The Deck of Many Things 5e

Posted by Andrew E. on

Derailing Campaigns Since 1975

This innocuous deck of cards has had countless incarnations, starting all the way back in the very first Grayhawk supplement for 1st edition D&D. And while it has gone through various changes it has remained true to its core concept of throwing a big pile of chaos into a stale campaign. What does the deck do? How does it actually work? Pick a card if you dare as we go through everything you need to know.

What is The Deck of Many Things?

The deck has gone through many iterations, sometimes it’s 13 cards, sometimes it’s 22 cards, sometimes they’re made of vellum and sometimes they’re made of ivory. The cards themselves are a lot like tarot cards, sharing the same back but each face bears a different symbolic figure.

What the deck is though is a whole heap of chaos. Whenever a player draws a card something happens depending on the card drawn then disappears. Some of the cards are good, some are bad, and some will completely derail your campaign.

Using the Deck as a DM

The deck of many things is a powerful artifact, there’s no real way for your players to acquire it unless you intentionally want them to have it. I’ve seen some DMs simply offer up the deck of many things as an option because it’s funny, and it totally can be for a short campaign. If you’re running a longer game or any sort of campaign where you care about the plot DO NOT USE IT

The deck of many things is a useful tool for making a campaign exciting again, and generally livening up an adventure that has grown stale. It’s like throwing dynamite into a crowded room just to see what happens and should only be done when the alternative is players losing interest in your game.

Often, the deck will simply change the direction of your campaign. Drawing a card could mean an adventure to recover a player from an extradimensional space, a long adventure fighting against a malevolent devil or previously friendly NPC, or even a fight against one of the players as they suddenly turn evil. The deck isn’t going to make these adventures for you, but it does the groundwork for you to take the campaign in a new and interesting direction.

Using the Deck as a Player

If you find yourself holding the deck of many things, you’ve got two options. Hide it away or go hog wild and start drawing. Each card could literally kill you, gain you a level, make you wildly wealthy, kill you, start a side-quest, enlist the aid of a faithful knight, kill you, drawing a card could instantly kill you.

Drawing cards from the deck is like playing Russian roulette, you could win big but the chances of just straight up dying are high. Only draw cards if you’re comfortable losing your current character.

The Deck of Many Things Itself

We’ve beaten around the bush enough though, what exactly does each card do? How does it technically function as a magic item? Here’s the current rules for the 5th edition deck of many things:

Deck of Many Things

Wondrous Item, legendary

Usually found in a box or pouch, this deck contains a number of cards made of ivory or vellum. Most (75 percent) of these decks have only thirteen cards, but the rest have twenty-two.

Before you draw a card, you must declare how many cards you intend to draw and then draw them randomly (you can use an altered deck of playing cards to simulate the deck). Any cards drawn in excess of this number have no effect. Otherwise, as soon as you draw a card from the deck, its magic takes effect. You must draw each card no more than 1 hour after the previous draw. If you fail to draw the chosen number, the remaining number of cards fly from the deck on their own and take effect all at once.

Once a card is drawn, it fades from existence. Unless the card is the Fool or the Jester, the card reappears in the deck, making it possible to draw the same card twice.

Balance. Your mind suffers a wrenching alteration, causing your alignment to change. Lawful becomes chaotic, good becomes evil, and vice versa. If you are true neutral or unaligned, this card has no effect on you.

Comet. If you single-handedly defeat the next hostile monster or group of monsters you encounter, you gain experience points enough to gain one level. Otherwise, this card has no effect.

Donjon. You disappear and become entombed in a state of suspended animation in an extradimensional sphere. Everything you were wearing and carrying stays behind in the space you occupied when you disappeared. You remain imprisoned until you are found and removed from the sphere. You can't be located by any divination magic, but a wish spell can reveal the location of your prison. You draw no more cards.

Euryale. The card's medusa-like visage curses you. You take a −2 penalty on saving throws while cursed in this way. Only a god or the magic of The Fates card can end this curse.

The Fates. Reality's fabric unravels and spins anew, allowing you to avoid or erase one event as if it never happened. You can use the card's magic as soon as you draw the card or at any other time before you die.

Flames. A powerful devil becomes your enemy. The devil seeks your ruin and plagues your life, savoring your suffering before attempting to slay you. This enmity lasts until either you or the devil dies.

Fool. You lose 10,000 XP, discard this card, and draw from the deck again, counting both draws as one of your declared draws. If losing that much XP would cause you to lose a level, you instead lose an amount that leaves you with just enough XP to keep your level.

Gem. Twenty-five pieces of jewelry worth 2,000 gp each or fifty gems worth 1,000 gp each appear at your feet.

Idiot. Permanently reduce your Intelligence by 1d4 + 1 (to a minimum score of 1). You can draw one additional card beyond your declared draws.

Jester. You gain 10,000 XP, or you can draw two additional cards beyond your declared draws.

Key. A rare or rarer magic weapon with which you are proficient appears in your hands. The GM chooses the weapon.

Knight. You gain the service of a 4th-level fighter who appears in a space you choose within 30 feet of you. The fighter is of the same race as you and serves you loyally until death, believing the fates have drawn him or her to you. You control this character.

Moon. You are granted the ability to cast the wish spell 1d3 times.

Rogue. A nonplayer character of the GM's choice becomes hostile toward you. The identity of your new enemy isn't known until the NPC or someone else reveals it. Nothing less than a wish spell or divine intervention can end the NPC's hostility toward you.

Ruin. All forms of wealth that you carry or own, other than magic items, are lost to you. Portable property vanishes. Businesses, buildings, and land you own are lost in a way that alters reality the least. Any documentation that proves you should own something lost to this card also disappears.

Skull. You summon an avatar of death--a ghostly humanoid skeleton clad in a tattered black robe and carrying a spectral scythe. It appears in a space of the GM's choice within 10 feet of you and attacks you, warning all others that you must win the battle alone. The avatar fights until you die or it drops to 0 hit points, whereupon it disappears. If anyone tries to help you, the helper summons its own avatar of death. A creature slain by an avatar of death can't be restored to life.

Avatar of Death

Medium undead, neutral evil

Armor Class 20

Hit Points half the hit point maximum of its summoner

Speed 60 ft., fly 60 ft. (hover)

STR

DEX

CON

INT

WIS

CHA

16 (+3)

16 (+3)

16 (+3)

16 (+3)

16 (+3)

16 (+3)

Damage Immunities necrotic, poison

Condition Immunities charmed, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, unconscious

Senses darkvision 60 ft., truesight 60 ft., passive Perception 13

Languages all languages known to its summoner

Challenge -- (0 XP)

Incorporeal Movement. The avatar can move through other creatures and objects as if they were difficult terrain. It takes 5 (1d10) force damage if it ends its turn inside an object.

Turning Immunity. The avatar is immune to features that turn undead.

Actions

Reaping Scythe. The avatar sweeps its spectral scythe through a creature within 5 feet of it, dealing 7 (1d8 + 3) slashing damage plus 4 (1d8) necrotic damage.

Star. Increase one of your ability scores by 2. The score can exceed 20 but can't exceed 24.

Sun. You gain 50,000 XP, and a wondrous item (which the GM determines randomly) appears in your hands.

Talons. Every magic item you wear or carry disintegrates. Artifacts in your possession aren't destroyed but do vanish.

Throne. You gain proficiency in the Persuasion skill, and you double your proficiency bonus on checks made with that skill. In addition, you gain rightful ownership of a small keep somewhere in the world. However, the keep is currently in the hands of monsters, which you must clear out before you can claim the keep as yours.

Vizier. At any time you choose within one year of drawing this card, you can ask a question in meditation and mentally receive a truthful answer to that question. Besides information, the answer helps you solve a puzzling problem or other dilemma. In other words, the knowledge comes with wisdom on how to apply it.

The Void. This black card spells disaster. Your soul is drawn from your body and contained in an object in a place of the GM's choice. One or more powerful beings guard the place. While your soul is trapped in this way, your body is incapacitated. A wish spell can't restore your soul, but the spell reveals the location of the object that holds it. You draw no more cards.

Using a Physical Deck

You can easily substitute die rolls for card draws but drawing from a physical deck is a bit of roleplaying theater your players will likely never forget. If you’re willing to go all out (or you’re planning on making the deck a central part of your adventures) consider buying a physical deck that your players can actually draw from. The early versions of the classic 22 card deck have become strangely hard to find, but I recommend this version from “The Deck of Many”, an entire company named after the iconic item.

If you want to get the theater without spending anything, you can also simulate the deck of many with a deck of common playing cards. Use the following table for a simple substitution:

 

Playing Card

Deck of Many Card

Ace of Diamonds

Vizier*

King of Diamonds

Sun

Queen of Diamonds

Moon

Jack of Diamonds

Star

Two of Diamonds

Comet*

Ace of Hearts

The Fates*

King of Hearts

Throne

Queen of Hearts

Key

Jack of Hearts

Knight

Two of Hearts

Gem*

Ace of Clubs

Talons*

King of Clubs

The Void

Queen of Clubs

Flames

Jack of Clubs

Skull

Two of Clubs

Idiot*

Ace of Spades

Donjon*

King of Spades

Ruin

Queen of Spades

Euryale

Jack of Spades

Rogue

Two of Spades

Balance*

Joker (With ™)

Fool*

Joker (Without ™)

Jester

* Found only in a deck with twenty-two cards

 

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Last updated: January 27, 2019

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