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Fábio Silva

Tarot as an Investigator skill

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Folks, I need some help here. I am very attached to the purist style of Lovecraft's stories, and I often use his works as a basis for my stories, even when I use a pre-made adventure. I usually change events and characters when I feel like it could be something more "Lovecraftian."

However, I love introducing Call of Cthulhu to new players, and they don't know these Lovecraftian concepts and ideas well. This week I met a group of people, and they don't know anything about Lovecraft and Call of Cthulhu RPG. They asked me to Keeper an adventure and created their characters.

When someone creates an investigator, I usually look at their skills, to know what they expect to happen in the game (someone who spends 70% on archeology, hopes to excavate and evaluate some ancient objects).

One of the players spent 80% on Occult (Tarot), and her character is a witch student of the occult. The Lovecraft universe is very distorted about mundane occultism, and I didn't want to disappoint this player by showing her that she spent 80% on something in vain.

I'm trying to think of a way to connect her Tarot to Mythos. Perhaps it is an unholy item for performing rituals, or the very act of drawing cards may be part of a cosmic trigger for dreams and visions. I'm not sure yet. I would like to hear some ideas from you.

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I would think it would be easier to just make her Occult skill open to Mythos sensitivity. I know the game "normally" divorces the two skills but that is when, all things being equal, you are trying to "model" Lovecraftian values.

Since you are doing what a good Keeper does and trying to adjust the game to please your players then just adjust the game rules accordingly. Occult = Mythos.

Maybe it's worth priming the group about how the Lovecraftian version of the universe differs somewhat from the "traditional" supernatural view of the universe ( but do point out the crossovers like Brown Jenkin as a familiar to a witch who signed her name in Nyarlathotep's book ). Ultimately magic does exist in Lovecraft but it is more like "science we don't understand yet".

With regards to the Tarot specifically - who knows how far back divination by cards reaches ? Could it be described in the Al-Azif even ? Who's to say you are not tapping into Yithian probability/time "magic" by reading cards or casting runes ?

 

Edited by groovyclam

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I would be more practical. The Mythos is  a very specialized branch of the Occult. Her Mythos score goes up as normal, but right now she doesn't know it. She does, however, know how the Occult works, theory and history, and she's obviously an expert at Tarot readings. And Tarot does just what it's supposed to. She takes readings and gains insight into the investigation.

Although I have to say that I wouldn't allow beginning characters to start with any skill as high as 80%. And I normally have players roll up characters with me. That way I can correct any misunderstandings, IE if they don't realized that putting points into the Occult isn't really the advantage they might think it is.

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5 hours ago, Baron said:

Although I have to say that I wouldn't allow beginning characters to start with any skill as high as 80%. And I normally have players roll up characters with me. That way I can correct any misunderstandings, IE if they don't realized that putting points into the Occult isn't really the advantage they might think it is.

Yep. The character concept is OK "witch student of the occult" - although witches tend to go to the bad side doing magic and making pact with things that should be shunned. Which should be pointed out to the player (although of course you can run your games with 'white witches' if you want). However the skill of 80% does not tally with being a student. 80% is expert level knowledge of the subject (see the table on page 54).

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I think the solution is don't charge for this skill. If someone wants to be an expert at making paper aircraft models, or solving sudoku, or tarot, its not really going to change the game in a substantial sense, so sure. Everyone needs a hobby.

And you never know, maybe the PC will one day find a way to use the strange useless mastery and make everyone laugh.
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Spitballing a couple ideas. How about the drawing of the cards and her readings are unknowingly influenced, perhaps by a trickster type like Nyarlathotep or entity from the Dreamlands? Or perhaps she finds a “special” deck of tarot cards that are actually a “Mythos  Tome?” (Could be a great prop opportunity.)

Edited by Closterphobia
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On 5/9/2020 at 12:49 PM, Fábio Silva said:

I'm trying to think of a way to connect her Tarot to Mythos. Perhaps it is an unholy item for performing rituals, or the very act of drawing cards may be part of a cosmic trigger for dreams and visions.

I'm with @Baron -- rather than interpreting the tarot through the sinister lens of the Mythos, allow it as a simple, practical tool.  Tools aren't good or bad, they just allow you to do things you couldn't otherwise, but perhaps shouldn't.  I'd allow the tarot use to peripherally touch on the Mythos reality, something like the device in "From Beyond"; the player can potentially sense something that perhaps they really don't want to.

I wrote some rules for using the tarot in the Nephilim Gamemaster's Companion, way back, as a tool for the GM in play for characters with Tarot Lore skill.

3 hours ago, EricW said:

I think the solution is don't charge for this skill. If someone wants to be an expert at making paper aircraft models, or solving sudoku, or tarot, its not really going to change the game in a substantial sense, so sure. Everyone needs a hobby.

I have a long-standing tradition as a Call of Cthulhu GM of letting my players roll the percentile dice for one hobby skill, the only proviso being that it can't be a practical skill.  In one campaign, one player rolled up Piano 83% and another Trumpet 100%; they actually found use for them in play and leveraged them for a minor Sanity bump.

!i!

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59 minutes ago, Ian Absentia said:

Tools aren't good or bad, they just allow you to do things you couldn't otherwise, but perhaps shouldn't.

The more I ruminate on this statement, the more I realise that this goes to the heart of Lovecraft's Mythos and the whole discussion we had recently regarding the difference between "cosmic" horror and "traditional" horror.  In the Lovecraft Mythos, the universe does not care about you.  It's indifferent to our existence, and by and large we can go about our daily lives for generation after generation without interruption that we don't ourselves create.  No good, no evil, just a train barreling through every aeon or two.  No evil books, no evil artifacts, no evil hell-spawned monsters; just bodies in motion and huge disparities in power, awareness, and empathy.

That is cosmic horror.

And that's why the tarot or a Ouija board or whatever in a game of Call of Cthulhu should be nothing more than a set of tableware that, for whatever reason, you occasionally insert into an electrical outlet with predictable results.

!i!

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3 hours ago, Ian Absentia said:

And that's why the tarot or a Ouija board or whatever in a game of Call of Cthulhu should be nothing more than a set of tableware that, for whatever reason, you occasionally insert into an electrical outlet with predictable results.

Oh, a tarot skill fits wonderfully into the world of the Mythos. Excellent tool to give characters some insights, frights, red herrings, or paranoia. Adds flavor and atmosphere to the game.

But if players start to rely too much on it or try using it as a shortcut too often, well... there is The Key and Guardian of the Gate out there, who jealously guards ALL knowledge. Gaining his attention isn’t necessarily in their best interest, lest this card may come up more frequently:
 

 

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“Does this black blob look like Hastur to you?”

 

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12 minutes ago, foolcat said:

Oh, a tarot skill fits wonderfully into the world of the Mythos. Excellent tool to give characters some insights, frights, red herrings, or paranoia.

Agreed!  That's where the player decides to stick the butter knife in the electrical socket.  Silly player characters.

!i!

[Edit:  Hey!  That's my name in the background! "ung"]

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Tarot cards are great. I collect them for artistic reasons and considered using them more in games (I even have a Cthulhu set somewhere and a Science set.).

For example, at the end of the session have the character draw a tarot card - assuming you have a pack, or use an app - and then look up the meaning (go to learntarot.com) together. Somehow, bring those meanings into the next session - call upon a skill roll at various times and perhaps the PC makes a link to something going on. Keep that tarot card exposed during play to add suspense. (Think of the Ninth Gate.) In essence, use it like a spooky Idea roll at various points. You might also allow the other PCs to draw a tarot card, and let the player interpret it via the website for them - or just make it up (state a singe keyword). Then, if during the game a player can link the meaning keyword to an event, they can use the card like a reroll: something tells them to zig rather than zag. There's an echo in the meanings...

As mentioned previously, it can also be useful in other ways. One way the Occult skill can be useful is by delineating the boundaries of the regular occult and something else - the mythos. If something is encountered, the character knowing it is not in any wiccan or hermetic tradition that she has read would tell her something truly blasphemous is at foot. Reinterpreting Cthulhuisms into occult language is also useful, the way Cthulhu Dark Ages does - those spheres of Ezekiel sure do sound like Yog-Sothoth, and of course Nyarlathotep has a relationship with witches. Perhaps the PC can learn to detect, behind the more eerie prints and plates of those occult books, hints of the mythos? You might also look up 'sigil magick', which is popular these days, and actually get the player to define a goal and create a sigil for that goal in game. If applicable, maybe they get some benefit.

As a further suggestion - you can make it very useful by allowing a PC to interpret happenings through the lens of their knowledge. Basically, the occult skill might give a 1/5th bonus to San rolls. Knowledge of the arcane maybe allows the character to defend their mind/aura, but that's up to you and how bleak you want to get. I prefer a little Nodens and Elder Sign to my games, or some folk magic like in the new Grimoire. (If you haven't seen the movie To Cast A Deadly Spell, check it out!)

Finally, check out the Hastur Mythos in Delta Green: Countdown. There is an explicit description of the King in Yellow tarot. Her knowledge of tarot may prove invaluable... 🙂

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The original Call of Cthulhu story, people who were strongly psychic were the ones who were most messed up by Cthulhu's call. So maybe you could make the tarot skill a psychic skill, but warn the player that it might make them more susceptible to san loss.

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2 hours ago, EricW said:

...but warn the player that it might make them more susceptible to san loss.

Or a magnet for trouble.  It's the nail that stands out that gets the hammer.  C.f., the Hounds of Tindalos.

!i!

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9 hours ago, Ian Absentia said:

Or a magnet for trouble.  It's the nail that stands out that gets the hammer.  C.f., the Hounds of Tindalos.

!i!

For sure - a psychic would have malevolent SAN sapping encounters the rest of the party wouldn’t even notice.

The sailor who rammed Cthulhu with a steamship - either he couldn’t hear Cthulhu’s call, or he was mentally strong enough to resist it.

Psychic abilities are not an advantage in CoC. A master of mythos skill might be able to manage the risk but no PC can achieve that.

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Guys, you all are the best. I loved this whole thread. So many good ideas. I'm already using some of them and I'm going to write a post soon, on my personal blog, about how that experience went. Thanks a lot. 

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