This is an introductory essay and explanation of the Open Card Deck Standard, and the Library and License that will support it. As you might be able to tell, I've spent some time thinking about this, in conjunction with conversations with a number of people on related topics. But this is only the beginning.


Before we detail the actual standards, let's make some axiomatic definitions.


A single database entry, with defined content fields (name, artwork, etc.). Each entry is designed to be printed on a single piece of generally flat material, using either one or both sides.


A collection of cards, selected with particular use in mind, to be the limited pool for that use. A deck might be created, added to, split, or diminished in various ways, but the deck defines the difference between the cards under consideration in play, and those that are not.


The physical, mental, or social activities conducted with the deck, during a limited time duration that is in some way repeatable in a series. Creating the deck is not considered part of play; however, it is conceivable that rules might define play that changes the makeup of the deck.


The agreed upon patterns of play. Not all play is defined by the rules, and certain types of play will no doubt violate rules. Rules define the general plane of the use of the deck, either in reference to the deck and the cards' content, or not. Apart from the agreed upon rules of play, other pre-existing and/or meta physical, mental, and social rules will no doubt affect the play as well.

Some Introductory Notes on Card Decks

A card deck is a way of databasing relatively small quantities information in a printed format, such that it can be handled and sorted in multi-dimensional physical ways, and considered by human minds accordingly.

In an era when digital databases are behind many of the informational tools we consider to be cutting edge, it may seem to be a reversion to think about laying our thoughts onto paper using ink. But while the power of search engines and algorithmic database programming is great, digital data must dogmatically conform to particular language rules. Data processed by a particular algorithm will always be processed precisely the same way--if the algorithm shifts from its design, the data can easily be rendered categorically unintelligible.

But by breaking text into smaller chunks by printing it on physical cards, we can more easily violate the categories of information, while not breaking the rules of language or intelligible thought. This allows our brains' creativity to come in and repair the categories in an ad hoc manner, or manipulate them according to predetermined rules. We might call this the "play" of the cards--how they fall in order in a deck, in one's hand, or on the table, and the relations between the cards. These physical shufflings provide interesting segue ways in and out of the information that might not have been generated by an algorithm.

These segue ways go by different names, depending on the card deck. We might call them "random", "divinatory", "inspirational", "play", "synthetic", "strategic", "speculative", "thematic", or "tangential". Regardless of the context for naming these segue ways, the value they have to us is that they allow us to break from our previous categorizations, and attempt to create new categorizations, for whatever intellectual good this might do us.

Here some examples of various types of card decks with different formats, for different purposes:

Tarot Deck

The most popular Tarot Deck in English is the Rider-Waite deck, created in 1909, incorporating images and titles from various other sources. Used for divination, but also for a variety of card games, which various decks trace back to before being used for more occult purposes.

Oblique Strategies

A deck of cards created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. Each card has a brief text phrase, intended to create some level of cognitive dissonance so that a person might break through a cognitive block. There have been five editions of the cards, as well as a number of homages and imitators.

Card Catalog

Used in libraries before the widespread use of computer databases, they were used to sync up three different sorting systems: the alphabetical list of authors' last names, a list of subject categories into which all materials were evaluated, and a library classification system like the Dewey Decimal System or the Library of Congress Classification that is used to sort the works on the shelves. By visiting one or more card catalogs, users could either find a particular work, or find related works based on the subject.

Sports Cards

Originally designed as a promotion by chewing gum companies, cards with photos of various athletes, and on the reverse side, their stats, became popular with fans and collectors. While they are most known for being occasionally valuable collector-items, they are also used by children for games only semi-related to the information on the cards.

Magic: The Gathering Cards

While there are many different collectible card games in different genres, "Magic Cards" were perhaps the first and remains one of the most popular. A wide number of different cards are collected by players, from which they make decks used in play. A simple turn-system allows a player to deduct "life points" from his/her opponent, via the game design rules written on each card, accompanied by fantasy artwork and characterizations.

For many in the various fields of critical intellectual pursuits, there is a fascination with the potential of card decks. They are appealing not only for the physical qualities they add to informational categorizing, but also because they can be created and destroyed at will, by anyone with printer and paper. There is nothing canonical about cards themselves outside of their decks, the only editorial constraint is on which cards belong in what deck. Cards seem adaptable to nearly any creative purpose, as long as they are designed well and the rules for using them are agreed upon.

But there are so many different possibilities for card decks, for different situations, games, rules, and practices. How does one go about discovering the limits of a new card deck? What should be included, and what excluded? What sorts of categories does one pre-define? Are all the cards the same, or are some different within the deck?

We are attempting an answer to these questions by drafting an Open Card Deck Standard (OCDS). The OCDS will be a format for creating cards that can be incorporated into any other deck made from cards that are similarly to OCDS standard. Any person will be able to create a card deck from any grouping of OCDS cards that they choose, selecting or ignoring cards at will to formulate the best deck for their purposes. The OCDS standard will be coupled with an OCDS Library and License, to promote the sharing and creation of any cards with the OCDS standard.

Goals of the Standard

To allow for a large pool of cards outside of any one deck.

While a deck is a strict limitation on the particular cards to be used in play, the precise makeup of the deck should be allowed to shift, if the deck creator desires. The OCDS allows for a larger "pool" of cards outside of the deck, which the creator can choose from at will. It also allows the creation of cards that are not "for" any particular deck, but could possibly used in a different deck in the future.

To allow for collaboration between deck creators.

OCDS cards are relatively basic, allowing for a single format of origin into any particular deck from the main OCDS Library. The Library will hold as many different cards as possible, allowing anyone wishing to work with OCDS to use these cards, and anyone wishing to create in OCDS to share their cards. The OCDS cards come with their own license, allowing them to be used by anyone, and modified. The modifications can be tracked via the database, and better variations will be used more widely.

To encourage the sharing of cards in a way that alleviates any Intellectual Property concerns, by providing public ownership for the content, and allowing means for remixing and modifying that content either for re-sharing or other use.

This is the point of the OCDS License. Anyone can come and take an unlimited amount of the content from the OCDS Library, but the OCDS Database only exists because material is submitted into it. The License aims to encourage both the use of content from the Library, and the addition of material to it.

To encourage the shattering of complex cards into simple cards.

One of the more notable constraints, and more notable features of OCDS is it's very limited field allowances per card. This is to make each card as simple as possible, and as open to interpretation as possible. Rather than have detailed, overly-specific cards that force particular interpretations or uses, OCDS can better get at the root constructions, and increase the number of cards referencing a complicated idea, and allows those components to mix and mingle with others. One card with a complicated scenario will tend to read the same way in many uses--however, if that scenario is written across five different cards, more of the scenario-building is done in the play, allowing other cards to perhaps attach themselves to the scenario or replace particular aspects of the scenario.

To encourage the sharing of cards without sharing rules.

There are no fields in OCDS related to the play or rules of the cards. This is so the cards can be shared without assuming any models of play, after which, rules can be applied by individual deck creators without any need for inheriting rules made by other creators. This will limit the sorts of cards that can be considered OCDS, but will allow for the maximum utility of the cards in OCDS.

To allow for customization/forking from OCDS.

The definition of OCDS is limiting, to improve the utility of the standard. However, many card deck applications will require adding more detailed information into particular cards, such as longer description, play rules, or other symbolic notation. OCDS is designed with the explicit knowledge that it ought to be forked. The license will allow any deck creators to modify the cards, use them as they wish, and then re-modify them back to OCDS if they wish. The standard can be forked, up to and including forking the OCDS Library in its entirety, for the purposes of modifying the standard and the OCDS cards for different uses.

And probably more that we'll discover as we start using it.

The Open Card Deck Standard

What follows is the very first draft of the OCDS, which we'll call OCDS Version 0.1.

The Open Card Deck Standard (OCDS) defines the Format for each OCDS card, the method for submitting a card or set of cards to the OCDS Library, and the OCDS License under which the cards and Library may be used.

Each OCDS card consists of one of each of the following fields:


Definition: 99 characters or less that name all the information contained in the particular card. No syntactical formatting is to be used (e.g. periods, commas, colons, semi-colons, dashes, parentheses, brackets, quotes, symbols, etc.)

Single Line

Definition: 99 characters or less that describe the entirety of the card further. It cannot be identical to the Name, but can used syntactical formatting.


Definition: a digital image in JPG, PNG, or GIF format, in 1:1 size ratio.


Definition: 299 characters or less that describe in as much detail as possible the spirit of how the card ought to be considered.


Definition: The date on which the card was submitted to the OCDS Library, in format MM/DD/YYYY.


Definition: OCDS version number the card was submitted under. All cards entered into the OCDS are updated to the current version.


Definition: Code indicating the language in which the card is written.

OCDS Library

The OCDS Library is a database available for reading and download on a public website that attempts to include every OCDS card ever made.

Submitting to the OCDS Library

Cards to be submitted to the Library are pre-formatted to OCDS by the submitter, and passed to the archivists. The archivists check the formatting, scrub any previous Date or Version information, and add the Cards to the Library. Everything submitted to the Library in proper format must be accepted.

Viewing and Downloading the OCDS Library

The Database is available for anyone to view, download, and use, according to the OCDS License.

Mirroring and Forking the OCDS Library

Mirroring and Forking is permitted. Please see the relevant sections in the License.

OCDS License

The material in the OCDS Library is not owned by anyone, as it is open and free to use by all. However, to avoid the theft of this open material by way of any person or group claiming ownership to it and preventing its free and open use, this License is necessary.

Any material in the OCDS Library falls under this OCDS License for the entirety of the period for which it is in the Library.

Any material falling under the OCDS License must be maintained in OCDS and made available to the public continuously for as long as is humanly possible.

By submitting material to the OCDS Library, you acknowledge that it will fall under the OCDS License, and revoke all claims of ownership of the material.

By using the material in the OCDS Library, you acknowledge your understanding of the OCDS License, and agree to use the material accordingly.

Any material downloaded or copied from the OCDS Library can be removed from the OCDS License, and is then under a Creative Commons, Attribution License.

Mirroring or Forking of the Library can be done under the provisions of Section 6, above.

A Mirrored Library is one that is exactly the same as the OCDS Library. It can only be considered under OCDS if the date of its last download is listed, and it is unaltered.

A Forked Library is one that's progenitor was the OCDS Library, but has had new material added to it or deleted, or its format was changed from OCDS. A Forked Library cannot be considered under OCDS.

Any material downloaded, copied, altered, modified, or forked can be re-submitted to the Library if it is re-formatted for OCDS, and when added to the Library, it can again be considered in OCDS and under OCDS license.

License short-form takeaway: When cards are properly OCDS and in the Library, they belongs to all of us. If you want to take some cards away and play with them, wonderful--but say where you got them. If after you play with them you bring it back and re-share them with everyone, that's totally awesome, and they belong to everyone again.


By now we've presented a crap ton of information about card decks, standards, and libraries, and it probably seems a bit overwhelming. Here are some use-cases and examples that hopefully will help explain while any of this is useful at all.

Three Example Cards

Name: Analog Computer
Single Line: A computer that represents the non-digital using physics
Text: A method of solving problems by physical analogy. Translates physical characteristic (temperature, flow, speed, resistance etc) into a model of a problem. Allows changing variables to result in quick answers without re-calculation.
Date: 10/14/2012
Version: 0.1
Language: EN
Name: Custom
Single Line: Recognizable cultural practices.
Text: Tradition, ritual, or belief. Enduring practices between two or more members of a group, that are socially learned and passed down through generations.
Date: 10/14/2012
Version: 0.1
Language: EN
Name: Places to Day Dream or Think
Single Line: A particular kind of place at a particular kind of time.
Text: A quiet place, with a view. Or lots of noise, and no view. A place where nothing is happening, or too much is happening, so our mental schemas can't follow the action, and our minds are free to wander. A place for waiting, resting, boredom, where meditation is forced on us.
Date: 10/14/2012
Version: 0.1
Language: EN

These three cards are good examples of cards in OCDS. They are properly formatted, but additionally they are loosely defined enough to be applicable in many different situations, but still descriptive enough to give any user something to work with. They may not fit precisely with a user's need in a card deck, but they can provide the rough sketch to help them start making their own cards.

Expanding on a Card

Name: Automobile
Single Line: A motorized vehicle.
Text: Invented in 1879, the automobile is now a common form of transportation.
Date: 10/12/2012
Version: 0.1
Language: EN

The above card is fine, but not great. A user might take this card from the Library, and improve it.

Name: Automobile
Single Line: A vehicle, typically of four wheels, powered by combustion engine or electricity.
Text: Invented in 1879, the automobile is now a common form of transportation. In particular parts of the world, the ownership and common use of cars has been a significant feature of culture, creating specific architecture, music, films, and lifestyles focusing on cars.
Date: 10/13/2012
Version: 0.1
Language: EN

Or, the card could be modded for a particular use. Say, if it is going to be used in a deck that focuses on environmental awareness or climate change.

Name: Automobile
Single Line: A vehicle, typically of four wheels, most-often powered by burning fossil fuels.
Text: Invented in 1879, the automobile is now a common form of transportation. As a major source of CO2 emissions and other pollutants, cars decrease air quality in congested areas. Additionally, death in car crashes is a major hazard in industrial societies.
Date: 10/14/2012
Version: 0.1
Language: EN

Duplicate and Modded Cards in the Library

As cards are modified, it is assumed that they will be added back into the Library as long as they maintain OCDS. It is conceivable that in the Library, there will be a build up of cards with similar or duplicate names. This is not a bug, but a feature. Using the date field on the cards, any person browsing the Library will easily be able to see the history of modifications, and choose to pull the cards from the Library that suit him/her best. Additionally, if a card is un-modded but added back into the Library as part of another submitted deck, the duplicate will serve as a vote of confidence for that particular modification. The Library will be able to present not only the most recent card variation for a particular name, but the most common. This will allow both the more standardized, but also the more diverse card version available for Library users.

Using a Card for a Game

Depending on the game, various information might be helpful added to the card, and other information might be superfluous. Here is a possible variation for a narrative roleplaying style car game.

Name: Automobile
Single Line: A vehicle, typically of four wheels, carrying up to 4 passengers and 500 pounds of equipment.
Text: Invented in 1879, the automobile is now a common form of transportation. Used to travel between cities, and increase the rate of travel on all roadways.
Movement: Needs a passenger of at least Intelligence 10 and Reflexes 12 to move. Increases movement rate by 10x.
Fuel: Spend one Hydrocarbon per turn to use the Automobile.
Risk: 1/10 chance of Accident, then roll for each Character Damages. 1/20 chance of Breakdown, then spend one Machine Parts before Automobile can be used again.
Source: Card modified from from the OCDS Library.

The added text gives gameplay instructions, and alters the description to make more sense in the context of the game. The date, version, and language information have been removed, because they are unnecessary to the game context. This card is no longer in OCDS standard, but because it was modified from an OCDS card, it must list the source to comply with Creative Commons Atttribution License.

Preparing a Modded Card for Resubmission to the Library

Name: Automobile
Single Line: A vehicle, typically of four wheels, carrying up to 4 passengers and 500 pounds of equipment.
Text: Invented in 1879, the automobile is now a common form of transportation. Used to travel between cities, and increase the rate of travel on all roadways.
Language: EN

The above card used for gameplay has now been re-modded for submission to the Library. It does not have to be, but if the person who modded it thinks it may be useful for others, s/he might want to do so. The gameplay information has been removed. The text of certain fields have been changed, but still satisfy OCDS. The Date and Version information do not need to be added, as they will be updated by the OCDS Librarians on submission and format check. The Language of the card has been marked on the card.