Oct 07

Improv Gaming, Part 10: Drawing Skuld Cards


TalesOfAGM Dice Sq SmThis essay is the last major topic in the series exploring my approach to the liberating practice of improvised gaming. I hope you can take something useful from my techniques, and ease your progress towards faster prep.


See my Improv GM page for more articles on this topic.


In my approach to improv gaming, I have seven supports:

  • Background Reading
  • My Players
  • Instigating Incident
  • Collection of Story Elements
  • Reference Sheets
  • Narrative Outcomes Table
  • Skuld Cards


This is my ninth essay on the topic:


In Part 10 I complete my coverage of my seven supports for improv gaming. This essay describe how I use my custom Skuld Cards during the game.


TitleSkuld Cards


I wrote here about the creation of my Skuld Deck


Essentially, I designed a custom card to represent each of the major runes in my campaign. I took a lot of inspiration from the legendary Glorantha setting, combined with the many planes of Planescape. Adding more planes meant adding more runes, and I quickly ended up with a 60 card deck.


As you can see from the sample, each Skuld card contains brief text outlining the rune’s sphere of influence and a piece of inspirational text designed to capture the flavour of the rune. In some cases just the name, or the picture, are enough to apply the rune to the current situation.






Drawing Skuld

My Skuld cards help with improvisation in a number of ways. There are several circumstances in which a card is drawn, then interpreted according to the current narrative. Sometimes the GM draws, at other times a Player draws Skuld cards. Whoever draws the card weaves an aspect of the chosen rune into the narrative.


Skuld cards are drawn in the following situations:

  • Random Element
  • Improvising Story
  • GM Inspiration


Random Element

The simplest use of the Skuld Deck is to select a random rune for any purpose. This can represent an elemental creature, the theme of an arcane spell or perhaps the tattoo on a GMC. There are runes, and elementals, throughout my campaign. It is simple to add one or more runes into a description, as I can generate them randomly with the Skuld cards.


One of the basic premises of the campaign is how all magic comes from runes. Thus, runes are all-pervasive in my setting. The Skuld Deck is an expression of this underlying principle. Every time I play a Skuld card, I remind the Players how much the runes matter in The Tales of the Hero Wars.


Improvising Story

The next use of the Skuld Deck is triggered by one of the results on my Narrative Outcomes Table. I draw a card, and then improvise a twist in the story according to the card drawn.


The Narrative Outcomes Table was the focus of a previous essay in the series


Depending upon the card drawn, the improvisation can be quite a challenge. The Skuld cards cover a wide range of thematic and physical elements. Thus, a classic elemental rune such as Fire or Water could represent a change in the environment, or a physical challenge facing the Heroes. In contrast, there are more emotional runes, such as Fury and Desire. These Skuld cards take the narrative in a different direction, by changing the emotional state of a GMC or invoking a Hero’s flaw.


GM Inspiration

The final use of the Skuld cards is to provide me with inspiration during the game.
So many things require a degree of random input, and my Skuld Deck keeps this process on theme with the broader campaign. When in doubt, I draw a card and interpret according to the current story. For any narrative improvisation, the addition of a random rune helps focus my creativity.


I also use these cards to help me when creating impromptu locations. The rune can influence the physical nature of the environment, the inhabitants or just the ambience. The Skuld cards ensure these new locations also reflect the pervasive influence of runes in the campaign.


I discussed brainstorming locations with the Players here



Frequently I nudge my improvisation with a Skuld card. This process helps the narrative reflect a dominant theme of my campaign. This unexpected runic input also adds fresh twists to the story, and surprises everyone at the table. I am on theme, and take the narrative to unexpected places. My Skuld Deck has definitely given me a great return on the time invested creating these custom cards.


What theme would you give to your Skuld Deck? When would you draw Skuld for inspiration? Is there another way I can use my cards? Share your thoughts with your fellow GMs in the comments below.



Happy Gaming



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