Saturday, February 24, 2024

‘The Deck Of Many Things’ Is A Funky And Often Magical Grab Bag Of Ideas

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The Deck of Many Things, the famed artifact that has been a core part of D&D’s history going back to the original 1975 Greyhawk supplement. It’s unique take on the classic tarot and powerful effects have made it a source of awe and fear for players and DM’s alike. I know from experience it’s a hard thing to get to work in a campaign because it can alter reality in ways you literally cannot expect. But there’s much more to it than a chaotic collection of symbols, and in Wizards latest release for Dungeons & Dragons they did their best to approach it in as many ways as they could.

Unlike other releases of The Deck, the official Wizards release isn’t just a stack of cards. They’ve also created a whole extra deck of cards, The Deck of Many MORE Things, as well as two books to go along with it: a guide to all of the cards and The Book of Many Things, a detailed breakdown of just about every way you can incorporate the deck and its symbology into games. It’s a nice bundle, especially the lovely box that the deck comes in. I’d have liked to see the Book be a little more robust but we’ll get to that later.

The Deck Itself

So the deck itself is obviously the draw here and if you’re here JUST for the deck I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Gold edged and beautifully artistic in style, this is just a fantastic physical item you’re going to WANT to use. I love how they got a good mix of artists to render the different cards, each getting a unique spin but all fitting into the same aesthetic. The included card guide includes some methods to use the cards with and each card’s entry has a small description as well as different meanings: Person, Creature or Trap, Place, Treasure, and Situation.

The books give you a few options when it comes to how to use it, including methods for adventure generation, for scrying, and even just figuring out what monsters to throw at a party. They really worked to make sure the deck wasn’t just a feelie for an in-game item but something DM’s can use to create better adventures. It’s also all narrated, like most D&D lore books, by the Paladin Asteria. Her voice is interesting but not quite as fun as someone like Volo, but these flavor boxes continue to be an asset.

Magical Jackpot

Fitting for a book centered around a magical item, The Book of Many Things is chock full of magical items themed around the titular deck and its manifestations. Some of them are new versions of the deck and different methods of scrying, others represent the individual cards. The Warrior’s Passkey above is an example of the latter, being themed around The Key card as a skeleton key that turns into a magic sword on command. Other cool new items include the Rogue’s Mantle (a cloak that gives you basically every cool power a rogue would want), clockwork armor (which uses the powers of Mechanus to change dice rolls), and the Shield of the Tortoise (which, as you’d expect, is a cursed item that makes you slow). While the items have thematic ties to different aspects of The Deck, they’re not essentially connected and represent one of the biggest infusions of new magical items we’ve seen in 5e for a while.

Drawing The World

There’s a surprising amount of worldbuilding done in the book as well. The Zodiac gets brought into play as a form of scrying for the first time in a while and two new organizations join the world: The mysterious and thieving Moonstalkers and the heroic Solar Bastion, who help track the Deck of Many Things and prevent too much chaos and destruction to come from it. Both organizations are setting agnostic but offer up a new range of NPC’s and character options for DM’s to use.

They’ve also added two new backgrounds as well. The Rewarded are characters who strike it lucky after a bad life, gaining some helpful boons alongside it. Their flip, The Ruined, are instead those hit by BAD luck who’s mechanics revolve around toughing it out through all the crap life throws at you.

The monsters in the book aren’t quite as frequent but there are some crackers, especially the ones themed around fate. The Fate Hags, as you’d expect, are Fey who control the strands of fate and can inflict a BAD curse if they snip yours. The Ruin Spider above is a unique monster used to show how the magic of the Deck can affect things. It’s giant spider warped an empowered by the magic of the deck into something much worse.

Adventure In The Cards

So I thought when I saw this book that it would be just a collection of adventures. Going in with that expectation you might be a little disappointed. It’s really more of a lore book, though there are some fun stories to be found in here that center around locations themed around different cards. My personal favorite is the Sphere of the Donjon, the place you go when you’re imprisoned by the card of the same name. It’s a truly alien place and a great place for a prison break story, crawling with surveillance and weird bug robots. I’m also a big fan of The Grim Harrow, a garden corrupted by death from whence the riders who come for the Skull card arrive. It’s the sort of insane, skeleton unicorn filled place I absolutely love in D&D.

You can grab The Deck of Many Things from the D&D Shop, Amazon, and your favorite bookstores at an MSRP of $109.99. And stop by your FLGS for the special alternate cover copy exclusive to brick and mortar shops!

Images via Wizards of the Coast

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Author

  • Dan Arndt

    Fiction writer, board game fanatic, DM. Has an MFA and isn't quite sure what to do now. If you have a dog, I'd very much like to pet it. Operating out of Indianapolis.

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