Rule-Breaker Cards

My previous article on rewards mentioned ‘rule-breaker cards’ (also known as ‘swash cards’ or ‘adventure cards’). Put simply, a rule-breaker card is a one-shot exception to the normal rules of the game. Some gamers find that they add a welcomed element of chaos and opportunity to the game, and provide everyone with a ‘spotlight moment’. But some gamers don’t like that they also mess with established tactics, and may apply to the NPCs as well.

Rule-breaker cards are nothing new, although they may be new to a fair chunk of the gamer population. Many of the RPGA’s reward cards are rule-breakers. Pinnacle publishes the Savage Worlds Adventure Deck (currently a PDF, actual cards should be available at Gen Con). And a number of home games have unofficial cards or tokens as well.

I’d suggest only giving one card per session at first. Cards are only good for one use, and unused cards are returned at the end of the session. But there’s nothing that says you can’t get creative: Get two cards per session, but you can only use one. Gain one card per encounter, and swap them with the rest of your party. Players may trade in an Action Point for a card, or vice-versa.

In keeping with the previous article on rewards, I prefer to give cards as ‘spot rewards’ for excellent roleplay, feeding the group, cracking everyone up, exceptionally brave actions, etc.  Of course, everyone would also start the session with one card…

So let’s put the rubber to the road, and break down the concept for D&D 4E. As I mentioned previously, non-traditional mechanical rewards could include something as simple as additional Action Points (and the commensurate ability to use more than one per encounter), but these sound so much more fun. Here are a few 4E-specific cards off the top of my head. Remember, they’re only good for one use, so use them wisely!

  • Reroll one die roll of any kind (skill, attack, damage, save, etc). Use the higher roll.
  • Regain an expended Encounter Power at any time as a free action. 
  • Regain an expended Daily Power after a short rest. 
  • Use an At-Will Power instead of a Basic Attack (such as at the end of a charge, or as an Opportunity Attack). 
  • Expend a Healing Surge on yourself as a minor action. 
  • Expend a Healing Surge on an adjacent ally as a move action. The ally uses his or her own Healing Surge amount, but you expend one of your Surges.
  • Run for one round with no penalties to attacks or defenses for running. 
  • Ignore one successful Opportunity Attack. 
  • +5 to any attack roll or saving throw; must commit this card before rolling.
  • +2 to any attack roll or saving throw; card may be used after the roll. 
  • For the duration of one encounter, give one Power the Reliable keyword. 
  • Shift as a minor action, even if it’s before or after a move. 
  • Your area attack or close attack does not hit one of your allies, even if he or she is in the target area.
  • Reroll one failed Saving Throw.
  • Take a ‘natural 20’ on any trained skill check. 
  • Your attack does 5/10/15 ongoing damage on a hit; save ends.  (Damage scales with tier.)
  • For this encounter, and until the beginning of the next encounter or extended rest, consider yourself Trained in one additional skill.

Some of these are definitely more powerful than others. Some are more useful to certain classes than others. But that’s the luck of the draw (and the possibility of trading with the rest of the group).

Like the idea? Hate the idea? Got more ideas for cards? Sound off in the comments and let us know!