6
\$\begingroup\$

During the Session Zero for my new campaign, multiple players said that they like chaotic and random effects occasionally and the Deck of Many Things was specifically mentioned. My players know as well as I do that the Deck has some problematic properties (see here and here for pertinent discussions), so some changes are probably in order.

Since the ruin of a campaign can mean different things to different people, I will give some more info on this:

  • I am not overly concerned with the narrative of my campaign. I tend to give possible hooks for new adventures and just see what my players are interested in. If the Deck requires going on a certain adventure that I then have to plan, this seems unproblematic.
  • I tend to play balance loosely. E.g. all my players got a free feat at the start of the game. Giving somewhat more powerful effects to the characters than otherwise possible is not problematic either. They are level 4 currently and I suppose giving them a rare weapon would therefore be unproblematic but I am not entirely sure.
  • I am suspicious of effects that screw the players over like Talons. I am also wondering what effects are positive but equally disruptive.

To know what I should change I would like to establish which cards in particular are dangerous, i.e. prone to ruining a campaign. To this end I would be interested in a sort of tier list of how problematic the cards are, let’s say with four tiers from benign to devastating.

Importantly, this is not about how good an effect is for the party. For some cards it’s the same. e.g. the Knight seems benign for both the characters and the campaign while the Donjon seems devastating for both. For others, however, the two are not the same, e.g. the Moon card is highly beneficial to the characters but could potentially be problematic for the campaign. On the other hand, the Rogue looks benign to the campaign although it is negative for the players.

Given four tiers from benign to devastating, how can each card from the Deck of Many Things be classified concerning its risk of campaign ruin and why?

\$\endgroup\$
2
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I have made a post on meta to sort out the controversy this question has created: How could I fix my question about the Deck of Many Things? \$\endgroup\$
    – Anagkai
    Mar 28, 2023 at 15:52
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Further commentary should be directed to the meta Anagkai links or (less likely) continued in the chat room. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Mar 30, 2023 at 12:17

2 Answers 2

8
\$\begingroup\$

As requested, I'll go through each of the twenty-two cards and explain whether and how each of them could go horribly wrong.

Since you asked for each card to be rated on a four-point scale from benign to devastating, I'll use the categories benign, unpleasant, awful, and devastating - and I'll assume that while the death or forced retirement of a single PC is devastating for them, it's ultimately benign for the campaign as a whole.

The Balance

I've included forced alignment changes in my own campaigns, and I can say that whether a forced alignment change is disruptive or not depends entirely on your group and how they handle alignment. That's a big, complicated topic, but here's the short version:

If the player who draws it is the type to feel that any forced change to their character is a terribly unfair imposition, they'll probably hate having their alignment changed from their original vision for the character; if they're the type to embrace an alignment change as a roleplaying opportunity, they'll think it's cool and have fun with it; and if they're the type to ignore alignment as much as they can get away with, they'll barely notice.

Whether one PC having a different alignment causes problems for the campaign depends on the group. It is entirely possible for PCs of opposing alignments to get along and work for a common cause - but it's also entirely possible for characters of opposing alignments to murder each other in classic paladin versus goblin fashion. Personalities are complicated, and interpersonal dynamics moreso. In the worst-case scenario, this could lead to multiple PCs dying or retiring and/or the party breaking up.

For the PCs: Benign at best, devastating at worst.
For the campaign: Benign at best, devastating at worst.

The Comet

This isn't particularly dangerous on its own, since players can simply choose to ignore it. However, it can potentially seduce players into making embarrassingly poor decisions, like saying "stand back guys, I can totally defeat this flock of manticores single-handed" or "by stepping in to save my life when I was about to die of manticores, Sweeny cheated me out of a bunch of XP! I demand he face me in a duel after he drinks this cup of totally-not-poisoned wine I thoughtfully prepared!"

Hopefully your players are probably mature and sensible enough not to make these mistakes - but in the worst-case scenario, such mistakes could easily lead to one or more PC deaths. I don't know your players, so I don't know if this would be an issue for you - but it wouldn't be one with mine, since they're mostly risk-averse and don't mind admitting it when they need help.

For the PCs: Benign at best, devastating at worst.
For the campaign: Benign.

Donjon

The PC who draws the card is stripped naked and trapped in a pokeball. This is embarrassing and inconvenient.

If the party already has access to a wish spell, or you're willing to fiat them some means of finding their imprisoned comrade, this is just a spin on the classic "go on a quest to resurrect/rescue the dead/captured party member" adventure, and the standard methods of handling that scenario will work; otherwise, the lost PC has essentially been forcibly retired.

For the PCs: Awful or devastating.
For the campaign: Benign.

Euryale

Having been hit by similar curses as a player, I can confidently say that slightly worsened saving throws is a minor inconvenience at worst. Yes, they make a character worse at surviving, but in practice they're no more bad for the PC's survival than a run of bad rolls, which could have happened anyway.

For the PCs: Unpleasant.
For the campaign: Benign.

The Fates

I must admit, I've never actually had this particular effect come up in a game that I was running or playing. Still, it could only be a good thing for the PCs and the campaign, as you as GM get to adjudicate exactly what consequences the PCs' one-use undo button will have. The only way it could go wrong is if you decide to go all malevolent genie on them, and give their well-meaning actions horrible consequences - but if you're the kind of GM to do that, the PCs are probably doomed anyway; drawing this card will just make them be doomed faster.

For the PCs: Benign.
For the campaign: Benign.

The Flames

The PC gets a new NPC enemy who wants to kill them. Given that nearly every D&D adventure already involves NPC enemies trying to kill the PCs, one more won't make much difference.

For the PCs: Benign.
For the campaign: Benign.

The Fool

Losing experience points is annoying, but it's ultimately just a temporary setback, especially as it can't reduce the PC's level. (That being said, I usually run sandbox hexcrawl campaigns in which the players have a great deal of power to decide what level of challenge they face, so PCs having different levels in the same party isn't much of an issue for me. Your milage may vary.)

For the PCs: Unpleasant.
For the campaign: Benign.

The Gem

There's not much that can go wrong with free money. Fifth edition doesn't require the PCs to have specific levels of wealth in order to be effective as adventurers, so a sudden windfall or loss doesn't make much difference.

For the PCs: Benign.
For the campaign: Benign.

The Idiot

Permanent intelligence loss is a frustrating inconvenience to a character whose build depends on having high intelligence, and not enjoyable even for PCs who doesn't especially need their intelligence for anything. It's unlikely to harm the campaign as a whole, though.

For the PCs: Unpleasant or awful.
For the campaign: Benign.

The Jester

Bonus experience is unlikely to cause problems, except maybe envy. (That being said, I usually run sandbox hexcrawl campaigns in which the players can influence what level of challenge they face, so PCs having different levels in the same party isn't much of an issue for me. Your mileage may vary if your campaign gives players less power to decide their challenges.)

For the PCs: Benign.
For the campaign: Benign.

The Key

Given that you're in total control of what magic weapon the PCs get from this card, this can only go wrong if you deliberately make it go wrong.

For the PCs: Benign.
For the campaign: Benign.

The Knight

In my experience, players love getting a free and perfectly loyal minion, and think it's awesome. For you, it's an NPC with a mysterious past who was created by the card or transported to the players by magic, and those're both interesting possibilities to explore.

For the PCs: Benign.
For the campaign: Benign.

The Moon

Speaking as a GM, wishes are tremendous fun to hand out to players. Since you're the one who decides how to grant them, you're in total control of whether they cause problems for the PCs and campaign. I imagine you don't want to wreck the campaign; whether you want to ruin the lives of your PCs is a very personal question I won't ask you to answer.

For the PCs: Benign to devastating.
For the campaign: Benign.

The Rogue

The PC gets a new NPC enemy, with the twist that it's someone they know already. As with The Flames, PCs already expect to be up to their armpits in enemies, so one more won't mean much. Given that you get to choose which NPC betrays the PC, this is unlikely to cause major problems unless you pick an NPC the PCs really like or need, like the Paladin's god or something.

For the PCs: Unpleasant.
For the campaign: Benign.

Ruin

PCs hate losing money, but it's not actually that big a deal. PCs can't buy magic items in fifth edition, so this really just means they'll need some other party member to cover their food and lodging costs until the party next finds some loot.

For the PCs: Unpleasant.
For the campaign: Benign.

The Skull

The PC either dies forever or doesn't, depending on how well the fight goes. If the other PCs are foolish enough to jump in and fight too, this could lead to a TPK - but if they either go all-in and work together or let the PC who drew the card fight alone, the risk is minimal.

In my campaigns, I generally don't consider a permanent PC death or retirement to be a big deal, and so rarely have problems throwing such threats at my PCs - but I understand your group values PC wellbeing more highly. You might want to skip or nerf this one.

For the PCs: Either benign or devastating, nothing in-between.
For the campaign: Probably benign, but potentially devastating if the other PCs decide to help the one who drew the card.

The Star

Free stats. Everyone cheers. In my experience, this won't be disruptive; as nice as a +2 stat increase is, it's small and non-impactful enough that I and my players could both completely forget it ever happened within a few sessions.

For the PCs: Benign.
For the campaign: Benign.

The Sun.

Once again, there's not much that can go wrong with free stuff.

For the PCs: Benign.
For the campaign: Benign.

The Talons

The PC loses all their magic items. Many classes and builds need gear to be useful, but they don't specifically need magic gear to be useful - so, while this does suck for the affected PC, it's unlikely to be fatal unless it results in the PC being unarmed and unarmoured in the middle of a dungeon or something.

For the PCs: Unpleasant or awful.
For the campaign: Benign.

The Throne

The PCs get a free skill proficiency which applies in social encounters, which is nice. They also get a sidequest, for which the reward is a cleared-out dungeon... Which is technically the same reward they get for a lot of quests, if you think about it. Neither of these rewards is likely to cause problems.

For the PCs: Benign.
For the campaign: Benign.

The Vizier

The PC gets a just-tell-us-the-puzzle-solution-or-knowledge-check-result-already voucher, valid for one in-game year. Since you're running a sandbox campaign, this won't cause any problems that last longer than an adventure - and you can definitely trust me on this. I like to give my players access to an oracle that can answer nearly any question about half-way through each of my campaigns; it's never caused a problem yet.

For the PCs: Benign.
For the campaign: Benign.

The Void

This is basically the Donjon with a different coat of paint.

If the party already has access to a wish spell, or you're willing to fiat them some means of finding their comrade's imprisoned soul, this is just a spin on the classic "go on a quest to resurrect/rescue the dead/captured party member" adventure, and the traditional ways of handling that scenario will work; otherwise, the lost PC has essentially been forcibly retired.

For the PCs: Awful or devastating.
For the campaign: Benign.

\$\endgroup\$
0
-3
\$\begingroup\$

A bit of foreword - I've decided to evaluate all cards with five tiers: devastating-problematic-neutral-positive-benign. I judge them from both player's and campaign perspective. I consider campaign to be a series of adventures united with some plot and goal. While some effects may lead to extra adventures - I consider them bad for campaign as they disrupt the flow of campaign and require GM to come up with extra adventures and somehow fit them into campaign, stirring characters away from the campaign course. For example - a powerful devil becoming an enemy of some party member (effect of 'Flames' card) can be a good plot for a separate campaign. But tying that devil to some existing one would require efforts from GM.
Also - 'Deck of Many Things' is a legendary item, so I expect party of level 15+ getting it. If characters would get it earlier - effects would be much stronger (I.e. characters of 15+ level can fight back minions of an angry devil for the 'Flames' card. But for characters of 3rd level - it would be hard to do anything with an angry devil; grant of 10000 xp is just about 1/3rd of a level for 15th level character, but for 3rd level it's 2.5 levels)

Let's go over cards now:

Balance - unlikely to be bad for campaign, unless it's focused on characters of certain aligment. Also, may be problematic for player - not everyone is ready to play as a character of opposite alignment all of a sudden. So, I'd say it's neutral for campaign, but may be devastating for player.

Comet - many campaigns (at least official ones) are not giving xp, but instead use some sort of milestone progression, when characters are rewarded with level-ups, when they achieve something. So, GM would have to either ignore this card completely or agree with having one character of one level higher than others. Also, drawing such card may be tempting for player to look for some easy fight to fullfil the card's requirement - and since card requires character to do it alone, it may be disruptive to the flow of the campaign, requiring GM to dedicate time to solo adventures of that character. I'd say that card either neutral (when effects are ignored, obviously) or problematic for campaign and positive to players.

Donjon - very disruptive card. Can be a source of extra adventure, but requires to remove one of characters for the duration. Best used as plot point (some important NPC had disappeared from his house and the only clue is a strange deck of cards). Unless GM had preplanned adventures about finding and rescuing imprisoned person - it's either problematic or devastating for campaign (unless players would just ignore disappearance of one of their own and just shrug it away) and likely devastating for player, who had drawn that card (unless it's some kind of highly-lethal campaign and GMing style, where loss of a character is nothing special and everyone comes with a couple of replacement characters ready)

Euryale - problematic to players and to campaign - once again card makes players suffer (though lightly this time) and to end that suffering they require some special efforts and adventure - which means disrupting flow of campaign and forcing GM to come up with ways for players to achieve it. Or to downplay effect that 'only god can help with' to 'curse that can be removed in any temple for 90 gold pieces'.

The Fates - obviously, benign for players, but can be devastating to campaign, if players get creative with what event they erase (like wishing their main opponent to never be born)

Flames - depending on level of players - either devastating or problematic to them. Can be devastating or problematic to campaign.

Fool - once again - many campaigns use milestones instead of xp, which would make this card almost useless (and thus neutral to both players and campaign). Otherwise - it's problematic for players, but mostly neutral for campaign - as it slows progression of one player, but not too much.

Gem - given that Deck of Many Things is a legendary item - 50000 gold pieces worth of gems is not that much. By the time, when players start getting legendary items, they are likely to have bought already everyting they could have wanted. So, neutral for campaign and positive for players.

Idiot - neutral to devastating to players (depending on whether character relied on Intelligence or not and how much they've lost), neutral to campaign - at worst it would be slightly harder.

Jester - another one card operating with XP. Mostly neutral for both player and campaign, since it gives at best, 1/3rd of experience needed to get next level (at level 15+)

Key - positive or benign to player (depending of GM's generosity), neutral or positive for campaign, since GM chooses weapon that player gets.

Knight - neutral for players, since they should have significantly higher level. Neutral to positive to campaign - while summoned fighter is controlled by player, GM can say that it knows some key information or can be somehow else beneficial to players, helping them advance through the campaign.

Moon - benign for players. Can be problematic for campaign - though GM has more control over effects of 'Wish' than over effect of 'The Fates' card.

Rogue - pretty similar to 'Flames' - though with more GM's control over who becomes enemy, meaning easier to weave such enemy into plot. Problematic to players and campaign.

Ruin - problematic or devastating to player, neutral to problematic to campaign - depending on how much character had owned and how much effort players would put into attempting to recover it, before they'd understand that it's impossible.

Skull - neutral to campaign and players - Avatar of Death is not impressive stats-wise, so most of characters should be able to slay it without much effort.

Star - benign to players, neutral to campaign. Free stat increase, makes character a bit better.

Sun - one more xp card. Benign to players, if xp system used, positive if not. Almost guaranteed level-up and an item. Neutral to campaign, since GM has control over item that character get.

Talons - disruptive item. Devastating to player. Devastating to problematic for the campaign. At that level players are expected to have magic items, so character without them will suffes and likely will try to get some replacements.

Throne - positive to players and campaign. Expertise in persuasion is a good thing to have and since it's not mentioned - where is the castle that is now owned by player - GM can easily weave it into campaign.

Vizier - benign to players and to campaign - can be used as a plot device to help players solve some problem and advance through campaign.

The Void - 'Donjon' again, this time stealing soul and setting some 'powerful being' to guard it. Devastating to player, at least problematic or worse for the campaign.

\$\endgroup\$
3
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ To provide feedback, I downvoted due to the lack of support. All you did was give an unsupported assessment of each card, which was my concern with this question. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Mar 28, 2023 at 18:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch - I think that I've made it clear in foreword - what I've based my judgement on. Regarding campaign - whether it bogs down campaign with unintended (initially) quests and requires more work of GM or whether it gives GM some tools to help player with intitial intentions of the campaign to guide them towards their goal. Same with player side - I've tried to judge whether effect is good or bad for players (and their characters) based on assumption that it's a party of 15th+ level characters. Was it unclear? Or do you mean something else by 'unsupported'? \$\endgroup\$
    – Sarge
    Mar 28, 2023 at 18:45
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Nope, I meant unsupported :( That's kind of the difficulty of trying to use experience without showing your experience. Others are okay with this kind of answer, but I generally prefer answers to be well supported, and yours are really 1-2 sentence assessments of each card. That really doesn't seem sufficient to me show why you're providing that assessment. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Mar 28, 2023 at 18:49

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .