Origins of the Deck of Shadows
The old myths of the First Empire of Elves tell of Azul, Father and Creator of the Orc Race. They say he was an elven arch-mage of unparallelled power, and that he was the son of the All-Father himself, begotten in secret with Azul's mother, Elethandra, the Undying Queen of Elemore.
During the siege of Elemore, the High King of Althyras killed Elethandra with artillery fire. Azul in maddened fury, called upon the nether demons and promised to wed Killitharie, the Six-Armed, Six-Tongued Fury of Yldras, if they would just grant his soldier's their lives back.
A Demonic fog rose in the streets of Elemore, and through the fog Azul could hear the ringing laughter of his demonic bride mixed with the screams of his fallen soldiers. The fog entered the pores of the skin of his beloved soldiers, twisting and warping them until naught remained of their former selves.
The First Black Orcs had been created, and Azul slaughtered the conquerors of the First Empire, driving their army out of Elemore for good.
As Orcs marched through the streets, Azul buried his mother in the Queens Gardens. She had not risen as an orc, her soul too pure to be corrupted by demonic magic. Her barrow was made of stone, and the skeletal remains of the slain Althyras army of elven soldiers were cursed to guard the the barrow for all eternity.
Azul then ordered the trees of that garden cut down, and he made the first ten decks of Shadow from those very trees. In his eyes the city of Elemore no longer held any beauty, and the lingering magic within the woodwork of the Sylvan Oaks were put to better use in the Decks of Shadow.
The ten decks were given to the greatest of the Black Orc commanders, formerly Azul's closest advisors and confidantes.
Ardhalas' Deck of Shadows
Ardhalas is an elf carrying such a deck in Murometz PbP adventure: Tales of Misadventure - Being featured here on Strolen's
Each deck is blessed by Killitharie, and infused with the magic of Azul. These Decks of Shadows are powerful instruments of divination.
The Deck of Shadows is bound to other dimensions through the demonic blood magic infused within the wood and the paintings on the cards.
A reading can be a catastrophic event, as greater forces are stirred into action. This is the reason the Orc commanders of old had such as skilled group of bodyguards - the Sesserii, as they are called among the Azul Orcs. Whenever Azul's Black Orc commanders divined the possible outcome of battle, the Sesserii would defend them from harm.
Ardhalas' Deck has thirty cards. Each of these cards have been infused with demonic blood magic, and are attuned to different dimensions. Some are attuned to higher dimensions, others to lower dimensions.
Reading Power Level
The Power Level of the Reading depends on several factors:
- The level of the magic user doing the reading (only magic users can successfully read)
- The power of the location where the reading is being done. Holy places, magical nexuses and so on grant much power to the reading.
- Proximity to beings of power, like demons, angels and so on.
The exact power level is determined by the GM taking the above factors into consideration. A reading can be weak, normal, strong or prophetic.
Reading Side Effects
There is a chance that there will be side effects to a reading. The chance for side effects are closely connected to the people being read. The calmer, more relaxed, a person being read (or doing the reading) is, the lower the chance of any side effect. However, if someone is emotionally unbalanced in some way, there is a greater chance that a side effect occurs.
Side effects differ, but are almost always scary, unpleasant or downright bad.
Example Side Effects:
- A foul smell of rot and decay
- Freakish, periodic gusts of wind
- Rats are summoned, in vast numbers
- The dead awaken... To undeath. Zombies start clawing out of the ground.
- The reading rings out like a chime to the spirits of the departed, beckoning ghosts and spirits like moths to a flame
- The paintings on the card animates, revealing prophetic, unsettling scenes
- Animals panic, running away as fast as they can
- Flames wither and die, and clouds roll in with torrential rainfall
- An extradimensional portal is opened nearby
The reader using the deck can try to:
- Decipher possible future events
- Determine the motivations of people
- Determine the safest course of action
- Discover the location of items (known items, nearby items of power, or nearby sources of healing, and so on)
The different houses give different divinations, and while the Forest House and Wealth House are "good" houses, providing insightful information and helpful prophecies, the Hell House and the Shadow House are "evil" houses, still providing information, but usually the news aren't very good. The Hell House sometimes give off "bonus" divinations, of a rather merciless nature. The War House is brutally blunt, to the point, and often delivers prophecy through the lips of those slain in battle, or dying from battle wounds. This reading effect sometimes linger, and the a henchman or PC dying days, or even weeks, later sometimes deliver prophectic words as their life force ebbs out.
Cards in Ardhalas' Deck of Shadows
These are the cards possessed by Ardhalas. Each card is an entity in itself, ornately decorated with intricate painints depicting the nature of the card. The cards radiate strong magic, easily detected by anyone attempting to detect it.
Each card is also a conduit to other dimensions, and for that conduit to work, a relation to a living being is established. That living being is granted boons, abilities due to his or hers connection to the card. Therefore each card has a living being, or god, that is tied to it. Strong readers of the deck, like Azul, knows who these beings are. A couple of these beings are even named on the deck, like Elethandra (her ghost is still tied to the deck), or Killitharie, the demon queen.
Roll d5 for which suit is drawn (Forest, Hell, Shadow, War, Wealth)
Then roll an appropriate dice to determine which of the cards of that suit is drawn.
Cards of the Forest House (8)
Elethandra, Queen of the Forest
Good Azul, Prince of the Forest
Mage of the Forest
Treant of the Forest
Elf of the Forest
Elk of the Forest
Chipmunk of the Forest
Acorn of the Forest
Cards of the Hell House (6)
Killitharie, Queen of Hell
Evil Azul, Prince of Hell
Ten Armed Demon Champion of Hell
Snake Shaped Lamia of Hell
Winged Demon of Hell
Hounds of Hell
Cards of the Shadow House(6)
Black Orc Assassin of Shadow
Black Orc Commander of Shadow
Black Orc Champion of Shadow
Black Orc Spirit Caller of Shadow
Black Orc Shaman of Shadow
Black Orc Warrior of Shadow
Cards of the War House(5)
Imperial General of War
Grand Battlemage of War
Knight of War
Priest of War
Soldier of War
Cards of the Wealth House(5)
Castle of Wealth
Prince of Wealth
Merchant of Wealth
Chest of Wealth
Coin of Wealth
Prophetic & Divining Readings
When a reading is performed, at a maximum one time per week, it is done so with both players and GM involved. The holder of the deck states that he will perform a reading, either of himself or of one or more others, and then describe what he is doing, where he is doing it and how it is being done. There are many ways of performing a reading, and the circumstance of the reading is important for the outcome. One legendary Black Orc Commander only performed his readings mid-orgy.
Due to the eldritch demonic blood magic used in the creation of these cards, they live a life of their own. Sometimes a card disappears, and a new one appears. There used to be three more forest cards, the Fox of the Forest, Dryad of the Forest and Thalyon, King of the Forest. All these have disapperead however, and new ones have taken their place.
The Dance of Fate
An extremely risky game, the Dance of Fate is usable once per week. In the most dire of situations, the bearer of Azul's deck may call upon Fate and draw a single card. Depending on the card, a significant effect will be made.
To start, the user must roll a 1d5 to determine the suit which is drawn.
On top of the possible emotional side effects, each suit has its own side effect which always occurs when it is drawn.
Any organic items on the user have a 20% chance to rot/wither, effectively breaking them and causing them to require repair. So things like wooden bows and arrows, clothing made from non synthetic sources etc... Items made of bone.
All spells (except divine) fail on the next round.
All light sources become extinguished for 1d4 rounds.
All old war wounds open up once more The user is damaged for an amount equal to their constitution.
20% of the gold carried turns into tin.
Next, the bearer must roll a number of dice to choose which card is pulled:
D10 for forest
D8 for Hell and Shadows
D7 for War and Wealth
In addition to each card of the suit, there are two cards which may come up regardless of the suit that is chosen (oddly enough, these only appear during the Dance of Fate):
An image of the goddess of fate, in full radiance and beauty. Pulling this card grants the use of any TWO cards of the users choice, both from one chosen deck.
An image of the goddess of Fate, but emaciated and desiccated,; a true vision of death. If this card is drawn, the holder must make a saving throw or instantly... (D6)
3: Summon the Ghost of his most powerful defeated enemy. The Ghost is all too pleased with a chance for payback.
4: Paralyze! Paralyzation lasts for 2 months, or until dispelled.
5: Be Polymorphed into a Basilisk, with a Basilisk's abilities. After 2 weeks, his mental state also changes into a Basilisk's, and he will attack his fellow party members.
6: Be Cursed! A Doom Curse has been cast upon the PC, and he is at -4 to attack, -4 damage until remove curse has been cast upon him.
(Keep your fate points for this!)
Forest: Defense and life. (the safest deck)
1) Fate's Fury.
2) Acorn of the forest: All foes AND party members are entangled in magical roots which spurt from the ground, for 1d4 rounds.
3) chipmunk: All party members get a significant bonus to dodge AC, but their attack damage is reduced for 1d4 rounds
4) elk of the forest: representing the animal life of the forest, the elk card summons three Wolves (or other creatures) under command of the card bearer for 1d4 rounds.
5) elf of the forest: guardian of the forest, the wily elf grants the party his unerring aim. +5 to all attack bonuses for the next 1d4 rounds!
6) Good Azul, Prince of the forest: The good prince offers his protection to the party! The next non-magical attack that would normally hit each pc will instead miss!
7) Elethandra, Queen of the forest: Elethandra, the queen of the forest offers your party a second chance at life. All party members regain their full hp!
8) fate's Fancy.
Hell Deck: Magic and pain.
1) Fate's Fury
2) Hell Hounds: Summons three Hell Hounds. Roll a d%. If over 50%, hounds are loyal to the user. If under, hounds are loyal to nobody and will attack at their own will.
3) winged demon of hell: all pcs are granted bat-like demonic wings, burst forth from their backs in a shower of gore. Take 2d6 damage but granted the power of flight for one hour.
4) Snake shaped lamia of hell: all players and foes must make a saving throw or become poisoned!
5) Ten armed demon champion of hell: The demonic warrior blesses the party! They they attack with a speed as though they have many arms! Grants one extra attack per round for 1d4 rounds.
6) Evil Azul, Prince of Hell: Evil Azul curses the party with foul luck: the next attack on each party member that would have missed will instead hit for critical damage!
7) Killitharae, Queen of Hell: The demon queen sends her eldrich blessing to the user: the next item the user lays hands on will be PERMANENTLY enchanted with a random magical effect (gm discretion, or roll from a table)
8) Fates Fancy.
Shadow Deck: deception and trickery
1) Fate's Fury
2) Black Orc Warrior: Friends and foes alike take 3d8 damage
3) Black Orc shaman: All allies are granted invisibility for 1d6 rounds.
4) Black Orc Spirit Caller: players and foes alike are granted two mirror images which deal no damage and act independently for two rounds.
5) Black Orc Champion: From the nearest shadows charge a single shadow orc which aids the party for 1d4 rounds.
6) Black Orc Commander: Bloodlust/Confusion washes over friends and foes alike. All players and Enemies attack a random target the next round.
7) Black orc Assassin: the user may choose one foe. That foe must make a will save or instantly be slain!
8) Fate's Fancy.
War Deck: Destruction and carnage
1) Fates Fury
2) Soldier of War: The Horns of Azul blast through the halls, and 30 Black Orcs charge through, attacking everyone
3) Priest of War: A wave of healing washes over the PCs, healing them for 2d8 damage each
4) Knight of War: A Spectral Knight on his Nightmarish Steed thunders out of the card and screams a forlorn, soul shattering scream. Everyone must Save vs. Death or fall over, unconscious for 3 turns. Those that stay awake get +3 Strength for 3 turns.
5) Grand BattleMage of War: The holder of the deck suddenly realize he can cast chain lightning once. The spell is memorized until used.
6) Imperial General of War: The area explodes, as if hit by a fireball, for 5d6 damage in a 100' radius
Wealth Deck: Gold and Riches
1) Coin of Wealth: A single coin appears in the holder's hand. It is the coin of fate. When flipped in the air, it either lands with a grimacing face up (bad luck), or a smiling face up (good luck). Bad luck implies 24 hours with a 25% extra chance of failure whatever the holder does, the good luck card implies 24 hours with a 25% extra chance of success, whatever the holder does. The luck roll is rolled before any ordinary roll, and will negate the secondary roll if the GM rolls 25 or below.
2) Chest of Wealth: A dimensional portal opens up, leading into a sealed vault. There are items within of great value, but after 3 rounds the portal becomes unstable, and after 6 rounds the portal collapse, locking the PCs on either side (depending on which side they are at that moment)
3) Merchant of Wealth: Nothing happens, but after 1d12 hours, they encounter a traveling salesman with much to offer.
4) Prince of Wealth: Tracus, the master thief and dimensional traveler, materialize nearby. He is unseen at first and will try to pickpocket 1d6 items, then disappear into another dimension.
5) Castle of Wealth: A rolled up canvas plops into existence, and falls to the feet of the holder. On the canvas a lifelike painting of a rope can be seen. That rope can be interacted with, and the PCs can actually climb up that rope, into the painting. After having climbed 100' up into this pocket dimension, they enter the gatehouse. If the Pocket Dimension Castle is occupied (20% chance), guards will attack them. Anyway, this is the first of five rooms. The other four rooms are stylish and opulent, always full of fresh fruits and nectar, wine and vegetables (no meat). There is a 15% chance of resident nymphs, and 25% chance of a fairly well stocked shelf of magic scrolls. Everyone regains 10 HP each night they sleep in one of the six beds in the extradimensional mansion.
6) Fate's Fancy
This item has been inspired by Steven Erikson's Deck of Dragons
Additional Ideas (2)
An excellent use of the Deck!!!
The lovemaking was less intense now, and Ardhalas thought he heard Melior's content snoring.
"I have so many questions...", he stated. "And I guess you have too"
And with that, the Elf picked a deck of wooden cards from his lizardskin pouch. The cards were painted a crimson-grey color, a rorschach pattern on the back of each card. A musty smell of age, blood and iron assailed the nostrils of the partymembers, and as Somnak walked over, Ardhalas looked him in the eye.
"Child of Azul, do you care for fate? Do you want to the consult the spirits, and get one answer from them this night?"
Looking grim, a haunted expression on his face, the half-orc sat down without a word, and drew a card from the deck.
"Put it down on the ground", Ardhalas instructed softly, and Somnak gently laid it down, backside up. There was a slight trembling in the room, and a loud crack from beneath the card. A crack in the stonework, about 6 inches long, had erupted from where he put down the card. Slightly unnerved, and staring accusingly at the fissure, Somnak spoke, as if addressing some unseen spirits.
"Is there hope for me? Or am I chained by the call of my tainted blood."
Somnak looked up hesitantly at Ardhalas from the crack in the stone below the card. The Thaur of the Haulor nodded ever so slightly and lowered his lids, as if to reassure the half-orc…
Ardhalas started speaking, "It is the knight of war...", when suddenly a cold wind burst from the fissure in the floor, followed abruptly by a slow smoke, which began to seep from the crack. Somnak flipped the card, and a knight in bloodied armor was painted on it, his sword covered in entrails, one of his eyes pierced by an arrow. Somnak had to look twice; it was almost as if he could see the blood still running down along the rim of the knight's helmet.
Meleana's eyes widened as she watched from a distance…
The smoke seemed to fill the hallway, though did not burn their eyes or nostrils. Nay, it was the Spirit-Smoke which hung in the air around them now.
Ardhalas opened his eyes then, and Somnak noticed they were milked over…
The Elf began to speak in a voice that was not his own.
“Are you a weakling, Somnak the Azul? Are you a weakling that sits like an old woman, alone in shadows, pondering your worth? You are a creature of War! The call to battle sang in your veins, long before your mother pressed you out on the wooden cottage floor in your home village…
“You are destined for great things…” Ardhalas trailed off, and the Spirit-Smoke now clouded the entire chamber.
Suddenly Somnak could see through the smoke. The orc village! Where he was raised. Where he was taught the Hunt. Where he was bonded with the spirits of the Great Race!
He saw the witch then! The old crone who had haunted and taunted him with her prophecies. She cackled as she saw Somnak in turn, cackled and spat in his direction. But he was not here to see the witch, no. He was to meet the Knight of War!
Ardhalas began speaking again, once more with voices that were not his own. This time an eerie child’s voice…and then another voice began speaking, at the same time as the child spoke, and after a short while several voices spoke through Ardhalas at once.
"You are our witness"
"Shield of our people"
"Voice of our fallen"
The witch held something in her lap, and as Somnak peered closer, his heart racing and threatening to explode form his body, he could see it was his father’s head.
The eyes in the head opened then.
"Is there hope for me? Or am I chained by the call of my tainted blood."
“You ask that?! ” His father's voice raged.
“You *are* chained by the call of your tainted blood! The blood taint from your mother’s pinkish loins, not mine! Do you not see?
"Your fate was sealed when you were conceived. Think you that one can choose? Nay, you suspect the truth of things."
“Know this, spawn of my loins; patricide is a curse among the humans and elves, but not among us! When you slew me and took your rightful place in the clan, you carried on a tradition that has stretched back to Azul the Creator! Know this, doubting one, you were born for purpose. You are to lead, and to lead you must hunt and must kill, for how else can a true leader act?
"You were marked by the ancestors, born with a caul, and so spirits sought you out. Do you not understand why?! Do you not listen to them when you pound your drums? When you dance with your demons? When you drink your enemies steaming blood?"
"You were born to kill and to inspire those who kill. And more, you were born to lead our kind to new victory!"
"Conquer your mewling weakness, son. You did it once when you slew me. Be what you are! Your mother's soft influence is the only thing which holds you back!”
The head paused in its speech, and the cackling hag holding it, howled in glee, staring at Somnak with penetrating eyes. “He needs proof!” she hisses at the head.
Somnak sat motionless, his head pounding. He was biting his tongue and tasting his own warm blood as his father spoke.
Then his father added mysteriously,
“You shall know your enemy always more than skin-deep. You will always know what it takes to slay any foe henceforth.”
“You are free to choose Somnak. And yet you are not. And yet, you already have. You are chained by the weaknesses of your mother. Break free! Live to kill! And others shall follow you! And Azul shall rise again!”
With that the eyes of the head closed, and the witch tosses it into a nearby bonfire! His father's head explodes in a shower of blood, flame, and ash.
The smoke clears in the hallway and chamber, and Ardhalas lets out a scream suddenly, as the conduit that allowed the spirits to speak through the elf, close again. His milky eyes clear and he sits back against the wall, depleted and drenched with perspiration.
Silence. Somnak's eyes are closed. He is shaking.
(ooc: The reading was a "strong" one, and as a "boon of proof" to his question, Somnak can now "know" the nature of any enemy and any foe he faces in battle. In game-terms, he can have intimate knowledge of any adversary's abilities and powers, going forward.)