Sneak Peek of D&D's The Deck of Many Things

This November, Wizards is releasing The Deck of Many Things boxed set and making it much more than just a physical version of an in-game item. First appearing in Greyhawk, The Deck of Many Things is a powerful magic item in D&D lore that has been included in the magic item sections of virtually every Dungeon Masters Guide since 1979. This version can actually help DMs create new adventures, among other things.

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What's in the Deck?​

The new set includes 66 tarot-sized cards, consisting of the original 22 cards plus 44 new cards called The Deck of Many More Things. Each card gets a gold-foil treatment. In addition there is an 80-page hardcover reference guide to the cards, and The Book of Many Things, which is akin to the other D&D “Everything” books (like Xanathar's Guide to Everything, Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, etc.), providing a lot of options for both players and DMs.

The reference book describes each card in detail with meanings so they can be used as a classic oracle deck. Then each card also provides a person, a place, a treasure, a monster, and a situation for every card, and does the same for the reverse of the card. Then it also explains how the deck can be used by the DM (or a player) to give readings if the players visit a fortune teller or such.

Lastly, the reference guide teaches the DM how to use the cards in what lead designer Jason Tondro and game designer Makenzie De Armas call “the adventure spread.” That's a way to use the cards to an adventure outline on the fly after dealing out cards.

Everything in TDoMT set is designed to be system agnostic. That means you can drop them into any campaign.

As for The Book of Many Things, Tondro said “it's actually a little bit more everything than our Everything books. It's 192 pages, and it's got every kind of D&D content that is out there. It's got character options. It's got new monsters. It's got new magic items, like over 50 magic items, I think. It's got over 35 new monsters and stat blocks in it. It's got complete adventure locations ready to go. It's got chapters on DM advice. It's got a chapter of puzzles. It's got everything. It is a book of many things, not just a clever name.”

“From the very beginning,” Tondro continued, “our goal was to make it, essentially, a toy box book where you could just take the book off the shelf, you could flip to a random chapter, and just kind of get your mind blown by some crazy idea that you can immediately use in your game, whatever kind of campaign you might be running.”

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The Mechanics​

While playing cards have often been substituted for The Deck of Many Things over the years, with even lists equating the fantasy cards to real world substitutes, this new version of The Deck of Many Things is designed for deck building, which isn't terribly surprising since Wizards of the Coast owns D&D. The deck building aspect allows a DM to cater a deck to their campaign, which was important to Tondro both for customization and because traditionally TDoMT has been a force of chaos and destruction in campaigns. By allowing DMs to create the deck available in their campaign, a DM can limit the chaos or expand it to suit their needs.

As for The Deck of Many More Things, De Armas explained that “...every single one of these 44 new cards has a new mechanical effect that is on par with the existing mechanical effects of the 22 original cards.”

De Armas then reminded us that the original Void card whisked your soul away to an extra dimensional prison. An example of an on-par experience in the new cards is the Dragon card which has the mechanical effect of that, when pulled in a game, causes a dragon egg to appear in front of the player who drew the card. The egg then immediately hatches into a dragon wyrmling who views that player as its parent. The DM picks the color and type of dragon.

“So you not only get the challenges of adventuring, but now you get the challenges of parenthood,” quipped De Armas, adding, “We definitely wanted to make these effects, not necessarily less punitive, but create a more wide variety of kind of effects to suit all the kinds of different gameplay. So you will find cards that are more inclined toward role-playing and those who are more social encounter inclined. You will have cards that just straight up impact ability scores, and then you have those cards that have those more tricky elements that open extra dimensional pits beneath you or wish your soul away or petrify.”

“We wanted to not only allow the DM to curate the deck, but to have very specific types of decks and sort of the categories of effects so that DMs can really tailor a deck for not only the campaign they want to run, but the players they are playing with,” De Armas continued.

They provide four different examples of deck building options as a guide. One is a classic starter deck. Another is a role-playing focused deck. A more light-hearted adventure deck and a “horror deck” for campaigns in a “bad place” like Barovia round out the options.

Ring_Art by Abigail Larson.jpg

The On-Ramp to Chaos​

Even if you love the havoc TDoMT can create, in the past it has been tricky for DMs to implement that chaos well. With the new TDoMT set, the book provides ways to “on -ramp” the card results.

For example, if players draw the Flames card, they draw the anger of a powerful arch devil. In this set, the Flames chapter gives you three powerful evil fiends, one for each evil alignment, that you can use as a ready-made villain to use when a player draws the flames card, and they have different modus operandi. They each have different kinds of minions and different kinds of adventures that they're used for, so you don't have to scramble to figure out what kind of demon hates you and why.

Another example given was that if the players drew the Throne card, they gain the ownership of a keep. Turn to the Throne chapter, and there's the keep with all of the ghosts that haunt it, and here's what you have to do to clear it out, and here's who stays behind and becomes your help hirelings afterward.

In explaining how the Void chapter works to help the DM if the Void card is drawn, it does more than just provide the void dungeon and how your player can escape it. It also gives the DM advice on how to run that chapter of your campaign when one player can't play their character because the PC is trapped in the void.

Even more importantly, Tondro noted that “You don't have to even have the deck appear in your game for these chapters to be useful.” A DM could solely use it for random campaign creation.

Art director Bree Heiss also suggested and implemented the idea of having some card groupings share a theme and having little connections between cards. For example, the ring being grasped the Talons card is the same one that appears in the Ring card.

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For All Levels​

The Book of Many Things has ideas for how you can introduce your players to TDoMT even at level 1 without breaking everything. It also contains an abundance of campaign ideas.

For example, the Sun card chapter introduces the Knights of the Solar Bastion, who are a group of good knights. The Moon introduces a group of thieves made up entirely of were creatures such as werewolves, werebears, and the new werevulture. If you want to join the guild you have to be bitten. The Moonstalkers could be another set of rivals if you're running Keys to the Golden Vault, for example, or they could be patrons or enemies.

The Star chapter features the Sky of Many Things, a sort of zodiac and the constellations that inspired the original cards. Decide when your character was born, and you can use the matching constellation to add more narrative flavor to your character, and even a prophecy. Does your character lean into the prophecy or fight it?

That ties into an origin for the deck presented in the book – Istus, the goddess of fate, drew the constellations out of the sky and made them into cards. The Sky of Many Things can be a campaign element in any setting, providing ideas for constellations characters see when they look at the sky, as well as astrological signs with favorite animals, colors, and more for each one as well as a prophecy.

The Comet chapter introduces the Heralds of the Comet, an apocalyptic cult seeking the very first Deck of Many Things. The Heralds believe that it can be used to destroy the multiverse.

A collection of adventure locations provide a number of ways to encounter TDoMT. The Seelie Market, ruled by a moonstone dragon, is one option that can even work for low-level characters, in addition more classic adventuring options, such as raiding a dragon's lair.

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Player Options

While TDoMT is obviously useful for DMs, Tondro and De Armas took care to include player options, though none are subclasses. The cartomancer feat allows spellcasters to use a card deck as their arcane focus as well as to slide a magical card up their sleeve so they can “cast” it later as a bonus action. New spells and “lots of new magic items” were promised along with a table of 22 character origin options.

The new character backgrounds are The Ruined and The Rewarded. They reflect characters whose lives have been transformed by the deck or a similar drastic experience.

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New Origins, New Characters

Elaborating on earlier comments about the origin of the original deck, the new set is designed to honor the prior iterations of TdoM as well as offer a new origin story for 5E. That's the idea that goddess of fate Istus created it by drawing the constellations from the sky and turning them into cards that can change someone's story.

When looking at the original 22 cards, they also realized that only one card has a proper name, Euryale, depicted as a Medusa. That made them wonder why Euryale had her own card and who was she. Since in recent years the Medusa symbol has been reclaimed by survivors of violence they decided to honor that and create a new meaning, making the Medusa symbol one of protection, defiance, sisterhood, and reclamation instead of monstrosity.

That led to the creation of two new characters, one of which is a first for D&D. Euryale is a kind and reclusive Medusa druid for whom the deck was created, and Asteria, the princess turned paladin. Art by Katerina Ladon depicts the sister adventurers. De Armas didn't say too much about Euryale and Asteria's story to avoid spoilers but said it's very tied to the themes of fate and destiny associated with TDoMT, as well as looking at the story thrust upon you and rewriting your own story.

The Istus and Asteria art by Hinchel Or is just gorgeous.

Asteria is near and dear to De Armas' heart because Asteria is the first canonically autistic hero in D&D. De Armas even drew from personal experience as an autistic person and gave Asteria some of the ways De Armas' autism presents while depicting Asteria as more than just how her brain processes information. De Armas' obvious enthusiasm came through clearly in the press presentation.

The conclusion of The Book of Many Things is even Asteria's own words, so to speak.

Asteria and Euryale have stat blocks (both are CR 18 with legendary actions) and adventure hooks. That makes it easy to drop them into a campaign as patrons, allies, quest givers, etc.

Plans have not been solidified yet for Asteria to appear in more D&D material, but it's a distinct possibility. “I would love to include Asteria in more things but spoilers,” said De Armas.

There's also a possible crossover between Planescape and TDoMT, with a location in The Outlands being Euryale and Asteria's home. If you gain their trust, you might get access to their garden, which contains something that can reverse the effects of some of the worst results of the deck. They can also be a source of knowledge for the decks.

An entire campaign can also be built around a deck – seeking one, using it, and dealing with the ramifications. The cards can also be treated as treasure, with players going on a “gotta catch 'em call” quest to find the whole deck.

Ruin Spider_Art by Hex Sharpe.jpg

Magic & Monsters

In terms of magic items, 22 of them are each inspired by one of the cards. For example, the Warriors Passkey is inspired by the Key card. So while the Key card unlocks things the Warriors Passkey both unlocks things and can transform into a variety of weapons for its warrior to use.

And, of course, there have to be other magical decks. The Deck of Dimensions lets you draw a card and travel to other worlds. The Fates chapter has a number of options including being able to create “a house of cards” as shelter when traveling and cards that can be thrown with explosive effects, much like Gambit from The X-Men.

The Deck of Mundane Objects lets you draw routine things that maybe don't fit in your backpack. The Deck of Wonders was nicknamed during development “Baby's first Deck of Many Things” because it doesn't have the chaos and destruction of the classic deck.

“Physical cards are just so cool,” said Tondro. “Like, there's no other set of magic items in D&D that you can really use as a prop so easily and so well as a deck of cards, and you could put the cards in front of the players and then there's that feeling of anticipation as they reach for a card and which one am I gonna draw?”

Monsters in the book range from CR 1/4 to CR 25. The latter is the Grim Champion of Desolation, inspired from the Skull card. The talon beast was designed to explain why players lose all of their magic items when they draw the Talons card. Talon beasts eat magic items so players will hate them.

The ruin spider was designed to be more powerful than a phase spider without being too tough. It's a bit like a rust monster, only it erodes non-magical items. The back of the ruin spider also matches the design on the back of the cards to show how the magic of the deck can alter places, animals, and creatures that live near it.

Sun Moon Star Comet cards by Valiez Gax.png

The Adventure Spread

What's an oracle deck without a way to lay out the cards? During the development of TDoMT, James Wyatt shared a method he had worked out to use the original 22-card deck to create the outline for an adventure. The first card lays out where the party as been before the adventure starts. That is crossed with the card for the inciting event. For example, someone stumbles into a bar with an arrow through their chest and a map. The next card represents the journey, followed by a card for a doorway. The next three cards are challenges, though you could use more or less than three. Lastly a treasure card is crossed by a final guardian card.

After this demonstration, designer Dan Dillion took the same cards, shuffled them, and created a different adventure using the same method. Then a third designer did the same, proving it was a viable method for creating adventure outlines. The cards have enough meanings that no matter where a card falls in the spread, it makes sense. It's also flexible so you can expand or shrink the spread as needed to fit time constraints, which De Armas did at this year's Gen Con with zero adventure prep.

Tondro then suggested “kicking it up to the next” by using the adventure spread to create an adventure outline. Then, during the adventure, have the players meet a fortune teller and have that NPC use the same cards in the same spread to make cryptic predictions about what has happened and will happen next. De Armas also did that at Gen Con with great success.

The Deck of Many Things hits stores on November 14 with an MSRP of $99.99. The alternative cover versions are only available in game and hobby stores. Look for our review of the deck soon.
 

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels


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Reynard

Legend
@Reynard so NerdImmersion was at the GenCon panel, and took some photos. This shows what a page in the Guide looks like, detailing The Comet and how to use it for Adventure generation and such.

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Cool. Thanks. In my head the list of "uses" was stats and stuff.

I'm surprised they decided to fill an entire "Xanathar's" with just Deck themed stuff, but it does help explain the package deal part.
 



Parmandur

Book-Friend
Cool. Thanks. In my head the list of "uses" was stats and stuff.

I'm surprised they decided to fill an entire "Xanathar's" with just Deck themed stuff, but it does help explain the package deal part.
Yeah, the deck guide seems like you could use itnto make an Adventure for just about any RPG, or even just write a story outline. Improv prompt stuff.

I don't think k they came at it in terms of Xanathar's but from the other direction, how could they make a whole product about the Deck of Many Things. The contents aren't much like Xanathar's or Tasha's, more like a hybrid of Volo's with an Adventure anthology with an aggressive magic item selection: this has the largest selection of magic items for any 5E book other than the DMG itself, over 50, and 30+ Monster stat blocks.

Maybe more like a Setting anthology, of bits and bobs?
 
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Parmandur

Book-Friend
Likewise, requiring a feat to use a deck of cards as a spell focus was grossly underpowered and is the kind of thing most DMs would have just handwaved for a character's flavor anyway.
Don't have the final Feat yet, but the card aspect is juat a ribbon: the Feat gives a per-Prof bonus a day damage bonus to spell damage rolls, a free cantrip with Metamagic spin (double-Subtle prestidigitstion), and a free Spell slot (Ace Up the Sleeve).
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
Cool. Thanks. In my head the list of "uses" was stats and stuff.

I'm surprised they decided to fill an entire "Xanathar's" with just Deck themed stuff, but it does help explain the package deal part.
I suspect the thinking was the other way around.

"Hey, we could sell a Deck of Many Things!"

"That's only going to be $30 or so. And there are lots of deck props out there to buy."

"Well, we could add more cards they don't have and create monsters and adventure locations based around the cards. If we bundled the two together, I bet we could charge $90 or more."

"Oh, and and we can show off all the ways other games are using cards in play that D&D doesn't do in the core!"

"Great idea!"

" ... is the guy from Hasbro still throwing stuff around the conference room and screaming about monetization?"

"Yes."

"OK, write this idea down on a piece of paper and slide it under the door."
 


Kurotowa

Legend
I don't think k they came at it in terms of Xanathar's but from the other direction, how could they make a whole product about the Deck of Many Things. The contents aren't much like Xanathar's or Tasha's, more like a hybrid of Volo's with an Afventure anthology woth an aggressive magic item slection: this has the largest selection of magic items for any 5E book other than the DMG itself, over 50, and 30+ stat blocks.
At least at first glance, the contents seem to me to be similar to Xanathar's, but with no subclasses because we're too close to the 2024 PHB revision. So instead we get an extra big helping of other types of player options that will transition better, magic items, and DM tools.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
At least at first glance, the contents seem to me to be similar to Xanathar's, but with no subclasses because we're too close to the 2024 PHB revision. So instead we get an extra big helping of other types of player options that will transition better, magic items, and DM tools.
I would say that the differences far outwrigh any similarities: thisnhas no Class options, and Xanathar's had no Monsters or Advebture location maps or NPCs, which look to be a big part here.

Having a lot of magic items is the only real commonality in terms of content, and they share that triat with Explorer's Guide to Wildemount.
 

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