INTO THE CARD — a variant for fifty-two friends

I’ve shared before how much a fan I am of Chris McDowall’s INTO THE ODD.  It remains my go-to when I’m interested in light-investment exploratory roleplay.  Coupled with the fact its rules can fit entirely within my mind and that I tend to run dungeons through a memory palace anyway, I’ve been looking for a way to make the game more portable.

I don’t tend to carry dice with me.  (If you’ve seen my Slick Thames hack of ITO, you’ll see how I also collapse the 3d6 stat generation into d4+d6+d8 {that way I only need one set of polyhedrals}.)  I do tend to carry playing cards.


Take a regular pack of playing cards.  Remove the twelve court cards (each Jack, Queen and King).  Introduce one of the jokers (I recommend the guarantee one).  This will form a communal pile that’s drawn from whenever players would roll a dice.  Once a card is drawn, a communal discard pile builds; this is shuffled whenever the joker comes up in play.

  • Aces are always low (they always score 1).
  • The joker will always be the optimal value for the task at hand (4, 10, or 14 damage; 1 for Saves); drawing the joker also shuffles the discard pile into the stock (as in Savage Worlds).
  • If you would roll d20, instead draw two cards and combine the values.
  • Ignore differences in weapon strength.  All weapons draw one card for damage equal to the value.
  • If a draw is Impaired, instead use the suit as value: spades have 1 point, hearts have 2 halves, clubs have 3 segments, diamonds have 4 edges.  With weapon attacks, look to Impair many more than you usually would.  Players should be encouraged to use their weapons effectively and imaginatively.
  • If a draw is Enhanced, instead add the suit value to the pip value.  (The 10♦️️ is the best card in the pack: ten pips plus four edges for a diamond.)

Character Generation

  • Draw seven cards.
  • Create three pairs in any order that you choose & assign each score to STR, DEX & WIL.
  • Treat the unpaired card as Impaired.  This value becomes hp.
  • Consult whichever INTO THE ODD starter package system you are using.

This is slightly meaner than regular ITO.  The probabilities pool towards the middle of the spread (essentially 2d10 vs 1d20, though that shifts as the discard pile grows) and more damage is likely to be dealt.  Consider having it that Critical Damage will typically enable only an Impaired draw’s number of actions until you pass out.

INTO THE CARD — a variant for fifty-two friends