This is the third 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.
Nyx here today!
This series on worldbuilding for Divination is mostly coming from Matthew, because the setting mostly comes from Matthew. But I wanted to break in and add a few thoughts about why I asked him to write these posts in the first place, and why I believe it’s not (totally) biased to say that this thing we’ve developed may be the single most genuine and complete fusing of tarot and tabletop roleplaying games that exists today.
In the first couple posts, Matthew has touched on how we’ve broken a traditional 78-card tarot deck up into smaller sub-decks that serve various mechanical and narrative roles. Eight of the major arcana form the basis of our character classes or playbooks. Court cards define NPCs. And the aces through tens become our d20.
That last piece was an early lodestar that has guided development of this game. Matthew said to me once that he envisioned a game where flipping a card was just as satisfying as rolling a d20, and that stuck in my developer’s brain. It became the measure against which every new mechanic was held—and if it didn’t meet that standard, it didn’t make the cut.
That’s one big thing that sets Divination apart from so many other TTRPGs that use tarot cards. The cards aren’t just a tool for narrative generation to us; pips on a card resolve moments of uncertainty as definitively as pips on a die.
(Side note from the Department of Another Post for Another Day: our deck-as-d20 doesn’t JUST consider the pips on pip cards, and that’s why we insist on using an RWS deck with its fully-illustrated minors, versus a Marseille or other deck with pips and nothing more. But I digress!)
As Matthew alluded to in his last post, there were fourteen cards that didn’t really have a place yet in our game. We experimented with using them in cool ways, inserting them into the deck and triggering wild events when they came up. But it didn’t hold up, in my mind, to our standard of measure. Flipping these particular cards was too undefined, too inconsistent, to be as satisfying as the roll of a d20 for either the player or the Diviner.
Until Matthew hit on the Road/Source pairings.
Now at this point, you might be wondering how any of this relates to the title of this post, This game will teach you tarot. But here’s the magic of what I think Matthew discovered when he hit on these pairs: he not only uncovered an exhilarating setting that became the basis of some of some truly unique worldbuilding; he also codified those remaining fourteen cards into the game in a way that will write these cards’ meanings onto your soul as you play.
There are already nuggets of tarot woven throughout the mechanics. After using our twelve Hero Skills for a single session, you’ll start to understand that the suit of Cups is about our desire for community while Pentacles talks about our usefulness to the world and our place within it. Thinking about the behavior of NPCs—your character’s best friend signified by the Page of Pentacles, for example—will teach you about court cards using memorable, tangible personas.
At one point in your life (even if it was very long ago), you didn’t know what an orc or a drow was. You might have closed that knowledge gap by reading and studying—but more likely, you absorbed a lot of the information by simply playing.
This game will do the same for you with tarot, and not just in the mechanics. It’ll happen as you explore the setting, too, because the setting is tarot.
And not only is the setting tarot, but I think Matthew’s voice is a really valuable addition to our collective understanding of tarot. The way he paired these cards is not anything I’ve seen elsewhere.
And I’ve read a lot of elsewhere.
When I came into this project Matthew was the tarot expert, and I’d never picked up a deck in my life. To catch up, I devoured books like 78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack, Modern Tarot by Michelle Tea, Holistic Tarot by Benebell Wen, and more.
Rachel Pollack in particular (a luminary tarot voice we sadly lost in 2023) talks quite a bit about card relationships based on numerology and the ordering of the major arcana. Her work is some of the most extensive I’ve seen that might establish how one would consider pairing these cards—and yet, when Matthew revealed his Road/Source pairings to me, they seemed to come from a completely different place.
When I asked him to start unpacking for me how he’d decided on his pairs, I found myself devouring the connections he was making. Understanding cards for the first time that had remained opaque to me for years. Remembering meanings I’d needed to look up every time, and finding new ones I hadn’t even seen.
Those cards became so much richer to me.
And that’s why I asked Matthew to write this series. It’s important to us that gamers see how approachable the tarot is throughout our game, and it’s equally important that tarot practitioners see how deep the tarot is throughout our game.
Matthew will be back to do just that with his next post on The Road of Two Lands!
>> Read the next post in this series: The Road of Two Lands
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 (this post)
- 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