Friday, March 19, 2010

Using the Torg Drama Deck in D&D 4e (Part 1)

While writing my last post, on lessons learned from Torg and how to apply them to D&D, I took another look at the Torg Drama Deck.

The Drama Deck, in my opinion, is still one of the most innovative RPG mechanics that have ever been created. The Drama Deck controlled the flow of encounters, included a mechanic for dramatic skill challenges, allowed the players to insert subplots for themselves into the story, and provided the PCs a way to get quick advantage over the Mooks, or over time, prevail over the main villains.

After playing Torg for awhile in the early 90s I thought about trying to convert the Drama Deck over to AD&D, but the systems inside AD&D were too different in order to provide a stable platform to add the Drama Deck to them.

However, 4e changed that significantly. All the classes have the same framework which allows the Drama Deck to actually be useable. I've spent the last couple of days playing with some alterations to it.

Rather than explain all the rules for the Drama Deck, I suggest you look at this wiki page on Torg. The rules there aren't complete though, so if you really want to use this you probably want to purchase the actual deck via PDF from RPGNow. It's only $5.

You can download a Word document including the deck.

The easiest part of the Drama Deck to add to D&D is the conflict line. This will control the flow of standard and dramatic encounters (you'll need to decide which is which, but it should be pretty obvious what is worthy of a dramatic encounter).

In standard encounters, the PCs usually go first and are more likely to have bonuses (some very significant). In dramatic encounters the villians usually go first and have the bonuses, with the PCs more likely to have disadvantages.

Some of the terminology obviously needs to be ported over to D&D. Some suggestions:

Flurry : Each creature gets an extra action on their turn. This counts as if they had spent an action point.

Inspiration: Each creature gets a saving throw against each effect.

Up: Each creature gets an additional +1d4 on any d20 roll.

Break: Villains only. Bloodied creatures who fail to hit will flee.

Confused: No player may activate a card from her pool.

Fatigued: All creatures grant combat advantage this turn.

Each card has a phrase at the top which describes roughly what is happening in the conflict lines, though mostly for dramatic scenes. For example card #65 "They Strike!" the dramatic scene involves the villains going first, and being Up, which results in a heightened likelihood of the PCs getting hit. Card #45 "They hesitate!" involves in a standard scene the villains going first but the PCs get two actions on their turn.

Some cards, like Card #26 involve a substantial change to the flow: "You're thrown back!" has in the dramatic scene, the villains going first AND getting another action on their turns. Brutal.

This does also add some tactics in using certain abilities, namely Dailies. You're not necessarily going to nova with your best abilities on round one...instead you're more likely to attempt to get additional advantages based on what comes up on the cards.

The rules of the Drama Deck allow the GM to declare fiat and draw four cards, picking one which gives the GM some control over the Deck. However, the PCs also can have control as there is a card they can play (more on that in a bit) that either allows them to freeze the current card if they like it, or to force another draw if the card that flips up is one they don't like.

Some changes would be needed to the core D&D system though, in order to use this feature of the Drama Deck.

1. Because initiative is based on the conflict line of the card, bonuses to Initiative become pointless. I'm not really sure what to do about that, if anything can be done.

2. Delaying becomes meaningless. Readying an action still could work though as you're still giving up an action on your turn. There is some interaction with some of the advantages/disadvantages that would need to be worked out (ie do you still get the Up effect if you ready an action?)

3. Effect durations would need to be changed. This is probably the most substantial alteration that would need to be done. Conditions that involve saving throws become less dangerous for the PCs as a leader could allow a saving throw before the PC acts. It might be better to add a phase that resolves all conditions at the beginning of the round (for ongoing damage, death saves, etc). Similarly some thought needs to be made on effects that last until the end of such-and-such's turn.

Any ideas?


  1. As a Torg junkie who has some familiarity with D&D4E, let me try:

    1) To preserve the initiative system, allow the card to give a +5 bonus to initiative instead of automatically letting everyone on that side go first.

    2) Torg allowed delay, but effectively granted combat advantage and imposed a similar penalty on the action once taken. This may need to be done. As for the Up effect on readied actions, this was allowed as long as the action still took place, but it may be easier to sacrifice the Up bonus as opposed to the "1d20 + 1d4 - 2" configuration.

    3) It may be easier to change the effects to read "until the end of Initiative Count X next turn" with X being figured out at the time the effect comes into being.

    For comments on how to apply the rest of the card, or for more detailed examination, contact me directly (

  2. Just to help you out. Our group were Torg junkies way back when. I have redone and converted the entire deck to 4e. (For example Changed Adrenaline, Willpower and Presense cards and created the At Will, Encounter and Daily cards for a +3 to attack powers etc...)Many cards were simply kept the same, some slightly tweaked and created soem new pure 4e related cards. I was very careful not to clone any feats or powers into the cards. It's been heavily play tested and works well.

    To preserve your intiative it is best to leave the initative system jsut the way it is. PC's roll as normal for initiative and apply whatever the modifier is on the initiative line (flurried, Up, stymie etc....) You apply it on yoru initiative turn or some come into affect the minute you flip the card. This still gives you an initiative order where monsters and PC's go intermitently in the round. I found the monsters would slaughter the PC's in a round or two if they all went first and were flurried.

    Delaying and readying works fine with initiative affects. Here's how to use it. They lose whatever affect modifier once the cards flips for the new round. It's that simple. If Up was the effect and they delayed or readied and went into next round without using it then once that new card was flipped the UP was gone and the new effect was now in effect.

    Saves work fine as long as you leave initiative alone. None of your initiative line effects should ever use a standard condition. For example I would strongly suggest you change Fatigue to can't shift. YOu might want to consider using stymie (cannot take immediate or AoO.) I also added in a couple of new initiative effects that work well in the game that are purely 4e.