These are rules I playtested recently. There isn’t much to them, IMO, but their aim is to try and make interpretation fun for me.
I generally dislike interpretation. It generally takes me out of immersion so I try to avoid or minimize it as much as possible. That means I’m potentially missing out on one of the usual techniques for playing solo, though, so I’m taking on the challenge of trying to solve that problem for myself.
Included after the rules is the aborted play test of those rules. I decided to stop once I became bored, but there were times when I was definitely hooked— mostly when danger was hanging over the “protagonist’s” head.
Notes to self after playtest:
- Still struggle with interpretation, which is why I left descriptions vague. I ended up with a vague outline for a story. Maybe starting the game with a blank slate left me with no real direction. A starting premise, background for the character, and a little worldbuilding may give me more of a direction when interpreting the cards. The beefier the backstory, the more grist for the mill of interpretation?
- Being in trouble when the Adversary’s Major Arcana were infesting things was fun. Turning the tables was fun for a little while, but then it just felt too easy. Too many “lifeforce” stones? Should the influence rule be asymmetrical (only the Adversary’s Major Arcana can influence cards)?
- The rules aren’t overly complex. There really isn’t much of a game there, but the fun part should be how the rules influence interpretation and create a little struggle for control.
- Me and an Adversary are fighting for the fate of someone. The cards are my window into the situation.
- Draw one Minor Arcana card at random for each side opposing side. The suit will be the domain. The domains cannot be of the same suit.
- Divide the Major Arcana into piles of 11 cards, and split between you and Adversary.
- Player has white stones representing my luck/lifeforce/influence. Whatever it is, once I run out, game is over. 78 stones (one for each card in a Tarot deck).
- Adversary has infinite black stones. Adversary works by infestation (basically, spreading like mold over other cards in the spread).
- You start with a spread of three cards. There must always be three cards in the spread. This is how you interpret reality.
- Minor Arcana and Major Arcana in your domain are always interpreted in your favor. Those of the Adversary's domain are always interpreted against you.
- When you draw a new card, you put the oldest Minor Arcana (the one you drew first) back into the deck.Then you interpret the spread again.
- Major Arcana are only removed from the spread when another Major Arcana is drawn.
- If the two Major Arcana are from the same side (i.e. both are yours or both are your Adversary's), the one in the spread goes back into the deck to make space for the newly drawn one.
- If they are from opposing sides, they cancel out and go into the discard pile. When this happens, you interpret how the incoming Major Arcana removed the influence of the Major Arcana that was in the spread.
- When a Major Arcana is on the spread, it adds one stone of the owner's color to any Minor Arcana in the spread at the beginning of each turn (these do not come from your lifeforce pool). This represents influence and strength. These cards must either be in their domain or be of a neutral suit. Stones of the opposing color already there cancel each other out.
- Neutral cards influenced by white stones are interpreted favorably to the player.
- Neutral cards influenced by black stones are interpreted unfavorably towards the player.
- The number of stones may be utilized as a measure of strength during interpretation at your discretion.
- Stones increase the de-facto difficulty number of a card. They become harder to change when they oppose you, but also become harder to turn against you when the Adversary's Major Arcana begin to influence them (influencing white stones need to be cancelled out by black stones one by one).
- When a card of your domain goes back into the deck, it keeps the stones (you must note it somewhere). Neutral cards lose the stones (are no longer influenced).
Changing Reality/Meaning of Minor Arcana Cards
- Changing the meaning of your domain cards is free. Changing the meaning of Adversary or neutral cards, costs.
- You combine domain cards and/or white stones use to change reality (i.e. change meaning of the cards), and to battle Adversary's influence.
- The difficulty/price of changing the meaning of a card is its number + any black stones the card has - any influence white stones . Likewise, the strength of your domain cards is the card's number + any white stones (influence) + any lifeforce you want to spend (out of your 78 stone pool).
- You can also add spend lifeforce white stones (the pool of 78) in lieu of using cards.
- The combination of cards and stones must be equal or higher than the number of the target card. If your cards' numbers + influence stones are individually lower than the target card, they go to the discard pile.
- Cards not in your domain whose meaning you've changed go to the discard pile.
- What these changes mean is mostly up to you with some guidelines: you can remove problems, neutralize them, transform them into the opposite.
Changing Reality/Meaning of Major Arcana Cards
- Major Arcana meanings can only be changed by other Major Arcana.
- When a Major Arcana from the opposing side, enters, it cancels out the one in the spread. Both go into the discard pile, and you interpret how the incoming Major Arcana removed the influence of the Major Arcana that was in the spread.
Game end conditions (did not get this far in play test):
- No more cards to draw.
- Or your lifeforce stone count reaches zero
- Or all of your domain cards are in the discard pile.
- Or all of the Dark Force domain cards are in the discard pile.
For all of these, Narrate an appropriate ending (chapter ending or story ending as you see fit).
Optional rule (did not use):
Opposing Major Arcana can weaken your domain cards each turn (add stone of opposite color).
What is our domain? I got 7 of swords. Dark Force got the Queen of Pentacles.
Turn 1: Draw the Devil, put in the middle. 7 of swords, The Devil, Queen of Pentacles. Add one black stone to Queen of Pentacles due to the arcana influence.
Interpretation: Dealing with someone who might have be thinking of deluding someone (7 of swords). There appears to be something related to financial security (Queen of Pentacles); they might be in a tight spot. The target might be someone dangerous (The Devil); or perhaps it's their own excess and materialism (the Devil) that is feeding the financial troubles (The Devil is in the domain of the Dark Force and it grows the cards in its domain by adding stones. I"m playing with infinite stones to get a feel of how many it would take to deal with everything.)
Difficulty to remove the Queen of Pentacles is 13 + 1 stone; can't remove The Devil (Major Arcana).
If I burn the 7 of Swords and I spend 7 stones to remove the Queen of Pentacles, I'm still left with the fact that they're trying to scheme against someone dangerous.
I can change the meaning of 7 of Swords so that they're not scheming anymore. It's less interesting story wise, but it makes sense if I want to "win". This change is free because the card suit is in my domain.
Turn 2: Drew 5 of swords.
Layout: 5 of Swords, The Devil, Queen of Pentacles
It seems like this person's ambition might drive them to steamroll someone and burn some bridges. There is still also the dangerous Devil still there as a potential threat that maybe they don't know about. There is also the financial aspect.
I'm going to burn the 5 of swords and spend the 10 stones to get rid of the financial problem. This means that they steamroll someone and burn those bridges (I did not change the meaning of the card). This might have been what got them out of the financial issues.
Both cards go to the discard pile. I now have 68 stones.
It's starting to come together now that this person is into some dangerous line of business or maybe owes money to that dangerous person.
I shift reality and now this person is financially OK but they burned some bridges.
Turn 3: Drew Four of Wands and Ace of Wands (had two empty slots). Layout: 4 of Wands, The Devil, Ace of Wands.
Because The Devil arcana is in the spread, it adds one stone to the ace of wands and 4 of wands, in addition to making the meaning go against me. n.
Otherwise, it would be a neutral card and any interpretation would have been as literal as possible in intent.
Ace of Wands looks like the beginning of something, but given the black stone it's not good. It's not clear enough right now what it might be, so I'll leave that part at that.
The 4 of Wands should have been something about harmonious relationships in the family. Instead, it might mean that this person's family turned their backs on them or against them. No harmony at home.
Turn 4: Drew 3 of Pentacles. Layout: Three of Pentacles, The Devil, Ace of Wands.
4 of Wands must make space for the 3 of Pentacles (being the oldest non-major Arcana card). NOte down that 4 of wands has one stone. Reshuffle into deck. Added another stone to the ace of wands. One stone to the three of pentacles.
It seems obvious now that someone was inspired (ace of wands) to do harm against our protagonist. Probably the person that they burned. They have gotten a team together to burn protagonist back. Heck, it's probably teamed up with the Devil.
I can get rid of the inspiration, but that just removes the enemy inspiration, but not the collaboration (it would just mean that someone else is the culprit).
Remove the 3 of pentacles to change that reality. There's no collaboration. The inspiration/desire and the Devil remains, and whoever's inspiration it is, it's not in our favor.
Now I have 64 points.
Turn 5: Drew Queen of Swords. Layout, Queen of Swords, The Devil, Ace of Wands
Some clear mindedness or perceptiveness. Perhaps our person is begining to realize the things that are threatening them.
Spend the 4 points to get rid of the ace of wands. The inspiration is squashed by my shift. Nothing the protagonist did.
Now I have 60 white stones.
Turn 6: 8 of swords. Layout: Queen of Swords, The Devil, 8 of Swords. The Devil Can't influence your domain so no black stones added to those.
Queen of Swords suggest that our protagonist is becoming perceptive anc clear minded. Perhaps of his problems? Eight of Swords suggests that the nature of his trouble has him trapped (I guess I just unconsciously decided it's a 'he'). But, because Swords is my domain, I'm going to change that meaning to the opposite: He sees a way out of his trouble.
Optional rule? Opposing Major Arcana can weaken your cards each turn (add opposite stone).
Reshuffle 8 of Swords into the deck. (Not the oldest one as for the Dark Force; maybe it should be the weakest one for the Dark Force)
Turn 7: The Emperor. That is one of my Major Arcana, so it cancels out with The Devil, effectively removing that problem (at least for now). Both go to the discard pile.
How that happens is determined by the interpretation. I'm going to go with the simple keyword of "authority" from the Emperor and say that law enforcement is causing trouble for this enemy, and he has to forget about our protagonist for now. Maybe this problem will come back later when the discard pile is shuffled into the deck again.
Turn 8: THe Hierophant and the 8 of Cups (two slots available). Layout: Queen of Swords, 8 of Cups, THe Hierophant
Add one white stone to the Queen of Swords and 8 of Cups. This is the new temporary strength of the cards: 14 for Queen of Swords, +1 white for the 8 of Cups (bonus for you, penalty for Dark Force).
Our hero perhaps is becoming wiser due to the looking at his situation with a clear mind (Queen of Swords). He has decided to leave behind his ways (8 of Cups). He seems to have the determination not to stray from this new path (The Hierophant)
Turn 9: Ace of Cups. Layout, Ace of Cups, 8 of cups, The Hierophant
Choose which card you will reshuffle. Queen of swords (she will keep the +1 stone).
Add one stone to 8 of cups.
Our guy is still walking in his new path, and has found some emotional fulfillment to boot. Maybe he's met a romantic interest or maybe he's found a more fulfilling way of making a living. I can't see who or what.
Turn 10: 9 of Pentacles. I will reshuffle the Ace of Cups. Layout: 9 of Pentacles, 8 of Cups, The Hierophant
Add one stone to the 8 of cups.
This 9 of Pentacles is under the Dark Force, and it seems like a new attack. From the keywords, it seems like it's encoraching on our man's independence and what he's earned.
With the previous problems regarding family, and this, maybe his "family" is more like a mob family. They won't let him do his own thing; can't quit just like that. They're laying claim in what he earns even if it's not mob related. (well, that's a lot of new information revealed through inspiration/interpretation).
At the same time, he remains committed to his new way.
Turn 11: The Magician (Major Arcana). The Hierophant must be reshuffled. Layout The Magician, 9 of Pentacles, 8 of Cups
add one stone to 8 of Cups
The situation hasn't changed much except that our man is succeeding at his new enterprise through willpower, despite the harassment of his "family." I'm going to spend the 9 stones to shift this reality. Remove the 9 of pentacles to the discard pile.
I now have 51 stones.
I'm not sure why they have backed off, and maybe that will be revealed with subsequent cards. I just know they're not a problem now (It can't be manifested through that card anyway).
Turn 12: 2 of Wands. Layout 2 of Wands, 8 of cups, The Magician
Add one stone to 8 of cups and 2 of wands.
Our man is making plans and they look likely to succeed. What plans?
Turn 13: Ace of Pentacles. REmove 2 of Wands. Layout: Ace of Pentacles, 8 of Cups, The Magician.
Add one stone to 8 of Cups.
Perhaps he was preparing for a new venture, but as this card is negative for him, it means that maybe there was a door closed for him. Or maybe a new upstart in the mob has it in for him. This could be harrassment via extortion or protection money.
I'm spending the one stone to remove the card. Someone comes with a new business proposal. Given the 8 of cups, maybe this guy runs a bar.
I now have 50 stones.
Turn 14: King of Cups Layout: King of cups, 8 of cups, The Magician
Add a stone to both Cups cards.
As he continues on his path, he is gathering a reputation as a man of compassion; someone who listens to your problems (he's a bartender after all).
Turn 15: Drew 4 of Pentacles (65 cards left in deck). Must make way for it, so King of Cups goes back to the deck.
Layout:8 of cups, The Magician, 4 of Pentacles
Add one stone to the 8 of pentacles.
I won't take the meaning of the 4 of pentacles very literally. It's not that our guy is becoming stingy, but that the pereption of his "family" is that he isn't sharing his wealth as he should.
The 8 of Pentacles is still there and strong so he is steadfast on not going back to that life. I still have plenty of stones, so I will just shift the meaning so that this perception disappears and instead it is him who is aware he must not become miserly.
Maybe the plans that he was hatching were related to charity (since he's known as compassionate).
Now I have 46 stones. Discard the 4 of pentacles.
Turn 16: Drew The Moon. This cancels out the Magician, and both are discarded. Since the 8 of Cups was never reshuffled, the influence (white stones) remain.
Looks like the plans he thought were solid were just an illusion (I'll ignore the stuff about instincts and the uncsonscious). They have fallen through. Nothing I can do to help as these are Major Arcana.
Turn 17: Drew the Six of Cups and the 8 of swords reversed.
I see sudden internal conflict. He remains strong in his commitment to his path, but maybe is feeling trapped by his past. I have domain over the Swords suit, so I'm easily going to flip that part.
He feels liberated from his past.
(I'm wondering if these sort of interpretations could be made about the external. The bad thing does materialize itself, but you neutralize them, rather than phase them out of existence. Makes for better flavor, so while maybe it shouldn't be a rule, it should be a guideline.)
Turn 18: Drew Two of Cups (reversed). Layout Two of Cups, 8 of Cups, and 8 of Swords
Tension; Broken communincation. Things escalated between the "Family" and him. They maybe did something that was the last straw for him.
(How do I negotiate in my head which elements can be removed out of existense and which can be manipulated? Some things I have removed yet this "family" persists. Why have I not felt like that could be removed? How do I decide the scale of change? Is it limited to the card in question? )
Turn 19: Drew Ace of Cups again. Layout: Ace of cups, 2 of Cups (reversed) and 8 of Cups.
Apparently the total break with his family feels like a new beginning for him.
Turn 20: Drew Ten of Pentacles. Layout 10 of Pentacles, Ace of Cups, 8 of Cups
It's some type of failure to reap the rewards of his effort. His enterprise may be failing. Had he been following the criminal way, he'd be winning, he feels. Still he remains resolute.
Turn 21: Drew the Empress. Layout: The empress, ace of cups, and 8 of cups. +1 for ace of cups and 8 of cups (now at 10 stones).
With the theme of new beginnings and this now, it tells me he has met a good woman.
Turn 22: Drew The Chariot. Return Ace of Cups. Draw again: The Star. Layout: The Star, The Chariot, 8 of Cups
+1 8 of cups
By pure willpower, he is staying on the path, but the old ways are calling again waiting for a rebirth.
Turn 23: Drew Strength. 5 of Cups.
Layout: Strength; 5 of Cups; 8 of Cups.
+1 8 of cups