PF PATHFINDER REVIEW: GameMastery Chase Deck & Condition Cards Deck
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    PATHFINDER REVIEW: GameMastery Chase Deck & Condition Cards Deck

    I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear the word “card” mixed in with the term RPG in the same sentence, I immediately gain the “suspicious” condition. I’m generally extremely wary and have a default-starting attitude of Unfriendly -- if not outright Hostile -- to the idea of blending collectible cards with any aspect of my RPG play. That said, I am extremely interested in ALL game accessories that enhance my tabletop RPGs. Things like invisible character minis, torchbearer clip-ons to mini bases, flight stands and the like for use with miniatures during play I consider Cool Gaming Stuff. In addition, the relatively low cost of card decks makes the purchase of these decks an inexpensive way to scratch the itch to buy something in my local FLGS. Consequently, I look at new card decks released by Paizo often – but I tend not to buy all of them. When you get right down to it, I’m damned picky when it comes to the use of cards in our game sessions.

    I have had good experiences with some of Paizo’s card decks. In particular, I generally have enjoyed card decks that introduce new options for play like the GameMastery Plot Twist Card Deck. Admittedly, our group’s use of the Plot Twist Card Deck has been irregular, but we mostly like this card deck.

    We have embraced the Critical Hit and Critical Fumble card decks for regular use in our weekly Kingmaker and Legacy of Fire games and all of the players at the table enjoy them a lot.


    While the Critical Hit and Critical Fumble decks have been out for a long time, the subject of this review is two new card decks recently released by Paizo that present new options for use at the table without introducing any new rules: GameMastery Condition Cards (released this past spring) and GameMastery Chase Cards, released last month.

    GameMastery Chase Cards Deck


    Before there was Dungeons and Dragons, there were chase scenes. Chases have been staples in cinemas for nearly a hundred years. Going back to Birth of a Nation and more famously, Stagecoach, Hollywood has been serving up chases for as long as the theatre has been serving up popcorn.

    RPGs have been trying to simulate the chase scene for decades as well. Some systems strive for accuracy and then bog down in the details. Others have attempted to reproduce the sheer speed of a good chase scene, but somehow lose the cinematic element, as the excitement and visual impact of the chase is lost in flavourless die rolls.

    Jason Bulmahn’s Mad God’s Key from Dungeon #114 had a thrilling and memorable low-level chase scene across the dockside area of the City of Greyhawk that helped make it a fan favourite. Similarly, the first volume of the Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path, Nick Logue’s Edge of Anarchy, featured a fast and flavourful set of chase rules developed by Paizo’s Creative Director, James Jacobs.

    The developer at Paizo who was responsible for the creation of the GameMastery Chase Deck, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, explains, “The chase mechanic first appeared in the Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path, and then made its way to the Pathfinder GameMastery Guide. Those rules called for the GM to make cards from sticky notes or index cards. The Chase Deck is just the next logical step in that mechanic's evolution.”

    Central to Jacobs’ central design in the Pathfinder chase rules presented in the GameMastery Guide was to present the challenge elements of a chase scene on separate paper or cards, laid out on a “track” on the tabletop. The miniatures of the player characters and the NPCs are placed upon the index cards and the GM narrates the scene, moving from each card to the next challenge in the chase in accordance with the choices of the players and their die rolls.

    In the system presented in the GMG, each obstacle posed in the chase scene presents two or more alternatives for the character to choose from in order to overcome the obstacle and move to the next card. In a classic challenge in a typical chase, the player confronts a fruit cart as the party is chasing the villain through a crowded urban market. The character can either make an acrobatics roll to jump over the fruit cart, tumble under the fruit cart (same skill check, but size and running start can have an effect on success), or perhaps make a climb check to attempt to cut off the quarry another way. The Chase Deck accomplishes this same thing, complete with visual art illustrating sometimes-whimsical obstacles with underlying DCs and skill choices that make sense for each obstacle.

    Radney-MacFarland’s goal with the Chase Deck was simple: “We wanted to create a fun, easy, and flexible tool to help GMs create evocative and dynamic chase scenes. Great art and visual aids never hurt abstract mechanics. Like the original chase mechanics, the cards split up challenges into discrete visible pieces allowing the players to focus on and understand the challenge at hand.”

    Paizo’s Chase Deck presents 51 cards for GMs to use to build their chase scenes with, drawn from three “settings,” urban, forest, and dungeon. A different coloured chequered border indicates each environment type: tannish yellow for urban, green for forest and purple for dungeon.

    During play, typically a chase track of at least five cards is laid face down on the table, either by the GM selecting the cards or simply choosing them randomly by separating the cards into the appropriate environment, shuffling, and drawing. Using this method, a random chase scene can surprise even the GM in terms of how the chase scene will unfold. While an index card could still be used to accomplish this, the art used in the Chase Deck “just looks great on the table...much better than index cards or sticky notes scrawled with handwriting,” Radney-MacFarland says.

    After Radney-MacFarland developed the DC checks and various skills to be tested by the obstacle posed on each card, he and Jacobs went through the design to each card to “add punch” to the card and its flavour text. Radney-MacFarland admits that the art selection and the flavour of the challenges tends to the whimsical at times, conveying a flavour to the chase that will feel more like Raiders of the Lost Ark and less like The French Connection.

    The Chase Deck comes with rules presented on four sides on two cards, with several variant rules for each type of chase. No access to the GameMastery Guide or the original chase rules presented in Pathfinder Adventure Path #7 Curse of the Crimson Throne Vol. 1, Edge of Anarchy is necessary to use the GameMastery Chase Deck.

    Chase Deck: The Verdict

    I found the Chase Deck to be an excellent, though somewhat limited tool, for building a chase scene on the fly during any game session. For the most part, the DCs presented in the Chase Deck are reasonable and can be made by most low to mid-level adventurers. Should the party be higher (or lower) in level, it is easy to adjust the base DCs printed on the cards by two or 3 across the board to account for the experience level of the party. Consequently, the default DCs presented by the obstacles never gets in the way of the utility of the cards at the table.

    My only real beef with the Chase Deck is that I found that I wanted even more options and more cards. If you were to stick to just using the 17 urban cards in a city chase scene, even when randomly selected, a GM is unlikely to present a chase scene using seven cards without a lot of repetition creeping into your various chase scenes quite quickly. I suppose that it is easy enough to hand select cards – and even to occasionally combine environmental elements together in a chase scene to get a lot more mileage out of the Chase Deck.

    Moreover, to be fair, chase scenes tend to be relatively uncommon in most RPG game sessions, so it is not as if you are going to exhaust all the potential combinations of cards or develop “sameness” to each of your chase scenes very quickly. For most GMs, I expect that the Chase Deck will provide good value for a year or more of games featuring a dozen or more highly varied chase scenes. That is probably more than enough value than can reasonably be expected from a $10-11 accessory product.

    Still, the Chase Deck is so cool that I find myself wanting more. If I had an entire deck for each of the three environments, I would be a happier gamer. Paizo has discussed creating more cards for expansion Chase Decks, but there is nothing firm on the table currently. “We started with very general areas, knowing that if the product was popular and if we did more decks in the future, we could design different or more specific areas later. Those areas either could fall in the same general category or would complement existing categories. But like all future products we keep our options open and wait to see how a product is received. If people love them and buy them up, chances are good that we will make supplementary sets,” Radney-MacFarland confirms.

    Suitable for 4th Edition D&D? Yes!

    One of the most interesting aspects of the Chase Deck is that its utility is not restricted to Pathfinder RPG. The essential system presented by the Chase Deck is easily transportable to 4E. All a Dungeon Master has to do is to assign different DCs appropriate to the party’s skill level, perhaps with reference to the Skill Challenge DCs presented in the DMG 2. The flavour and artistic flare that the Chase Deck imparts to the game session is 100% transportable to 4th Ed game sessions.

    Radney-MacFarland agrees. “Personally I think they can used with almost any RPG. While the numbers may not directly port over, those are some of the easiest things to change. The Pathfinder numbers should give you a good idea of how to scale things for your favourite game system. I've used the Chase Deck in other games I've run, not just Pathfinder.”

    Very Useful Game Accessory: All Pathfinder GMs
    Useful Game Accessory: All 3.xx and 4E Dungeons and Dragons DMs, and even Star Wars: Saga Edition GMs may find large parts of this deck to be useful. If you wanted to add a chase scene to your Call of Cthulhu game? These can also work for you.

    GameMastery Chase Deck
    Published: 2011
    Cost: $10.99 Paizo

    GameMastery Condition Cards

    There you are, in the middle of combat and you fail your save. The GM announces that your character has been fascinated. If you are like most experienced players, you tend to know the more common conditions from memory. However, the less common conditions that emerge during game play are ones that a lot of experienced players and GMs forget – or worse – can misremember.

    “Fascinated, what does that do again?” you ask. Sometimes, another player at the table has the answer -- and sometimes they do not. Even when the answer is known by the GM or another player, that’s no guarantee that the player who gains the condition is going to remember the mechanics of the effect when it is their next turn – or to even remember they have the fascinated condition, either.

    Looking up the mechanical effect of a condition during play is one of those moments in the game that just slows everything down. The GM or player (and often both) start flipping through the Core Rulebook to look up one of the 34 conditions that the Pathfinder RPG can apply to characters when affected by some spell or other consequence of combat in the game. While the flipping of pages to Appendix 2 of the Core Rulebook is not terribly distracting, I hate doing it as a GM. For one, I often lose my place that I have marked in the Rulebook already, or cover up some other page in another book that I need handy. More importantly, as the page flipping occurs usually in the middle of combat, it interrupts the flow of combat around the table.

    The problem is exacerbated when playing with players who are relatively new to the game. Sure, in a year or two they will know many (if not most) of the conditions from memory – but until that time, it is a struggle in every combat for the player to keep the rules straight. Moreover, to be perfectly honest, even experienced GMs can forget the exact mechanical effect that a condition applies to a target.

    Enter the Condition Cards Deck from Paizo, probably the most singularly useful card deck that Paizo has ever released.

    The Condition Cards Deck provides 52 double-sided cards which act as a crib sheet of the rules for 26 of the most common conditions in the game that affect player characters. Now, when the player gains a condition, the GM just passes the card to the player during combat. The card immediately tells the player what the mechanical effect of the condition is – and perhaps just as importantly – serves as a reminder for both the GM and the player that the character is affected by the condition.

    Each of the cards provides an accurate summary of the mechanical rule and each depicts a whimsical illustration portraying a goblin that is suffering that condition. The best thing about the cards is that they are double-sided, so that maximum usage is made of the “real estate” provided by the card Deck. Moreover, as many conditions in Pathfinder RPG have a more severe but related form of the condition, the cards intuitively mirrors the same progression of condition effects.

    So, for example, on one side of a card is a summary of the fatigued condition and on the reverse is a summary of the exhausted condition. This intuitive combination on a single card is repeated for each of the following 26 conditions covered by the Deck wherever possible: Dazed/Stunned; Dazzled/Fascinated; Exhausted/Fatigued; Frightened/Shaken; Nauseated/Sickened; and Paralyzed/Staggered are all presented on the same cards. Other related conditions appear on the following cards in a mostly intuitive manner: Grappled/Pinned, Bleed/ Dying, Blinded/Deafened, Confused/Entangled, Flat-Footed/Helpless, Incorporeal/Invisible, and Prone/Unconscious.

    Using the 52 condition cards in the deck, the GM has four complete sets summarizing the 26 most common conditions to pass out during play.

    I agree with almost all of the conditions that Paizo has chosen to portray on the cards as the ones being the most commonly encountered during play. Six of the eight conditions not depicted on the Condition Cards Deck: Broken, Dead, Disabled, Energy Drained, Petrified, and Stable are generally not encountered during play or at least do not affect the player characters directly. A good argument can be made that the two remaining unrepresented conditions, Cowering and Panicked, would have been more useful to include in the deck instead of Incorporeal and Unconscious, but apart from a substitution of those two conditions for Cowering and Panicked instead, I think Paizo made the right choices. After all, how often does a player gain the Incorporeal condition? And who can’t accurately guess -- let alone remember -- what the Unconscious condition does? I wager even my grandmother would get that one right.

    The Condition Cards Deck also comes with one card with a new 2nd level Cleric/Witch/et al spell on it, Soothing Word. This new spell has the effect of lessening all of the effects of the following conditions to a condition of lesser severity on the target at the same time: nauseated> sickened, stunned>dazed, exhausted>fatigued, frightened>shaken, paralyzed>staggered. (A lesser variant form of this spell, the 0 level spell Soothing Touch, appears in Ultimate Magic’s Words of Power.)

    Condition Cards Deck: The Verdict

    I have been using the Condition Cards Deck during my weekly Pathfinder Society game sessions and I have been extremely satisfied with their utility at the table. As many Pathfinder Society players are relatively new players to the game, the utility of the Condition Cards Deck for use during PFS sessions is difficult to overstate. Using the Condition Cards, newer players know exactly what mechanical effect the condition has on their PC, less space is taken up at the table with Core Rulebooks being opened and, above all, play moves forward smoothly and the presence of the card on the table reminds me of their character’s condition. It is a wonderful accessory for use during PFS game sessions; indeed, so much so that I now consider the Condition Cards Deck an essential accessory for all PFS GMs. My discussions with others confirm that every PFS GM I have spoken with who has tried the Condition Cards Deck for PFS loves it and considers it essential gaming gear for PFS.

    For those engaged in home play, the GameMastery Condition Cards Deck is still useful for all of the same reasons, but many experienced players and GMs may find it to be of somewhat lesser utility for a plethora of reasons (more time to play, more space for books on the table, more experienced players, etc.). Even still, we have started to use the cards in both our Kingmaker and Legacy of Fire sessions and all of the players – all of whom are very experienced, appreciate their usefulness.

    Must Have Accessory: Pathfinder Society GMs should buy this card deck immediately and bring it to every game session. It is simply an ideal product for use during PFS play.
    Very Useful Accessory: All Pathfinder GMs.

    GameMastery Condition Cards Deck
    Published: 2011
    Cost: $10.99 Paizo
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    Last edited by Steel_Wind; Monday, 17th October, 2011 at 12:45 PM.

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    We tried out the chase cards to resolve a situation in our Griffins & Grottos game just recently and they worked well enough. We've been playing a narrative game, sans minis, this time around, but when one of the players picked up the Chase card deck, we wanted to try them out. We had to fudge things a little because it wasn't quite the terrain in play at the time and we weren't using the PF system, but it resolved things rather swiftly and with some interesting results. We'll probably try them again in the future though I can see how a PF game would benefit from having them on hand in a lot of situations.

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    I think the reason we have unconscious and not panicked was because similar conditions are on the same card. If you're dazzled and it gets worse you flip the card. Since we have staggered it pairs nicely with unconcious while panicked would be illogical. And we already had shaken paired with frightened.
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    We use the Condition Deck in every single game we play. It is a fantastic resource and I recommend it for Pathfinder players.

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    I really think that among the condition cards should have been Affliction cards as well; Diseased, Poisoned, & Cursed.

    As useful as it is to have the card tell you what you need to know about a condition and have it serve as a reminder you are penalized it makes perfect sense to have similar cards to remind a player to make their Poison save each round.

    I do love the Condition Card for their sheer usefulness and of course the Goblin artwork!

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    I'm not sure I'd use these cards but I do like some of the item card sets and the faces set.

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