Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Tarotica (Part II)

Last week I thought I'd start a series of blog posts about the Tarot, and how I've been influenced by their use and design over the years. On to part 2!

I got into University, or Art School as it was then before it gained full University status, with a very clear purpose. I was going to draw comics. I loved comics, and I'd teamed up with some of my RPG group to publish some comics including my first title - Drowning in Darkness. How cheery! After the review that called me the "Goth Hergé" I was more determined to pursue my comic career. You can read more about that, my comic publishing company that was, and the few titles I released here.

While attending Uni, I started hanging out at the local comic shop (Abstract Sprocket) and continued my obsession with all things Vertigo. I loved the Sandman, Shade: The Changing Man, Kid Eternity, Enigma and The Invisibles. Almost everything they brought out I loved. So, when the lovely purveyor of comics at Sprocket showed me the listing for a rather special collectors item - The Vertigo Tarot - I put in an order straight away.

The Vertigo Tarot set, published by DC Comics in 1995. Gorgeous!
What sold it to me was not only the use of Vertigo characters for the Major Arcana (The Fool is an image of John Constantine, The Empress is Titania, Queen of the Fairies from Books of Magic), but the artwork was by Dave McKean - someone whose art I've admired for years. It's a huge set, in a big white box (strangely the same size as the fabled Nobilis 2nd Edition) with the deck, and a hardback guide book that explains the images and divinatory meanings, written by Rachel Pollack. While I'd been aware of her writing from her time on Doom Patrol, I didn't know she was an authority on the Tarot as well. As I read, my eyes were opened to how the cards worked, and Rachel's explanations have become my instant go-to for Tarot readings.

However, a weird thing happened. Inspired by how cool the cards were, and the clear and informative write ups in the accompanying book, I started actually doing Tarot readings. And the weirder thing is - they seemed to be strangely accurate. I had no idea what I was doing, and maybe that is the power of the Tarot and its iconography - with the vaguest of interpretations the questioner applies the meaning to their lives and it suddenly all makes sense.

I was doing readings for myself, as well as friends from Uni and my new found gaming group...


At Uni I rediscovered my love of tabletop roleplaying. When I'd gone into work, and then on my Graphic Design course, I'd almost put the RPG writing side of things away. I was concentrating on the comic production, and getting into Uni, and RPGs didn't really seem to be in my life. However, when I relocated to Uni I quickly fell into a game being run by my fellow students. A game that had become huge in the early 90's - Vampire: The Masquerade. The reawakening of my gaming interests has been covered before in my blog, waaaay back here.

We played a lot of Vampire, and then I kinda went off and started a new game with new players continuing the World of Darkness setting, moving over onto playing Mage: The Ascension. Wow, I loved that game. Our Mage game was huge, epic and bonkers, with some massive Paradox Backlashes that distorted reality. It inspired Debs to write her fiction, and I had my eyes opened again when they released the Mage Tarot set.

The Mage The Ascension Tarot set (pictured on the Mage rulebook)
We were very into Mage: The Ascension in a big way, so much so that Debs was the one who actually bought the Tarot set. As a card carrying Wiccan (as she liked to call herself) she took the cards very seriously, keeping them wrapped rather than boxed, and I was only allowed to handle them for short periods of time (something I respect even now - I touched them enough to put the cards on the table for the above photo before putting them carefully away).

The cards came with a little book of how to read and interpret them, though there was also a short section on using the cards to help with the RPG itself. However, the cards themselves were another revelation. Exchanging the traditional suits from Cups, Coins, Swords and Wands to Dynamism, Questing, Pattern and Primordialism was a revelation to me. You could change the suits? And use them in a roleplaying game?

Now we're getting somewhere.

The next incarnation of Mage (Mage: The Awakening) would explore this in even greater detail with a whole book called "The Keys to the Supernal Tarot" which looked at each card and how they could be used to inspire storylines and adventures. Excellent! Also helps that the art in this newer edition was bloomin' gorgeous!

Anyway, back to the right place chronologically. I had a strange moment when I wanted to continue our game but I had turned my back on the World of Darkness. I managed to fill the hole in my urban horror/magic/occult gaming with a completely different system - KULT. Again, that connection between tabletop gaming and the Tarot would come to the fore when I picked up a supplement for KULT called Taroticum.

The Taroticum supplement for 1st Edition KULT (US Edition 1994)
At its heart, Taroticum is a series of adventures that revolve around a deck of Tarot cards that can shape reality. It's an epic adventure where the characters must basically travel from London to Hell to create a missing Tarot card for the deck to save creation itself. It's wild and wacky, and I never ran it as our game morphed into a game of CJ Carella's Witchcraft.

However, the Taroticum of the game, KULT, has appeared again with the new edition (Divinity Lost) and the cards are available to purchase.

Kult: Divinity Lost set of the Taroticum cards
The Major Arcana are radically different to normal cards, 0 representing the Awakened Man (Anthropos) and 1 representing "God" (The Demiurge), 2 representing "The Devil" (Astaroth) , and the remaining 20 cards each for the 10 Archons and 10 Death Angels. The Minor Arcana is FIVE suits, rather than four, numbered 1-9 (no court cards) with each suit tied to one of the five paths of awakening - Death (Skulls), Passion (Roses), Time & Space (Hourglasses), Dream (Crescents) and Madness/Elysium (Eyes).

Having the suits represent actual elements of the game, like the Mage Tarot, has been a bit of an inspiration too. But I've gone on too long for this post. Next post will be about how I'm using the Tarot in WILD, and maybe a look at other games that use Tarot for task resolution in tabletop roleplaying.

Until next time, may the cards be in your favour.

Be kind.

No comments: