In the search for an innovative core mechanic for a tabletop role-playing game, I came up with a fantasy-styled game that uses a deck of normal playing cards to individualize each player. The cards that are in a player’s deck, their suit and value, and even the placement of the cards all apply unique attributes to the player-character. Besides that, each player also takes on a class, which determines all the special abilities his character has linked to each of the face cards (King, Queen, Jack, Ace).

The four suits/attributes in Cartomancy.

The character that is controlled by a player has a unique character sheet, based on his class. This sheet shows what cards are in that player’s deck, as well as the special face-card abilities and any other abilities that character might have learned. Character progression takes the form of adding new cards with higher values to the deck. The randomness of the cards, both in value and suit, forces the player to think creatively with his options. It also means that sometimes the player’s actions are lead by his character’s demeanour; with a hand full of spades the character is obviously in for a good fight, which will have the player act differently. This is a unique system which further blends the player-and-character connection – the character is no longer fully a puppet of the player, but will instead think for itself, as shown by the suits of the drawn cards.

Cartomancy character sheet.

A short overview of the core mechanic of this game is as followed: A player has a hand full of clubs and wants to disarm a trap. He plays cards from his hand in front of him until he is satisfied, ending with a diamond card which he says is to represent the knowledge required to disarm the trap. Lastly, the player adds a face-down card for an additional effect. The game master looks at the total value of the cards played, and determines it sufficient. The player disarms the trap, and with his additional effect is able to do so without breaking or dismantling the trap. Now the played cards go into that player’s discard pile, and he draws cards back up to his draw-limit.

Cartomancy rulebook.

Every action is played out this way, focusing on the creativity and diversity that comes from the different cards in a player’s deck. Face-cards allow the player to perform feats of excellence, fortifying their feeling of being the hero of this tale. The fantasy setting of the game is meant to give clarity to certain abilities and adversaries, though it could be replaced with another genre trope.

Character Sheets