Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Pondering the Deck of Many Things

Have you noticed how that Dungeons & Dragons magic item the Deck of Many Things is based on the Tarot, but the cards don't match exactly?  The Greater Arcana of the Tarot contains 22 unique cards; the rest of that set is the Lesser Arcana of numbered and face-card wands, cups, swords, and pentacles that evolved into the conventional 52-playing card deck of clubs, hearts, spades, and diamonds.

The item described in the Dungeon Master's Guide contains either 13 or 22 cards, same as the Greater Arcana.  Some cards have the same designation--Moon, Sun, Star, Fool--but other cards are listed in the Deck, but not the Tarot, or vice versa.  So why did the names of the cards in the D&D item get changed? What's wrong with cards with D&D-sounding names like the Magician, the High Priestess, or the Chariot? 

If I ever put one of these in a game, I'll probably keep the same effects, but change some of the cards to match the Tarot, such as substituting the Tarot's Death card for the Skull of the Deck, the Hanged Man for the Fool, the Devil for Flames, and so on.

Game-wise, this is a powerful item that can really help a character out, but there are some pretty serious risks.  Have you ever used or encountered a Deck of Many Things in your D&D games?  If so, how did it work out?

7 comments:

Robert Morris said...

If you can dig up a copy of Dragon #77, there's a Tarot of Many Things in there. I think it was reprinted and updated in the magic item catalog for 2E, as well.

Tedankhamen said...

We encountered a deck just before getting the Mc Guffin magic weapon that would save the world. Sadly, the very same PC who had picked also got to wield said weapon. Imagine our surprise when it was revealed the deck had cursed him by destroying the next magic item he received. Mc Guggin goes POOF, and a year or more long campaign grinds to a halt.

ah, good times.

Ski said...

DOMT is quite simply classic D&D. There is so much potential for disaster and the characters do it all to themselves.

The only card I have ever pulled from a DOMT summoned a shrieker which attracted a horde of whatevers (orcs, hobs, can't remember). That was enough for me.

Brad Ncube said...

I used one in a campaign I ran a few years ago. The Players were only around 4th level when they found it...one got imprisoned, another got a keep and a wish. The rest weren't dumb enough to draw cards.

Bighara said...

Not since the jr high & high school monty haul 1e days of yore (1980s). It's as Ski said, it's classic D&D. With all the randomness and wild power swings in all its glory.

PA summed it up best:
http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2010/06/28

:D

Gonsalvo said...

Never encountered or used one in a game, but I have had a long time fascination with Tarot Decks; I have my own copy Waite deck you have pictured, and the book Waite wrote about Tarot in general and his deck in particular, Definitely use the Major Arcana (and the real cards) if anyone finds one of these things!

Jim said...

I use them in almost every campaign I run. It's crazy, but it's fun for the players. Here's a link http://carjackedseraphim.blogspot.com/2011/11/partial-party-kill-ppk.html