Simple tool for improvisation and roleplaying in ARS

Hello all

In a recent thread about the upcoming publication of a book concerning Grogs, I mentioned that I have been using a system to randomly generate ‘less important characters’ in my Saga. The system requires nothing more than a deck of cards and a printed list (although small notes of paper in front of the cards, put into Protector Sleeves is preferable). It’s all about attempting to ensure variety and flavor, and to provoke improvisation and entertaining roleplaying.

In the thread about Apprentices and Grogs Xavi asked me to share my system. I'll do that in here though - as it is really something separate. I haven't changed the system much since its original design some years back, so I'll use this as an option to improve it a bit (hopefully with your feedback). Most of the stuff was in a messy Excel spreadsheet, so I've just spent some time converting it to something more accessible and made a pdf:

(If you'd like me to post it as text directly in here instead, just let me know. It includes a long list though, so it might get slightly messy, which is why I choose to upload a document instead).

Example of use:
We’re getting a new player next Saturday, so we might start the game with some kind of short Grogs only adventure, like sending some guards out to put down a pack of wolves that has been scaring the Covenfolk. Looking at our guards I see a dozen identical soldier types with Characteristics, Abilities, Age, Puissant: Great Weapon, Brave +2 and some weapon stats… Not really ready for a fun night out. But instead of spicing them up prior to our session, our requiring everyone (including our all new Ars player) to improvise their characters, I’ll use the Deck of Decisions (the name is quite lame as well - I’m open to suggestions here). Each player gets handed a Grog, and draws two cards from the deck; and picks a virtue on one of the cards, and a flaw on the other. They then get a few minutes to quickly jot that down, along with a name and possibly a background story; attempting to create the most original or funny characters they can create based on the selected virtues/flaws.

This might not fit the playing style of everyone. But it’s a win-win-win in my opinion. It saves boring preparation time for the Storyguide and enables such storis to be created on-the-fly; it activates the players and makes them much more likely to actively role-play their Grog as they get a relation to the character; and it ensures original grog designs and helps flesh out your Covenfolk. After this session no Companion will blame a random guard for failing to spot the intruders, when they have to chance to chastise the slightly retarded guard with the beautiful auburn hair. And why would the Magi pick a random guard to be their shield grog in the next adventure, when they can pick the nimble one who has vowed to never to let go of his shield – not even when he takes a leak.

I'm only playing ars magica pbps right now, but your idea sure looks useful.

Thanks. But yeah, i guess it's not all that useful to you at the moment. It's like playing a D&D game by email where you present the player's with A Deck of Many Things :stuck_out_tongue:

Nice. And yoinked. Thanking you muchly.


Thanks. You're very welcome :slight_smile:
Be sure to throw me some feedback once you've tried it.

IMS we use a similar system for grogs. Grogs are identical in abilities. Where they differ is in their personality and V&F. One of their virtues is always puissant. Puissant Carouse is fairly common, for example. Each virtue comes along with a related personality trait (that might not be totally related. Puissant Carouse might come with wrathful +2 or with "depressed" +2, or with "fears wolves +2". Same with flaws. Generally weaknesses are fairly common as well. Weaknesses are small story flaws that we like to spice on the fly. We do not have a random generator like you, though, but pick them by hand. We generally try to make the grogs a little bit (or VERY) extreme. Makes for less realistic characters, but ones that are funnier to play :slight_smile: For realistic people we have the real world out there. And even there there are quite some picturesque people :slight_smile:

We write grogs like this:

As you can see Johann is a good observer, and you can rely on his judgment on the character of people, but he might get you in trouble when he tries to do his "jedi trick" to allow the magi to pass undisturbed though the city guard ("those are not the magi you are looking for") or tries to take advantage of his motivations of people to get a better deal. He does not fully understand why people body language and response changes so much when he uses his powers on them; they are clearly charmed after all.

This method makes writing down characters easy enough :slight_smile: Our grogs do not grow old at 35 (if they reach that age) but become covenfolk at 40 instead adopting another character template (we have 3 templates for covenfolk, servants, specialists and retired grogs). Grogs are about roleplaying for us, not number crunching so we only invest effort at the start of the saga to create the templates.

I will give your system a read, since it looks promising. :slight_smile:


I've been toying with doing fully fleshed cards, where one of the added features would be personality traits. Another feature would be a short quote to accompany the virtues/flaws. I should take some time out to work on this... I'll make a post about the latter tomorrow if I find the time to do something about it.

:smiley: I completely agree!

Nice to get some input on how you deal with Grogs. We seem to agree on: Upkeep = low, Opportunities for Roleplaying = high :slight_smile:

Looking forward to you comments.

Very cool idea.

A) -- David, Michelle and Crew at Atlas -- Play aids! Merchandise! Slap some nice artwork on this, with some fun quotes, etc, and you've got a nice new product!

B) -- I'm on a mac, and can't seem to open your .xps. could you repost as .pdf? Or maybe I'm doing something wrong....

Looking forward to checking this out!


Firth, send me your email by PM and I'll email it to you in PDF in a few hours when I am back at work (PDF coverter et al).

EDIT: Sent. Enjoy :slight_smile:


Hi all

I'm glad you guys like the idea :slight_smile:
As I promised yesterday, I've started adding some quotes for the virtues one-by-one, but it's a pretty tough thing to 'force them' like that.

Nevertheless, I just spend an hour or two trying to come up with some quotes for each set of virtues and for each set of flaws and listing them here. Since I picture the design of the jokers a bit different, I’ve only made one quote for each joker card which is then supposed to match the theme; both virtue and flaw options.
Using quotes, my aim was to make the cards more interesting and entertaining. So with most of the virtue/flaw quotes I went with the slightly humorous, but also at least somewhat describing/informative approach. Unfortunately I’m not nearly as funny as the guys behind Munchkin (oops, Steve Jackson Game, sorry) or Gloom (much better right?) – especially since this is my second language so all the puns/wordplays/synonyms/sayings don’t come to me as easily.

So I’ve done this quick and dirty for now, just to make some examples. Some of the listed quotes are bordering lame, in order to provoke you to create some better ones :stuck_out_tongue: I’m, just pasting it here as an ‘under construction’ thing, hoping that you guys could help me fill out the blanks – and give some critique, corrections and above all - suggestions. I haven’t even gotten to the flaws part yet, so the fun stuff is yet to come! Remember that even if you don’t like my tool, creating these quotes could be a fun exercise – and you’re more than welcome to tell a related story if the quote is inspired by an actual session of yours.

Quote List (under construction)


2 Luck
“Phew! Good thing somebody put a haystack under that tower window.”
3 Intuition
“He fled out the back, threw away his coat, stole a horse and rode southwest… - just a hunch.”
4 Clear Thinker
“But if you’ve been sleeping during tonight’s riot, where is there a smudge of ash on your left foot?”
5 Strong-Willed
“I’m not going. I’m not!”
6 Self-Confident
“Allow me.”
7 Inspirational
“A day may come when the courage of men fails - but it is not this day!”
8 Famous
“I’m trying my best to exceed my impressive reputation, but alas – I repeatedly fail to so.”
9 Piercing Gaze
“I don’t need to beat it out of him. Give me two minutes with him under four eyes, and I’ll know the truth alright.”
10 Gossip
“I know. I knooow. Tell me about it. I know. Seriously?”
Jack Social Contacts
“Well, I happen to know this guy who I believe, might know just the fellow, that could bring us to that man.”
Queen Venus’ Blessing
“Psst. Hide me. Quick. Please. If she asks I’m not here. I never was. Shhh.”
King True Love
“What a beautiful day! With the birds and the colors and all. I feel like spending the day with snowflakes and rainbows and unicorns!”
Ace True Faith/Guardian Angel
“I’ll not succumb to your threats; If I’m meant to survive this, God will help me.”

2 Protection
“Before you do that to me Sire, may I ask if you’ve ever had the chance to meet my great friend; the Dean of Canterbury.”
3 Privileged Upbringing
4 Educated
5 Student of Divine/Infernal
“Without knowledge of heaven and hell; how can you expect to steer you course?”
6 Relic
“Why this is a splinter of the bone, between the two outer joints, of the little finger, of the great St. Christopher himself.”
7 Warrior
“Warhammers readyyyyy! … - what? I though everyone brought one…”
8 Troupe Upbringing
9 Well-Traveled
10 Faerie Blood
Jack Student of Faerie/Magic
“Why study law and grammar when the world is full of wonders?”
Queen Arcane Lore
King Latent Magical Ability
“Wondrous things seem to happen around me all for some reason - I wish i knew why.”
Ace Ghostly Warder/Death Prophecy
“I don’t fear death – I know what awaits me on the other side.”

2 Long-Winded
“You see John? Swimming, eating and whistling is a great combination… John?”
3 Enduring Constitution
“It’s just a flesh wound!”
4 Rapid Convalescence
“I’ll be riding again in a week – that leg will grow back in no time.”
5 Tough
“Spotted Horse cannot be killed be a bullet :slight_smile:
6 Large
“Do these chain mails come in XXL?”
7 Reserves of Strength
“Just keep still while I lift this horse of your leg, sir.”
8 Great Strength/Stamina
“Thick as a log – my commander used to say. Such a nice man.”
9 Great Dexterity/Quickness
“Quiet as a shadow. Light as a feather. Smooth as summer silk.”
10 Perfect Balance
“It’s not like I can balance on the tip of a sword... I’d need two or three..”
Jack Light Touch
“Hey guard – here’s your sword back, I don’t need it anymore.”
Queen Lightning Reflexes
“Well off course I knocked him out – he tapped me on the shoulder!”
King Unaging
“It seems 50 is the new 20.”
Ace Ways of the Land

2 Affinity With Ability
3 Catious With Ability
4 Learn Ability from Mistakes
“I’ll get it right this time.”
5 Puissant Ability
6 Improved Characteristics
7 Great Presence/Communication
“Watch him smile; and you’ll melt like butter... Cover your eyes, and he’ll talk your pants off instead.”
8 Great Intelligence/Perception
9 Keen Vision
“From your teeth alone I can tell you had porridge with apples and berries, right?”
10 Sharp Ears
“So tell me; why are two black-clad gentlemen such as yourselves sitting in a dark corner whispering about a necklace?”
Jack Apt Student
“So from what you’re saying; the answer must be half the radius squared! – Master I thought you said you didn’t know this answer to this yet.
Queen Good Teacher
“I am a far better teacher than any I’ve ever studied under myself... Unfortunately this means that my students surpass my knowledge that much quicker I suppose.”
King Free Expression
Ace Wealthy
“Off course money can buy you love. Along with everything else, I might add.”


2 Avaricious
3 Greedy/Lecherous/Compulsion/Weakness
4 Delusion/Obsessed/Oversensitive
5 Fear
6 Hatred/Wrathful
7 Reckless
8 Depressed/Pessimistic/Lost Love
9 Carefree/Optimistic
10 Compassionate/Soft-Hearted
Jack Meddler/Busybody
Queen Humble
King Generous
Ace Envious

2 Proud/Overconfident
3 Ambitious/Driven/Higher Purpose
4 Pious/Dutybound
5 Prohibition/Vow
6 Reclusive
7 Continence/Temperance
8 Non-Combatant
9 Judged Unfairly
10 Nocturnal
Jack Poor Memory
Queen Weak-Willed
King Low Self-Esteem
Ace Simple Minded/Short Attention Span

2 Fragile Constitution
3 Arthritis/Hunchback/Lame
4 Clumsy/Palsied Hands
5 Missing Ear/Missing Eye/Missing Hand
6 Poor Eyesight
7 Poor Hearing
8 Motion Sickness
9 Small Frame
10 Obese
Jack Poor Characteristic
Queen Weak Characteristics
King Blind/Deaf/Mute
Ace Crippled/Enfeebled/No hands

2 Covenant Upbringing/Faerie Upbringing
3 Feral Upbringing/Sheltered Upbringing
4 Ability Block
5 No Sense of Direction
6 Afflicted Tongue
7 Incomprehensible
8 Disfigured
9 Social Handicap
10 Infamous
Jack Tainted With Evil
Queen Inoffensive to Animals
King Magical Air
Ace Poor

Red1 Giant-Blooded Dwarf
“Some claim size doesn’t matter – I guess they’ve never tried being twice a man or half a man.”
Red2 Greater Immunity/- Purifying Touch Greater Malediction
“Am I blessed? Am I being tested? Or is this something more sinister?”
Black1 Strong Faerie Blood Age Quickly
“Sometimes you’re just not meant to follow the course of a normal, dull and ordinary life – however bad you may want it.”
Black2 Shapeshifter Doppelganger
“Never judge a book by its cover.”

Don't hold back :slight_smile:

Don't edit too much or by the time we have read it and post our comment they will be worthless!:lol:

I will read it today in the train to Madrid. Will try to post my comments tomorrow.


I promise to keep my hands off it Xavi :smiley:
My group is playing Saturday so I'll focus on that instead.

Btw. the last update is not a an edit, but an added optional feature, so nothing is really changed :slight_smile:
The newest version of Deck of Dicisions is still the PDF!
I just posted the quotes like this, so it was easier for you guys to join me filling them in.

I´d say "I´m the best there is!"

"between four eyes" not "under"(that sounds really strange).

"No servants? What kind of barbaric place is this?"

"I didn´t know there were penguins in Scotland?" (paraphrased from Ryoga Hibiki, replaced Hokkaido with Scotland, he is after all the ultimate "lost boy")

And wouldn´t this be a perfect thing to also use "Tablesmith" for?

I may be wrong in this, but aren't grogs supposed to only have minor V&F and no story flaws?

Great system, by the way, and love the quotes!

LOVE the deck, Lasse! I'll definitely be using this soon. I laughed out loud when I read your intro on the PDF. I"m always pulling out those medieval name lists during random encounters....

And I must repeat, I think this would be a great publishable play-aid. I know I would buy it....


Yeah, the very first comments on the quotes!

True! I mixed the danish expression with the english one :blush: Thanks for spotting that.

Loving this one! Can even picture his/her tone of voice :smiley:

I Afraid i don't know that manga cartoon (or the character for that matter). Do you think most Ars players do? I don't watch manga so maybe it's just me...

Don't know Tablesmith, but it looks interesting - I'll check it out in dept when i get the time.


Well if you play strictly by the standard rules (which i guess we don't since we draw inspirational cards from a play-aid deck :smiley: ) - I don't think there are any rules against Grogs having major virtues and flaws. It might not be very common though, but then again all Personality Flaws listed can be picked as minor if you wish, leaving just 6 Aces and 2 Kings as major virtues or flaws. And if you don't want your Grogs to have major virtues or flaws, just remove those cards, or draw a new one if they come up. Also, there are no cards representing Story Flaws in the deck, so no sweat.

I'm glad you like the system and especially the quotes. Please feel free to contribute, if you come up with something amusing.

Comments like these are the ones that makes it all worth it!
Also, it's nice to know I'm not the only one using lists like that :stuck_out_tongue:

Thanks, again. I'll try to get my hands on some Manifold paper and a scanner within the next couple of weeks and do some small symbols for the cards. I should be able to pull off some decent layout-work if I get the time, but the real artwork I can't do, sorry.
But if any of the "Nephew's" would like to join in and publish this, feel free to contact me :slight_smile:
Otherwise, if someone feels up for it; send me a PM and we could collaborate on the graphics.

Yesterday I remembered you all when I had to name apair of random elf messengers in a LotR game and did not have any quotes, so now the elves Firthfive and Lasse are travelling along with the PCs in dunland :mrgreen: Not the first time I have used forum member names as random characters.


I was just casually checking the forum before going to bed... How can I go to sleep after reading this?!
Both as a result of the honor, the horror and above all the hilarity of it :mrgreen:
I'm just blown away... I've wanted to see Middle Earth since I was like 12 - and why not alongside my good friend FirthFive :laughing: