See also: Elder Deck
The Deck of Dragons, sometimes referred to as the Fatid, was the dominant oracular system worldwide, with the exception of the Lether continent which used its predecessor, the Tiles. It is possible that the card deck could be succeeded by the Coins in the future.
The Deck consisted of a series of cards depicting the members of the pantheon. The Deck accurately portrayed the pantheon, with new cards added as necessary for new members. Most cards represented entities with specific roles in Houses, with a few non-aligned cards that were without a House. During a reading, these cards might be animated.
According to Quick Ben, "... the High Houses of the Deck relate to certain warrens and as such they present a kind of window looking in on those warrens—conversely, of course, things can in turn look out from the other side, which is what makes a reading so... risky. The Deck is indifferent to barriers—in the right hands it can reveal patterns and relationships hidden to mortal eyes."
During a reading, cards were shuffled then dealt one at a time, with the resulting divination dependent on which cards came out. According to Hairlock, the First House set the course. Different patterns could be used to lay down the Deck. For example, in a spiral pattern, working through the entire deck, the last card could signify either an apex or an epiphany depending on how it placed itself. Another pattern would be to lay in blocks (which way the local powers would oppose each other).
The appearance of a card could vary by responding to local conditions. A card could change slightly of its own accord depending on where the reading was performed to indicate how the world and pantheon were unfolding. For example, during the events of Gardens of the Moon, the card of Oponn would probably show the Twins no matter where the reading was performed; however, because of the specific situation on Genabackis at that particular time, the card also showed a spinning Coin next to the Twins.
Not only the attributes or background of a card could change, but also the focus point of a card. Most positions in the Deck of Dragons depicted one individual, usually an Ascendant. A card often did not refer specifically to this Ascendant but instead could refer to a person in the local area whose role corresponded to the position portrayed. During one reading on Seven Cities, for example, the card of the Assassin of High House Shadow showed up, referring to Kalam Mekhar as the local Assassin as opposed to Cotillion, the Ascendant Assassin on the card. On another continent, the card would probably have a different look to it.
The person performing the reading could hold on a card and it was always their call to continue or end a game.
One new addition to the Deck was the card/role of a Master of the Deck who could add cards and sanction new Houses. The position, unsought for, was occupied by Ganoes Paran.
Organisation of the Deck of Dragons
Listed as per the Glossary of Gardens of the Moon, UK MMPB p.707-709 unless otherwise referenced or in brackets. For associated Ascendants please refer to the page of the individual houses.
- Mason (Builder)
- The Seven of the Dead Fires
Though anyone may have picked up and used a Deck of Dragons, not everyone had the capability to utilize its predictive powers. The following were known users within the Malazan Book of the Fallen series:
- Ganoes Paran
- Iskaral Pust
- The first reading was shortly after the Enfilade of Pale in the company of the newly soul-shifted Hairlock.
- Her second was a few days later, at the behest of Tayschrenn who was blocked in his own efforts to read the Deck.
- Her third reading was a complete layout of the Deck in an effort to sense the motivations of all the players surrounding the coming convergence in Darujhistan.
The Ladro Keep Reading
- In Deadhouse Gates, Kalam Mekhar tried to avoid a reading of the Deck by an unnamed woman who was also sheltering from a sandstorm in Ladro Keep.
Fiddler's readings of the Deck took a form similar to card games, with Fiddler as the dealer issuing cards to players.
- The first such game to appear in the series was in Darujhistan during the events of Gardens of the Moon.
- Later, in The Bonehunters, Fiddler acquired a new set of cards with many new cards previously unknown to him. He dealt a game at the request of Adjunct Tavore before the Bonehunters returned to Malaz City.
- He dealt another game at Tavore's behest in Letheras during Dust of Dreams, though it was dissimilar to his usual style and was more of a reading than a game.
- In Memories of Ice, Spindle performed readings in Caladan Brood's camp atop Fiddler and Hedge's gambling table. The reading was influenced by a new unaligned card that was painted underneath the table and revealed some of the powers working behind the scenes in the Pannion War.
- Slate attempted to perform a reading for Kyle. Before beginning, he explained the cards of the deck. He then abandoned the attempted reading probably because of what Kyle saw in the last card Slate had put down.
- Gwynn claimed in Kellanved's Reach that, while he had no 'true talent' for reading the Deck, still he had "some small ability". Having consulted the Deck every night for a month - with regard to Ullara - and finding that every night the "connotations" had been the same, the mage described what he had done to his Crimson Guard Commander at the Red Fort, Seth. Gwynn told Seth that he had used every arrangement and "permutation" with which he was familiar. "The Southern Arc. The Old and New House. The Great Circle". Gwynn felt that the readings were clear and that they indicated that Ullara had a "Fate. A Wyrd". Thus, Ullara should not be prevented from following it, whatever it turned out to be.
Skilled artists or mages could copy or create cards or Decks. Those known to have created cards:
- Author Ian C. Esslemont, who devised the Deck, said the inspiration for it came from various methods of historical divination such as the Tarot, casting of stones, scapulimancy, or casting of sticks in Buddhist temples in Thailand.  Steven Erikson also thinks some of the inspiration for the Deck Of Dragons likely came from Roger Zelazny's novel, Nine Princes in Amber. The authors devised schematics on how to lay the cards down for the Deck's use in their early role-playing games.
- In a 2020 interview, Erikson said the Deck was designed by the two Malazan authors to be "as fluid as possible" and they "wanted to make the readings situational so that they related specifically to the environments surrounding, and the circumstances surrounding, the person doing the reading at that specific time so that nothing is ever completely fixed and roles can be assumed." He confirmed that multiple roles in the Deck can be taken on across Houses by a single person. "It's also quantum--there's a kind of entanglement between the reader and reality through the Deck, and so the reader can actually change the outcome."
- Erikson considered it "my inside joke" to lay out a book's entire plot in a cryptic and obscure fashion through a Deck reading that would only become clear on a second or third reading of the book.
Notes and references
- Gardens of the Moon, Glossary, UK MMPB p.707
- Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 2, UK MMPB p.90 - example
- Dust of Dreams, Chapter 5
- Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 2, UK MMPB p.89
- Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 4, UK MMPB p.144
- Gardens of the Moon - Chatting with Steven Erikson, part 2 - See 10:20
- Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 2, UK MMPB p.91
- The Bonehunters, Chapter 22, UK MMPB p.1025
- Night of Knives, Chapter 3, US TPB p.138
- Kellanved's Reach, Chapter 19, US TPB p.292
- Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 2 Chapter 7, US HC p.283
- Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 1 Chapter 3, UK PB p.116
- Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 6, US HC p.164
- Kellanved's Reach, Chapter 4, US HC p.61
- Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 1 Chapter 2, UK PB p.92
- Memories of Ice, Chapter 4, US SFBC p.142
- Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 9, US HC p.214
- Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 2, UK MMPB p.89-91
- Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 3, UK MMPB p.108-110
- Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 6
- Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 4
- Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 20, UK MMPB p.582-584
- The Bonehunters, Chapter 18, US SFBC p.720
- The Bonehunters, Chapter 22, UK MMPB p.1023-1027
- Dust of Dreams, Chapter 3, UK HB p.100-105
- Memories of Ice, Chapter 5, US SFBC p.178-180
- Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 1 Chapter 2, UK HB p.91-93
- Kellanved's Reach, Chapter 19, US TPB p.292
- Memories of Ice, Chapter 2, US SFBC p.66-68
- The Bonehunters, Chapter 16, US HC p.529
- The Bonehunters, Chapter 20, US HC p.623/627
- The Crippled God, Chapter 22, US HC p.670/681
- Not A TSACast: Fireside Conversations with Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont Ep#4 podcast - See 01:02:00
- Not A TSACast: Fireside Conversations with Steven Erikson Ep#3 podcast - See 1:49:00
- Gardens of the Moon - Chatting with Steven Erikson, part 2 - See 14:00
- Gardens of the Moon - Chatting with Steven Erikson, part 2 - See 11:50
|Deck of Dragons and Tiles of the Holds|
|Cards||High House Chains • High House Dark • High House Death • High House Life • High House Light • High House Shadow • High House War • Unaligned|
|Tiles||Azath Hold • Beast Hold • Dragon Hold • Empty Hold • Ice Hold • Fulcra|