Chances are if you’re like me, you’ve got a few cardboard skeletons in your closet. Magic: The Gathering has been around since 1993 and in the intervening years hundreds of games have tried to capture the imaginations and the wallets of gamers by getting them to buy lots and lots of cards. These games might have been played for a while. They might have been tried once or twice but never caught on because there wasn’t someone else willing to buy in. They might even be ones that you played a lot but have fallen by the wayside due to newer games or other real life issues. You could try to sell them on the secondary market…or you can use them as ways to improve the RPGs that you’re currently playing. Here are a few ways I’ve used my old cards to inspire stories in other tabletop games.
Themed Oracle DecksOne of the best things about collectible card games is often the art. It’s eye catching and inspirational which is perfect for the GM who might be scrabbling for game ideas. Flipping through old binders or stacks of cards can spark plots, characters or magic items just by looking at the cards you already have. Think of this process like a game of Dixit or Mysterium where you interpret the art to fit an idea. Do you need an archwizard to vex your players? Time to flip through your rares looking for a caster type. What does that glowing blue blade do in your homebrew world and where is it hidden?
You could also look at the card type as a jumping off point. Shuffle together a deck of old cards and then pull three. One is the setup, one is the complication and one is the resolution. Slot the cards in the spot that you like. For example, if you have a firebolt, an ork chieftain and a mountain card, there are a few ways to go. The chieftain could seek a powerful magic item on a mountain and the players have to get it first. Or the chieftain was wounded by a magical attack and the players have to climb a mountain to go get him. Short prompts like this a meant to spark a storyline when looking at the blank page just isn’t working.
Plot TwistsWhen I ran the latest edition of Over The Edge for Theatre of the Mind Players, Atlas Games sent the games using boosters and starters for their old On The Edge CCG as packing materials to keep the books safe. (They’ve been doing this for YEARS, so they must have a lot of those cards left over from the 90s) The new edition of the game also has a plot twist mechanic where if you roll a certain number you can get a good plot twist, like a secret ally leaving behind a password, a bad plot twist like an enemy agent coming out of nowhere to ambush you or even one of each at the same time. Life on Al Amarja is unpredictable that way. I had my players take a couple boosters, crack them open and choose a couple of cards from each deck. Then I took those cards, shuffled them into a big conspiracy deck and whenever a player rolled a plot twist, I drew a couple of cards for inspiration as I weighed the sudden twist of fate.
This method is a great use for games already connected to RPGs, such as Doomtown, Shadowrun or The Eternal Struggle. Many of these games are connected to those games' broader stories which offer players a chance to select which metaplot elements they might want to interact with. But it’s also fine to use them to generate story beats that are more focused on the game at hand. Drawing a Stone card doesn’t mean the literal character has to show up in your Deadlands game, but there’s probably an intimidating gunslinger character that your players will think twice about facing who can fit the bill.
Creature CountersThis option requires a little bit of arts and crafts. A quick check online to make sure you’re not demolishing a valuable card also probably wouldn’t hurt. You’ll need a few common cards, 1” circular hole punch, some craft glue, and a round counter such as a wooden chip or washer. Take the commons and use the hole punch to cut out the art on the card. Then glue the punched out circle onto the washer. If you use two cards per counter, you can mark one side as a common condition in the game, such as blooded or Shaken.
I’ve always liked the idea of big combats on massive tabletop grids but I never had the budget to match. Using a bunch of old commons like this can really give a sense of scale. They also match well with bad guy minis. The miniatures are the bosses and the bad guys are the minions!
Have you done anything crafty with your old CCG cards? Let me know in the comments!