Before I get into this week's blog, let me tell you the best thing that happened to me at a fantastic PAX East. Through designer Chad Brown, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game fan Jim Wnorowski contacted me at the con about helping with his wedding proposal to his girlfriend, Sarah. As I came out of my Tabletop Deathmatch panel, Jim flagged me down. He "introduced himself," and then introduced me to Sarah, a self-proclaimed fan of my games. Jim then asked me if I had any promo cards.
"Oh, yeah," I said, "I wasn't going to give those out till my 100 Games You Absolutely Must Know How to Play panel on Sunday, but I think I've got one in my bag." And then I proceeded to fish around in my shoulder bag for at least a minute, unzipping every pocket and shuffling around every piece of paper, while Jim sweated out the delay.
"Oh, here's one!" I said after the agonizing wait, and gave them a card that Jim had created. This one was something special. He got down on one knee as she looked it over.
I would be lying if I said Sarah said yes immediately. In fact, her brain locked up, discombobulated from all that was going on. But after a paralyzing few seconds, her mind re-engaged and she leapt into Jim's arms and said yes. And that is the best thing that happened to me at PAX East.
I bring up this story both because it's awesome and because Jim created his card on the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Community Card Creator, a spiffy new tool from DriveThruCards that allows you to make your own cards for the game. I've seen lots of fans experimenting with it, so I thought I'd revisit some guidelines I use for making cards of similar power level and compatibility to the ones in the game. Note that not all the features of the card creator are live yet, so some of this won't work on the site today. But eventually, it all will, and you'll have this as a resource. I hope you find this useful as you make cards that work with ours!
Start with a concept, such as "an underwater fortress," "a divine alchemist," or "a vampire monk." You can come up with something on your own, or take some inspiration from Paizo books, real-world concepts, or other universes. Just make sure it's something where you can say "I thought of something new, and here it is."
Then, for most types of cards, think of what adventure deck number that concept matches. If you imagine your concept as something only really powerful characters can deal with, then maybe a 5 or 6 is appropriate. If it's something that anyone can handle, use B or 1. This decision will affect several aspects of your cards.
Depending on what type of card you're creating, some additional guidelines might be useful.
Monsters and barriers should scale in difficulty against the ones in the box. For noncombat checks, a good baseline difficulty is 6 to 10 plus twice the adventure deck number. However, if you're aiming solely for a skill that isn't one of the big six (Strength, Dexterity, etc.), keep in mind that most characters will be rolling a d4. So keep the numbers low in that case, unless you really want only those who have the skill to succeed.
For combat checks, consider a difficulty of around 8 to 10 plus 2.5 or 3 times the adventure deck number. You can start adding monsters and barriers with multiple checks after adventure 3 or so. The powers should be reasonably simple through adventure 3, and then start getting more bizarre. If the powers usually reduce the character's ability to fight, such as by dealing damage before you act or by requiring multiple checks, you might want to reduce the difficulty by 2 to 5.
Henchmen should be tougher than the average monster you can imagine in your scenario, so increase the difficulties from the previous paragraph by an amount roughly equal to the adventure deck number. If you expect to want to use the henchman in multiple adventures, consider giving it the Veteran trait and a power that uses the adventure deck number. The henchman should always say it gives a chance to close the location, unless it doesn't.
Villains can have difficulties of as much as 10 higher than your average bane. They should always have something special about encountering them. When a villain shows up, everyone at the table should be invested in the outcome. Villain powers that scale with the number of characters present, the number of locations, or the number of open locations help reinforce this.
Boons should have checks to acquire in the neighborhood of 4 to 8 plus twice the adventure deck number. Watch out for boons that can only be acquired by skills that not all characters have. If a boon has a recharge check, aim for a difficulty 2 higher than the check to acquire.
Loot should be pretty darn awesome.
Characters, Roles, and Tokens
Characters should be tightly balanced against the ones in the box. Each character should start with 15 cards on her Card List. Add up the dice in your character's skills; if it's more than 42, you're probably aiming too high. The character should have no more than 1d12 in any skill. She should have 15 skill feat checkboxes, 10 card feat checkboxes, and 4 power feat checkboxes on her character card; no skill or card type should have more than 4 checkboxes.
Roles should have 12 power feat checkboxes each, including the 4 from the powers on the characters they advance. Save your craziest powers for the roles.
Tokens should tell intriguing backstories that make you want to play the characters again and again.
Adventure Paths list a set of at least 3 adventures. They should specify what happens to cards in the box as the adventure progresses. You can add adventure path powers that typically refer to things that happen between games.
Adventures need a set of scenarios, usually 3 or more. We recommend that you specify an play order, or it can be hard to keep track of which ones have been completed. Pick a reward that is on the level of "a card feat" or "a skill feat." As with adventure paths, if adventures have powers, they should not be of the kind that you must remember to consult frequently, because players will forget about them.
Scenarios generally need at least one villain and some henchmen that are appropriate for the power level of your characters. Powers can be simple or complex; think of something that sets your scenario apart from others and implement it. Your location list should have eight locations, unless you're doing something wacky. A standard scenario will have two more locations than you have players. Be careful when setting rewards; you don't want to give out too much for success. Make sure to put any lasting benefits in the Rewards section. You want people to be able to replay your scenario multiple times without skewing the rest of the campaign.
Locations and Support Cards
Locations should have fairly simple powers in each section. Watch the difficulty on noncombat checks to close locations, as these do not scale well. If you want a power that continues after closing, put it on the back as well.
Ships should have noncombat checks to defeat in the 6 to 12 range, and similar Craft checks to repair. Most have powers that make them harder to fight in the Encountering section, and they'll usually have a power in the Commanding section that allows you to discard cards from the blessings deck to trigger effects. You're looking for simple, frequently usable powers here, as you'll refer to them a lot during play.
As these new types of cards start to roll out for the Card Creator, experiment with them and see what you come up with. And if you decide to make an Engagement Ring card, be aware that it might take me just a little while to find it in my bag.
And again, congratulations, Sarah and Jim!
Adventure Card Game Designer