Archive for June, 2011

So you’re going to need a deck of cards to play. (Well, really, two: one for the referee, and another for the players.) While the rules do provide a translation from Tarot to standard playing cards for the Minors in order to conduct task resolution, the most immersive experience obviously comes from using a full-sized actual Tarot deck to play. From character creation forward, players are asked to interact with the symbols present on the face of various cards; that’s complicated enough, but it bears mentioning that not all decks are the same.

There will necessarily be differing opinions on the importance of various visual cues in any given illustration on the face of a Tarot card: symbols are at once a code for shorthand communication and intensely personal. (Show two people a rose, and one may think of romance while the other recalls a funeral.) Thus, because House of Cards leaves players the actual task of assigning meaning to drawn cards, it’s quite possible to have a wide array of possible correspondences listed on a Bearer’s character sheet. As long as a player can make a reasonable case to the referee or other players to justify that correspondence, no other requirements need be met. One should, however, think on correspondences with an eye toward utility, as a too-narrow list hobbles your character’s magic, even as the referee should consider whether any of the noted correspondences are too broad and subject to abuse.

It also bears mentioning that, given the proliferation of Tarot decks on the market, it’s possible that one or more players may have their own set, and that the illustrations might deviate significantly from what might be considered the “baseline” sets, either the Rider-Waite deck or the Tarot de Marseille. While House of Cards is written with the assumption that these widely-available and familiar decks are the one most likely to appear at your table, they are not necessarily the only ones useful for or even endorsed by the game. During the writing process, I’ve drawn inspiration from the Paulina Tarot by Paulina Cassidy or Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s Shadowscapes Tarot. Both incorporate novel twists on existing symbology from the Rider-Waite and other familiar decks, but with more evocative and detailed artwork that adds in cues of personal significance to the artists.

Be aware, also, that some decks alter their Major Arcana or their suits for different purposes. This may even mean that non-standard Archetypes appear in your Regalia. As the sage said, “Don’t panic.” As long as your group has a consensus of what to expect from these rogue cosmic forces, their appropriate correspondences, and their Greater Powers, feel free to explore the possibilities.


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Players in House of Cards play Bearers, humans who have attracted the auspices of one of the cosmic Archetypes. All of the Major Arcana of the Tarot have known Bearers… except for one.

One of the great mysteries of the setting is that the twenty-first Arcanum, The World, has gone missing. Sometime around the beginning of the 20th Century, the last known Bearer disappeared, and none has stepped forward as the inheritor of the mantle since then. All attempts at investigating this conundrum, from exhaustive research to divination magic, have failed utterly.

The referee’s section of the rulebook posits two possible alternate explanations for this puzzling situation and others, but House of Cards does not provide definitive, exclusive answers to such questions. House of Cards is about dreams, and dreams are far more often cryptic than expository. Groups are encouraged to explore these mysteries and come up with their own fascinating twists on these matters, either by consensus or organically through the experience of play.

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Gen Con 2011

If you follow the Twitter feed, you already know that I’ll be at Gen Con this year (and if you don’t follow it, now’s the time to start!)

There are no official House of Cards events on the program, but I’ll be wandering around the show running sessions for those interested, and I’ll be at the Thursday night RPG.net event running a possible sample adventure to be included in the final book.

And if you play during Gen Con, I will include your name in the credits. That’s a promise.

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Feel free to follow @houseofcardsrpg on Twitter. I’ll be giving the 78th person to follow the feed a prize of some variety (on account of their being 78 cards in the standard Tarot deck).

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There are a number of ways I could approach introducing people to House of Cards: the teasers linked at the top of the page have been circulating for a little while, and serve as a relatively straightforward taste of what the actual product will be like, but I want to delve into the actual heart of the game for my first pontification, as well as a description of how this game is its own creature, distinct from the other role-playing games one might choose to while away their leisure time.

The first incarnation of the game’s core was written for one of RPG.net’s sporadic “design a game in a month” threads; because of the compressed time frame, not to mention my own procrastination in getting started on actual writing until about half that span had passed, the kernel was very simple, but (I thought) evocative: you draw one of the Major Arcana to determine your character’s Archetype, and all of your powers flowed from the symbolic associations one could justify as falling under that Archetype’s purview. Magic was completely free-form, without lists or even a division between Greater and Lesser Powers (which will be discussed another time).

Apart from that initial draw, there was no “character creation” as such. Players drew their initial hand of five cards from the Minor Arcana, and started the game. As is the case in the current evolution of the game, a player’s hand of cards serves multiple functions: as one would expect, one must overcome conflict by playing cards from hand in order to defeat a target number representing the difficulty of the action taken. The hand also serves as a measure of a Bearer’s well-being and energy reserves, however: wounds are represented by losing cards from hand, making them both “die rolls” and “hit points” at the same time. Cards are also expended from hand in order to utilize Powers — Lesser Powers simply requiring any card of any value to activate a fixed effect, whereas Greater Powers scaling to some extent with the value of the card.

Because cards in hand are thus a precious commodity, replenishing them becomes a driving concern. The game acknowledges this by tying the ability to redraw with acting in-character: players who behave in ways that are appropriate to their Archetype get to replace cards spent on those actions.

In theory, this economy creates a system by which being immersed in character and the game’s primary active resource are interchangeable as currency. Still, starting Bearers have small hands, and must shepherd their cards carefully, which generates tension from the meta-awareness of the disparity between a character’s vast potential to act with the limited size of the bank of energy to fuel that action.

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