Decuma: The R&D for Your RPG

Decuma: The R&D for Your RPG

Author: Kimi Hughes
Publisher: Golden Lasso Games
Page Count: 22
Available Formats: PDF
PDF (DTRPG) – $13

If you’ve been a gamemaster for any length of time, you are sure to have many “go-to” resources to help you with any number of things that fall within the prevue of being GM. I know my GM Toolbox is a cornucopia of amazing resources. Recently, a friend and Patreon supporter gifted me with a PDF copy of Decuma by Golden Lasso Games, knowing I love resources like this, especially those that use tarot cards.

Decuma is a tarot-inspired world-building game that helps you collaboratively create all the important details for your tabletop RPG campaign. It can be adjusted to make as much or as little of your world as needed, including location details, Non-Player Characters, player character connections, and setting conflicts. Is it really a game, a resource, or both? 

The act of “playing” Decuma reads similar to traditional tarot card readings; cards are shuffled, spreads are laid out, cards are flip, and interpreted. For those unfamiliar with tarot cards and how to read them in a traditional sense, Decuma has a short primer on tarot basics that conveys rudimentary concepts and terms. Unlike traditional tarot readings, Decuma uses specific cards suits for particular purposes and does not have its participants read cards in the traditional sense. It operates on the concept that it is a game led by a gamemaster that guides players through world-building exercises.

Let’s explore this “game.” Game preparation is straight forward, split the deck into three smaller decks—Major Arcana (Group Dynamics), Cups and Wands (Relationships), and Swords and Coins (Locations and NPCs). In the PDF, all the cards are listed by suit, and in ascending order, major arcana are grouped separately. Each card has two questions assigned to it—the left column is for cards that are right side up; the right column is for cards that are upside down. The group as a whole has a quick conversation regarding when and where the setting takes place, a place or location that serves as a focal point, and the overall tone of the game/setting. Players then go around the table and introduce their character by name and concept. You’ll note that I have not mentioned any character generation process because Decuma is a system-neutral product. Characters should be created using whatever game system the GM and players prefer.

Players are dealt a number of cards from each deck face down and are not looked at. The player should arrange the cards in a way that works for them, but they must always know which deck’s cards belong. The GM then draws a number of cards and places them face down as well. Going around the table, starting with the GM, each person draws one thing on the sheet of paper that serves as the map; unfortunately, the rules provide little guidance regarding this step. The game proceeds through three phases.

In Phase One, the Relationship Phase, the GM flips over one of their Group Dynamic cards, references the card list, and asks the group the question assigned to their card’s orientation. In any order they want, players, one at a time, flip and answers the question associated with their Relationship card. Once everyone is done, the group works together to formulate a group answer to the GM’s original question. Play then proceeds to Phase Two, the Location Phase. This phase is almost identical to the Relationship Phase except that players are also adding something new to the map in the table’s center.

These two phases are repeated until all Relationship and Location cards have been answered. When each player only has a Group Dynamics card left, the game moves on to the Final Reading Phase. Here, as earlier, the GM flips their last Group Dynamic card and asks their question. In turn, each player flips and asks their question, and leads a brief group discussion to arrive at the answer instead of providing their own answer. The phase wraps up like the previous Phases, with the group answering the GM’s question.

This concludes the game. According to the rules, you should have a trove of information and a map to help launch your campaign.

Returning to the original question, “Is it really a game, a resource, or both?” my answer here is mixed. Some may see it as a game, while others will see it merely as a world-building exercise in the guise of a game. One could argue that it is a game simply because the players have characters that are then used to make relations connections. There is no game here! It’s simply a group exercise in world-building, nothing more. More importantly, does Decuma do what it purports to do? Yes, it does, but by its very nature of being a group exercise, it greatly lengthens the time it might otherwise take to make these same connections and developments with other tools. I will admit the collaborative nature does facilitate collaboration and group buy-in that is often missing in world-building with more traditional roleplaying games.

The one glaring drawback I see is in dividing the cards into smaller, more concise decks. The questions associated with each suit are specific to which deck it belongs to and doesn’t offer much in the way of flexibility.

Decuma hits the mark as a group world-building exercise, but it’s thinly veiled as a game for some reason. What puts me off from recommending this to you is its price tag of $13. At this price point, it’s way overpriced for what it is and what you get in the 22 page PDF. I would rather recommend any number of print books that offer the same and more. For example, my favorite is the Tarot for Writers by Corrine Kenner. It weighs in at 384 pages of world-building, story structure building, relationship building, and much more versus Decuma’s 22 pages (8 of which are cover, table of contents, credits, and Kickstarter backers). You can read an example of how I used Tarot for Readers to give depth to non-player characters in GM’s Toolbox – Tarot Cards Can Give NPCs Depth.

The bottom line here is, buy something else where you will get less gimmick and more bang for your buck!

~ Modoc

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