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A red dragon with smoke rising from his nostrils. Image: Ivan Shavrin/Wizards of the Coast

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D&D’s Deck of Many Things is the physical embodiment of an old-school dungeon crawl

One of the game’s oldest magical items comes to life as a Tarot-sized deck of cards

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Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

The Deck of Many Things, the next new supplement for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons, is a first-of-its-kind product for Wizards of the Coast. According to lead designer Jason Tondro (a veteran of Paizo’s Pathfinder), the “innovation project” seeks to build a new body of lore around one of the game’s oldest magical items. Used one way, the eponymous deck is the embodiment of old-school dungeon crawling at its finest. But, just like its namesake, this short stack of cards holds many secrets.

The original Deck of Many Things was introduced in 1975 with Greyhawk, only the fourth book and the first supplement published for the first edition of D&D. The creation of the mythical object is therefore attributed to its authors — Rob Kuntz and the game’s co-creator, Gary Gygax himself. As originally conceived, this magical item had just 22 cards, each with its own chaotic in-game effect that was only to be revealed to players when they plucked it from the stack. For its 2023 rebirth, publisher Wizards of the Coast concocted 44 more cards in all, bringing the grand total up to 66. Now newcomers like the Door and the Lance join previously established cards like the Sun and the Moon.

A stylized sun, resplendent and yellow, over a city crowded with spires and minarets.
A stylized moon, its nimbus concealing a surface hazed by craters and explosions, hovers over a city crowded with spires and minarets.
A doo in a stone wall with a complex locking mechanism.
A golden dragonlance stands at the ready on a stand.

The cards feature new and vibrant art along with a unique gold foil treatment, and they’ll come packaged inside a presentation-style box. Likewise, the set comes with an interpretive booklet, a hardcover volume called the Card Reference Guide. During a private press briefing, Tandro revealed some of what can be found inside.

Highlights of the OG Deck of Many Things include a scroll with 7 spells, none of which could be used by a first level character, and a monster that takes all your magical items if you kill it.
The original Deck of Many Things, first published in 1975, was a bit more... let’s say fickle.
Image: Wizards of the Coast

The Deck of Many Things can be used to build a dungeon or an adventure on the fly, mimicking the kind of random tables that D&D has used from the very beginning. When drawing a card, savvy Dungeon Masters will be able to find a person, place, treasure, monster, or situation for every single card, including alternate entries for if the card is upside down. That’s a total of 660 “things” to be found inside the deck — more than enough to add a little variety to any adventure.

“In addition to all of that,” Tondro said, “it also includes the ways to use the deck as an oracle deck for your characters or for the DM, so the characters can visit a fortune teller and get their fortunes read.”

But it will also include another style of use — a way to use the deck itself to build out a larger adventure, or even an entire campaign. It’s called an Adventure Spread.

“The first card represents where the party is before the adventure starts,” Tondro said, “kind of like what they’ve been doing or the starting situation. And we cross that with a card that’s the inciting event — someone staggers into the tavern with an arrow in their chest and a map in their hand, right? Something that kicks off the adventure.

A red dragon atop its horde, with silver, gems, and swords mixed in.
A female-presenting liche ponders a spell, billowing like smoke all around them.
A hand with long fingers reaches for a ring.
A female-presenting dwarf stands their ground, a mace in their hands. Image: Wizards of the Coast

“Then we follow this with a card that represents the journey, and then a card for the entrance to the dungeon — the doorway — and then challenges.” Tondro explained that you could start with three challenges, adding more or taking some away depending on how long you wanted the adventure to run. “Then we finish that with a treasure and a final guardian card.”

So how did they test the design for the Adventure Spread? Tondro said they gathered the design team around the table, and then took turns shuffling the same set of nine cards. As the deck was passed around the table, three of Wizards’ best designers — James Wyatt, Dan Dillon, and Carl Sibley — had all made completely different adventures.

“When three different designers could use the same cards to create three wildly different adventures with the Spread,” Tondro said, “that’s what I knew that we had something. That’s how we knew that it worked.”

A stylized comet hurtles toward a city, laid low by flames and rendered into dust.
A wizard’s tower rising from a rugged landscape, a giant green dome perched like a gem in the hand.
A stylized star rising over ancient ruins.
A ring sits, sparkling slightly, in an ancient brass case.

The Deck of Many Things also ships with a second book, titled The Book of Many Things, which Tondro says contains a little bit of everything, from character options to monsters, locations, and new magical items. In this way, Tondro said, it’s much like the other “everything” books that came before it, including Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. It’s just that this time they’re all organized by card, not necessarily by topic.

“It’s [even] got chapters on DM advice,” Tondro added. “It’s got a chapter of puzzles, riddles, and traps. It is [truly] a book of many things — it’s not just a clever name.”

The Deck of Many Things arrives at retail on Nov. 14, although pre-orders are available now at local game stores and online. Both Amazon and Wizards of the Coast are offering it for $99.99, but only those who purchase it directly will have early access to digital content via D&D Beyond on Oct. 31.


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