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Designing Spiral of Tharizdun
Design & Development
By Robert J. Schwalb

D &D Fortune Cards: Spiral of Tharizdun supports both the Player's Option: Heroes of the Elemental Chaos supplement and the upcoming D&D Encounters seasons, The Elder Elemental Eye and Web of the Spider Queen. In creating a tool to aid players confronting the Chained God's servants and foiling their plots, I wanted these cards to have a strong theme. During the initial planning phase, that theme took the form of the mood or atmosphere brought on by tangling with an entity as awful as Tharizdun.

I wanted the cards to convey the uncertainty, fear, and erratic behavior that might arise from such a conflict—and which, over time, might come to mark the slide into madness that is the dark god's domain. In addition, I wanted the set to retain its usefulness beyond the D&D Encounters season, becoming a tool that DMs and players alike could use when taking on any kind of cosmic threat.

When you peel away the wrapper and get your hands on these cards, you'll find that their names and effects reflect chaos, erratic behavior, and sudden bouts of aggression or fear. The cards empower players with the ability to do things and behave in ways they ordinarily might not. Incorporating Spiral of Tharizdun cards into the D&D Encounters season or your own game provides a potent narrative tool for conveying the tone of sinister adventuring, when desperation runs high and uncertainty clouds every decision.

Like previous Fortune Cards, this set is focused on combat. By shining a spotlight on the shifting battlefield, the cards introduce unexpected openings and opportunities that can mean the difference between victory and defeat. These moments, colored by unhinged action and momentary moral failings, demonstrate the prolonged effects of encountering the dreadful, the hideous, and the weird. And though these cards have mechanical impact on your character's actions and the effects of those actions, I also strove to give each card a roleplaying cue—a bit of guidance for portraying your character's psychological state when you play the card.

Consider the Death Wish card, whose mechanic spikes your damage output during your turn, but at the cost of having your melee and close attacks provoke opportunity attacks. You can choose to simply resolve the card's effects and let the implications of those effects carry the state of your character's mind. But you can also use this card as an opportunity to reveal the distress, frustration, and fatigue your character feels as a result of confronting horror. The result is a mad, desperate strike to dispatch an enemy without regard for the consequences.

Though not all cards embrace this tone, they still offer roleplaying cues. Seal the Breach lets you shift 1 square toward an ally damaged by an attack. By letting you come to an ally's aid when enemies mount a successful offensive, the use of this card reflects your character's courage and concern for an imperiled companion.

Fortune Card mechanics are necessarily light. Cards have specific triggers that often don't occur every round, and each card must be easy to resolve so play can proceed without interruption. For a few cards, I upped the complexity to reflect the weakening of an adventurer's courage. Sundered Confidence, one of my favorites, triggers only when an ally you can see rolls a 1 on an attack roll. When this happens, you incur a panicked reaction when you take damage, rolling a d20 to see what you do. Roll low, you flee. Roll high, you fight.

Even though I had no idea how to approach this project when I started, the Spiral of Tharizdun set quickly took on a life of its own as I latched onto the themes I wanted to explore. This set of D&D Fortune Cards speaks to the consequences of fighting the alien, the strange, and the grotesque. Each of these cards demonstrates the emotional and psychological costs of facing off against an unimaginable evil.

About the Author
Robert J. Schwalb works as a contract designer for Wizards of the Coast and has designed or developed over two hundred articles and sourcebooks for Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, A Song of Ice and Fire RPG, Star Wars RPG, and the d20 system. Some of his more recent work for Wizards of the Coast can be found in The Book of Vile Darkness, the Spiral of Tharizdun set of D&D Fortune Cards, and the novel Death Mark. Rob is also a regular contributor to both Dragon and Dungeon magazines. For more information about the author, be sure to check out his website at or follow him on Twitter (@rjschwalb).

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