Thursday, January 6, 2011

Fortune Cards

Wizards of the Coast announced that they will begin selling Fortune Cards for 4e. As far as I can tell, these will be cards with power boosts on them. You bring your deck to the game, flip up a card at the beginning of an encounter, and sometime during the encounter you can use the power or bonus listed on the card, kind of like gaining an extra encounter power. From the examples, these will be much more interesting than run-of-the-mill "+2 to your next attack" kind of stuff. The examples shown include powers that help out teammates, or which take numeric values from things like the number of bloodied allies.

I do not think it's much of a stretch to say these things are going to sell like hotcakes. They're reminiscent of the Gamma World cards in many ways (including a painful pricing model - 4 bucks for 8 cards) which have been flying off the shelf, and with good reason. A little bit of randomness paired with a little bit of extra oomph are a lot of fun in 4e combat. Players who use the cards will be actively looking for exciting opportunities to use their cards (the interesting ones at least) or take risks they can afford because the card offers a buffer against some type of danger.

But mostly, they're going to sell like mad, and make WOTC a ton of money. I'm pretty confident they've wanted to be able to make money in cards out of 4e since it started, and the fact that the power card model doesn't actually work[1] was probably a bit of a blow. So with that in mind, I can't hold it against them to follow this model and rake in some cash.

Still, I'm grumpy. Thankfully, I don't have the power to come to your game and take your cards away, so this hopefully doesn't create too much of a problem for you and your game.

See, the thing that bigger me about the Gamma World cards was that rarity seemed to equate to power. Some cards were just better than others, sometimes drastically so, and a player willing to spend more money on cards could fill his deck with more powerful ones, effectively buying his way to a more powerful character.[2] I'm really uncomfortable with this idea. Now, without seeing the Fortune Cards, there's no real way to determine if that problem will continue, but I'll be shocked if it doesn't. Making rare cards more powerful is a tool to drive sales, and WOTC (as a business) has every reason to follow a strategy that maximizes sales.

Obviously, this also raises the question of what you do when only some players want to shell out money for these things at the table. Barring very generous friends, most of the solutions to this problem are a bit rought.

Perhaps less reasonably, I also bemoan a lost opportunity. While this is the most commercially viable model for something like fortune cards, it's probably the least interesting from an RPG sense. See, I actually LOVE the use of cards in games, so much so that I have boxes dedicated to homemade cards or bizarre tarot and tarot-like decks that can be applied to games[3]. They're powerful, versatile and inspirational, and they can do so much that it's a shame to see them do so little.

Thankfully, there's some hope. Once the cards get out in the wild, I expect people will find more interesting ways to use them (Gamefiend, I'm looking at you). For example, consider what happens if the GM has a single deck for the table; suddenly, you have a reward for coolness (or anything else deserving reward) that's less problematic than adding extra action points. A simple tweak, but full of potential, and just scratching the surface.

1 - Because bonuses are constant being recalculated, having cards with powers on them that don't reflect character's actual numbers are pretty useless.

2 - I also had an issue with thematic mismatches, but that was much more easily fixed by just mkaing decks out of cards of the correct theme

3 - Why yes, I AM an Everway fan.


  1. I have boxes dedicated to homemade cards or bizarre tarot and tarot-like decks that can be applied to games

    I don't know if you take requests, but a post about this alone would be awesome.

  2. I share your view. I think some of the concern can be mitigated by establishing a group card pool, purchased with pooled money, with cards randomly distributed at the start of the session. This approach should be much more palatable given the underlying collaborative nature of the game itself as compared to a standard CCG.

  3. Instead of the DM having one deck, Each player can bring there own deck, but have effect apply to all players not just the deck owner. If more than one player has a deck they can alternate pulls. However the DM might also want to have a deck of his own for the monsters.

  4. Your point about only some players having access to the cards is probably my biggest concern with the Fortune Cards. In Gamma World you have the GM's deck, and so this doesn't seem to be as big of a deal.

    You could easily do something similar with these (assuming the GM wants to spend money on the cards), but it doesn't appear that this is the default setting for the things.

    I think this could also be very off-putting to newer players showing up to the D&D Encounter events. I think that many of them could be less forgiving of the concept that you can essentially buy a game advantage with dollars, and possibly end up giving up on the game as a result.

    Then again, that might be counterbalanced by those already used to the CCG model of marketing who may be more attracted to the idea of playing D&D as a result of the Fortune Cards.

  5. I think the card idea is okay. I am not really bothered by it in principle and it could be okay depending on how they actually implement it. What is troublesome to me is seeing they are planning on requiring it for some of their organized play events. They have said they wont for Encounters but at "events for more experienced players". The cards strike me as an interesting optional rule, but making it a requirement for organized play is mildly annoying to me for reasons I can't quite pin down.

  6. Doesn't this strike anyone as just another "addon-ware" idea hatched by WotC marketing? I mean, D&D is becoming increase less an RPG with each new re-release. I dunno, I definitely won't be buying into these things. I know lots of people love the Gamma World game - as a game design it is great, and I'm sure there's lots of fun there. Savage Worlds (optionally) uses "Adventure Cards" too, and those are great friggen fun to hand out as rewards (players always dump them on you when you least expect it)... but adding/tacking these similar game mechanics (cards) on to 4E D&D just seems like a bad game design choice. It seems like they might be doing this to a) compensate for the supplement cycle powercreep; and b) squeeze more cash out of the fans. I dunno, maybe I'm wrong - maybe "good vs. bad" game design just comes down to fun vs. no fun and that is all that matters and the rest is silly pointless debate. Maybe it's a great business strategy (get D&D players to play MtG-style games) and we should ignore the D&D legacy and just move on.

  7. was just catching up on my feeds and saw this. Yeah, I think there are tons of great uses for this along the lines of rewards and new loot would be awesome.

    I'm probably going to buy a box of these suckers and put them to work.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.