Step 1: Think of a character concept. You may want to review the Archetypes, below, for inspiration. Record Archetype, Mask, and Shadow.
Your character concept includes three important elements: your Archetype, your Mask, and your Shadow. An Archetype is a universal concept embodied by one of the cards of the Major Arcana. You can think of it as a “class” of characters who may have similar Aspects, roles, and foibles. However, there is generally a great deal of variability within each Archetype. Use your Archetype as an inspiration, not a straitjacket. Your Archetype grants you a particular mechanism by which you can draw cards into your Hand of Fate.
A Mask is the face that your character shows to the world, the two- or three-word descriptor that other people might use when referencing her. It might include her day job, her status, a significant personality trait or bit of history, anything appropriately evocative. “Dedicated Student,” “Battle-scarred Veteran,” “Romantic Beat Cop” and “Deadbeat Parent” are all examples of Masks. A list of possible Masks is included under each Archetype. Your Mask also functions as an Aspect and can be invoked, compelled, or tagged.
A Shadow is the part of your character that he most tries to repress. It’s the part he doesn’t want to look at, the part that keeps him from achieving his goals, and the part that comes up again and again to get him into trouble. The Shadow should be darker than other “bad” Aspects and should represent something that your character will struggle to suppress…or to overcome. “Afraid of the Real World,” “Love to Kill,” “Disillusioned,” and “Alcoholic” are examples of Shadows. A list of possible Shadows is included under each Archetype. The Shadow functions as an Aspect, with a twist: it can never be invoked to help you, only compelled or tagged to make life more complicated (or interesting) for you.
Example: Jen is making a new character to play in Sierra’s Arcana game. She already knows that she wants to play a strong female character with a tragic past, and after glancing through the Archetypes she decides to go with the Death Archetype and writes it on her character sheet. After a moment’s additional thought, she decides that her character will be a widowed noblewoman. She writes “Widowed Noblewoman” down as her Mask. Finally, Jen considers what kind of Shadow might be appropriate for a lady whose husband is dead…and whose husband was perhaps killed. Though she has yet to figure out the details, she decides “Thirst for Revenge” sounds about right for her Shadow, and records it.
Step 2: Decide on your character’s name and appearance.
This is subjective, but not trivial! The GM and other players are going to be calling you by your character’s name, so you’d better make it one that you can live with. Also, your description of your character’s appearance says a lot about her. It determines how the other characters and NPCs will likely respond to her. Write down your character’s name and appearance; you’ll announce them following your reading, below.
Example: Jen hasn’t come up with a name yet, but she writes a description of her character as short, petite, with long brown hair and green eyes. A name comes to mind and she writes it down: Lady Catherine Dupont.
Step 3: Perform a tarot reading with your new hero as the subject and record four Aspects.
After you have drawn all of your cards, pass the rest to the next player. Use a single deck, and return all the cards to it only after all character readings have been drawn, in order to promote diversity in the group. Note on the character sheet the position and orientation of each card.
Past: This represents a defining force in your history, probably some event that led you to the current situation.
Present: This represents your current situation, for good or for ill.
Future: This represents your expectations, something anticipated or dreaded.
Gift: This represents a force working to help you. It could be an ally, an Aspect of the environment, or some special ability or personality trait.
Curse: This represents a force working to hinder you. It could be an enemy, an Aspect of the environment, or some particular vulnerability or vice.
Destiny: This represents an unresolved issue in your life, something that must be decided before you can be at peace.
As with any other reading, this is just to get creative ideas flowing. The reading is scaffolding on which to build ideas, not a straitjacket to confine them. Above all, don’t let the reading drive you to make a hero you know you won’t enjoy playing. You don’t need to show anyone what cards appeared in your reading, so you can freely interpret them however you like, ignoring or altering them as you see fit. However, it can be an interesting creative challenge to make all of the cards work together as laid, and this can lead you in directions you might not otherwise go.
Based on your interpretation of the reading, write some notes about your history, your ambitions for the future, and how you intend to achieve those ambitions. Make sure to include how you became involved in the group’s mission. Finally, record four Aspects based on your notes about your character’s background. They may or may not be based on the six card positions in the reading.
Step 4: Determine your character’s statistics. A character has ten statistics, as stated earlier. Those ten statistics again (and their relevant suits) are:
There are three ways to determine your statistics: priority, random draw, and random draw with balancing.
Priority: This is the most straightforward approach and leads to the most balanced characters, but some players may rue the lack of variability. Assign the following ranks to your ten statistics:
1 at Good (10)
2 at Fair (8)
4 at Average (6)
2 at Mediocre (4)
1 at Poor (2)
Random draw: This approach can lead to wild variation among characters, with some characters’ stats outshining others’. It is slightly biased toward higher stats. Draw 10 cards from your Fate Deck. Assign one card to each statistic. The value and suit of the card determine the rank of the statistic. Values relate to ranks and numbers as follows:
|Card Value||Rank (Number)|
Cards with suits that match the suit of the statistic to which they are assigned confer their full rank and number as noted above. Cards with suits that do not match the suit of the statistic to which they are assigned subtract one from their number, and so confer one rank less than their value would imply. Thus, an 8 of Coins assigned to a Strength statistic (associated with the suit of Coins) would confer a rank of Average (6) to that statistic. However, an 8 of Coins assigned to an Agility statistic (associated with the suit of Swords) would confer a rank of Mediocre (5) to that statistic – the original associated number, 6, minus 1 for the non-matching suit.
Two cards have special rules in the draw. If you draw the Fool card, it confers a rank of Poor (2) to its assigned statistic (regardless of statistic suit), but grants your character a free Luck Point (see Powers, below). If you draw the World card, it confers a rank of Good (11) to its assigned statistic (regardless of statistic suit), but your character receives a weakness of Unlucky (1) without receiving an Edge in compensation.
If your character has no statistics ranked above Mediocre, or if your character has no statistics ranked below Mediocre, call a mulligan, re-shuffle, and try again. There’s less fun to be had in playing a wimp or a superhero. If you’re unhappy with your statistics, ask your GM if it’s alright to try again.
Random draw with balancing: This approach allows for variation among characters, but ensures that all characters have at least one strength and one weakness and limits the power of superhuman characters. Draw and assign cards to your statistics, as above. After all statistics have been assigned, however, characters are balanced.
If your character does not have a statistic ranked Poor (2 or 3), change the rank of one of your existing statistics to Poor (2). If you have two or more stats ranked Good (10), you must select one of them as the statistic that you will change to Poor (2). A statistic ranked Good (11) as a result of the World card does not count toward this limit.
If your character does not have a statistic ranked Good (10 or 11), change the rank of one of your existing statistics to Good (10). You may not change a Poor (2) statistic conferred by the Fool card. At the end of balancing, you must have at least one Good and at least one Poor statistic.
Step 5: Determine [Power], powers and Edges.
A character’s [Power] statistic will vary depending whether you want to play a magus, a savant, a priest, a warrior or some other character type. Based on your character concept, discuss options for powers with your GM and pick an appropriate [Power] statistic.
You may be asking, what if I want to play a magus-warrior? Or a priest-savant? There are several ways to handle characters who want to combine powers. First, most powers can be folded under the penumbra of another statistic. Courage could be covered by Willpower and Expression, while Science could be represented by Knowledge and Faith could be covered by Understanding. Thus a player could pick a primary [Power] statistic and let the other stats cover the other parts of his character concept.
Second, the GM could allow characters to split their Power skill. For example, suppose the magus-warrior’s player assigned a rank of Good (10) to [Power] during character creation. He could then split that into Mediocre (4) Magic and Average (6) Courage, or any other combination of ranks whose numbers add up to 10.
Finally, you could allow characters to purchase ranks of a second [Power] statistic on a one-for-one basis, either by reducing one of their existing statistics or by trading in Edges. For example, a priest-savant could reduce his Average (6) Strength by 3 to Mediocre (3) Strength in order to purchase a Mediocre (3) Science statistic. Or he could trade in 3 points of Edges in order to purchase that same Mediocre (3) Science statistic.
Once you have your [Power] statistic set, you may spend 4 points to buy Edges or powers. For example, you could buy 2 words of power, a Research (1) Edge, and a Channeling (1) Edge as a magus, 4 fields of study as a savant, or Lockpicking (1), Sneaking (1), and Backstab (2) Edges as a thief. Anything totaling up to 4 points.
Step 6: Perform single card readings to establish character relationships and pick Aspects.
This step begins with the player to the GM’s left. That player shuffles his Fate Deck, turns to the person to his left, and flips the top card of his deck. This card represents the event or circumstance that brought his character together with the character of the player to his left. Both players contribute to the interpretation of the card, though the person from whose deck the card was flipped has final say in its interpretation. The characters (and players) should agree on the event that happened, but do not have to agree in their interpretation of the event! The players may roleplay their characters and involve other players or the GM.
Afterwards, each player records one Aspect for his character relevant to the reading. Both players write the name of the other player’s character down as an initial relationship, with a value of (1). (For exceptional roleplaying, the GM may award a value of (2), at her discretion.) Play then passes to the left, with the next player turning to her left, flipping a card, and repeating the process. Each character will thus have two Aspects from this step (bringing their total number of Aspects up to 6) and two relationships with other PC’s.