D&D’s Deck of Many Things is an experiment that failed, but the cards are pretty sweet

The deck of many things is unlike anything that has come before in Dungeons & Dragons history: a comprehensive box set with multiple components, all focused on bringing a beloved magical item to life. It’s a unique project placed in a gaping portal in the release calendar of the groundbreaking role-playing game; the next version of the 5th edition won’t be released until later this year. But it’s the wrong product delivered at the wrong time that finds itself in hostile waters already stirred by the corporate controversy looming over the entire franchise.

It’s a shame, because the finished product is actually pretty cool.

In the centre of The deck of many things is the card game itself, consisting of 66 tarot cards with gilded edges. A whopping 22 of those cards are representative of powerful magic spells first introduced into the game in 1975, many of which have game- and campaign-breaking effects. Drawing a card from the deck is a surefire way to cause absolute chaos in virtually any D&D game by gaining levels, losing levels, killing characters, or having wishes granted by a djinn. It’s a joy to have beautiful, physical representations of these earth-shattering spells.

The gilding on these cards was not perfect out of the box. We used a very sharp knife to cut two cards in particular so that the deck lay perfectly flat. Nevertheless, these maps are a lot better than what was shared with the press in October.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Together, a full or even a smaller, more composite version of the Deck can be used to predict things at the table – just like a traditional tarot deck. Players can of course read a character into the game, but there are also ways to use the cards to plan encounters, traps, or small adventures. By dealing a simple spread of three or five cards you can add variety to any situation. With a full nine-card deck you can even create an entire campaign, one that flashes straight from the DM’s hand onto the table thanks to its elegant, gilded-edged design. And it seems like it’s that gilded edge that has caused this product most of its problems.

Early in the life cycle of 5th Edition D&D, the team at Wizards of the Coast took pride in printing all of its books in the United States. But the economic realities of publishing on this scale, and undoubtedly the needs of the business owners at Hasbro, led to changes in the production process. What followed was a series of three-volume, higher-priced slipcase editions, which Wizards began printing at least partially in China – often with mixed results.

At the same time, Hasbro launched one environmental initiative intended to reduce the company’s ecological footprint. Packaging changes were clearly visible across many product lines vegetable fiber tires from action figures to plastic-free packaging on the decks of Magic: the meeting‘s popular Commander cards. The greening initiative led directly to the production issues that delayed the release of The deck of many thingswhose paper tapes were partly to blame for a recall in late 2023, halting shipments to customers of products already in the distribution channel.

“This is all for a good cause,” executive producer Kyle Brink told Polygon in October. “Obviously we want to reduce plastic waste and that is why we use paper packaging. We carefully inspected everything during the production process to make sure everything went well, and yet some of the issues we see here are specifically due to some of the paper packaging we use.”

The revised Deck of Many Things uses plastic to protect each of the three decks of 22 cards during shipping, and I’m happy to report that the cards are now all a uniform size – just as they should have been the first time around. The result is an elegant and sturdy deck that looks beautiful on the table and sparkles brilliantly when handed out to the players. Nevertheless, it arrived well after its original release date.

In addition to that handsome card game, the Map reference guide, which remains unchanged from the batch delivered to reviewers last fall. The 80-page, chapbook-sized tome is the instruction book. It contains everything you need to know to use the Deck, including all the layouts mentioned above. The large and easy-to-read text areas ensure a clear and smooth presentation of the cards at the table.

However, unlike other props Wizards has released in the past, the Deck itself lacks a strong theme. It’s actually a generic product, and many other reviewers have identified this as a major negative. On the other hand, I think that is a positive characteristic. As a collector of TTRPG props, including miniatures and terrain, I consider the Deck a treasure in the truest sense of the word, as it is something I can draw from no matter what part of the vast D&D multiverse my players are in located. If I wanted a themed tarot deck, I would have gone out and bought one. Instead of, The deck of many things seed store shelves with a solid tool that is immediately accessible to players at any point in their journey through 5th Edition, and for that the team at Wizards should be commended.

Of course, producing content that has mainstream appeal isn’t the most important thing The deck of many things an experiment. It is the second, larger book that accompanies it, a 192-page book with the title The book of many things, where Wizards really rolled the dice. Compared to literally everything else in the fifth edition catalog, it’s absolutely chaotic.

The book of many things is divided into 22 chapters, one each for the original Deck of Many Things. The contents of those chapters fall into five different categories: a five-chapter toolkit for DMs, a four-chapter collection of character creation options, four “inspired by astrological phenomena” chapters, five chapters describing potential adventure locations, and four chapters describing ‘new adventures’. monsters and two people responsible for creating the card game.” It’s a laundry list that’s as exhausting to type out here as it is to keep your head around in the real world.

An assortment of cards from The Deck of Many Things, including a curious owlbear, a raging stone elemental, a comet, a ship on rough waters, a maze, an enemy and more.

Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Packaged alongside the concise and effective Deck and it’s handy Map reference guide, The book of many things It could have been a rude assortment of chips left over after a decade spent pushing back on raw ideas in pursuit of more focused products. Instead, it all feels tailor-made, tailored to the themes of the Deck and supporting them in various ways. But the shotgun blast of new content is delivered with far less grace and readability than something like that Xanathar’s guide to everything or Tasha’s cauldron of everything.

I like the deck for what it is: an elegant prop and a tool for inspiring shared stories at the table. The gold profile will be a permanent fixture on my shelf for years to come. Ultimately it is The book of many things that feels most like an unnecessary gloss on what is otherwise a solid product.

Its presence in this product begs the question: why? The book of many things even exists at all? I think the answer lies in Hasbro’s desire to digitize a traditionally very tactile game. You can’t turn a physical prop into a microtransaction, but you can sell digital books on D&D Beyond. For Wizards’ corporate overlords, it seems that the Deck itself – the very best part of this package – was almost an afterthought. Even more punishing than it was The book of many things, The deck of many things‘ least likeable piece, which arrived first during the now perfunctory two-week digital pre-release period, a period that stretched into months due to an unexpected recall.

The deck of many things And his Map reference guide are a must-buy, especially if you like to go on short, action-packed adventures or let fate decide where your campaign ultimately goes. Unfortunately, to have fun with this excellent object you have to pay The book of many things also.

The deck of many things is currently available for purchase online and at friendly local game stores for a suggested retail price of $99.99, and as digital content on D&D Beyond. The product was reviewed with a physical pre-release version provided by the publisher. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions on products purchased through affiliate links. You can find Additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy can be found here.