Thursday, January 20, 2011

D&D: Review of Fortune Cards

After trying out the new Fortune Cards at D&D: Encounters and mulling it over for a night, here is a review of what I think of them.

Overview:  The description of the Fortune cards is as follows: "Fortune takes many forms. The hand of fate, destiny, divine intervention, or even just plain luck—adventurers attribute their good (or bad) fortune to such agents. DUNGEONS & DRAGONS Fortune Cards™ represent these forces acting on your character and his or her allies. Try using these cards in your DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® roleplaying game. May fortune favor you!" (taken from  Each player brings their own deck, and the deck needs to contain any multiple of 10 cards.  There are three types of cards: Attack, Defense, and Tactics.  There needs to be at least three of each type of card in a 10-card deck, 6 of each in a 20-card deck, and so on.

At the start of an encounter, each player shuffles their deck and draws one card.  You are only allowed one card in your hand.  At the start of the turn, the player can discard their card to draw a new one, draw a new card if there is not one in your hand, or hold on to the current card.  One card can be played per round, and the cards say when they can be played (i.e. while attacking, when hit, etc.).  The card requires no action to be played.

Each pack comes with nine cards, one rare, two uncommon, five common, and one rule card.  Here are the cards I currently have (I did one or two trades):

The first set of Fortune cards, to be officially released next month.Reckless Violence (Common, Attack): Play when you make an attack on your turn.  You take a -2 penalty to the attack rolls and gain a +4 bonus to the damage rolls of that attack. You grant combat advantage until the start of your next turn.
Trained Advance (Common, Tactic): Play when an ally within 5 squares of you takes a move action to shift.  You shift one square as a free action.
Whoops! (Common, Defense): Play when an attack knocks you prone. One creature adjacent to you also falls prone.
Live and Let Live (Common, Defense): Play at the end of your turn if you did not make an attack on that turn. You gain a +4 to all defenses until the start of your next turn.
Might Makes Right (Uncommon, Tactic): Play when you make an Intimidate or Diplomacy check.  You gain a bonus to the check equal to the number of unbloodied allies adjacent to you.
Exposed Target (Uncommon, Attack): You gain a +2 bonus to the attack roll against any target of that attack that does not have cover.
Skulking Strike (Uncommon, Attack): Play when you attack a target while hidden.  If the attack hits, you also slide the target 1 square.  After the attack, you can make a Stealth check to remain hidden.
Balance of Fate (Rare, Defense): Play either when you are bloodied by an attack or when you are hit by an attack while bloodied.  You gain a Stroke of Luck, which you can use at any time before the end of the encounter.  (Use a Stroke of Luck to reroll any one attack roll, saving throw, or skill check you make. You can only have one Stroke of Luck at a time, and you cannot use it to affect the event that granted it to you.)

The character I play is Nachpikin, an elf ranger who uses ranged attacks.

I should note before I get into my review that the official D&D site (other than the one linked above), found at, is not currently up.  There may be added rules on this site; however I doubt if too much would change given that they have already put rule cards in the booster packs.

Review:  My first reaction, I admit, was "what is this madness!  Keep trading cards out of D&D!"  Back in high school, I gave up trading cards, having played Yu-Gi-Oh! and before that, Pokémon.  I found it to be much too expensive to keep playing, and of course the best cards are almost always the rare ones, meaning that it becomes more a battle of who can buy more rather than skill.  Yes, skill is involved, but those with the money to buy more cards do get quite an advantage.  One reason I enjoy D&D because the only thing one really needs to buy is a set of dice (and even that could be avoided if people shared dice or used random number generators).  Once I got over my initial frustration over the whole trading card idea, I decided to give them a fair shot and see how it went.  Since it's a new addition to D&D, I'll start with the criticism.  This isn't just muttering; I am pointing out ways to make it better.

My first issue with these cards occurred on my first turn.  I used my move action to climb up to the roof so that I could used my ranged attacks more effectively without taking damage, but I only made it halfway up so instead of risking falling while attacking, I used my standard action to keep climbing.  The card I had was Live and Let Live, so I decided to play it for the heck of it.  I really didn't need it as I had cover and I was a long way away from any enemies, but I figured "why not?".  Instant +4 to all my defenses until my next turn, on top of the cover, no action taken.  Now wait a minute.  Partial cover, i.e. a bush or something in the way, only gives an attacker a -2 penalty.  I could be standing on top of the roof waving my hands around and still have a +4 to all defenses?  Za?

Our group did not use the cards too often, but they proved to be quite effective whenever they were used.  The only example I specifically remember is a card that automatically granted combat advantage even if the target is not flanked.  The group next to us reported that at least one person used every one of his eight cards and he said that they greatly increased his abilities and his team swept through the enemies.  Granted, this encounter was fairly easy, but they way it sounded was that the cards made them overpowered.

So, issue #1 with these cards: The fact that they are usable without any sort of action.  My suggestion: At the very least I feel that they should be a minor action, if not a standard.  Granted, that would be more like the character using the power rather than "good fortune", so it wouldn't really be realistic.

Issue #2:  You can theoretically use one every turn.  WHAT.  Now, good fortune may shine on characters occasionally, but that's being more than just a bit ridiculous.  I could see a couple of times per encounter, but the possibility of every turn?  That's game-changing to an insane degree, basically turning a good chunk of the game into D&D: TCG.  I assume the discard pile gets put back into the deck after every encounter (the rules don't explicitly say), so essentially the character gets a bunch of encounter powers that fortune grants them.  My suggestion: Once or twice per encounter.

Issue #3:  This is about fortunes, right?  So why is every fortune being beneficial to the character in some way?  Granted, some have downsides, and if there were bad fortunes they would never be used in a deck, but it does not seem realistic.  D&D is supposed to be a somewhat realistic role-plying game (more on that later).  About the only way that I see good and bad fortune balancing out is if players were forced to play cards and there was a certain ratio of good to bad.  But then it REALLY becomes a TCG.  I don't see any good way out of this other than to not use them.

Issue #4:  Yeah, I'm gonna bring up the whole TCG thing.  First of all, decks are supposed to be multiples of 10.  Cards come in packs of 8*.  Hot dog vs hot dog bun, anyone?  Secondly, compare my rares and uncommons to my commons.  There is a clear advantage to having rares and uncommons in a deck.  Many common cards have a downside to them (such as granting combat advantage) or are fairly trivial.  Yeah, there's a couple of decent ones in there, but compare to my uncommons.  NONE of then has a downside.  And then there's my Rare.  Once bloodied (which is almost a guarantee for most players engaging in combat), the player gets a "Stroke of Luck", which is essentially a second Elven Accuracy, but can be used on a wider variety of things.  Not only that, but the "Stroke of Luck" can be kept through the entire encounter while the player can keep drawing cards.  Seems a bit broken to me.  I've also been looking at other comments on-line, and the general consensus seems to be the same: The better the card, the rarer it is.  Brilliant marketing strategy, but then those willing to spend money get better cards than those of us who are struggling.  There's no skill in that.  On top of that, players who spend more money can better suit their decks to their characters, meaning that fortune happens to favor their specific character moreso than the person who has less cards.  My suggestion: Get rid of the whole rarity scale and balance them out.
*On a side note, is it just me or are booster packs getting smaller as they get more expensive?  When I played Pokémon, there were 11 cards per pack.  Yu-Gi-Oh! had 9 cards per pack.  Now this has 8.

Issue #5:  Probably the thing I have heard the most is "well, just don't use them".  Two things.  One, I've been wanting to write more reviews of things.  I reviewed Pokémon HGSS a while ago (see previous note), but really haven't done much aside from that.  This was a controversial move by Wizards and Joel was asking for opinions, so I figured I'd throw in my two cents worth (note that two cents won't even buy me a common).  Two, it looks like they will be allowed by Encounters.  While I am not obligated to use them and I have banned them from my upcoming campaign, I got the sense that they would probably be sticking around for Encounters.  Those that are using them will be able to be much more of a dominating force while Nachpikin just sits on a roof and watches, shooting off the occasional arrow as his companions are left to wonder why he does not have the amazing fortune that they have been granted.  My suggestion: Other than hoping that there will be a group at Encounters that doesn't use them, I guess either I put up with it or I don't go.  While I do play D&D at Doane, it is nice to play with my Lincoln friends as well.

Issue #6:  This isn't a personal complaint of mine, but one that I have heard several times, so I figure it should be mentioned in a review.  The only cards with artwork are the rares and Rule cards.  Dungeons and Dragons, as well as Wizards in general, does have a bit of a reputation for having fantastic artwork, so I can see where people are disappointed. Suggestion:  Put artwork on cards.

Issue #7:  This is the biggest issue I have overall.  It was nagging at the back of my brain during the entire encounter, and it wasn't until late last night when I figured out what I disliked about it the most.  Dungeons and Dragons, at least the way I see it, is supposed to be a somewhat realistic dice-based role-playing game.  In Encounters, it is somewhat easy to forget this (and kudos to Joel for encouraging more role-playing and consistency).  Players have certain skills that are best suited to their character's attributes and personality, and they have to strategically use these skills in order to win.  The way these fortune cards are used just do not seem to fit in with the feel of the game.  Yes, good fortune may influence the way a battle goes (a.k.a. a merciful DM).  One example of this are the rewards for earning Renown Points (something that I don't quite understand how they are earned, but whatever).  Those rewards must be earned, not bought, so I find that much more acceptable.  Not only that, but only one can be used per encounter, and while helpful, I don't think they're nearly as powerful as some of these cards.  As mentioned before, the fact that a character can have good, if not excellent, fortune on theoretically every turn is just completely unrealistic.  And when I say "every turn", I mean EACH CHARACTER could have good fortune on each turn.  What a lucky group.  Not only that, but the player (who should be role-playing) is deciding "do I keep this fortune or do I disregard it and instantly get another?"  Yes, it is possible to roleplay some of these fortunes, but many of them I find quite difficult to even understand how they could be roleplayed.  Take for example the rare card that Laura received.  You roll a dice, and if you roll a 1-9 you're immobilized, while if you roll a 10-20 you get a +4 to your speed.  So Nachpikin (who, I should note, has nothing magical) suddenly freezes up or gets super-fast speeds on a whim?  I don't think any reasonable DM (the former controllers of fortune) would do anything quite that dramatic.  On top of that, because the decks are assembled by the player, a player can assemble decks suited specifically to their character, as noted above.  I feel that this undermines the skills that each character has learned and must use on their own.  Suggestion:  The DM controls the cards and uses them sparingly, if at all.

The Good News:  That being said, there are some good things.  The fact that there are some cards based on skill challenges is nice, and means it's not all about combat.  They can only be used in encounters, so during a campaign the character still must rely on their own skills.  It does help characters that are playing at Encounters events who are more skilled outside of fighting, such as thieves or bards, actually participate more.  It also does change up the battles a bit.  Nachpikin suddenly is capable of a little more than just raining shafty death from above (and by death, I mean DOUBLE CRIT TWIN STRIKE!  WOO!).

Overall, I dislike this addition to D&D and I hope it does not stick around, but I do see ways that Fortunes could be improved.  Most notably, I like the idea that the DM controls the cards and uses them sparingly.  I am curious as to the opinions of others.  I have not relegated my cards to the trash heap yet, but I'm doubtful if I would ever allow them in one of my campaigns as I prefer encounters to involve skills of the character rather than a whole lot of good fortune.

Further references:

Here is another review of these cards:

Also, an advertisement from Wizards:

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The new Wizards Play Network in-store program pits tactically-minded players against a super challenging adventure where the difference between victory and defeat is dependent upon your game knowledge, ability to adapt, and a little bit of luck. You’ll pit your wits against some of the most challenging encounters you’ve ever played. Each adventure plays in just a few hours, but for many players, they’ll need to make more than one run at it in pursuit of victory. A season lasts 2 months, and stores can schedule their sessions at any time during the season.

Bring extra character sheets. Bring Fortune Cards. You’ll need them.

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