How to make plotting your short story fun with Jason L. Blair’s Full Deck Roleplaying: Setting & Characters

I’ve been talking a lot about poetry lately, but I’m also participating in The Writer’s Games. The challenge to write a short story to a prompt each weekend started two weeks ago. I’ll be getting a new prompt this evening.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I have found many fun plotting games and devices over the years:

story plotting is fun

Yesterday, I happened upon a new one. Writer and game designer Jason L. Blair did a guest post on Chuck Wendig’s TerribleMinds introducing his new tabletop RPG (role playing game) Full Deck Roleplaying.

I downloaded the Playtest PDF to see what he was talking about and enjoyed that the game is played with a regular deck of playing cards, so I could play along right away.

As I began to read the instructions, I instantly knew this wasn’t only a game, but my kind of writing tool: simple, fun, and full of beautiful illustrations!

The game rules set up categories for scene and character creation based on the four suits: spades, hearts, diamonds or clubs. I’m excited to get started, so I’m going to start drawing cards to see what I’m working with. I found a brand new, unopened deck of bicycle fire cards in the cupboard, so that’s fun. It took me a while to break them in to shuffle well.

As I read through the game play again, I was inspired to try a real test run of the game. To do that, I needed some friends to play with, so to have some much needed fun today (since my internet has been so slow as to be useless for two days now), I decided to create a photography tableau of friends playing the game and run through a scenario.

ready friends

Here are my friends:

Teddy has lived with me since before I was a Swedish exchange student. He has traveled the world with me and is a great travel companion: We never bicker, probably because he doesn’t mind letting me lead, and we like the same things.

Miss Blue and I met in New Orleans. We met at the hat shop I worked at in the French Quarter. She always liked my designs the best. We went for drinks when I got off of work one day and became fast friends. She can be a bit self-centered and is always borrowing my clothes without asking. I get over it quickly though because she looks good in them and she’s a warm fuzzy in my life.

I met Luchinda in San Antonio. She has a very vibrant, spicy personality. Being so passionate, she can also be quick to anger. She and I have a great time, in small doses.

Woody was introduced to me by my artist friend, E. Spencer Matthews III. Woody’s an old fashioned kind of guy who always looks a bit haunted, but he doesn’t like to talk about it. I think he plans on cheating; just look at his deck of cards. He and Luchinda are a fun couple, very lively, great energy, at least, when they’re not fighting.

I thought Levi might join us. He seemed interested when I was setting up the table, but he doesn’t like my friends. He’s playing kitty in a drum right now. Maybe he’ll join us later. If he does, he can play my character while I take pictures.

Miss Blue has printed out game booklets with the rules and player sheets for everyone and will play as the dealer. When she set out a deck of FLORIDA playing cards as the challenge deck, we all laughed.

“I bet there are some unimaginable challenges in there,” I said.

“I hope there won’t be any gator wrestling,” said Teddy with a little shiver.

“I’m up for any kind of wrestling challenge,” said Luchinda.

Woody stared at the Florida deck with a haunted look. I wondered if he had experienced some Florida challenges he would rather not remember.

Miss Blue starts the game by drawing the setting cards.

the setting

Setting

Time: Jack of Spades = Past

Theme: 7 of diamonds = Sci-Fi

Trope: King of Clubs = Conspiracy

“Well that’s just Roswell,” Luchinda blurts out sounding disappointed.

“Or kinda Stargate,” I say.

“What’s wrong with Roswell?” You loved the museum, if I remember correctly,” Woody says with a sly smile.

Luchinda blushes and giggles.

What do you think, Teddy?” I ask. “What setting do you think the cards tell us to have?”

Teddy takes a sip from his candy cane shot glass and says, “The past doesn’t have to be long ago past. It can be last week or a year ago. What if the conspiracy is Bio-weapons and we are trying to find the horrible labs where they are experimenting with the viruses and stop the pandemic before it happens?”

Everyone, other than Teddy, moans.

Miss Blue pats his paw. “Teddy Dear, we’re playing this to escape the pandemic, pretend it’s not happening for a few hours. Lets try something more fantastical.”

“I know, ” she says, “let’s play that all those ideas in the fifties and sixties of space-age colonies and things were true, but they were built on another planet because what really happened is they discovered a wormhole and found abandoned human futuristic buildings and dwellings. They sold these places to the super-rich and kept it secret. They were so happy and secretive, they didn’t have children and the secret died out. We discovered some clues to how to find and activate the wormhole. What you think?”

“Yeah, and there’s a cabal trying to stop us,” says Teddy.

“Sounds good to me,” says Luchinda. “I’ll wrestle the entire cabal of selfish bad guys so we can live happily ever after. Won’t I honey?” she says to Woody, pushing out her full lower lip.

“I’m in,” says Woody. “What do we do next?”

Miss Blue says, “Now, you each get to draw cards from your own decks to create your characters. Shuffle, if you want, then turn over your top card. That will be your character’s focus.”

Woody's asking Luchinda if she shuffled her cards because she has drawn three Jacks in a row

Character

Focus: Teddy and I both got spades which is Wisdom, makes sense, Woody got a heart which is empathy, not sure about that. I guess it’s a character not him– but Luchinda drew a club which means strength, a little on the nose, so now I’m wondering about Woody.

Motivation: This time I matched with Woody: We are both motivated by honor. I mean, our characters are, I mean, we drew clubs. Teddy got a heart which is Love and Luchinda drew a diamond which is money. Woody couldn’t stifle a chuckle at that. Luchinda knocked his hat off. He left it off. I like his bald head.

Light:We each got a different suit which should be good for game play: I got clubs, Woody diamonds, Luchinda hearts, Teddy spades. So my good is that I’m talented, Woody is Affluent (I don’t think that’s true, but he is secretive), Luchinda is Generous (that made everyone laugh, I mean, she is in spirit) and Teddy is Perceptive which everyone knows is true.

Darkness: As for our dark sides, Woody and I are both obsessed, Luchinda is violent (really, it’s like her character is just her), and Teddy is greedy.

So now we get to state three things about our character’s first impression and name them.

Final Details

We chat for a while then Miss Blue gets our attention and says, “Okay, so tell us the name of your character and three things we would notice upon first impression. Woody, why don’t you start.

Woody loosens his tie slightly and says, “His name is Ottis Caldwell, he’s an art historian who is also an activist. His cause is human equality and thinks everyone should have access to space travel, not just the super-rich. Three things that people notice about him right away, are the stains and paints on him because he is always cleaning art or making art. He often smells of turpentine. And he drives a fancy sports car that seems incongruous with his beliefs and activities, but belonged to his father and he tends to it obsessively.”

Everyone  claps, “Maria, tell us about your character,” Miss Blue says.

I look at my notes and feel nervous for some reason. “Dr. Estelle Jetland is a professor of Physics at the Florida Institute of Technology and often consults and works with NASA. She is fascinated with wormholes. She often seems like she’s not listening when you talk to her, but her eyes shine and her whole body appears to vibrate when she gets excited by an idea. People are often surprised that a physics professor has such a beautiful singing voice and can play so many instruments. When she becomes interested in something, she will obsessively research it until she has read everything there is to find on the subject. Teddy is her post doc assistant.

Teddy clears his throat. “Uh, yes. My character is an astrophysicist named Dr. Björn Bernstein. He is doing his post doc with Dr. Jetland at Florida Tech. People don’t really notice him because he always has his head in his work, but what they do notice is he’s quiet, but when he does speak–”

“Boring,” Lucinda interrupts. “I’m a bad ass mercenary named Natalia Bash. First off, I’m gorgeous, tall and lean, but second, every bit of me is muscle. Third, I’m gruff, and confident and nobody messes with me. Right. Where’s my leather jacket? There. Now, let’s play!”

choosing our characters