Gaming Stories: Return of the Deck of Many Things

Deck of Many ThingsFor more than 15 years now, one of my main GMing strategies when I run a D&D or Pathfinder campaign has gone something like this:

  1. Give the PCs the deck of many things.
  2. Wait for them to draw from it.
  3. Have fun with the results.

If I ever doubted that the deck of many things is the greatest magic item in the game, those doubts were dispelled at my last Pathfinder session.

The Background: There’s a hole in reality, and an entire city has been sucked into the Abyss. The PCs, a group of high-level mythic characters, have journeyed into that plane to find their lost allies and figure out how they can restore the city.

The PCs are living legends, both on the Prime Material Plane and beyond. Two of them have taken the divine source mythic power, which means they have a group of followers to whom they can grant divine spells. It’s been a long time since they’ve had a real failure, so they got a bit cocky.

Maybe that’s why… The PCs noticed a group of shadow demons and, rather than killing them or avoiding them, instead tried to recruit them as allies. One of them sent the group of them to their base in the hopes of converting them to followers. The fighter (Penelope), normally the rashest of the PCs, warned against this but was ignored. To be fair, the PC recruiter (Teranthia) did tell the demons not to possess anybody, but it’s hard to get chaotic evil fiends to keep their word.

The demons lied. Uninterested in an actual alliance, they possessed numerous dark stalker followers of Teranthia. When the PCs came back to the base, the demons forced those dark stalkers to stab themselves. Their resulting death throes didn’t succeed in killing the PCs, but did start a massive fire in the city and killed several of the group’s followers. Penelope ran off to get help, while Teranthia, faced with the fact that her actions had just killed a bunch of people who had placed their trust in her, reached for the deck of many things.

Two cards. She took a chance that two draws would give her the means of saving the day. The first card was the Throne, giving her a keep and a permanent +6 to Diplomacy. So far, so good. But then she drew Talons, destroying all her magic items – including her beloved flaming halberd and her rod of the serpent. So while the city burned around her, all of Teranthia’s magic items crumbled to dust.

Then the magic of the deck really got going. The genius of the deck of many things – the thing that makes it so incredible – is the existence of the Moon card. The Moon grants 1d4 wishes, and you have a 1 in 22 chance of getting it. And once the bad stuff really gets rolling, that card becomes more and more important. So even as the deck destroys your life, you know the Moon is somewhere in there, giving you a chance to fix it all.

So they tried again. Teranthia’s best buddy, Claude, is her ultimate enabler – a guy (or horse, in this case) who sticks by her no matter how self-destructive she becomes. At Teranthia’s urging, Claude chose to draw three cards from the deck. First came the Fool – lose 10,000 XP. That’s bad, but at 15th level you can get that back in a single encounter. The came the Void – body functions, but soul is trapped elsewhere. Claude went comatose, and nobody has the wish spell needed to figure out where he went.

The rest of the PCs put out the fire and came back to the scene to find one of their companions sitting among the remains of her ruined magic items, with the other effectively dead.

Then I rubbed salt in their wounds. As a self-admitted cupcake GM, it’s been a while since I got a PC death in a game. The situation was so bleak, I might have gotten carried away. See, I turned the one good result from the deck draw into a mixed blessing.

Teranthia had drawn the Throne, and decided that her small castle would be in the very city they were trying to save. The magic of the deck turned her into the ruler of that city, but it also needed to balance the scales a bit by removing the other ruler. So the previous ruler of the city, an ally of the PCs, keeled over and died.

End results: a bunch of dead followers who did nothing wrong other than to trust their beloved leader, a lot of missing magic items, a dead NPC ally, and a party member who isn’t dead but technically might as well be. And it all came from the hubris of one PC, with a little help from the deck of many things.

The deck is now in possession of the most self-disciplined of the PCs (also the only good-aligned PC left, since the party has become corrupted by the evil they now fight), and she has no plans to use it further. But the beauty of the deck is that nobody intends to start drawing willy nilly – they just wind up there when the situation gets desperate enough. And, stuck in the Abyss in a quest to restore reality and eventually kill a demigod, things are going to get very desperate very quickly.



One Response to “Gaming Stories: Return of the Deck of Many Things”

  1. Sounds like a cool game. I’ve just returned to D&D 5E after a 30 year absence, so my players are 4th level in a new campaign. They might make it to 15th level in maybe 5 years or so… 🙂

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