Improvisation is important as a DM. As is planning. The venn diagram overlap of those two is slight. However, this Kickstarter from Norse Foundry fits squarely between the two. It’s a very weird product – not for people who love cards, not for people who love maps – but perfect for both. Let’s take a gander under the hood of “Enter the Fiery Pits.”
What Is It?
Cardography is a deck of miniature, modular, numbered dungeon tiles tied to a quest or plot written by Norse Foundry and Creature Curation. Each card has a landscape on it that’s gridded to be able to plug into common TTRPGs (pathfinder, D&D, etc as well as more free-form games like Fate, Dungeon World, etc). Each deck has a theme. Today we’re looking at a dungeon set built around molten rock and lava, flame and brimstone.
The decks each come with a booklet that correlates the number on the card with a snippet/description of the room. I’d be lying if I said I found this aspect a little lacking – not just because I received the wrong booklet (the whole thing is free to download here), but because I think the snippets lack creative flare.
“Icicles fall from the ceiling as adventurers enter the room” does very little to establish a FEELING within the DM or the players. Where something more Perkinsian could elicit a much more powerful inspiration at the table without taking up much more real estate: “Icy stone steps descend to a time-ravaged hallway. Beyond looms a sepulchral darkness.”
Some of this is ironed out, I believe, in the full release of these Modules on Roll20.net. But I cannot attest to that information – only what I have in-hand. I do think it’s a really cool set-up established where information used in the cards is hosted on alternate websites. So if one of the bullet points says “a dracopup” – there will be stats for a Dracopup on the website. Specifically for Fate and 5e, I believe.
The intention of this product is to act just like an old Dragon+ adventure. A group is put in this huge dungeon and they have to work their way through it. All of the prep for the adventure is in the cards and pamphlet/websites so a DM can just throw down some cards and adjudicate – very quick and easy, and a lot of the stuff they’re doing is unique and bespoke for these individual card packs.
The biggest problem I’ve had with adventures is seeing a map I can not show my players. So then I have this wonderful art in front of me that I have to try to describe to them adequately enough to give them a full picture of what’s happening. With this card pack, you can just set down the room you need and let them see it for themselves in its entirety. The only problem – if you can call it that – is that the cards are so small. I can hear players already asking “so it’s in this square?” while pointing on the card. Visual people need visual cues – so if you have players who do that sort of thing, have tiny tokens for them and the creatures just to keep things moving.
The limitation in this method is the one-time-use of such a potentially massive resource. It’s hard to re-use these cards as-is without mixing things up to keep them new.
Unintended Use (Which is more my speed!)
People use flower sives to strain noodles. It’s not intended, but it works just fine. I love the idea that when a DM needs a dungeon during their prep – they shuffle up this deck of cards and draw 4-5 or even 10-20 depending on how big a dungeon they need, slapping them all together in a manner that appeals to them. The shape and dynamic of the craziness that comes out is kind of inspiring. Why is this giant chamber next to some beds? What would live here?
Are you an improvisation-heavy DM? Why don’t you try using these at the table completely randomly??? You can keep some encounters in your head or on a sheet of paper then just shuffle up this deck and as your players explore the dungeon, you flip the cards out at each door/passage. You can uncover the dungeon as your players do – you can even pull a card and go “oh shittttt” with them. The coolest part is you get to keep the size of the dungeon hidden from your players until they walk into the room and you put the card down. No black sheets of paper or cloths to try and hide parts of the map.
Hell, you can even mix in your favorite Magic the Gathering cards into the deck – some that help the party, some that spark off encounters – and when the party gets to those cards they have to deal with what comes up.
It’s the modular design that appeals to me. The limitless nature of that kind of randomization. You can put them all in sleeves and mix in all kinds of cool shit to shock and amaze your players and even yourself.
The only concerns I have with this particular product come from quality control. The edges of the cards have some weird stains, the decks themselves are heavily bent – meaning none of the cards lie flat with one another, and I received an icy booklet for a fiery domain. I can say that I trust these issues to be ironed out by the conclusion of the kickstarter, though.
I desperately want these exact cards… but theme agnostic. The idea that you could use them in any setting at all to keep that randomness – it makes my mind quiver with ideas. I may need to just hit up someone like Dyson Logos and see about making that happen.
Regardless of how you use these, at $10 they’re a very cheap investment for the returns they can dole out. I feel that these decks are a specialized tool that can have wide-reaching uses – from behind the scenes prep to an easy go-to for underprepared days, to a mega-dungeon that you can lead your friends down. There are very few things we review on this site that have so many applications, and regardless of hang-ups.
The real thing to look out for, though, is the future of such resources. You can mix in Galeforce 9’s Item Cards for 5e or the “Items and artifacts” deck from the kickstarter to have hidden treats in certain rooms. You can mix in monster cards from your favorite card games to give inspiration for what they’re fighting or snag the “Monsters of”deck from the kickstarter and have their stats on-hand. You can do so many varied things using these base sets that it’s a pretty decent cause to get all 7 that are available.
What kinds of decks would you like to see in the future? Let me know on twitter or tag me in your messages to Norse Foundry. If we beg enough, we can make anything happen!
I don’t always advocate rolling, but when I do… be sure you have to Drop the Die.
Review by JB Little, Follow me on twitter for more “useful” information.