The GameMaster’s Apprentice: Fantasy Deck
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When our patrons speak, we listen! We were asked to add some system agnostic and support products into our review schedule; we’re working to meet that request. One of those patrons sent us a physical copy of The GameMaster’s Apprentice: Fantasy Deck from Larcenous Designs, LCC in the hopes that we would review it. Ros and Sam, this one is for you!
The GameMaster Apprentice (GMA) series is a series of seven stand-alone decks of cards that serve a multitude of purposes. Each deck consists of 60 double-sided cards, each of which has fourteen specific elements that provide randomly generated information. Each deck conforms to a specific theme. This review will include a general overview of the GMA series, but more specifically, the Fantasy deck.
Each GMA deck comes with Universal Instructions (<– free download) that gives you various ways to use the deck in a variety of situations. Such as, what the fourteen elements are, uses for each element, and suggestions for using the deck as part of the GM’s toolbox for NPC and scenario building. This review isn’t going to dig into every functional aspect of the cards or the series, but will look at some of the fourteen elements and how the Fantasy deck can be used by both the player and Game Master before, during, and after the game.
Each card is broken into fourteen distinct areas or elements as you can see in the image to the left. Each of these elements is randomized and thus increases its potential and long term usability. Each of the individual elements has several options or suggestions, as appropriate for that specific element, again increasing its utility.
The cards themselves are fairly simple to use. Depending on what it is you need to randomize, simply draw one or more cards, and look at the specific element you need. For example, if you need two random d6 results, simply pull two cards and refer to the d6 icon on each. Alternatively, in this example, you could simply draw one card and then flip it over to get the second d6 result. Let’s say, as a player, you need some inspiration for naming your character. Simply draw a card, refer to the “names” element and choose one of the presented names; combine one or more of them for different options. One last example, this time for from a GM’s perspective. If you’re creating some pre-game narrative notes or on-the-fly description and need some sensory ideas, draw a card, look at the sensory area, choose the sense you need assistance with and take the narrative prompt and work it into your text or description.
Many of the elements you can see in the image above also serve as story creation prompts for the Game Master. Need a location, draw a card. Need to determine the belongings of an NPC or of a container, draw a card. If you need a more robust set of prompts, the creator has recommendations for that as well in the GMA Instructions. In short, it’s recommended to draw three cards; read all the catalysts and locations from each of the three cards and choose one of each. Use these as the jumping-off point for your story. There is additional guidance on how to use the randomness of the cards to further flesh out your starting location to give it more depth or to build more story points.
As you can see, a lot is going on with these cards and the utility it can bring to the table; even more so than I have covered. Some of the elements, their intended use, interpretations, and implementation are more complex than in the examples I presented above. A thorough read of the GMA instructions is required to get the most out of these cards. Back to the question at hand, is the fantasy deck worth adding to your game bag?
Why should you consider adding it to your game bag? The deck itself has solid enough utility that is random and diverse enough to be used over and over. The cards have a little something for almost every situation, and with a little creativity on the part of the user, you can probably make the cards work for those other situations as well. The Fantasy deck embodies its theme through and through; the creator has seen to that. The elements are generally GM-centric, but depending on how the deck is being used and by whom, some are just as easily used by players or during solo gaming.
I have come to the conclusion that The GameMaster’s Apprentice: Fantasy Deck might be worth adding to your game bag, but there are some concerns I have that readers should consider before purchasing. Readers should be aware that while there are 120 cards (60 double-sided cards), the dice value distribution is incomplete. I specifically analyzed the percentile values, as this was important to me; to see if there was an even distribution. I was shocked at the results. With 120 possible percentile values, only seventy-five out the one hundred possible combinations were present. Of those present, many were duplicates, which I expected. Four repeated three times and one had four occurrences. I also analyzed the spread of the d20 values and these were evenly distributed six times across the 120 values. I did not analyze any of the other dice values to determine if they were complete, though I suspect them to be. Second, the cards have a lot of elements and possible ways to use them. The creator admits in the GMA Instructions that there are some shortcomings and some complexities in his recommendations on how best to utilize his creation. Granted, you can take his recommendations or not, but they are likely to form the basis for which you would build your “user experience.”
The physical cards are on decent quality stock
,; the standard that DriveThruCards uses. Though it is slightly thinner than more commercially produced playing cards, they seem to be holding up nicely to my repeated use, with only the slightest of edgewear. I am a little concerned that with long term heavy use, they may not hold up well, much like worn-out poker cards.
When I received these cards from our Patreon supporter, I had high hopes because the creator also has a horror-themed deck in this series. As I do a bit of solo gaming from time to time, even distribution of the percentile dice was critical for me. Putting aside the issue with the random dice rolls, the other elements of the cards do have some value that I can see myself using for their intended purposes. I love story and narrative prompts, especially for on-the-fly situations, when I need a creative spark. I am not sure I would use these cards to create fully fleshed-out scenarios as I think other products do it better in a more streamlined manner with less effort and with greater results. In the end, I honestly feel The GameMaster’s Apprentice: Fantasy Deck is of limited use, but it really depends on what you’d like to use it for—your mileage may vary.
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