Tarot Characters: Joanne

Greetings Kultists! I have mentioned before that I love the Kult tarot deck (in fact, I have a category on the blog specifically for it!). I wrote a post detailing a method for creating characters for Kult using the tarot deck, and last week I sat down and did this with the wife again! I performed the reading, we both came with suggestions and ideas for how the cards might be interpreted and what stories one might tell. Once the reading was done, we picked a Dark Secret, Disadvantages and Advantages and created a more or less complete character, ready to be played! This is her.

The Agent

Core Characteristic – Four of Eyes (Distractions)

Core to the character is the concept of distractions, things we’d rather do than face the truth of a situation, or the truth of reality. This is early in the reading, but we immediately understand that whatever the character is going through, they don’t want to face it.




Past Event – Togarini (Compulsion)

Togarini is a fun and versatile card. While normally associated with creatives and artistic pursuits, Togarini also represents the wider concept of being fully consumed by something. We are making an Agent, so my wife suggests that this is an obsession with an investigation. Losing oneself in work, hunting for some deeply rooted truth despite everything else… That is Kult!

We decide here that, since this is the character’s past, they must have uncovered something truly horrible or strange, and the discovery changed them. The details of this are left open, since the reading is far from complete.

Ambitions – Four of Crescents (Transformation)

We see now that this character wants to be an instigator for change. We read this card as her being ambitious, always aiming to make things better. A few discussion points were brought up on how this might tie into Togarini and (more importantly) the Four of Eyes. At this point, the character is starting to shape up and we get a grasp on how they might approach situations…

Weakness – Chokmah (Submission)

And then the deck throws us a curve ball. Chokmah represents submission, cowing for the superior force, obeying orders and listening to convention. Since our character is supposed to be an agent for change, we have to reassess their methods and ideals. Perhaps they are proponents of positive change, but not someone to take a fight? Advocating for change consentually, but hesitant to make a fuss. This will work.

We also realize now what happened when they discovered the truth of whatever they obsessed about in the past. Their superiors shut down the whole thing, and cowed her into submission to them. She must have found some real dirt.

Strength – Thaumiel (Power)

Another curve ball… I was briefly tempted to switch this card out, I just couldn’t see any possibilities here. My wife convinced me to hold on to the card, though, and I am happy for that!

Thaumiel represents Power, and either an alignment or opposition to the principle. For this character, we decided that they have power, but perhaps no will to use it. She was promoted to captain, but her power only extends so far and only in the directions that her corrupt superiors allow it. It is her strength, but it doesn’t allow her to strive for her own ambitions.

After the reading, we sat down and discussed more free-form what to do with this character concept. The cards were left on the table for easy reference, but now we moved on to a more traditional way of character creation. The concept was ready to be fleshed out.

In this specific case, we didn’t assign a gender, name, or much of any personal characteristics to the character to keep our options open. We later decided on making the character female, and named Joanne. I will refer to her as such from now on.

Dark Secret – Forbidden Knowledge

Joanne discovered something truly upsetting in her investigation. Her superiors don’t seem fully human, and have criminal ties and yet more seem powerful in ways she cannot even grasp. While bent and broken, Joanne still has a desperate wish to reveal the truth to the world. She just needs to find a way.

Disadvantages

Rival – Joanne has a rival in the police force. Someone as ambitious as her, who resents her for receiving her promotion and vicious enough to fight her authority and sabotage her where possible. We leave this character open to be discussed at a later time.
Nightmares – Living through the situation Joanne is, nightmares seem only appropriate. In her dreams, she’s haunted by her boss’s watchful eyes and his long, slobbering tongue.

Advantages

Analyst – She’s a good, ambitious cop, and all that comes with it.
Field Agent – She’s a good, ambitious cop, and all that comes with it.
Endure Trauma – Joanne manages her life with beer and mindless entertainment. Boring as it is, it helps her disassociate and deal with the madness at work.

Joanne is a police officer… well, captain now, she supposes. She tries not to think too much about her work, preferring an endless stream of bad TV to keep herself busy. She used to be happy, an enthusiastic force for change and goodness. Now, she doesn’t know what she is. Nothing good, certainly.

When she started her job, Joanne pushed for positive change in any place she could. She was a well educated police officer, expertly trained, and ambitious. If she saw something that seemed inefficient, abusive, or just slightly off, she would encourage her colleagues to work towards changing it. Small victories, certainly, but if her and her friends at work have a slightly easier time doing their jobs, that’s enough for her.

The details of the job that cost her everything aren’t important, not right now. It started with the implication of a human trafficking operation, but what it ended up as was worse than anything she’d known before. Joanne worked her ass off to get to the bottom of the rabbit hole of crime she’d found, and despite dwindling resources and other things demanding her attention, she knew that this was big. She worked days, nights, and would’ve continued beyond the twenty four hours allotted her in a day if it were only possible. It had to be done, something was wrong, more wrong than she could put to words.

Once Joanne discovered the connection, as she inevitably did, her superiors contacted her. They knew what she had found, almost the second she did. Brought into a private room, with men in suits waiting for her there, she was told on no vague terms that she would stop immediately, or die. She’d found ties between people who should by no rights have them, people within the government and even her own organization. They couldn’t have that, and so they ensured she would shut up.

Joanne was cowed. She had no other option, she knew there was no fighting this. She campaigned for change, but this? She could not possibly go up against these people, if they even were people. They defeated her, and once they’d squashed her will they raised her. It would have looked really bad if she’d turned down that captain’s position, would have been suspicious. She took the role, and remained in the force as an obedient pawn for the watchful eyes above her.

In this new position, Joanne has influence… to an extent. She sits as an intermediary between the monsters (and she’s sure by now that they are monsters) that rule her and the blind, naive police below her. Still, she has no idea what to do with the power she’s been given. Any work she does is, in the end, either approved or not by the powers that be. She sees their manipulations in ways both direct and not. Reallocating resources and staff, ‘adjusting’ paperwork, nudging people away from what they’re not supposed to know. Joanne has to take part in this, she has to conceal the truth to keep her own life.

So after a long day, Joanne escapes the office and all its pressures and vile secrets. She hurries home, picks up a six-pack of beer on the way, and just… shuts down. She doesn’t want to think about her work, doesn’t want to think about anything. It feels like it keeps getting bigger, the secrets and the lies and the intrigues. How long can she keep up this facade?

That’s it for now! Hope you found this excercise in character creation interesting, I’m likely to make this a recurring segment of the blog because I find it so much fun. If you want to see the work notes I had while doing the reading, here they are. On a final note, due to personal circumstances, Jessy’s Story will be another week delayed. The goal is to have it posted next Saturday. See you then!

Discoveries in the Minor Arcana

A while back (the post may be buried by the time I post this), a post in the Facebook group Kult RPG Fans started a discussion on what humans can even eat if they’re stuck in Metropolis. There was interesting discussion to be had, but what I am writing about here is based on some banter between myself and another poster on there, Alex. He suggested the “refreshingly exciting” option of hunting down a cairath and peeling off a rat or a dog or something less tasteful from its body. I found this hilarious, and responded with the joke that the cairath can’t hunt you, if you’re hunting it.

The interaction got me thinking about the tarotica (as many things in Kult tend to do). The suits in the minor arcana all carry a meaning, some metaphorical or physical transition that moves from the start of the suit until the end. I realized, after some contemplation, that the same applies to smaller sequences of cards. There may be millions of story elements and insights into the Kult world that we can glean from the way the tarot cards are sequenced.

Predator
Swarm
Prey

This specific interaction, of hunting a cairath while it hunts you, can be illustrated with the Five of Roses to the Seven of Roses. Predator, Swarm and Prey. I envision the Swarm as the cairath itself, an amalgamation of bodies grown together. Prey and Predator surround it, as it is both a natural Predator and an unlikely Prey. Read in descending order, you can even consider the Prey being above the Predator as an illustration of how easily the roles can reverse.

It’s a small and abstract observation, but I wanted to share it! What other curious knowledge can be discovered by studying the tarot and its sequences? Only time will tell.

Tarot readings for Character Creation

I originally wrote this post for the Razors Through Flesh blog. It’s a good blog and Basilides is a cool guy. I encourage you to check it out. This is the second post I wrote. Part one is here.

In this post, I would like to present an idea I have experimented with: to use the tarot deck for character creation. I thought of this one evening, and suggested to my wife that we try it out. We sat down with the deck, lit some candles, and I performed a reading using the “Individual” template in the rules.

Before we began, my wife selected an archetype she wanted to play: The Broken. After this, I laid out the cards as usual. The cards were turned over one by one, and I explained the card’s meanings to her using examples and wide concepts, mostly taken from the document. Together, we discussed what each card might mean for the character.

The result was incredible. I strongly suggest trying this out with your own players, provided you know they are comfortable with it. Once the reading is complete, you as the GM can build the character rules-wise, or you could proceed with character creation as normal. This method provides a character concept that, thanks to the Kult tarot deck being so well made, is certain to fit in with the game’s mechanics.

Here’s how the reading went.

Archetype: The Broken

Core Characteristic – Four of Skulls (Spirit)

I explain to my wife that the Four of Skulls represents Spirit. It represents the eternal soul of humanity, your innermost essence and true sense. Those in the know will know that there is more to the Four of Skulls, but I left it at this. The rest of the card’s meaning could become evident through play.

After some thinking, this suggestion comes up: the character is perfectly in tune with themselves. They understand all their innermost desires, and doesn’t lie to themselves. They have a strong relationship to their own mind and soul.

How the Past shaped them – Five of Roses (Predator)

The Five of Roses represents the predator, the hunter, preying on the weak. A fun card, no doubt, and my wife quickly comes to an understanding – her character has killed for pleasure. They likes doing it. We decide that they’ve murdered five people, as that’s the value of the card revealed. We feel happy with that quick interpretation, and move on.


Their Ambitions – Hod (Honor)

As the character’s ambition, we discover honor. Hod upholds inflexible values, bonds forged through the understanding that the alternative is to be ostracized and shamed. Hod demands you uphold your honor, destroy those who insult it, and shame those who can not measure up to it.

This one was tough, but we eventually decided that the character has made a pact with some entity, and that they’re bound by honor to uphold it. This is not a bad thing for them, but rather they take pride in it and strives to maintain their honor.

The specifics of this pact, and the entity, are left ambiguous for now. We decide to return to the subject once we have more information.

Their biggest Weakness – Six of Crescents (Merging)

We think on this for a long time. The Six of Crescents embodies two things becoming one, a melding of ideas, absorption.

Eventually, I give a suggestion that I found fitting for a Broken character: they suffer from schizophrenia. A serious mental illness seems a suitable weakness for a game like Kult, but my wife takes this idea of merging further. She suggests that this man – and this is where we decided that it’s a man – shares his headspace with the people he’s murdered. He kills them, and their minds are absorbed into his own. As for the Truth of this, that is to remain undecided.

Their biggest Strength – Chesed (Safety)

And finally, we explore the character’s greatest strength: Chesed. Safety, comfort, security, letting go of worries in the belief that you will be fine. What an excellent reveal to tie back into his core characteristic, the Four of Skulls.

We discover, after a discussion, that the people he murdered were all unhappy, likely mentally ill. The character was a good friend to them, caring from them and trying to give them comfort. He wishes to bring peace to those who suffer, and knows that in his own calm mind they will be safe. This is why he kills – it brings him comfort to protect those too weak and distressed to protect themselves.

The wife and I are both happy with this reading, so we begin to discuss the character as a whole, looking at the cards and re-iterating their meanings and how they connect to each other.

His name is Piran, and he has been mentally unwell all his life. He lives in a shabby apartment, has regular psychiatric check-ups, and works a variety of dead-end jobs when he’s not on welfare. Sometimes, he gets a little bit crazier than usual, and he is often in and out of mental institutions.

He is a loner, but his calm and friendly demeanor makes him good at approaching others like him. Piran met all his victims through psychiatric care, unhappy people who struggle to even stay alive. His first victim was not an accident, but he could not have prepared for the outcome. Feeling sympathy for their suffering, he decided to murder this person to give them the peace they deserved.

Once the deed was done, however, Piran regretted his decision. He was plagued with guilt, until some strange entity came to him and offered a release. It made a pact with Piran: as long as he murdered those he with good conscience knew needed it, those he killed would not be lost. The being guides those that Piran kills into his mind, and he allows them to settle there. As Piran feels in control of his own mind and self, it brings him comfort to know that his victims are safe.

This being and Piran hold a close bond – they communicate, made promises to one another that they keep, request favors that the other will grant, and this pact holds so long as Piran performs his selfmade duty with conviction.

As a game master, I adore Piran as a character concept. I see a lot of potential in ways to explore his character. Some examples include:

  • The entity demands something out of the ordinary for him.
  • Piran kills someone who turns hostile on him once in his mind.
  • A detailed exploration of how Piran finds someone to kill, and how he does it.
  • Piran becomes hunted by the police, or something else, for his actions.

And much, much more. The reading helped me and my wife create a character for her that’s fully steeped in Kult lore and themes.

Finally, I would like to share a picture of another reading we did that turned out very differently.

Core – Astaroth, manifested through Hareb-Serap
Past – Chokmah.
Ambition Six of Eyes
Weakness Eight of Eyes
Strength – Sathariel

This was a horrifying read through and through. We decided not to select an Archetype before performing the reading for this one, which I am not sure I would recommend. It made it more difficult to find starting points to interpret the cards. However, the cards themselves were still telling enough to weave a rather vile character portrait.

The character we discovered through this reading is a former ISIS fighter and death magician. He has turned on his faith and cause, because he considers himself more powerful than God. His goal in life is to wage a lonesome, bloody war on any and all structures of power, religious or otherwise. He lives in isolation, fueled by his lust for conflict, and he has constant waking nightmares of his own death. The character is a skilled enough death magician to understand well enough what dying and being dragged into Inferno might mean.

A rather different type of character than Piran, but a fascinating Enlightened character with well defined goals and a host of enemies, human and otherwise, to pit against him.

I hope you’ve found this exploration of character creation interesting! It may not be for everyone, but if you have players willing to experiment, there is a lot to enjoy in this method. If you do try it out, be sure to comment on this post and share your thoughts on the process!

Using the Tarot

I originally wrote this post for the Razors Through Flesh blog. It’s a good blog and Basilides is a cool guy. I encourage you to check it out.

One of my favorite materials for the game is the Kult tarot deck, it’s beautiful and every card connects in deep and interesting ways to the game’s world. For this blog post, I will explore some of that by showing examples of my process when doing tarot readings for the game. Tarot reading in Kult: Divinity Lost works as a creativity engine – it helps you explore the game’s concepts and develop your scenarios and characters.

Before reading further, I recommend you at least glance through the tarot reading rules for Kult: Divinity Lost. They are available here: Link. You can also keep it open and read the full description of each card as I discuss them, if you like.

I run a Kult scenario with my wife as a player, where she plays the middle-aged surgeon Paul. I won’t get into the details of the story, but the first time the Illusion cracked and tore around him, Paul accidentally attracted some attention from an extradimensional being (from the disadvantage Rationalist).

After this event, it was necessary for me to figure out exactly what that meant. As I had no immediate ideas I could tie into the story, I decided to consult the tarot deck. The rules have a reading template for “Creatures”, so I used that one.

The question I decided to focus on for my reading was written as this:
When Paul saw through the Illusion, something took note of him. What was it?
These are the cards for that reading, as I interpreted them.

1. What is its origin? – Binah (Community)

Revealing Binah as the origin could say a lot of things – it could be a creature directly in Binah’s service, or something inspired by or bound to her principle of Community, or it could be something tied to or born out of a family.

I chose the last of these ideas, because I did not want to directly involve the main character with Binah at this time. Something born out of a family, or a need for family.

2. How can one find more information about it? – Nine of Crescents (Stillness)

I interpreted the Nine of Crescents here as “Absolute Stillness”. No light, no sound, no movement, Achlys. Since the Ace of Crescents is Vortex, which is all of creation, it seemed fitting that the card as far away from it as possible in its suit would be close to Achlys.

With this in mind, I decided that the creature takes a hold of the main character, but the less stimuli is around, the more that hold weakens. In perfect dark, with no sound, only then can one observe the being without being affected by it. This is also, then, the means to study it.

3. What drives the creature? – Kether (Hierarchy)

The entity strives to create hierarchy. Looking back on its origin of “a family”, you can clearly see what it wants – its goal is to enforce or inspire strict hierarchy within a family. The hierarchy I saw in this was that of a strong ruling husband with a subservient family under him. That works fantastically with Paul’s story for reasons I’ll not get into here.

What I pondered for a long time was what the creature’s own position in his hierarchy would be. I decided it would be interesting if the entity saw itself as serving Paul, its ‘summoner’ as it were. It seeks to inspire him to take control of his family, acting as a loyal advisor.

4. What is its weakness? – Seven of Crescents (Reflection)

Immediately I am hit with an idea – the entity exists in reflections of Paul. Mirrors are the natural example here, but every reflection be it literal via light and sound, or figurative in pictures or paintings. That is how it communicates.

Now, how would this be a weakness? Without reflections, its communications hold no power. This is why Stillness is the path to understanding the entity – where there is nothing to reflect, the entity’s influence fades entirely and its attempts at manipulation can be studied or ignored.

In addition, the creature may be closely tied to Paul’s own body. Any hurt or pain inflicted on him may also end up hurting it.

5. What is its strength? – Gamaliel (Lust)

This was a curveball. How do I tie lust and sexual depravity into this?

I ended up with a simple, yet hopefully effective explanation – the being is at its peak when it inspires sexual violence as a mean to enforce family hierarchy. This fuels it, and as rape, depraved sex acts and all related suffering may weaken the mental stability of all those involved (and the Illusion itself), it becomes easier and easier for the being to burrow itself into Paul’s mind.

Those are the cards! Now, I must view these cards as a whole, and tie all these thoughts into some coherent monster to present in the scenario. Below is what I wrote down for myself, as a completed reading.

Paul’s anger and defense of his family when encountering Gal Chak sent ripples through the Illusion, and as he passed out in this heightened state a twisted being from deep within the realms of Limbo heard what it believed was his call. The being sees only Paul, feels as though it is summoned by him, and it is, in all respects, subordinate to him. However, it sees itself a councillor.

The nachtschreck wishes to help Paul control his family, to protect it and to establish him as the powerful protector he can be. It appears in mirrors, inspiring Paul with visions, thoughts and subtle imagery. However, it has no form of its own. It only exists in Paul’s reflections, and anything that happens to Paul, happens to it.

In perfect silence, in perfect darkness, only then can Paul be truly free from its influence, which weakens the less his reflection of sound or sight can appear. Then, he can sense the nachtschreck, and perhaps even learn to banish it.

The nachtschreck’s favorite tool to establish Paul as the alpha is through sex. It wants to establish both Sara and Mallory as subordinate to him by having Paul dominate them. It does not know about the nepharite, nor does it care. After all, their goals are similar. For the moment.

In our second session, Paul was having a conversation with a police officer who shared with him the gruesome details of what would eventually be known as the Dublin Docks murders, where eighteen people (homeless and delinquents) were slaughtered in an abandoned warehouse.

I decided early on that this would be the work of azghouls, as I see the rundown harbor areas of 1980’s Dublin as a perfect link towards Metropolis from which they would have come. Now the question became – who were these azghouls, really, and why were they there?

I decided to use the template for cults for this. It felt like a good fit for a homogenous group of intelligent entities. This was the question I wrote down before starting the reading:

Who are the azghouls roaming around the borderlands in the Dublin docks?

Let’s look at the cards revealed one by one.

1. What drives them? – Five of Roses (Predator)

This spoke to me immediately – they are hunting, or preying, on humans in the area. Five of Roses has a lot of potential readings, but for this, a very literal understanding of predator or hunter is enough.

Azghouls see humans for what they truly are, and these azghouls more than anything aim to exact revenge for ancient suffering and ensure that the humans can never again enslave them. That works perfectly as a drive here, I think.

2. What is their history? – Five of Eyes (Division)

Five of Eyes generally represents division as a form of struggle, conflicts between groups and individuals. It’s in the Eyes suit, so normally it represents Elysium and the Illusion.

However, I decided to take it in a somewhat different direction – these azghouls have been split off from a larger group. Some event in their past cast them into the borderlands between Elysium and Metropolis, and they have lost contact with the rest of their group. A clan, tribe or similar structure.

This lends a sense of desperation to their actions, which I like. They are weaker than they have been in the past.

Five of Eyes could also represent the azghouls’ inability to leave Elysium (considering the suit of Eyes), or even their old eternal struggle with humankind. I chose to consider these paths less.

3. What is their goal? – Eight of Roses (Obsession)

The Eight of Roses was a difficult reveal for me initially. I didn’t see these azghouls as passionate, obsessive creatures, and to use Obsession in terms of a goal was hard.

After some consideration, I finally had a realization: their end goal is to reach Metropolis again and rejoin with their clan. The Eight of Roses represents the clan, rather than the azghoul murderers. This clan must be intensely tribal, a tightly knit collective loyal and loving only to itself. This makes the event in the past much more traumatic and important to the group – these azghouls have not been split from their collective in ages.

4. What is their weakness? – Six of Hourglasses (Hidden)

Six of Hourglasses, representing something Hidden, was fairly easy to convey as a weakness – the group struggles to stay in the shadows, and they will be found. Lictors, law enforcement, magicians, many would be keen on tracking them down and have the resources to do so. The sand in their hourglass is running out.


5. What is their strongest resource? – Gamichicoth (Fear)

And what a card to reveal. A mass murder on the scale they’ve committed no doubt causes widespread fear, both in the docks area and Dublin as a whole. They’ve caused a major upset, and continuing on their murderous path could induce widespread panic. Gamichicoth’s servants are no doubt happy to feed off of these events. Their greatest weakness is also their greatest strength.

That went well! Now that each card has been revealed, it’s time to view them together and express them as a completed work. Like last time, these are the final notes I wrote for myself:

The azghouls responsible for the Docks Murders come from a larger group, known as the Devean Cult. This cult lives near the Metropolis waterways, and are intensely and obsessively tribal, shunning all outsiders in the eternal city. Due to some chance event, possibly a spell cast by some magician of time and space, a group of five azghouls were separated from the cult and are now stuck in the borderlands between the Dublin docks and Metropolis, seeking a way home.

These azghouls have not seen humans in a terribly long time, but they are quick to recognize their slavers and torturers. They prey on their former tormentors, stalking through the water and dark buildings to murder humans in truly gruesome ways, inflicting all the pain their own bodies cause them.

Their actions are passionate, bloody, and visual. Lictors within law enforcement will soon find out what’s going on, and humans familiar with the truth will recognize the sudden influence of Gamichicoth in the area. Fear spreads, as the murders are framed as loyalist terrorist attacks. The Ulster Volunteer Force is among those blamed, and pirate radio stations and local media are quick to seize on the hate train.

Within Elysium, the five azghouls stand tall, either swaddled in crude felt coats or blankets. They appear homeless, glaring with a wild anger at passersby with glimmering green eyes. Their faces are all mangled, poorly healed scars that stretch down the rest of their bodies.

With this, I hope you have gained some insight into how you might approach tarot readings in Kult. Most important to remember is that these readings are not bound by any strict rules or logic – your feelings and your understanding is what’s most important. Grab your tarot deck, dive deep into the terrifying reality that Kult presents, and see what you come back with.