Tarot cards (rules)

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Illustration from The Writhing Dark: The Eldritch Tarot Tarot deck by Shane Tyree.

Origin: "The Moonchild" by Paul Fricker

Description

The tarot (first known as trionfi and later as tarocchi, tarock, and others) is a pack of (usually illustrated) playing cards used from the mid-15th century in various parts of Europe, and are used throughout much of Europe to play card games such as Italian tarocchini and French tarot.

In the late 18th century, it began to be used for divination in the form of tarotology and cartomancy; in English-speaking countries, where Tarot card games are not played, tarot cards are used primarily for divinatory purposes. The cards are traced by some occult writers to ancient Egypt or the Kabbalah, but there is no documented evidence of such origins or of the usage of tarot for divination before the 18th century

Like common playing cards, the tarot has four suits, which vary by region: French suits (hearts, diamonds/tiles, clovers/clubs, and spades/pikes) in Northern Europe, Latin suits (cups, coins, clubs, swords) in Southern Europe, and German (hearts, bells, acorns, leaves) or Swiss-German (roses, bells, acorns, shields) suits in Central Europe. Each suit has 14 cards, ten pip cards numbering from one (or Ace) to ten and four face cards (King, Queen, Knight, and Jack/Knave). In addition, the tarot has a separate 21-card trump suit and a single card known as the Fool (which, depending on the game, may act as the top trump or may be played to avoid following suit); in divination especially, the Trump cards and the Fool are sometimes called the Major Arcana, while the ten pip and four court cards in each suit are called Minor Arcana.

Appearances


Heresies and Controversies

  • The source of the revelations from a Tarot deck comes not from any psychic power within the investigator, nor from the Tarot cards themselves, but from beyond: from mythos powers greater than the investigators, perhaps helpful (Elder Gods), perhaps malevolent or even indifferent (perhaps accidental or incidental). ("The Moonchild" by Paul Fricker)


Keeper Notes

Mechanics

An investigator can use a Tarot deck to ask the Keeper one question. The question should be answerable with a yes or a no, with any additional information given at the Keeper’s discretion. Use of the Tarot costs the investigator several magic points, so it is not something that an investigator will be able to use many times in the game. The Keeper should use this as an opportunity to feed the player information (or misinformation) with the aim of directing the investigators towards whatever seems most interesting and appealing to the Keeper, perhaps for the purpose of supplying missed clues, or directing the investigators toward a neglected plot point.

The Major Arcana

The "Major Arcana" of a typical Waite-Rider Tarot deck are presented below, for use with the mechanics above, to assist keepers in choosing appropriate Tarot cards for a given situation where the occultist investigator requests some guidance, to help keepers whose familiarity with Tarot is limited to the "Hollywood version" (in which there's definitely a Death card, and it's always bad, and maybe a Devil card, too, and that's also bad!)

In "reality", every card has two nearly opposite meanings, depending on the direction card is oriented in compared to the dealer (right-side-up, or inverted), and every card can have a bad (or even creepy) meaning, depending on this orientation!

Number Name Meaning Inverted Story-telling
None (0 or 22) The Fool Innocence; a fresh start; open to growth and wisdom. A fool, clown, joker, wastrel. The Investigators; main NPC character of a backstory. A character who has done something foolish; perhaps an entertainer, or perhaps an innocent child.
1 The Magician Inspiration, action, creation. Aggression, ego, abuse of power. Inventor, Artist, Wizard, Sorcerer, Cult Leader; forbidden knowledge or unlawful action; meeting a magical mentor.
2 The High Priestess Intuition, inner wisdom, dreams, patience, occult wisdom. Passivity, weakness, indecision, sensitivity, fear. Research; Dreaming; discovery of hidden things. An occultist, or someone who lives by intuition and inner wisdom.
3 The Empress Love, mercy, growth, birth, nurturing and maternity. Greed, envy, jealousy, laziness. Emotions, the senses, the elements, the material world, the surface of the story. A maternal character, or perhaps a mother of monsters.
4 The Emperor Civilization, law and order, stability and security. Despotism, lack of imagination and fantasy, rigidity. Rational thought, structure, bringing order out of chaos. A lawman or scientist, a seeker of truth.
5 The Hierophant Religion, faith, search for hidden truth, wisdom and knowledge. Intolerance, esoteric nonsense, dogmatism. Conventional wisdom, religion, and authority. Wise counsel from an expert. An expert or scholar, especially a conventionally religious or conservative expert or authority.
6 The Lovers Love, unity, creation of life, trust, optimism, commitment. Repression of self and instinct, surrender of autonomy, loss of reason. Someone who has chosen to surrender individuality and ego and trust, join, and follow someone or something, not necessarily someone/something trustworthy. A time for difficult/dangerous choices regarding who and what to trust or follow; obedience and community; disobedience or disregard for law and authority. May perhaps refer to actual lovers, may also describe cultists, or more innocent admirers or followers.
7 The Chariot Progress, conquest, courage, will, victory. Megalomania, insensitivity, blindly running against walls. Call or preparation for action. Perhaps someone who is acting strongly and willfully, maybe even rashly. A rising star, a "mover and shaker".
8 Justice (Adjustment) Fairness, justice, cause and effect, balance and equilibrium, responsibility. Lack of accountability, unfair treatment, dishonesty, imbalance, bias, self-righteousness. Consequences and accountability for action, moral choice, restoration of fairness and balance. Someone in a position of responsibility, perhaps of guilt; someone (or something) maintaining balance, or causing an imbalance.
9 The Hermit Soul-searching, introspection, solitude, withdrawal from society, meditation, self-reflection. Misfit, exile, isolation, depression, loneliness. Self-examinaton; a crisis of will, abandoning the comfort and support of conventional society, turning inward for guidance and order. Perhaps a loner, misfit, exile, or other character who acts alone, perhaps (but not necessarily) by choice.
10 Wheel of Fortune Opportunity, luck, destiny, winning, chance, changing fortune. Mishap, unforeseen setback, bad luck, misfortune, disappointment A change of fortune; the dominance of fate; repayment of karma; setbacks against progress, or fortuitous clearing of obstacles. Someone who has benefited (or suffered) from luck, or depends on it; someone who has taken (or needs to take) a chance.
9 Strength (Fortitude) Triumphant conclusion to a major problem/obstacle. Hedonism, self-doubt, lacking courage, lack of self-control, vanity. A call for courage and strength; resting; recharging of energy; regrouping of resources and forces. Someone who depends on or lives by brute strength, or by stubborn force of will, confidence or personality to actively make things happen.
12 The Hanged Man Sacrifice, letting go, breaking old patterns, circumspection, suspension, metamorphosis. Missing an opportunity, inability to move or change, loss of perspective. Mythos rituals; the cross-roads; a self-sacrifice before rebirth; a reversal of fortunes; a revelation of great truth. Someone who has sacrificed greatly to achieve a goal, perhaps a cultist, perhaps an Investigator....
13 Death Endings, profound change, letting go of attachments, failure, illness, mortality. Unawareness, resistance to change, delayed endings, lingering illness, depression. Dramatic change of personality or life; madness and literal death; transformation, liberation, rebirth; the end of an Era. Someone or something (such as an idea) that has died, literally or figuratively, or which needs to die before change can be enacted.
14 Temperance Balance, moderation, harmony, alchemy, divine intervention. Disharmony, imbalance, onset of illness, impatience. A new perspective, a regained integrity; building or obtaining the instruments, tools, or battle plans needed to achieve victory. Perhaps a temperate character, acting in a sober, balanced, and moderate manner; perhaps also an intemperate character, such as a fanatic, maniac or victim of mental illness....
15 The Devil Freedom from restraint; independence, willfulness. Temptation, lack of restraint/morality/ethics, unhealthy relationships, enslavement, materialism, bondage, fear, entrapment. Facing the power and freedom of Wizards, Sorcerers, Monsters, and Dreamers; the freedom from responsibility and autonomy of Human Cultists; the standard operating procedures for Nyarlathotep and for arch-villains; resisting or giving in to temptation, fear, or other weakness. Perhaps a character who is being tempted or has yielded to temptation.
16 The Tower Unexpected change, renovation, destruction of the obsolete, harmful, obstructive. Catastrophe, blind destruction. Exhaustion; revelation or illumination; a great or terrible shock or change; destruction, perhaps for both better and worse; victory and self-annihilation. Perhaps a destructive force, someone or something that has been destroyed, or which should be destroyed.
17 The Star Hope, opportunity, spirituality, health, astronomy, inspiration. Despair, missed opportunities, disappointments, illness. Magic; hope; inspiration; a respite from what has come before. Perhaps a character who lives by hope and optimism, or who has fallen into despair and pessimism; or, someone who has been touched by glamour, celebrity, or figurative "magic", maybe another kind of "star".
18 The Moon Deception, difficulty, insecurity, mental confusion, hidden things, fear. Release of fear, insomnia, unusual dreams, mysteries unveiled. Dreaming; a crisis of faith; the danger of getting lost in fantasy or self-delusion; continuing the work of transcending one's self/ego. Someone who has been deceived or who lives by deception; one who lives in fear; one who lives in or by mystery, or by unveiling mysteries and uncovering secrets. Dreamers and fantasists; detectives; occultists.
19 The Sun Joy, enlightment, material happiness, success, vitality. False impressions, lack of clarity, low vitality, sadness. Renewal, maturity, fulfilment, celebration; preparation for the attainment of enlightenment. Someone who is joyful and prosperous, or perhaps someone who has been saddened by a loss. Perhaps hobos and dilettantes.
20 Judgement (The Aeon) Decision making, transition, renewal, redemption, awakening, reincarnation. Stagnation, self-doubt, poor logic, poor or hasty judgement. Success; rebirth; completion of a rite of passage, metamorphosis, maturity; cleansing. A judge, or someone/something that has been judged, or should face judgement (evaluation, appraisal, reexamination, etc.)
21 The World Successful conclusions, possibilities, fulfillment, achievement. Delayed success, lack of completion, stagnation, failed plans. Attainment of enlightenment, perfection, wholeness, ecstasy. Someone who has achieved a great success, or a terrible failure, or perhaps both.

For example:

  • The Great Garibaldi: "I think we're stuck - I shall consult my Tarot deck, for answers! Did the Butler do it?"
  • Keeper: It seems not... the cards suggest that the Butler is innocent.
  • The Great Garibaldi: "Oh...."
  • Keeper: (Noting that the party has been taking a cult leader's word on everything so far without questioning him, and missing a hidden truth as a result....) "Also, you've drawn 'The Lovers', inverted. This card suggests that someone has surrendered their autonomy and independence, against better judgement. Perhaps you know someone who has been acting on bad advice, or have joined forces with someone who is untrustworthy?"
  • The Great Garibaldi: "Hmmm... OH! Oh no - DOCTOR SINISTER! I should have known we couldn't trust a guy named 'Sinister'!"
  • Keeper: "That might explain the 'Magician' card. (Recalling from the scenario's timeline that the investigators will soon find out about a nasty death and probably choose to investigate the scene of that crime anyway, sees a way to add some drama...) "There's something else: according to the cards, someone close to you is in terrible danger - 'The Hierophant' - someone religious, a man of faith, perhaps?"
  • The Great Garibaldi: "Quick - back to the church: I think Father Flannigan is in trouble!"