Full review of GameMaster's Apprentice Base Deck:
I purchased the GameMaster's Apprentice: Base Deck to replace several other tools that I had been previously using to simulate a GM in both my solitaire games as well as games run with my wife. For full disclosure purposes I was primarily running games with Mythic's Game Master Emulator paired with Mythic Variations as well as leveraging Rory's Story Cubes for generating scenes and ideas, an extension from the noun/verb pair generated from Mythic. My wife and I ran a session last night with the deck and were thoroughly impressed!
We used the 'Tension' based method for generating random events, starting at '1' at the beginning of the scene and would add +1 to that number for every "Likely Odds" question that we asked the deck. To expand upon this, the deck offers three different ratings for possibilities; bad (25% chance of a 'Yes'), even (50%), and good (75%). It also features exceptional answers of 'YES!' and 'NO!' which further extend the options. I was initially concerned with the apparent step down from Mythic which has a much greater variety of odds and was concerned that it might feel lackluster operating at just 25%/50%/75% however am happy to say that it didn't feel that way during play. Back to the 'Tension' method - if the difficulty number in the top left hand corner of the card is lower or equal to your current tension number a random event is generated -- play it out and then reset your tension number. It was very easy and didn't feel like a lot of book keeping. The nice thing is, each session starts off at '1' instead of tracking a Chaos Rank (Mythic's system) that alters the odds and also impacts scene random events while in-house random events are based on rolling doubles when consulting the Fate Chart.
The other features that we used were the Norse Runes, of which there are 24, however I'll admit that the big appeal of the deck (the lack of looking up tables), really doesn't come into play when you're getting started with the Norse Runes unless you have previous knowledge of what they represent. My wife and I were not aware and so had to look up the definitions as we played, so that did tie us up with some table referencing though am sure that once we get more fluent with the deck we'll nail down the Runes.
The Elemental signs (Water, Earth, Fire, and Air) are incredibly helpful as well as the four senses (sight, sound, feeling, and taste/smell) also lends quick answers to common questions such as, "Do we see anything? Do we hear anything?" as the card itself already has a pre-loaded answer should that question turn up in the positive.
We have yet to explore the name generator, tag symbols, dice, scatter die, vice/virtue, catalyst and we only used the location once.
The True Benefit:
Immersion. The deck allows for a greater sense of immersion -- my wife and I are playing a Heroquest: Glorantha game and played in our fourth session when we first used the deck and my wife commented after, "Wow - I really had a sense of tension and was excited to continue moving on." I would have to agree with her sentiments and will explain why I think it happened. Our GMless game prior to the deck was run by Mythic and at times my wife would become confused with what die rolls really meant... were we using the our character's abilities or were we emulating the GM? All of those actions were dice... granted some were D20s vs. D100s however everything was operated with rolling dice. With the deck, all dice rolls were simply character abilities and the running the GM was left to drawing cards. It really clarified what we were doing and at what stage we were at.
It also played much faster, allowing for less downtime trying to figure out the context of the answer when consulting the deck to emulate the GM, because of a significantly decreased amount of time spent looking up tables as well as the faster mechanic of drawing cards vs. rolling multiple sets of dice. For instance, when asking a question such as, "Do we see anything happen as we crest the hill?" Here's the breakdown:
Agree on likely odds (no different from Mythic)
Draw card - immediately can see YES!/Yes/No/NO!
That same card that informs you can provide a Sight/Sound/Touch/Taste to jump start your idea (compared to having to roll for a noun/verb)
Draw for a verb
Draw for a noun
If needed, you can draw for an adjective
The entire process takes a lot less time compared to rolling on tables and the added benefit is that the cards are all lined up next to each other, allowing you to see the results that you got instead of having to remember or write them down! I didn't realize how much handier it would be until we started playing with it. With Mythic it took me several sessions to really get a feel for the system and with GameMaster's Apprentice it immediately resonated with me. Additionally, I'd say that it is easier to re-interpret the context of the answers you're provided as the cards remain in front of you -- in a very tactile sense it feels easier to re-interpret compared to re-rolling dice in Mythic, or at least that was my impression.
Continued Options/Room for Growth:
As mentioned there are features that my wife and I didn't delve into but the cards just seem to continue to offer more. My wife and I generated a random event and she asked, "So do we have to follow-up on that immediately?" Nathan Rockwood, in the instructions, suggested a method of determining how impactful random events are and so we drew another card and looked at the difficulty rating, which for us was '3', which we ruled as being less significant to the story. My wife instantly said, "Oh, ok. So we could look into it but it isn't hugely impactful to the story." We also used a similar method when we were investigating a certain item, trying to discern what it meant. We got some information and wanted to see how confident the person was of what he'd given us... again we drew a card and looked at the difficulty rating, which was a '6', and ruled that he knew 60% of what was written down, but that there was more that could be learned.
The deck is awesome. One of the best GM Emulator tools that I've used. It won't replace everything -- we still use Rory's Story Cubes, some directional dice (compass; e, n, w, s/true directional; up, down, left, right), UNE (for generating NPCs), though with that said we still haven't tapped into the full potential of the deck. We could easily replace the directional dice we use with the scatter die found on the cards, NPCs can be generated using the Vice/Virtue and other characteristics on the cards. For names, we could use the name generator though with online tools so handy on devices we opt for using setting specific generators though could use the deck in a pinch or on the road if no devices are around.
The benefits are; less table consulting, greater immersion due to clarified dice rolls only for system abilities (if using a stand-alone rule set -- the only way we've used the deck vs. using the deck as the system), and speed of drawing cards vs. rolling D100s. It's incredible. I highly recommend it and likely will be picking up the other genre decks.
I purchased the DTRPG printed decks and sleeved mine with FFG Standard Card sleeves. It isn't cheap, at $25 or so shipped, but highly recommended and already one of the best purchases I've made when it comes to Tabletop RPGs.