One thing 4e got right was their power cards. Whether you like powers or not (or 4e for that matter), you have to admit that the power cards are a pretty slick idea. Each player has a printed card, detailing each power that her character has available, showing all the important information for that power. This same idea can be used (in any edition) for spells, weapons, magic items, or whatever else you can imagine.
If you play 4e, you can get a DDI subscription that lets you print out cards through an online tool. There are also 3rd party tools that do the same thing. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen something similar for Path Finder spells as well.
But what if you want to print out your own customized cards? Even if you find a tool that says it will do exactly what you want, my experience leads me to believe I’ll want something it can’t do. In that case, you’ll have to come up with a method for formatting and printing the cards yourself.
I have incorporated powers into my (more-or-less) 1st edition homebrew game. They are nothing like 4e powers. I’d say they are more like active feats. In any case, I want to print them out. My first thought was to format them to fit on an index card (3″ x 5″). I could then either print out sheets, cut them to size and tape/glue them to index cards or print the sheets directly to heavy card stock and cut them out. Either way, by sticking to a standard size like that it would be easy to find convenient storage containers for the cards.
Naturally, my first instinct was to use MS Word. I set up a landscaped two-column document with the appropriate margins and used tables to create the cards. This offered a great deal of formatting control and worked reasonably well. However, Word isn’t really designed for minute formatting control. It doesn’t really care if its measurements are exact or just, kinda sorta, more or less, what you want. Although functional, it wasn’t offering me as much control as I wanted. MS Excel has certain strengths for this type of work but also has a number of drawbacks. Unfortunately, the next option (or at least it seemed to me at the time) was to dump all the data into a database and write a tool to print cards out that way. That’s not really what I wanted so I shelved the idea while I thought about it some more. After all, the Word document was usable (at least for now).
Mom To The Rescue
Recently, my mom asked me to make her some business cards. I bought some Avery business card sheets and designed some cards. Again, I was annoyed at the lack of precise control I’ve become accustomed to (from working with CSS in web design).
The cards she wanted were very basic, almost entirely textual with a single clip art image. Because the design was so basic, I went to a basic tool. But when I’ve created business cards in the past, I’ve worked on more graphically-oriented designs so I used a graphics program. Why wasn’t I doing that now?
I loaded up Adobe Photoshop, created a new image at exactly the size of a business card (no more of those whishy washy Word-style measurements) and created exactly what I wanted. Having pixel by pixel control is wonderful.
Photoshop also has a very handy feature where you can create a folder and stick all the elements in it. Then you can duplicate the folder, move it around and all the component elements move as a single unit. I resized my canvas to allow for two columns of five cards each, duplicated my folder so I had ten copies, and moved each copy around to match the layout. Then I just had to set the margins, print, and everything lined up perfectly on the perforated business card sheets.
The Light Bulb Finally Goes Off
Why wasn’t I doing this for my power cards? Use Adobe Photoshop and create one folder for each power. Each folder can be turned on and off individually. Turn on the cards you want (up to ten at a time), move them around so they all line up with the guides, and print. If you want more than one copy of a particular power on a sheet, simply duplicate that folder and then delete the duplicate when you are done. This gives absolute control and is fairly flexible. The drawback is that not everyone has (or knows how to use) Photoshop which means that I have to print out all the cards for my players instead of just giving them access to an online tool. But printing a few sheets of cards will be quick and won’t have to be done very often.
I originally had planned to use index cards but after showing a first run to a friend, he convinced me that they were just too big. I think the business card format will still be big enough for all the information I’ll need to use.
For those that don’t have Photoshop, G.I.M.P. is a free graphics program that (from what I hear) is very similar. I suspect the same technique could be used there.
I haven’t actually started creating the cards in Photoshop yet. A 7″ x 10″ 300 DPI image may not be very large. But if there are 100 cards, each containing various elements, that is a lot of layers. It is entirely possible that it will become so large that it isn’t feasible to contain within one document. I may be necessary to split them up. In my case, powers are related to classes, so I can separate each class’s powers into a different file. I may actually do that anyway just to avoid having to search a long list to find the folders I want.