The Alexandrian

Fortune Cards - D&DAccording to my e-mail inbox, this apparently needs to be said:

Yes, the new collectible Fortune Cards for 4th Edition are massively dissociated mechanics. But since this is already 4th Edition we’re talking about, I’m not sure that it really matters very much.

Poking around the web to see the full scope of this fuss, I have two additional reactions:

First, the cards are obviously going to create a power creep within the system. The effects on the cards are not even attempting to be balance-neutral, so the net effect of using the cards will be to essentially give everybody free one-shot magic items that can be used every session. I’m surprised to see anybody actually trying to dispute this; it’s like trying to dispute that water is wet. The only interesting point to consider here is that they just recently got done rebalancing the monsters because they decided they had been underpowered when they released the game. Did they rebalance with these cards in mind? Will they need to issue another sweeping errata to take the cards into account? Or will they simply live with the imbalance?

Second, it is absolutely true that WotC is trying to create an MtG-style market for D&D. Again, I’m not clear on how this could even be a matter for dispute: They are selling collectible cards.

Does this mean they’re trying to turn D&D into MtG? Almost certainly not. They’ve already got MtG.

But it does appear that WotC is trying to figure out how to make money from selling accessories for D&D. Or, to put it more accurately, how to get enough of their customer base to continue making regular purchases that aren’t part of the supplement treadmill that D&D can sustain a viable market without rebooting the rule system every 5 years.

And I think, on the balance, that’s a good thing. It’s something that WotC almost certainly needs to do: 2008 was a very bad year for them, and I suspect they’re trying to figure out how to avoid ever splitting their market like that again.

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11 Responses to “Thought of the Day: Fortune Cards”

  1. jdh417 says:

    It gets worse. Pathfinder’s latest Adventure Path is pushing their “Harrow Deck,” cards to enhance play. They’re based on Tarot cards, they don’t seem to be collectible, and it does sort of fit in with the Ravenloft-like setting. But still, it’s more accessorizing.

  2. Otus says:

    Saying more accessories (whether cards or rule books) is bad has always seemed weird to me. No one *forces* you to use them – they are just extra choices. More choice is good. It lets everyone customize the game to their liking.

  3. Joseph says:

    True, but it is possible for the rule system to assume the accessories to the point that massive rewriting is needed to remove them (or careful playing). Think of mini’s in 4th edition D&D (given the precise ranges and areas of effect).

    This may be a good thing for WotC as a company but it likely makes them less and less focused on traditional roleplaying games and more into a fantasy version of squad leader.

  4. tussock says:

    They’re corporate, so they’re trying to growth.

    The only way to do that for reals is to get more people playing D&D, but they clearly have no plans on that front, at least not plans that can survive the corporate. That complete D&D game in a box for grandma to buy the kids idea is the winner, but they keep turning it into an advertisement for the big books the customer has to pay for.

    And of course, totally screwed themselves with the endless core books idea that made it impossible to call the half edition a Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide. They don’t even call it 4th edition, no one knows what they should even buy any more.

    They should really just cheat and borrow large to buy Paizo. It’s what a real corporate would do: double your market by eating the competition and pretend that’ll just keep happening forever.

  5. Justin Alexander says:

    I think WotC deserves some well-earned huzzah for the Encounters program: It’s as close to an open gaming table that you’re likely to find in any sort of organized play, and according to all reports it’s been very successful at bringing people in and/or getting people to actually play the game.

  6. Windjammer says:

    @jdh417: The “Harrow Deck” was first introduced for the Crimson Throne adventure path. It’s a direct heir to the use of a tarot deck in AD&D module I6, Castle Ravenloft – the characters chance upon a gipsy fortune teller early on who’ll lay out the tarot cards for them. The cards determine some actual detail in the adventure. Pretty cool mechanism, don’t you think? Certainly increased the replay value of I6.

  7. Andrew says:

    And the tarokka Ravenloft deck is just FUN.

  8. David A. Cesarano, Jr. says:

    It struck me the other day that 4th edition D&D is much like a European-style game, such as Caylus, Carcassonne, or Settlers of Catan. They’re engaging, but not immersive. There is no point in which you can pretend that you are really a castle planner or the leader of a colony. You’re always 100% aware that you’re playing the game, and you never really assume a role. The rules are so abstract as to be completely dissociated from the game’s theme.

    Nevertheless, American games, such as Risk, Axis & Allies, or any Avalon Hill game, is completely immersive. It’s difficult to play one of those games and not imagine, on some level, the military movements involved. The abstraction is not completely divorced from the game. In this case, playing is a matter of immersion and strategy alike. However, with the European games, victory is often a function of understanding the abstract rules and developing a strategy within the continuum of those rules. Knowledge of real-world events has nothing to do with victory.

    4E is, in this regard, much more like a European board game, in that doing well is a function not of role-playing, immersion, and thinking outside the box, but entirely on character builds, strategic decision-making during character-creation, and a thorough understanding of the rules so that one may perform better at the game within the continuum of the rule set.

  9. Sebastien Roblin says:

    re David:
    Well, although I think Risk works more intuitively than many eurogames, I don’t know if has enough specific flavor to qualify as being immersive.

    I think you can play 4th Edition on an immersive level (by say, just using powers that sound cool or dramatic), but is true that playing it WELL requires interacting with the math and the fineprint of the rules more than thinking what would make sense if you were “really” there.

    I think there are ways that power cards could be used in more immersive ways if they reflect a resource that is not as disassociated. For example, I though for the purposes of a military themed game, powers that would reflect the support of allied military units could be cleverly incorporated into 4th edition; for example catapault bombardments, a salvo of arrows from archers, deploying a platoon of infantry to block an exit, etc. Although there are more ‘literal’ ways that such units could be interpreted using monster rules and so forth, the abstraction of 4th edition power rules would make them easier to use and more of a tactical choice, without being unimmersive or disassociated.

    But I think this shows that it is the content, not the format, of 4th edition powers that is the problem with how they are currently presented.

  10. jdh417 says:


    I’ve read through Ravenloft. The card reading enhances the play and repeat play value. However, in Paizo’s latest Adventure Path, Carrion Crown, which has a Ravenloft vibe to it, the cards are earned through play and simply boost player abilities.

    In order words, in this case, they’re used just like D&D’s Fortune cards. Given that the Harrow Deck isn’t collectible, this may just be an homage, or a trial run to actual collectible cards.

  11. jdh417 says:


    I’ve heard of good results from D&D’s Encounters program as well, but the actual play reports (I haven’t been to one myself) are essentially one big tactical encounter and that’s the whole session. It’s swell that new players are exposed to the game, but there’d probably be more Role-Playing if they were doing a BattleTech scenario. Combined with the Fortune Cards, Encounters is little better than the weekly Magic: The Gathering tournament at the store. (Okay, that’s overstating it.)

    If people are having fun with it, play on, but whether it’s really an RPG is debatable. It’s more like the process of trying to replicate Warcraft on a tabletop. The “talking” bits, are just the cut-scenes that set up the encounter.

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