Monday, January 21, 2013

Using Magic: The Gathering creatures as wandering monsters

So wow I have a shitload of dusty old magic cards in this cardboard box. (note: thanks to this blog post for reminding me.) I don't even want to calculate how much money I spent on these when I was 13 years old. Hopefully I can put them to a new use for D&D. Here is a system for using the creature cards to generate interesting wandering monsters on the fly.
Instead of having a wandering monster table, just have a deck of creature cards. You could hand-select them for a particular area, but I think it would be more fun just to shuffle them all together and see what comes up. Or you could have a regular wandering monster table but one entry in the table says “1d6 Magic cards”. Or you could divide them by colour and draw them for different situations:

neutral wilderness monster = draw green creature
neutral dungeon monster = draw red creature
bad guy's minions = draw black creature
johnny law = draw white creature
wizard's summons or extraplanar weirdness = draw blue creature
robots = draw artifact creature

Remember that 99% of creature cards in MTG only represent one creature. So you can create groups of enemies by drawing, say, three cards and having 2d6 of the lowest cost creature, 1d4 of the middle cost, and 1 of the highest cost as a leader. Or any other combination you can think of. But if the card does happen to represent multiple creatures, it is that many creatures based on the artwork. e.g. if the picture shows 3 goblins and you rolled 5, then there are 15 goblins total.

If you have time you could even divide the cards by cost as well as colour, then you could pick out exactly what power level you like. Then you could have a wandering monster table that just says like “2d6 1-mana creatures” or “1d4 5-mana green creatures”.

attack bonus = creature's power
AC = base AC of your game +/- creature's toughness
hit dice = creature's mana cost
BUT if it looks like some weedy ass wizard dude who costs a lot of mana for his special abilities, then his hit dice are d4s. If it is a creature whose mana cost has obviously been reduced because it has other drawbacks, then its hit dice are d10s.
Blue: 1d4
White: 1d6
Black: 1d8
Red: 1d10
Green: 1d10 unless a hippy elf, in which case 1d6
If power is 5 or more, double damage dice. If power is 8 or more, triple damage dice.

As a general rule, you can usually guess what the card is meant to represent based on the picture, name and flavour text. Everything else is just the particular mechanical expression of the concept. For many abilities you will have to interpret them somewhat. Some MTG cards are very flavourful and you can easily work out what they're supposed to be doing, other times they are very vague; in the latter case just take it as an opportunity to improvise, or ignore the mechanic entirely.

A 'tap' ability can be used as a standard action.
A 'mana cost' ability can only be used once every X rounds, where X is the mana cost.
A 'life cost' ability drains the equivalent number of HP from the creature.

'deal X damage' = deal Xd6 damage
'+1/+1 counter' = 1d6 temp HP
'-1/-1 counter' = 1d6 permanent stat damage (choose stat based on relevance, if unsure either STR or CON)
any ability that generates mana = can send mana to allies to pay for their activated abilities (don't worry about colour of mana), or heal 1d4 hp per point of mana.
'tap target creature' = paralyze/stun for 1 round
'put into your hand' = whatever was put into your hand will show up within 1d6 rounds
'return to hand' = paralyze/stun for 1d6 rounds, or teleport target a short distance away
'draw a card' = draw a non-creature card, that is the spell that the creature can cast; or just give it a random D&D spell appropriate to its level
'discard a card from your hand' = save vs. spell or be driven insane
'destroy target artifact' = better make this 'destroy mundane object' because there are a shitload of cards like this and if you use them as-written then your players will soon have no magic item
'can't block' = -4 AC.

Flying = flying, duh
Trample = on a successful attack, the victim must make a CON check or be knocked prone and trampled over, potentially opening up the squishies to attack
First Strike = +25% initiative (+5 on a d20, +2 on a d6...)
Fear/Intimidate = henchmen must make a morale check when first facing the monster
Haste = double regular move speed, always charges for +2 attack
Morph = 3 in 6 chance of surprise
Ninjutsu = draw another creature, this is what the ninja is disguised as
Deathtouch = turn to stone as medusa (but check the artwork and flavour text for details)
Indestructible = can't be damaged except by very powerful magic (9th level spells, +5 weapons)
Regeneration = regenerates as troll. Mana cost is the number of rounds it takes to come back to life.
Phasing = can turn ethereal, making it unable to attack or be attacked
Phantom = can't be hit except by magic and magic weapons
Doublestrike = attacks twice
Landwalk = gets +2 AC and attack when in its favoured element. Will hide in this element and try to drag enemies in to fight on its own terms. Islandwalk = water; Mountainwalk = very rugged terrain (can climb sheer cliffs); Plainswalk = tall grass; Forestwalk = thick undergrowth OR treetops; Swampwalk = swamp water/mud
Bushido = gains that bonus to attack and AC in melee only
Double-sided card = can shift between forms as a standard action
flip card = If it survives this encounter with the PCs, it will reappear later as the named NPC
Threshold = can trigger its ability by scrounging off/eating a corpse
Kicker = when appearing in a group, the leader will have the kicker ability
Hexproof/Shroud = immune to magic
Vigilance = can make opportunity attacks, or if opportunity attacks already exist in your system, gets a +2 bonus to them
Annihilator = each round, that many enemies must make a save vs. death or be fuckin' annihilated
Shadow = can't attack normal creatures and can't be attacked. Just does its own little thing in its own shadow dimension. Might still be an enemy if it's trying to steal your treasure or something.
Fading/Vanishing = only appears for that many rounds before disappearing or melting or something

(christ, there are a lot of keyword abilities... the rest you can figure out for yourself)

Lastly (this is a note to myself as much as to anyone else) remember that the best thing about a monster is always the story behind it. And Magic cards have a buttload of story packed into them just through the name, artwork and maybe flavour text. (I'm not talking about the actual MTG lore.)
even unglued cards work ok!
Using other MTG cards
You can also use other MTG cards to generate things. You could draw a hand of 7 cards to generate a wizard – instants and sorceries are his spells, creatures are his minions, artifacts are his magic items and enchantments are what he's placed upon himself or his creatures. But non-creature cards are generally too different from D&D material to be converted directly, you would have to just use them as vague inspiration.
Another thing you could do is draw land cards to give a backdrop to a scene. Some land artwork is really cool and just holding up the card and saying “this is where you are” could add a bit of detail and interest to the scene. Or you could shuffle all your land cards together and draw them to generate hexcrawl (cardcrawl?) terrain. Would work best if you had a fair amount of non-basic lands and an idea of what each one represents.
But I don't want to go into it much further because, apart from the creatures, I don't think there's much I can tell you besides "Use them as inspiration, dummy!"

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