by Mike Shea on 21 July 2014
We lazy dungeon masters are always looking for simple tips and tricks to make our game easier to organize and more fun for ourselves and our players. In a past article, we've talked about sharing secrets to keep your players tied into the story of the world. Today we're going to physically manifest these secrets onto a tool useful for both GMs and players alike. We'll call these artifacts "clue cards".
Creating a Clue Card
Building a clue card really couldn't get much simpler. It comes down to a single instruction:
Write a useful piece of information on a 3x5 card and give it to your players.
If you don't already use stacks and stacks of 3x5 cards in your game, you're missing out on one of the most useful tools for running a roleplaying game. You can use them as a reminder for environmental effects in a battle, for passing secret notes to players, for writing down quick monster stat blocks, keeping track of your PCs, or building the simplest initiative system we've seen.
In this case, we're using the almighty 3x5 card to help us organize the important parts of our game and to help players organize and remember the main points of what is going on.
Though on the surface clue cards seem like an extremely simple idea, the implementation can be a bit tricky. Let's dig into the details.
Clues can be just about anything, but there are a few good rules for building useful clues for your players. Here are some good guidelines for writing down a worthy clue.
- Clues should be useful to the PCs. Don't hand out irrelevant fluff.
- Clues can come from any time in history. They might be ancient lore or they might be vital information from just an hour ago.
- Clues need not always tell the truth, but PCs should be able to discover the information to separate truth from bullshit.
- Each clue should focus on a single core idea. Don't pack too much stuff into a clue. Keep it simple and direct.
- Clues should be roughly Tweet-sized. Keep them to a single sentence and omit needless words.
- Clues need not be given out sequentially but together they should help reveal a larger story.
Knowing the right time and place for PCs to discover clues can be as important as the clue itself. Clues can come from many sources. Here are a few potential sources of clues:
- A piece of information from a valuable NPC.
- A useful bit of information from a discovered note.
- A vital clue found in an ancient demon-skinned book.
- A notable piece of history found within an ancient scroll.
- A message scrawled on the wall in blood.
- A rumor heard at a tavern.
- A quest given to the PCs by a noble lord.
The Greater Benefits of Clue Cards
Besides some of their more obvious uses, the use of clue cards offers many benefits that may not be so apparent at first. Here are a few.
- Clue cards help you refine your story down to salient points. They force you to omit useless information and focus on facts (which may be bullshit, as noted above) relevant to the PCs.
- Writing out clue cards as a game preparation helps you determine which facts really ARE important in the story and what events may lead to the discovery of these clues.
- Clue cards give your players a new and interesting way to put together the story rather than just have it told to them.
- Clue cards can help PCs determine their potential options in a sandbox game and can give them useful information choosing the path they want to take.
- The interpretation of clues by the players may give you some ideas for steering the story of the game.
- As the world changes, you can throw away clue cards you may not have handed out already.
A Simple and Powerful Tool
Sometimes the best tools we can add to our games are also the simplest. These clue cards are an example of a simple tool with a whole lot of benefits. Give them a try.
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