From Nyx: At one point in the early days of Divination’s development, the game was going to be setting-agnostic. The goal was that you could use any RWS tarot deck and our ruleset to run a game in any genre, perhaps even inspired by the style of the deck itself.
We realized pretty quickly, though, that not only would people want a setting…but that we actually already had one. Tarot is the setting. Matthew’s view of the world and what tarot has to say about it already was a setting, and a universe, and the groundwork for countless stories.
Through a series of developer posts from Matthew over the next few weeks, he’s going to invite you into his mind, and into that world. This is the first post in that series, and you can find the entire series linked at the bottom of each entry.
The truth is, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t making a tarot RPG. It seems like I always have been, pretty much as long I’ve been GM’ing games and telling stories.
When I found the tarot, I was an angsty teen in the 90s, looking for spooky things in spooky places. I was drawn to stuff that felt like magic. I was drawn to stuff that felt like it hinted at a secret in the world, a truth that there was more going on than just work, earn, die.
When I found tarot, I found a secret like that. Here was a pictorial almanac of life’s lessons, experiences, desires, and trials. Here were its personality types, and here were the forces that seem to just come from the world, from out of nowhere.
The tarot seemed almost magically complete to me. I’m not sure it is really, but I’m also not sure I understand the meaning in those 78 cards deeply enough to know. Its language of pictures suggests that every time a new set is designed, drawn, and printed, the depth of each archetype grows. Each new vision of the Fool gives more meaning to all versions of the Fool.
With the draw of a tarot card it became easy to see desires, motives, and demands, which let me make richer, more interesting NPCs. Tarot offered personality types in the court cards, which let me think about the characters I’d create, and give myself rules on how I wanted to roleplay them differently than myself.
So all of that led to Divination, obviously. But in a way, when I sat down to really develop Divination’s Esoteric setting, it reminded me that this was how I always used to use tarot in gaming: as inspiration.
Tarot inspired and defined the subtle, shifting, mysterious world I’ve always wanted to discover beneath our own: the Esoteric world. And this became the world, the setting, of Divination. It’s the synthesis of twenty-five years of tarot inspiration. It has flavors from the hundreds of games I’ve written over the years, with NPCs, enemies, and powers I’ve used and gotten reactions from, out of close friends and total strangers.
At the heart of the Esoteric world is the Hero’s experience as an Artist, an agent of pure, mystical change. Every Artist is on a path, of sorts—a Road, in the language of the game—that leads to both power and risk. There are seven paths, and they lead to different ways to change reality, and the consequences for doing so.
Each of these Roads comes from the tarot in ways that would have felt familiar to a teenage me, drawing dungeons and rolling stats. The Road of Strength, The Road of Justice, the Road of Death. These were ideas I would have loved as a dreamy kid, looking for big magic in a deck of cards.
So what I’m saying is: I made the world I’ve always been making, the one I want to fantasize about more than any other—this one, with more secrets. Come along over the next few weeks as I introduce you to that world.
>> Read the next post in this series: The Roads and Sources
Find the rest of the series here:
- Entry 1: Making a tarot-defined setting (this post)
- Entry 2: The Roads and Sources
- Entry 3: This game will teach you tarot
- Entry 4: The Road of Two Lands
- Entry 5: The Unwritten Road
- Entry 6: The Shivering Road
- Entry 7: The Crooked Road
- Entry 8: The Garden Road
- Entry 9: The Road of Scale and Blade
- Entry 10: The Road of the Infinite Loop
- Entry 11: Itinerant Artists
- Entry 12: The Esoteric Renaissance