Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Preliminary Thoughts on D&D Tarot Magic

Now, don't get me wrong: I don't believe in Tarot as a fortune telling device. But the concept is great, and I think in some respects it would be nice if it was actually useful. There is something spellbinding about the Major Arcana - the way they look in most decks, their powerful symbolism, their iconic feel. We don't live in a world in which they can actually tell us anything, but a world in which they did would be extremely interesting.

In There is Therefore a Strange Land Tarot (like God, Satan, etc.) is real and can be used by all characters. There is also a unique Tarot Reader class. I've even drawn up a table of key words:

The Fool
The Magician
Precision or concentration
The High Priestess
Intuition, wisdom
The Empress
Mothering, sexuality, nature
The Emperor
Fathering, authority, power
The Lovers
Love, passion, bonding
The Chariot
Conquest, honour, impulsivity
Impartiality, clear vision, logic
The Hermit
Silence, guidance, understanding
Wheel of Fortune
Opportunities, possibilities, fate
Self-control, solidity, perseverance
The Hanged Man
Sacrifice, surrender, acceptance
Loss, transition, inescapability
Harmony, moderation, healing
The Devil
Materialism, anger, hedonism
The Tower
Chaos, disillusion, sudden change
The Star
Calmness, trust, joy
The Moon
Lack of clarity, deception, anxiety
The Sun
Enlightenment, splendour, personal power
Rebirth, reconciliation, decision
The World
Accomplishment, prosperity, wholeness

The basic idea is as follows: once in a given period of time (a month, say), a PC can go to an NPC fortune teller and have a single fortune told - which means they are assigned one Major Arcana.

A PC of the Tarot Reader class can also read their own Tarot, which means taking a number of cards based on their level and combining them. So, for instance, a 5th level Tarot Reader might be able to take 3 draws. He or she can then combine the 3 cards, or use them individually.

The way this happens is that, when the PC encounters what he or she considers an applicable situation, he or she gets a premonition or feeling that bestows an advantage. So if he drew the fortune of The Chariot, he could use it when trying to browbeat a thug or whatever because it is associated with conquest, and automatically succeed: it was written in the stars that the thug would be intimidated. Or if he has The Moon, he can use it to automatically succeed when trying to tell a lie: fate had already determined this.

I think the critical thing is making sure this doesn't become too story-gamish or too overpowered. I'm not sure I like the idea of somebody being captured by bandits and just using The Tower to dictate that the camp gets thrown into chaos by a distraction, or using The Hanged Man to generate the outcome "the dragon surrenders" as soon as it's encountered. It feels a little bit too much like narrative control. Not that there's anything wrong with that necessarily, but I like D&D effects to be a bit more concrete and measurable - bonuses, saving throws, etc. And yet at the same time just providing bonuses to dice rolls strikes me as a bit banal.


  1. Maybe a d6 table with
    1: everythings happen as you imagined and even better...
    to 6: This doesn't work. In fact everything gets worse...

  2. (Sorry if this double posts)

    Palladium Fantasy (AD&D's kissing cousin) had a card based mage in Rifter #24, might be worth a look to see how it handles its version of the major arcana.

  3. If my memory serves well, some modules of Ravenloft used the setting version of Tarot to randomize some adventure elements .

  4. Why not use real Tarot in an occult themed game? Original Twilight 2000 pioneered the use of playing cards to randomly generate the NPC personality. I learned Tarot and Cartomancy, and used their symbolism in conjunction with the personality typology from Psych to lay out 7 cards in order, to generate the NPC character, then I reverse imagine to determine, how that NPC came to be, given the events and the background of my campaign setting. I have a greater and more colorful variety of the NPC's in my game, then the Game of Thrones.

  5. It looks really cool, I like fortune mechanics in general and this one seems useful.

    PD: sorry for pointing it out, but you forgot the High Priest.

  6. I have given actual tarot readings in games. Works wonderfully.

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