Dungeons and Dragons is a fantasy game that requires quick-wits and an ability to make up believable nonsense on the spot. D&D can be described a fun, and immersive game where people indulge in fantasy and imagine a world in which versions of themselves have magical powers. If one was being unkind (and a little bit cynical), one could say the same of Tarot Card readers.
The Dungeons & Dragons Tarot Deck is an officially licensed deck of 78 cards, heavily themed towards the many worlds of D&D. Though a common use for Tarot cards is fortune telling (a game where one pretends to know the future by examining the images on the card), the Tarot has, over the years become its own visual language.
Except, weirdly, in the case of The Dungeons & Dragons Tarot Deck. These cards are a bit of a curate’s egg. For a start, they’ve stripped away the traditional suites you find either playing cards or Tarot cards. Instead we have Strength, Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma. In the table top game of D&D, these attributes have a clear purpose. In Tarot, this is just confusing.
There’s no way to tell if one card is intended to be the three of cups or the four of coins without checking the (badly formatted) booklet provided. Some of the cards look like they were intended to be more traditionally designed Tarot cards; so you may see four swords on a card, but that doesn’t mean that card is meant to convey the traditional meaning of the four of swords.
This is a huge shame, as Tarot cards are a great story-telling tool. Any normal pack of Tarot cards can be used to improvise stories. This is because the system they used to 'predict the future' can also be used as a narrative shorthand. For example you can summarise the plot of Star Wars with a four or five major arcana cards and a couple of minor cards; we'll leave which ones as an exercise for the reader. If you’re stuck for a dungeon, just pull out some tarot cards and read them; as each card is it’s own little story this should be enough to improvise an adventure.
Alas The Dungeons & Dragons Tarot Deck doesn't really do this; they've stripped away anything that might make using these cards easy. The art itself is very, very nice and in some cases very specific to D&D. There is some lovely multiverse inspired art, including a version of the Lady of Pain, Modrons, some really cool looking Tieflings and so on. They’ve dug in deep to the lore here, which again might confuse a casual fan.
The major arcana fare better here; they’ve at least tried to follow the brief and those images do look stunning. Alas, they’ve designed them in such a way that they don’t work ‘reversed’. In more competently produced tarot cards, reverse meanings can be derived if the card is drawn upside down. In this set, they simply haven’t bothered.
The Dungeons & Dragons Tarot Deck is a lovely looking bit of D&D memorabilia that is utterly useless for its intended purpose. We’d be fascinated to learn what happened during the design process as clearly the cards where originally intended to be more useful and then at some point, radical design choices got made.
If you’re after a fortune telling game, they are better cards and toys out there. If you’re after a deck of story prompts for D&D, you’d probably be better off drawing Battle for Baldur's Gate Magic The Gathering cards. But if you want something pretty to look cool on your desk; this is for you.