Tarrasque Hold’em (Yet another card-based game system idea)

Comments Off on Tarrasque Hold’em (Yet another card-based game system idea)

Originally posted December 2008

This idea is meant primarily for games like D&D 3e that expect PCs to have a quantifiable average challenge to party resource ratio. That is, the party will generally be able to be successful in X encounters of Y difficulty per day. It uses Poker card hands and a variation of the Texas Hold’em flop method to create drama, while largely free-forming the actual rules.

At the start of each game day, each player draws randomly from a standard 52-pack of cards, being dealt, face-down, one card for each average challenge the party is expected to overcome in a day (e.g., four cards if the average fight is supposed to consume about a quarter of the party’s resources). Adjust accordingly for more or less than five players.

These cards represent an abstracted idea of the player character’s potential. While they drive the actual impact on encounters, players and GM should strive to describe the actions taken in line with the character’s actual stats (e.g., a high-level mage playing a high card might cast a fireball, while a rogue would be backstabbing up a storm).

For each encounter, the GM draws five cards from the remaining deck and plays them in a line, face down. The number of cards played is adjusted based on the threat of an encounter (e.g., a party of seventh level characters facing a fifth level challenge would only face three cards, while the same party facing a level eight challenge would face six).

For each exchange of the combat (which might encompass multiple rounds, and is, instead, a measure of dramatic give and take), the GM flips over one of the cards. The players must then consult amongst one another and choose one of them to play a single card to add to the party’s hand. The group then determines whether the GM’s or party’s hand is superior (this will likely be a matter of high card or pairs for the first few exchanges).

If the GM’s hand is higher, he gets to describe the slow erosion of the party’s fighting stamina, or how the party is being pushed into a dangerous situation. If the party’s hand is higher, the player that just played the new card gets to describe the awesome stuff that her character did that round to bring the party ahead.

Once all of the GM’s cards are played, a final tally is made of success or failure for the party, based on the best hand that can be constructed by either side. If the party’s hand is better, they win, with a final description of how they were awesome by the last player to play a card. If the GM’s hand is better, he gets to describe their loss (which may be having to flee, being captured, or having one or more characters die depending on the gravity of the situation).

Over the course of a day, the players should be able to judge what is left in the GM’s deck based on their own cards and what has already been played. They should also have to judge whether to use up their good cards early, or risk setbacks to save good cards for later. They could even get the sense that “today is an off day” if none of them have very good cards (of course, it’s hard to have nothing that can make a good poker hand with nearly half the deck to choose from).

This system should serve to create drama, rising and falling action, and a fair rules framework, while still vastly simplifying conflict in an RPG. It is reliant on players having a fair assessment of their capabilities based on stats, but not minding much that they’re largely decorative.


Comments Off on Fight!

Originally posted August 2008

I bought Soul Calibur IV on Saturday, and [info]pallandrome and I have been playing it in shifts for huge blocks of time over the last four days. Thus, it is not unusual, that my game designerly brain last night turned to making a tabletop game to simulate such action combat. What follows is a mostly-unfinished ramble of design for a CCG-esque game meant to simulate martial arts fighters (it also owes a lot to the latest Marvel Universe RPG).


A Card Game of Fantasy Martial Arts Battle


This game is designed for two players. Each player requires a deck of Fight! cards, a pool of 10 or more objects to serve as Concentration counters, counters or other way of tracking up to 100 or more health points, and access to a shared pool of 50 or more objects to use as Time counters. Additionally, it is helpful to have a simple grid, ruler, or counters to keep track of the distance between the fighters.

Each player places 10 Concentration counters in front of his or her playspace as well as the health meter.

Behind these counters (closer to the player), the player should create four distinct areas: attack, defense, movement, and grapple. The player may wish to label these sections, as the sections will be used to store counters and for the opponent to keep track of impending maneuvers.

The players place the Time counters in between one another. The movement gauge should be placed next to the Time pile.

Both players shuffle their decks, and draw 5 cards to start. The player that acts first can be determined by coin flip or other method and should change from round to round.

The Deck

Cards in the deck can be maneuvers, modifiers, or events.

Maneuvers make up most of the cards in the deck. These are special attacks that make up the majority of techniques within the game. Each maneuver card lists a Concentration total, a Time total, whether it is instant, hold, or charged, the damage, and any special effects.

Typically, damage for maneuvers is equivalent to the card’s Concentration total multiplied by its Time total (e.g., a Concentration 4, Time 3 card does 12 damage, while a Concentration 2, Time 3 card does 6 damage). This damage may go up if the card has difficult requirements to use (range, certain events in play, etc.), or down if it has additional special effects (knockdown, etc.).

Instant cards must be activated as soon as their Time total is met (described below). If the player has not allotted enough Concentration counters to the card at this point, the time counters are lost and must begin accumulating again (the current Concentration total remains unchanged). Hold cards stop accumulating Time when they reach their Time total, and can be activated whenever desired by the player on his or her turn. Charged cards are hold cards that continue to accumulate Time past their total, and may have special effects or extra damage based on being overcharged.

Modifier cards stay in the player’s hand, and can be played as an instant effect whenever their conditions are met. For example, a modifier card might add +2 damage to any grapple-based attack.

Event cards are placed to the side, face up, when the player chooses to activate them. They change the conditions of the battlefield. For example, an event card may move the opponent closer to the edge of the fighting ring for every movement counter he or she plays to move away from the player who placed the event; after a certain number of moves, the other player cannot move away further and may be subject to cards that knock the target out of the ring.


Each turn, the acting player places as many maneuver cards as desired face down in their appropriate sections (grapple cards go behind the grapple section, attack cards behind the attack section, etc.).

The player can then move 1 Concentration counter from his or her concentration pool to a face-down maneuver or section (i.e., a Concentration counter can be played on the attack section to begin a basic attack, the grapple section to begin a grapple, the defense section to begin a block, or the movement section to move).

After placing Concentration, the player moves one Time counter to each face-down card.

Now the player can unleash attacks and actions. If the player has multiple options, he or she can choose which order to use them. If other options become available as the result of an action, these options can also be used in this turn (e.g., a rush attack card has a special effect of allowing 2 Concentration to be moved to another attack, such that it can now be used this turn).

Each card that is activated invokes its listed effect. It must have the requisite Concentration and Time totals to be activated. If it is an instant card, it must be used on the turn that its Time total was met, or its Time is removed at the end of the turn.

Modifier and Event cards can be played as desired during this sequence.

In addition to activating cards, if the player has placed Concentration in the sections, certain effects occur. Concentration placed in the attack section can be unleashed when desired to do a basic, non-ranged attack that does damage equal to the number of Concentration counters currently applied for that effect. Concentration placed in the defense section can be spent to reduce the opponent’s incoming damage on his or her turn before it is applied to Health and Concentration. Concentration placed in the movement section allows the player to spend it as desired to move one step closer to or further away from the opponent. Concentration placed in the grapple section is required to begin placing Concentration on most Grapple maneuvers (this serves as a warning to the opponent that the player is beginning a dangerous but hard-to-execute grapple maneuver).

Concentration is returned to the player’s Concentration pool as soon as the action or maneuver it is invested in is executed.

Unless otherwise noted on the card: maneuver cards are discarded as soon as the maneuver is activated, modifier cards are discarded as soon as they are played, and event cards are discarded when their event is removed from play.

When the player is ready to end the turn, he or she draws a single card from the deck and play passes to the opponent.


Assuming the player meets the attack or maneuver’s prerequisites, damage is applied to the opponent.

If the opponent has Concentration counters in the defense section, each counter can be returned to the Concentration pool to eliminate 2 points of incoming damage. Certain cards in the hand or the defense section may also interrupt and reduce incoming damage in certain circumstances (and this is the main time players are allowed to act on the other player’s turn).

Any damage that passes through the opponent’s mitigation is applied directly to the opponent’s health. For example, if the opponent had 50 health remaining, and suffered 10 points of damage, he or she would then have 40 health remaning.

In addition, if the damage inflicted on the opponent’s health for a given attack is greater than the number of points left in the opponent’s Concentration pool, the difference is applied as Distraction damage. The player can remove Time counters equal to the Distraction damage from the opponent’s maneuvers of his or her choice. For example, in the situation above, if the player’s 10 damage attack hit the opponent while only 4 Concentration remained in his or her pool, the player could choose to apply 6 points of Distraction damage. The player could then remove up to 6 Time counter’s from the opponent’s maneuvers. There might be a card that the opponent has steadily been adding Concentration counters to that looks like it might be a dangerous attack, such that the player can remove the current Time counters from it and delay it for several turns while the opponent must re-accumulate Time.