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 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. 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. 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.