by Mike Shea on 17 December 2012
A good lazy dungeon master always seeks out the tools to help run games on the fly. Being lazy doesn't mean being unprepared; it means having the right aids on hand to give us the most flexibility to run an open game. We've talked about the usefulness of poster maps as one such aid. For 4e games, the DM Cheat Sheet acts as another. Today we'll look at another such aid, one that helps us build and reveal key NPCs in our game: Gamemastery Face Cards.
Like poster maps, face cards speed up prep time and help you improvise at the table.
These ten dollar decks include about fifty cards with pictures of all sorts of NPCs on them. Each card has a picture on one side and room for notes on another. The cards are system agnostic, working just as well for 4e, Pathfinder, or D&D Next. While you can write on the blank-side of the card, consider instead using a small sticky note on each card to note the NPC's name and any traits you want to remember.
Like many lazy dungeon master tools, it's easy to go overboard on these cards. Two to three packs are probably enough. You don't want to spend your valuable time sorting and sifting through hundreds of cards looking for the perfect one. You don't want so many you have to come up with some sort of filing system for them. Stick to just a couple of decks such as the Friend and Foes deck or the Urban NPCs. Beyond that and you start to hit diminishing returns.
Take some time to filter out the cards you don't expect to use or the ones too narrow to help you improvise. The crazier they are, the less likely you might be to use them.
Acquire only the tools you absolutely need and discard the rest.
While you might find the urge to come up with an NPC and then find the right card, you might have more luck using the deck first to find an interesting face and building the NPC from the card you chose. Use the deck as a seed for the NPCs you create. Build their goals, personalities, and mannerisms once you have the appearance.
Use Gamemastery Face Cards to come up with NPCs on the fly during your game.
These cards help your players remember the names and faces of the NPCs with whom they interact in your game. Some creative DMs even use them as a hit-list of enemies the PCs can hunt down and destroy.
Use face cards as a physical reminder of the NPCs your players have met.
These cards are just one tool to help you spend less time preparing for your game. Instead you can redirect that time to building the tools to help you improvise at the table and let the game grow from the minds of you and your players.