Monday, March 11, 2019

Tarotica (Part III)

Over the last two weeks I've been chronicling my relationship with the Tarot, and how it has inspired and influenced my gaming and art. Onto the final part (with an epilogue to follow).

The first generation of the Tarot used for playtesting WILD
When I started working on WILD, my RPG of dreamsharing, my natural assumption was to continue with the system I knew the best - Vortex, the game system I'd designed for Cubicle 7's Doctor Who RPG. It seemed to work for just about anything with a few tweaks, and I started stripping the system down to be even simpler. Four Attributes, and five "Skills", though these skills were more like roles or archetypes to begin with.

These skills were initially inspired by the most influential source for the game, with names like Forger, Architect, Pointman, Shade, etc. and I'd had a moment of clarity for the name of the game system - Rapid Die Movement.

But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to incorporate a set of Tarot cards into the game. I thought the randomness of dreams could be inspired by using a card draw (when the primary dreamer loses control over their own dreamscape) and some of the Tarot images could incorporate some of the list of 100 common dreams that I'd compiled. Then I started to wonder - why am I using dice for one thing, and cards for another, when I could just use the Tarot for everything - randomness, task resolution, and even character creation? Character creation was the real moment I turned my attention purely to the cards - if you lay out a spread of Tarot cards that look at your past to divine the future, why not use the Tarot cards to inspire and guide through character creation for the game? A detailed background is essential for WILD, as images from your past may surface in your dreams.

Much as I hated to say goodbye to the name Rapid Die Movement, I put the dice away and started to focus on the cards - their symbolism, alternative uses, and how they could work in task resolution. In order to do that, I thought I'd check out some other roleplaying games that used cards as a mechanic.

Everway RPG by Jonathan Tweet, Published by Wizards of the Coast (1995)

First one I was recommended was sitting on my gaming shelves. Everway was been a great influence in the way it looks, the design and the production. It's a rather gorgeous set that was way ahead of its time. Using two decks of cards - a Fortune Deck that was used for action resolution, and a Vision Deck that could be used to inspire encounters, quests and adventures. It came in a big box with three books and a handful of character sheets. To my regret, I've never played it, but the way the cards are used to randomly inspire the adventure, and other cards are used to resolve tasks, has been quite inspirational.

Once I'd decided to go the Tarot card resolution route, I actively sought out roleplaying games that used Tarot as a mechanic. Mostly to make sure that whatever mechanic I was using hadn't been done exactly the same way before! People have pointed me to Castle Falkenstein (which I haven't managed to check out yet, but have read up on), and to a quirky game called Psychosis - Ship of Fools.

Psychosis: Ship of Fools by John Fletcher, published by Chameleon Eclectic (1993)
Psychosis - Ship of Fools is an odd game in the fact that it was a set storyline designed to be played in about 4-8 sessions. The first of a line of Psychosis games, the second being Solitary Confinement (which I haven't read yet... must hunt that one down) the game involves the players waking in very different environments and trying to figure out who they are, where they are, and what the hell is going on. The Tarot are split into two piles - Major Arcana and Minor Arcana. The Minor Arcana is used to determine task resolution (Wands are strength, Swords are agility, Coins are knowledge and Cups are intuition). The Major Arcana are drawn at special times in the game, when really major reality shifting stuff can happen. Very interesting!

Alas Vegas - written by James Wallis, published by Spaaace/Magnum Opus Press (2017)
More recently, I'd backed the Kickstarter of James Wallis' Alas Vegas, utilising Wallis' Fugue System, using Tarot cards for task resolution (with extra effects). Like Psychosis, Alas Vegas' gameplay is structured for a limited experience, taking place over four 3-4 hour sessions with a rotating GM. And, also like Psychosis, the characters wake with no memory of who they are or what's happening. The game answers these questions as the players progress. Task resolution is done by playing Blackjack (or "21") but all of the cards are in play, with the Major Arcana's numbers representing their value (special effects happen if you can 21 with 0: The Fool and 21: The World).

Again, very interesting, and thankfully not the same system as I had in mind.

The task resolution in WILD is being tweaked a lot at the moment, and I'm hoping to have another moment of clarity where all the cards will suddenly fall into place...

Until then, I'll keep playing with those cards until something drops.


Next week, continuing the theme of games that use Tarot cards, and following nicely along from Alas Vegas, I'm going to take a look at Relics - A Game of Angels - a game coming to Kickstarter in a matter of weeks that uses the same Fugue system.

Until next time, stay multi-classy!

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