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The general consensus of the internet is that the Deck of Many Things is overpowered and unbalanced. I can't see why. Sure it can make your character a king, but it can also just make your character a vegetable. That seems balanced, just extreme. The only thing I can see is if a DM gives it at the wrong time and it derails the campaign, but that's not really the items fault.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you explain what you consider to be "unbalanced"? \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Nov 5 at 22:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ What I consider to be unbalanced would be something that is more powerful than it should be, or weaker than it should be. But the deck of many things is just as powerful as it should be. Powerful goods and terrible bads. \$\endgroup\$ – Wise Man Nov 5 at 22:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is definitely an interesting question but as written I think it may be a bit too opinion-based. By what measure would we judge whether one answer is any better or worse than another? One thing to remember is that this site doesn't handle opinion seeking questions. Questions need to conceivably be able to have a single, best answer so we need some criteria by which to judge that. \$\endgroup\$ – Purple Monkey Nov 5 at 22:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ This isn’t a primarily opinion-based question at all. Any expert player knows that there is a single right answer to this question. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 5 at 22:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ [Related] Why is the Deck of Many Things called the Eater of Campaigns? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 6 at 0:56
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It has nothing to do with balance.

The problem with the deck of many things has absolutely nothing to do with “balance.” It’s not even supposed to be balanced, nor does anyone particularly expect it to be.

The problem with the deck of many things is that there are way, way too many cards in the deck that simply ruin campaigns. Draw the wrong cards—and if you draw more than a couple, you almost-certainly will—and it becomes impossible to figure out how on earth the campaign is supposed to continue from there. It’s a nightmare to DM for, which makes it a nightmare for players too—because they rely on the DM being able to, ya know, DM. Literally any introduction of the deck of many things into a campaign is just begging for terrible problems—which means unless you are looking to draw your campaign to a “zany” conclusion, it’s a mistake to put it in the game.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Zany conclusions are a way to play. ;-) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 6 at 14:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Sure, but the deck of many things stands a good chance of ruining even a zany campaign—and for my money, it’s really not all that funny or zany. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 6 at 14:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've experienced the deck in editions 0E, 1E, BX, and 2E. It didn't break anything, but it sure made a mess a few times. So the players dealt with the mess. We also had PC's die. We'd roll up a new one and play on We weren't in a railroad campaign on an author's script (like the current published adventures can sometimes be) and the BBEG's were usually still around ... I guess my point in that comment had to do with there being a lot of different play styles. I agree that it is potentially campaign wrecking depending on the kind of campaign being run. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 6 at 14:35
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Balance is more than just an equal probability of good and bad

While one could argue the net effect of the deck is neutral (or more likely, negative), that doesn't change that the deck is overly powerful in either a positive or negative direction per use relative to typical power levels provided by the standard game mechanics.

Imagine a simpler item that, when used, has a 50% chance of instantly killing an enemy, and a 50% chance of instantly killing you, no saves. While it's technically balanced in terms of all possible outcomes (you die, or they die), each individual outcome by itself is immensely powerful (either they instantly die, or you instantly die, not both). Both outcomes are extremely powerful, and no other game mechanic offers power like that, so it would be considered to be overpowered.

Similar to the deck, while good or bad may come, the good has a chance to be overwhelmingly good, and the bad overwhelmingly bad relative to normal game mechanics. There's a risk, but the outcomes themselves lacks balance, and thus can easily break the game.

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