I received my DM rewards package this past weekend, which contained two packs of fortune cards. For those who haven’t heard about the new fortune cards, see previous blog post here. Along with a few cards I’d received in previous weeks at my Friendly Local Game Shop (FLGS), I was able to build a legal deck of 10 cards for a public Living Forgotten Realms (LFR) game. Unfortunately, I was only able to play one card during five hours of play, and it actually hurt me instead of helping me!
A Question of Mechanics
I played a new level-one character at this LFR event, a half-orc Bard. At a glance, many of the new fortune cards seem like they could be useful, but keep in mind that you can only have one card “in hand” at a time, and if you don’t meet the card’s requirements, you either have to hold it forever, or discard it in the hopes of drawing something that might be beneficial.
The first card I drew was “Gambler’s Eye”. It is a rare attack card given to DMs in the DM reward package I received. You play it at the start of your turn, and roll a d20 to determine its affect. On a 1-9, you receive a -2 penalty to attack rolls. On a 10-20, you receive a +2 bonus to attack rolls. I didn’t roll so well, so playing this card nerfed my already weak leader attack.
The next card in the deck was another rare card, “Opportunistic Fate”. This defense card seemed like a good idea to toss in the deck, but in practice, turned out to be unusable. You can play it when an enemy makes an opportunity attack against you. You gain a “Stroke of Luck” which can be used to reroll any one attack roll, saving throw, or skill check. As a leader, I was behind the lines, right where I should be. Since the line was never broken, I had no use for this card. Of course, it didn’t help that I slanted toward leader/controller with abilities to move enemies around.
After a few rounds, I discarded Opportunistic Fate and drew another defense card, “Painful Escape”. You play this card when you take damage from an attack, and you can shift 3 squares as a free action. Both Opportunistic Fate and Painful Escape could have been useful if the line of defenders and strikers had been broken, but that never happened.
Strategy or Luck?
I’m not yet convinced that there will be a great deal of “strategy” involved with the new fortune cards. Sure, you can build a deck to try to help you in certain situations, but there’s simply no guarantee that a given scenario will occur. I suppose if you build a deck with multiple copies of a certain card, and have a character that will definitely meet the fortune card’s requirements, maybe these will be useful. But in that light, I’m concerned that a player might have to obtain a lot of fortune cards just to build a deck of 10 that is useful. Also, different character types (defender, leader, striker, controller) will generally need different types of fortune cards, so for these cards to be effective, it almost seems like a player would have to build a deck individually suited to each of their characters.
At least with the earned reward cards, most of the benefits were general enough that they could be used almost every game.
Fighting the Clock
One thing that bothers me about these cards is that they slow down the game. Players are not allowed to draw a card (if they don’t already have one) at the start of their turn. Until you memorize all the cards, you have to stop and read it. Lllaaaaaaaggggggggg……….. As a DM, I inform players who is up next so that they have time to plan their turn, and play efficiently. As a goal, I encourage players to complete their turns in under a minute. In my home games, I actually give players special awards if they play efficiently. People shouldn’t rush, but it drives me crazy when a player “thinks” for several minutes on their turn. When I was newer to the game, I had more sympathy for this, but now I just force these players to delay if they take more than 30 seconds to begin taking any action. I don’t do this to new players, but do I have multiple 30-second sand timers for everyone else.
Before a player’s turn begins, they have a pretty good idea of what they should do when they’re up. If they have to stop, read a fortune card, and rethink their strategy, that just eats up the clock. I routinely run games of 6-8 players, and I’m not looking forward to everyone having fortune cards. With 8 players, rounds take an average of 20 minutes at best. Maintaining the pace of play is an struggle. I’m sure fortune cards will add at least another 5 minutes per round.
To avoid this additional wear and tear on the clock, I plan to allow players to draw new cards at the beginning of each round, instead of on their individual turns. Then they’ll be able to plan ahead and not waste time.
What should DMs do with the old renown cards? If someone earns the 100 point renown card from this season of public play encounters, Keep on the Borderlands, I think they should be allowed in some format. At our FLGS, we’ve decided to allow both Fortune cards and earned renown cards… just not both at the same time.
Also, how should a DM address fortune cards during skills challenges? I have yet to see a fortune card that would affect a skills challenge, but since the players “have turns” during skills challenges, I assume they would be allowed to draw/discard fortune cards. On the “How to Play” card that comes in every pack of fortune cards, it says “At the start of each encounter, shuffle your deck and draw a card”. Skills challenges are considered encounters… but this seems futile… at least until I see some cards that affect skill checks.
Have you had a chance to playtest the new fortune cards? I’ll continue to offer my thoughts as I have a chance to use the fortune cards more, but to quote many a Star Wars character, so far “I have a bad feeling about this…”