Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Deck of Many Things , Beneficial and Baneful

My players have been hauling around a Deck of Many Things for months and months now; long ago, they wrapped it in a cloth, tied it up with string, and threw it in the bottom of Zeke's  backpack, promptly forgetting about it.  Zeke got killed in a cave-in a few weeks ago, and just last game the peasant workers that have been toiling for days to clear the rubble, returned to the village with his corpse.  Amongst the belongings were Zeke's Deck of Many Things.

The reemergence of the Deck into the forefront of people's minds has them reconsidering the temptation.  The character Mordecai is 59 years old after being on the wrong end of a ghost attack, and is considering retirement.  He's thinking about going out with a blaze of glory and pulling a few cards.  One of the fighters sees the other 4 fighters in the group and wonders if he'd be missed.  "Weren't you saying we could use another magic user, or perhaps a druid?"  And then there's the guy in the corner, "Don't do it; the DM is using the jedi mind trick on you by reminding us about the Deck."

I have to give my players some credit; they don't go snooping in the Dungeon Master's Guide.  That one guy remembered something about "picking a card and getting trapped forever by a demon" from an AD&D game 20 years ago, and that was enough for him.  "I will never draw a card from one of those things, ever."

If the players peeked, they'd know the 12 or so awesome things are ridiculously good, most of the bad things are manageable, but the 2 or 3 really bad things means it's time to roll up a new character.  For a single pull the odds are like 54% for something great, 33% for something bad but manageable, and 13% for a fate worse than death.

How many of you have drawn from the Deck of Many Things?  It seems like a device that is tailor made for memorable events, malevolent and benign - earn a castle, get all buffed out, pick up some wishes, gain an enemy for life.  I've posted a new poll to get a sense on how risk averse is the community of players out there.


  1. I don't recall ever pulling a card as a player, but I did have my players find a deck years ago in our AD&D2E game, after the deck cards came out in a dragon magazine. They survived the draws, as far as I can remember.

  2. We would use the wishes to avoid the worst results. Nowadays, I wouldn't consider that to be kosher.

  3. I vaguely recall using a deck of may things after the prop deck had come out in Dragon Magazine. I also recall we burnt through a wing of wishes undoing the bad stuff before giving up on the deck.

  4. I'm going to have to track down that Dragon Magazine, see if I can make some nice looking card-stock cards.

    The Deck was a favorite of module writers, and since this campaign is a Tour de Greyhawk, I'm sure the Deck shows up a few more times along the way.

  5. When first playing D & D I used the Deck of Many Things with the players from time to time, it was a fun item and I followed a strict rule of only drawing one card. These days I used a Tarot Deck from Mage the Ascension as an item carried by Reapers as a way to bargain with the living. Fun stuff all in all.

  6. Man, after months of exploring an old dwarven ruin, we get to the final chamber wherein repose a Deck and the Bow of Light we had been searching for to stop the invasion of our homeland. One player renowned for his terrible luck pulls a card from the deck and nothing happens. As a Ranger his character is slated to get the Bow, and when he takes it in hand - POOF!! Gone. He had pulled 'one magic item destroyed.' This AMAZING coincidence derailed a year long campaign and had us fluttering between systems for a few months before going out separate ways as a play group.

    Those things are cursed!

  7. In general, I dislike the Deck of Many Things, in that it often has extreme results, both good and bad, that disrupt subsequent game play. In a freeform game with no significant continuity of encounters between game sessions, it's merely annoying. In a game wherein the party is trying to accomplish a certain goal, the Deck can ruin the campaign.

    In over three decades of gaming, I've drawn three cards, each a single draw, resulting in my character changing alignment, losing his soul, and gaining the emnity of Orcus.

    Fun stuff.

  8. If you want to make props, Beedo, there's a nice card design software for the call of cthulhu game that's quite modifiable and makes cards quite quickly. It's called Strange Eons. I used it to translate some WFRP 3 cards into Japanese and it's very usable and free.

    You could make an interesting adventure out of the original PC's death by having the peasants open the whole deck when they found the body, and unleash craziness on the town.

  9. I'd pull cards if I didn't have any particular attachment to my PC - maybe he'll become more interesting and cool as a result. Or he'll have horrible stuff happen and be more interesting and cool as a result.

    But it's hard to risk a beloved and enjoyable character on a 46% chance of badness you could have avoided by not being greedy.

  10. We play again tonight, should be interesting to see what they do. How long can they resist the shiny, alluring Deck?

    I like Faustus's idea - let someone else get a hold of the deck and go bizonkers. Wise words indeed.

  11. Check out this link Good stuff...

    I've used the deck in two campaigns. Both times it has led to memorable events. Maybe the events weren't always happy, but they were things that the players talked about for years.

    On PC drew Enmity THREE TIMES and strong plotline developed between that character and a dark prince.

    In my current campaign, a character drew a powerful magic item (Helm of Brilliance) and that led to a dramatic conclusion...

    Good stuff. IMHO the essence of what D&D can be when you don't script everything beforehand and you let the story emerge from play.

  12. Thanks for the link, Jim! I had just enough time to print out the cards and glue stick them to some chipboard before the gamers got here. Not as nice as the custom cards Faustus suggested, but got 'em printed, glued and cut in about twenty minutes.

  13. Enjoy! I look forward to hearing how it goes!!!