Our group has always been especially fond of the Deck of Many Things. Like most groups, we have used cards from a standard poker deck to represent it. But there is a better way.
OD&D – Greyhawk Supplement
First, let’s look at the variations already available. The version of this item that most people are familiar with appears as a card deck containing either 13 or 22 cards. It was first described in the 1e DM’s Guide and has remained unchanged ever since.
However, this was not the first incarnation of this item. The Deck of Many Things first appeared in the OD&D Greyhawk Supplement and was a bit different:
This device is a pack of 18 parchment cards, 4 each of four kinds and 2 jokers. Each of the four in each kind is different. One-half bring beneficial things, and one-half cause hurtful things. The person possessing such a deck may select cards from it four times (or more if jokers are drawn), and whatever is revealed by the card selected takes place. The cards are:
A of Hearts Immediately gain 50,000 experience points; K of Hearts Gain Misc. Magic item from the Table of your choice Q of Hearts Gain 1 -3 wishes to be taken when you like J of Hearts Help from a Superhero with +3 armor, shield, and sword for one hour when you call for him A of Diamonds Immediately gain map to richest treasure on any dungeon level K of Diamonds Gain 5-30 pieces of jewelry immediately Q of Diamonds Gain Scroll of 7 Spells, no 1st level spells on it J of Diamonds Add 1 point to any ability score you wish, i.e. strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, etc. A of Spades Lose one experience level immediately K of Spades Lord with +4 armor, shield, and sword attacks you* Q of Spades Immediate death, no saving throw- J of Spades Monster from 5th level Underworld Monster Table attacks by surprise A of Clubs Change alignment immediately K of Clubs Lose your most prized magic item immediately Q of Clubs Turn to stone, no saving throw J of Clubs Lose 1 point from your Prime Requisite JOKER Gain 25,000 experience points immediately or select two additional cards
*all magic items disappear when attacker is defeated
After each draw the card is returned to the pack and it is shuffled again before another draw is made. All four draws need not be made, but the moment the possessor of the deck states he has no intention of ever drawing further cards, or after the maximum number or draws in any event, it disappears. Note: The referee may make up his own deck using the guidelines above.
The Tarot of Many Things
In Dragon Magazine (issue #77), Michael J. Lowrey wrote an article in which he describes using an entire 78-card Tarot Deck as a Deck of Many Things. Just like in a Tarot reading, the orientation of the card affects the outcome.
Using a Tarot Deck
The standard Deck of Many Things not only lists which poker cards, but also which Tarot cards, are needed to make up both the 13-card and 22-card decks. Therefore, if you want to spice things up a bit beyond just using a standard poker deck, all you need to do is pick up a tarot deck, select the appropriate cards, and you are good to go.
There are a great many Tarot decks available. I recently picked up The Gilded Tarot and really like the art work.
However, I just don’t think that the images on the Tarot cards adequately match the effects. Certainly they are better than using poker cards but I’d like them to be more representative.
Deck of Many Things – Game Accessory
There was a product called The Deck of Many Things, that is still listed on the Green Ronin on-line store (out of stock) that originally sold for $9.95. It is listed as “A Card Accessory for d20 Fantasy” which dates it somewhat. Curiously, it states that it includes 24 cards. The official version is either a 13-card or 22-card deck so this may very well be a variant.
Sadly, I had never seen it until recently and copies on Amazon and eBay are quite expensive.
Make Your Own
Someday, I may take a stab at this. The hard part is coming up with decent artwork. If you are simply making a set for yourself, you don’t have to be as concerned with copyright restrictions. But if I were to make one, I’d really rather do the artwork myself or talk a friend into doing them for me.
Once you have the images, it’s simply a matter of printing them out. Current printers are more than up to the job. Print on heavy cardstock and you are good to go. I’d probably laminate them as well but that’s not really necessary.
If you want a more professional look, there are numerous companies that will print custom playing cards in a variety of sizes. Unfortunately, the setup costs are quite high so unless you are doing a large run (1000+) in order to sell them, that route isn’t really feasible.
Coincidentally, while thinking about writing this, I ran across a post on the ProFantasy forums linking to software designed to help people design their own playing cards. I haven’t used it, but if you aren’t comfortable using Photo Shop, this looks like it could be quite helpful. I’m sure a quick search would come up with alternatives as well.