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Sunday
Jul282019

Review: Compendium of Forgotten Secrets: Awakening

 

Product Format: PDF

Method of Acquisition: Purchased (Genuine Fantasy Press Website)

One of the many features of 5e that I appreciate is the modularity of its character classes. The subclass system introduced in the PHB allows for two characters with the same base class and different subclasses to feel very different in play, not just from a mechanical standpoint, but from a flavor and lore one as well.

This versatility is especially pronounced in the Warlock class. In addition to picking a patron at level 1, the class also chooses a pact boon at level 3, and this changes the flavor of the class significantly. And then on top of that, spell selection and invocation selection further customize the class from there. It would probably be possible, with a little careful character building, to make an entire party of warlocks with the roles of healer, DPS/stealth, crowd control, and tank all covered by different builds.

However, the official WotC subclasses seem strongly-slanted toward "faustian bargain" style characters. The official subclasses have three options that are pretty strongly flavored toward the sinister (The Fiend, The Great Old One, and The Hexblade), two that are somewhat ambiguous, but probably at least somewhat dangerous in most settings (The Fey and The Undying) and one that's almost certainly benevolent (The Celestial).

Given the above, it's not surprising that various third-party writers and designers have fleshed this out somewhat, adding an additional option here and there, but those mostly come in dribs and drabs - a subclass here and there.

So when I first started seeing early versions of Compendium of Forgotten Secrets on /r/UnearthedArcana, I was intrigued. The book expands out the boundaries of the Warlock class in some really interesting ways, providing a host of character options that give warlock patrons a much more holistic presence in the game.

The book is written by William Hudson King, and is thus far his only commercial product.

I purchased this product in PDF, so I can't speak to the quality of the physical version (though I'm kind of kicking myself for not buying it and will probably do so in the future). What I can tell you is that the PDF isn't just a single document. What you get is a single file called "COFSA" that at least my Windows PC didn't know what to do with. Let me save you the guesswork: it's a compressed file archive, and it works just fine. Open it with 7-Zip or whatever your favorite file compression utility is and you'll be good to go. I will tell you right now that this lack of a file extension on the download file is my biggest complaint. I'm a fairly technical guy, so this didn't present a challence to me, but other folks might have a worse experience. If you know what to do it's a trivial hurdle to get over. if you don't, it's probably much more of a pain.

Inside that compressed archive are a batch of files - there's the current version of the compendium (1.6, as of this writing) in both regular and printer-friendly versions, a set of changelog files, a folder of artwork from the book, a small file with some bonus subclasses from the back of the book with alternate artwork, a small note from the creator (essentially saying "thank you, and if you like this, please spread the word," and a separate file with a new base class called the weaveshaper. This is fairly generous by the standards of the TTRPG PDF industry and the extra content was definitely appreciated.

The PDF is visually-appealing, being nicely laid-out and fairly similar in presentation to the first-party books, though some different font choices for headers and so on give it its own flair. The art is attractive, evocative used well, and the PDF is optimized well enough to be a smooth reading experience on both PC and tablet. It's a well-made PDF.

But the real meat of this product is the content and I've buried the lede long enough. The book opens with a couple of introductory pages that contain some basic advice about implementing the material. The author recommends using no more than four in your game unless you plan to make their interactions and machinations a major part of the setting. To this I say: good luck. I'll get into that more as we proceed.

The book introduces seventeen(!) new warlock patrons referred to as the Alrisen. For each of these, there is a couple pages of lore, the mechanical details of the warlock subclass that serves or works with the patron, and a unique familiar creature available to warlock that pick the pact of the chain. This alone is a solid, comprehensive approach to the class, and would be plenty for a GM wishing to integrate one of these patrons into their game.

However, that's not all the book includes. Each of the entries also contains a second subclass for different character class. All told, there are two subclasses each for the Barbarian, Bard, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Rogue, Sorcerer, and Wizard and one for the Ranger. Cleric and Druid don't get new subclasses here, which makes sense - those classes both represent a different sort of relationship to a more powerful entity, and while sometimes they can be mixed with Warlock under very specific setting circumstances (such as the Undying Court in Eberron), these are outliers at best. On top of that, ten of the new patrons also have a new character race associated with them, representing a character that has been transformed by the patron's influence.

The diversity and quality of options on display here is nothing short of breathtaking. Want a character that looks like a beautiful, immortal statue that serves a roaming extradimensional fortress dedicated to preservation? That's the Eternal Citadel. Want to make a sinister villain who has been warped by an evil extraplanar library filled with forbidden lore? That would be the Accursed Archive. How about a character built around astrological and tarot themes? The Fallen Exile has you covered. A cosmic enforcer of the balance between good and evil, law and chaos? That's the Warrior-Saint.

And I'm honestly not even sure those are the highlights. There's an option to essentially play a character based on The Portrait of Dorian Gray, a grove that attracts the hopeless who replace their hearts with a mass of thorns from the grove and gain a new zest for life in the process, a bunch of happy ooze cubes, a sinister conspiracy based around currency, the wild hunt, a terrible leviathan that collects secrets, a spider sitting in the middle of a web of lies, and several more besides. There's a wide variety of outlooks and implied alignments on display here; some of the Alrisen are pretty straightforwardly good or evil (The Eternal Citadel or the Accursed Archive, respectively) but most of the others are more ambiguous, wanting specific things and leaving what that looks like for an individual character up to the player controlling them. There's room for the usual "sinister or dangerous" but that's not all that's here by a long shot.

Each of the entries includes a selection of invocations unique to the patron, couple of plot ideas and a few magic items associated with the Alrisen as well. And of course each has one of those additional subclass options I mentioned back at the start of the review.

The alrisen are all very well-realized, mechanically and in terms of lore. They manage to be flavorful, balanced, and full of exciting abilities one is anxious to use in play all at the same time. There are definitely some I'd be more excited to play than others, but it literally comes down to personal taste rather than some clear "correct" choices. The same goes for the secondary subclasses.

Remember how I said "good luck" to the idea that you'd integrate four? Once I was done reading the book, I knew I wanted ten of them in the world. Two and a half times the recommended number. This wasn't because they don't work independently of one another, either; quite the opposite. They're set up in such a manner where you could literally decide to just use one and it would slot into most campaign settings fairly easily. It's just that once I'd read the book, I was excited about the story possibilities the various Alrisen presented and decided the game would be much more fun and interesting with them than without them.

Past the entries on the Alrisen themselves, there's a section on the various new character races associated with ten of the seventeen new patrons. Each of these races can originally have been any of the base PHB races, but the new traits replace the old ones with the character's original race becoming a subrace. (It sounds more convoluted than it is.) The races fit well with the overall feel of their respective patrons and there's also room for any of them to be independent characters not tied to the patron who influenced their existence.

The next section is a batch of optional rules. Notable here are notes for modifying the Warlock base class so it's based on Intelligence or Wisdom instead of Charisma. These can be useful in a context where you're looking at a multiclass character and possibly as an additional point of differentiation between various patrons. There's also a "long day" rule designed to even out short-rest and long-rest classes when session length is a limiter. I'm not sure whether I'll ever actually use that rule, but as a middle-aged gamer who usually has to game in 2-hour chunks because of the demands of adult life, I can definitely appreciate the sentiment behind it! The section caps off with a selection of feats, one for each alrisen.

The next section includes a selection of warlock invocations available to any warlock character, regardless of patron. Some of them are more useful than others; in particular, the earlier Eldricth Shaping invocations don't do a ton compared to just using the cantrip on its own, but most are really interesting and some (in particular the Twin Blades invocation) seem to cover things that players probably wish were in the first-party materials.

This is followed by a section for GMing the various alrisen, and while it's not long, it includes some intriguing information. I especially liked the section at the beginning containing advice on how to combine one or more of the alrisen into a single entity. The next subsection goes into some detail on relationships between the various alrisen. There's not an entry for every pairing (with seventeen alrisen, the section would be well over 100 entries if there was), but notable potential conflicts in outlook and potential alliances are called out and given a paragraph or two each. The section wraps up with a further batch of potential plot ideas based on each of the Alrisen.

Familiars are up next, and like all of the material preceding them, fits both mechanically and flavor-wise into the niches carved out by the various Alrisen. While I tend to prefer Pact of the Blade myself for warlock characters, these make Pact of the Chain very tempting indeed. There's a tremendous amount of creativity on display here, with everything from animated shields to haunted crows to miniature mimics that look like coins on display.

The final section of the book is made up of new spells. Many of these are here to give the spell lists of the various warlock subclasses some additional flavor, but they've been added to the spell lists of various other classes as well. Some of the spells in here have interesting potential as plot devices; for example, the 9th-level End of Days essentially creates an artificial solar eclipse, turning an area 10 miles from the place where it's cast into unending night for 24 hours. Imagine the implications that would have for an army that doesn't like sunlight - vampires, drow, duergar, and so on would be able to march armies across large sections of territory in what should be broad daylight or extend assaults well past the dawn that would normally drive them off.

Past the licencing information is an additional bonus section with three more subclasses, one each for the Cleric, Sorcerer, and Warlock classes. These make the character who takes them into a sapient magic item (cleric), melee weapon (sorcerer), or firearm (warlock). These are some intriguing options and would make for some unique roleplaying challenges, but I suspect they'd be better for a one-shot or mini-campaign than a full-length campaign unless they were being used to make NPCs. Being unable to speak, physically interact with the world or move under one's own power would get old after a while for most players. Still, this is basically a half-dozen pages of pure generosity, so even if it's of limited utility in most campaigns, I'm certainly glad to have it just handed to me.

The bonus class (the Weaveshaper) that was included with this is getting a stand-alone release at some point in the near future according to the Genuine Fantasy Press blog, so I may cover that at some future point, but it sounds like it's still being revised, so I'll leave that for now.

As the reader can probably tell at this point, this is another of my favorite 5e products. I figured I might as well start my reviews with the things I can give an unqualified recommendation to and move out from there, so if you're sick of the positivity after this and the last two, you may need to find another reviewer. I'm extremely happy with the value for money I've received here. In fact, I'm kicking myself that I didn't wait until I had the funds to buy a physical copy of this because they throw the PDF in for free when you do. Still, that's an oversight I intend to correct at some point in the future. Aside from the quibble with the file format, this is indeed another unqualified recommendation from me. Frankly, it makes the warlock options put out by WotC up to this point feel a little bland by comparison. The amount of value in this book's 188 pages is kind of mind-boggling. There's scarcely a line in here that's not immediately useful, and as I said earlier, I was so enamored with the various alrisen that I plan to use over half of them rather than just the recommended four in the next campaign I run.

As a final note: the author mentions in the thank-you note that he's trying to put together funds to commission the art for a second book similar to this one about clerics and druids. After reading through this first effort of his, I am more than happy to signal-boost and hope he gets there. Soon. If you're on the fence at all, grab the free version offered on GFP's website (which contains most of the mechanical elements) and see if you want the rest.

Monday
Jul222019

Review: Scholar Class

 Product Format: PDF

Method of Acquisition: Purchased (DM’s Guild)

One widespread flaw that fantasy RPGs in general and D&D (across multiple editions!) in particular have is the unexamined assumption that genius-level intellect = wizard. That makes a certain level of sense in some settings, particularly ones with technology equivalent to Earth around 1100 or earlier. However, even in those cases, it’s a bit of a stretch that an adventurous smart person would only ever study arcane magic 

 

So when I saw the Scholar class from Benjamin Huffman over on the DM’s Guild, I was intrigued.

 

Like all of Benjamin Huffman’s products over there, it’s a nicely-optimized, very professional-looking PDF. It renders smoothly on my desktop and tablet and despite only being 13 pages long, is still bookmarked. The art and layout are solid and very reminiscent of the first-party D&D books.

 

The core abilities of the base class all revolve around getting and/or granting various bonuses for analyzing circumstances or enemies on the fly. Scholars can boost the abilities of their party mates, do bonus damage based on sizing enemies up, and cram hard during a long rest to temporarily gain proficiencies they don’t have. 

 

The real “meat” of the class lies in its subclasses, however, and there are a half-dozen of them. In addition, there’s a class ability called “Erudite Applications” that lets you pick from a list of feat-like abilities and most of them are tied to a specific subclass. This combination means that all six subclasses feel significantly different from one another and have widely-varied capabilities. 

 

The subclasses are:

Culinarian: This is kind of a “battle chef” subclass, and revolves around using kitchen implements as weapons and cooking meals that function like buffing potions out of slain monsters. If you think it would be cool to get bonuses from owlbear steaks, this is a good subclass to pick. 

 

Diplomat: This would be a perfect class for the violence-averse party in City on a Hill Gaming, season 2. In addition to being an excellent social skills class, it also gains an ability early on to call detente as a reaction to a fight starting. The subclass also gets bonuses to traveling and resisting fear or compulsion effects as time goes on. 

 

Physician: If you want to play a healer that’s not tied to divine spellcasting (or any spellcasting at all, for that matter) this is a great way to do it, and combined with the base class abilities, you get a nice “dangerous surgeon” feel out of the class. Sure, they can patch you up, treat your disease, and so on, but they also know exactly where to stab someone. At high levels it also gains the ability to reactivate spent class abilities for other party members, which is a really neat option to have. 

 

Ritualist: I have to admit that out of the options presented, this is my least favorite. It’s a limited caster like the Eldritch Knight or Arcane Trickster subclasses for fighter and rogue, respectively, which is already not all that powerful, topping out at 4th-level spells. However, on top of that, almost all the spells you take have to have the ritual tag. The biggest problem here is that the ritual tag just isn’t very common in the core rules of 5e. If you’re using other material that expands the list of available spells significantly, this might be a better option. And frankly, if you want to play an intelligence-based arcane caster, that’s a wizard and a place where the wizard-as-default thinking actually works. That said, I think this archetype is probably still playable, it’s just a very strange choice to me.

 

Tactician: Unlike the ritualist, I really like this one. In fact, if you pinned me down to a favorite, this would probably be it. A high-level tactician can be a legendary general, but even a relatively small number of levels can make a competent NCO type. Mixing levels of this with levels of fighter (particularly with the Battlemaster subclass) can make a 5e approximation of the old warlord class from 4e. The subclass, as you’d expect, gets a bunch of battlefield command abilities, and it also gets a fighting style and a bunch of extra proficiencies that make it more survivable on the front lines.


Theologian: The theologian is kind of the divine version of the ritualist, but unlike the ritualist, not only are base cleric spells available to it, but domain lists too, which, not to put too fine a point on it, include fireball if the theologian is using the Light domain (and they can switch between them on every long rest). The loss of high-level spells keeps this from being overpowered, but even low-level buff and debuff spells stay effective well into the higher levels. The subclass is very good-aligned in its flavoring, which doesn’t bother me at all, but might be a little disappointing to those who want to use it in darker games or GMs making villains.

My lukewarm enthusiasm for the Ritualist subclass notwithstanding, this is one of my favorite third-party classes for 5e out there (which is why I chose it as one of my first reviews). Benjamin Huffman has made a really fun, interesting, versatile, and balanced class here, and I think it'd be a fantastic addition to almost any campaign setting.

Saturday
Jul202019

Review: Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos for 5e

Product Format: Physical book and PDF
Method of Acquisition: Kickstarter Rewards (purchased)

I am not the world's greatest fan of H.P. Lovecraft by any stretch of the imagination. If you want proof or a sense of just how true that statement is, take a look at this post I wrote for Saving the Game. So it should say something that I picked up Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos at all.

As I mentioned in that other blog post, however, my issue is with HPL himself and not the people who have taken it upon themselves to make the mythos he and his contemporaries created into gaming products. I'm also on record as being a fan of a lot of the monsters in the mythos - things like Hunting Horrors, Shoggoths, and Hounds of Tyndalos are legitimately scary and cool, and having stats for them is nice as a GM.

I picked the book up on Kickstarter based on some samples that Petersen Games had posted on the kickstarter page. I'd been on the lookout for high-quality third-party 5e content and this book certainly qualifies. Originally I backed at the PDF-only tier, and since Petersen Games is one of those companies that does all of the writing, art, and layout first and then kickstarts the physical goods costs, I got the PDF shortly thereafter. After spending some time with the PDF, I realized that this was a book I wanted in physical form and upgraded my pledge through the pledge manager.

It's worth mentioning at this point that the production values in this book are nothing short of amazing. The art and layout are beautiful; the book has the feel of a spooky old forbidden tome without sacrificing readability (the arcane circle watermarks on the pages are a nice touch there), and the artwork is genuinely unsettling without being offensive or gratuitous (with perhaps one needlessly-sexualized exception in the whole book), which is perfect for a product of this type. The text is organized in a usable fashion, and paper, cover, and binding are all at least as good as official WotC product. The pair of sewn-in cloth bookmarks are also a very nice touch. I would actually put the overall look and feel of the product as slightly higher quality than my WotC books.

The PDF is also very nice to use. The table of contents is hyperlinked, it has plenty of useful bookmarks, it's searchable, and it's sufficiently-optimized so that using it is smooth on both my PC and my tablet. All of the previous praise about artwork, layout, and design applies here, too.

The book is broken down into 9 chapters of varying length.

Chapter 1 is the introduction and also contains some general advice on how to mix horror elements and heroic fantasy together. The advice in here is understandably very focused on using Cthulhu mythos elements specifically, but some of it is general enough that if a GM were running a game based on Darkest Dungeon or some other mix of fantasy and horror instead, it would probably still be applicable. It's a short chapter; only about 6 pages. If I have any complaint with this material, it's that I'd really like to have seen a nod in the text to the fact that HPL himself, while very creative, was not such a good guy and to be aware of some of the less-savory origins of the material he created, rooted in prejudice and xenophobia as they were.

Chapters 2 and 3 were probably my favorites in the book. Chapter 2 includes stats for several mythos races, namely Dreamlands Cats, Gnorri, Ghouls, and Zoogs. The Gnorri, Ghouls, and Dreamlands Cats are actually more like a half-dozen races each; there are numerous sub-races present, and the book goes into much greater detail about these races than other 5e materials typically do. It's well-balanced, flavorful, and the races all feel truly unique rather than generic. Just reading the chapter was enough to convince me to add several of the races to a homebrew setting I've been working on. I was particularly fond of how they made sapient cats into a viable character race.

Chapter 3 builds on chapter 2, provding a bunch of new subclasses, some of them race-specific. I was again impressed by the quality of writing and game design here, and also by how portable the material is. If you are running a whimsical, not-at-all horrific game, some of the material in here will still be useful, in particular the two Dreamlands Cat racial subclasses (a rogue archetype that makes cat-sized creatures lethal to adventure-sized foes and a sorcerer bloodline that lets a cat PC act as another arcane caster's familiar while still being just as powerful as any other sorcerer), the Mystery Warrior fighter (which reminded me of Dean Winchester from Supernatural), and the Ritualist wizard subclass which seems like an extra wizardy wizard. There's too much here to go down the whole list, but every one of the base classes in the PHB gets at least one new subclass and most get at least 2 or 3. I'm going to start sounding like a broken record here, but again, it's high-quality, interesting and very usable material. There was nothing that raised my GM hackles over power creep, and yet as a player I'd love to try probably a good half of these options. A lot of them have the same classic feel of the PHB subclasses, and in a few cases, such as the wizard subclass, they almost feel like they're covering things that were "left out" of the PHB. The chapter also includes 4 new backgrounds and a bunch of new feats, most of them racial feats for the new PC races. I plan to make a number of these options available to players in all future games I run, mythos-influenced or not.

Chapter 4 is a short chapter that covers insanity, dread (a new fear mechanic that works in a similar manner to exhaustion from the core rules), the mythos language of Aklo and the dreamlands. The chapter contains a few notes about separating the supernatural madness and insanity of this material from the struggles of people in the real world, which I appreciated. One quick note on Aklo: it's pretty clear that beholders and mind flayers should be able to speak it, but they were probably left off the list of creatures in the monster manual that should speak it for licensing reasons. Though a lot of the material here is specific to the book's subject matter, one might get some utility out of the dread or dreamlands rules in a more generic campaign.

Chapter 5 covers spellcasting in the mythos and introduces a bunch of truly unnerving and creepy spells. I think my personal favorite is Grace of the King in Yellow, which kills a creature by suffusing it with molten gold from the inside. That's portable to other games as a weapon of infernal greed cults and so on. The chapter also introduces a few new familiars and the concept of formulas. Formulas are a kind of "super ritual" that even works for non-spellcasters and make for a great story resource for evil cultists and so on, especially since most of the ones here are oriented around calling up various ancient evils of the mythos. As was the case with previous chapters, this is all very well thought out and of exceptionally high quality. I like the concept of formulas enough that I'm thinking of making a few more that aren't bizarre and sinister for my games - some benign and low-mechanical impact ones, such as the ability to create holy water or keep a corpse from being turned into an undead seem appropriate.

Chapter 6 is all about items including the infamous tomes of forbidden lore that so many mythos stories include. It's an interesting and eclectic collection of items. If you've been wanting game stats for a Yithian lightning gun or the Necronomicon, you'll find them in this chapter. I particularly enjoyed the way the texts were handled; reverse-engineering them could be done to make your own magical tomes and I'll probably do so at least occasionally. As with the previous chapters, the material here is interesting, well-designed, and of a comparable level of quality to the first-party 5e content.

Chapter 7 details various mythos cults and includes notes on how various core 5e races might be drawn into such malign organizations. The chapter gives some notes about who might worship the various lovecraftian entities, why, and what they get out of the deal. This material is well-organized and presented well and notably gives some reasons other than raw, unfettered hatred and sadism why someone might wind up in a mythos cult, which is useful. My biggest objection to the book is in this chapter - once again, the material blithely summarizes lore about the Deep Ones and Tcho-Tcho without getting into the deeply racist stereotypes both of them are built on and feed into. I realize this isn't the point of a gaming book, but even a small sidebar acknowledging the problematic origins of the material would have been nice, because the Tcho-Tcho in particular are a skin-crawlingly bad collection of awful stereotypes about asians. Some acknowledgment of this would not have gone amiss at all.

Chapter 8 is probably what a lot of people who pick up or check out this book will be most interested in. In this chapter the reader will find information about using the various elder evils of the mythos in-game. Want stats for Cthulhu, Hastur, or Yig? This chaptur has you covered. One of the nice convenience features is that in the initial block of information about each of these entities, it includes the first story where they appeared. The art in this chapter is expecially good, depicting all of these terrible entities in all of their mostrous horror. Each entry goes on for several pages with all sorts of detail about how to use them in-game, stat blocks, and so on. There's even a new entity, Gobogeg, the Moon Ladder.

Chapter 9 is the second-most likely contender for book seller if 8 doesn't do the job, because it contains stats for all the various creatures of the mythos. If you want to use Nightgaunts, a Shoggoth, a Hunting Horror, or a Color Out of Space, you'll find the stats here. If there's a complaint to be made about this chapter, it's that so many of the more interesting and iconic creatures are skewed toward higher CRs, but that's really more the fault of the source material than the designers of the book. Again in this chapter the art does a great job. A lot of these monsters are freaking scary and are depicted as such. The stat blocks show a very solid grasp of the underpinnings of 5e as well. Stats are within the correct ranges for CR and things like bounded accuracy and the action economy are clearly taken into account.

The book concludes with a bunch of encounter tables, a useful index, and a list of monsters by CR, all of which are very welcome additions to the book as a whole.

I'm not going to beat around the proverbial bush here: aside from my very real frustration about the complete radio silence on H.P. Lovecraft's bigotry in the text, this is about as close to perfect as one can reasonably expect to see in a game book. The art, layout, construction, writing, editing, organization, and game design are all of extremely high quality. You can drop material from here into games otherwise using only first-party 5e material seamlessly and without any concerns of it breaking the game. It is well worth the purchase price, either in PDF or as a physical book (which, if purchased from Petersen games, includes the PDF for free). In fact, even if you normally shy away from third-party material, I would encourage you to make an exception in this case. It's also worth noting that this thing was a month ahead of the Kickstarter schedule for delivery of the finished product, which is rare. Sandy Petersen is a legend in the game biz, and this book shows 5e players and GMs that his legendary status is merited.

Tuesday
Jan012019

Supplemental Setting Stuff: Gothic Cowboy Tarot Deck

A while ago, I saw on Twitter that a guy named Kit Rockatansky was making a custom tarot deck with what he was describing as "gothic cowboy" artwork as a Kickstarter project.

Normally such things wouldn't interest me much, but I'd been noodling around in my copy of the 5th edition DMG and one look at the artwork got my brain churning on various and sundry "Deck of Many Things" style ideas. I backed the project.

Like many Kickstarters, however, this one experienced some delays, and it kind of slipped out of my awareness until the deck actually showed up in the mail this week, which is fortuitous timing, because I actually have time to think about this kind of game design stuff.

This is ultimately going to be a whole subsystem in the game, but since it's based on IP that isn't mine, I'm going to do it as a "fan work" here rather than an entry in the setting design series over on the StG blog. This also makes the deck usable in anyone's 5e game, though I would recommend at the very least you also use The Gunpowder Codex (speaking of things I don't own, though that one is free) in conjunction with it, because some of the cards are going to assume firearms exist in the setting.

Deck of the Yuthi

Wondrous Item, Legendary, Requires Attunement

The Deck of the Yuthi is a deck of 40 cards that was created during a lawless time in the Yuthi Desert. The mysterious creator of the deck clearly wished to embody the region's nature in this creation, and they created a set of cards that each spoke to part of the experience of living in the desert. While all of the cards are beneficial, attempting to use too many at once can be taxing and even deadly.

When you attune the Deck of the Yuthi, you must choose one of your mental attributes (INT, WIS, or CHA) to function as your spellcasting attribute for any spell-like abilities granted to you by the deck. Your save DC with all such abilities is 8 + your proficiency modifier + the modifier of the selected attribute. To change the selected attribute, you must re-attune to the deck.

Note: If using these mechanics in another setting, it probably goes without saying that some lore-swapping may be required.

Enabling a single card is a risk-free proposition. As a bonus action, the person attuned to the deck may shuffle it and draw a card off the top. That card's benefits are available until the user finishes a short or long rest, at which point they may keep that card active or shuffle it back into the deck and draw again. The user may look through the deck, but under normal circumstances they may not select cards to activate through any means other than shuffling or drawing off the top.

Additional cards may be drawn off the top, but each time the user does this, it gets riskier as indicated below:

Add a second card:
Make a DC 20 Wisdom save. On success, you get all the benefits of the second card with no ill effects. On a failure, you gain all the effects of the second card but immediately take a level of exhaustion that can only be removed by resting.

Add a third card: Make a DC 25 Wisdom save. On a success, you get all the benefits of the second and third card. On a failure, you gain all the effects of the second card but immediately take three levels of exhaustion that can only be removed by resting.

Add a fourth card: Make a DC 30 Wisdom save. On a success, you get all the benefits of the second, third, and fourth cards. On a failure, you immediately take six levels of exhaustion (instant death). A user who dies this way rises as a Card Wraith unless one of the cards that was being activated was The Cemetary. (To make a Card Wraith, use the standard Wraith stats in the MM and add the active abilities of 1d4 cards to its list of abilities.)

Users may not attempt to add any additional cards beyond the first four. During a short or long rest, a user with additional cards active may choose to either let them deactivate and return them to the deck or they me retry the process of activating them with the same consequences if they fail.

Individual cards work as follows:

The Armadillo: Known for its thick hide, The Armadillo shares some of its namesake's toughness with the user.

If the user is a spellcaster, while this card is active, they imediately have Shield and Shield of Faith prepared as if they were class spells on their spell list. The user may cast them as long as they have spell slots of the appropriate level available.

If the user is not a spellcaster, they gain one use of each of the two spells indicated above as a spell-like ability. Once the spell is used, it cannot be used again until the user finishes a short rest (assuming this card is retained and not swapped out for a second one).

The Authority: The Authority card grants its user the ability speak with, well, authority.

If the user is a spellcaster, while this card is active, they imediately have Command and Hold Person prepared as if they were class spells on their spell list. The user may cast them as long as they have spell slots of the appropriate level available.

If the user is not a spellcaster, they gain one use of each of the two spells indicated above as a spell-like ability. Once the spell is used, it cannot be used again until the user finishes a short rest (assuming this card is retained and not swapped out for a second one).

In addition, while the card is active, the user has advantage on persuasion checks to convince someone that they are acting on behalf of a legitimate authority.

The Blaze:
The Blaze references a stripe of white on the nose of a noble steed rather than a fire in this case, but the creator of the deck had a flair for puns and some fire magic slipped in anyway.

While this card is active, any mount you choose to ride (living creature or a one-person vehicle such as a motorcycle) is utterly reliable. Any mundane hazards such as roadway debris don't affect its feet or tires, and any incidental injury or mechanical breakdown (pulled muscles, oil leaks, punctured hoses) that might otherwise happen is prevented entirely.

You also gain access to the Fire Bolt cantrip while the card is active.
 

The Boot: The Boot is full of toughness and aggression. It'll march across the desert and kick in your door.

While The Boot is active, if you would gain one or more levels of exhaustion from any source except the Deck of the Yuthi, you gain that number of levels of exhaustion minus one instead.

In addition, inanimate objects are vulnerable to damage from attacks you make with weapons or unarmed strikes.

The Bounty Hunter: The Bounty Hunter is tenacious and implacable. And while it's active, so are you.

If the user is a spellcaster, while this card is active, they imediately have Hunter's Mark and Locate Object prepared as if they were class spells on their spell list. The user may cast them as long as they have spell slots of the appropriate level available.

If the user is not a spellcaster, they gain one use of each of the two spells indicated above as a spell-like ability. Once the spell is used, it cannot be used again until the user finishes a short rest (assuming this card is retained and not swapped out for a second one).

In addition, you have advantage on saves against mind-affecting effects or ones that would hold you in place reduce your movement speed while The Bounty Hunter is active.

The Cemetery: In The Cemetery, the dead are at rest and do not walk about to torment the living.

If you are a cleric or paladin with the Channel Divinity ability, you gain an additional use of it while The Cemetary is active and undead creatures have disadvantage on saving throws to resist your Channel Divinity abilities.

In addition, undead creatures within 30 feet of you become more susceptible to radiant damage. Undea who are immune to radiant damage become resistant to it, undead who are resistant to it lose heir resistance, and undead who are neither immune or resistant to it become vulnerable. An undead who is already vulnerable to radiant damage is unaffected.

Also while The Cemetery is active, any living creature that dies within 30 feet of the user can never rise as an undead. This does not interfere with spells or effects such as Resurrection or Reincarnation that restore the creature to life, merely those that would cause it to become undead.

Finally, while The Cemetary is active, you gain the use of the Sacred Flame cantrip.

The Companion: The Companion is loyal and true and will come to your aid when called.

Upon activating The Companion, choose Find Familiar or Find Steed. The spell is immediately activated as if you had cast it, but disregards material costs. If you selected Find Steed you may cast it again after a short rest if need be.

The Devil's Cactus: The Devil's Cactus is a sinister plant and a portent of ill omen.


If the user is a spellcaster, while this card is active, they imediately have Bane and Hail of Thorns prepared as if they were class spells on their spell list. The user may cast them as long as they have spell slots of the appropriate level available.

If the user is not a spellcaster, they gain one use of each of the two spells indicated above as a spell-like ability. Once the spell is used, it cannot be used again until the user finishes a short rest (assuming this card is retained and not swapped out for a second one).

In addition, you have advantage on Intimidate checks.

The Drunk: The Drunk will share its confidence with you and its clumsiness with your foes.

While The Drunk is active, you gain a special magical attack. Make an attack roll with an unarmed strike against your opponent's AC. If you hit, in addition to normal unarmed strike damage, they must save against your spellcasting DC or acquire the Poisoned condition.The creature may attempt this saving throw again each round. If they successfully save, the effect ends.

In addition, you have advantage on saving throws to avoid becoming frightened.

The Fortunate: The Fortunate brings you resources and prosperity while it is active.

While The Fortunate is active, liquid wealth (money) on your person accrues 5% interest, compounded hourly. The extra riches remain afer the card is deactivated, but do not continue to accrue. This wealth is collected from lost money all over the world, and disappears from shipwrecks, caved-in mine shafts, and other inaccessible places to find its way to you.

In addition, any time an effect would restore lost hit points to you, reroll any result of 1 on the dice used to calculate the number of hit points you recover.

The Gift: The Gift allows you to give out conditions, both wanted and unwanted.

As an action, you may transfer one condition afflicting you to another creature within 60 feet of you. That creature makes a wisdom saving throw against your spell DC. On a failed save, you lose the condition and the creature acquires it. If the creature is immune to the condition, you still lose it. If you cannot see any hostile creatures, one is selected at random. If there are no hostile creatures within range, the effect fails.

Alternatively, you can also transfer a beneficial effect with a duration (such as the effect of a Bless spell) to a friendly creature you can see within 60 feet.

You may use a combination of these abilities a total number of times equal to your spellcasting modifier (minimum 1). If The Gift remains active, you regain all expended uses when you finish a short rest.

The Hat: The Hat keeps the weather off. Rain or shine, it's a dependable protection against the elements.

While The Hat is active, you automatically succeed on saving throws imposed by extreme heat and extreme cold.

In addition, while The Hat is active, you have advantage on Wisdom (Survival) checks.

The Herd: The Herd tramples your foes into the dirt.

While The Herd is active, you may declare a stampede as a bonus action. When you do, it activates Spirit Guardians as if you had cast it (you must maintain concentration on it as normal). The spirits appear as a herd of spectral livestock of the type of your choosing. In addition, your move speed increases by 10 feet. If you move the Spirit Guardians area onto a foe as a result of your movement, any hostile creatures are also knocked prone if they fail their save against the spell's effect.

Once you have used the stampede ability, you may not do so again until you finish a short or long rest.

The Horseshoe: The Horseshoe is a traditional symbol of luck. With it active, your luck improves.

While The Horseshoe is active, you gain a single use of Legendary Resistance. If you would fail a saving throw, you may choose to succeed instead. Once you have used this ability, you may not do so again until you finish a short or long rest.

The Hunter: The Hunter is a master of the wilderness, able to live off the land indefinitely.

While The Hunter is active, you are proficient in the Stealth, Survival, Perception, and Nature skills. If you are already proficient with these skills, you use twice your proficiency modifier instead.

The Impossible Growth: The Impossible Growth represents renewal and hope in desperate circumstances.

While The Impossible Growth is active, you may use Revivify once as a spell-like ability, disregarding material costs. If you do, once the spell completes, The Impossible Growth immediately deactivates and is shuffled back into the deck.

The Jackalope: The Jackalope is known for one thing: speed. And it shares that speed with the user.

While The Jackalope is active, your walking speed increases by 20 feet.

The Jail: The Jail punishes wrongdoing with confinement.

While The Jail is active, if an enemy hits you in combat, you may use your reaction to cast Hold Monster on the creature that hit you. Once you have used this ability, you cannot use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

The Lantern: The Lantern lights your way through the darkness of the world.

While The Lantern is active, you gain access to the Light cantrip. In addition, the light created by the cantrip penetrates magical darkness just like it was natural darkness.

The Lasso: The Lasso does exactly what you'd expect - it allows you to reach out and snare opponents and drag them to you.

While The Lasso is active, you have access to the Thorn Whip cantrip.

In addition, while The Lasso is active, you are proficient with whips.

The Last Round: The Last Round rewards desperate gambles.

If you are at less than half of your maximum hit points, you may make a special attack with a ranged weapon. The attack automatically hits and does critical damage. It also disables the weapon until you complete a long or short rest.

Regardless of how many ranged weapons you possess, you may only use this ability once per short rest.

The Memento: The Memento allows you to call upon the past for strength in difficult situations.

When you activate The Memento, roll a d20 and record the roll. At any time when you roll a d20, you may use what you rolled or you may "store" the roll and use the one stored in The Memento instead. You may only ever have one roll stored this way at any given time.

The Mother: The Mother is powerful guardian spirit. She loves you, and wants you to be safe.

While The Mother is active, you gain access to the Spare the Dying cantrip.

In addition, once per long rest, if an effect other than one caused by The Deck of the Yuthi would reduce you to zero hit points or kill you outright, you instead are reduced to one hit point.

The Optimist: The Optimist takes the tack of "what doesn't kill me makes me stronger."

While The Optimist is active, after taking an attack from an enemy,  you may activate Hunter's Mark on that enemy as a reaction. You may use this ability a number of times equal to the spellcasting modifier you selected when you attuned to The Deck of the Yuthi (minimum once). You regain all expended uses after finishing a short rest.

The Rattlesnake: The rattlesnake is swift and vicious, and strikes without warning.

While The Rattlesnake is active you gain proficiency with the Stealth and Athletics skills. If you are already proficient with them, use double your proficiency bonus instead.

When attacking a foe that isn't aware of your presence, your first attack does an additional 2d6 of poison damage and inflicts the poisoned condition on your enemy. A successful save halves the damage and prevents the poisoned condition. Once this ability has been used, you may not use it again in the same combat.

The Reaper: The Reaper is death, a pitiless killer of foes.

While The Reaper is active, you may convert unspent hit dice into bonus damage on your attacks. When you hit with an attack, you may spend any number of unspent hit dice. If you do, you do an additional number of d8s of necrotic damage equal to your prificiency bonus for each hit die expended this way. Hit dice spent in this manner cannot be used for any other purpose until they are recovered normally.

The Red Moon: The Red Moon is a sinister portent of doom in the sky.

While The Red Moon is active, you gain the ability to menace and curse your enemies. If the user is a spellcaster, while this card is active, they imediately have Bane, Ray of Sickness, Bestow Curse, and Dissonant Whispers prepared as if they were class spells on their spell list. The user may cast them as long as they have spell slots of the appropriate level available.

If the user is not a spellcaster, they gain one use of each of the spells indicated above as a spell-like ability. Once the spell is used, it cannot be used again until the user finishes a short rest (assuming this card is retained and not swapped out for a second one).

In addition, the user may use Banishment as a spell-like ability. If this ability is used, The Red Moon is immediately deactivated and shuffled back into the deck.

The Roadrunner: The Roadrunner is an expert at escaping from dangerous situations.

While The Roadrunner is active, you have advantage on Dexterity saving throws.

In addition, you may use Freedom of Movement as a spell-like ability. If you do, The Roadrunner is immediately deactivated and shuffled back into the deck.

The Scorpion: The Scorpion is a lethal threat in a small package.

While The Scorpion is active, you gain a climb speed equal to your walking speed and you may use it to climb even sheer surfaces like an insect.

In addition, you gain access to the Poison Spray cantrip and you may use your reaction to add its damage to a successful strike with a piercing melee weapon instead of casting it normally.

The Shield: The Shield protects those around it.

While The Shield is active, you gain proficiency with shields and may conjure one as a bonus action.The shield appears out of nowhere, but is not otherwise magical.

In addition, you gain the benefits of the Shield Master feat and the Protection fighting style while The Shield is active.

The Shootout: The Shootout is a storm of violence, lead and fury.

While The Shootout is active, you gain proficiency with revolvers. As an action, you may summon a magical revolver to your hand. It uses the same statistics as a normal revolver with one exception: it never runs out of ammunition. You may use this ability once per combat. If the revolver leaves your hand, it vanishes immediately.

The Spirit: The Spirit is mysterious and ephemeral.


If the user is a spellcaster, while this card is active, they imediately have Misty Step and Speak With Dead prepared as if they were class spells on their spell list. The user may cast them as long as they have spell slots of the appropriate level available.

If the user is not a spellcaster, they gain one use of each of the two spells indicated above as a spell-like ability. Once the spell is used, it cannot be used again until the user finishes a short rest (assuming this card is retained and not swapped out for a second one).

In addition, the user gains the Incorporeal Movement ability and may move through other creatures and objects as if they were difficult terrain. They take 1d10 force damage if they end their turn inside an object.

The Spittoon: The Spittoon is a repository for corruption - a safe place to dispose of it.

While The Spittoon is active, if the user is a spellcaster, while this card is active, they imediately have Dispel Magic, Lesser Restoration, Protection From Poison and Remove Curse prepared as if they were class spells on their spell list. The user may cast them as long as they have spell slots of the appropriate level available.

If the user is not a spellcaster, they gain one use of each of the spells indicated above as a spell-like ability. Once the spell is used, it cannot be used again until the user finishes a short rest (assuming this card is retained and not swapped out for a second one).

The Spur: The Spur is the sharp jab of motivation; the inspiration to do better.

If the user is a spellcaster, while this card is active, they imediately have Heroism and Enhance Ability prepared as if they were class spells on their spell list. The user may cast them as long as they have spell slots of the appropriate level available.

If the user is not a spellcaster, they gain one use of each of the two spells indicated above as a spell-like ability. Once the spell is used, it cannot be used again until the user finishes a short rest (assuming this card is retained and not swapped out for a second one).

In addition, if the user does not have an Inspiration die when the card is activated, they immediately gain one.

The Stagecoach: The Stagecoach is reliable and swift transportation.

While The Stagecoach is active, you may use Teleportation once as if you had cast it. The Stagecoach is then immediately deactivated and returned to the deck.

The Tobacco: The Tobacco is a shared vice. Calming and uniting but not wholly beneficial.

While The Tobacco is active, you may cast Calm Emotions at will as a spell-like ability. However, you and all creatures affected by the spell are affected as though you have a level of exhaustion while it is active. If this would be the sixth level of exhaustion a creature takes, they pass out and fall unconscious instead of dying. The level of exhaustion vanishes when the spell ends.

The Train: The Train is an unstoppable juggernaut. It plows through anything in its way.

While The Train is active you may cast Freedom of Movement once as a spell-like ability. You regain the use of this ability on a short rest.

In addition, you have resistance to piercing, bludgeoning, and slashing damage from nonmagical weapons.

The Tumbleweed: The Tumbleweed is a sign of desolation, an indicator that nothing is around.

If the user is a spellcaster, while this card is active, they imediately have Invisibility and Rope Trick prepared as if they were class spells on their spell list. The user may cast them as long as they have spell slots of the appropriate level available.

If the user is not a spellcaster, they gain one use of each of the two spells indicated above as a spell-like ability. Once the spell is used, it cannot be used again until the user finishes a short rest (assuming this card is retained and not swapped out for a second one).

The Vulture: The Vulture draws strength from the fruits of violence.

While The Vulture is active, if you reduce a creature to zero hit points with an attack, you regain 1d6 hitpoints. This cannot raise you above your hit point maximum.

The Whiskey: The Whiskey is potent and shares that potency with its user.

While The Whiskey is active, you gain a fire breath weapon. As an action, you breathe fire in a 15-foot cone. The attack does a number of d6s of fire damage equal to your proficiency bonus. Once you have used this ability, you can't use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

In addition, you gain advantage on consititution saving throws while The Whiskey is active.

Finally, you are immune to the Frightened condition.