Orvald's Tower in the distance

ICRPG First Impressions

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On August 5th, 2023, I ran the short adventure “Orvald’s Tower” using the Index Card RPG system for a group of five friends. All players were experienced with D&D 5e as a player and DM. This was their first time playing ICRPG and my first time as a gamemaster (or player) for it.

Index Card RPG is an easy game to run coming from 5e. At first glance, the rules appear different, but many differences are cosmetic or don’t massively affect gameplay. I’m not saying it wasn’t different, it definitely was, but none of the players struggled with any of that.

Many of the mechanical issues were more to do with using the character sheet in Foundry VTT. And one player inadvertently had the loot and abilities of a Bard on their “Hunter.” Despite that, play proceeded smoothly. Anyone familiar with other RPGs will be okay with adjusting to ICRPG.

A couple of the players provided feedback after the game, and the central theme was how some of the descriptions, whether for a spell or a magic item, weren’t very clear. This is partly a function of the nature of ICRPG—freedom being a significant tenet of the game. However, I feel there are some legitimate editing issues with some of the text. Which isn’t surprising in a project of this size. Ultimately, we agreed upon an interpretation of the rules and moved on. Such is the way.

Second Impressions

Yesterday, August 12th, 2023, I reran the same one-shot adventure with two players. Similarly, the players were experienced GMs. Obviously, with two players, the game ran so much faster. I was also more liberal with the loot I was handing out. Ultimately, it was a ton of fun condensed into the length of time that felt more appropriate for a one-shot.

The primary player takeaway this time was that the game was more narrative, and the players felt and appreciated the extra freedom they had to do “cool things.” The timers helped provide a sense of tension, and my only complaint in that area was the lack of automation dealing with the timers in the VTT. I have since fixed that with some macros.

Keeping the party small with narrative-focused games makes for a much more pleasant experience. My first game was great, but everyone fell back to leaning on the rules and mechanics more, myself included. Another factor is that my first game had three mages, while my second game had zero. The mage type was considered, but the player looked at the list of INT spells and said, “Nope, too much for a one-shot.” Choosing spells in a new TTRPG is often challenging, but it is especially tricky when the spells’ utility is not straightforward.

Suitability For My West Marches Game

We must remember that the reason for trying ICRPG in the first place was to test its appropriateness for a West Marches-style game. I realize now that I still need to create a set of concrete criteria for making this call. A checklist may be in order. Until I wrap my mind around that, some things were clear.

  • Seven of my friends are now familiar enough with ICRPG to play in the occasional game.
  • Magic loot can make all the difference. The two characters with extra loot had no problem cutting through challenges despite their lack of actions per round.
  • It is similar enough to 5e to not frighten people off.

I know of at least one West Marches campaign that used ICRPG, and it seems like a serious contender on the surface. I will continue the search.

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