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In the Dungeon Master's Guide, the description for the Deck of Many Things contains the following.

Before you draw a card, you must declare how many cards you intend to draw and then draw them randomly.

It doesn't say what happens if you don't declare anything and just start drawing. So what happens?

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As the deck notes.

Any cards drawn in excess of this number have no effect

If you don't name a number then any cards you draw will be in excess of that and have no effect.

The rules as you note also state.

Before you draw a card, you must declare how many cards you intend to draw and then draw them randomly.

So, if you want to trigger the magical effect, you need to declare a number.

Exactly what happens if you try to draw a card before you declare a number isn't stated. Maybe it doesn't work, stopped by powerful magic. Maybe nothing happens. It depends on the whims of the DM and the artifact.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you don't name a number then what counts as "this number"? \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Aug 31 at 18:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Since the deck releases it's cards based off that number, presumably zero or it would automatically activate. >If you fail to draw the chosen number, the remaining number of cards fly from the deck on their own and take effect all at once.> If this number was anything but zero, then it would automatically activate. \$\endgroup\$ – Nepene Nep Aug 31 at 18:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't actually answer the question. \$\endgroup\$ – NeutralVax Aug 31 at 19:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ heh, play a game of 5-cards-draw with it. everybody gets 5 cards, then they declare how much they want to change and BAM, a table all draws one to five cards for their worst, but playing with partial information what they have on hands themselves? \$\endgroup\$ – Trish Sep 1 at 3:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sumyrda Correct me if I'm wrong but using the item is an action, no matter how many cards you choose to draw. In a desperate situation, you might not have the time to play safely, drawing 1 card per turn. \$\endgroup\$ – Nahyn - support Monica Cellio Sep 2 at 7:05
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You simply can't do that. I understand it may sound odd, but the text of the deck indicates you "must", so if you want to draw from it you have to declare how many cards you want to draw.

I'd contend this question makes as much sense as asking "what happens if I act on someone else's initiative in combat?" You simply can't do that.

You and your table might find that argument strange, though, and make a ruling to allow someone to draw from the deck without declaring a number of cards (e.g., if you draw without a declaration, it is presumed to be 1 so they trigger as you draw, or something else).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So what would happen if you found the deck and started to play cards with it. Would you find yourself unable to draw a card? \$\endgroup\$ – NeutralVax Aug 31 at 21:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NeutralVax They would know the deck was magic as the rules state: "Whatever a magic item's appearance, handling the item is enough to give a character a sense that something is extraordinary about it." And if they wanted to figure out how to use it (and its possible effects) they could spend a short rest observing it \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Aug 31 at 22:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ This contradicts the published description of the item; see my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – chepner Sep 1 at 20:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ A player character can try to do anything, can't they? The result simply may not be a success. For example, a PC can certainly try to act during someone else's turn in combat; and what will happen is that the PC is too slow, and the other person finishes their turn before the PC manages to act. \$\endgroup\$ – Tanner Swett Sep 2 at 13:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Most of the description is written as player-action, not a character-action. The moment the Player says "I draw a card", they have announced that they intend to draw 1 card. If they instead say "I start drawing cards from the deck", then the DM should say"okay, how many cards are you going to draw?". The character doesn't need to announce how many cards they are going to draw. \$\endgroup\$ – Chronocidal Sep 5 at 13:42
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You only quoted part of the description, omitting the part that addresses this:

Before you draw a card, you must declare how many cards you intend to draw and then draw them randomly (you can use an altered deck of playing cards to simulate the deck). Any cards drawn in excess of this number have no effect. Otherwise, as soon as you draw a card from the deck, its magic takes effect.

I read this to mean that if you preannounce that you will draw 4 cards, you can draw all 4 cards before any effect occurs. If you don't preannounce, each card takes effect immediately after being drawn.

In other words, failing to announce a count defaults to a count of 1.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I read "otherwise" as "instead of drawing in excess" rather than "instead of declaring a number to be drawn." \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Sep 1 at 21:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does this means that if you just start drawing multiple cards, then the plurality of card-draws breaks down into a sequence of "defaults to a count of 1" events? Like, "I'm drawing but not declaring" (so it defaults to 1) a then a moment later, "Now I've decided to draw again, and again am not declaring" (so it again defaults to 1), and on and on while I sit there drawing? \$\endgroup\$ – Valley Lad Sep 1 at 21:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I assume so, based on my reading of the description. \$\endgroup\$ – chepner Sep 2 at 0:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ "I read this to mean that if you preannounce that you will draw 4 cards, you can draw all 4 cards before any effect occurs" Seems a bit odd with cards like Donjon stating "You draw no more cards." \$\endgroup\$ – Nahyn - support Monica Cellio Sep 2 at 9:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you have this backwards: If you declare "I draw 4 cards", then you draw the first card: it is not in excess, so its magic takes effect immediately. You draw the second card: it is not in excess, so its magic takes effect immediately. You draw the third card: it is not in excess, so its magic takes effect immediately. You draw the fourth card: it is not in excess, so its magic takes effect immediately. You draw the fifth card: It is in excess, so no effect. \$\endgroup\$ – Chronocidal Sep 2 at 9:58

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