The Dungeons and Dragons magic item most loved by Dungeon Masters who embrace chaos and players who take risks is The Deck of Many Things. First seen in 1975, in one of the earliest Dungeons and Dragons books, “Greyhawk,” it originally only held 18 cards. “Greyhawk” proclaimed of the cards that, “One half bring beneficial things, and one half cause harmful things.” That book told Dungeon Masters to take a regular card deck and use the Ace, King, Queen and Jack from each of the four suits, plus both Jokers.
The possessor could only take four cards before the deck disappeared. Some of the most notable of the cards are the Ace of Spades which causes the player to lose one experience level immediately or the Queen of Spades which causes immediate death with no saving throw. There is also the Queen of Hearts that grants between one and three wishes or the Jack of Hearts that sends a superhero to help the player whenever they wish, for one hour only.
Later versions of Dungeons and Dragons embossed and enhanced The Deck of Many Things. The individual cards were given names like The Void, Skull or Talons. Dungeon Master Matthew Mercer unleashed this magic item in Critical Role’s first campaign when Travis Willingham’s character Grog found this magical deck. With it Grog got a magical weapon with the first card, gave the second card away to a random stranger, changing the stranger’s life forever and finally ended up imprisoning his own soul on a faraway plane.
Critter Fan and YouTuber TP Burrow made a playlist that compiled all these moments.
Now, Wizards of the Coast has produced an inspired “The Deck of Many Things” box set. It holds 66 cards in an artistic box and includes two books. One book is filled with magic items, puzzles, riddles, traps, new magic spells, NPCs, character backgrounds, exotic locations and even a small adventure, all inspired by this most magical of decks. The other book is a guide on how to make the 66 cards into a fortune telling deck like a set of Tarot.
Game Industry News was sent a review copy, and it is impressive in size and scope. “The Book of Many Things” has 22 chapters and 80 pages. Each chapter references the 22 cards that are in the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons version of the deck. Like most of these resource books, they have a narrative character who will comment on the contents. The character in this book is an autistic human woman named Asteria.
In this the deck is given a multiverse background, with its origin on the world of Greyhawk. There the Bakulish god of Fate, Istus, created the deck as a bargain with Asteria to save her friend. It is a great story and references the deck’s origin in the original morally gray Dungeons and Dragons setting Greyhawk.
Just as a personal aside, as usual, we have had many books recently mining Greyhawk lore but have yet to see a book giving that setting, and more importantly, that city, a 5th Edition remake.
Back to The Deck of Many Things supplement, there is a new feat in the book called Cartomancy and many great NPCs that have complex backgrounds and powers that echo the weave of fate and the wheel of chance. It is all wrapped up in some of the best and varied art Dungeons and Dragons has produced as of late.
This is a set that a Dungeon Master would want or that players would give to their DM to use. The cards that come with this set are beautiful, colorful and will make gameplay at the table come alive in vivid storytelling. Given the number of resources put into the product, you can tell that the writers wanted to get the most out of it.
You can use these cards the way they originally were made, as a dangerous or serendipitous event in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. They can be used as a magic item like a scroll of spells, or they can be used to tell a fortune. This is an offering that can also be a work of art to look over. The World of Greyhawk has given lots to Dungeons and Dragons, and this deck will deal out many great adventures to come, as it’s one of the most impressive Dungeons and Dragons sets ever released.