This is the second post about how tarot cards work in Demon City, (here's the first one.)
Rather than dice, the Host of Demon City typically uses a specially prepared deck of tarot cards. In most situations, the cards in the deck are used exactly like rolls of the dice—throwing a 6 of Wands is equivalent to rolling a 6, for example, as is throwing the card The Lovers—which is marked with a 6 at the top.
However, there are a few important differences.
Before each adventure, after the Host has decided what the ultimate creature or creatures will be lurking behind the events in the adventure, the Host should take the full tarot deck and extract from it a smaller deck to be used during that session—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.
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 it 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 and in more detail in the Tarot section in the Host’s section of the book.
-Enough other cards that the deck contains at least one card worth each 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. 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, etc. Again, these meanings are detailed in the Host’s section. Note court cards—Pages, Knights, Queens and Kings—are worth 10.
When used in resolving action, The Horror’s Deck has a few kinks:
-The deck will often be slightly 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 (like The Moon). Outside Action rounds, these cards are worth 10. In combat these represent two Throws—the first Throw is a 10 and the next round the same card stays on the table, representing the Host’s first throw for the next round and is now worth the second digit on the card. So the Moon (18) is a ten in the first round and then an 8 the next. Note this doesn’t necessarily represent the very next card—if the Host needs to throw 3 cards to stab and the first is the Moon, the Host still throws two other cards after as usual. If the Host wins the Clash (likely, they threw the Moon, worth 10 that round) and does damage, they still throw other cards as usual to determine damage. However—in the next round, when the Host declares an action, the first Throw they lay for that Clash will be 8. Everyone at the table will know this when deciding their actions—these high cards represent extraordinary efforts and all-out, committed attacks—they are likely to succeed, but leave the foe reeling, possibly open.
-Note that Judgement is worth 10, then 0 and The World is worth 10 then 1.
-If more than one of these high cards is thrown in the same Clash, they all stay on the table for the next round and the higher one represents the first Throw, the next highest the second (if there is one), etc. Unused cards stick around and are used in the following round.
-After each throw, as usual, the cards should be left on the table until the next Throw. If a foe is defeated, whatever cards are on the table when the threat that threw those cards is ended (captured, killed, otherwise defused) can be distributed among the players as rewards (see below), starting with whoever dealt the final blow or made the decisive move. Note that while the major horrors of an adventure decide what is in the deck, this rule for collecting cards can be applied to any foe faced along the way.
-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 reward from among whatever cards are on the table when the achievement occurs.
Cards As Rewards:
-Players don’t actually “get” the cards, they just write down on their character sheet that that card is now involved with their fate. The Card remains in the Horror’s Deck and continues to function until the adventure ends and the party takes on a new case.
-Players don’t use cards like the Host does and vice versa. The rules are different.
-The specific PC reward associated with each card is listed on the endpapers.
-Players can use cards when the situation described in the reward (“Gain a Throw vs Calm loss at the sight of violence or death”) occurs, or, if a specific situation is not described, at any other time it would physically be possible, including Downtime (see below).
-The card rewards represent chance favoring a PC, not supernatural intervention—the card cannot make something otherwise physically impossible in the game world possible.
-Some cards allow a PC to Throw a number higher than 10. This means the card always wins in a Clash unless facing some unusual magic or a high card thrown by (say) an insane PC.
-It’s obviously hard to collect a card worth 10 as a reward—if a 10 is on the table when the enemy lost, how did they lose? It is possible, though:
The PCs can enact a crushing and earned victory—a PC uses a card reward that grants them a Throw higher than ten to deliver a coup-de-grace.
The foe can be humiliated: the enemy throws 10 in with a damage Throw and then, in the next round, seeing they are in danger, runs away unopposed (requiring no Throw). The party lets them flee and collects the reward.
Surprise: the enemy, after leaving a Ten on the table in some past venture, thinks they are safe and are killed in a round where they are distracted in the middle of performing an action requiring no Throw on their part.
Trickery: The PCs can get the foe to enact their own ruin in a scheme requiring no Throws on the foe’s part—such as tricking a vampire into drinking holy water.
-A player may only have one card ruling their fate at a time—so if they have a card when they defeat a foe, they must decide whether to switch it out or not—they cannot use the reward on the old card immediately just to hog both benefits.
-Players are free to review what the cards mean before making a choice.
Other Uses Of the Horror’s Deck:
The Host can use the cards in their Horror’s Deck 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.
-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.