Magic: The (random) Creature & Adventure Generator

..or how to use Magic: The Gathering cards for improvisation and inspiration in RPG.

I just stumbled upon an interesting Gnome Stew's article: Troy’s Crock Pot: Draw a card, any card. Author Troy E. Taylor shows you how you can use your Magic The Gathering cards to create a quick and handy random creature encounter deck. It is an interesting read, but it simply boils down to "Hey, why won't we use those cards with great art as a random creature table?". There is much more you can do with Magic cards in a RPG than just draw creatures from it. 

When I was still playing/collecting MTG I used those cards as a big source of inspiration for my fantasy adventures. Now, after I sold all of mine MTG cards I am using a website that has every MTG card scan known in existence - If you are looking for something less high fantasy in style, you can always find scans from different card games - Card Game Database is a good starting point. If you search around the interwebs enough, you can find full card scans of almost any card game.

In this post I will focus on MTG cards, but those techniques apply to any card game - all you need is some evocative art and some text.

Savage Magic Creatures

Before we jump into different ways of using MTG cards I want to make a quick note on how use the Troy's random creature deck technique in Savage Worlds. Basically, you use it as described - but instead of creating stats for every single card, just choose a similar creature from bestiary and tweak it a bit. There is no need for fine-tuned creatures, especially if they are only used for random or one-off encounters.

I won't be uncovering uncharted lands here if I say, that all you should be re-skinning monsters. It is a good practice for a system like Savage Worlds that can save you a lot of time during unplanned sessions. Use any Savage Worlds bestiary you can find (there is a good free one here). Once you have chosen the mook add extra Edges or Monstrous Abilities to make it more thematic. Consider the card's name, type, special rules and flavor text as well as art when you decide what creature to base it on and what to add. When choosing the base creature - get something that poses a similar threat instead of something not just looks alike. You will have a much easier time tweaking the stats this way.

For example, the Festering Goblin (found using the Random button on above can use the statistics of a normal Goblin from Savage Worlds Deluxe Bestiary with the "Undead" Monstrous Ability added (he is a zombie after all). On top of that I would add something to represent his ability "When Festering Goblin dies, target creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn.". I see it as when you strike the final blow on this guy, all the maggots, spores or gases crawl out the carcass. It is not a powerful ability (-1/-1 in MTG is not a huge deal) so let just say 2d6 damage in Savage Worlds terms. That gives us an ability: 
  • Disease-ridden: Upon death all the corpse releases all of its disease spores and gases. All adjacent creatures must pass a Vigor test, or suffer 2d6 Damage.
Just like that we have created a new, thematic Savage Worlds monster based on the card. It has a interesting gameplay mechanic (exploding bodies, seen in so many video games) that can surprise the players. 

But Wait! There's More!

Drawing random magic cards can also  be used to create detailed adventure plots. While this won't give you a completely polished scenario, it will give you enough info for a hook and background for a session. It will guide your imagination and create possible scenes in the adventure. It is up to you to connect those seemingly random elements into a cohesive whole. You will draw (or use the random function from the magiccards website) to answer few questions that will generate the scenarios background. In the most basic format you should answer 4 questions: Who (the threat is), What (he plans to do), Where (it takes place) and Why (is he doing it). 

Let's take this technique for a spin, shall we? (I am choosing the cards below at random. I will click random tab on until I get something that fits). I have randomly chosen the following 4 cards (I skipped quite a few cards. I just chose things that looked cool and seemed to fit. This part took me around 10 min):

So, the villain of our piece will be a local honor guard. He seems to be possessed by a demon (Oni). Our key location is a mausoleum and the reason for all of it is a Foul Familiar. It may seem like a bit of random elements, but I already have a scenario idea in mind:

A Honor Guard has is trying to kill a strange phantasmic creature that takes control of citizens in his domain (took this solely from Foul Familiar's artwork). The Foul Familiar is a ghost of a person who was not ready to die and just wants to have a body again. He possesses people who are close to the mausoleum (where their body rests). It would all have been well, if the Honor Guard didn't start tracking it - now the spirit will try to posses someone and escape to have a "normal" life elsewhere. Unfortunately, the guard was very determinated to find out what is making people act strange. He was not able to trace it under normal circumstances, so he made a pact with a demon that will help him track this - what he believes is a- monstrosity. The way the Guard sees it - it is all for the greater good, he is protecting citizens by sacrificing himself. He plans to go into exile once he has done this duty (he's a honorable man after all). Aided by the demon, he is able to track the creature's current host, but any attempts on killing the creature end up in the host being dead (either from the Honor Guard's hand, or by the creature escaping from its host and taking its life with it). Now, the city is in terror. People start dying in mysterious ways and the town guard (of which the Honor Guard  is a somehow high ranking member) seems useless to stop it (after all the only the Honor Guard can see the creature, he slows down the investigation to finish his duty). This is where the players come in. Someone (a family member of one of the recent victims perhaps?) hires them to solve the crimes. What will players do when they find out it is an esteemed guard who is committing the crimes? Is he really following his duty, or is he so far under the demon's influence that he does not see he has become a villain?Will they side with the Guard or the Spirit?

Can you see how those few cards make your imagination going? While this is just a setup, I could write a whole scenario out of those 4 cards. Alas I am a lazy GM so I would much rather improvise from this little setup and see what players would do. I would probably prepare few previous murders for PCs to investigate, some NPCs with whom they can interact and go from there. So far, this whole thing took me a little over 30 minutes.

Once you are confident with creating something out of those 4 cards, feel free to ask yourself more questions and get more random cards as your answers. This way you can create a very detailed adventure...or a very detailed background that you can easily improvise from. Go on, give it a try and tell me what you think.