Hexcrafting Part II – Deck Creation

And for today it’s another Hexcrafting question…

Do you have any advice for creating Hexcrafter decks from scratch? How does the broadness of say, a hexcrafting card called ‘psychokinesis’, a rune magic skill called psychokinesis, and the telekinetic dweomer skill?


Well, to cover the simplest bits first… if you want an actual deck, there are plenty of decks of medicine cards, tarot cards, oracle cards, and RPG whimsy cards out there (one player even used the I-Ching, but he got quite creative with his interpretations). You can also use some old Magic cards, or borrow some cards from various games, such as Everway. It would be nice if the backs all matched, but it isn’t really required. We’re playing d20, not engaging in high-stakes gambling.

If you want to make your own physical deck there are several free programs (Nandeck, Strange Eons, Cardmaker, Magic Set Editor) made just for that, or you can use Inkscape or GIMP. For that matter, our own Runecards can be printed out and work just fine (that is, of course, a shameless plug).

Now, I’m presuming that you’re more interested in what goes into a deck – and for that, it’s best to start with some examples and comparisons.

To compare with Thaumaturgy and Dweomer…

For a psychically-oriented Dweomer Hexcrafting Deck, you could easily construct a forty-eight card deck by simply using one card to represent each of the eight skills for each Dweomer field. That’s a bit dull, and a bit below the recommended 60+ cards – but Dweomer is an efficiently organized set of abilities with relatively little overlap between the various skills. That does have it’s downside though. Unlike, say, using Tarot Cards for a Hexcrafting Deck you will often find that only one specific card of your Dweomer Deck will do what want at the moment – and if you do not have it in your hand, then you are out of luck. A Dweomer deck would be effective, but it would also be kind of dull. Given that this deck would cover an extremely broad range of abilities, it would obviously be a “broad” deck.

For an arcanely-oriented Thaumaturgy Hexcrafting Deck, we have an example – “Necromancy”. One of the eight classical schools that contain almost all magic. So a broad Arcane Deck might well contain sixty-four cards – eight each for Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy, and Transmutation. Such a deck would probably cover a bit more than the Dweomer Deck, but then the odds of pulling the cards you wanted would be slightly smaller – the usual tradeoff for a larger, and thus more versatile, deck.

Unfortunately, comparisons with Rune Magic skills tend to be a bit misleading.

  • Hexcrafting offers access to spells of all kinds from the very start, at high power levels for any given level. The breadth of an individual card is far less important than the theme of the deck. On the other hand, access to those spells is somewhat random and it is very difficult to rebuild the user’s magical reserves.
  • Thaumaturgy and Dweomer offer in-depth access to a limited magical field at high power levels, use easily-renewed Power and/or Spell Levels, and can both offer and gain bonuses from other skills and rolls.
  • Rune Magic offers considerable flexibility within a narrow field, but relies on hard-to-renew Mana for power, offers considerably slower access to high-end spells, basically requires buying a caster level for each skill (equivalent to a Specialized and Corrupted caster level and lagging well behind other magical systems) instead of allowing the use of an overall caster level, and – since it’s a skill-based system – nerfs the most common methods of gaining bonuses. The far superior flexibility of Rune Magic skills comes at a notable cost.

Regardless of all of that, the Thaumaturgy and Dweomer decks obviously aren’t especially original – and they don’t cover much about creating your own deck. Ergo, so some further examples are required.

For a Narrow “Animal Spirit” or “Nature Spirit” deck, pretty much all of the animal cards may be used to summon, influence, banish, communicate with, and otherwise manipulate animals of the appropriate types. Almost all of them can be usede to take on animal powers of to shapeshift into appropriate animals. For some more individual effects…

  1. Ant grants strength, wall-walking, scent, acid, and organizational powers with minor access to spells that get large quantities of work done.
  2. Bat grants flight, echolocation, speed, and agility, with minor access to fireworks magic.
  3. Bear spells involve size and strength, claws, natural toughness, hibernation, and – traditionally – minor healing effects.
  4. Beaver is a woodcrafter, builder, hydraulic engineer, and swimmer. Beaver magic generally involves crafting and building things.
  5. Bee can provide flight, envenom blades, allow one to peer into the ultraviolet, communicate through dance, and summon and direct swarms.
  6. Butterfly grants metamorphosis, transformation, and beauty, although it’s stronger on personal than on external effects. It is, in fact, one of the more powerful and versatile animal cards.
  7. Caribou grants speedy and enduring travel, adaptability, and attunement to nature.
  8. Cheetah grants great bursts of speed, communicating with big cats, and taking on cheetah features.
  9. Coral can create walls, traps, and shelters, as well as some stinging and toxic touch attacks, but is considerably more fragile than just using stone.
  10. Electric Eel offers electrical senses and discharges, water breathing, slipping through narrow places, and biting.
  11. Frog can grant a deadly toxic touch, amphibious abilities, hibernation, a long, sticky, tongue, and jumping abilities.
  12. Goat grants climbing ability, agility, the ability to digest almost everything, and enhanced virility.
  13. Honey Badger grants claws, toughness, strength, burrowing, immunity to poison, and immunity to fear.
  14. Jellyfish can grant reaching tendrils, some rather nasty toxic touch attacks, water breathing, and the ability to regenerate from almost any injury,
  15. Octopus provides spells involving tentacles, clouds of darkness, poisonous touches, water breathing, and completing many tasks at once.
  16. Owl grants flight, night sight, enhanced hearing, taking on owl features (like talons), seeing through the eyes of owls, and perhaps some secret wisdom – such as you get from first and second level “Detect” spells.
  17. Parrot can be used to send messages, speak various languages, imitate sounds, gain winged flight, and bite.
  18. Serpent grants poison effects (some ranged), constriction, entrapment, infravision, stealth, and minor hypnotic effects.
  19. Tardigrade (Water Bear) can provide long-term hibernation and resistance to radiation, extremes of temperature, lack of food and water, and lack of atmosphere, as well as boosts to hit points and damage reduction.
  20. Wolf can summon packs of wolves, gain scent, claim territory, run a long way, and (traditionally) grant minor hunting magics.

And so on for Komodo Dragon, Shark, Turtle, Buffalo, Skunk, Rotifer, Amoeba, Bombardier Beetle, Spider, Cobra, Python, Starfish, Elephant, Hummingbird, Snapping Shrimp, Sponges, and the rest of the animal kingdom, both large and small. A few hours at the library, on the internet, or watching nature documentaries should provide plenty of inspiration for an Animal deck.

Still, while Shark may grant scent, electrical senses, massive bite attacks (Manyjaws anyone?), swimming, water breathing, and epic-level Sharknado’s, it is still an animal powers card in the end, like all the others. You can do a lot of things with animal cards – call up stampedes, destroy vegetation, spray acid, boiling clouds, or ink, produce toxins, undermine hills, and so much more – but there are also plenty of things that animals simply do not do. You won’t be using this deck to summon demons, or teleport, or program computers (Save, possibly, with an epic level “infinite number of monkeys” spell), or raise the dead, or generate hard radiation, or bind an army into a trance – and the list goes on. Even if you persuade the game master to let you throw in a few “plant” cards, the options there are fairly limited as well (not regarding the utility of a Tree Feather Token) and this will almost certainly remain a narrow deck. Real animals and plants simply aren’t very versatile compared to d20’s vast array of magical spells even if you throw in low-level access to a few mythic properties.

Now if you start throwing in mythical totems… Thunderbird may grant access to lightning and weather magic, Cave Bear to powerful healing magic, Cerberus to the Underworld, and so on – but this is no longer a Narrow Animal Powers Deck. It’s a broad Totem Spirit Deck.

You could also make a deck of Elemental Powers (could be Narrow or Broad depending on whether you include elemental associations), or Gods (usually Broad) – although the game master will probably limit you to the most direct aspects of their portfolios to keep this from being an “anything” deck.

And I hope that helps!

For next time on this topic, a complete “elemental” deck.

4 Responses

  1. Hmm… I feel like Raising the Dead, or at least making it look like you did, is something an animal deck could do. Admittedly, Hellwasp-Swarms are Outsiders, but it’s not like they weren’t heavily inspired by other body-controlling creatures from the animal kingdom. Maybe a sort of “Contingent False Resurrection”, causing the larvae to take over the body should it ordinarily die.

    • I suppose you could, but I think that the effect would resemble “animate dead” more than it would “raise dead”. Still, taking a “parasitic wasp” card would certainly open up spells for infesting targets, causing them to act strangely (inducing confusion, irrational hostility, stupor, or strange tropisms), weakening them, inducing various disorders (as their internal organs get eaten), making their corpses shamble around and fight like zombies, and causing dangerous swarms to erupt from their ruptured bodies. A good card for an Evil Animal Deck Hexcrafter though!

  2. I’ve always had something of a hard time with hexcraft. The need for a randomizer, such as a deck of cards, bag of runestones, combination of dice, etc. seemed like it was needed both in-character and out-of-character. That is, you not only had to be able to use the randomizer right there at the game table, but it seemed like your character needed to have one within the context of the game world (inviting all sorts of problems, such as if an enemy takes them away). I suppose that latter option isn’t necessarily true, but then there’d need to be some explanation for why whatever thematic system the character’s hexcrafting magic is utilizing is so random in its specific implementations.

    • That is the standard mystic superhero problem, where the team mystic could do something three issues ago, but it never gets mentioned again no matter how useful it would be. Evidently something has changed and his powers are different this week.

      I usually take it as being environmental – perhaps last session in the setting…

    • The Fourth Planet was in the sign of the sword.
    • The Great Kraken was stirring in the deep, and with it the ancient magics of Darkness.
    • The Spring Maiden wrested the Year Scepter from the Erlking, and so the power of new life flooded the land.
    • The Silver Rose of Wild Magic bloomed upon the Tree of Ages, as it does once every century.
    • And we know this, because the Hexcrafter’s Player with the Shifting Powers Deck drew Harvest Of Blades, Hidden Shadows, Blossoming Herbs, and Song Of Chaos for the last session, someone asked what that meant in the setting, and one or more game participants threw out acceptable explanations. Who knows? Perhaps the game master will use some of those details in an adventure.

      Admittedly, that’s a bit random – but, while Malavon had a full calendar, with a detailed cycle of magical forces both for the year and for various astronomical conjunctions (and so offered “astronomical powershaping”, with what powers were available varying with the date), few settings go into that kind of detail – so having what magical forces are available to be tapped by a particular character being determined randomly by a player works well enough.

      After all, it’s presumably a big planet, with lots of events going on that could be tapped if a character has the right affinities. So even if another hexcrafter happens to be using the same “deck”, and draws different cards… well, his or her skills and talents presumably differ from the first characters enough to shift what forces he or she can most readily tap into.

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