Monday, August 22, 2011

Deriving Characters for Gaming from the Symbols & Values of the Standard Card Deck



There's something about card decks with their suites and numbers and the potential for interpreting their symbolism in archetypal ways.  Jung, famously, was fascinated by the Tarot, as was Christian novelist Charles Williams (see the novel The Greater Trumps).  Many gamers have been likewise captivated.  The first cards that appeared in D&D, to my knowledge, were the magical Deck of Many Things (in game).  Later, cards appeared both in game and with physical decks at the table.  The Ravenloft campaign setting had the Tarot-inspired Tarokka deck to do character readings, and Paizo has followed up with the Harrow deck for the Golarion setting.  (I can testify from experience that this deck makes a very fun addition to role-playing.  It's available for sale here.)

A Harrow Card
But even a standard deck of playing cards holds an attraction for me: especially the face cards.  The idea that a character's future might be foretold by cards is not far from the idea that cards could predetermine who a character will be.  The archetypal nature of the character classes themselves suggested a link with card symbolism.  Reflecting on the numerical needs of character generation and the suggestive possibilities of the suites and faces, I recently created rules for using the standard deck (including the two Jokers or whatever your deck calls them) to create NPCs.  After tweaking with the rules to get the method up to optimum speed and written with maximum clarity, I created scores and scores of NPCs.  It seems fun and useful to me, as well as drawing on the mystique of the cards.  What do the cards have in store for your game?  Play around with my download and find out.  Feedback welcome.


Note: The method was made with my own evolving house rules of classical D&D in mind, so primary attributes will not be what you are used to.  I assigned one of the four classic races to each suite and one of the four classic classes to each suite, and each race and each class have their own primary attributes (except human which gets the free choice of a racial primary attribute and halfling and thief which both share dexterity.)

I hope that these may be of some interest to others, so it's time to step away from hording gaming material other than flavor away and risking a little sharing.  Though it's late, from where I am, I can still wish you a merry Mythopoeic Monday.

3 comments:

  1. No, Joana. But I love Gorey, so this is very cool. So it's a small deck, his alternative to the Tarot? It's undoubtedly hilarious, and sounds like you could find a way to use it to make terrible things happen to a character. Do you have it? Have you used it?

    I don't have a Tarot, but once I get once, I will start trying to figure out things you could do with it in game. Thanks for making me feel better about this post, by the way. Apparently the great majority read it and said, "Nah, we're not even going to give that free download you worked on a look." Maybe it would help if I posted some of the characters thus generated?

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  2. I have a pack I originally intended to use to run Shackled City, with players drawing cards during character generation: kind of like getting a random trait. I never started that campaign so I never got to try it. Still have the pack, though.

    Joana

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