With This Simple Deck of Cards…

Back in the day I was a much more improvisational GM than I am now. It was for the best of reasons; I was running many more games than I am now. So many, in fact, that it ate into my prep time. So I adapted a simple deck of cards to cover a multitude of sins, serving as a random generator for many campaign needs. I used playing cards to generate GPCs (Gamemaster Player Characters) on the fly, generate treasure as needed, figure out random monster encounters, and even help build and stock dungeons quickly. I’m going to outline the Gamemaster Player Character generator below.

This generator gives you a framework to build on as opposed to detailing everything for you. That suits my style of GMing, as I prefer to modify and customize GPCs to fit the campaign. Not every GPC needs to be fleshed out, so just having some quick traits can be very useful. For each, I use a standard deck of playing cards with the Jokers left in, giving me 54 cards. I refer to the red and black Jokers, as the decks I have make that distinction. If yours does not, simply mark one Joker so you can tell it from the other.

Gamemaster Player Character Generation

It happens to every GM at some point. Your players have ignored the careful trail you’ve laid for them and strayed into an area you haven’t prepped. Now they want to talk to that innkeeper or wainwright you haven’t fleshed out. This generator allows you to give that GPC a quick bit of personality to hold you in the moment, and a framework to build on if the characters are likely to keep interacting with that GPC down the line. Combine this with a list of character names and you’ll be able to generate GPCs on the fly whenever you need them. Alternatively, you can sit down for an hour and generate a list of generic GPCs to slot in without needing the cards during play.

Take a deck of playing cards with the Jokers still in. Draw two cards for each GPC. The first card signifies the dominant trait of that GPC, based on the suit of that card:

  • Diamonds – Appearance (facial features, dress, overall demeanour)
  • Clubs – Physical (height, weight, body shapes)
  • Hearts – Personality (first impressions of the GPC’s attitude)
  • Spades – Secrets (the GPC is wrapped up in keeping a secret. Note this, then draw another card ignoring other spades.

The second card gives you an approximate rating for that trait, from 2 to Ace. Roughly, numbered cards describe a range of below average to average, Jack to King is above average, and Ace is exceptional in some fashion.

If you draw a Joker as the first card, that denotes either a potential ally to the party (Red Joker) or a staunch enemy (Black Joker). Draw a second card to get the actual trait and a third card for the intensity. If you draw a Joker as your second card, ignore and draw another card.

Some examples:

  • Jack of Hearts (personality), 5 of Diamonds: GPC is annoyingly friendly, to the point of unwanted familiarity and contact.
  • Ace of Spades (Secret), Queen of Diamonds (appearance), Queen of Clubs – The GPC is immaculately handsome and finely dressed, and gives the impression of some sort of nobility. It is all a sham, however. All the GPC has is the (mostly faux) finery on their back and is desperate to keep anyone from finding that out.
  • Black Joker (Enemy), King of Clubs (Physical), 3 of Clubs – The GPC was painfully crippled during some altercation the party was involved in. Now the GPC is doing all they can to make the character’s lives miserable and working towards their ultimate revenge.

As you can see, the method still requires you to interpret the results, but I’ve found it to be a great way of generating quick GPCs. Slap a name on them and it’s enough to play them for a session, before fleshing them out later.

Do you use playing cards to aid your game-mastering? Have you taken this GPC generator for a spin, and did it work for you? Let me know in the comments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *