Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, the newest set of Magic: The Gathering cards, wants you to roll for initiative. New in the set are a class of cards called dungeons that will let players go dungeoneering from the comfort of the card table.
“Dungeons” are cards that exist outside of a typical game of Magic. They don’t go in your deck or your sideboard but can be called into the game by other cards that have the phrase, “venture into the dungeon.” Then, bringing a dungeon card into the game will start a Dungeons and Dragons-like adventure in the middle of a game of Magic.
A dungeon card looks like a little map sectioned into rooms. Whenever “venture into the dungeon” comes up, the dungeon’s owner moves a token into the next room. Rooms, when entered, trigger some kind of event that affects the game. For example, on the Tomb of Annihilation dungeon card, the first room causes each player to lose one life.
As for other rules, there can only be one dungeon per player, they can’t be removed unless completed, and you’re able to complete as many dungeons as the duration of the game allows. Players who are able to successfully complete a dungeon are awarded with a powerful, beneficial effect just like adventurers who get the +1 doohickey at the end of any D&D dungeon. It’s friggin’ rad!
Though Magic and D&D are both owned by Wizards of the Coast, for a long time the two franchises rarely intersected. You can get D&D sourcebooks based on one of Magic’s many multiverses, but that’s about it. This is the first time D&D’s been inserted into Magic instead of the other way around. (At least as far as I can tell, since Magic’s been around 30 years. Please, Magic olds, don’t come after me waving a Drizzt card from Alpha.)
One thing I absolutely love in any game is when it can weave narrative into gameplay, but Magic’s narrative has always been kinda divorced from its gameplay. Keyword abilities like “magecraft” or “landfall” make narrative sense within their sets, but that’s the extent to which Magic’s narrative affects gameplay. Every new thing Wizard of the Coast is doing with this Forgotten Realms set seems to have the intention of making a Magic game feel like a D&D session, and I am all about this — more than I’ve been into any previous Magic set.
In addition to exploring dungeons, Forgotten Realms has also figured out how to weave other D&D trappings into Magic. The art calls to mind the covers of old sourcebooks, or the inside of a classic monster manual. The set has cards named after classic D&D spells like Power Word: Kill, and even cards reflecting typical D&D events like You Come To A River.
The “You Come To A River” card is a spell that lets you pick one of two choices: bounce a card back to its owner’s hand, or give a creature a little extra oomph in its attack. But the brilliant thing about this card, what makes my little narrative x gameplay heart thump with joy, is that these choices aren’t given to you in the traditional Magic format, but framed as though your party is indeed at a river and your dungeon master is asking you what to do next. You can either “fight the current” meaning bounce a card, or “find a crossing” which will buff a creature.
More than owning a Drizzt legendary or a Lolth planeswalker (both of which are pretty damn sweet, not gonna lie), I am silly with excitement for the Forgotten Realms set because I want to see how the little bits of flavour will interact with one another. I am absolutely the kind of person who will construct a story based on how my deck plays out.
As a game, Magic: The Gathering was purely a social thing I did for the love of my friends. I enjoyed playing it, of course (and reading the prolific lore) but gameplay, since it’s not very story driven, was never a motivating factor. Now that Wizards has finally married Magic’s gameplay more meaningfully with storytelling, I can’t wait to get my hands on these cards.