This is part two of a two-part series on index cards. The first part  dealt with using index cards during game prep, and included a brief overview of what kinds of cards are available, and how to store them.
While no single approach is ideal for everyone, this article will focus on how I’ve been using index cards, along with some ideas that I’ve seen in use, so please excuse the ‘in my campaign’ tone of it. As usual, feel free to take what’s shiny and share your own uses for index cards.
I use 200-card cases to manage my cards. They fit perfectly in the boxes I use for GMing, the cases conveniently hold two decks of the Savage Worlds Action Deck (of oversized cards for initiative), and I never needed more than 200 cards at the table. Most of the cases I’ve seen come with dividers.
As mentioned in the last article, NPC character sheets are printed onto 3 x 5 cards. The NPC cards for my recently-ended fantasy campaign were divided into named NPCs, humanoids, other critters, elementals, and infernals. Your mileage may vary, and probably should, because the campaign focused pretty heavily on the last two categories. As the case filled up with NPC cards, I realized that having over a hundred ready-to-use NPC stats at your fingertips is a Good Thing.
Additional cards (location, organization, reward/item, rules, etc) were stashed in the pocket of a 5”x8” padfolio, along with whatever cards I knew I’d need for the session.
At the Table
The bulk of my index cards were NPC cards. I’d pull cards out at the beginning of the encounter and turn them face down until the critter actually showed up. Bennies are placed on Wild Card NPCs, and initiative cards are placed on top of the NPC card. I’d keep notes on the padfolio, and hand over reward/item cards to the players as needed.
Here’s a quick pic of my GMing station; you can see the green poker chip Bennies and eight of clubs initiative card atop the NPC index card.
In systems with complex modifiers, index cards make great reminders of the rules. Oh, the wailing and gnashing of teeth from my D&D 3.5 players when the dreaded “narrow and low” card appeared…
Got a pretty complicated map? Put a legend on an index card. Heck, create one for each player.
Index cards are great for repetitive initiative systems, such as D&D 3.x and 4e. Well before the encounter, pre-roll the critters’ initiative, and sort the cards in order. Add the PCs to the mix as they roll initiative. Anyone holding or delaying gets their card turned sideways. You can even make notes (“Held”, etc) on the cards.
Index cards are perfect for tracking valuable items. Do your players all claim to be wearing the Ring of Regeneration? Not if there’s only one card of it. Don’t remember if you used that Potion of Stupendous Healing? If you ripped it in half, you drank it.
Players having trouble remembering the details of their spells/powers/abilities? Print them out on an index card. (Many printers can print on cardstock, as long as they have a straight-through paper path.)
Do your novice players need a simple cheat-sheet? One might fit on an index card.
Does your game have more than a few conditions that may affect characters? Put one each on index cards for quick reference.
Tired of spelling out names for your players? Write them on index cards.
Convention game? Have each player write their name and their character’s name on a tented index card.
Passing notes? Index card, folded.
Sleeping player? You got it — index cards can be hurled with great accuracy.
When you really get down to it, there are very few gaming tools with more versatility than the lowly index card. I’ve only touched on a few of their possible uses, and surely y’all can come up with far more. Sound off in the comments and let us know!