How WotC Doomed Us All By Making The Fates Do Way More Work

There sure are a lot of angry geeks out there. I’m not sure what it is about our particular demographic, but boy, do we get unreasonably angry about things. Maybe it’s the relative anonymity of forums. Maybe it’s emotional attachments to brands and products that have been around in some form since we were children. Maybe it’s attempts to apply logic to subjective matter bent to suit one’s cognitive dissonance between their opinion and the limited and/or flawed information available. Or maybe we all have tiny fire elementals in us that only come out on the Internet. It’s been like this a long time. With each iteration of D&D, each generation of game consoles, and each new Batman, the flames rise. They never really go out completely. I still know people who make sour faces when D&D 3rd Edition gets mentioned, grumbling about the glory days when there was only one Tarrasque and THAC0 was king.

One of the nerd-infernos currently blazing on the forums is about the new Fortune Cards. I hear the same arguments that I did last year about the Gamma World booster packs.


I can understand concerns about a system that allows your character to be more powerful simply because you bought more stuff with real money. I do have an issue with the Fortune Cards in that you can tailor a deck to your character’s strengths and give yourself an unfair advantage over the other players. Either the other people at the table follow suit, or they suck comparatively. Granted, it’s not like you “win” D&D like you might a game of Monopoly (although the concept of putting hotels on one’s bracers of defense is intriguing) – but, as any seasoned World of Warcraft player can tell you, within every human being lies the desire to beat an obsessive-compulsive minmaxer into unconsciousness in the absolute least efficient way possible.

I’ve played several games that used this mechanic. Years ago, I played an Artillery Duel / Scorched Earth-style game called GunBound. There were 2 modes: one where everybody was just like everybody else (with cosmetic differences), and one where you could buy gear to boost your stats. The barriers for entry in the second mode were very steep. You could expect to lose 90% of the time even if you were a great shot, and the 10% you won were because the other guy disconnected. While perhaps not as extreme, we still see this sort of thing these days in “free-to-play” MMOs like Champions Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online. You can play all you want, but there’s just some stuff you can’t do or use if you don’t start. This mechanic is interesting to me in that I don’t know one person who thinks it’s a good idea, but I know tons of people that have paid up to get the “real” game.

Sometimes, Twitter proves it has more uses than being able to tell everyone while on the toilet what you had for breakfast. The Fortune Cards are a way for players to beef up their characters by buying stuff. I do not deny this. Then, John Du Bois (of Living Forgotten Realms writing directorial fame) posed a question that shifted my paradigm. Like six whole inches. It hurt.

@direflail With books and DDI costing $, real $ created in game advantages before Fortune Cards… -@JohnDuBois

An interesting thought, though not one I necessarily agree with. I think it’s relatively safe to say that the designers of most RPGs don’t intentionally make new classes that are incredibly more powerful than the old ones. Yes, I know it happens. I had Unearthed Arcana for 1E. I really don’t think TSR meant to give Paladins horse-mounted death lasers. I think expansion sourcebooks are more about alternatives than advantages. At least, the text on the back never says anything like “Get an edge over the rest of the party and steamroll your way through your Dungeon Master’s puny obstacles! Swim in a sea of nubiles while everyone else weeps!” (Admittedly, I would buy that book.)

Then, like a bolt from the heavens:

books mean 1 payment & everything is available. Cards mean multiple payments & no guarantee of getting everything. –@mmaranda

Believe it or not, WotC is watching Twitter like a robotic hawk, and this struck home. Consequently, the obvious solution to this problem that I’m sure will be released in Q4 just in time for the holidays – sourcebook booster packs. No longer will buying D&D books be boring and routine. Each pack will contain 5 books (3 common, 1 uncommon, and 1 rare) and cost just $75 per booster pack. Every few months, a new setting will be announced, changing the flavor of the setting and the metagame. This is really exciting to me because it revolutionizes D&D Organized Play – no more Encounters or LFR, now we all draft in tournaments! (As a bonus, this also completely eliminates all problems with players stacking their deck with Fortune Cards.)

Crazy foil-wrapped hardcover predictions aside, the fact of the matter is that tabletop RPGs tend to be a living, transforming endeavor rather than a game you buy and play unchanged for 10 years. All changes affect the balance of play in some way, though hopefully they have been playtested thoroughly and the changes are for the better. Though my gut reaction to the Fortune Cards is that they can unbalance things, it’s not as though a Dungeon Master has to sit there while some pieces of card stock unravel all his plans.

First, it’s probably a good idea to know what your players have in their decks and to prepare for it. Maybe there is an ultra-rare “the campaign’s final boss suffers heart failure” card. Make sure your big bad eats his veggies and takes a baby aspirin every day.

Secondly, there’s nothing to say that you have to use these cards as prescribed. My intention is to have a communal pool of cards that everyone draws from, perhaps rewarding an episode of Most Excellent Roleplaying with copious air guitar and another draw from the deck. What, are they going to kick me out of the DM’s Union? (P.S. if this organization really exists, all this was in jest. OH GOD NOT THE BEES.)

Third, if it’s apparent that these cards aren’t working out for your group, don’t set yourself up to be the bad guy by saying the players can’t use them. Simply demand that, at the beginning of each encounter, they build a setting-appropriate dwelling out of their Fortune Cards in order to gain their effects – scaling the size and complexity along with the PC’s income level. While this might give players with architect-skills an unfair advantage, chances are they will never finish the house and all the landscaping by the time the encounter is over. In this way, you can avoid having to worry about the Fortune Cards entirely. You can also use this play mechanic for sourcebooks, but to do so effectively requires a significant financial investment by the player and hard hats for the rest of the group.

In the final analysis, making sure all the players at the table are wearing adequate safety equipment is what D&D is all about. I don’t care what Mike Mearls says.

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  1. There’s also the option to just say no. Unless you’re playing in an organized play event which could require them, the thing that people seem to forget is that Fortune Cards are optional. If you don’t like them, don’t use them. Nothing sends a message faster to a company than money and if Fortune Cards fail to sell, they will go away.

  2. One of the comments I liked from WotC (I think it was Mike Mearls) at DDXP about Fortune Cards was simply that – in most groups it’s the DM who buys most/all of the books.

    Fortune Cards (and presumably GW Booster Cards) are an attempt to give the players something to purchase. And they aid in that by making the price (barrier to entry) really low.

    While I, for one, wouldn’t buy a thin paperback of rules options for $4 (or even $10. . . probably), something about the cards model does make sense as an alternative to a $30+ hardcover rulebook as an option.

  3. I literally cannot wait for when you have to buy powers in booster packs and I am dead serious.

    This may be the only way my Wizard will ever rule over the other players as Lord and Master again.

    I will buy whole booster boxes of Wizard and build the ultimate Wizard, and once again campaigns will scorch and smoke in my path. They thought they could keep me from my glory? Ha ha! The dread phoenix will rise again, on the backs of cardboard greed!

  4. Chris Arthur says:

    My problem here isn’t the idea of influencing the game by the use of buying Fortune Cards, my real problem here is that they possibly represent a completely outside the game world set of effects. For instance, if a card gives you a +1 to any attack until your next turn. Why? Because you played a card isn’t good enough. Imagine a card gives you a +1 to your attack because your target trips on rubble, but you’re fighting on a smooth non-slick surface. I think my biggest issue is that the cards will further remove role-playing and game flavor. As it is, there is so much to keep track of in 4th edition and it resembles an MMO so much that one of my players calls it World of Dungeoncraft and refuses to play it. I reserve final judgment until I actually see the cards, but 4th Edition just seems to keep letting me down.

  5. Voted “Other”.
    I like cards at my table and have no issues with rarity and so on, but fan made Drama card seems more interesting, sorry WotC. If Fortune Cards evolve to be something closer to this – I can change my mind.

  6. What I don’t understand is that we’ve been harping about all of these things: spreading out the weight of purchasing items for a game, buying only what you want and building the characters you want – for nearly 9 months and no one seems to be getting it. Solving these issues was one of the main reasons why we INVENTED Untold in the first place….

    And then along comes WOTC and everyone thinks it’s revolutionary and new… 🙁

    Oh and BTW, with Untold – you KNOW what you’re getting before you buy because we list everything on the packs and online, so we’re even taking it one step further and not forcing folks to buy things they DON’T need or want….


  7. I’m not going to buy any Fortune Cards (D&DI costs enough as it is, and even that is questionable on whether it is worth it these days). But if one of my players bought some or I were gifted them or something, I might just replace my current “benny” system (a la Savage Worlds) with “draw a Fortune Card.”

    So yeah, I’d use the communal pot version. I think that’s the piece that bugs people. With books it seems to be accepted practice that you can and do share material (I have an Arcane Sourcebook for my Wizard, you can use it for your Wizard as well). But the Fortune Card suggested play model is that you aren’t sharing anymore–you get cards for you and you alone. If the default rules were “every player can draw from any deck in play” (so a communal system, even if it could be that each player has their own deck), then it becomes a way of sharing. When you buy cards, you help the whole table, not just yourself.

    I think it’s the selfishness implied by the rules that really bothers people. D&D is a cooperative game; there is enough inter-player tension about magic items and loot distribution already. Don’t create game elements that add more competition between players. Create game elements (even if they are micro-purchases like cards) that create cooperation between players. It also increases the perceived value of the cards (it doesn’t just help me, it helps everyone around me!). Winning all around.

  8. Ashy: Untold did not invent the idea of cards in RPGs either. Dragonstorm was one of the first to bring a CCG model to RPGs, and the use of cards in various ways stretches a long ways back. It’s the implementation and attaching it to games that traditionally have not had them as a central part of the game that is the attention.

  9. I know I’m on the fringe of reality here, but I still maintain that MMOs require thousands of people to play, simultaneous, online 😉

    The game is what you make of it. A few things that I have learned from my experiences in RPGs, is that a rulebook can’t give an answer to every possible situation, and that accessories are optional content.

  10. Great post.

    1. Any DM who can’t convey to a player why seeking out the best cards can unbalance the game, and why that will suck for ALL the players, probably shouldn’t be a DM.
    2. Any DM who can’t make the cards a benefit to the game, enhancing the storytelling, spontaneity and ass-kicking in Gamma World, probably should stay away from that campaign setting.
    3. Having recently DM’d my first gamma world game, having cards on hand were a welcome boost for RP’ing with a bunch of RP rookies for whom character sheets were awfully intimidating to look at.

    Oh, and Hologram PHB cards FTW.

  11. @Chris Arthur: while I’ll agree that there seem to be some WoW-flavored elements in 4e, it’s not like the whole idea of roles in the party is new. Everybody knew long before 4e came out to squish anybody wearing robes first.

  12. KnightOfTheWolf says:

    I doubt I’ll use them and even if I do, it will most likely not be rules as written. $4 for 8 cards is a bit steep, even for my DM pocketbook. There’s usually enough fiddly numbers to remember in your typical 4E game without adding the cards on top of it.

    That being said, they might work better with an all Essentials group where there are fewer modifiers being tossed around from PC to PC. That’s just a guess though and I have no proof of that statement.

  13. I keep hearing all this complaining and it makes me laugh. Yeah they cost money, yeah they are required in organized play big deal. Are you playing in organized play? I am playing encounters but I am also a DM who bought into the cards on day one and just like the miniatures or buying non-painted mini’s from GW or Reaper it costs money.

    As the DM I spend a hellalot of cash for minis for both Star Wars and D&D. All those cool little accessories like tokens and marks and what not. Sure its cheaper to use those rings from pop bottles and pipe cleaners but if I as the DM want to make my game look good sure I will buy it. As the DM I spend 95% more than my players on material for the game.

    From Maps, tiles, books, minis to the paper & ink to print the characters and adventure material (I work for best buy so I get a tiny discount). Now the cards.

    As a DM I know my players will never buy into the cards. But as a person who plays in OP games I know having them will be required so I spent the cash on them and will use them for my home games and OP games. I will make decks for my players and let them use what I give them knowing what I put in there could make or break my game, but since I am the one in CONTROL of the cards I do not have to worry about Player A being more powerful than B, C and D players.

    As a DM you control what goes on at YOUR table (even if you are running it at a store or your friends house) From books to Cards you control it. It is your game and if you dont want the cards fine dont use the cards say your peace and be gone. I will say one thing about the gaming community people say thier gripes and compliments over and over again until the proverbial horse is dead, mushed and soaked into the virtual soil and then we keep going.

    Today it is cards, tomorrow it will be about some other new idea WotC comes up with that purists will cry for and against.

    WotC did not doom us. They only doom you if you can not control yourself or your game.

  14. I reserve the right to judge them when I have some in my hands. Out of hand they look like lavishly designed stand in for player ideas. Some people need a little creative boost around the table and those seem to fit the bill.

    To date, none of the bonuses/boons I’ve seen on such cards are at a level that I’d refuse them from players who came up with an entertaining idea that would grant the same boon without said cards.

    So from my point of view, I see them like useful creative crutches.

    The problem is I’m starting to feel 4e, with it’s propension to numerize everything, has too many such crutches already. But having met people who struggle mightily to come up with fresh ideas, I completly understand the reason for such products. I’m also not particularily bothered by the business model behind it… it will make a MARVELOUS secondary market for them and will allow more creative people to create thier own using Apps like “godeckyourself”.

    Now THAT being said. All this hate and rage on the internet about something as inconsequential has convinced me of two things:

    1) We are, from the Gen X-ers onwards, a bunch of ill-bred, bad mannered jerks. That’s why I love my blog so much, it’s managed to attract polite and civilized participants for so long.

    2) I’m going to start teaching online etiquette to my children, so that I hope they never become hate-filled trolls that sling insults to people (industry and fans alike) just because they can do so without consequences behind a wall of anonymity.

  15. @chattdm: Dammit, Phil! Now you’re going to make the WHOLE Internet angry instead of just the card-haters!

    if you need to find me, I’ll be in my secret underground bunker.So you can’t. 🙂

  16. Or, Chatty, such as in the case of Untold, instead of using cards as creative crutches (and financial ones, truth be told) turn them into tools – or concept seeds! Turn them into small self-contained concepts that work WITH the rules and help to create stories, ideas, worlds, and so forth!

  17. People on Twitter, and @Ashy have also said that they can act as seeds to foster more creative stories opportunities. (both at the PC and Settting levels)

    Having seen players painfully struggle to “sound as cool as Bob here”, I understand the need. I don’t have to like it, I don’t have to want to use it… but I certainly am curious about it and respect the ideas behind it.

    Now will it be a success? Knowing the clientèle, I’d edge my bets toward “yes”, I stopped being the target customer a long time ago.

  18. I’ve said it before. Fortune Cards should have been one per encounter max and been full of RP flavor. Look to Paizo’s Harrow Deck and Savage World’s cool cards for Deadlands… or even at the Ravenloft cards.

    The idea would be truly spinning an aspect of fate into the mix that would provide RP hooks, link to the DM’s story, and so on. It could almost have been a crib sheet type of product where a new DM can use these as cool hooks.

    Another idea would be to have the cards involve roles/power sources and play upon them with a combination of hooks and benefits. Leaders might gain a watchful spirit that provides advice, for example. A primal PC or Ranger might find nature speaking to them, both giving and taking. There could have been really strong story aspects.

    My last bit is on the unclear wording. They didn’t sufficiently treat the wording as rules text. Arguing over whether “attack” means one attack, whether it has to be on foes, whether it means attack roll… we don’t that in the game and it is the opposite of enhancing story.

  19. Like everything in pen and paper, your team style and the attitude of the players is far more important than any actual mechanic. And if my team don’t like something, we change it, or we change systems. Not like there is only 30 rpg systems to choose from. Pick another.

  20. Kensan_Oni says:

    Quite simply, I see Fortune cards as a way to help support stores who do Organized Play events. A booster pack a night for entry? That’s 24 dollars (Maybe 30? I don’t know the pricing) a table of players for the store, and players having a good time. I find this as a Win scenario for everyone.

    Will I use them at my home table? Unlikely. I don’t think my players really want to invest in them, and I don’t think they add anything significant to the experience. They’re not as neat as the TORG drama deck, which I really loved. If they shared the same design space as the Drama Deck, I might start considering them, but they don’t.

  21. A note on my personal editorial approach to comments.

    Like Shamus Young once said on his site(Twenty Sided), a blog is not a Forum or an Op/Ed page. A blog is like someone’s house where readers are invited on the porch to share in the day’s discussions. Readers are welcome guests… but they remain just this, guests.

    We really care about you visiting us, sharing your opinions and your thoughts. We’re even open to strong, passionate debate, as long as things remain civil. What we are NOT open to is flippant, one-liner dismissals, insults, personal attacks, fake comments, repetitive statements and overly obvious passive-aggressive behavior.

    Tell us why you dislike something. Explain where you come from and why you are moved by the subject at hand. If you can’t bring facts to the table, go with your own experience or those close to you. If you are going to make the effort to make a comment, go a little further and make us want to engage you.

    That being said, this being our Internet house, we have the right to tell you to leave our porch when your comments are deemed inappropriate according to our own rules, which, apart from this short message, we fell under no particular obligation to share. We also reserve the right, should we believe that no matter what we say, you aren’t interested in being engaged, to delete your comments without notice.

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    Edit: Just to be clear, the great majority of comments today have been perfect, like usual on this site. But we have had to snip a few, hence my comment.

  22. I think Chalker said it best. The issue here is that Forturne Cards, used in this fashion, are a new element to D&D.

    But I also think another issue is that fans are starting to worry about quality. I can appreciate that WOTC is trying to push the boundries of what D&D is ever wider. It’s certainly a good deal of what 4e is about, it seems. But I think many are starting to worry that WOTC will throw the words “Dungeons & Dragons” on almost anything these days.

    Aside from that, WOTC makes money by selling products and services. Fortune Cards are but one of them. I’ve also heard that Fortune Cards are away to get “players” to buy product. As a DM I can say that I own every 4e book/box set, many sets of Dungeon tiles and minis. The players around my table own a fraction of what I do. So this arguement makes sense.

    I do want to dispell this notion that Fortune Cards will be required for play in Organized Play events. These cards are not required to play in either Encounters or Living Forgotten Realms. Are they encouraged and allowed…yes. But there is no buy-in requirement to play. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    I’ve purchased a few of these Fortune Cards. They don’t seem that bad. We’re going to try them out our next session. I’ve got a feeling that afterwards, if the players still want to use them, I will allow them each to have a hand of 3-5 cards that they can choose to hold until they decide to use them. Sort of like the old “Living FR” Rewards cards.

  23. Sourcebook booster packs at “$75 per booster pack” is an interesting theory– but I think it would fall flat for the same reasons the client-side character builder was readily available on torrent sites. A few people will buy the products with the express purpose of distributing it illegally. Some will buy in, a lot will download it illegally, and some will just refuse outright.

  24. Kensan_Oni says:


    I can’t find any information on the current floor rules for D&D Encounters, so I will assume you are correct. Still, it makes sense to me, if I was a store organizer, to do so. I mean, our local store was charging players two dollars a night to play in RPGA so that money would come into the store for using the tables. I feel that this would fill the same ‘space’, and is the intent of both the Gamma World Power Packs and Fortune Card Packs. I am still surprised we didn’t see any OP Gamma World events, to be honest.

  25. Just to be clear, the cards are not required for LFR/Encounters, but it is required for the table to allow them if any player/DM brings them. That irks some.

    For something like Encounters, we really should do our best to promote all WotC product. We are emissaries for the game and being negative is a bad idea. There is an entire demographic (especially new players) that loves these cards.

    Having played with them twice at DDXP and owning six packs of them (all gifts), I can say the negatives aren’t that big a deal. Play isn’t really affected when you have random decks. The only downside is seriously constructed decks and even then it amounts to roughly a really good feat. Bad, and certainly impacts balance, but not a huge issue. Trust me when I say the effect is enough that some builds will be favored (charging rogue, lazy warlord, mutli-targetting at-will) to get a bump in the CharOp forums. But, that is survivable.

    As I said, the bigger problem to me is that this was a lost opportunity. The cold mechanical nature could have been a nice boost to flavor and story with just minor changes. Also, the LFR idea of no duplicate cards per 10 cards is a good one and should be a general rule to limit balance impacts.

    On the overall D&D landscape, don’t read too much into this. This is not the end of D&D, nor does it show WotC running out of ideas. They can still do a ton with 4E. Look at themes for an example, or Essentials, or how alternate skill challenge, trap, and minion rules could change the game! This is just an experiment to learn what will stimulate players making more purchases, not just DMs.

  26. When they first came out, I mean seriously the night they came out, I was running a LFR game at my gaming store. One of my players bought a pack and to me they seemed to be just like the Player Rewards Cards. However there are two differences. First your deck cannot be set up so that you can only have attack cards or defense cards. Secondly while they seem overly powerful, it doesn’t allow you to have 15 attacks in a round, rather it will allow you to re-roll a botched attack or spend a healing surge. For those of you who are against it read the rules There is a reason that people who were against 4E in the beginning sounded uninformed because they did not do their research. Like the old saying goes…Don’t knock it until you try it.

  27. Oh and one other thing that I do not like about them is that you need 10 to start a deck and a pack only comes with 8.

  28. What? Can’t say anything bad about WoTC without post being deleted? 4E and GW with their micropurchases add-on models are ridiculous products and not one penny of my money will ever be spent or even waved in their general direction again.

  29. @Kanati: You got deleted because you left a one-liner “this is crap I hate it, I’m never going to buy that thing” comment that we see everywhere, including on some better detailed and less insulting posts of this thread.

    At least that last version of your comment is a little more measured and explains a bit better what you dislike about the model.

    I stopped playing 4e for some time now and don’t plan on buying any of these products, for various reasons as I explained a bit above, you don’t see me raging about them now… and I could… but I won’t.

    So stay civil and we’ll let you share your thoughts.

    You are a guest here, not aristocracy.

  30. Comments about any company or person being crap usually have the exact opposite impact – they create support for the offended party. If you want to show that something is sub-par, you need to explain your reasons.

    Keep in mind a couple of things:
    1) Infinite oregano / Killjoy Cooking
    2) A brief history of RPGs

    In my mind, those two pieces really are helpful in understanding the difficulty any gaming company has in trying to create a new product (which they must do if they want to be profitable). The vast majority of RPG companies are not really for profit. They may say they are, but they haven’t and won’t show a profit unless they come up with something really spectacular and unexpected. That is a very hard thing to do when you are running the company as your second job, have a family, etc. For WotC, while they enjoy the size to actually do this as a day job and with resources, they have the pressure from their parent company to show big numbers. It is a really tough task.

    I’m willing to say that I consider FCs an inferior product. I once had a number of problems with them, and actually playing with the cards removed most of my concerns. What remains is that I do not see any actual benefit from them. The cards just don’t offer anything to the game for me. I think they are a valid product in terms of reaching out to new/young demographics, and I think they could have been made to reach more demographics (as I said previously). The Gamma World cards, in my opinion, are a vastly superior concept and their play is actually a key to the fun in the game. But, this isn’t a big deal. I can name a number of similar experiments by WotC/TSR that took place and my gaming life is still fantastic.

    I do not consider WotC an inferior company. While their mistakes in 2010 are numerous, they continue to produce some really quality games. They hold up well to any other gaming company. Just about every gaming company out there had some duds in 2010. That doesn’t stop me from being a huge fan of the games I play. I want more D&D, more Eclipse Phase, more L5R, more Shadowrun, more… I want this hobby to grow and mature and succeed.

  31. @Alphastream: That cookbook parody made my week. 🙂

  32. Alphastream, I’ve really enjoyed reading your comments here. My opinion tends to fall roughly in line with yours about a number of these issues. I too would love to see many game companies succeed this year, whether it’s by playing to the existing base or by trying something new.

    With all the complaints and troubles, 2010 was still an exemplary year for RPGs as a whole. At LEAST three games entered my all time favorites pile that I just started playing last year. Sure there were plenty of products I wasn’t interested in or I didn’t consider to be quality products, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the many of great ones that did come out and continue to enjoy.

  33. Sevenbastard says:

    I play most of my roleplaying over Maptools, so not very easy to use cards. Will WoTC build a platform in to thier Game Table on the DDI to use these?

    As it is 4e is way to complicated for me. I play it when others want to, but it already takes me 3 hours to slog through all my options when I am building a charachter I don’t need to add deck building to that. Nor do I need extra options to slow down combat. I see them just like psionics, I’m not interested so I don’t buy the books.

    That being said I’m one person and if other like them no skin off my back. I would rather have more choices than less.

  34. The real concerns are whether or not the Fortune Cards will sell and play like a Collectible Card Game. Bother of these aspects effect groups in different ways, and many times companies have tried to use the CCG format both as marketing model and a playing model, with varying success. Both aspects need to be looked at separately, because for many it only takes disagreement with one of these features of the CCG model to drive them away from the idea of Fortune Cards, yet every argument and defence seems focused on treating them as just being one thing, and quite frankly, the discussion is a mess.

    When it comes to the sales aspect – the CCG has always had the issue of dealing with rarity and duplication. When you buy a book, you get everything in the book: there’s no consideration to whether or not some content of that book is rarer than anything else, or having content duplicated (those that do are often returned as faulty).

    Yet, under the CCG sales model, you’ve got to deal with the issue that people won’t know what they are getting, and risk getting duplicated information. Some people might be lucky to get every card for a limited amount, while others may need to fork out their life savings and still end up with an incomplete set of cards.

    This is not a good way when the primary focus is the information and content – normally, you only need a single copy of a sourcebook, and everybody at the group has the information needed to do what they want. Extras might be handy, but not necessary.

    Thus, as an alternative to present information, the CCG format isn’t viable, even though cards themselves might be. For example – buying a deck of cards with every power IS viable. Pathfinder’s GM Mastery Decks IS viable. These are card-based reference tools.

    The argument that random cards can provide inspiration – ever heard of a game called Everway? That was a card-based RPG, produced by Wizards, that failed. They had a Vision deck – a set of cards with art on one side, and questions on the other for just this purpose. They also produced Vision Deck Boosters – random new cards to expand the vision deck. That was a great idea – up until you get to the point where you start getting duplicate cards.

    To put this into context, imagine buying random encounters and adventures. They are great, until you start getting duplicates, then you are just buying redundant material you already have. Buying the same material isn’t a “new source of inspiration” – you can use that with the copy you already have. You want to make sure you are buying something you don’t have already.

    The only time duplicates are important is when you are dealing with the fact that it is a card – then it might have a point, and this brings us to whether or not Fortune Cards will play like a CCG, or indeed, any card game.

    This is not new – there have been numerous card games, card/board games, and so forth that have also claimed to be roleplaying games. Examples include the Dungeoneer Roleplaying Game based of the Expandable Card Game, and Warhammer Quest, to name but two. In these cases, duplicates have work, because they change the card probabilities in the decks, but this in itself has issues.

    The biggest, and widest heard, is that the cards will get in the way of roleplaying. This is true to a significant extent, because the cards are NOT used as a conflict resolution system or another RNG system, but as a way to direct the story, and the play switches from what the character can do to what cards they have in their hand. It causes conflicts, when you have to try and justify the card mechanics and any associated non-card game mechanics, and how they interact.

    In the end, they take control away from the GM and the story and put it in the hands of the players and their decks of cards. It changes the nature of the game. It’s not inspiration – it’s a hand wave to cheating, because the type of things that the Fortune Deck is apparently going to provide should be defined by the GM, not a card.

    It shouldn’t be a card that determines whether a PC gets a bonus or not, or why – but the GM – if only because they know the situation better and can make it more reasonable. As an example cited above – a bonus for a foe tripping on the rock: that’s the GMs job; if there’s a chance a foe might trip on a rock, the player shouldn’t need a card to get it. If there isn’t a chance, the players shouldn’t be able to foist such a card on the GM to make it happen.

    With Fortune Cards, the GM might as well go home, or sit on the other side of the screen, because it is quite clear that the group would much rather play a card game than a roleplaying game, and lack the trust in their GM to be fair and reasonable. In which case, they might as well go nuts and buy a whole bunch of Fortune Decks, and every other deck they can get. Because Wizards will no doubt produce encounter, treasure, and dungeon decks, and turn Dungeons and Dragons into a card game.

  35. That… was a phenomenal post. Listen up Vanir. Any time the DM is taken out of the decision equation, it’s a bad bad thing.

  36. @Da’Vane, @Kanati: I’ll agree to a certain extent. But it’s not as if the Fortune Cards are an Automatic Dungeon Mastery Machine you can replace a real human with.

    If you want that, buy one of the D&D board games that came out recently. 🙂

    I’m not helping, am I…..

  37. @Vanir: Da’Vane and Kanati make valid points in that it is true… in a group where the DM has relinquished all power and authority to his players. I’ve seen such tables where players rule supreme as to what sourcebook and Dragon magazine powers/feat combination are used without the DM at least looking it up to see if it fits with the tables’ consensus of fun.

    I’ll repeat myself, I see these cards are merely inspirational tools combined with a bonus. Many won’t have an issue with it. I personally doubt it will be a significant enough commercial success to be a maintainable product (I predict a re-release in a format closer to Paizo’s Mastery decks)

    But I want to be proved wrong because I want WotC’s success. And everyone else’s…

    And there’s always Refuge in Audacity… I hear that’s pretty rad. 😉

  38. Hey Vanir, great post! I do see that WotC wants to, as they said, spread the cost of the game from just the DM, but I have players that have been in my game for over 2 years now that still borrow dice and a plastic mini from me each game. If they’re not going to buy their own dice to roll, there is no way they’re going to spend money on cards.

  39. ironregime says:

    I’ve used homemade “hero cards” in various campaigns for the past 20 years, so I’m ok with the concept, but in general I’m not a fan of RPG products marketed to players, since it ends up sending an implicit signal that players have to spend money to enjoy the game. I’d rather level the playing field by supplying everything the players need to play except time and energy.

  40. @Chatty DM: These cards are not inspirational tools – not in their current format. If a group needs inspiration from cards, then they’ve probably got deeper issues in the way they play than Fortune cards can ever fix.

    If you are looking for inspiration, then the GM should focus on ways to make encounters more exciting, and players should look towards doing more than the simple hit, damage, kill routine. At the very least, both GM and players should look towards more improvisation, and if they are really stuck, get more background on the type of genre they are playing.

    They shouldn’t be getting inspiration from a card that provides a bonus – this is little more than a gimmick, and in all honesty Paizo already does this with a deck that doesn’t use the CCG model, so you know you are getting all the cards for everyone to use, while openly acknowledging that it is simply a gimmick, just like their item cards.

    If it improves your play experience, then go for it, but it is a gimmick, and there simply is no need or justification for it. All the arguments for it being necessary, or even useful, simply don’t wash – it’s just got that novelty fun factor, which is subject to personal taste.

    Cards can be useful in roleplaying games, but it’s largely about how they are used. Cards as reference tools are great, since you just need what you need, and the rest can stick in the box. Anything else, and you deviate from the roleplaying game. You can get away with cards as an RNG, because in this way, the cards simply replace or work alongside dice, and serve the same purpose. Take the SAGA system, for example.

    Beyond this, the cards start getting in the way more than they help. If the cards start providing story-based modifiers, then the players and the GM will start shaping the game and story around the cards, not around the actions of the GM and the PCs. If they do not, you still have the issue of the GM having to provide details of how the effects of a card would apply in a given situation – this means that rather than taking the situation and determining the modifiers, you are taking modifiers from the card, and then justifying it in the situation, even if the modifier itself is inappropriate. Suddenly, the cards are carrying more authority than the GM, otherwise the player might as well not have the card at all.

    But the importance of cards is also that they also define what you cannot do as much as you what you can do. You take any card game, and generally, you will have cards that can be played and cards that cannot be played. These states will change, but they are both defined. For example, in Magic: the Gathering, you can normally only play cards from your hand, with other cards only playable under certain circumstances. These other cards cannot be touched in most cases – it’s part of the gameplay.

    Now you compare this to a Fortune Card that provides a bonus – if it’s not in your hand, you can’t play it under normal circumstances. If the player wants the bonus, they need to get that card to a playable state. Otherwise, they don’t get the bonus, meaning they are denied the bonus until it becomes playable.

    A GM knowing this has two options, with two different resulting scenarios, neither of which are very good in a roleplaying game. Firstly, they can enforce the fact that the card is unplayable, and keep the bonus out of play – the player hasn’t got the card, and nothing they can do will change that. Secondly, the GM can grant the player the bonus, particulary if they perform the associated action, regardless of where the card is, thus undermining the value of the card. After all, the the GM gives them the bonus, they don’t need to play the card. The result of the first scenario is that the game itself becomes concentrated around the card – the player is denied options that might otherwise be available if the cards were not being used, simply because the card isn’t playable. The second scenario sees that the card will be used only when the GM is unlikely to already give out the applicable bonus.

    This is even more exaggerated if the cards have more story-established justifications on them. For example, take an enemy trips on rock card. The former would deny the enemy any chance to trip on rocks if the card is unplayable, even if it was reasonable, while the latter would allow the player to force the GM to have enemies trip on rocks even when there’s not a rock within visible distance – simply because if the GM was likely to have enemies a chance to trip on rocks, there’s no need to play the card in the first place.

    Cards in any sort of gameplay based system outside of simple random number generation do not work in a roleplaying game, simply because it takes away the fact that makes it a roleplaying game – freedom. Card-based gameplay has limitations, and you cannot get around them, because to do so would stop the gameplay from being card-based.

    Sorry, Ashy, I’ve seen Untold, and no matter what you try, the reason people “don’t get it” is because it’s not a roleplaying game – it’s a card game. It’s a complex card game, and can involve story-based development, but it is still a card-game. It’s like trying to claim the likes of Mordheim and Chainmail are roleplaying games – they are not: They are miniature games.

    Dungeons and Dragons is a roleplaying game, although it does get mocked – a lot – for it’s increasing use and reliance on miniatures during encounters, but these are still not necessary to play D&D – the moment they are, is the moment D&D stops being a roleplaying game, because even miniature games have limitations based on the fact that they are miniature games and use miniatures.

  41. Da’Vane, I agree with a lot of what you wrote. To play Devil’s advocate, however… We could use FCs with an added element. Lower how often they are used (maybe one per encounter) and to activate the bonus you need to do something the DM comes up with. You draw a card, it is a ranged attack to-hit bonus and you are playing a bard. The DM talks about the foes morale, how they act as one against you… if you could only break their morale. Player has their bard PC use a skill check (perhaps a social skill, perhaps a demonstration via athletics or acrobatics or even history) to demoralize them, unlocking the benefit.

    So, you can use them for inspiration. It can work. It can be very improvisational, in fact.

    That all said, I don’t like them as a tool. The Deadlands cards are better at achieving this via painting cool scenes. I do agree that any random card-like mechanic takes some authority away from the DM, but if that is kept to an infrequent bit, it can actually be fun. It can come off as more collaborative. Player shows card, DM paints scene. It can be good for everyone.

    Cards could also be just on the player side. I could see a deck of prayer cards that could be in tune with the campaign challenge level. The cleric/priest PC pulls a card, must do a task, and gains the bonus. That could easily be managed by the player and not impact the DM. The task would be defined by the campaign using loose rules and could be a good RP vehicle. Maybe someone wants to work with me on some Task rules for the FCs? It could be a cool article proposal for Dragon…

  42. Another excellent post Da’Vane. I don’t understand when role playing games started trying to become something different. Even with miniatures, as you say, you lose something that you have with pure “in your head” role playing. Yes, battles with minis are easier to “see”. And if it’s only in the mind of the DM, then you always have the possibility that the DM and the players are seeing multiple different layouts. But I have never liked playing with minis for the very reasons you mention. You become limited to what a minis game allows even if it’s just for a short battle. And for larger battles, it becomes logistically impossible to show, with minis, that there are 500 goblins cresting the hill a quarter mile away waving their weapons in the air while your party of five huddles in the ruins of an old castle awaiting what must be certain death. You can’t play that out with minis. You can only break it down into smaller battles. And in doing so you lose the grandness of scale that you just described to your players.

    A role playing game happens in your mind with paper and dice. I could just as easily run a campaign of tunnels and trolls (the condensed free version of which is what? 16 pages?) as I can run one in d&d 3.5. The difference only being how complex I want the rules. I can still tell the story and allow the players the same freedoms in either system. But introduce minis, or cards, or other gimmick devices and you start to artificially limit what I can do as a game master and how much control I have over the world I’m creating.

    “But, but, but you can say the same thing about splat books!” Well, I suppose you can. But at least when I buy a splat book I have everything I need to use it. I don’t have to worry about if that ultra rare page 33 is going to be in the book I bought. If there’s no page 33, it goes back to the store and I get one that does have it. Nor do I have to worry about PlayerX bringing it in and using it as part of his character while other players don’t have the same advantage. If I buy a splat book, I have the rules it contains and I can choose to use them or not. A player doesn’t have to buy the book, and if they do buy one, I can choose to allow it or not. And in doing so it across the board for all players or none. Not the same with these cards.

    Get back to the real game, people… The roots are still there. You don’t need gimmicks and cards and minis. A quote…

    “It is relatively simple to set up a fantasy campaign, and better still, it will cost almost nothing. In fact you will not even need miniature figures, although their occasional employment is recommended for real spectacle when battles are fought. A quick glance at the Equipment section of this booklet will reveal just how little is required. You have everything needed with this edition of the game except pencil and paper.”

    E. Gary Gygax
    TSR Hobbies, Inc.
    1 November 1973

  43. The problem with Fortune Cards (at this point), as I understand them, isn’t that they’re cards, or collectible, or anything else. Those are logistical matters and they’re ultimately secondary to ‘what do they bring to the game?’

    The problem, rather, is that these cards are absolutely, predictably, thuddingly boring.

    @Alphastream sez: You draw a card, it is a ranged attack to-hit bonus and you are playing a bard. The DM talks about the foes morale, how they act as one against you… if you could only break their morale. Player has their bard PC use a skill check (perhaps a social skill, perhaps a demonstration via athletics or acrobatics or even history) to demoralize them, unlocking the benefit.

    In other words…

    1) Randomly draw a benefit from a stack of cards you’ve chosen.

    2) Roll the dice to beat an arbitrary number to see whether you’re actually granted the benefit.

    …which just interposes more roll-playing and doesn’t actually address the disconnection between the mechanics on the cards and the roleplay situation. I get where you’re coming from, but if you’re trying to spur creativity then you may as well eliminate the cards altogether and establish an informal DM/PC contract – player suggests a cool ‘moment’/bennie (e.g. ‘I want to bring the chandelier down on the orcs at the table, trapping them’); DM suggests a roleplay/narrative challenge for which the bennie will be the ‘prize’ (‘Ha! And how do you think you’re gonna get UP there to bring it DOWN, eh?’); if the roleplay is strong, the bennie kicks in.

    No random element at all. Boom.

    Then again, if you like the randomness of card-drawing, use tarot cards instead – or Everway cards if you’ve got ’em!! – and try shading the scene narratively, even mechanically, in accordance with whatever card comes up.

    Of course you can follow this thought out to the extreme, and use only subjective evaluation. But then it’s not D&D.

    The point here is that the Fortune Cards just throw in one more numerical fillip apiece; since it’s a 4e mechanical element, you know the fluff will almost certainly be either irrelevant, lame, or actually nonexistent. This time it’s apparently the latter. Do we really need yet another gimmick providing 5 temporary hit points? Isn’t the Hand of Fate already well represented in a game like D&D 4e where most of the important decisions (more than in any previous edition) are made by the dice?

    So long as the point of D&D is ‘playing a role’ and ‘improvising a story of heroism with your friends,’ the Fortune Cards seem out of place and a bit lame. They seek to fill a need that does not exist.

    If D&D (4e) is, ahem, ‘a tactical miniatures combat game with high production values and a thin storytelling layer atop it,’ then the Fortune Cards make perfect sense, and may all their buyers go with god etc. etc. etc. Better, though, to have a deck of Very Good and Very Very Bad things to draw from. Which we already do, of course: a Random Event Table, or a Deck of Many Things, or…

    All this said, the Despair Deck (is that the name?) sounds like a fine idea.

  44. I don’t understand when role playing games started trying to become something different.

    In fairness, there’s no point in WotC rewriting OD&D. 4e is its own thing, and that means change. Obviously. If the point is to bring things ‘back to their roots’ then they may as well just reissue the old games, no? Would you pay $20 for a rerelease of the LBBs with competent layout? Perhaps in the Essentials format, glossy digest-sized paperback style? Perhaps with a conversion guide to allow use of 3e/4e Monster Manuals and supplements and…

    …actually this sounds like a damned fine idea…

    …anyhow there’s no point in demanding that ‘roleplaying games’ adhere to some Platonic ideal. 4e doesn’t play without miniatures; that’s the game it is. Its ‘type’ is irrelevant. OD&D was one kind of game, AD&D another, 3e its ultimate refinement/expansion; 4e is another type of game again. You can’t gather up fallen rain and put a cloud together again. The question is, do things like Fortune Cards actually make D&D 4e better on its own terms? I don’t think so. Grousing about the irretrievability of the past isn’t gonna prevent Hasbro’s next round of clever ideas from being lame.

  45. Thus far in Encounters, Fortune Cards are playing out like additional utility, stance, or encounter powers. It is very rare to see a player play more than one card in a 2 hour session. I don’t think fortune cards have proven to be any better than the earned renown cards. They just add a bit more flexibility and randomness to this ‘boost’ mechanic. In fact, as a player, every game I’ve used Fortune Cards in has actually HURT me. What can I say? I keep failing the rolls on gambling cards. 🙁

    However, had I been using my earned renown cards, the effect of the ‘boost’ mechanic would have been guaranteed to be positive…

  46. It’s not about griping about the past – it’s about how games are being marketed. You CAN play 4th Edition without miniatures, but in all the experiences I have heard trying this, it ends up becoming a bit of a nightmare when you try. If it’s getting to the point that you cannot play 4th Edition without miniatures, then 4th Edition is a miniatures game – it is not a roleplaying game. This is the sort of detail that can lead to customer dissatisfaction and complaints to trading standards for false marketing. If this is what Wizards are doing, then they deserve to fail – HARD.

    Change for it’s own sake is generally bad. Changes that shape the fundamental nature of the game need to be handled with caution. Maybe I am being overly suspicious, but it seems to me that this is a drive to incorporate cards into 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, being that Wizards makes their most profit as a CCG company – they already know how to do CCGs extremely well, so it makes sense to them to push D&D cards out, and the justification for these cards have come after the fact. I am also highly suspicious that 4th Edition itself contains such a shift towards miniatures because Wizards already have a Miniatures line to promote, following the not-so-successful Chainmail product line.

    When things are good, changes that do more than just fix minor details need to be very carefully weighed up. Most such changes come when licenses change hands, as new companies stamp their own ideals and existing models onto a game. Genuine concerns are often ignored as the claims of those who don’t want to change from their old systems. There is some truth to this when changes bring in new and often undesirable directions.

    Take, for instance, the latest incarnation of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay by Fantasy Flight Games. The set has more tokens, cards, and special dice than a roleplaying game really needs to have, and this puts a premium price on the boxed set. Gameplay has therefore shifted away from roleplaying into a card/dice game hybrid. This is because these are the games that Fantasy Flight Games know how to do – and they proved this when they also did the latest Talisman version, which IS a board game. The current version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is really hard to justify as a roleplaying game.

    This all comes down to what the definition of the term roleplaying game is. In any interactive medium, in any type of game, the most literal definition tells us nothing. Playing a role isn’t enough to define a roleplaying game as different from any other type of game – because in quite a few games, we play a role, even if we don’t have much choice in what they role is or what it does. This literal definition is no different than that of the term roleplaying used in team building and therapy sessions where people pretend to be someone else – the only difference being they are not games.

    If you adhere that this definition is right, then this definition is useless, because all it tells us with whether there’s a story involved or not. You might use it to define the difference between games like the Legend of Zelda (where you play Link) and Bejewelled, or games like Magic (you play a duelling Wizard) and games like Go Fish. Other than that, this definition is useless, and means that Dungeon & Dragons and it’s like are actually just “a game” – since it has no meaningful classification any more.

    Roleplaying games, as we know it and it applied to the likes of Dungeons and Dragons, involves being able to tell a story, as we shape the destiny and outcome of the game and it’s storyline by the actions of our own PCs. In videogames, since we’ve not established full AIs yet, a strong web of pre-scripted storylines and emergent gameplay, which offers a lot of choice and freedom is classified as a roleplaying game. For tabletop games, that freedom is normally directed by the GM. It is this choice, and freedom that marks what a roleplaying game is.

    Cards, Dice, Boards, Miniatures – they don’t provide that freedom – they take away from it. The more the games focus on these over the players, the less freedom the game has, and the more it moves away from roleplaying. It’s not to say these cannot be useful as gaming aids – in fact, quite the opposite – but once the gaming aids become more powerful than the game itself, to the point that the game cannot be played without these gaming aids, then they’d stopped being gaming aids, and become part of the driving mechanics of the game, and in the case of roleplaying games, this means the games stop being roleplaying games.

    If you want some real irony, check out what Warhammer Quest has to say about roleplaying, if you can get a copy. This is an EXCELLENT game. It starts out simple and basic, being a board game, but becomes more and more complex as you get used to it. In doing so, it slowly abandons everything that made it a board/card game and slowly develops into a roleplaying game in it’s own right. It’s still a simplistic roleplaying game, but everything that the board game used to drive the mechanics slowly became just a gaming aid for the GM in the roleplaying game version.

    Like I said, this just covers the impact of playing the cards. You’ve still got the issues of how the cards are sold to be dealt with.

    If Fortune Cards were really to be used for inspiration, then wouldn’t a book with all the details of the cards in, showing off all the ideas be better at providing said inspiration? It would certainly help GMs build more interesting encounters, when they think about ways in which they could provide modifiers to the situation, making things easier or harder based on the fates, AND be better at making sure the story side fits with the circumstances of the event. If they really wanted cards, a deck with all the cards in would be useful for the GM as a reference aid.

    Wizards could probably have made a very interesting, viable product that many would pick up if they had made this a book, but it’s clearly not as profitable as selling cards in a CCG format, especially when a lot of the profit of CCGs involves selling redundant material over and over. It’s quite clear that this is a blatant attempt to raise revenue, possibly to cover the fact that certain products are not earning as much as Wizards would like. The usefulness and viability of the cards are considered AFTER the fact.

  47. @Da’ Vane
    Oh yeah! It would be so much better if WotC kept printing insane amount of splatbooks. Like in good old times of 3d and 2nd Edition.

  48. @Snarls: As opposed to selling Fortune Cards using a CCG model where you get maybe one new card every five booster packs?

    The reason Wizards sell splat books are because they are still driven by a product-based business model – in order to maintain revenue, they need to produce and sell SOMETHING. Nothing will get around this fact until Wizards change their model – they’ve made steps in this regard with DDI, adopting a more service-based approach for this idea, but quite frankly, they are stuck in an old mindset with old rules of economics.

    Thus, the fact that Fortune Cards are a new product isn’t an issue – if it is, well, then you are about as likely to buy the Fortune Cards as you are a splat book or anything else. You might as well keep your money in your pocket.

    But, for the sales side of things, the actual product itself IS relevant. Anyone who has any experience with CCGs will know exactly how much wastage there is in this sales method. Initially, you start out with every card you get being new, but as your library grows, the chances of getting new cards reduces drastically until you are paying well over the odds to get the last cards of the set. Add in rarity, and this becomes even more of an issue, since the chances of getting the last few rares are very slim indeed.

    There’s no problem with splat books for any edition of any game, as long as they are GOOD splat-books. Once they start thinking any rubbish will sell because it’s got D&D on it, then you’ve got a problem. This is nothing to do with splat-books, this is to do with the content of splat-books. Rejection of splat-books for the fact that they are splat-books is simply a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. That’s like putting a torch to Hollywood because of a few bad movies.

  49. As the discussion seems to be pretty far afield from Vanir’s article (in fact, it almost started that way), and we’ve had to move some comments to moderation that violate our comment policy. comments are closed.


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