Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cards for Gear

On Saturday, I introduced the element of using cards to represent pieces of equipment into my D&D campaign.

This has involved, so far, having the party write out legibly their equipment, so that I can replace their lists with cards, each marked with encumbrance values. I plan to have these cards ready for the players at the beginning of our next running.

It also involved the first time that treasure obtained was given to the party in the form of cards. I had made them up ahead of time, and once the baddies were all nicely butchered, the cards were made available to the party.

Now, a little background, if you will. Up until this last running, the party has been neatly dividing up treasure, highest roll claiming the choicest pieces and so on. I was not certain how the cards would change this arrangement…but I can describe the result.

Or rather, I can give you a sense of the result.

It was necessary for me to make the rule that if the card was damaged or bent, the item would be considered broken or destroyed.

This immediately calmed the free-for-all.

It is profound how quickly the prospect of a physical card made getting a hold of the +2 hammer a much more immediate thing. People talk of somehow adding emotionalism to the general role-play…you should watch five people dive for a stack of cards once given.

I realize now, of course, that the actual physical distribution of the treasure is going to be an issue. Rather than presuming that bodies are searched, and coins are gathered from sacks or from piles on the floor, then added together and tallied, I really will have to distribute my treasure according to the physical placement of characters in the room.

I admit, I’ve gotten lazy about that. After so long of dealing with people wanting to search bodies and open chests, I’ve lost all interest in detailed descriptions of what is in the small belt pouch as opposed to the backpack…and now I have been duly corrected in that. Because if I don’t carefully manage how the various loot is found, there are going to be fist fights during my campaigns.

What I did like was the after trading that went on once the cards were gracelessly distributed. Although there were more than sixty different items of treasure, the actual distribution was accomplished in very little time. The trades were made quickly and quietly, with everyone keeping silent about what they had actually found in their hands. It was impossible for anyone to tell if they had the better or the worse of the deal…since they couldn’t see what others had.

Since I’ve adopted the rule proposed by Jim of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, that wealth receives no initial X.P., getting it only when it is spent on character-building purposes such as establishing homes or getting drunk, I did not need to distribute experience after the fact that would allow players to compare how well they did. And since my world does not have a “one-item one-price” methodology on account of my trade tables, the items DO NOT include a g.p. value, either.

So if someone has a card that says, “silver snuffbox with six amber carbuncles,” how valuable is that, really? Of course they can’t know unless they hie thee to a jewelers, or they have some legitimate experience themselves. At which point I can give them the local value…secretly.

Thus, this has been a rocking success. The party has discovered how desperately greedy they are, the new concept is quick and workable, and there are unexpected variants to how players will react and inter-play.

What more could a campaign ask for?


sirlarkins said...

Holy crap, I love this idea. In fact, I'm thinking of even doing character sheets on cards too (ala Sham), so that your character would just be a stack of cards that you can add or subtract from. Oh yes, I like this very much...

Restless said...

I am glad that you decided to try this approach and it works so well. I see real benefits in this system.

There's one thing I'm really curious about, though. While it sounds like your players only take immediately-identifiable valuables as treasure, those I have had acted much closer to architectural salvage and scrap dealers. What would you do if you have a group that decided that they'd try to take every last item they could find back for salvage, and managed to bring a large number of porters and pack animals to accomplish it? I wouldn't want to have to hand out dozens or hundreds of cards for bronze and iron weapons, creature pelts, every stick of furniture in the place, hand-painted ornate tiles off the floor, etc.

Sure, I could have bandits attack them and spoil or steal the cargo, but that doesn't alleviate the need for the three dead trees worth of cards up to that point. I could make the booty identifiable to the locals, so they consider it cursed or taboo and not buy it, but then they can just take it to another town. I could assess taxes on their junkpile... er, treasure back in town that has to be paid in cash and not barter, but they'd just store up a cash reserve to handle it. The constant countermeasures makes me tired even thinking about it, and don't even try to get them to change. (They would have been naturals for Hackmaster.)

Also, how did you handle coins? Cards, paper currency or another system?

Alexis said...


There's nothing that says I can't put multiple items on one card. For example, the baddies the party killed included 48 gnolls of various strengths and powers, including 36 hand axes. I did not use 36 cards for hand axes. I made six singles and three groups of ten. If the party wants to take less, I can scratch out "ten" and write "four" or whatever is necessary. Eventually the cards can be disposed of when they have too many scratchings on them.

Just the same, I could write twenty things on one card, then exchange that for cards for items the party doesn't sell when they get to town. Whatever the contents of the card, it can be divided as necessary...as long as the total weight remains correct for whatever is written on the card.

As far as coins, that's still a problem. I could use pennies for g.p., nickels for s.p. and dimes for c.p (yes, reversed, as g.p. pile up and c.p. are usually exchanged...we're all well off enough not to make this feasible. Problem is, what's to stop people from bringing their own money to a game?

So we're still brainstorming that option. I once tried to get foreign coins, knowing that the exhange rate on foreign currency would make it practical for the necessary piles of coin. Unfortunately, it is illegal by international law to take large amounts of foreign coinage out of a country.

But...some sort of option may present itself. I have similar problems with a day's equivalent for food, sling stones, arrows, bolts and so on. Wooden matches would serve very well for arrows or bolts, glass beads for food, actual stones for stones...but again, there's always the counterfeit problem.

Guess I'll just have to trust my players.

Carl said...

You state, "the cards were made available to the party," but fail to describe this in detail.

Did you cast the cards upon the table? Did you place a pile in the middle? How did this go down? I simply MUST know!

Also, you state that you, "really will have to distribute my treasure according to the physical placement of characters in the room." Any thoughts on this you'd like to share? Specific examples would be great.

I've used card systems in the past. Mostly, I had the cards to the accountant in the party (there's always one) and let them distribute, but I like where you're going with this and I'm very curious to understand what you've done already.


Alexis said...


Out of some sadistic need, I spread them out on the table in front of the party. Was funny!

Physical placement of characters in the room: the treasure has to be delivered according to who searches whose body, who is closest to the trunk, who would be within "reach" of a particular item and so on. I'm sure its going to be a big headache.

Carl said...


I think I'm going to do this, too. It sounds like a laugh-riot.

I run a very miniatures-heavy game, so figuring out placement when the fight is over shouldn't be too hard. I rule searches as taking place in 5-foot squares, so all I need to do is hand out cards according to what squares the characters are in and to which they are adjacent.

I need to write up some treasure cards!

Alexis said...

"I run a very miniatures-heavy game, so figuring out placement when the fight is over shouldn't be too hard. I rule searches as taking place in 5-foot squares, so all I need to do is hand out cards according to what squares the characters are in and to which they are adjacent."

This is, word-for-word, my exact thought on the subject

Restless said...

Sorry for my lateness at returning to this topic, but I wanted to post about the issue of what to do about money.

Foreign coins are actually a good idea. Rather than buying in-circulation coins, google for "coins by the pound." I found an outfit that charges as low as five dollars a pound if bought in bulk and from what I've read, a pound of coins should be from 80-130 coins depending on size and composition. Similarly, you can search for people selling demonetized foreign coins.

Another alternative is to go the educational product market. You can get these plastic coins for a reasonable price, less than two cents apiece, which is probably about a third of buying foreign currency. For me they'd be perfect (I like silver standard, so Sacajawea dollars are gold, you have different denominations of silver and pennies are coppers). Bulk wealth could be represented on index cards and for trading and treasure purposes, give them coins.

Another alternative I looked at was using glass gems. You can get them online in bulk relatively cheaply, and they different sizes and colors for differing denominations and substances. However, it's not quite the same to me somehow and doesn't solve the counterfeit problem.

Oh, and insofar as keeping track of food, ammo, torches, oil, etc., you could use items like these counting sticks or these counters. The sticks have the advantage of being cheap and compact and the stacking counters are easy to group and count. Something like these chips or even these are cheap and would work for what you'd need, all depending on the form factor and the cost you're looking for.

Guess I'll just have to trust my players.

I wouldn't go that far! Low expectations lead to less disappointment.

Alexis said...


These are excellent ideas. I gave a call to a local education bulk outlet, and will have to visit what they have described as their "counting section."

Thank you much for the tips.

njharman said...

I did something like this for my game. But I drew a picture of each item with colored pencils. I'm a horrible drawer but it was a lot of fun. Too much work in the long run. Players also had folders with CCG sleeves (multi-pocket plastic 3hole pages) in them to store all their cool lewts.

To handle distribution the cards went into envelopes. Each envelope represented a chest, a body, a table, etc. When a character searched the item/area I gave them the matching envelope. This also helped organizing adventures.

But I included other cards besides treasures such as "Gas cloud! roll con save" or "You contract fleas." They really stopped searching Gnolls after getting fleas all the time.

Ideas for coins, poker chips, monopoly money. I've not found a solution I like.