I Am Fortune’s Fool

There’s a new article up on the D&D website, available to everyone, about alternate uses for Fortune Cards. The article was written by Sarah Darkmagic, Greywulf, Tim Brannan, and oh yeah, me.

This marks the first appearance- as far as I can recall- of paid RPG work by me, though I have more on the way that I’m also very excited about. I’ll admit that I was a little giddy this morning when reading the article and the item and power I had written were formatted in the real templates. It was also the first time I got to read my fellow contributor’s pieces too, which are all outstanding.

When Greg Bilsland approached us about the article, I brainstormed a big list of ideas. Many of them were unworkable or too complex for a short piece, but I focused on the ones that really jumped out, and I’m happy with the final ideas. There was one big idea that I ended up cutting from the piece to fit the word limit, and that was giving them out as roleplaying awards. I’m glad I did, because Tracy takes on that idea directly in a much better way than I was thinking, and I’ve seen other suggestions to that effect previously, so it’s not an idea that needed me giving it very minor rules. However, mine did specifically suggest giving out fortune cards to anyone who brought snacks…

I hope you enjoy all the suggestions. I know many of you aren’t fans of the cards (according to our poll, 40% are sworn never to use them, 30% lean strongly against them, and collectively about 20% plan to use them in some fashion), and I’ll admit that even I’m not planning on using them in my home campaign. However, I do think they have some possibilities for different groups, as demonstrated by the article, and maybe you all have your own great ideas too!

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.


  1. Thanks so much for the kind words Dave! I love your piece too, especially the magic item and power. Since we didn’t see each others work beforehand, I was a bit worried I was going to go over the same things you guys did, but it worked out so well.

  2. I really like the idea of a magic item that gives a player access to the fortune cards; it was my favorite part of the article. It forces a player to make a decision as to whether they want to take up that magic item slot in order to use the cards. You could even get more specific by making a magic item for each type of card. For example:
    Boots: Allows the use of Tactics Fortune Cards
    Weapon, Hands, or Arms: Allows the use of Attack Fortune Cards
    Armor or Shield: Allows the use of Defense Fortune Cards

    I enjoyed reading the article. Thanks for getting my creative wheels spinning!

  3. That’s an awesome way to divide those up.

  4. It’s worth noting that — as long as your DM is okay with homebrewing it — you can bolt on something like Fortune Cards without having to buy a bunch of new gear. My table awards “plus-one” tokens for finishing your actions inside 60 seconds; three can be traded up to a “plus-two” token, and three of those can be traded for my Fortune Card substitute… we use a 100-row table, where the player rolls 1d100 and gets a one-shot benefit that they can hoard and spend.

    Storm Cloud: No action, when you hit with an attack, change the damage type of one attack to thunder, lightning, or force. Once you declare the damage type this power is expended.
    Lucky Dodge: Immediate Interrupt, gain +4 to Reflex until the end of your next turn.
    En Passant: Move action; shift two squares in a straight line and make a melee basic attack against a target who remains adjacent during the movement.
    Judo Throw: No action, when you do damage with an attack, you may push one target of the attack one square. You may subtract 1d4 damage from the attack to gain an additional square of forced movement until you have depleted the damage from the attack.

    Speeds the turns up and my players love hoarding and trading their special cards. It’s also great for laughs when my players break out something like “Summon Greater Fish” during a fight with (e.g.) a kraken…

  5. First, on the article:

    The ideas are great and I’ll consider using them to some degree in my own game. The collaborative approach to this design workshop shone a spotlight on your unique approaches to design and the game. It’s always exciting to get paid for a writing gig and to have your work published by the biggest name in your field. Good stuff.

    Moving on:

    My issue, however, is that this will be read as a tacit endorsement by several of the prominent game bloggers of WotC’s approach to the 4E business. They’ve cancelled the miniatures line (Noooo!) and are instead trying to shoehorn booster packs of randomized cards into the RPG.

    Should we be telling WotC that we like the direction they’re going? Do you feel like the shelving of other products (Where’s the magic item book? Where am I supposed to find lists of uncommon and rare magic items for my 4E game?) in lieu of this business model is good for our hobby?

    Fortune cards just feel like a ripoff to me. Why not just create a d100 table, like in JR’s example, with the same effects as the fortune cards and opt out of the whole randomized booster pack business entirely? That’d feel more Gygaxian to me anyways.

    I’d consider purchasing a playset of the 80-card collection for use in my game, but this is D&D, not Magic The Gathering. Remember when that comparison was a laughable joke you’d only hear from the rabid Pathfinder contingent? I don’t find it quite as funny after Fortune Cards.

  6. This isn’t “tacit endorsement” of anything. This is an article about other ways to use Fortune Cards if you’re so inclined, a clearly optional accessory (so optional, as I point out, that I’m not using it in my game, but if you are, you now have more ways to use them that may fit your game better.) The rest of it I have my own feelings on, but it seems like a stretch to connect one thing to the other. Printing Fortune Cards, I’m pretty sure, has very little to do with the rest of that. A blogger’s “tacit endorsement”, whether it exists or not, has no impact whatsoever on the price of plastics or the cost of book printing.

    The one strong opinion I will state here is that in-game lookup charts are lame, even if they are more “Gygaxian.” They take time to look-up and are not easy to reference during the game as cards.

  7. I think that Fortune Cards have potential. To my mind, the Despair Deck has more story motivation – you’re in the Shadowfell, thus you get crazy effects thrown at you. I don’t really plan on using Fortune Cards, but I could think about incorporating them in a similar way to the Despair Deck, like if the party was in the Astral Sea or the Feywild.

    I’m also attracted to the idea of using them as makeshift “Bennies.” Recently I’ve been allowing Action Points to double as a sort of “Benny” that can bend the rules or be spent for set bonuses to rolls as well as to take extra actions. Fortune Cards could be used similarly. I think they would be much more interesting and effective if they rewarded something.

    I don’t agree that WotC is trying to scam us, but I do think it’s strange that Fortune Cards are being marketed as they are. I would think Dungeons and Dragons fans are more used to purchasing materials that have a decently predictable contribution to the game (i.e. organized errata and player options). The booster pack marketing strategy seems like an attempt to introduce more excitement into the purchase, but I personally don’t like the risk. I’d rather see exactly what I’m getting. As always I wish I had rich gamer friends that could buy everything and let me borrow it.

    I don’t hate the idea of using Fortune Cards, but I wouldn’t spend too much money trying to get them involved in the game. To be perfectly frank (and at the risk of sounding dissatisfied with WotC, which I’m not), I would rather see more campaign settings and story-driven products as opposed to experimental game features. However I do agree, Dave, that cards are always nifty to hold in your hands.

  8. Dave,

    Thanks for the link. It was very cool to see what others did for this.

  9. The article is good. And congrats on the publication.
    I don’t use the cards. I don’t like the implementation by WotC.
    I do however, give out Benny points to bend the rules as DarkPlaneDM does.
    If I played face-to-face (all my gaming is online) I think I would swap the Bennies for the cards because that’s what they are for, in my mind. They should be a benefit given by the DM, not a player option.
    I do think the Despair deck is a much more appropriate direction for the card sets.
    However, in the end I can see the monetary benefit to WotC by selling the Fortune Cards.
    Again, and in spite of the negativity, congratulations on becoming a professional D&Der.

  10. I actually ended up with about five decks of Fortune Cards and decided to try them out in my recent weekly 4E games. The first session or two was a bit rough, as I randomly handed them out from a core “DM deck” but by session three I took a different approach, adding three more packs to the deck then letting the players pick and choose from the main deck to each create a 7 card “mini deck” for themselves. This ended up working out very well and the cards have actually added to the overall experience….and even the role playing/descriptive component, if you can believe it (the chief reason I was avoiding the cards initially was that they looked counter-productive to role playing). As of this week, we’re using the Fortune Cards avidly now as well as the Plot Mastery cards from Paizo (modified for 4E), and I have to say that the only thing I dislike about these cards now is the randomized packs; if I could have bought a pre-assembled single deck of the cards, I would have been much happier.