Tarot RPG “Dice”

To use the Tarot as an RNG mechanic, separate the major arcana into a second deck and set them aside, and shuffle both them and the Minor Arcana. Always draw a minor arcana when you would roll a D20 – treat Page, Knight, Queen, and King cards as 11, 12, 13, 14 respectively. 

Each Minor Arcana card also has a suit, corresponding to different aspects or types of attempted action:

Wands: Inspiration, Creativity, Passion, Magic

Cups: Emotion, Relationship, Feeling, Spirituality

Swords: Intelligence, Ideas, Thought, Attack

Coins: Health, Wealth, Security, Defense

If a card is drawn with a suit corresponding to the type of action being attempted, then before learning whether the action would succeed or fail the player may choose to trust fate, and draw from the deck of Major Arcana. 

Example: A character attempts to cast a spell that requires a roll to hit, and draws a 2 of Cups. If the caster’s magical abilities stem from a spiritual connection, such as a Cleric or a Paladin, or if the spell is intended to manipulate emotions or feelings, then the character could choose to Trust Fate and draw from the major arcana deck. If the character’s magical abilities stem from study and intellect, like a Wizard, or from creativity and passion, like a Sorcerer or Bard, then they could not Trust Fate and must accept the result.

When a player has drawn a card from the Minor Arcana deck, that card should be set aside unless no cards remain. This works best if each player has their own deck, as it helps to ensure that lucky or unlucky streaks, or a large number of draws from the same suit are less likely as those cards are then removed from the deck. The Major Arcana deck should be shuffled after each draw with the card drawn added back in.

When rolling with Advantage or Disadvantage, two cards are drawn and the card with the higher or lower number must always be used, and both are discarded. If the cards drawn show the same number, when rolling with Advantage if one of the cards could be used to Trust Fate then that one is used, and when rolling with Disadvantage if one of the cards could not be used to Trust Fate then that one is used.

Major Arcana represent critical and conditional outcomes. Many are conditional based on the initiating action – if a player is attempting to deceive a guard with their roll, drawing The Moon would represent a critical success, while drawing The Fool would represent a critical failure due to overconfidence. Some introduce an aspect of negotiation. Drawing The Devil could represent a critical success, if the player is willing (and able to justify) compromising some aspect of their character’s established morals in the way they’d achieve the success. 

The DM is the ultimate authority on whether it is reasonable or justifiable for a character to succeed or fail based on the major arcana card drawn. They should be treated as an opportunity to learn more about how a character performs in a critical moment, whether that moment is ultimately a success or a failure. Treating the major arcana draw as merely a chance to twist a failure into a success by any justification necessary (for example, arguing that The Magician should represent a success on a skill roll the character has only a +1 on with no Proficiency bonus, or that The Empress should represent a success when the player is attempting to cut a charging troll in half because they’re attempting to ‘unify the party’ with their action) is a sign that this system is unlikely to be a good fit with your particular group.

The DM should bear in mind that the base randomization is going from 1-20 to 1-14, and adjust difficulty classes accordingly. All static defenses/DCs – such as armor class or spellcaster difficulty class – should be adjusted by -2.

Examples of randomization – a rogue makes an Acrobatics check against a DC15 rolling a D20 with a +5 in Acrobatics – he has a 55% chance of success

(with -2) A rogue makes an acrobatics check against a DC13 drawing a minor arcana with a +5 in Acrobatics – A 43% chance of success.

This results in a lower baseline chance of success for a given difficulty class than in a D20 system. The main purpose of using the major arcana in place of normal critical effects is that players will most typically be using the major arcana draw when the result of the initial draw appears to be too low to achieve what they want to do. Adjusting the difficulty classes and static defenses by -3 makes the baseline random chance much closer to what it would be normally using a D20, but the GM should keep in mind that this may have the net result of more actions succeeding that would have otherwise failed.

Additionally it is important to note that reducing the randomization element to 1-14 means that players’ skills and bonuses are more likely to play an important part in success or failure, particularly when it comes to opposed rolls. 

An extremely strong character (+5 in athletics) in a contest with an extremely weak character (-1 in athletics) will have an increased baseline chance of success (86%) as compared to the same contest occurring with 2 D20 rolls (77%). 

Major Arcana Card Results

0 – Fool – Beginnings, Overconfidence, Impulsivity. 

Critical Success – the player is attempting something new, or something they aren’t typically skilled at. This manifests as “Beginner’s Luck.”

Critical Failure – the player is attempting something they are usually very skilled at. This manifests as an overconfident failure.

1 – Magician – Skill, Natural Talent, Manifestation of intended will, Resourceful success. 

Critical Success – the player is attempting an action they are highly skilled at. This represents a surge of their natural talents.

Critical Failure – the player is attempting something new, or something they are generally unskilled at. This represents hesitation at a critical moment.

 2 – The High Priestess – Dreams, Visions, Introspection, Intuition. 

The player will learn a critical piece of information – if the information is bad or detrimental to the player/group, the intended action succeeds. If the information is helpful or positive to the player/group, the intended action fails.

3 – The Empress – Abundance, Unity of body mind and spirit, Prolific creativity. 

Critical Success – The player is attempting to create, heal, or unify with the action.

Critical Failure – the player is attempting to destroy, take away, divide or deceive. Merciful hesitation prevents the player from following through.

4 – The Emperor – Authority, Power, Action, Structure. 

Critical Success – the action is confident, authoritative, or part of an established plan or strategy. The player executes their intention with a forceful, drilled precision.

Critical Failure – The action is improvisational, subtle, or slapdash. Rigid thinking prevents the deviation from the established plan from working.

5 – Hierophant – Tradition, Education, History, learned lessons. 

Critical Success – the action is intellectual, based on learned principles or training, habitual. Muscle memory takes over, and the player reaches back to the lessons of the past to succeed.

Critical Failure – The player is improvising, trying to change minds or structures, trying new things, they lean too heavily on what they know and fail.

6 – Lovers – Harmony, unity, relationships, connection. 

Critical Success – the intended action is being taken as a team or intended to be bringing people closer together. 

Critical Failure – the action is being undertaken solo or is intended to create division or disharmony, a failure to work with others results in failure of the intended action.

7 – The Chariot – Victory, Speed, Action, success. 

Critical Success – The action was quick, decisive, impulsive. The action has already succeeded before any opposition could think or act.

Critical Failure – The action was intended to be slow, delicate or methodical. The intention is sabotaged by rash action.

8 – Strength – Courage, Force, Power.

Critical Success – An overwhelming display of forcefulness and might crushes any opposition to success.

Critical Failure – the intended action was delicate or subtle, and too much brute force shatters the situation.

9 – The Hermit – Reflection, Meditation, Loneliness, Inner Wisdom. 

Critical Success – the action relies solely on the individual undertaking it, and they call upon their personal inner wisdom to succeed.

Critical Failure – the action was intended as part of a group undertaking, and the player acting on their own in disharmony with the group causes failure.

10 – The Wheel – Fate, Karma, Destiny. 

Fate acts upon the action, and cached Karma comes back around. The action succeeds or fails critically based on outside forces, or actions the individual or the group took in the past come home to roost.

11 – Justice – Law, Balance, Fairness, Order. 

Critical Success – The intended action was lawful, just, and fit within the intended established order of the society it took place in.

Critical Failure – the intended action was rebellious, chaotic, or went against the norms and customs of the world.

12 – Hanged Man – Letting Go, Sacrifice, Surrender, a pause. 

The action is usually a critical failure, unless the player is willing and able to justify putting themselves in harm’s way to turn the action to a success.

13 – Death – Ending, Change, Transition. 

The action is usually a critical failure, unless the player is willing and able to justify this action becoming a turning point or transition for their character’s outlook or path in the world.

14 – Temperance – Moderation, Balance, Neutrality.

The action is a conditional success with a drawback, or a failure with significant upsides. 

15 – Devil – Darkness, Addiction, Vice, Materialism. 

The action is usually a critical failure, unless the player is willing and able to justify how this action compromises or erodes their character’s typical morals.

16 – Tower – Chaos, Challenge, Destruction. 

The action is usually a critical failure. If the action was intended to be destructive, divisive, or chaotic, then that succeeds but with unintended collateral damage, a loss of control, or the player is brought face to face with the consequences of that action.

17 – The Star – Wishes granted, opportunity, fulfilled expectations. 

The action is always a success, but the player gets only exactly what they intended with the action, and nothing more. The action may barely succeed.

18 -Moon – Illusion, The Unknown, Mystery. 

Critical Success – the action was intended to deceive, trick, shroud, or act underhandedly.

Critical Failure – the action was intended to gain knowledge, clarify, or act openly, confusion or outside meddling causes failure.

19 – Sun – Joy, success, inspiration. 

The simplest form of critical success. The action creates a surge of encouragement and happiness, a breakthrough occurs.

20 – Judgement – Redemption, Understanding, Awakening, Transparency. 

Critical Success – The action was intended to gain knowledge, clarify, act openly, or redeem a past wrong.

Critical Failure – the action was intended to deceive, trick, shroud, or act underhandedly, their intentions are revealed and stopped.

21 – The World – Completion, Ending, Fulfilment.

Critical Success – the action was intended to end a process or conflict, complete an undertaking, fulfil a promise, the page turns and the story ends.

Critical Failure – the action was intended to begin an undertaking, strike a bargain, or prolong a process, a premature ending halts the action.

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