Box of Many Things – GGG’s Review of Madness at Gardmore Abbey

On page 142 of the original DM’s Guide (the one with the Efreet on the cover, dealing with a warrior, a wizard, and a scantily clad, voluptuous blonde), I met the Deck of Many Things for the first time. I was fascinated but also repelled. With a flick of a card, a player could suddenly gain 10,000 experience, 18 Charisma and a small keep, or 1-4 wishes. The wrong card, however, could bring ruin, making one fight a “lesser Death” or be permanently destroyed, lose all of one’s magic-items, or have one’s soul imprisoned!

I shuddered and put away such thoughts, showing rare restraint in a game where I had no problem with holy swords, Daern’s instant fortresses, and artifacts. I felt that this item, somehow, could tear everything apart.

I did use a Deck of Many Things in my 3/3.5 D&D campaign. It was in the power of a couatl, who was a powerful servant of the goddess of chance. Only one player of my six drew a card, and he regretted it, drawing Euryale and gaining -1 to all saving throws, forever.

Last GenCon, when I heard about a super-adventure for 4E surrounding a Deck of Many Things, I was intrigued. A 4E Deck had shown up in Dragon, and I was curious what they had in mind for this adventure. Now that Madness at Gardmore Abbey has been released, I know, and I’m very pleased.

What’s In the Box?

Gardmore abbey carries a price-tag of $39.99, but the box is big and full of goodness. Four paperback books contain the background and meat of the adventure, but there’s much more.

Two double-sided poster maps provide 6 locations important to the adventure, and one of those locations is the four levels of a tower. As always, these locations are ones that might be a pain to put together in Dungeon Tiles, and they can be stolen into other adventures as well.

There are two cardstock sheets. One is a sheet of special Dungeon Tiles, some of which were made specifically for this adventure. I was grumbling at the need to find something to represent the “frozen bar-lgura” ((SPOILER!))tile, but no! Here it is, provided for me. Good job, WotC! The other cardstock sheet has tokens. I usually don’t have a lot of interest in tokens, but some of these represent magical effects from the cards of the Deck and regions of Warped Magic, so I’ll certainly find them useful in this adventure.

And finally, there’s the deck itself. All 22 cards of the Deck are represented with very nice artwork by William O’Connor. My only complaint is that each card has a “TM” type watermark down at the bottom in white. I understand the need for it, but it mars the immersive effect that using the actual deck would give.

In addition to the deck, there are cards for two of the major treasures of the adventure. These are nice, with stats on one side and a picture on another, reminding me a lot of the Gamemastery magic-item cards Paizo has put out. I almost wonder if WotC is testing the waters.

What’s In the Books?

The four books do an excellent job of organizing the information in a way that Dungeon Masters will find helpful. While they do have the sort of “jump back and forth” format that’s been part of 4E and sort of a sore point with me since Keep on the Shadowfell, I think it’s handled pretty well here.

Book 1: Gardmore Abbey talks about the Abbey itself. It gives an overview of the contents of the box, deep background for the adventure setting, and even ways the setting might change, over time, as the players act. It also has the stats for the Deck of Many Things, both as an Artifact on its own and the ways in which the Deck can alter the encounters of the adventure. And here is where things get interesting.

Although the DM can craft the mutable elements of the setting, he also has the option to let draws from the Deck determine crucial details, from the card the PCs have in their possession before the adventure begins to which NPC might be secretly collecting the cards for their own purposes…and what those purposes are! Much like The Neverwinter Campaign Setting, which set up some basics but didn’t reveal every secret, leaving these open for the DM to determine, your players won’t know who the final villain is until the very end, because they won’t know which cards you’ve chosen.

Book 2: Enemies and Allies is about…well…exactly what the title implies. It explains the various factions at work in the Abbey, and without giving too much away, there are quite a few. This adventure has undead, fey, aberrant, giants, humanoids, demons, dragons…there’s a lot going on here!

It also talks about adventure hooks, patrons that can bestow quests on players, and even a rival group of adventurers who can help or hinder the PCs by turns. When will the players meet them? What will their motives be? Guess what! Only the cards know for sure! Yes, once again, this mechanic asserts itself, really throwing a twist on things. Depending on the cards, your players might have nothing but benign encounters with their rivals…or they could be deadly foes. Or either at different times, depending on how the cards fall.

Book 3 & Book 4 are both books of Encounters, broken down geographically. This helps keep things nicely organized and doesn’t make the DM balance too much in his lap at once, or clutter the tables with lots of books.

So What Do I Think?

I’m really looking forward to running this adventure! With just a little tweaking, I think it’ll be a good romp for my Eberron group (the beer and pretzels crowd) and could really encourage them to get more into roleplaying their characters. The monsters are a fun mix, with plenty of old favorites and a few I’ve never used before. One monster, in particular, I’m looking forward to putting on the table, because I know it’ll shock the Eberron group, and then they’ll be excited. I’ve often stated that the X (I won’t spoil this surprise) is the quintessential D&D monster, even more so than dragons, because it’s one monster that wholly belongs to the D&D world and not to any real world mythology. When they realize they’re fighting one, they’ll be scared but so excited, because they’ll really feel that their characters have “made it”. So what’s the X? I won’t say. Not me. I’ll just say that the PCs had better keep their eyes open, or it’s likely to stalk them. That’s as much of a hint as I’m willing to give. I will say that the illustration in the book of it is one of the best illustrations of one I’ve ever seen. ;)

Your Turn

Have you read Gardmore Abbey? What do you think? Do you have a great “war story” involving the Deck of Many Things? Let us all know!

About GGG

Andy/GGG is a gay geek guy for sure. He's been playing D&D since he was 10, and he equates reading Tolkien with religion to some degree. He's a writer/developer for a Live Action RPG called The Isles, and he writes a comic called Circles, a gay, furry slice-of-life piece that comes out way too infrequently.

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