I’ve always been of the opinion that a game system can be designed ot mesh with and even enhance the roleplaying experience of a specific setting. As a result, I’ve tended to shy away from generic systems, preferring something that supports the setting. Now, before I go further, I just want to say that this is my personal opinion, and I’m not saying that I hate generic systems or that they are invalid. It’s really just a personal preference. And for some games, a generic system works just fine.
When I started designing Nevermore, I knew that I wanted to create something new that felt appropriate to the setting. That’s how I came to use playing cards. Sitting around the parlor, playing whist or other Victorian era card games, is a mainstay of Gothic Fiction. I remember the first time I played Castle Falkenstein (the first RPG I ever played that utilized cards). I was confused by the use of cards at first (I wanted to roll dice, dammit!), but once I played a while I came to see why that choice was made. The tactile sensation of the cards helped to plunge you directly into the setting. I wanted to capture this feeling for Nevermore.
My first inclination was to create a hybrid dice and card system, but I tossed that for two reasons. First, requiring players and narrators to have both dice and cards seemed burdensome. Second, it simply got too complicated. In the end, switching back and forth felt pointless, and I felt it would be a better game if I just stick with cards. I also briefly toyed with the idea of using a unique deck for the game, but I dismissed that almost immediately because I wanted the game to be accessible. What if you forgot your deck? How do you play? One of the other things I like about playing cards is that you can get them anywhere—even gas stations carry cards. (Although, I have recently seen a set of polyhedral dice at a convenience store. Weird.) So, if you’re on the road somewhere or somehow forget your cards you can always pick up a new pack and play a game of Nevermore.
I know some folks hate the idea of using cards instead of dice in an RPG. To that, all I can say is that I hope you’ll be willing ot have an open mind and give it a try. Yes, it’s different, but sometimes it’s good to try something different. And think of all the cool card decks you can collect. There are so many beautiful card decks out there these days. There are even services online that let you create cards with custom backs. And with a bit of customization, you can even use tarot cards to play.
How Does it Work?
The design goal for the Nevermore card system was to be as simple as possible while also offering a lot of possibilities for variation. I wanted it to be something you can pick up and learn in five minutes, but then you can keep learning new facets of the system the more you play. The core of the Nevermore system has each player holding two cards in their hand at all times. When a player takes an action that requires a test, they get to draw additional cards based on their skill level if they have the appropriate skill (usually one to three cards). Each attribute (Physical, Intellect, etc.) or Qualities as they are called in Nevermore has a number rating of 2 to 13 and is related ot one of the four suits in a playing card deck. Corpus, your physical attribute is clubs, Kardia, your social Quality is hearts, and so on.
When you play your hand, you’re looking for cards that are equal to or under the appropriate Quality or of the same suit. If a card is both, you get Fortune (a meta-currency used in the game) that you can spend right away for an additional success or keep to use later. Each match gives you a success, and every action requires a certain number of successes. That’s about it. Of course, there are a lot of things that can affect your hand, such as special abilities, magical items, or spending Fortune. All of these can allow you to draw additional cards or gain additional successes. Of course, things such as shooting in the dark, injuries, or even curses can reduce the number of cards you get to play.
I’m pretty happy with the direction things are going with the card system. I’ve lost count, but at this point, I’ve run over twenty playtests, and I refine things every time. I expect to learn a lot more from the groups who are currently playtesting, and I’ll keep iterating. Thank you for taking the time to read about how and why I choose cards for Nevermore. I’ll definitely be getting into more details about the system in later posts, but if there’s something about the game that you would like to know, please let me know in the comments. I love to hear from folks, and I’m always happy to answer questions.