During Gencon, I saw that my friend Mike, who runs SlyFlourish, picked up a deck of cards with what looked like an encounter and a map on them. These cards intrigued me, so I looked around and picked up a batch from Drivethru RPG. I picked up the bundle that includes the PDF of the deck, and the physical products. I’ll give me thoughts on this print-on-demand service at the end of the review, but first let me get to the cards…
Encounter Decks are basically a set of cards with a ready made map and plot ideas for a nights worth of gaming.
The deck includes 54 numbered cards, with one side showing a quick line or two about the hook of the adventure, suggestions for getting the PCs involved, encounter ideas, and suggestions on how to expand the story past the presented adventure. The other side includes a map suitable for the adventure. Here’s the map for card #25 “And the Children Shall Lead” from the picture above:
As you can see, they cram a lot into a regular poker sized card, perhaps too much, but in essence you are getting a solid framework for a night’s worth of gaming in each card. A good GM might take these cards and be able to randomly pull one for that night’s one shot or side trek.
Each card has either a Sword & Sorcery or a Science Fantasy theme, although it would probably be easy to re-skin these into any theme you need for your campaign. The plots range from dragon cults stealing livestock in the area, to stopping a brain connected to a super computer from taking over the city….
To me what’s most valuable about these cards are the hooks and encounters. The maps don’t do much for me because in order for them to be useful I’d need to blow them up larger, and they aren’t keyed anyway, so they can really just serve as inspiration for making my own maps or by hand or whatever. The fact that they managed to cram so much into a regular playing card is enough for me though, and I appreciate the effort, I just don’t know if I’ll get to use the maps. They even suggest using maps from other cards interchangeably, so they are playing fast and loose with them as it is.
There’s probably going to be some bit of prep time for the average GM that chooses to use these cards. I know that I’d probably take the time and flesh out the plots a bit and make them custom for my game, tie them in to my setting, etc, but some people may be content with a beer and pretzel “shuffle the cards” and lets see what comes up. For both those types of gamers, I think the product shines.
As far as Drivethru’s physical quality, I was really impressed. The cards are strong, not flimsy at all, rounded corners and have a gloss to them. They came packaged in a sturdy acrylic box with a removable lid, and I paid about $12 for the whole thing.
Overall, I think these Encounter Decks are a solid product from Inkwell Ideas. I appreciate having 54 adventures ready to go, and even if the maps are perhaps a bit too small for the cards to use as intended, there are workarounds and ways to use them effectively, so I feel comfortable recommending the product.
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