Mini-review: New crit/fail decks for 5e

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The new 5e card decks from Nord Games

Earlier this week I finally received my new Game Master’s Toolbox card decks from Nord Games. They were Kickstarted a while back and I got in on the whole shebang: Critical Hit Deck for Players, Critical Hit Deck for GM’s, Critical Fail Deck and the Luck Deck.

Unfortunately, as I’m in the middle of a Call of Cthulhu/BRP binge, there will be some time before I get to test these cards in-game, but I will try to give a first impression of them here. 

The KS was run in a most professional way and I must also commend Nord Games for not swamping backers in bazillions of updates or ads for other Kickstarters.

The decks themselves are pretty, with OK art and they are printed on quality cardstock, with rounded corners and they come in sturdy boxes that I hope will hold out at the gaming table and in the GM bag.

Now, over to the decks…

Critical Hit Deck for Players

This is a 52-card deck with critical effects for when the players roll a natural 20 on an attack roll. The effects are divided in four severity levels: Setback, Dangerous, Life-Threatening and Deadly. Yes – you can behead an enemy just like that. To lessen the impact of these cards the authors recommend that you only use Setback cards at level 1-4, introducing Dangeous cards at level 5 etc. Or, you can use all cards from level 1. This is a good idea, making the use of the cards flexible for different groups. Each card has four entries, depending on what type of weapon was used in the attack: Slashing, Piercing, Bludgeoning or Magic. The type of attack is marked on the cards with a little symbol, portraying an old wax seal. Sadly, the symbols are tiny and it is very hard to see the difference even for a set of fresh eyes. For this middle-aged dude, it takes both excellent lighting and reading glasses to manage reading the symbols… Fortunately, the order is the same on the cards (from top down: Slashing, Piercing, Bludgeoning & Magic), so it shouldn’t be a big problem at the gaming table. The effects are often a damage multiplier and/or a save to be rolled or the monster will suffer some crippling effect.

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Hard to read wax symbols

 Critical Hit Deck for Game Masters

This is a 52-card deck that is the same as above, only for GMs. However, the effects are a bit different. Often a saving throw or the PC will suffer some crippling effect. Also, often damage multipliers, disadvantage on X and so on. On an initial reading I get the impression that PCs get more saves to negate the card effects than the monsters, but I’m not sure.

Critical Fail Deck

As above, a 52-card deck with fail effects for when players or GM:s roll a natural 1 on an attack roll. These cards also have a severity level (from easiest to hardest: Awkward, Embarrassing, Shameful and Disgraceful) and as with the critical hit decks the authors recommend that they are introduced gradually as the PCs level up. Or not. And just like the  crit decks, the Fails are grouped into four categories according to attack type: Melee, Ranged, Natural or Magic. And just like the crit decks, the symbols are tiny and very hard to read, but luckily arranged in the same order on the cards. The effects are varied and looks to be fun to roleplay out.

Luck Deck

This deck introduces a new mechanic to 5e – Good or Bad Luck. 52 cards as we have come to expect, half is Good Luck and half is Bad Luck. These cards are used when a player rolls a natural 1 or 20 on any d20 roll. If they roll 20 they take a Good Luck card (blue) and may keep it and use at any point in the game. If they roll a 1 they take a Bad Luck card (red) and lay it out in front of them, for the GM to use against the PC at any point in the game. A PC can only have one card of each type at any time. The cards may force the player/GM to re-roll a die roll, to automatically deal maximum damage, to get a bonus/penalty additional die on saves etc. Quite cool and definitely not overpowered. The authors also suggest that a Good Luck card may be handed out instead of an Inspiration point.

Summary

All in all, I like these cards and I think they will add some extra drama and opportunities for role-playing for our 5e games. The only negative is the hard to read “type” symbols, but fortunately they are in the same order so it should work out even for our group of middle-aged veterans.

The cards are basically the 5e version of Paizo’s Critical Hit/Fail Decks for Pathfinder, which we have used extensively in our Pathfinder games (with the other GM in our group). I do own the PF cards, having planned to use them for my OSR games but eventually I decided against since they contain a great deal of PF-only rules that are hard to apply to say, Blood & Treasure.

However, I do think that these 5e cards would work with OSR style games with minimal fuss, since they are more universal in scope and they do not rely so much on very specific rules.

Well done, Nord Games!

Link to the cards on Nord Games homepage

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