"Oh, so you want to enter that room I never wrote up to follow that NPC I never fleshed out? Ohhhhh-kay...."
So I'm very pleased to have discovered The Gamemaster's Apprentice by Nathan Rockwood. This incredibly useful deck of 60 double-backed cards (120 card faces) gives the GM a TON of useful prompts, randomizers, seeds, and details for nearly any gaming occasion I can think of. It can also be used as a GM emulator for solo gaming. The deck is also system and genre-neutral, so you can use it with pretty much any game I can imagine.
Each card offers the GM 14 different "tools" at the table, with each card providing a randomly created element or prompt. If the GM is stuck, he pulls a card and runs with the result on the card. Just LOOK at the sheer number of tools found in the GM's Apprentice:
2. Likely Odds: Need a yes/no answer to a situation? First determine the likelihood of a positive outcome, then pull a card to see if they succeeded or not.
3. Dice: Each polyhedral dice is here, with an even distribution of outcomes across the 120 faces. (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20, d%). Don't have your dice on hand? Grab a card and find the result instead.
4. Norse Runes: The runes correspond to a handy chart provided in the deck's instructions (provided as a free download). These symbolic prompts are meant to fuel your imagination as needed.
5. Elemental Symbols: The symbols for air, earth, fire, and water can be literal prompts or suggestive for the situation.
6. Random Event Generator: Each line here has a verb-adjective-noun layout. Pull three cards (one for each word) or just read the prompts as written for a random situation prompt!
7. Sensory Prompts: Need to give the players something they can see, hear, smell, or feel in a scene? A random card draw give you some sensory clues for the players to act upon.
8. Tag Symbol: The tags are used for another set of randomizers that correspond to a previously designed list of possible events or encounters, or just for symbolic interpretation.
9. Scatter Die: Need to quickly determine a random direction? Check out the scatter die icon to see which way the path goes, the wind is blowing, or where that grenade landed!
10. Possessions: What's in the NPC's pockets? The handy list gives the GM a way to determine a list of random objects.
11. Names: What is the name of this random NPC? Pull a card an give him/her a quick moniker on the spot.
12. Catalysts: These story prompts push the situation in unexpected directions when needed.
13. Location: Where are they? Where do they need to go? Where is the Macguffin to be found? Each card has a unique location to explore.
14. Virtue and Vice: What's so good/bad about a certain person? What habits do they have. Pull a card and give them some quick quirks.
As you can see, the many uses of these cards is staggering. You can create an NPC on the spot. You can use the deck as a game engine. You can flesh out a random scene or event. Story ideas and seeds can be created with just a few draws of the deck. I'm just beginning to discover the uses this deck has, and it has gone into my travelling game kit. The Gamemaster's Apprentice Deck is available at Drive Through RPG for $10 for a print-your-own version, or $20.00 for a deck of cards. I got the cards, and they're very good, high-quality. Sniderman says check it out.