Poker in RPGAt my workplace there’s a poker group. At my previous job there was a group. Players in my Riddleport campaign play in such groups. Games are even broadcast during prime time TV. When did this game become so popular?

If you have a player in your group who is a raving poker fan, I thought I’d put together a few ideas for you today on how to include the game in some form in your campaign to give that player a thrill. It’ll be like chocolate in their peanut butter for them!

Meet The Villain

Losing at a card game can become clever foreshadowing. Have the PCs play against the villain or a notable minion.

Bonus points if they keep their identity hidden during the game!

They’ll cheat, of course. And the loss gives great foreshadowing when the players confront the NPC in an encounter later on in the campaign.

If the PCs somehow win the hand or clean out the bad guy, the villain flips the table and announces revenge. A dish best served cold, my friend.

Get Real

Try to get a realistic feel for the culture of the game. You want to do more than deal out a few hands. You want to roleplay it.

You might consider visiting a casino and observe. Take notes on the sights, sounds and smells. Look at the ceiling, the floor and in the nooks and crannies to collect cool little details you can add to the game scene.

You can also visit pokers sites online to get a feel for the lingo, style and themes to help your encounter and NPC descriptions. You can compete and win at real money poker sites if you want to feel firsthand what it’s like for all you method-actor GMs out there.

Theme It

Mashup poker with your campaign setting to make your own vision for the game a unique experience for your players.

Perhaps the dealer is a cigar chomping quasit. The chips are a special set brought back from the Goblin Lands, covered in goblin runes with accompanying teeth marks. Instead of dealing cards you cast them. Instead of ante it’s spit. You declare shield instead of call.

Even better, give all the hand combos new names. Full House becomes A Coup. A Straight is a Crossbow.

Check out this list of hands to help you figure out what you can rename thematically.

It’s Just Fun

First, a word of caution. Do not play for real money in the game. That seems obvious to you and me. But to someone with the fever, you bring out a deck of cards and say there’s a game in the tavern, and their eyes get squinty and they reach for their wallet out of habit.

No matter how much they ask, keep that aspect to the real game. Think I’m joking?

Combine a casual style RPG player with a passion for poker, and you can see where their loyalty lies. They’ll cancel out on you to play that other game. They’ll have a card suit for an ear ring. They’ll talk the language in-character.

If you run a game within your game, they’ll want to do it for real. Stick to your policy of playing for fun only.

As a compromise, to create real stakes, gamble for GM helper roles. Play a fixed number of hands. The one with the most gold pieces at the end has no duties. The one with the least has table cleanup and garbage duty. Assign other responsibilities to everybody in between – scribe, quartermaster, mapper and so on.

That’s assuming stakes are not already high enough with characters gambling their own wealth away. :)

Find Cool Cards

You can find themed cards, chips and accessories online.

Enhance play, for example, with a fantasy deck. Maybe you have enough discarded Magic cards to create a poker deck.

If you just have regular chips or can’t find cool themed ones online, buy stickers and apply. You could also paint them up to get the look you like. Actually, metallic spray paint + stickers gives you a fantasy or sci-fi set pretty fast.

Hinge A Game Outcome On It

Make the results of the game affect the game world in some way.

OSR folk love getting chess sets into encounters as puzzles and mini-games.

I remember in one campaign I used a chess board as the Game of Gods.

As events unfolded in the world, the chess board got updated. One of the players had the ability to scry this board to see developments. As they were mid-level, they also influenced the moves on the board, which made the scrying even more important. “Did we successfully block the King’s check!?”

Additionally, I turned the pieces in to NPCs. And the scryer could see some pieces cracking, vibrating, leaning and so on. In this way, I provided plot clues.

So too could you make poker have real game world impact. The cards could be NPCs. Or a mix of NPCs, locations and items. Hands dealt or played could be encounters and events.

The game players? Gods, demon lords, kings, imprisoned mega-psionicists, or unknowing rogues in a plane far away. Pick a group that would make cool epic tier NPCs for your game or future adventure opportunities.

There you have it. Six ideas for getting this real world hobby into your RPG game:

  1. Foreshadow future confrontation against the villain
  2. Observe real poker to help you roleplay it better
  3. Theme things in-game to give you better ambiance
  4. Raise the stakes with M helper duties
  5. Find great props
  6. Base the plot on the hands

Have you ever used the game in your RPG sessions? How did it go?

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