Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Decks In Demon City

This is a round-up mostly for people who want more detail on the tarot rules because of the Demon City kickstarter. Straight from the current Demon City draft...

Getting Things Done

The Players' Deck, The Horror’s Deck, and Significator Cards

Now that the basics are down, it’s time to go into a little more detail about the cards.

As we’ve already said, before each adventure, after the Host has decided what the ultimate creature or creatures will be lurking behind the events in the day’s adventure, the Host creates the Horror’s Deck. The Horror’s Deck should be used by the Host in every session until the Horror that formed that particular deck is defeated. Then a new one is created for the next session.

The Horror’s Deck should include:

-A few (typically 1-4) cards specifically associated with the major horrors that will ultimately feature in the course of the adventure—even if the Horror itself may not appear in this session. For example, if the adventure includes a werewolf, the deck would likely include The Moon (18) and possibly Strength (8). The associations of cards with specific horrors is detailed in the Horrors section.

-A few cards associated with specific places or NPCs that are important in the adventure. For example, if a rich woman features prominently in the adventure, the Queen of Pentacles would appear in The Horror’s Deck, if an abandoned factory was an important location, an 8 of Cups might be in the deck. The connections of cards with specific ideas, kinds of people and kinds of places are noted on the endpapers of this book.

-Enough other cards that the deck contains at least one card worth every number one through ten. So: One card worth One (any of the four Aces—Wands, Cups, Swords, or Pentacles, or the Magician—the card marked 1 at the top), a single card worth two (two of Wands, Cups, etc or the High Priestess, the card marked 2 at the top), a single card worth 3 (3 of Wands, Cups, etc or The Empress—the card marked 3) etc all the way up through ten—so, ten cards allowing a random throw of 1-10, plus some extras. These other cards should be chosen with an eye to making them as consonant with the ideas you want to include in the adventure as possible—if indulgence, passion and drunkenness feature heavily, feature the suit of Cups prominently, if violence and pain, then feature Swords, if money and power are important, use Pentacles, if magic or creativity—Wands. Again, these meanings are detailed in the Host’s section. Note “court” cards—Pages, Knights, Queens and Kings—are worth 10.

-The Horror’s Deck won’t inclde the current Significator Cards of any PC present.

-There’s an example of how to assemble a Horrors’ Deck in the Host section.

The Players’ Deck:

… is made from most of the cards left over after making The Horror’s Deck. As noted above, it should include The Fool unless the Host has decided to put it in the Horror’s Deck, as well as 3 number cards of each value 1-10. The only other cards in the Players’ Deck should be Significator Cards—discussed in a second.

-Even if any of the PC’s Significator Cards are worth 1-10, the Players’ Deck must still include 3 of each value in addition to these cards.

When used in resolving action, The Horror’s Deck has a few kinks:

-The Horror’s Deck will often be unbalanced—a deck including the Wheel of Fortune and the Knight of Swords has at least two tens in it. This is fine—sometimes horrors have an advantage, that’s why they’re horrors.

-The deck may also include cards worth more than 10. These powerful cards are worth face value and count as Critical Successes unless someone throws a higher card.

These cards represents something especally horrific and immediate happening. A blunt and immediate “sting” showing the power of the menace at hand.

Significator Cards:

-When a major challenge is defeated, shuffle the Horror’s Deck and fan it out face down and have each player choose a card. This is their PC’s Significator Card (see below).

-It is possible to meaningfully defeat a hostile NPC without combat (for example, discovering evidence of their guilt and making it public) or meaningfully defeat a foe that isn’t a creature as such (like, say, a complex trap). In both cases, if the achievement is significant, the group should be eligible for a Significator at this point.

-If any of the PCs have a Significator when the deck is fanned out, they lose the old one and it is replaced with the new one. The Players’ Deck must be remade.

-The player notes the new Significator Card on their character sheet and the new Significator Card will be placed in the Players’ Deck next time they play.

-Each Significator has three functions…

+First, as noted above, drawing your PC’s own current Significator counts as a Critical Success if that card also would normally win the contest it’s being drawn for.

+Second, a specific PC reward associated with each card is listed on the endpapers. Once they gain a given Significator, players do not have to wait to draw this card during a throw to use the reward—they can use the reward at any time when the situation described in the reward (“Gain a throw vs Calm loss at the sight of violence or death”) could happen, or, if a specific situation is not described, at any other time it would physically be possible for that thing to occur, including Downtime (see below). Once used this way, however, it’s gone. The connection between PC and Significator Card is no more, the card is crossed off the character sheet, and it’s removed from the Players’ Deck. “Burning” a Significator takes away a PCs chance of Critical Success until the next major menace is defeated, but is often worth it since it allows a PC to seize control of a situation in the moment. And the card will be changed out after the next menace is overcome anyway.

+Third, the Significator is, in occult terms, an actal tarot card that actually was chosen randomly on behalf of the PC. Outside of any mechanical restrictions, The Significators traditional divinatory meanings can guide the player in how they’re going to play their PC, and can guide the Host in what kind of situations they might derive for them. The traditional meanings are easy to find online.

-When it’s time to switching cards, an unusued held card is gone—a PC cannot use the reward from the old card immediately just to hog both benefits.

-The Significator Cards represent chance favoring a PC, not supernatural intervention—the card cannot make something otherwise physically impossible in the game world possible.

-The Host should note down who got what Significator.

Other Uses Of the Tarot Deck:

The Host can use the cards in many other ways:

-Some foes will have specific attacks or effects that activate when a given card or combination is thrown, noted in the Horrors section.

-Cards can be used to generate random NPCs and locations during the adventure, like any other random table. Using cards from the Horror’s Deck ensures a range of results in line with the ideas the Host wants to emphasize in that adventure—like a carefully built Random Encounter Table in a dungeon game that echoes the themes of that dungeon.

-The Host can create specific events that will be triggered when a given card or combination appears in a given situation.

-Supernatural abilities allowing precognition or divination can allow a character to read the Horror’s Deck to gain insight into what is to come—depending on the precise method used, this will allow a general reading (what the cards broadly can imply) or a specific one (what the cards signify in this particular adventure) or both.

Demon City Tarot

Interpreters of the tarot always tell you two things: (1) A discoverable and apparently historically-justified meaning attaches to each card and its placement in the interpretive matrix and it took me years to figure it out, but also (2) interpreting the cards is more art than science so hey whatever. Below is a piece of what the cards mean in Demon City—which has its own uses for meaning.

There are many uses for the cards, including:

1. As throws from the Horror’s and Players’ Decks as well as rewards for PCs resulting defeating horrors (as described in the first section of the book).

2. To create fortunes or precognitive flashes (By showing a PC cards associated with the menace they are currently facing and, in some cases, telling them the significance of it.)

3. To randomly determine characteristics of Contacts or other NPCs (Each card has at least one kind of person associated with it or characteristics of a person).

4. To randomly determine buildings or locations (Each card has at least one kind of location associated with it).

5. To improvise any other situations needed during a session (Once the Host is comfortable with the meanings in their current Horror’s Deck.)

In the case of 4 and 5, you can pull multiple cards to describe something in more detail—The Hierophant and the 8 of Cups together would be a retired priest or an abandoned church.

Additional numbers are provided in parenthesis so that, if necessary, card effects can be rolled up with dice—roll D100 and reroll anything too high.

The information is provided in the order: Character. Location. (Possible other interpretation.) Significator Card reward.


(00) The Fool—A moron, but likable. A small and pale puppy. A sheer drop. A stranger will be kind to you, despite your mistakes.

(1) The Magician—A wizard or liar. A deceptive performance, before a large audience. Avoid a spell, or cast one unerringly.

(2) The High Priestess—A cagey and intuitive woman in a hat. A nurse. A religious hospital. A 12 to perceive unholy forces.

(3) The Empress—A blonde, imperious, dishy. Beauty. A bend in the river. Gain a point of Appeal if you throw a 10 exercising or give up a point of Cash on plastic surgery.

(4) The Emperor—A father, bearded. Entrenched authority. A public building in white marble. Someone will assume you’re an authority figure.

(5) The Hierophant—A religious leader. A grey church. Traditions. A 15 to drive off unholy forces.

(6) The Lovers—An erotically charged relationship. Touching. A good place for hook-ups. An existing Contact finds you irresistible—or add a new one who does, free.

(7) The Chariot—A racer or a driver. A ride, pimped. Any vehicle. A showroom. A 10 to drive well.

(8) Strength—Someone tough. A fierce animal. A place for athletes. A boxing gym. Throw an extra time (just you) when exercising during Downtime and pick the highest.

(9) The Hermit—Isolation and the perspective that comes from isolation. A desolate place. A brutalist parking garage. Led Zeppelin IV. A 10 on a Perception check while alone.

(10) The Wheel of Fortune—A gamble or gambler. A casino, a track or a card game. Cause anyone to rethrow their last throw.

(11) Justice—Someone inclined to fairness. Possibly blind. A police station, a protest, a courtroom, a place where activists meet. An 11 to hit someone who has hurt a friend.

(12) The Hanged Man—Reversal. Inversion. A contrarian or iconoclast. Punished but not punished. A place of execution. A 12 to hit a captor.

(13) Death—Someone who is old and knows it, or something. A graveyard, an ICU, a home for dying people. Double damage on an already damaged foe—won’t work on what’s already dead.

(14) Temperance—A moderate or teetotaler. A bad haircut. Wherever middle-aged couples relax. A vegan restaurant. Throw an extra time if detoxing and pick the best.

(15) The Devil—Undeniably wicked. Any place of enslavement, calculated iniquity or accumulated power. A 15 to hit an enemy, but your friend is hit, too.

(16) The Tower—One who overthrows. A building that is mazelike, high-security, or haunted. A 16 to successfully trespass.

(17) The Star—A celebrity of some kind. Someone or something uncanny, distant. A celebrated place. An alien place. Acquire renown for your work.

(18) The Moon—Someone given to passions. Dark or pale. Animals. Cause a round of panic in an enemy that is hurt or surprised.

(19) The Sun—Very young, but wise. Skin prematurely worn. Leathery. A rooftop in daylight. A greenhouse.  Illumination. A 19 to a Research check.

(20) Judgement—Someone on a panel, or a board, or any judge. A room where great decisions are made. A neutral party with power will agree to help you. 

(21) The World—A foreigner. A global perspective: Little Armenia, Little Jamaica, the airport, Chinatown. Add a free Contact overseas.

(22) Ace of Wands—A beginner, capable.  A redhead. A startup’s office. Throw an extra throw if Working/Training during Downtime and pick the highest.

(23) Two of Wands—Someone with concerns abroad. A waterfront or beach, rapidly developing. Add an extra throw during an Action round when executing a plan you made.

(24) Three of Wands—A brown-haired man. A room with blueprints.The Department of Regional Planning. Gain a point next time you add a new Knowledge-based skill.

(25) Four of Wands—A family member. Normality. A place unchanged for a very long time. Add a throw and pick the highest when visiting family during Downtime.

(26) Five of Wands—An arguer, surrounded by chaos. A fighting ring or debate hall. Lose 1 less damage than you would otherwise in a fight.

(27) Six of Wands—Someone black-haired and proud. A parade or award ceremony. Gain a throw when speaking to a crowd.

(28) Seven of Wands—A fugitive or desperate person.  A small business. A drug front. Gain a throw when facing multiple opponents.

(29) Eight of Wands—Online a lot. A hydro-electric plant. Impersonal forces. Gain a throw working with a machine.

(30) Nine of Wands—A disabled person. An exhaustive collection—archive, museum—nearly complete. Gain a throw during the Action Round after awaking from an injury.

(31) Ten of Wands—A bureaucrat, working too hard. An overburdened government or administrative service. Gain a free government Contact with a 9 in Research.

(32) Page of Wands—An apprentice or enthusiast. A grand opening. A 10 when dealing with any kind of supernatural thing for the first time.

(33) Knight of Wands—A genius in their field. A sentient spell. A place of unharnessed power. Gain 2 points of Paranormal/Occult or gain Paranormal/Occult at Knowledge+1 if you don’t already have it.

(34) Queen of Wands—Voracious, and a total babe. A black cat. A disguised witch. An excellent restaurant. Add a throw when spending Downtime reading—the benefit goes to the entire group.

(35) King of Wands—Successful and admired. A lizard. A necromancer. A source of impeccable, if flamboyant, menswear. Uncover a work of occult knowledge.

(36) Ace of Cups—Acutely sensitive. Preternaturally aware. An impressive fountain. Gain a Contact free.

(37) Two of Cups—Warm and reasonable. A mutual beneficial relationship. A kind woman’s home. An extra throw when spending Downtime with an ally, apply it to everyone.

(38) Three of Cups—Charismatic and not drunk yet. A friendly dive under a place where no-one eats. Succeed on an Appeal throw to meet a stranger.

(39) Four of Cups—Hungover and apathetic. Where people are sleeping off a party—or a bad clinic. Gain a throw vs inebriation.

(40) Five of Cups—A gaunt soul, dark of aspect. A ruin or ruined place. Gain a throw vs Calm Loss at the sight of violence or death.

(41) Six of Cups—A natural victim, paying no attention. An unsuspecting and idyllic place. A carnival. Throw an extra Downtime throw when Being Social.

(42) Seven of Cups—Someone misshapen and delusional. A district of retail luxury. A theme park or retro diner. A 17 on a Deception throw.

(43) Eight of Cups—A retiree or once who has renounced the past. An abandoned place. An 18 to escape.

(44) Nine of Cups—A jerk, smug of aspect. A vast, proud venture, long in the making. A 19 to impress someone.

(45) Ten of Cups—Someone pleased to help. Generosity. A center of LGIB or T life. Receive an unexpected gift that helps with a case.

(46) Page of Cups—A sentimental weirdo. A fondness for seafood. A pleasant wharf. If you get them drunk they’ll tell you everything.

(47) Knight of Cups—A romantic with full lips. A library without windows. A place of breaking glass. A 10 to seduce.

(48) Queen of Cups—A ginger woman with strange possessions. A psychic. An antique shop or prop house. A 10 to discover a rare object.

(49) King of Cups—A wise and wealthy man in elegant footwear. A houseboat or yacht. A 10 to persuade.

(50) Ace of Swords—A tattooed man. A decapitation strike. A busy corner in the center of the city. An 11 to a called shot.

(51) Two of Swords—Dangerously obstinate. Defensiveness. Manslaughter. Deadly ground. A 12 to defend.

(52) Three of Swords—One who complains. A bad tattoo shop. A 13 to a backstab.

(53) Four of Swords—A quiet thinker. A prepared assassin. A mausoleum. An extra throw if attempting to work through Downtime.

(54) Five of Swords—A gloating fiend. A thief and orchestrator of violence. A hub of iniquity. A 15 to commit an unjust act.

(55) Six of Swords—An exhausted traveler. A crossroads. A 15 to negotiate with hostile powers.

(56) Seven of Swords—A petty schemer. A spiteful failure. A business operated as a front. A 17 to steal from someone who likes you.

(57) Eight of Swords—The perfect victim. Kidnapped or compelled. A support group or center for the afflicted. An 18 to convince someone you are sinned against.

(58) Nine of Swords—An insomniac. Shopping from home. A guilty conscience. A bachelor pad with a hand-me-down quilt. A 9 to inflict a head wound.

(59) Ten of Swords—A soon-to-be-corpse—or a corpse. The murder card. The worst neighborhood. A 10 to afflict the already-afflicted.

(60) Page of Swords—Someone playing with fire. A gun shop with inadequate security. Learn a new weapon skill or +2 to an existing one.

(61) Knight of Swords—Quite intentionally an absolute menace. A stabber. A themed pub. A 10 in a fight.

(62) Queen of Swords—A formidable woman. A home with a high fence. A 10 to damage, don’t throw normally.

(63) King of Swords—A very dangerous man. Closed rooms where crimelords meet. A 10 to intimidate.

(64) Ace of Pentacles—Efficient and practical. A place with a strange door. A vacant lot. Establish a new business.

(65) Two of Pentacles—A juggler or a chancer. A playground or ball field. Rethrow a failed Cash check.

(66) Three of Pentacles—A team player. A cathedral or place made of stone. A 13 to a group effort, devoid of violence.

(67) Four of Pentacles—An absurd miser. A roof with a fine view. Greed revealed as only greed. A 14 to grab someone or something.

(68) Five of Pentacles—A battered beggar. A terrible charity. Refusal. A 15 to a Calm Check in the face of suffering.

(69) Six of Pentacles—A charity worker. A distributor of gifts. A Goodwill or Salvation Army. A 16 to persuade a skeptic of good intentions.

(70) Seven of Pentacles—Straightforward and hard working. A quality control officer. A growing business. A 17 to notice financial irregularities.

(71) Eight of Pentacles—One practiced in their craft. A place with a prominent public sign. An 18 to apply an Occupational skill.

(72) Nine of Pentacles—A prospering dork. A golden garden. A bird of prey. Leisure. Gain the trust of an ordinary animal.

(73) Ten of Pentacles—A member of a powerful family. Thin white hounds. A vast estate. Undo a Cash loss.

(74) Page of Pentacles—A neophyte schemer. A university campus. Gain a point of Cash.

(75) Knight of Pentacles—A hustler. A summoned thing. A sketchy lawyer. A club with a dark reputation. Gain a Criminal contact with a 9 in Streetwise and Local Knowledge.

(76) Queen of Pentacles—A woman, rich and slow-moving. A sad stone monument. Regain a point of Calm.

(77) King of Pentacles—A man of ill-gotten wealth and dubious taste. An enormous mall. Move to an amazing apartment downtown, above your means.

Give to the Demon City Kickstarter here


Saci said...

Nice, thanks!

Chris said...

I fully intend to use the tarot when the game launches, but I am curious of what the dice hack looks like. The definition of these cards are pretty damn evocative of a really good modern horror approach. Is there any intention to share more playtest footage? It looks like you guys were having a blast playing, and some actual examples would really help cement the flow of the game in my mind.
Just a thought. Love your work.

Zak Sabbath said...

We might make a new video if we have time later.

As for the Dice Hack, it's pretty easy to understand but I'll probably post a full round-up of how it works at some point...