The Drama Deck
is a game mechanic
used in the role-playing game Torg
, and also in Masterbook
. One of the more interesting mechanics used in an RPG
, it consists of a deck of 156 cards. The cards are used for three different purposes in a game of Torg.
Let us dispense with the uninteresting usage. They are part of a kludgey system to resolved extended actions. The middle of each card has a few letters on it, and possible a descriptor "setback!, total sucess!, etc." Each time you succeed in a skill check for the action, you draw a card, and you need so many letter to succeed and defuse the bomb or what have you.
The Drama deck is also used to determine initiative. One card is flipped each round, with one side containing initiative information. At its most basic level, the card tells you whether the heroes or their opponents go first.
There are two additional factors that make things interesting: modifiers and approved actions. Technically, there are two iniative lines on each card, one for normal scenes, and one for dramatic scenes (which are more difficult for the heroes.)
Each round can have modifiers for one side or the other. These are one word descriptions of the scene (setback, up, hasty, etc.) that give modifiers to that side for the round. These effects might give the villians a bonus to skill checks for the round, allow the heroes double actions, fatigue or heal one side or the other. Not all rounds have a modifier.
Each round also has an approved action type (attack, defend, taunt, manuever, etc.) The actions are defined by the Torg rules, and beyond basic attack and defense, generally give you some sort of bonus for screwing with your opponent. If you take the approved action for the round, you get to draw a card from the Drama Deck (see below for how to use these cards.)
Approved actions keep combats from devolving into a series of swing, swing, swing. You have people stopping to taunt their foes if they have the time (or the confidence.) Combined with modifiers which cause the upper hand to swing more than in other RPGs, Torg combats feel very cinematic as a result of the Drama Deck.
The Drama deck is also used as a way for the players to influence their fate, similar to luck points, hero points, confidence, willpower and other mechanics from other game systems. Each player is dealt a hand of cards (normally four, if I recall) at the beginning of each game session. They can gain more through other cards, by taking approved actions, and at various points through the game.
Most cards have very straight forward mechanical effects. Many are straight bonuses: play this card for +3 to any damage roll, +3 on any dexterity skills, +3 on any allies action, etc. Others have more intricate, but defined effects. Your opponent fails in a single action, everyone on your side draw a card, etc.
For cards with defined effects, there is an added wrinkle. Before you can play a card, you must put the card into your "pool." You can put one card per turn into your pool. This is just a way of limiting the number of cards you can play, and building up tension. In climactic scenes, you usually have to rely heavily on your cards and cardplay by your teammates to take down the bad guy. This means taking your knocks for a few rounds while you add cards to your pool before making the heroic, adrenaline fueled stab with aid from a friend after a brilliant plan exposed your foe's secret weakness.
The rest of the cards allow the player to affect the plot in various ways. These are similar to whimsy cards. You can force the GM to give you a hint, or notice a clue. You can play a card to know a buddy who can help you, or manage an unlikely escape.
Subplots are a specific type of card that bind your character to the story, buy connecting you with someone involved (or involving someone you're connected to ;).) You gain more experience points while you have an active subplot, as you are adding to the story, and the GM has an excuse to mess with you. So, if you play the Romance subplot, the GM is free to have your girlfriend be the innocent strapped to the altar for sacrifice. When you free her, (and while you angst about the horror) you get more XP.
Using the Drama Deck in other games
The Drama deck, or concepts from it, can be incorporated into most other games. It will make your combats feel more cinematic, with more twists and turns. It will make your players feel like they have more control over their characters and the plot. Obviously, it won't work well in all settings. Call of Cthulhu for example, isn't supposed to be cinematic, and hte players aren't supposed to feel in control. But for dramatic, larger than life (even a little) games, the Drama Deck can add a lot. And torg sets are pretty cheap.
You'll need to modify the bonuses to your system, and decide what effects each of the approved actions map to (either finding similar thing sin your system, or making up new rules for taking those actions.) You'll also need to decide what each of the modifiers for a round of initiative means for your game. You need to remember that the Drama Deck will significantly increase the power of characters, particularly in more difficult battles. At a minimum, I recommend using the Drama Deck in place of any luck point, hero point, fate point, or willpower system your game uses. Beyond that, simply bumping the power level of the opposition should even things up.