Yesterday was our first adventure using the Boon cards. This post is a chance to reflect on their use in the game. Players and strangers are invited to comment and add to the discussion with questions and comments.
First, an explanation. The Boon card deck is an add-on to 4th edition of my own design, inspired loosely by Torg’s Drama Deck from the early 90’s. They are a hand of cards the player holds and may play to influence the game in a variety of ways. Players begin play with a hand of five cards. Cards may be played at any time as appropriate for the effect on the card (e.g. play a +2 to hit before you make an attack roll). At the end of an encounter, each player may discard one unwanted card and then draw his hand back up to five cards. Each milestone reached increases the hand size by two cards. Players may not discuss what cards are in their hands.
There are 40 common cards, the standard giving a +2 to a specific roll. Some give a +5 in very specific circumstances (untrained in the listed skill or only for Martial powers) or with a sacrifice (lose one healing surge). Some allow a specific extra action (shift and make a basic melee attack as a minor action). There are a few common cards that let players trade cards or draw new cards. Common cards occur with 6x the frequency of rare cards.
The 20 rare cards have more dramatic effects. Some have greater effects on game mechanics in very specific situations (doubling ongoing damage or adding +5 to attack and damage in combination with a specific common card). Many effect the story telling aspect of the game (finding a long lost relation or allowing a player to define a small quest on the fly). They are worth holding on to because they do something special.
As play progresses in the adventure, players’ hands grow more powerful as they weed out the cards they do not want and save their best cards. This should lend itself to more epic climactic battles as players can pull out all the stops.
At first, players seemed hesitant to use the cards, but this stopped once they really began to understand that they would get more cards at the end of each encounter. Players still held on to rare cards that could turn the tide of a battle, but those cards did get spent at appropriate moments. A perfect example of this is when Majid played a card which allowed him to define a quest. He chose for the quest to be a rescue of demon-posessed Miri. He ensured that Miri had a chance of survival, and the party earned bonus XP for a completed quest when they succeeded.
Players were much more anxious to hit a milestone and keep questing with a larger hand of cards. The party only came to a rest when their resorces were very depelated, rather than play it safe at near full power. I feel this has done a better job of encouraging players to hit milestones than magic items have in other games I have played in or observed. We did not hit a second milestone, so I do not know how a hand of nine cards would effect game play. My gut reaction is that it would not upset balance too much, but I could be wrong.
I gained a lot of insight into my players based on what cards they discarded and what cards they got excited to find in their hand. Majid liked cards that effected the flow of the story, while Govannon got excited at a card the offered a personal storytelling opportunity. A third player was thrilled to get a card that allowed for tactical decisions about resorce management. Players overall seemed to gravitate towards wanting a variety of cards in their hand rather than a more narrow set of cards that worked with their best abilities.
Overall, the firt run of the Boon cards was a success. The next draft will require more cards, about 200 total, as well a greater variety of rare cards. I plan to tweak the wording on several cards; balance will remain unaffected, but I want to card wording to more closely match up with standard 4e terminology.
Feedback is appreciated.