[Classic house rules] Poker games

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[Classic house rules] Poker games

#1 Postby oddtail » Tue Dec 30, 2008 7:16 pm

The default rules for playing poker in Deadlands Classic are... OK, I guess. They work for a quick game, but I find they are not enough if, say, a PC plays poker a whole lot. And poker tourneys that a posse member takes part in are not much fun. I mean, "roll Gamblin' 15 times, you win if you pass all the rolls" or "roll Gamblin' once, you win if your roll is the highest" is not my idea of fun ;). On the other hand, playing hand-by-hand might take just a bit *too* long.

So, I created, I believe it was a few years ago, a system that was a little more elaborate (*). We used the rules for quite a while, but they were not perfect - they could be occasionally abused, they worked badly for 2 players, and the first two hours of a poker tourney were completely irrelevant (because the amount of money that could be won or lost was negligible with smaller blinds/antes). The worst thing, though, was that the simulation was, at times, incredibly slow (particularly when I had to control many NPCs at the poker table).

Still, the rules were pretty much liked by the players and we used them in all three of our Deadlands campaigns. So I decided to create something more simple and elegant, less abuse-able, and much faster. I still wanted to give the players/NPCs some control over the overall strategy.

The rules are a bit like a hybrid between the "play one hand" rules from Player's Guide, and the "play for an hour" rules. Every Gamblin' roll reflects about 10 minutes of play, and who wins and how much is decided, in a way, by who gets the highest card.

First time we used the new rules was during yesterday's Deadlands session. We used them for the second half of a poker tourney two guys from the posse enrolled in. And... it was a success! The rules were fun, intuitive (according to my players), fast enough, and we all agreed that they reflected the way poker in general and poker tourneys in particular work very well.

I figured the rules, with a few minor changes included that my players suggested, might be of some use to other Deadlands GMs and players. Plus, maybe someone will help me make them simpler, more interesting, more balanced, or offering more options. So, I decided to post them here, with a few comments for clarification. Here goes:

General gameplay:

1. Before the game begins, stakes are decided - choose any fixed amount of money.
- Friendly games should have stakes at about 5-25 cents, professional games from 1$ upwards (usually 5$ or more).
- Think of the "stakes" as 2-5 times the minimum bet in a given game.

2. Every player puts 5 stakes in the pot.
- if a player can't afford 5 stakes, he puts in as many as he can, but receives a -1 penalty to his first Gamblin' roll for every stake he is short.
- note that if a gambler has enough money on his person, even if he does NOT intend to play for all of it, he can't elect to put less than 5 stakes in the pot. Putting less money in the pot reflects someone who has little money and thus is desperate and not very likely to win much, at least initially.
- if a player does not even have one stake to put in, he just has too little money - he'll lose it before he has a chance to win.

3. Everyone rolls Gamblin', at a TN from 5 to 13 (their choice). It is possible to roll at TN 3, but the player is at a serious disadvantage.
- higher TNs reflect more aggressive play, or just playing with the ambition of winning more, faster. Obviously, good gamblers have a better chance of pulling that off.
- an amateur gambler typically rolls at TN 5, professionals roll at TN 7 or (much less often) 9. 11 and 13 is asking for trouble in most cases. TN 3 is rolled by poor players who just try to break even/play extra carefully, and is typically only used by decent players in tournament play (if they have very few chips and want to stay in the game just a bit longer, to win a higher prize).
- if the roll is failed, the player has to put one more stake in the pot. If he doesn't have enough money for that, he's lost everything he has and he's broke. Ouch.
- note: a player CAN'T decide he's not playing anymore - not at this stage. The pot does not reflect an actual in-game pot, but rather the maximum amount of money that is reasonably possible to be in the game at a given time. Putting another stake in the pot reflects playing too aggressively or raising needlessly and being re-raised, or just losing a major hand. If a player doesn't want to risk too much, they should opt for a lower TN, then they will likely not be forced to put anything in the pot, other than the initial 5 stakes.
- going bust means the player puts five more stakes in the pot (10 more if they have the Bad Luck Hindrance). This reflects a particularly bad bluff or really poor judgment, and the subsequent loss of a lot of money.
- a successful roll gives a chance to actually win something, as detailed in point 4.

4. Everyone who made their rolls draws cards from a full deck.
- you draw one card if you rolled at TN 5, two cards if the TN was 7, and so on. At TN 13, you draw five cards (if you made the TN, of course!).
- in addition to the 1-5 cards, one more card is drawn for every Raise. Of course, if there's a Raise, more cards would've been drawn if the TN rolled had been higher, but hey, that's the price for being too cautious!
- if a player rolled at TN 3, they get 2 cards, but only keep the lower (except the Joker, which is always kept). If they get a Raise, they just draw one card as normal (additional Raises give more cards as normal).
- don't bother reshuffling the deck afterwards. It's possible to use the same deck until it runs out of cards completely.

5. For deciding who wins, only three highest cards drawn are relevant.
- the person who has the highest card (suit is relevant - Spades are the best suit, Clubs the worst, just like in combat) takes 5 stakes from the pot. if they also have the second highest card, they take 5 more stakes. If they also have the THIRD highest card (which happens very rarely), they take 5 more, to a total of 15 stakes.
- if the winner only took 5 stakes, the player who was dealt the second-best card takes two stakes from the pot. If they also have the third best card, they take 2 more stakes, to a total of 4.
- if the best and second-best players only had one winning card so far, the person who got dealt the third-best hand takes 1 stake from the pot. If it's the same player that took 5 stakes from the pot, that's OK, he gets a total of 6 stakes.
- to sum up: assuming there are at least 3 total cards dealt, the payout structure may be:
5/2/1 (most common, the best 3 cards are distributed among three different players)
6/2 (the best card and the third-best got dealt to the same player)
5/4 (the second and third-best card got dealt to the same player)
10 or 15 (one player got the best two/three cards)
- note that to win big, it's necessary to draw more than one card (you need at least 2 cards to win 10 stakes, and 3 cards to win 15 stakes). You might well have the best hands, but if you play too cautiously, there's only so much that you can win.
- Jokers play a special role. The Red Joker is always "good", the Black Joker is "good" in 50% cases (if the character has Luck o' the Irish, the Black Joker is always "good", if they have Bad Luck - the Joker is always "Bad"). A good Joker turns all the cards of a player (including itself) into an Ace of Spades. A bad Joker turns all cards of the player into 2 of Clubs. So, a bad Joker usually means the player gets nothing, and a good Joker more often than not means that the player wins 10 or 15 stakes.
-ties between a Joker and an actual Ace of Spades are ruled in favour of the player with more money on him.

6. After everyone has taken their chips from the pot, repeat points 3-5 until the pot is exhausted. Another pot may be formed then.
- each series of rolls corresponds to about 10 minutes of play. So one pot corresponds to 30-60 minutes of play, usually.
- anyone can decide not to play anymore before rolling, but the chips they've already invested are forfeit. Therefore, it's rarely done.
- if there are not enough stakes for everyone, the players with better cards take pick first (for example, if the pot only contains 4 stakes, the player with the best card takes them, and everyone else gets nothing).

Special rules for cheating and for watching other players more carefully than usual:

1. Cheating has to be declared when deciding on the TN of the Gamblin' roll. The player decides on the TN of his Sleight o' Hand roll just like with the Gamblin' roll.

2. If the Gamblin' roll is failed, cheating doesn't help any - so cheaters usually opt for lower TNs for Gamblin'. You still roll for Sleight o' Hand to check if you get caught, though.

3. Sleight o' Hand rolls work exactly like the Gamblin' rolls - they give even more cards. Therefore, instead of rolling Gamblin' at TN 11, you can roll Gamblin' *and* Sleight o' Hand at TN 7 each, and still get 2+2=4 cards (if you get no Raises, that is).
- the catch is that if you fail your SOH roll, you get caught. It's usually the most perceptive player who notices the cheat. Oh, and cheating is usually so obvious that you get caught red-handed, and the one that calls you a cheater does not look like a liar. This goes double for those who go bust on the SOH roll.

4. If the SOH roll is successful, the cheating goes unnoticed - unless someone was watching the cheater. Enjoy those extra cards.

5. Watching another player extra carefully serves two purposes - spotting cheaters, and analysing another player's strategy, mannerisms etc.
- for every person you watch in a given 10 minutes of play, your Gamblin' roll is at -2.
- if you watch someone in the round they're cheating, you get to roll Cognition against their SOH. If you win, you suspect he's cheating - you get +2 to any future Cognition rolls against him. If you get a Raise, you know he's cheating and can explain how (and hope others believe you, at least believe you enough to check). If you get two Raises, you catch the cheater and expose him (if you intend to).
- additionally, all your cards are one rank higher against that particular player, and you win ties regardless of suit. So, if you watch someone, your 9 of Clubs is better than his 10 of Spades. This might not seem like much, but it improves the odds tremendously, especially if you draw multiple cards anyway.
- if two players watch each other, the effects are cancelled. It's impossible to watch someone *and* cheat, by the way.
- if, due to watching, it is unclear who has the best card, the player who watched somebody else has the highest card (for example, if A and B both have Queens, and C has a Jack but he watches B, his Jack wins against both Queens, even though it normally shouldn't win against A). If there's still a tie (for example, A watches B, who watches C, who watches A, and they all draw Queens), the player with the most money on him wins.
- watching other players is quite useful, but due to the -2 penalty, you'll typically roll at a lower TN and get fewer cards. It's usually best used either against someone you really want to lose, or against the best player at the table. It also works better when fewer people are playing, of course (you get an advantage over one person while having a tough time against everyone else). In a one-to-one match, watching the other player is the thing to do if you still roll at TN 7 or more, despite the penalty.


In tournaments, the same rules apply as with normal play, with a few clarifications:

1. Everyone starts with the same number of stakes. In a typical tourney, it's 50, but it could be anywhere from 30 (for quick tournaments) to 80 (deep stack tournaments). More than 80 stakes is not recommended, because it already reflects 3-4 times more chips than usual.

2. Assuming for the sake of simplicity that there's 50 minutes of play followed by 10 minutes' break, there are 5 series of rolls made before each break. If the pot is divided before time's up, another is formed, and possibly a third.
- when the break starts, the remainder of the pot is divided as evenly as possible among the players at the table. Any stakes that can't be divided easily are given to the players with the most stakes, first.
-when the break starts, everyone loses 10 stakes - this is to reflect the increasing blinds/antes. As a result, as the game progresses, everyone will have fewer and fewer stakes - they are not intended to reflect the actual number of chips, but a player's relative success at the moment.
- if anyone has 10 or less stakes at the moment a break starts, they're out of the tournament.

3. To determine who plays at the table a PC is at, draw a card from a full deck for every NPC. Treat the card drawn as the Gamblin' skill of the NPC - a 7 of Hearts means 3d6, for instance.
- don't reuse the cards that have already been drawn, which is to say - use the same deck throughout the tourney.
- in big tournaments, increase every NPC's Gamblin' skill by 1 (so, the minimum is 2d4 - big tourneys attract better players). For really big events, you might even increase the skill by 2 (making the best NPC to be encountered a 6d12 - ouch!).
- if you wish an NPC to be a Huckster or have Luck o' the Irish, just decide it on a whim.
- with Jokers, just come up with any unique, famous, or good gambler, and decide on his stats appropriately.
- during the second hour of the tournaments, whenever a new player joins the table, draw 2 cards for him and choose the better one. Similarly, draw 2 cards during the 3rd hour and so on. That 3d4 gambler is not likely to be met at the final table, no matter how lucky he was!

4. If a new player joins a table, it might be necessary to determine how many stakes they have at the moment of joining, not just his skill. Use the following rule of thumb:
- roll the player's Gamblin' (treat going bust as -2).
- multiply the result by 5.
- add 20 if it's the first hour of the tourney, 15 in the second hour, 10 in the third hour. Don't change the result if it's the fourth or further hour of the tournament. If the result is 0 or less, give the unlucky gambler 1d4 stakes (don't reroll aces).
- so, if a player drops out of the tournament after half an hour and another replaces him, and he rolls 5 for his Gamblin', the newcomer has about 45 stakes.

5. During the first hour of the tourney, there's no need to bother wondering how many players are out. Later, however, it's essential to know how many people are still playing. You may assume that:
- after the second hour, 1d20 players are out (reroll Aces)
- after the third, fourth etc. hours, 2d20 players drop out. When there are fewer players left than there are prizes paid, it's back to 1d20 every hour.
- after there are only 5 tables left, roll a d6 every 10 minutes of play. Every time a 6 comes up, one player drops out at a table (other than the tables the posse are sitting at, of course), and reroll the die. Repeat until there are only the tables the posse members occupy.

A few more comments:

- yes, I know the rules favour people with little cash. They roll at -4, but only once? *and* they risk 5 times less money than others? That's not fair, true. But I decided that it made things more fun and dramatic. Besides, if the player fails any Gamblin' roll before they have a chance to win anything (and they will likely NOT win anything on the first roll, what with the penalty to it), he's done - he can't hope to win, he's broke.

- the rules for determining the number of chips/the skills of players in a tourney have not been checked for correctness or any resemblance thereof, but they create a dramatic enough effect, and it's all that matters.

- the payout structure is less complicated than it looks. It actually was even simpler (5/2/2 or 10/0/0 or 15/0/0, no other options), but my players insisted that I change it so it's more varied. I complied.

(*) Basically the mechanics were as follows: everyone throws an amount of money based on the stakes into a "pot", everyone rolls Gamblin', everyone draws 5 cards plus one for every Raise (like with casting Hexes). You can, before drawing cards, decide to draw fewer than the roll permitted. Three best hands take some of the money from the "pot", but the more cards you forfeited, the more you're allowed to take. Repeat as needed until the "pot" is gone, with each series of rolls equaling approximately 10 minutes of poker.
Can't think of anything smart/funny right now, sorry.

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#2 Postby oddtail » Thu Jan 08, 2009 4:57 pm

Aww, more than 80 views and not a single comment? That's a pity. Even a "that's not really useful, kinda pointless" would've been SOME information ;).

Oh well. Guess I'm just a fiddling-with-game-rules geek that way.
Can't think of anything smart/funny right now, sorry.

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Joined: Sun Sep 14, 2008 11:02 pm

#3 Postby darkrose50 » Fri Jan 09, 2009 12:37 pm

oddtail wrote:Aww, more than 80 views and not a single comment? That's a pity. Even a "that's not really useful, kinda pointless" would've been SOME information ;).

Oh well. Guess I'm just a fiddling-with-game-rules geek that way.

Looks like it should work. Try out Microsoft Visio (if you can get your hands on a copy) and making a flowchart . . . it really smoothed things out for me. I made my first flow chart, and it ended up adding around 6 things to the process. You can always have two documents: the text block, and the flowchart.

Anyhow it was fun to fiddle with a flowchart.

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#4 Postby oddtail » Sat Jan 10, 2009 6:30 am

darkrose50 wrote:
oddtail wrote:Aww, more than 80 views and not a single comment? That's a pity. Even a "that's not really useful, kinda pointless" would've been SOME information ;).

Oh well. Guess I'm just a fiddling-with-game-rules geek that way.

Looks like it should work. Try out Microsoft Visio (if you can get your hands on a copy) and making a flowchart

I don't think I'll be able to get one... a flowchart, OTOH, would make the rules clearer to someone's who's unfamiliar with them (*).

I'll consider making one. Thanks!

(*) Nnot the case with my players, they know the rules pretty well - as I said, they look worse written down than actually used, and it's easier to just show them in practice than to describe them.
Can't think of anything smart/funny right now, sorry.

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