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I am currently trying to find information about different magic systems for an RPG. There are a lot of possibilities as to what could be a potential starting point for a magic system and I recently came across some interesting information about a magic system based on Tarot.

I'd love to find more resources about this type of magic system. This includes for example:

  • already existing games (video, tabletop, ...) that take Tarot as a starting point for their magic system
  • mythological references in our real-world that associate Tarot with magic
  • stories (books, comics, shows, ...) that incorporate this idea
  • ...

Where can I look up information about using Tarot as the basis for creating a magic system to use said system in a RPG?

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  • $\begingroup$ I helped work up the basic rules for an RPG that uses Tarot instead of dice for the mechanics. But we never really found a way to make the cards drive the magic itself. We tried a few ways, but the traditional ways to interpret Tarot are highly subjective and difficult to teach via an RPG game system. There is, however, the original Deadlands RPG, which used a poker deck for magic. $\endgroup$ – CaM Oct 20 '17 at 11:55
  • $\begingroup$ @CaM Very interesting, do you have any resources you could point out about the development phase of your RPG? I'd be interested in reading how you approached this. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Oct 20 '17 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ The only Tarot-based magic I found appealing was in Malazan Book of the Fallen, but I doubt if it will fit your needs. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Oct 20 '17 at 12:00
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    $\begingroup$ Moving to chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/67375/tarot-magic to discuss that game engine, @Secespitus $\endgroup$ – CaM Oct 20 '17 at 12:05
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    $\begingroup$ There's a discussion of RPG systems at forum.rpg.net/archive/index.php/t-224033.html $\endgroup$ – Sean Duggan Oct 20 '17 at 16:56
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I highly recommend the book The Qabalistic Tarot: A Textbook of Mystical Philosophy. It is scholarly, extremely well researched, and contains extensive footnotes and citations.

You may also find Israel Regardie's work useful, particularly The Tree of Life: A Study in Magic. [Note: there is also a revised, illustrated edition available].

And of course, for an understanding of magic in general, Frazier's The Golden Bough is essential. (Take a look at the chapter on Sympathetic Magic, which is a very good primer.)

Finally, Alan Moore's Promethea can be understood as a thesis on magic in general, and the Tarot in particular. Plus, the artwork is astounding!

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    $\begingroup$ Very interesting, thanks! A lot of resources you linked there. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Oct 20 '17 at 20:44
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The basic logic of Tarot magic can be explained as simply as this:

If you think of a spell ingredient as something conceptual rather than something tangible, then it makes it a lot easier to think creatively about what you can use.

One item that many of us have on hand is a deck of Tarot cards. While we often turn to them immediately as a method of divination, a lot of us tend to forget that we can use them in spellwork. After all, a Tarot card – whatever it may be – symbolizes some aspect of the human existence. More importantly, you’ve got 78 cards to choose from. If you’re someone who uses reversals in your Tarot readings, that means you’ve got 156 symbols, or archetypes, right there at your fingertips, just waiting for you to unleash them. By selecting a Tarot card that represents your goal, or the intent of the working, you can craft a simple spell that’s just as effective as one with all the trappings and bells and whistles.

Of course, now you have to delve into symbolism and patterns embodied in Tarot.

Let's start with spells concerning matters of the heart.

For matters related to love, family, emotions, and relationships, you may want to choose Cup cards as your focus. Consider an Ace of Cups to represent new beginnings and starting over, a Three of Cups to symbolize celebratory events like births or weddings, or the Queen of Cups to stand in for a sensual and captivating woman. The Lovers card, although associated with love and all its trappings, is one you may want to use if you’ve got a decision to make between two potential romantic partners, or you’re trying to help someone (including yourself) overcome temptation. Cup cards can also be used to represent the element of water.

If that's not enough, violent action is all the rage. A mainstay of entertainment.

Sword cards are associated with air, and they’re all about conflict. These come in handy if you’re trying to do spellwork that is damaging or destructive (as always, if your tradition forbids cursing or harmful magic, don’t do it, and you can just skip over this paragraph). A Three of Swords can bring about heartache and pain, particularly if there’s some sort of love triangle involved. Use a Seven of Swords to represent a deceitful liar in your life. The Knight of Swords will reveal the truth to those who need to hear it, whether it’s something they want to hear or not.

Essentially a Tarot-based magic system is all about taking a symbolic system and deploying those symbols to cast the spells you want.

The bottom line of using Tarot cards in spellwork? If you familiarize yourself with the meanings of the cards, there’s no reason you can’t craft a perfectly useful spell with the deck you have on hand. Think outside the box, be creative, and see what you can manifest!

Source: Tarot Card Spells

One word of warning about tarot magic.

Never use the same tarot deck for magic and for prophesy.

You can use one tarot deck for magic and one same for divination if you want, but they should be two separate decks. The rationale is to avoid creating unwanted results while trying to foresee the future.

Source: Tarot Magic & Spells

More can be found about Tarot magic by using a search engine and entering the search terms "Tarot magic". This form of divination is not infallible, but it does work wonders.

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Persona 4 uses the greater arcana to name various "personas" (demons that are essentially strong helpers for the characters who have mastered calling upon them), but the theme ends there, since the magic attacks are Shin Megami Tensei series staples.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Part 3 names many of the "stands" (spiritual energy beings that are basically what personas in the Persona series are based on) after greater arcana cards. Their abilities and appearances are often not based on any percieved meaning of the cards themselves, however.

In the end, like @MichaelK said, there is no real world "canon" to what the trumps of a Tarot deck actually mean. All of that stuff has been cooked up by mystics and charlatans to make a quick buck off of gullible people, and no doubt it varies between person to person. @a4android did a good job putting down the most common spiel on mystical Tarot.

It may be best to just come up with magical associations to the Tarot deck yourself, as most people who want to play or read the lore of an RPG aren't going to demonize its creator for having "improper" ideas of what power each spell named after a card would have, or what powers the card would bestow upon a user.

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    $\begingroup$ As an addition to the last paragraph (coming up with your own associations), you could also come up with your own imagery (drawing on other Tarot decks for inspiration). Mage: the Ascension did this with their Tarot deck (associated with their world/magic, but the magic system itself wasn't based on it). It's based on the Rider-Waite imagery (one of the most recognizable Tarot deck imagery), but is definitely not the same. $\endgroup$ – Ghotir Oct 20 '17 at 14:14
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TVTropes article Useful Notes Tarot contains a list of what each Tarot card means and the thematic nature of each card including both major and minor arcana (and the gag card "The Happy Squirrel", introduced in The Simpsons to poke fun of the commonly known factoid that the Death Card doesn't thematically mean Death, but change. In real Tarot lore, it's the Tower Card that fortells Death). Their article "Tarot Motifs" includes a list of works of fiction (and maybe real world stuff) that use a Tarot Motif. This page has a few links to other sites that feature decks of Tarot Cards that use characters from series that are not necessarily Tarot motifed, but the character fits the card themes. One of the ones I can remember off the top of my head is Pokemon.

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You might want to read The Chronicles of Amber series by Roger Zelazny, where the cards serve as a means of communication and teleportation.

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  • $\begingroup$ Excellent example! Zelazney extended the concept of scrying to an actual portal that could be traversed. $\endgroup$ – DukeZhou Oct 20 '17 at 20:16
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Yugioh has a card archetype based on tarot cards. That's a good place to look for ideas of what effects which cards could have individually. I think it's worth a look since anyone playing Arcanas is definitely trying to play a table top RPG.

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Ogre Battle March of the Black Queen is a game (SNES and later re-released on Playstation) which used Tarot cards as a sort of clutch summoning system. A limited resource to help your armies edge past difficult opponents.

Each card's effect was loosely tied to the card itself; for example the magician card did an effect of magical fire damage on the enemy army, the Empress card would heal your army.

You obtained cards by liberating cities. Everytime you liberated a city you could draw a card; and the chosen card also gave a permanent stat change to the army that drew it. Some like hanged-man or devil gave negative effects. So it was a bit of a gamble.

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