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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13299 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 72 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Using Tarot Cards in-game  (Read 9456 times)

Posts: 3

« on: December 11, 2010, 05:57:45 PM »

Hi everyone, I'm new.  Long-time reader, first time poster.

Anyways, me and my brother have been playtesting a new game I've been developing, and when we playtest I pull tarot cards to help spontaneous roleplay.  It helps alot with quickly answering questions as well as improvising roleplaying games.  My question to you is: 

Do Tarot cards put off too many people?  My brother is insistent that too many people are offended by Tarot and will not play a game with Tarot cards in them.  I say just the opposite and that having a niche market for a Tarot RPG game is a good idea.  I'm even thinking of implementing the tarot into the actual game rules.

What do you guys think?  Do you think having the rules reference a deck of Tarot cards is a bad idea?  I don't know what to do and I'm at a crossroads here.
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 17707

« Reply #1 on: December 11, 2010, 09:55:03 PM »

Hi there and welcome,

Tarot cards have been employed in half-a-dozen RPGs, and Tarot-like decks made specially for a given game have been employed in at least a dozen more. You've asked a lot of questions in your post, but the basic one, "can this work," is clearly yes. And you knew that from your own play-experience anyway.

Let me break down what you're asking, a little bit. Your post kind of mixes and matches design and publishing questions in a way which is guaranteed to paralyze you. I recommend that you throw out strategic considerations of publishing for a while and concentrate solely on making a game which functions.

I will specify this a bit further. First, no one here can speak for some assumed trend or majority. The gaming world is full of blowhards claiming some kind of psychic link to the zeitgeist which you lack. Your brother has no such link. Neither do I. Neither does anyone posting here. Furthermore, the way you've phrased it - "put off too many people" - is irrelevant. Let's say that some majority percentage of role-players, 80% for example's sake, says, "Tarot, yuck!" - it wouldn't mean a thing for you. If the 20% remaining find your game good, then there you are, a ready-made audience and market. Consider yourself to be designing for (and one day selling to) only people who like the same ideas and modes of play which you like.

Your post unfortunately is not much more than an attempt at a poll. This is not a really good way to gain information or insight. I recommend instead describing exactly how the technique you have used has worked successfully in play. Until you do that, I'll provide a little feedback only to the extent that what you've posted reminds me of some existing games.

From the little you have said, it seems very much like the technique used in Everway, which included a custom "Fortune Deck" which was effectively a set of Tarot trumps although with interestingly-different meanings from the standard deck. In that game, you had the option to use the deck during resolution and also during certain plot moments, and there was also a pretty neat scenario-creating technique one might use as well. I also recommend checking out Story Cards, a more recent game that uses similar techniques in a more structured way.

As far as I can tell, you are currently merely speculating about folding the Tarot into the basic game mechanics. An older game which did this was called Oblivion: Ship of Fools, which had a pretty strong system. But I recommend not delving into this side of the design until you really nail down how you're currently using the cards, and how well it works, and how you might articulate and formalize that.

So ... one last thing. In a couple of days, I'll move this thread to the Game Development forum, where it'll fit better. No big deal.

Best, Ron

Posts: 133

« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2010, 08:45:37 AM »

Do Tarot cards put off too many people?  My brother is insistent that too many people are offended by Tarot and will not play a game with Tarot cards in them.
My experience is that most gamers don't really "believe" that Tarot cards have any mystical qualities and as such have no issues with using Tarot cards in a game. At least, no more issues than using any other cards in a game.

When you ponder your game design, ask if the use of cards actually makes the game better or just different. The game Castle Falkenstein is one of the first I played with cards and the players thought it was cool at first but quickly tired of cards instead of dice. With cards you have to decide if each player gets his own deck, if there is a community deck, how often to shuffle, etc. I had some players in Falkenstein who were excellent card counters and would adjust their actions based on whether there were more high or low cards left, so I had to shuffle more frequently in order to make things random. If the cards do more than simply generate random numbers, you'll have to determine how to make them. Lots of potenrtial issues with a card-based game.

Marv (Finarvyn)
Sorcerer * Dresden Files RPG * Amber Diceless
Forge Member since 2004
OD&D Player since 1975
Callan S.

Posts: 4268

« Reply #3 on: December 12, 2010, 05:35:38 PM »


Rather than any sort of superstition, I find the implementation of pulling a card to 'answer a question' to be kind of like putting on a little glove puppet, then asking him to answer the question that came up in play, as if the glove puppet isn't you answering the question.

In terms of the card imagery simply providing some imaginative input that can help trigger you think of something when before you couldn't, I'll totally grant that works. Having elements that help feed creativity by my measure is an important element and tarot cards could work very well for that.

 But trying to treat the cards as if they resolve things seems an exercise in glove puppetry, to me.


Posts: 3

« Reply #4 on: December 12, 2010, 07:02:23 PM »

Thanks for the replies guys.  I'm definitely going to have to think about this one a bit.  Probably, I'll keep using them as an improv aid.  Here's what I do for improvised adventures:

First, establish a setting.  (We started in a tavern.)  Then draw a card.  If i drew the Lovers card, it would mean a guy walks up to the bar with his girlfriend.  If it was a knight, a fighter might walk in.  And if I got the Hermit it would be a wizard (cause the guy looks like a wizard.)  Abstract, yes, but it works for us.

An interesting mechanic you guys might like follows.  We ask the game a yes or no question, and pull a card.  If it's right-side up it means yes, if it's upside-down it means no.  You can do this with a six-sider too.  4+ is a yes, 1-3 is a no.  Does a guy walk in?  Yes.  Does he have a gun?  No.  Does he have a sword?  Yes.  Is he hostile? Yes.  For this example we then roleplay if this angry swordsman bumps into us, or picks a fight with somebody, or what-have-you.  We call this the "Fate Dice" system...

I'm aware this has been done before, I can't remember the name of the RPG.  But using Tarot cards like this can give us more info than a simple yes or no.  Hmm...this has given me something to think about.  I'll get back to you guys on this.


Posts: 251

« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2010, 04:29:14 AM »

My opinion may well fall into the "i'm plugged into the zeitgiest" syle of post previously warned against but tarot is an especially subjective subject. To try and keep it practical I will limit things to my own experiences.

I am friends with someone who considers tarot games of any sort totally anathema, based on his own Christian belief. As such I respect that view and have never suggested that we play Everway, even though it uses a re-imagined deck, its in my collection,  and its something I have always been fascinated by.

I used to be friends with a tarot reader, who would probably (I can't be totally sure) be offended by playing games with them because of the level of respect she granted her own cards - wrapped in silk, never to be touched by anyone except for a reading.

I suspect that the majority of people sit somewhere in the middle of these views. I myself have used tarot as a fortune telling device on a small number of occasions, I am otherwise rational, scientific and sceptical. So, I can see the potential.

As for actual reaction at the table, I have played a demonic character in In Nomine where I swapped out the d6s for the appropriate minor arcana, I was going for an edgy feel in a game that was already well in that camp. I still got some nervous looks from the GM and one of the other players whilst I shuffled my decks, but that was part of the pay-off.

I think this is essentially a marketing decision. I would ask myself if I was using tarot to be cool and edgy, to provide inspirational creative constraint, to encourage a mystical mood, etc. Any way is cool but the marketing would be different, especially if we define marketing as the way you communicate to the people who might enjoy your game.

As anyone who uses tarot will tell you, the questions and the answers are inextricably linked, as is the mind set and approach, so I think your "fate dice system" would perfectly suit the use of tarot if only because it would encourage more open and potentially creative questions and more interpretive answers.




Posts: 280

« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2010, 08:29:48 AM »

Hi talisman,

Welcome to the Forge!  (as a poster, at least)

We ask the game a yes or no question, and pull a card.  If it's right-side up it means yes, if it's upside-down it means no.  You can do this with a six-sider too.  4+ is a yes, 1-3 is a no.

The primary game I'm familiar with that uses tarot cards is Everway, and one of the issues it had was not having a simple yes/no resolution system, which put a lot of work into the group's hands into interpreting each card draw, particularly if they weren't familiar with how tarot associations work.

Here's a useful thing to consider about your play (and you'll probably need to play more to observe it), how do you decide which questions are legit vs. "That would be stupid to put in this game?"   Do you sit down and talk about the setting ahead of time?  Do you see the other players give you a funny look then revise your possible addition to the setting?  Likewise, how do you decide which things are assumed vs. worth asking?   How do you avoid hogging the question/event creating process spotlight too much?

You don't need to overthink these questions, but just watch next time you're playing.  You might find some useful best practices, or even some unspoken rules that really make the difference between this being fun or unfun.


Posts: 211

« Reply #7 on: December 18, 2010, 05:48:10 AM »

Note that Everway's "Fortune deck" is not the Tarot deck per se,, but a custom-made set of major arcana-like motifs capable of being interpreted as a judgment on the outcome of in-game actions. If I recall correctly, it is intended mainly to inform the GM's decision-making in play, although it did have a role in character creation--fortune-telling as character creation. Conversely, Joe Prince's Swansong integrates a straight-up Tarot deck into the game, using cards for their numeric values and oracular motifs.

Recently, some indie games have begun to use playing cards qualitatively rather than quantitatively.

Vincent Baker's In A Wicked Age uses "oracles" associated with playing card values to provide the initial in-game situation elements for each session.

My own game Ganakagok layers Tarot-like motifs and in-game color on top of a regular deck of playing cards, and uses them for character and situation generation as well as to shape the consequences of in-game action; the "conflict resolution" mechanics actually assign narration rights via the force of character's in-game attributes as signaled through role-playing.

I'm trying to do something similar with a game-in-progress I'm calling The New World, a game of historical fantasy and colonial cultural conflict and accommodation.

I've also experimented with using I Ching-like mechanics once or twice, without getting much traction, but there's a rich vein there, I think.
Joe J Prince

Posts: 113

Putting the fun into dysfunction!

« Reply #8 on: December 24, 2010, 03:56:27 AM »

I love using tarot cads in my games!

Alongside the aforementioned Swansong, Hell 4 Leather uses tarot cards exclusively, no character sheets or anything (it's better than Swansong too, shh).

I've never met anyone who objected to using tarot cards in a RPG, but I'm informed they exist on the internets. Tarot decks are quite expensive though so that can be a potential barrier. Which is why I've got rules in H4L enabling you to use a standard deck instead - not as cool though!


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