Using the Intrigue Deck

Our 13th Age game is continuing to run strong, despite taking some time off for the holidays. One of our players is now playing with us virtually, using a Google+ Hangout while the rest of us play face-to-face. It’s an interesting setup, and we’re still working out the kinks, but it’s not as difficult as I assumed it would be.

Last time, I mentioned using the Intrigue deck for Icon Relationships; I’ve had a chance to play around with that setup over the past few sessions, and it’s working out pretty well. The idea is, if a player rolls a 5 on an Icon Relationship roll, draw a card from the Intrigue deck as inspiration for the complication that will arise. For instance, last week, our paladin of the City Guard asked around his fellow officers for information on a missing person. He rolled a 5 and drew the “Quell Merchant Uprising” mandatory quest from the Intrigue deck. I interpreted this as him finding out about a protest in the Castle Ward comprised of merchants who were scared for their safety after one of their peers was found dead in his home (which the PC’s had discovered way back in the second session). After some smooth talking on his part, the paladin was able to calm down the protestors and find his target, who had came out of hiding to watch the uprising.

One major reason I like this mechanic is that it turns the city of Waterdeep into its own creature. While 5’s in other 13th Age games may cause situations that spring completely from the GM’s mind, letting the player draw an Intrigue card shows them that there is always something going down on the streets–things that are beyond their control and not just made up by the GM to mess their lives up personally. Much like a traffic accident in real life, these situations aren’t tailored to them; it’s just bad luck that they have to work through to get where they want to be.

Using the Intrigue deck in this way is a great way to introduce elements from the city as complications, but it can also give you cards that are so far off the plot, it may be best to ignore the draw and come up with your own or draw again. Perhaps, before the game, you should go through the deck and remove cards you can’t see making any sense or ones you don’t want to come up at all. One of the first times I used the deck this way, I drew “Real Estate Deal,” which I eventually interpreted as the PC finding out about a recently abandoned house in another district, but since that was already where I wanted the plot to go anyway, I’m not sure I used that complication appropriately.

Ultimately, if you’re looking to use this mechanic, you should look through the Intrigue deck ahead of time and get an idea for how YOU would interpret the cards. Take out the ones you can’t wrap your head around, or leave in the difficult ones and ask your players for help in interpreting them. If you have an idea about what complications you’d like to see, and you know there wouldn’t be any protests from the table, stack the deck with cards you want to see for the inevitable 5  you’ll get. This may be cheating, of course, but you still get the benefit of making it appear to be a random event in the city. (Once again, only do this if you know your players wouldn’t mind).

Any other ideas for how the Intrigue deck could be used?

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2 thoughts on “Using the Intrigue Deck

    • I’m not sure we’re on the same page. Your link leads me to think you’re talking about the board game, while this blog is about my tabletop RPG campaign based on that board game. I’m not advocating not using the Intrigue deck during normal play (far from it!), however, I have whole discussions on fudging die rolls and have come to the conclusion that if players are against their GM fudging dice, the GM shouldn’t. I imagine the same principle applies to stacking a deck of cards: if the group is more concerned with the narrative than the gamist parts of this mechanic, then use the deck however you want.

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