More Thoughts On The Index Card RPG

Last Saturday I finally had the chance to give the Index Card RPG by Runehammer Games a try. My players were interested in a space opera/space fantasy game, so I thought Warp Shell – which is one of the included settings – would be a perfect fit. So I sat down and wrote an introductory adventure including an ambushed bonding ceremony on Xevos 1, a damaged warp shell, the search for a piece of  “Plotonium”, weird NPCs, strange locations, a labyrinthine mine, and a fight against the player characters’ evil doppelgangers from a different timeline.

Character creation was extremely quick but also showed a problem with the games’ classes. The Alfheim classes are pretty much modeled after common fantasy tropes. Unfortunately the Warp Shell classes are not that easily recognizable. What exactly is the difference between a Blip and a Shadow? How’s a Zubrin like? We eventually just made stuff up as we went along, but some more hints would have been nice.

The effort mechanic worked fine, especially when the characters were pressed for time or in a combat. If they had all the time they want, it was pretty pointless to roll for effort, since it was basically unavoidable that they eventually succeeded. At its best, the effort system (especially in combination with timers) can be very effective – but often it falls flat and feels like pointless dice rolling. The trick is to keep the player characters on edge all the time.

Combats were fast and always felt dangerous, but I should have put more preparation into both the opponents and the combat areas, since combat ended up being not that mechanically interesting. But that’s basically my fault and not the game’s. Overall I got the impression that the game works best if you keep a high pace at all times. There has to be action and excitement at any moment, because when the action comes to a halt, some mechanics just don’t work their magic anymore.

Personally I am a bit torn after my first session. On the one hand I appreciate a lot of what the Index Card RPG does. It’s fast, furious, simple, fun. On the other hand, I feel as if I have to drive the players from scene to scene at a break-neck speed to get most out of the mechanics. Sometimes I prefer a more relaxed pace which other systems might support better. I’ll definitely run the Index Card RPG another time, or at least reuse some of its ideas in other games BUT it probably won’t become my go-to game.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

4 thoughts on “More Thoughts On The Index Card RPG”

  1. I liked the idea of little GM prepping by selecting a bunch of cards and using it to create an adventure. I also liked the way, as demonstrated in the video that the game table can cover many locations. I have never been a ‘tactical movement down to the last square’ style of GM.

    I suspect that the index card system could be a useful tool to run alongside your favourite rule system rather than a standalone system in its own right.

  2. I feel the same problem with character creation. Since the “classes” are given abilities because of their LOOT, you don’t strictly need them – I just ask my players what they want their characters to be able to do.

    However, well, fast-paced action is the style of ICRPG, so this:

    “I feel as if I have to drive the players from scene to scene at a break-neck speed to get most out of the mechanics.”

    Is as intended. They should be pushing on at full speed, or at least be 90% of the time under threat. Players feel like they acheived more if that’s the case as well.

    Also, you’re the GM! Feel like a roll isn’t needed? Don’t ask for it. With the 10+ ICRPG games i have under my belt, this is the one thing that I kept from session to session.

    1. “They should be pushing on at full speed, or at least be 90% of the time under threat.”

      As a general statement for RPGs (and thus for any RPG that intends to be general purpose), I strongly disagree. My games aren’t ADHD-ActionMovies. They’re stories, sometimes with a pace closer to a novel than a movie, and rarely like an action movie. Even then, it’s a pre-1990s action movie, and not a post 1990s ADHD-ActionMovie.

      Investigation, research, tracking that isn’t an active pursuit, searching after the threat has been eliminated, trying to figure out a device, social interaction, etc. .. none of those are “full speed” nor “under threat”, but they’re all legitimate RPG activities. But what I’ve quoted would seem to be severely at odds with those activities … and lead me to dismiss this RPG has “niche” and not “general purpose.”

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