The Deck of Many Things

I've never had the misfortune chance to use a deck of many things on either side of the screen, though I have to say that as a DM its something that falls into the category of, "Very likely to break your game: do NOT fucking use." I'm a fan of a more or less balanced game and in a more or less balanced game TDoMT was a *ahem* wild card(s).

For example, every past version of the deck had the potential to grant you wishes, usually 1-4 of them. Wishes in past editions were a pretty big fucking deal, being a level 9 spell and permanently draining you of 5,000 experience points just to cast it. In 2nd Ediiton and prior it was also up to the DM to fuck with your wording, while in 3rd Edition they finally gave some benchmark requests that couldnt screw you over (you could ask for more, but that also invited trouble). There was also the chance to gain or lose 10,000 XP, lose all of your shit (forever), gain/lose ability score points, instantly die (or fight Death), or be imprisoned, underground, in stasis, in a random location.

Talk about a needle buried somewhere along a goddamned coastline.

This is the kind of shit that I would never allow in my games. Its gambling cranked up to 11, where players can become bloated with power or forever be crippled and have to roll up something new. Some of its relatively tame, like getting a magic weapon or having a level 4 fighter show up and, I dunno, die. Just when did they think DMs were going to lob this at the players? I suppose its easier doing it at low-levels and getting it out of the system where its easier to draw new characters into the plot. There's just too much going on that can easily damage any game that gives two shits about consistency or the narrative to make the risk or rewards worth it. Fuck, according to the Alumni article it was pulled from 2nd Edition because it was seriously damaging campaigns and being abused.

Gee, I wonder how? Was it the free castles or instant death?

The new deck is a paragon-tier artifact that sorcerers with the chaos spell source can use as an implement, prevents you from being dominated (EVAR!), can force an enemy to re-roll something once per encounter, and once per day letting you roll a d20 and use that result to replace yours or someone else's roll in a given encounter. Okay...thats all actually pretty fucking cool. Its thematic and doesnt break the game/you. It being a +5 tome seems a bit much, but I can live with that. The real problem is its other daily power that lets you draw a card. 


At any given time you can draw a card. You resolve its effect, and then the deck vanishes. The higher your concordance rating, the more likely it is that you can draw multiple cards and pick one. If its lower, you still get to draw more cards, but have to choose a shitty one if you draw it. I like this more since it allows you to stack the odds in your favor before making a draw. Some of the card effects have obviously changed, almost always for the better. The Knight is actually useful, calling a companion character of your level -1 as opposed to a level 4 useless motherfucker, while the Sun gives you any level 21 wondrous item of your choice instead of just a weapon. The cards that give you free loot are easy to deal with since you can just deduct treasure parcels, so the party wont be running around with 200,000+ gp over the expected budget.

Of course, some of the game-breaking cards are still around... The Void and Donjon both essentially remove you from play, forcing you to go find your body or mind or whatever and free it. This triggers a major quest, and the sidebar recommends letting the player make a new character during the rescue attempt. Thats all well and good...if the party doesnt have any more pressing concerns, I suppose. Death/Skull doesnt force you to fight Death one-on-one and permanently kill you if you fail, instead throwing you into an undead mosh-pit where everyone can participate. Really its kind of like a free encounter.

I'd be a bit more willing to give this deck a shot assuming we ever get a solid campaign up to paragon tier (and I would only drop it in around level 15 since its a +5 artifact). The fact that players can get on its good side to get multiple draws is the only reason, since its still loaded with some fucked up effects. Use at your own risk.


  1. Aw man, in my younger days we DID use the Deck of Many Things (even made one, pictures here. But then, the entire game was broken, with access to demi-god powers etc. We were teenagers, what did we know? Only that it was fun!

  2. The only way I'd ever incorporate this thing into my game is to make it into a MacGuffin --
    "Vathirond Smith, we need you to find the Deck of Many Things before the Karrnathi do!" -- choose one of the positive cards as a predetermined draw and then destroy it once it is resolved.

    That's if they even get to use it at all.

  3. "I think it's a great item, if you take everything written as a base suggestion. I allowed my paragon tier players (like, at the end of a session, just leveled to paragon), have a crack at it. They were not given the deck, an NPC Vistani was doing readings for them and allowed them some draws."

    "With some liberal PCs, you just come up with reasons to do certain things. I had a PC with a bad luck curse, so I (failed) to force the top card to be a ruin card (I made the cards with index cards, the printed pictures in the back of the article and glue, they weren't exactly easy to shuffle, and stuck together when I tried to 'cheat'). I pulled the Donjon, and just kinda rearranged the deck, the PCs didn't mind."

    "I also took the Donjon and Void cards and moved them to the bottom of the deck for the next two draws. I already had a rescue a PC adventure planned, so not worth having anyone draw those. One player drew the Knight and Skull (he was a chaos sorcerer so the deck favored him and gave him a second draw), and he was able to use his powers to alter the flow of energy. The skull killed an NPC and the Knight made an ally out of an NPC who was not normally one."

    "Since they were only 11, if they had gotten Moon/Sun/Key, I would've altered the value of the items they got, down."


Powered by Blogger.