Friday, October 21, 2016

An Introduction to the Tarot for Invisible Sun

The Tarot and Invisible Sun

By: Scott E. Robinson (@drscottrobinson)
The Invisible Sun RPG seeks to set itself apart from existing RPGs in a variety of ways. One physical element of the game is the sooth deck. Given the novelty of including a deck of visual references and integrating it into the mechanics of the game (in ways that are not entirely clear at this point), the sooth deck has been the subject of a great deal of speculation.
I aim to add to this speculation.
Specifically, I want to discuss how some of the ways that tarot decks are used may provide inspiration for Invisible Sun games.

Uses of the Tarot

Tarot decks are used for a variety of purposes and in a variety of ways. Of course, I can not discuss all of these ways in a short post like this. I will lean on the discussion in Rachel Pollack's excellent Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom. Pollack argues that there are two main uses for tarot decks. Some use the decks as methods of divination. Some use the decks for self-exploration and analysis. For Invisible Sun, the sooth deck is part of a game - so neither of these purposes directly apply. In all of these cases, and most importantly for our game, the key is the interpretation of complex visual images.

We do not know exactly how the visual images will play into the mechanics of the game. However, there is some reason to believe that the active interpretation of the images on the sooth deck will be involve move than translating a specific bonus to a roll. For this reason, it is useful to consider how tarot decks incorporate complex visual images and the variety in ways in which these images can be interpreted.

For example purposes, I will focus on examples from the Rider-Waite tarot deck.

Major Elements of the Tarot

It is worth briefly discussing the format of the traditional tarot deck. The deck is divided into major and minor arcana. The minor arcana resemble the format of a playing card deck with four suits (the actual suits can vary - but something like swords, wands, pentacles and cups in the Rider-Waite deck). Each of the suits has cards numbered one (the ace) to ten and four court cards (Page, Knight, Queen, and King). The major arcana are a sequence of specific cards with names like The Fool or Justice. Pollack argues that there is a sequence within the major arcana but, for our purposes, we can look at the major arcana as a sequence of images without worrying too much about the meaning of the order.

In early editions of the tarot deck, the minor arcana were simply numbered cards and did not include complex images. This changed with the Rider-Waite tarot deck -- which is one of the reasons it is convenient to use it as a basis for discussion.

To consider how the tarot may inspire the use of the sooth deck as a means to influence game play in Invisible Sun, I want to illustrate the varied imagery included in traditional representations of key tarot cards.

I am no expert in tarot interpretation. It is not my goal to provide a definitive interpretation of any of these cards and images - if such a thing is even possible. Instead, I want to illustrate how one can derive many (potentially incompatible) interpretations of images and how this could influence an RPG game.

We come to why I am presenting this as a blog post rather than discussing it on the Incantations podcast. The discussion is inherently visual. I did not want to simply say "OK - everyone google 'The Fool Rider-Waite' and look at the image." The blog format provides a nice means through which I can discuss a specific image.

For this post, I will start with The Fool.

Visual Elements of The Fool

The Fool is the first card (numbered 0) in the major arcana. In this, it is said to represent origins and the beginning of a journey - either physical or spiritual. The character (presumably the fool) looks ahead and up while standing at the end of a ridge or cliff.

Note the various visual elements present in the card.
The Fool (Rider-Waite Tarot) -- Wikipedia
  1. Sun
  2. Dog
  3. Flower
  4. Staff
  5. Mountains in the background
Of course, one could point to other more specific elements including the pattern of the clothing, etc. This list of five provides a nice starting point though. The act of interpreting the tarot involves considering traditional interpretations (with The Fool, this is origins and beginnings) alongside with specific references in other elements of the image that may apply to a circumstance or person.

For an RPG encounter, one could find inspiration in the sun as a distant force that lights the entire image. The dog could represent the presence of a helpful or friendly animal - if you want to take a fairly literal reading. The flower could represent a specific prize that the characters are pursuing. The staff here appears with a sack of goods -- maybe indicating the importance of equipment and preparation. Finally, the mountains appear in the background as a hint of potential difficulties (though the figure is looking past them).

You could come up with many, many other interpretations. This is just a starting point. Riffing only on five of the visual elements in the image provided many potential contributions to specific scenes or encounters in an RPG.

I am hoping this is how the sooth deck will work. It may provide complex visual images (with accompanying names) to serve to inspire changes in RPG scenes - but not in a single, correct way. The complex image can inspire different developments in different situations.

Conclusion and Coming Attraction

This is just one example of how to take minor inspiration form a Tarot card. If there is interest, I can continue this series to look at other cards if there is interest.

I aspire to provide blog posts in the weeks between podcast episodes. If you are interested in any particular topic, don't hesitate to comment in the Invisible Sun G+ community or Tweet me (my address is in the by-line). If topics seem inherently visual, I will address them here. Next week (10/28) we will release episode 4 of the blog with a discussion of Vances and the film Suspiria.


  1. This is verey informative site for tarot. I always try to found this type of information. I think It's really heplful for who want to know tarot.

  2. In the old book, "Tarot Revelations" by Richard Roberts, there is a masterful introduction by mythologist Joseph Campbell that might be interesting to you, especially as they relate to archetypes and the Hero's Journey.