Sunday, May 22, 2011

Using Magic Set Editor to create D&D Handout Cards

By popular demand...

This card is handed over to the DM when the player uses that particular power (Burning Blade, in this case), and helps the DM keep track of the status effects the power inflicts. I made it and many more with a program called Magic Set Editor.

Magic Set Editor is a program that allows you to custom build cards for a variety of Collectible Card Games, most notably Magic: The Gathering. I have found it to be very easy to create a variety of cards as handouts in my Dungeons and Dragons game, as I have talked about before. As requested by an anonymous reader, I hereby offer a bit of a tutorial on how to use Magic Set Editor to create these types of cards. Keep in mind I am not using it to make Magic: The Gathering cards but rather handout cards for Dungeons and Dragons.

First, go to to download the program. You'll need a printer and some heavy cardstock paper (I use the 110 lb variety; regular multi-purpose printing paper, once cut down to size, tends to roll in on itself. The heavy cardstock will last a lot longer). I also picked up some card sleeves for added protection.  Finally, a good pair of scissors or a razor blade and straightedge to cut the cards out once printed is necessary. I recommend the razorblade over the scissors. Less hand-cramps.

Now, if you've downloaded the program and started it up, it will ask you if you want to create a new deck or open an old deck. Click on the button to create a new deck. You'll notice it gives you several different types of cards to choose from.  Choose whichever one you like; you can always change it later inside the program.

If you're playing 4th Edition D&D, there is probably a good chunk of text you need to put on your handout cards. For this reason, I went here and downloaded a few additional card templates. Make sure that you save them to the same folder the Magic Set Editor program is found in, otherwise they won't be available in the program.

The "Modern Full Text" template is perfect if you need to put a lot of text on a card (such as a 4E combat power card).

Yes, these cards are OSR-Compatible

Also highly recommended is the "Ancient Scroll Style", mostly because it looks really cool as a handout and it comes with a nice font to boot.

Now I need to make a matching Hand of Vecna card...

The other one I like to use pretty extensively (primarily for PC and NPC portrait cards) is one that comes with the program, which is called "Extended Art". It's the opposite of "Modern Full Text", and allows you to make a card that looks like this:

One of our PCs

By clicking on the border, a menu will drop down to allow you to change the color. Clicking on the colored background will do the same, giving you the options of white, green, blue, red, black, artifact, land, and multicolor (note: this doesn't work with Ancient Scroll Style). Double-clicking anywhere a picture would go will allow you to load a picture from your computer and fit it into the frame

Some tips...

When you tell it to print, there is a check-box that will let you put spaces between the cards. Do NOT check that box. It is easier to cut the cards apart without the space. Without the space, if you print on an 8.5x11 sheet of paper, the cards will be perfectly sized to fit into the plastic card protectors. Also, if you do check that box, the bottoms of the lowest row of cards will be cut off.

Copy-pasting from the D&D Compendium (4E) or a System Reference Document (if you're playing 3.x or Pathfinder) will save you a lot of time. It will probably require a bit of formatting to make it look nice, but that's easier than typing everything out of a book.

If you have consumable items that see frequent use, print out several and recycle. It's a big help to have all consumable items on cards; that way, when players use them, they just hand the card in. This eliminates a lot of character-sheet scribbling and erasing. You can put the rules right there on the card, so there's no need to look it up in the book.

Google Image Search is your friend. DeviantArt is your friend. If you have a Dungeons and Dragons Insider account, you have access to all the art they publish in their books and online. There are plenty of other websites featuring fantasy art.  Finding art for the cards is probably the most time-consuming part of the process (one of the reasons I like the "Modern Full Text" template!).

It's not apparent in the images above, but it is possible to include a "Casting Cost" in the title line of most cards (again, not applicable to the "Ancient Scroll" style). I have found it useful in certain instances. For example, in my Castle Ravenloft 4E Session, I put a number in the casting cost area for monster cards to tell me how many times to roll on the treasure chart once that monster was killed. I haven't found uses yet for the various symbols that are available, but I'm sure other people will.

If you haven't already, download a program called "CutePDF" or one like it.  It allows you to "print" a document and create a PDF file from it, and it works quite well with Magic Set Editor.  In fact, when you do so and open the PDF, you can do a copy-paste on any of the individual cards in the PDF document, which how I was able to post the card images up here for all of you to see.

The program automatically sets the borders of the cards to be black. I have not yet found a way to change this, although I'm sure it is a simple fix. Change the borders to white and save yourself some ink.

In Closing...

I hope this post has been useful for some of you DMs out there looking for an easy way to produce good-looking, useful handouts for their D&D game (or any RPG, really). They come in really handy in my home games. I am also contemplating a more complete card-based system for building dungeons randomly, thanks in part to a little inspiration from this guy.


  1. Great article. I've used MSE a lot in the past, but stopped after I changed computers and lost many templates. This article encourages me to get back into it, those cards look fantastic.

    Lately I've been using to make my cards. Power2ool's cards come out formatted just like you'd find in a 4e book. They're not nearly as pretty as an MSE card, but it is a web based program that's quick and easy to use, and it saves all your cards online for easy access.

    From now on, I think I'll use MSE for player given cards (because they look so nice) and stick with for my DM needs, I don't need all that pretty stuff.

  2. Thanks for the comment! I have checked out power2ool but haven't had the time to mess around with it too much.

    Great blog, btw! Looking forward to reading more of your stuff!

  3. i love reading this article so beautiful!!great job!
    magic: the gathering cards