GURPS Tarot Magic

by Volker Bach

This is a magic system that uses a tarot deck in addition to, or instead of, dice to represent the spellcasters' powers. It can be played without cards if desired, but this would hardly be as much fun; the idea is not, after all, to make this a "realistic" or particularly well-rounded system, but simply to have fun with appropriately mystical, easily accessible and affordable props. The lesser cards, and thus the powers of most beginner- level spellcasters, can also be played with a standard deck of cards, though again this somewhat defeats the idea.

This system does not try to model the real tarot tradition. Some aspects of the tarot are reflected in its mechanics, but most have been left out in the interest of playability and brevity. And, of course, this magic system does not to reflect any kind of mystical power that may be inherent in the real tarot; it is merely a fictional approach to modeling magic powers with the aim of having fun with beautiful cards.

Base Theories

The theory behind Tarot magic is based on the idea that everything in the world is made up of varying combinations of the four basic elements: Fire, Earth, Water, and Air. The Suits of the Tarot are aligned to these elements and confer mastery of them to the Tarot Mage. It is important to remember that the elements are not just influenced in their pure form. Almost everything that is not pure fire, water, earth, or air contains several or all of these elements in part and thus is subject to the power of the aligned Suits. Living creatures in particular are always combinations of all four elements in careful balance, and disturbing this balance usually has negative -- and often very painful -- effects.

To decide which element or elements can be used on a given object, take your cues from the basic properties of the elements -- hot, cold, moist, and dry. Fire is hot and dry, earth is dry and cold, water moist and cold, and air hot and moist. In addition, water is liquid, earth solid, and fire and air are gaseous. Anything that can be said to conform to these properties can be affected through the appropriate element's Suit. Much of this is perfectly intuitive, which is a great advantage for roleplaying.

Example: Loose garden soil is solid and cold, though not dry. It is therefore subject to earth. It is also moist, so the water contained in it could be affected magically as well. A solid, cold, and dry material, like rock, conforms perfectly to earth and would be subject to that element only. See the descriptions given for the Suits for more ideas.

It is generally assumed that at least traces of each element are present in everything, though they may not be strong enough to allow any direct magical effect. Anything flammable, for example, is seen to contain traces of fire; things that do not burn do not contain enough. Similarly, anything that can be liquefied must contain some water, though the power needed to get that effect makes it clear that it can not be much. A GM might allow an effect with a less than ideal material at a penalty, or not at all -- it is not evident that mastery of water should affect stone in any way, but a very powerful Tarot mage could possibly do something with the minute traces of that element present even in rocks.

The Suits

The suits of the tarot represent nuts-and-bolts magic. While they are limited to temporary effects, and can only work with existing materials, they convey mastery of the four elements and there is little that, between them, they can not do. Each corresponds to one of the elements and mastery of it allows the mage to influence this element in all its forms.

Mastery of the cards of each Suit is purchased as an Advantage costing 5 points per level. In order to master any cards, a character must first purchase the Page of a suit (see below). Cards must be purchased in ascending order (that is, a mage must master the Two of Swords before the Three, the Three before the Four, and so on). Each card represents mastery of an element proportional to the number; the Two is twice as powerful as the Ace, the Three three times as powerful as the Ace, the Ten 10 times. Other than this, they do not differ in the range of possible effects. Normally, only one card from each Suit may be used at a time (thus, an effect that would require the Five of Swords can not be jury-rigged by using the Two and Three of Swords on it). A mage must also have the Suit Skill (M/H) in each suit to use it. Any character having mastered the Page of a suit also has the Skill at a default of IQ-6. It can be improved normally. The Skill is rolled against every time a card from the suit is used.

The Court Cards -- Page, Knight, Queen and King -- of each Suit represent the Tarot mage's level of mastery. In order to master a suit at all, a character has to purchase the Page as an Advantage worth 5 points. At the GM's discretion purchasing a Page in play, like an Attribute, may cost double. This is not appropriate for any higher Court Card. A mage at this level is referred to as a Page of one or more Suits. He may purchase the cards of that suit up to the Five, and learn the Suit Skill. This level represents the beginnings of mastery, the first steps on the way to understanding. The range of magical effects at the mage's disposal is already quite impressive, but limited.

The Knight represents experience and consummate familiarity with the Suit. Pages must pay an additional 5 points to become Knights. Mages mastering the Knight of any Suit may purchase the Suit's cards up to 10 and the lower cards of the Great Arcana. A mage at this level is referred to as a Knight, and Tarot-mages and other Initiates react to him at +1. The Knight of one Suit is already powerful, and one of all Suits is a truly formidable mage. Only a few Tarot Mages progress beyond this level.

The King and Queen are the highest cards of each Suit. They represent full mastery and understanding of the Suit and its element. A male character purchases the King, a female one the Queen, at an added cost of 10 points. Mages of this level of initiation are referred to as Kings or Queens of their Suits, and there are very few of them. Other Tarot-mages and initiates react to them at +2. Kings and Queens may purchase all of the Great Arcana cards.

Point Costs

Court Cards





5 points



10 points



20 points




One of (Suit)


5 points

Two of (Suit)


10 points

Three of (Suit)


15 points

Four of (Suit)


20 points

Five of (Suit)


25 points

Six of (Suit)


30 points

Seven of (Suit)


35 points

Eight of (Suit)


40 points

Nine of (Suit)


45 points

Ten of (Suit)


50 points

(The point costs are cumulative)

The Suit of Wands: Fire

The Suit of Wands (or Clubs) conveys mastery of Fire. This element's main property is heat. Aside from the obvious, it is associated with the heart, with strong emotion, hatred, fear, worldly or sexual desire, pride and anger. It is also close to the "animal" level of the mind and soul, and to wild animals. In general, heat, fire and any effect associated with emotion control, animal control, willpower or raw, aggressive mental and physical strength are governed by the Suit of Wands. Fire and the Suit of Wands are opposed to Water and the Suit of Cups. It is often seen as a masculine element.

The Suit of Coins: Earth

The Suit of Coins (or Pentacles) conveys mastery over earth. This element's main property is its immobile solidity and worldly reality. The Coins are often associated with worldly wealth and material concerns. They govern the physical body and the material world of solid objects, in particular stone and metal. Stability, immobility and passive strength are close to the nature of earth. Any solid object is subject to the power of the Coins. Rock, metal and earth, and all effects that concern inanimate objects, the physical body and its properties, and more generally protective and stabilizing effects are properly placed in this realm. Earth and the Suit of Coins are opposed to Air and the Suit of Swords. It is often seen as a feminine element.

The Suit of Cups: Water

Water is governed by the Suit of Cups. This element's main property is its moisture and fluidity. All "normal" liquids are subject to this Suit (though a GM is justified in excluding molten metal or lava). It is also associated with the spiritual or "soul" aspect of the human personality, with creativity, intuition and the gentler emotions such as love, friendship, piety, sympathy and humor. By this token it is also associated with nature spirits and the lesser denizens of the otherworld. Through its proximity to intoxicating drink it holds mastery over the befuddling, dazing and twisting of the mind. The Cups govern all liquids, and all effects of spirit communication, empathy, intuition, confusion, illusion and evasion are their proper realm. Water and the Suit of Cups are opposed to Fire and the Suit of Clubs. It is often seen as a feminine element.

The Suit of Swords: Air

The Suit of Swords governs Air and all gaseous and insubstantial matter. This element's main property is its insubstantiality and detachment from earthly matters. It is also associated with the higher mental faculties, detached from bodily or emotional concerns. Communication with and control of the higher spirits fall into its realm, as do all things associated with language, mathematics, technology and philosophy. The Suit of Swords governs air and gas, weather, the mind of sentient creatures and the realms of higher spirits. If technology plays a major role in the campaign it will also be governed by the Swords. Air and the Suit of Swords are opposed to Earth and the Suit of Coins. It is often seen as a masculine element.

The easiest way to gauge the effects the use of each card can have is by referencing GURPS Magic. Assume that the number of the card is equal to the Fatigue that can be spent on a spell. As a rule of thumb, an effect that causes damage to any one person or object should cost 1 Fatigue per 1d of damage. Effects causing the same damage over an area cost 2 Fatigue for one hex, with costs for larger areas following the rules for area spells (i.e. increasing with the radius of the area, not the number of hexes). The required card for other effects is determined by the GM, with reference to the Fatigue costs of similar Spells. Effects may require cards from more than one suit if more than one element is involved.

Example: Goran Tanju, a Tarot mage, needs to cross a river. He decides to use his powers to walk across the water's surface as though it were solid earth, a flashy but simple effect. For reference, the spell "Walk on Water" costs 3 points, so the GM rules that the cost is equal in Tarot magic. Goran selects the Two of Cups (for water) and the One of Coins (for firmness). His Skills in the two Suits are 13 and 12, respectively. The player rolls 9 and 10 and he crosses on dry feet.

The Great Arcana

The Great Arcana is reserved for true masters of Tarot magic. Mastery of each card must be purchased as a separate Advantage and requires a separate M/H Skill. Most of them have mastery of Court Cards or other cards of the Great Arcana as a prerequisite. Each card has a distinct, unique effect.

The Fool


0 Points

Prerequisites: none
The Fool represents ignorance, carelessness, foolishness and lack of understanding, but also the joys of simplicity. It is the card of the mundane -- you could say, the card that all non-mages have mastered -- and a Tarot-mage who decides to embrace the Fool loses all his powers. This may seem unappealing, but many powerful Tarot-mages have chosen to do so towards the end of their lives. A mage who sees the temptations of power growing too strong, or who feels unequal to the demands made on his powers and judgment, can take this path into honorable retirement. Embracing the Fool always requires the consent of the Tarot-mage. There is no way to remove the powers of an unwilling Tarot-mage short of killing him.

The World


30 Points

Prerequisites: King or Queen of one Suit
The World represents all worldly things. Mastering it allows that Tarot- mage to actually create matter. This is a major achievement in mystical terms, but also quite useful in day-to-day affairs. The energy cost is 1 point per lb. Of created matter. The cards of each Suit can be used to create its element. Since most things are composed of more than one element, making them should require cards from more than one suit. For play balance, making anything specific should also require some knowledge of its composition and skill in its manufacture. GMs going for a cinematic feel can use this card to have powerful Tarot-mages grab things out of thin air.



20 Points

Prerequisites: Knight of one Suit, Page of all others
Judgment represents the nexus between the physical and spiritual world and allows the Tarot-mage to cross that boundary at will. By using the card, he leaves his body in astral form to interact with spirits on their own terms. This functions exactly as Spirit Projection (P. SP76), but the spirit form cannot interact with the physical world in any way or use any spirit abilities.

The Sun


15 Points

Prerequisites: Page of all Suits
The Sun represents honesty, good fortune, and happiness. In Tarot Magic it is the card of blessing, luck and supernatural protection, the opposite of the Moon. Used by itself it can be used to bless and impart good fortune on an individual -- a once-off version of the Luck or Serendipity Advantages (the GM decides when they come into play). Combined with Suit cards the Tarot-mage may opt to take some control over what shape the good fortune takes, or what activity the luck applies to. For example, to give a character luck in battle a Wands card would be appropriate while to improve health or material fortunes Coins cards would be called for. The higher the card used the more advantageous or long-lasting the effect will be. As with the use of the card alone, the actual shape it will take is decided upon by the GM.

The Moon


10 Points

Prerequisites: Page of all Suits
The Moon represents deceit, danger, and misfortune. In Tarot Magic it is the card of malison, curse, and doom, the opposite of the Sun. Used by itself it can inflict suffering and evil fortune on an enemy -- temporary versions of the Unlucky (regular Skill roll) and Cursed (Skill -5) Disadvantages. These last for a number of days equal to the margin of success, with a minimum of one day. Combined with other cards the Tarot-mage can even take a hand in defining (loosely) what kind of misfortune befalls the target. Using Cups will cause the fate to involve water, for example, which could mean anything from a thorough drenching to shipwreck and death at sea, depending on the roll and the GM's tender mercies. There are risks involved, however -- on a failure the caster suffers the intended effect!

Example: Soothsayer Aladira Kepple has been bullied and insulted by the bailiff and is determined to get her own back. She flashes the Moon and the Ace of Cups at him, hoping to give him a tumble into the river, or a boating accident. Her Skills are 14 (The Moon) and 15 (Suit of Cups). The player rolls a 15 and 7 -- a success on the element, but failure on the arcana card. Aladira had better stay away from bridges and boats for the next few days!

The Star


15 Points

Prerequisites: Knight of at least one Suit, Page of all others
The Star symbolizes hope, the successful completion of one's efforts, the reward of labor invested and a fortunate future. It governs the dimension of the future, allowing the suspension of magical effects. The most common use is conditional suspension; the effect is cast, but only comes into being through a certain action or set of circumstances. A fiery surprise (say, the Four of Wands) for the first person to open a certain door would be a possibility. Suspending an effect has an additional energy cost of 2 for up to a day, 4 for up to a week, 6 for up to a month, 10 for up to a year, 15 for up to ten years and additional 5 for each ten years past that (long-term enchantment is best done in groups as most Tarot-mages will find even months beyond their powers). This energy can come from any Suit. The effect is triggered by a circumstance specified by the caster ("the first person to open the door", "the first sunrise after new year", "the first innocent man to sit in this chair"). A favorite of many Tarot-mages is to suspend Justice on themselves until an unexpected spell is cast on them, thus returning the first magical attack in any confrontation . . .

The Tower


10 Points

Prerequisites: King or Queen of one Suit
The Tower represents sudden destruction, doom and ruin. This card allows the Tarot-mage to completely destroy matter. This power may not be too useful in everyday magic use, but it is highly significant in the cosmic scheme of things and immensely respected among Tarot-mages. It comes in handy occasionally when incriminating evidence needs to be made to disappear utterly, and it can be used to unmake all but the most potent magic items.

The Devil


20 Points

Prerequisites: Knight of one Suit, Page of all others
The Devil represents submission, enslavement, and domination. In Tarot- magic it is the card of daimonurgy. Its masters can summon and dominate demons -- whatever these are in your game world. The exact mechanics of this are up to the GM. In general, summoning a demon should always require lots of power and mastering it involve at least some risk of it getting loose. Traditionally, minor demons can be forced to do the mage's bidding easily (a Contest of their Will vs. the Tarot-mage's Skill is reasonable) while major ones can only be bargained with.

The Devil can also be used to dominate fellow humans. This requires energy equal to the victim's Will (Swords and Wands in equal numbers) and is resolved through a Contest of Will vs. the dominating mage's Skill. Once enslaved, the victim must obey all nonhazardous commands from the mage implicitly (this includes demands for money, valuables, secret information, or sex). Dangerous or repulsive orders (or any command that contravenes one of the victim's Disadvantages such as Greed or Pacifism) give the victim a Will-5 roll to refuse. Suicidal or utterly repugnant orders may, at the GM's discretion, be resisted at better odds or even allow the victim to break loose from the enslavement.

Every week after the first the victim gets another Will roll vs. the Tarot- mage's initial success at a cumulative +1 per week. Of course mages know about this loosening bond and an order to submit to another ceremony of submission sounds immensely reasonable to a victim . . .



15 Points

Prerequisites: King or Queen of one Suit, Page of all others
Temperance symbolizes the mage's mastery over the elements and their permutations. It allows the mage to transform one form of matter into another. This can range from simple parlor tricks -- water into wine -- to the most secret alchemical reaction of all -- lead into gold. Using Temperance requires at least one minute of concentration and 1 point of energy from the appropriate element per lb. of transformed matter. The GM should feel free to require additional energy, time, or effort for particularly challenging transmutations (i.e. those he wants to limit).



25 Points

Prerequisites: King or Queen of all Suits
Death stands for change imposed from the outside (not least, but by no means only, death), abrupt endings and new beginnings. In terms of Tarot magic the card allows the Tarot-mage mastering it to literally master death! He can bring back to life the bodies of people killed no more than the last sunrise or sunset ago. Doing so is incredibly draining. For each point of damage the dead character took, the Tarot-mage must expend a point of energy (from any Suit card). This cost is levied irrespective of how well the body is repaired prior to resurrection. The mage may choose to spend Hit Points instead of energy, at a rate of one for each point of damage.

There is another problem, though. The soul of a dead person can be invited back into the resurrected body, but it can not be forced. If the soul wishes to return to life the character to be resurrected must roll vs. Will. On a success the soul returns and resurrection takes place. On a failure the soul cannot return and the body rises up as an abomination, a soulless, enslaved zombie. If the mage wants that to happen, the soul's return to the body is possible only after winning a contest of Will with the mage. If the resurrection was successful the returning character returns to life at 0 Fatigue and needs to heal naturally.

Death can also be used to lay the undead and wandering souls to rest, making their death permanent. This requires a Contest of their Will vs. the Tarot-mage's Skill in the card. GMs looking for that cinematic flair may allow Death to also cause immediate, inescapable and final death in the best pulp-fantasy tradition. This goes against the flavor of Tarot magic, but puts truly awesome power at the disposal of "evil" mages. High- cinematic campaigns could put the idea of the death card to good use.

The Hanging Man


10 Points

Prerequisites: Knight of one Suit, Page of all others
The hanging man stands for a change in perspective, for things that are different from what they appear -- or appear different from what they are. It allows the Tarot-mage to create illusions and false appearances, big or small, or dissolve those of others. The energy cost for an illusion that affects only one sense is 1 point per hex per hour, one that affects all senses requires 2 points per hex. The power can come from all Suits (GMs who like such detail can work with the subtle differences between a Wands Illusion and a Cups Illusion, but for most purposes they are identical). Illusions that move or act must be consciously controlled by the mage while inert ones can simply be left in place.

Whether an Illusion is successful is determined by a Contest of the mage's Hanging Man Skill and the target's IQ. On a failure by the mage, the target realizes something is wrong. Mages having mastered the Hanging Man roll vs. their Skill in the card instead and immediately see through the illusion on a success.



20 Points

Prerequisites: Knight of one Suit, Page of all others
Fortitude or Strength represents effort and power. This card allows the Tarot-mage to use more than one Suit card in an effect. This increases the effective power at his disposal considerably -- combining the Ace through Five of a Suit alone would provide 15 points of power, and the complete cards sum up to a whopping 55!

The Wheel of Fortune


30 Points

Prerequisites: King or Queen of one Suit, Knight of all others
The Wheel of Fortune stands for the cycle of life, death and rebirth and governs youth and age. The mage mastering it can cause a person or item to become younger or older at a cost of 1 point of power per month.

Making a person or object younger can not restore parts (lost limbs, erased writing, missing rivets etc.). Memories are not lost, though a human reverted to young childhood may not be able to consciously retain or understand them. Objects can only be reverted to the point where they were finished (GM's call). They do not dissolve into their constituent parts. Living creatures can be reverted to pre-embryonic stage and, unless placed into the right environment, will die from this. Aging for characters follows the standard Aging rules. For objects, the GM decides the exact effect. It is impossible to distinguish magical age effects from natural ones, though in some cases it may be obvious that something supernatural has occurred.

The Hermit


10 Points

Prerequisites: Knight in at least one Suit
The Hermit represents wisdom, knowledge and wise counsel. It is the card that Tarot-mages turn to in need of insight -- the Scrying card. The Hermit is not required to "read" a person, object or magical effect at hand. That is done by creative application of the regular Suit cards -- reading thoughts takes Swords, emotions require Cups or Wands, material composition uses Coins, energy flows Wands etc. The Hermit's power lies in transcending space and time. Using the Hermit allows a Tarot-mage to see into distant places. The cost goes up with the distance -- one point up to a mile, two points up to ten miles, five up to a hundred, ten up to a thousand, twenty up to ten thousand. While it is, in theory, possible to see much further than this there is little reason a Tarot-mage would know this is possible. 10,000 miles should represent the known world to most fantasy settings. Skill penalties for places unknown to the Tarot-mage should be applied, but if he has anything connected with the target (a brooch belonging to a person whose whereabouts he wishes to see, or a piece of mortar from a building) these can be waived.

A look into the past is possible only at the place and in the presence of the object or person in question. It should always be costly -- four points base cost, 6 for looking back a week, 8 for a month, 10 for a year, 12 for a century, +2 for each century past the first. The sights to be gained this way are incomplete sensations available only to the caster, and pertaining only to the Suit that is used.

Looking into the future is even trickier. An attempt requires a minimum of five points, but the vision will never be clear or unequivocal. The future is always just potential, and every cliché risk of divination should apply.



5 Points

Prerequisites: Page of all Suits
Justice represents honesty, good intentions and the meting out of just deserts. This card is both the most powerful magical defense open to the Tarot-mage and his most ready tool of poetic justice. Justice is an easy card to master, but its effects are often earth-shaking. It reflects a magical effect back from the target to the attacker. Many Tarot-mages carry it as an amulet or in a breast pocket (GMs who want to avoid the high-noon flavor of Fast Draw (card) dueling may forbid this). It is certainly a good card to have on hand when venturing into the unknown. The protective effect can be extended by combination with the Star. The reflection is resolved by a Contest between the highest Skill used by the attacker and the defender's Skill in Justice. If the defender wins, the effect is reflected back on the attacker. On a tie, both are equally affected. On a win by the attacker the effect happens as intended, but some degree of backlash (GM's fiat -- anything up to half the effect on the defender) still affects the attacker. Justice can also be used against neutral or beneficial effects.

The Chariot


10 Points

Prerequisites: Knight of one Suit, Page of all others
The Chariot represents flight, escape, and travel. It functions as a teleportation effect. Using the Chariot will cause the Tarot-mage (and possibly others) to simply wink out of existence, materializing again at the point of his choice (GMs fond of more dramatic effects could have a flaming chariot materialize instead). Tarot-mages of Knight rank can port themselves or another person, those of King or Queen rank may take along several people or port a group at double energy cost.

The energy cost for a use of the Chariot is the same as for the standard GURPS Magic Teleport spell. To tone down the power of this card, a GM may rule that a specific Suit will be required to power it, depending on circumstances. Porting over (or through) water could require Cups, through solid walls Coins, above dry land Swords and through fires or similar peril Swords. Generally, a Tarot-mage must know the target he travels to using the Chariot. Anything within line of sight is automatically "known" and can be ported to without penalty. Any place the mage has seen that day, or is well acquainted with, can also be ported to at no penalty. Places the Tarot- mage has seen briefly, or longer ago, are reached at a Skill penalty of up to -3, those seen only by magical means at a -2 penalty, and those known only from a picture or description -2 to -8, depending on the quality.

The Lovers


15 Points

Prerequisites: King or Queen of one Suit
The Lovers represent love, union, harmony, and synchrony. This card allows Tarot-mages to combine their powers in a single effect. Only one Tarot-mage in the group needs to have mastered the Lovers to include a number of Tarot- mages up to his Skill level in it (a mage with Skill 14 in Lovers could combine himself and up to 13 others). Other Tarot-mages with mastery of the card can bring in their own groups. There is no upper limit to this other than the number of mages and their readiness to participate -- joining powers is a very private experience and requires mutual trust. Tarot-mages whose powers are joined through the Lovers can combine all cards any one of them has mastered into any combination the GM allows (for example one having mastered the Star and another Death could combine the two into one effect). Fortitude still only applies to the Suit cards of one Tarot-mage at a time. The most common use of this card is for a King or Queen to tap the raw power of his or her students, but sometimes experienced mages use it to combine their Arcana cards into earth-shaking effects.

Example: Queen Renata, a respected mistress of Tarot Magic, needs to melt a lost tome of magic out of a glacier. The power required is beyond her alone, but she has called her students together and is determined to try. First, she uses The Lovers to combine their efforts into one effect. Her Skill is 14, so she can easily unite her eight followers. The player rolls a 12. Next, she uses Fortitude to pour all her Wands cards into the effort. Her Skill is 12, the player rolls 5. She can now use all her Wands cards (One through Seven) at the same time, giving her 28 points. Next, her students contribute their highest Wands cards (15 -- one student using his own Fortitude -- 5, 5, 4, 3, 3, 3 and 1). Their Skills 14, 14, 13, 13, 13, 13, 15 and 13, Renata's own is 15. The players roll 12, 9, 4, 14, 11, 10, 7, 10 and 13. Renata and seven of her students succeed, one fails. Thus, a total of 64 points (Renata's 28 plus 15, 5, 5, 4, 3, 3 and 1) are available for the effect; the result should be quite spectacular.

The Magician


105 Points

Prerequisites: King or Queen of All Suits and all Great Arcana Cards other than the Hierophant/High Priestess and Emperor/Empress)
The Magician represents power, spontaneity, and practical wisdom. In Tarot Magic this card represents the highest degree of mastery a Tarot-mage can attain -- spontaneous sorcery. Mages having mastered it receive +5 to Reaction Rolls by all other Tarot-mages and everybody else who recognizes them for what they are They frequently inspire as much fear as admiration. Having mastered the Magician the Tarot-mage requires no other foci. He can create all possible effects without the use of cards simply by visualizing the layout he would use. The time required is usually nil, though a GM may assign preparation time of two or three seconds for very complex effects. Needless to say this status is inappropriate for PCs or even NPCs in most games.

The Hierophant/The High Priestess


150 Points

Prerequisites: The Magician
Among Tarot-mages there are two distinct highest ranks that practitioners may aspire to. Those seeking knowledge and wisdom, tending to introspection and conservative use of magic, will see this card as the fulfillment of their aspirations. Male characters master the Hierophant, female ones the High Priestess. The Hierophant or High Priestess seek to escape society. They rarely accept students, and if they do their teachings will be philosophical and often enigmatic. Few among them still use magic much, and those that do limit themselves to small effects. Their world is that of the mind.

With mastering the Hierophant or High Priestess comes a deep and instinctive understanding of magic that lets any hostile effect slide off as though it had never been. No magic can harm a master of this card (Invulnerability to Magic). They move waking through the world of spirits (Awareness) and converse with the spirits of the earth and the souls of the dead (Medium), and their understanding and kinship with all things extends to animals and plants (Empathy, Animal Empathy and Plant Empathy). Living Hierophants and High Priestesses are legendary masters of magic. They are much loved, but little understood and frequently insane by the standards of normal society. Needless to say this card is highly inappropriate for PCs to master.

The Emperor/The Empress


75 Points

Prerequisites: The Magician
Tarot Mages of the highest rank that do not wish to turn their back on the world embrace the Emperor or Empress. They, too, gain an instinctive understanding of the spiritual pattern underlying the world (Awareness) and can commune with spirits (Medium), animals (Speak with Animals) and plants (Speak with Plant), but they are not bound by the same feeling of kinship that restricts Hierophants and High Priestesses to the contemplative life. Those that devote themselves to the use of their vast magical powers exude authority from every pore (they are automatically treated as though they had rank 5 by everyone, everywhere). Living Emperors or Empresses are surrounded by swarms of admiring students and disciples attentive to their every command and many of them have taken positions of great power and status in the service of kings -- or toppled rulers to take their place. This card should not be allowed to PCs unless you play for very high stakes indeed.

Fatigue, Distance, Duration

Standard Tarot Magic does not require the character to spend Fatigue. The power is inherent in the cards. If a GM wants to require Fatigue for play balance, using a Suit card costs Fatigue equivalent to its value. The Page pays full Fatigue cost for cards of his Suit, the Knight half, the King or Queen only pay one quarter Fatigue cost. Each card of the Great Arcana should be assigned own Fatigue Cost.

Tarot Magic works within line of sight -- anything a Tarot mage can see is fair game. Those who like more detail can apply the Speed/Range Modifiers for weapons to the card Skills, making Tarot Magic very effective at short distances, but difficult at long range.

Where duration is concerned, following the precedent set by GURPS Magic is useful. Any damage-dealing effect has a default duration of 1 second, more long-lasting augmenting or protective effects have 1 minute. Maintaining the effect longer than this requires more power, i.e. higher cards, at a rate of 1 point for each additional increment. Thus, an effect that required a Three to last for one minute could be maintained for two minutes with a Four and for three minutes with a Five. If the GM decides to charge Fatigue, duration can also be handled by simply increasing the Fatigue cost without requiring higher cards.

Playing the Cards

Tarot cards are the focus mages use to channel their power in Tarot Magic. Thus, the characters will be carrying an enchanted deck. The players are well advised to have a mundane one handy for use as props, too. In order for the character to work magic, the player lays out his cards, selects the ones he wants to use and lays them out on the table. The GM can time this action and rule the mage character takes as long to use his magic as the player did to lay out his cards. Bear in mind that the characters will hardly have their cards out in the open at all times -- it makes good sense to require them to be kept in some box or package, though whenever the characters have a good reason to prepare a certain spell the GM should allow the players to do likewise.

Players can be allowed to reduce their decks to the cards their characters have mastered. There are good arguments against doing this, however. For one thing a tarot deck belongs together as a whole and separating it in this way goes against the grain of any mystical feel in the game. On a more pragmatic note, a character carrying a reduced deck is advertising his lack of power to the world. Would you want to do that?

GMs who do not want to have their players compete in sleight-of-hand can use another method. It takes two seconds for a character to ready a card (one or more seconds to unpack the deck beforehand, depending on where it is kept). Fast Draw (Card) P/E will be a popular Skill with Tarot mages if this method is used, and a GM who does not like the cinematic flavor of "the fastest deck in the west" may assign a penalty of -1 for every 15 cards in the deck (giving a whopping -5 for fast-drawing from a full deck). A failure draws the wrong card. A critical failure spills the deck on the ground.

Article publication date: July 2, 2004

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