This is the fifth post in a series on the creation of Divination’s setting and magical universe as defined by the tarot. The first post in the series is Making a tarot-defined setting, and you can find the entire series linked at the bottom of each entry.
The Unwritten Road (The Wheel)
Direct Source: The Star (Prediction)
Practitioners: Oracles and Players of Fate
Upright: Existential Bravery
Inversion: Existential Dread
Artists whose gift for reading time and destiny make them susceptible to losing touch with reality.
These Artists are granted gifts from the Source of the Star, which allow them to read their destinies and the destinies of those around them. They quickly learn how to manipulate luck in order to master life and make themselves rich, happy, and successful. Unfortunately, there is a cost to breaking the laws of chance: over time these Artists can become victim to themselves, or the other, significantly more deadly servants of the Unwritten Road – the Jackals. Players of Fate struggle to check themselves and remain tethered in some way to the Apparent world, lest they forget their lives and their Artistic ambitions entirely.
So—this game isn’t quite a horror game, and it isn’t quite an adventure game, but I haven’t played a game of it yet that hasn’t included both horror and adventure.
I think most games I’ve played rely on an antagonist to bring the horror. I get that. If I encounter a monster in the real world somewhere, I’m going to scream and run and die, and I’d be genuinely horrified as I went. That’s a true source of horror: facing the unfaceable as it advances on you, intent on murder.
Because we all know that, many stories go to that well and terrify you with a murderous scary something. I respect it. My favorite movies as a child were The Thing, Aliens, Predator, and Beetlejuice. Those scary somethings still capture my imagination.
But there is another horror: cosmic, existential, hopeless horror.
I think sometimes we feel it when we face the tragic and unexpected. In the face of a recent sudden death in my own life, I felt it. You feel unattached in those states of shock. Like you float, a little. What you’re floating above or through is a bit mysterious; but what’s clear is that you’re unattached. And it’s scary.
Your reality may change at any moment. In that, I can see the big horror.
That’s the promise of the Wheel of Fortune. There is an enormous machine at work, and you’re a small piece operating in your small part of it. The machine could call for you to be removed, or changed, or broken, or fixed, and it may have nothing to do with your conscious choices. You could be the subject of accident, disaster, or crisis at any moment.
It’s Fate. That scares the hell out of me.
I wanted to make Artists who could face and subvert that fear, and those that would be lost to it.
First of all, a Road based on the terrible phenomenon of time would be silent. The Unwritten Road famously only speaks to those it has already driven insane. Until then, you write your own Road using the Source of the Star and its talent of Prediction.
The Star, in tarot, is a symbol of hope, a keyword that appears several times under the entry for this card in the handbook associated with the Pixie card’s description In my copy (purchased from Borders bookstore, age 13), I underlined that word hope, and at some point, associated “purity” with it. I don’t know quite where that came from, but I see it around a lot, so I absorbed it.
Apparently I was okay with the tawdry definition of the card, because the thought that the Star is a symbol of future-thinking hope has always stuck with me.
I like the idea of making the Star an effort of seeing the future, and somehow seeing the best version of it. Isn’t that what hope is? In Divination, the magic was that you would select that best version yourself, using your Third Eye to see the future. But the more you do, the more out-of-alignment you become with your destiny. You leave your Road – leave Fate’s grip entirely – and now walk the Unwritten Road.
But what if you stumble? What if you become lost?
Under the Wheel of Fortune, there lurks the Jackal. When you have no destiny, the Wheel may reclaim you. May empty you of your past, now too hard to remember for all the ways you’ve messed with your own choices.
Did you really succeed at that last project? Or was that only one of the paths you witnessed, but chose not to walk? Did you really share that secret your friend seems to know?
It seemed to me, your ability to hold your own story straight would erode, the more hand you had in writing it.
And what would happen if you took that idea really far? If you spent years and years as the author of your own destiny? When your memory of yourself becomes a more meaningless construct than it already is—the product of choice and not happenstance?
In Divination, you become lost – you become a Jackal. You gain a new purpose: hunt any other Artist you find who also has no destiny. Jackals are driven to purify Fate by removing its worst offenders.
That feels like the other horror—the one that jumps and scares.
You can find both sides of that here as a player: you may become a Jackal, or you may become hunted by one.
A Jackal was once like you were: an Artist who can open their Third Eye. They used it to see their future and change their path until something essential inside them vanished, no longer subject to Fate, but no longer invested in the world.
That vacancy leaves room for something horrible to grow in.
The thought horrifies me, because how could I resist it? If I had the ability to change destiny and choose the best outcomes for myself, I’m sure I would. I’m only human. But doing so over and over again would certainly change that.
It makes me feel grateful to be subject to Fate, for good or for ill. When the worst comes, it’s the workings of the same machine that gives me all this time to savor the good things in life. That is so tarot.
>> Read the next post in this series: The Shivering Road
Find the rest of the series here:
- Entry 1: Making a tarot-defined setting
- 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 (this post)
- 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