How’d That Happen? (5 Ways to Use Plot Twist Cards)

Plot Twist Cards for Pathfinder Roleplaying Game

Well over a year ago I posted a review of GameMastery Plot Twist Cards: Flashbacks on Paizo.  This product is described as a “vividly illustrated deck” that “opens up a new experience of shared storytelling, providing players with ways to suggest events during any adventure.”  The idea is players get one of these at campaign start and at every level, and they can give the card to the GM to suggest a possible way for the events to play out.

At the time I wrote the review we’d recently introduced those cards, as well as the first set, as a means of putting a little power in the hands of the players as a reward for keeping a campaign journal. Before each session the player could read their journal and, assuming it was half decent, gain a card to redeem at a later date.

Since then we’ve played around with them a bit more, and, well, it’s been a bit of time since we added them to our gaming tool kit, so it seemed fitting to talk about them again, specifically, some cool ways you can add them to your campaign.
Deja Vu cardEach of the cards features the card name that represents a theme, a spot with a mechanic associated with the theme, and then four potential story points.  (I should note the flashback set often had me pondering exactly how the association between the story point and the card name was made, and if you are only going to pick yourself up one of these decks, I strongly suggest it be the original one.)

  1. Reward System. When we started using these cards, the GM gave them out to players for their player journals.  Like the hero point system, players can retain up to three cards to use for something awesome, or just to make things work out a bit more in their favor.  The difference here is that the card has to fit. Your charming female rogue is trying to distract that city guard while her friends sneak ill-gotten goods out of town? That lust card might do the trick when your roll went poorly – or your GM planned on having him not be easily distracted. Ours have also been used to steer the campaign in a different direction, with the cards sometimes having far reaching impacts. (I once used a card to put a personal nemesis of my character in a tight spot. The card assisted me in having her kicked out of her flat, and ended up causing most people to look at her like contagious disease.  With her life falling apart, the once wily woman came to my PC, who was disguised, looking for help.  I gave her shelter, let her get really comfortable, and hired her to work in my tavern. Then I brutally stabbed her in the back as I revealed my true identity. Ah, evil campaigns…)
  2. Player Inspiration. If you don’t want your players to collect them, or don’t like the idea of the reward system, or you don’t like giving them that much plotting power, you can also hand them out and use them on a smaller scale. One card per player per night. They hand them back at the end of the night.  If the players are in a situation where the card fits, they can use the mechanics of the card to aid them: +20 on a Diplomacy roll; Target becomes confused for 3 rounds; An ability or effect lasts 1 round longer than normal, etc.
  3. GM Inspiration. How many times as a GM have you hit a session where things are just lagging? The PCs aren’t following the leads you laid out, you don’t want to have a random band of thugs jump out an attack them just to liven things up, and you need a little inspiration.  Grab a card.  You might have to stretch your imagination a bit, but I promise the name of the card and those little story points on the bottom should get you thinking, and inspire you (and hey, if that first card isn’t working, just grab a second one). Plus the pictures alone can get your mind plotting.
  4. Plot Point. It’s almost a game in a game.  Draw a card before the game session and see if you can tie it into that night’s adventures.  It’s up to the GM and the players to make this happen, and we’ve found it amusing how easily some of these just naturally fit into what is to come.  Some cards seem to be the theme of the night, even before we knew what would be drawn.
  5. Plot a Campaign.  Either deal a series of them and draw inspiration on plotting your homebrew campaign, or shuffle them up and lay them out like a tarot reading. Past, present, what’s to come – it’s all there, and it could just be magical. At the very least it gives you a great starting point, with all kinds of potential plot hooks.

While I haven’t seen it done, I’ve also heard of the cards being used for board games like HeroQuest and Castle Ravenloft, or being shuffled up with a Harrow Deck.

Have you ever tried out the Plot Twist cards? What’s your most memorable use of a card?

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