The first set of D&D Fortune Cards, Shadow Over Nentir Vale, is now out in the wild, ready to use with the new D&D Encounters season. Here’s a look at the direction we took with the cards and some of the method behind our madness.
There are already plenty of choices for a player to make on their hero’s turn, and adding a card to play increases the complexity of that turn even further. We tried to counter this with cards that either work with specific sorts of powers or actions, or cards that have specific triggers that probably don’t happen every round.
Careful Aim, for example, works with close and area attacks, whereas a card like Reinvigorate encourages using an at-will power and also requires you to be bloodied. Or during our focus group testing, one player planned his turn around setting up a charge attack after he drew the Full Speed Ahead! card (which gives combat advantage when you charge).
The better the card is at telling the player when to use it or not use it, the less processing time it will take on the part of the player.
Controlling Power Level
Whenever a new option is added to the game, we have to measure how much additional power we’re giving to the heroes. We know we risk overinflating their power level by giving them even more advantages on top of the feats, powers, class features, and magic items they already have.
The effect of each card needs to be simple and straightforward. At the same time, the magnitude of the effect has to be powerful enough to be compelling for some players, but not so strong that they dominate play. With Fortune Cards, we started by aiming the cards at a power level akin to having another feat. This works for many of the common cards, such as Not in the Face, that situationally negates combat advantage (the situation being that you’ve got this card ready).
We also looked at mechanics that were closer to neutral in power level, like the Gambler’s cards (such as Gambler’s Solace) that give a result based upon a die roll, with the odds only slightly in favor of the player. Other cards, like the various Fate cards (such as Resurgent Fate), provide a reroll but typically after something bad has happened, like a failed saving throw or taking a bunch of damage.
We also considered the random nature of the card deck. While it is possible to play a card every round, we noticed through testing and development that cards were played less often, as the card’s trigger wouldn’t yet be met, or that it was better to hold onto a card to use on a later round.
The cards are also divided into three broad categories of Attack, Defense, and Tactics. As you might imagine, Attack cards provide an offensive benefit, like gaining combat advantage or a damage bonus. Defense cards boost your hit points or defenses. Tactics cards generally apply their benefit to an ally, though they might also provide skill bonuses or other effects not clearly attacks or defense. When following our standard rules for playing with Fortune Cards, your deck is either comprised of random cards from a couple of boosters, or you’ve built your own deck. A random deck has some inherent variety, but even a constructed deck that follows our suggested rules will have cards in each of the three categories. This means that a player can’t use a deck comprised entirely of attack cards, for example, and provides more opportunities for typically teamwork-centric tactics cards to be played.
Ways to Play
With the standard rules, we’ve provided one way for Fortune Cards to be used in a D&D game—whether it’s with a couple boosters in a weekly D&D Encounters game or with a deck customized for your home game. Still, there are plenty of ways to use Fortune Cards beyond the suggested rules. Maybe the DM gets to use one card played by the players each round, or the DM gets his own deck. Maybe the cards are handed out as a reward for defeating an encounter or completing a quest.
As a closing thought, I look forward to seeing what other sorts of ways our cunning DMs and players will find to incorporate Fortune Cards into their games, and house-rules they might implement.
Venture into the perilous Nentir Vale with a heroic band of adventurers. Every Wednesday, you and your companions will face a new challenge, playing through an ongoing D&D campaign—one epic encounter at a time. Find out more about this season of D&D Encounters: March of the Phantom Brigade.
Stephen Schubert is a game developer for Wizards of the Coast, and is the Development Manager for RPGs and the Dungeons & Dragons game. He has provided development and design work for many 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons products, including the Monster Manual and Player’s Handbook series, and Gamma World.