certainly a weird little product. I suspect that there is a certain type of player that will absolutely love them, but for most of us they’ll just gather dust.

    Like

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