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Friday, 2 October 2020

[Friday Fantasy] The Deck of Weird Things

Dungeons & Dragons has given the hobby a great many things, many of them signature things. In terms of treasures and artefacts, none more so than The Deck of Many Things. Since it appeared on page one-hundred-and forty-two of the Dungeon Master’s Guide for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition in 1979, The Deck of Many Things has been a wondrous thing, an artefact which dealt out fantastic gifts—both beneficial and baneful, which wrought amazing changes upon a Player Character and the world around them. These ranges from being given a beneficial miscellaneous magic item and fifty thousand Experience Points, being granted between one and four wishes, gaining an enmity between the Player Character and a devil to the Player Character losing all of his magical items—all of them and forever, having their Alignment radically changed, and being imprisoned—instantly! Once found and as each card is drawn from The Deck of Many Things, that card will change the drawing Player Character, the world about him, and the campaign itself. The Deck of Many Things is not just a wondrous artefact, but very probably, a box/bag—whatever it came in, of chaos.

Over the last forty years, The Deck of Many Things has always been part of Dungeons & Dragons, from edition to edition, and in the twenty-first century, there have been numerous attempt to turn The Deck of Many Things from the description in a rulebook into the handout of all handouts—an actual physical Deck of Many Things. Some of them are, like Green Ronin Publishing’s The Deck of Many Things, have become highly collectible and so surprisingly expensive. Of course, numerous other physical versions of The Deck of Many Things can be found—and for a whole less than what you would pay for a copy of Green Ronin Publishing’s The Deck of Many Things. The latest edition is from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, best known as the publisher of Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay retroclone and its line of associated adventures, but it is not as The Deck of Weird Things.

As an in-game artefact, The Deck of Weird Things is designed to be left in the collection or library of some wizard, the point being that it should be found with some relative ease rather than being secreted away under a mound of treasure in a deep dungeon. It consists of a deck of fifty-two cards, but when found, there will be between two and twenty cards missing, these having been drawn by a previous finder of The Deck of Weird Things. As soon as anyone finds the box obag containing The Deck of Weird Things, they know what it is, how it works, and that its rules bind all those who find it. These are simple—three or more persons must be present to draw from The Deck of Weird Things, they must all agree to draw, they must agree to draw the same number of cards, and that it must be shuffled before drawing. Then cards are drawn one-by-one, the effects described on each card taking place, and once they have, each card disappears, so further depleting The Deck of Weird Things.

So what effects might happen when a Player Character draws a card? The drawer’s hair—all of it, becomes brittle, inflexible, and like straw; a particularly frail and elderly person becomes obsessed with the drawer and joining the party, and generally though not of any real use, grants a bonus to reaction rolls when present; the drawer’s player must swap their drawer’s highest ability score with the lowest; the drawer can buy one single item or service for free; the drawer is immune to poisons and diseases; once everyone has drawn their cards, the current drawer can choose to draw more just for himself; and suddenly, duplicates appear of those drawing cards, but they do not want to attack their respective drawers, but go and settle down and live an entirely mundane life! There is a huge variety of effects in The Deck of Weird Things, some obviously mechanical, some world related, and so on, and given that each card disappears after having been drawn and taken effect, they are extremely unlikely to see them repeated unless there are multiple copies of The Deck of Weird Things in a game world. Further, given the number of effects in The Deck of Weird Things, its effects are still unlikely to be duplicated even if it turns up in an entirely different campaign.

The Deck of Weird Things requires some preparation before play. For this, two standard decks of playing cards are required. One is used to determine the category, that is, the page to refer to, whilst the other to random determine which of the four possible effects given on the page come into play. As per The Deck of Weird Things, cards are removed from the first deck to reflect cards actually disappearing after being drawn from The Deck of Weird Things.

Essentially, The Deck of Weird Things is a book of—not tables—but of one big table. One big table with what is effectively over two hundred entries. These are divided into categories, one category per page, and four entries per category. These are clearly presented on each page, so that that process from drawing a card to determine the category to drawing a card to determine the specific effect all plays out fairly quickly.

Physically, The Deck of Weird Things is a sturdy, digest-sided book. It is well written and there are nicely done standard deck of playing cards-themed illustrations of Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay signature figures dotted throughout the book. However, the look of the book is pedestrian at best. Not so, the cover, which is a really attractive piece depicting the actual The Deck of Weird Things. The extra slipcover for The Deck of Weird Things is very nice, but entirely optional.

The Deck of Weird Things offers exactly what it promises—a means to change a campaign, to add random effects, to upset the proverbial apple cart, and to add weird effects to campaign. It will do that, and if that is what you as the Game Master want for your campaign and your players are happy with that, then fine, certainly add The Deck of Weird Things to change, potentially really change your campaign. And it should be noted that this does not have to be a campaign just for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy RoleplayThe Deck of Weird Things will work for any Old School Renaissance retroclone, just as it would work for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition.

However, there is just one reason why you would not add The Deck of Weird Things to your campaign—and that is price. The Deck of Weird Things was released as a fundraiser and so is correspondingly expensive, and even more expensive with the now-unavailable limited-edition slipcover which goes with it. Notably, even the publisher does not think that this book is worth its purchase price and for its price, you almost wish that The Deck of Weird Things was actually a copy of The Deck of Weird Things and not a book. Such a thing would really work to entice your players and their characters, to tempt them with ultimate power, or ultimate ruin. Such a physical object would be magical in terms of game play, whereas drawing ordinary playing cards and referring to a big table, not so much. To be fair though, The Deck of Weird Things is not a deck of cards and was never intended be a deck of cards. It is though, given its price, more of a collector’s item than an actual supplement you would bring to the table.

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