Flavor text is a critical storytelling tool in the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, but we don't have room for a lot of it. In an RPG book, you can pontificate for pages on the cleverness of your plot, but in a card game, you've got a few lines at best to say what you need to say. Thankfully, we've got a lot of brilliant writers. I write some of the game's flavor text, with much more written by Brian Campbell, Wes Schneider, Jessica Price, and Rob McCreary, among others. I'll talk about mine, and maybe some of the other folks will chime in down the road. Here are some principles I use.
Principle 1: Set 'Em Up, Knock 'Em Down
When I have a limited amount of space, there's no trick more trustworthy than setting up a concept in your mind and then inverting it immediately thereafter. Here are three one-liners from role cards, from the Skull & Shackles Character Add-On Deck, Sorcerer Class Deck, and Wizard Class Deck.
Those are immensely satisfying to me, because the language bends to create alternate meanings. It can take a long time to make one of those work, but they're worth the effort.
Principle 2: Cross-Reference Like Mad
The big ol' dragon turtle Hirgenzosk is one of the most fearsome opponents in the card game. Henchmen don't generally get flavor text, though. But we want to make sure you know just how big Hirgy is. For that I circled back to him in Skull & Shackles Adventure Deck 3: Tempest Rising. Release the Kraken!
A couple things are happening here. First, now you know how big Hirgenzosk really is. Second, you know there's a wise fellow called the Master of the Gales, and you might want to meet him. He'll be waiting for you in Skull & Shackles Adventure Deck 6: From Hell's Heart.
Principle 3: Threaten the Reader
Some people think the highest goal of flavor text is making people laugh. I think the highest goal is to make people squirm. Here are a couple of different approaches to that, from the Skull & Shackles Base Set and Skull & Shackles Adventure Deck 2: Raiders of the Fever Sea.
Jirelle is a lot more subtle here than Seltyiel, but both are taking control away from you. The Thresher even attempts to intimidate you by suggesting you're losing something in the process of reading the card. It all works. After all, a little aggression never hurt anyone. Well, except for all the times it did.
Principle 4: Punch It, Chewie!
In the Class Decks, we introduced a bunch of characters who are not exactly the folks we want over for dinner. Necromancers, gamblers, and other reprobates are now available for play. The not-nicest of this crew are the aforementioned necromancer Darago from the Wizard Class Deck, and Wrathack, a half-orc angel-killer from the Ranger Class Deck.
That last line matters a ton. A punchline is crucial to exiting a card with the reader liking you. It's the reason you can have nice things.
Principle 5: When All Else Fails, Be a Goblin
I seem to have a natural aptitude for writing doggerel. My novel The Maze of Games* is filled with it, I write spell limericks and parody songs, and, every now and then, I get to be a goblin. Here's the retail promo card Goblin Weidling.
If you aspire to anything in life, make it getting paid to write things like that.
Pathfinder ACG Lead Designer
*Developed by Gaby, edited by Tanis. Because they're the best.