Tarot readings can be used to generate ideas for characters and adventures. A reading, whatever the subject, is performed by drawing and placing six cards in a pyramid-like arrangement, with the bottom row, from left to right, representing Past, Present, and Future; the middle row, from left to right, indicating Gift and Curse; and the top row, consisting of a single card turned horizontally, representing Destiny.
Past: The card in this position represents the past: something that has already transpired but with effects that are still being felt.
Present: The card in this position represents the present: something that is taking place right now.
Future: The card in this position represents the future: something that is anticipated in the future. Note that this is not prophetic; it represents something which is expected, not something which is fated, and the adventure could unfold much differently.
Gift: The card in this position represents a positive force: something that is exerting favorable influence. Note that “favorable” is from the perspective of the reading’s subject. If the subject of the reading is a psychopath, then this “gift” likely represents something evil.
Curse: The card in this position represents a negative force: something that is exerting influence which is not favorable. Note again that “favorable” is a matter of the subject’s perspective.
Destiny: The card in this position represents something hanging in the balance. Note that it is oriented horizontally rather than vertically. The meaning of this card is ambiguous, and based upon the differences between the card’s upright and inverted meanings. The resolution of this ambiguity is the heart of the subject’s destiny. The interpretation of the destiny card is generally expressed as a question that may be resolved by the outcome of the adventure.
Once all of the cards have been placed, the reader interprets them. The interpretation of each card is a product of a number of factors:
• The subject of the reading
• The card itself
• Its orientation
• Its position in the reading layout
• Interpretation of the other cards
The card’s meaning can be derived from anything about the card. Often it will be the card’s association, but sometimes its title is more applicable, causing a more literal interpretation. The card’s illustration might inspire the interpretation, or even the suit or value. It really doesn’t matter.
With the exception of the destiny position, each card will have either an upright or inverted orientation. An inverted card in some way represents the opposite of what it would mean if it were upright. This opposite meaning is not fixed for each card, and is also subject to the reader’s interpretation. The reader may interpret the cards in whatever order desired, as inspiration strikes. A quick holistic look at the reading will often reveal some cards in positions that seem to perfectly fit the situation, and the interpretation will proceed naturally from there. Sometimes a card just won’t make sense in the context of the others. This is fine: the reader should feel free to skew its interpretation as much as necessary, or ignore it altogether.
This is not a moral issue, as there are no right or wrong answers. The important thing is the stimulation of creative ideas. The cards are a catalyst: the reader is really the one doing the work, and may take whatever liberties are necessary to come up with a useful interpretation. That having been said, sometimes it is the exercise of explaining that one errant card which provides the most inspiration, and results in a reading that is creative and interesting: don’t give up too easily.
Single-Card Readings: Single-card readings provide quick inspiration during the course of play, such as “Is there a doctor in the house?” or “Did I bring my sword?” or “What do the players see when they burst into the apartment that I didn’t expect them to enter?” They help provide answers to questions that depend upon luck or fate rather than upon any character’s ability. A single-card reading is performed by flipping the top card of the deck. For a simple yes-or-no question, an upright card means yes and an inverted card means no. For a “how many” question, use the number on the card, multiplied or divided by some factor to give the desired scale. For a “what happens” question, interpret the card as if it were one card in a full reading, as above. Players can play fortune cards to impose single-card readings upon the game, allowing them to act as the narrator for a moment.