Treat Ye’self: A GM’S Tarot Guide: NPC GenerationDecember 7, 2018 Off By TK
Welcome back, adventurer! Last week our focus was on the dangers of travel for your players, specifically weather and dangerous terrain. This week begins a month long series called Treat Ye’self, reviewing independently produced supplements and adventures for Game Masters. To kick it off, we’re look at A GM’s Tarot Guide: NPC Generation by Allie Bustion.
So grab your favorite deck, dim the lights, and turn on the mist machine. Let’s conjure some NPCs!
We’ll start with acknowledging that this is a Pay-What-You-Want preview version of a future product, so this review will not be focusing on layout or polish. I picked this supplement up on DriveThru RPG, never having purchased one of Mad Pierrot Games’ items before, and thought I’d try it out—I have folders filled to bursting with character generation, so what’s one more?
The premise is deceptive in its apparent simplicity: draw some cards from your deck and, using the meanings attributed to them, flesh out NPCs’ motivations and personalities. I’m not a tarot expert, but I do have a Deviant Moon Deck by Patrick Valenza and, like many decks, it comes with a handy booklet for casual readers to stumble through.
The supplement is laid out into sections for One, Two, and Three Card Spreads. These spreads are crucial to understanding the NPC’s role, dividing them by complexity from quest givers to frequent contacts and recurring characters. You could even flesh out the Big Bad with a multiple-cards spread, revealing weaknesses, motivations, obstacles—a slightly similar mechanic exists in the Invisible Sun game, with the Sooth cards that you draw determining the outcome of story threads, so this system seemed reasonable. The supplement even includes several diverse and creative examples (thank goodness).
So, I gave it a try: I drew a single card (Judgment inverted) and decided this would be the personality of an innkeeper my party would be visiting. He’s a former sailor with a scar across his face (of course) and I wanted to determine his feelings about retirement and being resigned to the inn after a life of adventure.
According to the booklet, Judgment Inverted is: Fearful of death, guilty feelings, worry, and delay. So Augustus Gray might be an innkeeper who is resentful of the fact that he can no longer adventure. Perhaps he has self-rejected, he feels that he has nothing to offer the world outside of his former glories. On the other hand, he might not miss adventuring at all, maybe he lost too many friends on the sea. Does he overcharge adventurers who stay at the Burning Bough or disallow talk of hiring mercenaries in his establishment? Are all of the adventurers one misstep from being thrown out altogether? Already, there is a story shaping up around him that will inform my roleplay.
I then tried the three-card spread with a villain in mind. The three cards I drew were for a cult member [name redacted]. I know that she is naive and easily led astray by others, but I’d like to find out what has driven her to murder.
Seven of Swords inverted: A plan well thought out, strong advice
Four of Swords: Reenergizing one’s self, rest, retreat, exile, inverted thought
Six of Swords: A journey, escaping bad situations and entering good ones
Whoa, three swords! In this desk, Swords are plagued by conflict and overcome issues with strength and determination. This works out well in my favor, because these cards could spell out a character who has been taken in by people who are using kindness to manipulate her into committing acts of great violence. Does she feel as though she has a debt to repay, that she must defend this cult family against all odds? Could the Four of Swords imply the possibility of retreat or rehabilitation? If I think of this as a past-present-future, is the villain having second thoughts about the path she’s chosen already? I’d love to find out.
While the supplement itself is pretty bare bones in presentation—it is a preview after all—I already know that it’s a product I will be using for every single campaign and long-term piece of fiction that I write in the future. It’s well worth the investment and when the final product with is released, you can bet that I’ll be picking that up, too!
About The Author
TK is a speculative fiction writer and part-time eldritch horror. They can be found as a cast member of The Demonplague, Unearthly Twilights, The Land Between Two Rivers, and Hell’s Belles on the Don’t Split the Podcast, WebDM, and Dungeons & Dragons networks, respectively. Their gothic and cosmic horror stories can be found at tkjwrites.com and very soon in print in a collaborative set of short stories and comics with artist Kayla Cline. TK themself can be found on Twitter @tkjoinsthefray.