Saturday, August 10, 2013

Put Your Cards On The Table

Tarot has always been a bit of an odd one for me. It has always fascinated me, even though I have very little belief in any "mystical" connections to it, I do feel that the symbolism used in the cards is incredibly clever. Not only does this mean that almost anyone can see themselves and their current situations in the cards, but this ability to relate to the cards can produce some incredible insight and help people who had previously become "stuck" in their situations.

I remember my first exposure to Tarot was through my love of James Bond. I mentioned in an earlier post that I was introduced to James Bond at an early age through my parents taking me to see The Man With The Golden Gun. From then, I was hooked and I have fond memories of keeping the blueprints and diagrams of the stunts from Live and Let Die that were printed in the TVTimes when the movie first screened on British TV. And it was from Live and Let Die that I first saw Tarot, in the hands of the lovely Solitaire.
Solitaire (Live and Let Die)

I hadn't seen Tarot before, so I was confused as to why the cards looked different to playing cards, and it was then that I discovered my father's passing fascination with the Tarot, and he let me see his deck. I don't think he'd ever used it - just bought it and filed it away. It was an old Tarot of Marseilles set that came with a book. A set I still have today.

Of course, when I started roleplaying, the interest started again when I started running the James Bond roleplaying game for the group, with SPECTRE replaced by TAROT.

The years passed, and I didn't do a lot with Tarot until the time I came to apply to do my degree at art college. As part of the interview process for that particular college (now university) they asked each applicant to produce a self portrait to bring along to the interview which would not only show off their artistic skills, but maybe also give the tutors an insight into the way their prospective students saw themselves.

For my self portrait I produced a set of Tarot cards. Just the 22 cards of the Major Arcana, but I used photos (some shot especially) and got creative, covering the images in paint, illustration and weirdness, interpreting the meaning behind each card to show an aspect of my life at that time. It was all very horribly angsty and personal, and I don't think many people have seen them outside of the interview. Luckily, they did the trick and I was accepted on the course.

Thanks to relocating for art college, and getting back into reading comics, I became a fan of the the weirder DC titles such as Sandman and especially Shade: The Changing Man. When these became part of that first wave of Vertigo titles, and they announced a special Tarot set illustrated by Dave McKean, I placed my order straight away.

Vertigo Tarot - 0:The Fool
The Vertigo Tarot was a lovely set, and the book was incredibly easy to use. I was inspired for the first time to actually use the set for the intended purpose, and after a few readings, the various friends I'd done readings for said that the results had been strangely accurate. It was odd, because I wasn't really reading anything special into the spreads. I didn't know the cards very well to begin with so most of the readings involved looking at the cards, and looking things up in books, and writing an interpretation for the querant. Maybe this was what produced the "accuracy" as it allowed the querant to interpret the results themselves, projecting elements of their own life - maybe elements they didn't realise were there - onto the results the cards had produced. It was odd, but it seemed to work, and the people I read for seemed to be inspired, motivated, and above all happy with the results.

I'd rediscovered gaming again after relocating for art college, and after playing Vampire: The Masquerade, we moved on to playing Mage: The Ascension. When they produced a set of Tarot cards, inspired by the cover image of the corebook, we had to invest. I never used them for the game, or for traditional Tarot readings, but it did sow the seeds of inspiration that the names and images on the cards could be tweaked to fit a specific setting - or in this case, to suit a roleplaying game.

Something that has obviously stayed with me over the years - for when I started to write WILD a couple of years ago, when I considered an interesting element for the RPG I immediately thought of the Tarot.

Initially, I wanted a set of random cards that could represent the 100 most common dreams. The traditional things like being late for an exam or test, being naked in public, descending into a dingy cellar, flying or floating around a room, losing your teeth... that sort of thing. Then I realised that these dream images also inspired Archetypes, and the more I researched, the more I discovered the connection between the Tarot, and Jungian Archetypes and dream imagery.

Very rough version of XIV
So I set to making another deck of Tarot cards. I took index cards and wrote the divinatory meanings of each on them, and took the 100 or so most common dreams and wrote them on post-it notes. Then it was a case of laying the cards out on the floor and matching the dream to the card it best suited.

But things started evolving as the game was being written. It was taking on a life of its own. The four suits seemed to fit the four Attributes of the game, so it was a logical choice to change out Coins, Cups, Swords and Wands to become Control, Focus and Vision. The court cards, if you took the Ace into account, also fit the five "Skills" of the game, so it worked if you took out King, Queen and Page and replaced them with the Skills, such as Deceiver, Creator and Operator.

As the NaNoWriMo novel took shape, and the background of the game was formed, detailing the events that would lead up to the creation of dreamshare technology and the dreams of the inventor's daughter, the more the imagery of the novel would inspire the cards, especially the Major Arcana.

The more I looked at the cards, and how they would be used in the game as a way of influencing events in the dreamshare, the more I realised that I was putting a lot of work into these cards for a device that wouldn't be used all that often. I put the cards aside, and I went back to writing the game...

The first few VERY ROUGH prototype cards

I went back to writing the character creation chapter, and, frankly, got a bit stuck. Until I thought of the cards again. Now the cards have become an integral part of character creation, and also a bit about the relationship-mapping between the characters. I won't go into great detail, as I don't want to spoil it, but I'm quite excited by how its worked out. However, it needs testing. And in order to do that, I needed the cards - complete with the imagery that I wanted on them. A load of index cards with notes and scribbles wouldn't do.

So, on a recent trip to London, visiting the Atlantis Bookshop, I picked up a deck of blank Tarot cards. A whole deck, Tarot card shaped, with a patterned back, but a plain white front. The only problem is, the cards are very glossy and the only thing that'll really stay on the cards is working directly in permanent marker pen. No pencils, just scribbling straight onto the card in pen and hoping for the best.

Some of the cards have come out better than others, and, if the game makes it to production, the cards would be illustrated by someone with a LOT more skill than me. But, they serve the purpose.

As of yesterday, I've completed the Major Arcana. Now, about to start on the Suit of Control. As you can tell, WILD is still a way off yet, but it's evolving and changing with every new development, shaping itself in a fluid form like the dreams it takes its inspiration from.


Anonymous said...

Slight inaccuracy that you never used the tarot in the later games we all played - you gave Raindog a mystery set in the PBM we all did sporadically in the mid nineties. I recall I had no idea what they all meant and kept just randomly using them and leaving them in places. Never did work out how they all helped/hindered what was going on...

David F. Chapman said...

Oh yes, I remember now! It was when I was converting Mage over to Kult, and gave your character some of the cards of the Taroticum.

It would have built up to something, but the game kinda fizzled out. Shame, I did love Kult...