And on one Halloween, during our tradition Halloween one-shot game, a GM in the group had us all set up to investigate a mysterious disappearance in a creepy mansion on the steep hill overshadowing a sleepy, unassuming little town.
Because of course.
And then we entered the mansion, where the GM broke out the game map to help us visualize the layout. We stared in amused horror at the board from Clue sitting in the middle of the table, an already-gridded battle map with some creative line-of-sight issues, secret doors, and neatly labeled rooms with a variety of scenic accents dotted about.
It was perfect.
After the initial novelty passed, the board still made for a valuable resource to keep track of a party that split up to investigate, and the tone was at least consistent between the original game and the one we were playing, which made it easy to stay in-character. And, of course, to do terrible Tim Curry impressions.
It got me thinking about the possibilities of other resources for board and card games being applied to standard RPGs. Card-assisted RP is not exactly new, but most of the games making use of it are self-contained. Making those same features modular meant a little more effort ahead of time.
Naturally, lightweight is good – most rules-heavy games cannot be done with half your mind on classic roleplaying. You’re not looking to play two complete games at once so much as to harness one notable component of a complete game and use it to augment or replace another notable component in your RPG – like using the boards from board games as your battle map.
Clue or Kill Dr. Lucky work well for mansions, while games like Stratego or Castle Panic are better for outdoor areas. You could even build out a custom map using Carcassone tiles, if you have the time.
A game like Tsuro of the Seas can make a perfect backdrop to naval battles or chases, with players all moving the same ship but having their own trio of tiles to choose from. Instead of instant death, kaiju encounters become standard combat encounters en route to catching up to the other ship trying to get away.
But maps are just the tip of the iceberg. Hybrid gaming can also mean bringing in alternative methods of conflict or action resolution that fit the tone of the game or the action being taken.
For instance, if you’re playing a Wild West Savage Worlds game and want to mix it up, you could play a quick hand of blackjack to resolve conflict. Instead of the standard 21, have them roll their Wild Die and add 20 – that’s the total they need to try and shoot under. If they beat the dealer (you), they succeed – if they bust or fall shy, they fail. Damage can be fixed increments or the difference between the player’s total and the dealer’s.
If your players are already familiar with (or willing to learn) more complex poker games, the rounds in something like Seven-card Stud or Texas Hold ‘Em make a great allegory and tension-building mechanic for a con or heist. Chips can become part of the bonus payout or action points to be cashed in at a healthy ratio later (10:1 or more). Players each ante 1 chip when doing something challenging, the GM ante’s one per player – winner takes the pot and can share it around as they see fit.
In an Eclipse Phase game, if one or more of the PCs contract an exsurgent virus, using the rules for Werewolf (or, more appropriately, Resistance) to let the uninfected players try to ID who’s infected and who isn’t can keep the tone and the paranoia going if each night or each mission folds into the natural flow of the game. With Werewolf, “dead” PCs instead join the ranks of the infected. In the Resistance model, the party splits up to take on two different tasks – one of which includes casting votes for overall success or failure.
You can even use simple puzzles to represent in-character puzzles or labyrinths, or the delicate process of hacking into a system. Just be sure to keep the puzzles appropriately simple, and leave the player an out if they get frustrated and want to roll dice instead.
To a lesser degree, game pieces can be handy GM inspiration tool in a pinch. Half a Munchkin deck can make for interesting items or monsters, with stats borrowed from the system you’re actually using but special qualities (good, bad, or hilarious) borrowed from the flavor of the cards.
Strip out the face cards from a regular playing card deck, and you can have a quick NPC generator. Jacks as cavalier or charming, Queens as clever or stoic, Kings as brash or commanding. Don’t feel locked in on gender – Jacks, Queens and Kings can be and present as anything they like, it’s the personality that’s the helpful piece. Suits form the NPC’s motivation: Hearts for love or family, Spades for power or revenge, Diamonds for money or ambition, and Clubs because they’re being forced or to try and escape a bad situation.
Whatever the element you pluck from your board and card games, it can be a helpful and creative time saver for the game, a way to help players get more immersed in the setting, or just a fun escape from typical dice rolling if and when your group needs it.
And at worst, you may get a night worth of Tim Curry impressions out of the deal.