Rethinking Dungeon and Dragons but with a Deck of Cards instead of Dice

Over the past little while, I've been thinking about Dungeon and Dragons but with a Deck of Cards instead of Dice (or DnDbwaDoCioD). I spent a lot of time thinking about how the specifics of combat work, and I thought I had a pretty solid combat loop down. You use the red suits to heal yourself and discard low value cards, while you use the black suits to deal different types of damage. It works pretty well, but along the way while focusing on the mechanics of combat, I felt like I lost something. Quickly playing through a few rounds of combat, I realized that it didn't really feel like Dungeons and Dragons. So I took some time to take a step back and re-evaluate things.

A dragon inside of what we can only assume is a dungeon.

I thought about what I wanted to get out of DnDbwaDoCioD and what my goals were. Thinking back to when I originally came up with the idea, I came up with two key points I wanted to hit.

First, I want the game to be playable with a single deck of cards without requiring a table or other flat surface to put them down on. This goes back to the train ride where I came up with this idea. I had a deck of cards in my pocket, but we didn't have a table or anything flat to play them on. Not having a table actually limits your options quite a bit. Crazy 8's, President, Old Maid, and Go Fish all at least require somewhere to put the deck. The original DnDbwaDoCioD got around this by giving the deck of cards to the Dungeon Master as they control most of the game. The original limitation of being on a train also meant that we couldn't use anything other than a deck of cards. No character sheets, no maps, no figures, no dice, nothing but a deck of cards. This means that a lot of the details and numbers that would come with something like character sheets would have to be simplified in a way that it could be understood with just the cards.

What else are you going to do on a long train ride, sleep?

Which brings me to the second goal that I want to hit: the game has to capture the essence of Dungeons and Dragons. I was originally inspired by a physical de-make of Overwatch that managed to capture the feeling and spirit of the game, and that's what I want to accomplish with DnDbwaDoCioD. Dungeons and Dragons is a complex game but I believe that, at it's core, most of what Dungeons and Dragons is comes down to the role playing and interactions between players. The rules for combat, magic, and trickery are simply a framework for that role playing. That being said, those rules enforce how players role play, which is why Dungeons and Dragons feels different from other table-top role playing games. Combat is a fairly large part of Dungeons and Dragons, but it's not all there is to it. DnDbwaDoCioD should still feel like your playing Dungeons and Dragons. The dice, character sheets, maps, and miniatures certainly add to that feel, but our goal is to mimic that feeling without requiring all those extra materials.

Dice contribute largely to the feel of the game, but we're going to see how we can do without them.

In re-evaluating things I did some research into Dungeons and Dragons, looking for what the developers believe to be the core of the game. In doing so, I found an alternate rule set made by Wizards of the Coast (the developers of Dungeons and Dragons) that attempt to better support Dungeon and Dragons' three core pillars: exploration, social interaction, and combat.

As I was trying to develop the rules for DnDbwaDoCioD, I focused too much on combat. For the most part I figured that the social interaction and exploration would be taken care of in the general role playing of the game, but in thinking that, I wasn't thinking how my rules would help enforce those pillars. For example, in Dungeons and Dragons your characters' stats often have multiple purposes. High dexterity might allow you to jump behind an enemy, but you could also use it to nimbly move through dangerous areas, or stealthily pickpocket people. DnDbwaDoCioD had a big focus on the combat mechanics, but those mechanics didn't ever come into play in any other situation.

The "Social Interaction" pillar actually refers to talking to other characters in game, but good luck playing DnD without talking to any of your party members.

While Dungeons and Dragon's three pillars did provide some insight into what I should be focusing on I still felt like they didn't touch on the freedom that players have while playing and how important that is. Personally, what I like a lot about Dungeons and Dragons is that you can do anything if you get a good enough roll. This lets players be a bit riskier in what they do and try things that they know they would otherwise fail.

That's just me though, and I've only played Dungeons and Dragons a few times. I talked to a friend who's much more experienced than me to see what they thought and they told me that their favorite part of Dungeons and Dragons is their character, and taking on the role of someone completely different. I would agree that making your own character and playing as them is a key part of the Dungeons and Dragons experience. It's fun to imagine everything your character is going to do as you decide on a class, race, and character traits. It's a different feeling when you make your own character compared to choosing one out of a line-up. It's more personal, and because there's a lot of preparation that goes into it, you become attached to them.

People spend hours customizing their characters in video games, something Dungeons and Dragons almost necessitates

These thoughts sparked two ideas of how I could fix DnDbwaDoCioD, first by emphasizing player character and second by adding the the chance of success to playing with cards.

I knew that my original version of DnDbwaDoCioD needed to better reflect players' characters, and I had played around with the idea of players choosing a suit to represent their character and then getting a bonus to actions that used a card of that suit, similar to the bonuses you would get from your ability scores in regular Dungeons and Dragons. But this was only a mechanical representation of character though, and it didn't reflect a player's connection to that character, and it was more like choosing a buff than making a character.

I still think that giving players an affinity towards a certain suit is a good way to reflect ability scores, but I think the process of choosing those suits needs to be more involved. Like instead of making players just pick a suit, they should talk with the DM a bit about the kind of character they want to play, and what bonuses that character would probably have. This way players can spend some time thinking about who it is that their playing, rather than just picking a few buffs.

A generic deck of cards on its own doesn't have a whole lot of personality, so we have to give meaning to the cards players have.

The original version of DnDbwaDoCioD worked very differently from the dice rolls of regular Dungeons and Dragons. The first version of DnDbwaDoCioD gave players a hand of cards, which player would then use in place of dice rolls. I thought it was interesting because players would now know what they would "roll" before they rolled it, and implement strategies where they could try to figure out what was in the deck to estimate their odds of success based on what they and other players had in their hands.

A neat idea yes, but it completely takes away the feeling of freedom and possibility that comes with rolling a die. If you know what your roll is going to be, your less likely to "roll" for risky things. The game becomes a lot more focused on its mechanics, the counting cards and figuring out whats in your hand and in the deck. For some players, something more focused on mechanics like that may be fun, but at that point it starts drifting away from what Dungeons and Dragons is. There are players who like focusing on mechanics and game, and players who like the social interaction and adventure of playing with other people. It's about finding a balance between those things and I felt like the old system was leaning too far in one direction.

By having a hand of cards there was less chance involved in player actions.

So I did away with the hand of cards. It was interesting but, in the end it felt less like Dungeons and Dragons. Now, instead of having a hand of cards, if players have to roll for something they would simply reveal cards from the top of the deck until they hit the suit they were rolling for. This also allows us to use players hands as inventories or character sheets, giving them specific cards to represent different things.

With these changes, I feel like DnDbwaDoCioD is in a spot where it better reflects Dungeons and Dragons. There are still a few things that need to be hammered out, like player inventories and numbers that need to be tweaked to work with the numbers on a deck of cards instead of dice. The use of different dice for different attacks is also something that needs to be figured out, but for now we have a more solid base to work with.

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