I’ve been very fortunate to get a lot of early information about the upcoming Deck of Many Things. We were invited to an in-person Q&A at Gen Con, then to a game DM’ed by WotC’s Mackenzie De Armas, and to a press conference sharing early information about the Deck of Many Things. I’ve held the cards in my hand, I’ve played a game using them, and now I have more information that I can share with the world.
The upcoming Deck of Many Things box set, slated for early digital access on October 31st and full release on November 14th, includes a significant expansion to the Deck of Many Things which raises the number of cards from just 22 to 66. The box set includes the full set of 66 beautifully illustrated cards, an 80-page card reference guide, plus the accompanying book appropriately titled “The Book of Many Things” weighing in at 192 pages. The books contain extensive information on each of the 66 cards, including monsters, locations, plot hooks, and player options.
Deck of Many Things is priced at $99.99 US, and is available in both the standard cover and the limited edition alternative cover available from your friendly local game store.
What Was the Deck of Many Things?
The Deck of Many Things has historically been a small deck of just 22 cards, each with a distinct name and effect. Players could declare a number and draw that many cards from the deck, resolving each effect in sequence. Many of the effects were so significant that the deck has a longstanding reputation for completely derailing ongoing games, such as by granting the players a magic item which is far too powerful for players of their level or the ability to cast Wish 1d3 times.
Finally an Origin Story
While we haven’t heard the story in full, the Book of Many Things describes the first canonical answer to the deck’s origins. The deck was first created by Istus, the goddess of fate in the Greyhawk setting. While we still don’t have the truly complete story, the deck apparently arose during a disagreement with the newly-introduced character Asteria. Internal art depicts Istus pulling constellations from the sky to form the cards.
Among the many mysteries of the original deck was the “Euryale” card, which depicted a “medusa-like visage” but gave no other context. The design team latched onto this detail and built out a story from it, giving us two new characters in the D&D canon.
Euryale is a medusa druid. We don’t yet know much about her except that she is “sister in all but name” (quoting the design team) to Asteria. I’m hoping for more information in the book.
Asteria, the character depicted on the cover of the box set, has justifiably received more attention in every preview I’ve seen. She is described as a “princess turned paladin”, and she’s also the first autistic character presented in official D&D content. Makenzie De Armas wrote the character, including the internal sidebars written in the character’s voice, based on De Armas’s own experiences with autism. It’s exciting to see this sort of representation, especially since it’s being handled sensitively by a creator with first-hand experience.
The book also describes Asteria and Euryale’s shared home on the Outlands, which is fresh in the community’s minds thanks to the recent release of Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse. Asteria and Euryale keep a garden which apparently includes a flower capable of granting wishes which players might use to undo the negative effects of the Deck of Many Things. Players considering a heist may reconsider, as both Asteria and Euryale have full stat blocks, each standing at CR 18.
I asked the design team if they had future plans for the characters since clearly a lot of love was put into them for the product. The response was initially that they don’t have any plans yet, but would love to bring the characters into future products. As the conversation continued, the answer became “we can’t say anything publicly yet,” but I may have misunderstood, so take that with a grain of salt.
We’re also introduced to Ottowin the Nilbog, the goblin in a hood depicted dealing cards on the box containing the deck itself. Ottowin is presented in the Seelie Market, a location described in the book which amounts to a traveling flea market pulled through the sky by a dragon. He has a truncated deck of just 8 cards from the Deck of Many Things, but can allegedly tell players’ fortunes with them.
Cards Old and New
The 44 new cards are all designed to be on par with the effects of the original 22. Among the cards we’ve seen so far, there are more cards which grant magic items similar to the Key, which grants a magic weapon and therefore might be totally useless for many characters. New cards grant items like armor or magic staves, so everyone has a chance to draw something that they’ll enjoy.
Each card has an accompanying section in the book which includes a collection of things related to the card’s theme. These might include locations, adventure hooks, character options, organizations, and monsters like the new Werevulture.
We’ve only gotten previews of the details from a few cards so far:
- Comet card: “Heralds of the comet”: apocalyptic cult seeking the original deck in order to end the multiverse
- Moon card: “Moonstalkers”: thieves’ guild made of lycanthropes
- Star card: “Sky of many things”. All of the character creation stuff
- Sun card: “Knights of the solar bastion”
The book contains pre-defined subsets of the cards to help you get different results from the Deck of Many Things. Three examples were described: an RP-focused deck, “The Deck of Horrors” and no further detail was given, and a third which I didn’t catch the name of. I don’t know if there are more in the book, but I suspect that there are.
Adventure is in the Cards
Among the many things in the Book of Many Things is a new system for generating adventures using the cards in the deck to perform a Tarot-style reading.
- Card 1: Starting location/situation, cross with card 2: inciting event
- Card 3: Journey
- Card 4: Entrance
- Card 5+: Challenges. The example in the book uses 3, but the design team suggested adjusting this up or down to adjust the duration of the adventure.
- Final 2 cards: Treasure and guardian
I was very fortunate to join Makenzie De Armas for a game session at Gen Con where she used this system live to improvise an adventure. I don’t recall the card draw, but we defended a retired adventurer’s family from a vampire lord. Good times were had, and De Armas was an excellent DM.
The design team described that their testing with this system worked very well. In one case, they shuffled the same cards pulled for one drawing and several members of the design team were able to create entirely novel adventures simply by randomizing the same small set of cards.
I Drew the Death Card
Among the many goodies, the Deck of Many Things includes a roster of new monsters running from CR ¼ to CR 25 inspired by the cards in the deck.
The new “Talon Beast” was provided as an example. The Talons card disintegrates all of a character’s magic items, which inspired the design team to create a creature that feeds on magic items. The creature resembled a quadrupedal vulture that has had its feathers plucked. It is described both within the books and by Makenzie De Armas as “upsettingly naked looking.”
The new “Ruin Spider” is a weird, acidic spider thing. I hate it, but I hate all things spidery. Its back features the same symbol that’s on the back of the Deck of Many Things, solidifying the creature’s association with the deck. We got to fight one of these at De Armas’s game at Gen Con, and it definitely had some surprises in store. The spider’s attacks and blood are both acidic and damage weapons the same way that a rust monster does, making it dangerous to fight these things in melee even if you’re winning.
The books also feature DnD’s take on the four horsemen of the apocalypse in the form of the “Grim Champions”. The champions are named for bloodshed, desolation, famine, and pestilence, and run the CR range from 18 to 25. Collectively they’re known as “The Grim Harrow”, and they hunt decks of many things in order to destroy them.
A Little Something for the Players
While a great deal of the content that we’ve seen feels DM-focused, there are some fun new bits for players here, too. The obvious stuff includes the new Cartomancer feat, 2 new backgrounds called “the Ruined” and “the Warded” for characters whose backgrounds have been shaped by the Deck of Many Things, some spells, and a bunch of magic items. During the conversation at Gen Con, Mackenzie De Armas and Jason Makenzy specifically mentioned the Gambit fantasy of throwing cards at your problems.
I was lucky enough to see the final text of the Cartomancer feat in-person at Gen Con. I can’t spoil the full text, but it’s going to feel comparable to taking Metamagic Adept for Quickened Spell.
The two new backgrounds follow the recent design trend in which backgrounds grant a bonus feat at 1st level. However, unlike recently-published backgrounds in Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen and in Bigby Presents: Glory of the Giants, the Ruined and the Warded allow you to select a feat from a list of options included in the Player’s Handbook. I’m curious to see how this will work when we get the 2024 rules late next year. It’s entirely possible that the feat names will match in the new rulebooks, making the transition seamless.
Among the 22 new magic items are several new decks of cards. The design team shared art of the Deck of Dimensions, which enables interplanar travel, and the Deck of Wonders, which is a reduced-impact Deck of Many Things with just 22 cards, each of which produces effects that only last for a day. All the fun, much less campaign breakage.
In addition, each individual card in the Deck of Many Things now includes a unique power usable once per day. The design team discussed possibly awarding the individuals cards as loot to grant these powers or even creating an entire campaign around collecting the cards to assemble the full deck. All of the obvious anime jokes were made.
In addition to the crunchy bits, there are some new options for telling you character’s backstory. The design team described an astrology-like system where characters could determine their star sign using the constellations used to create the original deck. These apparently map to real-world astrological signs, and also come with optional special abilities.
The Book of Many Things also includes 88 character origin ideas, 22 for each of the expert/mage/priest/warrior class groups. Coupled with the star signs and backgrounds, it sounds like there is a great deal of help for building a character with a unique backstory.
While we haven’t seen the full product yet, I’m excited to get my hands on the Deck of Many Things. There seems to be a huge amount of content buried in the books, and the illustrations on the cards are absolutely gorgeous. I’m not yet certain how I’ll incorporate the deck into my games, but the character creation options are likely to become a staple to help build backstories.
The Deck of Many Things boxed set releases for early digital access on October 31st and releases fully on November 14th at a price of $99.99 US. Look for it in your friendly local game store or find it online (affiliate link).