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Archive for August, 2011

In House of Cards, there are three important terms that define different ways in which cards cycle: renew, replenish, and refresh.

To renew a hand is simply discard your hand and draw back up to your current hand maximum. This occurs in situations which represent a dramatic change that throws everyone off-kilter: when a Shuffle occurs, for instance, everyone has the option to renew their hand, becoming part of the plot twist that accompanies the Shuffle if they do. This is the simplest and least powerful form of hand management, if for no other reason than that it causes lots of cards to be “churned”, but it is the baseline from which the others extend.

By comparison, to replenish your hand means you keep the cards that you have and draw back up to your maximum. The advantage over renewal is that powerful cards remaining in hand aren’t discarded. It also doesn’t press quite so aggressively toward another Shuffle, in that fewer cards are being pulled from the deck. A number of Lesser and Greater Powers include replenishing one’s hand as a part of using them, almost always at the expiration of the power – a notable exception being the Dreamthief ability possessed by denizens of Beyond.

When you refresh your hand, you can selectively discard and draw, making it the most potent option, which occurs rarely. One of the Fool’s possible Greater Powers allows the Fool to refresh his or her hand instead of renewing it; a Shuffle should be a reasonably uncommon event in itself, which reins in the scope of this power, which thematically represents the Fool’s ability to keep walking the circular road of life with some sense of continuity.

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For anyone who wants to talk about the game, a thread was started this morning at RPG.net. (Note: because of RPG.net’s rules regarding advertisement, this thread was NOT started by me. I will be participating in the form of answering questions, though.)

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Combat skills: opinions on their place in role-playing games vary wildly, and one’s stance is often taken (correctly or not) as an indicator of your overall attitude towards the current state of games. It’s probably the lack of overtly combat-centered mechanical systems that pegs House of Cards as what one terms a “story game,” a term with no lack of either ambiguity or baggage. It serves, however, since House of Cards descends from a paradigm that arose perhaps twenty years ago as criticism of the “kill them and take their stuff” model of gaming.

After one of the demos I ran at Gen Con last week, one of the groups stuck around to ask questions and give feedback about the game. In the sample adventure they played, the Bearers were faced with a group of minor chimerae undertaking a mysterious task. When the Bearers came into conflict with the dream-creatures, the mostly mindless beings continued about their appointed task unless directly attacked, at which point they tried to flee. Why didn’t they fight back?, one asked. I responded that it was in character for the creatures – in thrall to a Comte and bereft of volition – to act this way, but the scene puzzled the players for another reason, I think: the world of House of Cards operates on a narrative frame closer to fairy tales than other role-playing games, and combat is not considered an optimal way to deal with problems. Think of the plots of the Grimm brothers’ collected tales, and you’ll note that very rarely does violence occur outside the denouement of the story. Instead, stealth and guile are the preferred modus operandi. Jack doesn’t leap forward to put axe to the head of the sleeping giant, but rather waits and uses a cleverly indirect method: chopping down the beanstalk.

To continue the example from our demo session, one of the Bearers used the Evocation power to summon forth a weapon and face off against one of the chimerae. He swung, using a Swords card in hand, and hit; the chimerae had no Pentacles with which to defend, so the creature took the hit and discarded a card. Later, on another swing against a different creature, he again spent a Swords to attack, but the defender had a greater Swords card and so resisted the attack. What was truly accomplished, however? In the former case, the only difference in outcome was that the opponent had one fewer card, but is that really a success? When one considers that a Bearer can spend one card to inspire an entire crowd of mortals to follow a cause or search every book in the world, using that same card to deal one stroke in combat seems downright parochial in comparison.

That’s not to say that physical violence doesn’t have its place – it very often does, as part of the climax of the story. The woodsman does eventually chop open the wolf’s belly with his axe to free Riding Hood, after all. The dramatic confrontation with an ancient chimera or facing down a Comte in its stronghold at the end of a story arc provides plenty of opportunity for satisfying action. But those climactic showdowns are often more a matter of placing a precision strike at the antagonist’s plans rather than its armor; in a way, Bearers fight and triumph by wielding stories, not weapons. The creatures of dreams are perhaps more vulnerable to a satisfying epilogue than a stroke of the blade, it seems, and the Bearer who learns that lesson will never want for cards.

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Heartfelt thanks.

Thanks again to those who participated in demos of House of Cards at Gen Con 2011. Your feedback was as appreciated as your enthusiasm. You’ll all get due credit in the book when it’s done, I promise!

Edits continue, and we may have some exciting news concerning artists as well. Playtesting isn’t slowing down, either: those who want to get involved, please contact us via Gmail at houseofcardsrpg or parenthesispress.

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As mentioned over at parenthesispress.com, we’ll be running sessions at Games On Demand in the Crowne Plaza hotel, Pennsylvania Station C, on Friday and Saturday. Stop by to give the current playtest version of House of Cards a try, and even participate in the playtest process and contribute your feedback. Check out the teasers (on the Preview tab at the top of the page) to whet your appetite if you haven’t already.

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