More Thoughts On Tarot

Imagine, if you will, that you have a dungeon to populate, in accordance with the principles and precepts of the same. Perhaps the donkey work of designing your layout has been done for you, by a utility such as this one, and you have simply to Jaquay the physical layout in order to escape from “twisty turny corridors that still only go to one place” syndrome. Imagine now, if you will, that you’re in something of a hurry and you want to populate this dungeon, only you have no idea what to put in it and that your imagination needs a stimulus or kick-start. Imagine that you turn to our old friend the Tarot!

Now, what follows is not intended to do all the design work for you – that’s not what I’m about. The following is a system by which cards can be dealt and symbolically interpreted to inspire the design process of exactly what goes where.  It’s built to create a Beed0-style dungeon where not every room has a monster or treasure or a trap or a person in it, although every room will potentially have one of these things.

Sample tarot cards via

Separate out the Major from the Minor Arcana.  Start at an entrance to your dungeon. You have more than one, right? Good.  Flip a Minor Arcana card.  This will give you the trigger for the first thing that happens in the dungeon.  Move along until the next interesting thing on your map; the first corridor, the first door, the first room, the first cave, whatever.  Flip another Minor Arcana card.  Keep going.  When you flip a face card, flip a Major Arcana card along with it.  What do all these flips correspond to?  Observe.

Swords(combat encounter) Pentacles(traps, locks, secrets) Cups(treasure!) Wands(social encounter)
Two to Ten Either a single creature of level equal to face value, or a number of level 0 creatures equal to face value. Nothing An amount of currency equal to face value. Flip again to determine what’s guarding, protecting or currently in possession of it. Nothing
Ace Giant vermin, a half-tamed riding beast, or some weird-ass ‘a wizard did it’ monster. A hard-to-pick lock that will take time, noise and specialist equipment to deal with. Something not magical, but valuable; an objet d’art, a historical artifact, an expensive-looking trinket. A badass of the first order whose goals do not correspond with the PCs’, but who is not immediately hostile.
Page/Jack/Knave A sneaky monster that’s hiding near a social encounter, waiting for the opportune moment… An alarm trap that will alert the nearest combat encounter if triggered. Something broken but potentially valuable if restored back in Civilisation. A sneaky blighter who has valuable information about the dungeon but will not part with it for free.
Knight A competent fighting monster. Co-opt another encounter to be its minions or allies. A trap that will harm if triggered, but is not lethal (in disrepair, perhaps?) A magic weapon of some description. A noble ally who will proceed alongside the party and help them on their quest.
Queen A spellcasting monster without allies, although it may be able to summon them or escape the PCs. A secret door leading to a nearby face card. A magic potion of some description. A mysterious ‘other’ of some sort, resident in the dungeon and apparently not on anybody’s ‘side’.
King A boss monster! Evil wizard, dragon, vampire, something like that. A trap that will kill if triggered. Save vs. Death territory! A magic garment or talisman of some description. The leader of an expedition. Attach to a combat encounter, which will now react neutrally to the PCs.

The Major Arcana, as before, reveal something about the face card they’re flipped for.  Again, it helps if you have some familiarity with the symbolic values of the cards, but you could just play off the name and see what you can come up with.  A few examples, taking the volcano-dungeon setting from my previous post as a basis:

  • Queen of Swords/The Star – awakening to awareness of the larger patterns, violation, force directed by will, astral flame, spirits – a lizardfolk priest-shaman who, considering the incursions into his people’s domain by various outside agencies, is now trying to rouse the spirits of the volcano to dispatch the interlopers.  Fire-themed encounter in which the lava is perhaps given shape and form and sent out to pummel her enemies (fire/earth elemental minions).
  • Queen of Cups/The Lovers – passions, containment, motivation, choice, the road of trials – a potion that chills the blood and creates a sense of containment and level-headedness in the drinker, giving them a bonus in problem-solving and a temporary immunity to emotional effects like fear spells.  Barbarians or other frenzied sorts may lose access to their rage-based abilities while the potion is in effect.  Guarded by the Four of Pentacles (nothing, so it’s a ‘seek and ye shall find’ job rather than a ‘treasure for encounter’ job).
  • Knight of Pentacles/The Devil – a gargoyle sculpture above a door that belches fire at anyone who does not share its creators’ religious perspective (maybe it belongs to that mad druid, or the dwarven doomsday cult?) and must be disarmed with a holy symbol and a prayer – or a stout blow with a hammer.  Either will be quite noisy.
  • Ace of Wands/The Chariot – a young sorcerer whose master has sent him down into the depths to perform a quest.  If he can pull it off, his apprenticeship will be over and he will go forth into the world a journeyman.  However, his quest is to destroy something that the players will want to retrieve, and he’s quite powerful (he may belong to a race with a particular aptitude for sorcery, if such a thing is available).  Blows may be come to if a compromise can’t be made.

Author: Jon

Sententious, mercurial, and British as a bilious lord. Recovering Goth, lifelong spod. Former teacher and amateur machine politician, now freelance writer and early-career researcher.

3 thoughts on “More Thoughts On Tarot”

You may now commence belching

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s