There have been a number of thematic organizations in comics over the years, where the group's hierarchy is modeled after some sort of (usually) mythological lineage. Marvel Comics and 4th Edition Champions both have groups modeled after the Zodiac, Bill Willingham built an entire comic around the four elements, and Steve Long made playing cards his theme for the Dark Champions villain Cardshark. Naturally, chess has been the most popular theme, with Marvel's Hellfire Club, DC's Checkmate, Astro City's Chessmen, Villains & Vigilantes' C.H.E.S.S. and Champions' Genocide all adopting some form of chess—or chess-like—ranking system.
But of all the possible themes to base and organization around, I'm quite surprised that almost no one (Villains & Vigilantes being the exception) has ever adapted the most obvious (to me at least) one of them all. Tarot cards.
WHAT IS THE TAROT?
Tarot cards appeared around the 15th century in Italy. They were a fairly common variation on normal playing cards in Western Europe until the late 18th century, when a Frenchman invented a connection between Tarot cards and the occult. A series of 19th century occultists accepted this connection as fact, and created complex (and inaccurate) theories about the origin of Tarot cards, firmly binding them to Gypsies, cartomancy, ancient Egypt, and the occult in public perception.
A tarot deck has four suites—just like a regular card deck—divided into Coins (or Pentacles), Cups, Staves (or Rods/Wands), and Swords. There are fourteen cards per suite. As with a regular card deck, the cards are numbered Ace to Ten, followed by the Court cards; Page, Knight, Queen, and King. These cards are called the "Minor Arcana." The rest of a Tarot deck is made up of the 22 "Major Arcana." These cards consist of 21 named and numbered cards and one unnumbered card, "The Fool."
Occultists and cartomancers have assigned traits to each card in a Tarot deck. The traits vary according to whether the card is revealed rightside up or upside down ("reversed") relative to the card reader. These traits make a Tarot deck an interesting design for a superhero universe organization.
WHAT IS THE TAROT COUNCIL?
The modern incarnation of the Tarot Council was created in the mid-1800's. Founded in Switzerland, its original intent was to create an international "gentlemen's club," where the financial and political elite of Europe could gather and discuss matters of import. As time passed, and more and more paranormals made themselves known, the focus of the organization changed. No longer was the council's membership limited to men, or even the wealthy. Now, members were selected on the merit of their paranormal powers and how well they meshed with the traditional traits associated with a particular Arcana.
Of course, since the full Council consists of well over 40 people, most of whom have metahuman powers of one form or another, the Council's focus is no longer as sharply defined as it used to. Now the Council is divided into several factions, each trying to sway the actions of the others in one direction or another. The majority of the Council still adheres to the ideas on which the Tarot Council was founded, and do their best to manipulate the world's political and economic situations to their best advantage. Meanwhile, more benign Council members work to oppose actions such as these, or try and push their own agendas instead. And, of course, the search for new Council members continues....
ORGANIZATION OF THE TAROT COUNCIL
The hierarchy of the the Tarot Council is relatively simple. The Major Arcana are the ruling body, deciding Council policy by means of a majority vote. The Minor Arcana have the responsibility of carrying out these rulings. In order to simplify the process, the Council has divided its agents into four sections, with each section loosely modeled after one of the suites used on Tarot cards. The suites are:
- The Coins are responsible for financial matters. They are bankers, investment brokers, and stock traders. The Coins keep money flowing into the Council's coffers, as well as ensuring said funds are untraceable, hidden behind numerous dummy companies and shadow organizations.
- The Cups are the Council's scientific arm. They work within Council-funded research facilities (often disguised as a more legitimate holding of a Council member), engaging in a wide variety of experimentation and development. One of the primary aims of the Cups is to develop and produce new technologies before a rival, non-Council corporation does, thus allowing the Council to further increase their market share (and profits) in a particular field. The Cups are also responsible for developing the weapons and equipment the Council supplies to its field agents.
Staves (Rods or Wands)
- The Staves are the Council's covert operations team. Their functions include industrial espionage, infiltration of political parties and radical organizations, sabotage, and assassination. The Staves also function as the Council's private bodyguards, acting as security in and around the Council's Swiss headquarters.
- The Swords are the Council's combat arm. They are used for any overt operations the Council needs performed, as well as supplying security for many of the Council's research centers and industrial developments. The Swords are the ones called upon to deal with other agencies as well (For example, if a Council member wanted to eliminate a local VIPER nest, he would call upon the services of Sword agents to do so.). The Council is not stupid, however, and will not use Sword agents for such useless (and pointless) activities as bank-robberies, hostage scenarios, or other extortion schemes.
It should be noted the individual suites contain more than 14 members each. Each suite has numerous unnumbered agents, only the actual command structure is numbered or named. For example, the Staves employ a large number of operatives in order to carry out their assigned functions. However, none of these agents are given any sort of formal designation number, that right is reserved for the upper level agents. To continue this example, the King and Queen of Staves would command the actions of the Staves as a whole, and report directly to the Major Arcana of the Council. The Knight's responsibilities would be in training, tactics and field procedure. The Page would handle logistics and supply, while the numbered cards would oversee individual operations as needed. The Ace would be a "wild card." He (or she) would most likely posses metahuman powers and be used to resolve special or unusual situations or unforeseen difficulties.
THE MAJOR ARCANA
Presenting complete character sheets for all of the 22 of the Major Arcana (not to mention the 56 Minor Arcana) is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, I am going to present the Major Arcana, the traits commonly associated with each card and a suggested character concept based upon the assorted Tarot Council members that were used in the campaign where this idea was developed. Finally, I will present a full character sheet for Scaramouche (a.k.a. The Fool), since he saw the greatest amount of play.
- Traits— Ideas into action, psychic powers, diplomacy, a leader. Wisdom into action, mastery of esoteric forces.
- Character— Male, English. The Magician is a powerful magician (naturally). He should possess a very high EGO and a very good INT. Suggested powers would be a Cosmic Variable Power Pool representing his magical prowess.
- Traits— Female counter of the Magician. Mystery, wisdom, unrevealed influences.
- Character— Female, French. As the female counter to the Magician, the High Priestess would also possess a high INT and EGO. A fairly good COM score would also fit. Like the Magician, the High Priestess should have a Power Pool of mystical powers, although hers should concentrate on Mental Powers.
- Traits— Fertility, dominion over plants and animal kingdom.
- Character— Female, of Middle Eastern descent. The Empress was a card that readily lent itself to a character design. She should have exceedingly good physical stats, including a high CON and COM, and a STR score greater than she appears to have. Her powers include mental control of animals, Telekinesis representing her control of plants, animal-theme movement powers (such as Flight and Swimming), and sufficient Life Support to survive any Earth environment. She also has the ability to turn a waste into fertile land. This could be a Major Transform or Change Environment. The Empress tends to be surrounded by cool (or warm) breezes (Change Environment).
- Traits— Authority, creative power of will. Master of emotions, active intelligence.
- Character— Male. As his traits suggest, the Emperor has a high INT, EGO and PRE. He should be a leader, with numerous PRE skills such as Oratory and Persuasion. Since the Emperor is the "master of emotions," it stands that he is very strong willed. Mental Defense is a must, along with Mental Damage Reduction. Power concepts are variable, although one idea is make him a psychokinetic, giving the Emperor a variety of telekinetic powers, since telekinesis is usually expressed as "mind over matter."
- Traits— Keeper of Mysteries. Wisdom and Morality. A hierophant has no relation to elephants (that's an oliphant), but instead preserves and interprets rituals and mysteries.
- Character— Male or Female. As the keeper of mysteries, the most obvious choice for a Hierophant character is the record keeper of the Tarot Council. He (or she) is the council librarian, the one who knows all and makes sure the rituals and functions of the Tarot are kept accurate. Certain powers are obvious choices, Eidetic Memory and Speed Reading are two, as well as a good INT score. Extensive KS skills relating to the occult, Tarot, and other magical phenomena are a must, as well as some minor magical skill.
- Traits— Dualism of divine energies. Creation made possible by the interplay of opposites.
- Character— Male and Female, Italian. The Lovers are another card that suggests a character concept right from the start. Naturally, in playing to the appearance of the card itself, the Lovers should be two individuals—one male and one female—as opposed to the singular entity that represents most cards. The exact powers of the Lovers is highly variable, although it is suggested they only manifest when the pair are actually in contact with each other. A more extreme concept is based on the trait the Lovers are "Two who can act as one," in which they can combine to form a singular, more powerful being. This would require a reverse form of Duplication, but otherwise seems easily doable.
- Traits— Triumph through perseverance.
- Character— Male, American. Preston Davis, the Chariot, is the most sought after and heavily wooed of the Tarot, for whomever the Chariot sides with is assured victory. He is tall and broad, with long blond hair and muscular build. He has a 60 STR and a DEX of 24 or better. The rest of his physical stats are of similar values. Most of his powers are typical for a comic book brick; he can leap great distances, is mostly invulnerable, doesn't get sick, and so on. His most important power is a Cosmic Variable Power Pool he can tap into in order to allow him to obtain victory in any situation. He cannot consciously activate this Pool however, and has no control over what sort of power(s) will manifest.
Preston is a loner, with two of his Psychological Limitations being "Cannot Refuse A Request For Aid" and "Loner; always on the move". He travels the American Southwest on a Harley Davidson motorcycle, doing odd jobs and good deeds. The bike has a Chariot Tarot card hanging from the handlebars.
- Traits— Courage, magnanimity, persistence.
- Character— Female, Irish. Strength is a tall (6'3") woman with a female bodybuilder's physique. She is a physical powerhouse, having a STR of 70 (or better). Possessing a strong sense of will, her EGO should be at minimum 24, with a 26 or more not unreasonable. Naturally, she should possess significant levels of Mental and Presence Defense. Strength is very difficult to harm, with Power Defense for her physical characteristics and fully resistant defenses of 30 or better. All of these powers combined should make Strength one of the most powerful bricks on Earth. Fortunately, her card-determined traits mean she is usually going act as a hero.
- Traits— Active, involved, productive. Lights the world through his own actions.
- Character— The Hermit is a difficult card to make into a character. The exact meaning of the card is open to many interpretations, many of which vary wildly in content. In regards to the Tarot Council, the Hermit is the Council's director. He establishes the base policy for the Council and ensures all of the Council's rules and regulations are adhered to. He may (or may not) have any real "powers," although one possibility is an accelerated intellect (such as DC's Terminator, or Ozymandius from Watchmen).
WHEEL OF FORTUNE
- Traits— Earth and Fire. The forces that drive the wheel. Action.
- Character— Male. The Wheel of Fortune symbolizes action and evolution. The character should have good physical stats, to allow for the active life the Wheel must lead. Powers for the Wheel of Fortune should fall into the "forces that dive the wheel" realm, or "action and reaction." Most versions of the Wheel features fire and earth symbolism, which would make for a powerful character. Other possibilities would be control of all the elements, or gravity control.
- Traits— Balance, held accountable for actions.
- Character— Female. A good character design for Justice would be to play off of the traditional idea of "blind justice" (even though the actual card has normal sight). A blind woman, with potent telekinetic powers (including Spatial Awareness) and the ability to Missile Deflect and Reflect attacks (i.e. holding others accountable for their actions). As Justice, the character would carry the symbols of her office, a sword and balance. The sword would be functional weapon, while the balance is merely a mark of office (and a distraction to foci hunting foes). As another aspect of Justice is strength, the character could have a STR of 30 or more.
- Traits— Can take any risk or make any sacrifice demanded.
- Character— Male, German. The Hanged Man is one of the more foreboding cards in the Tarot deck, showing a man hung by his ankle from T-shaped framework. Interestingly, the Hanged Man is usually a positive card, indicating understanding or the willingness to do what others will not. A good version of the Hanged Man would be a "cannot be killed" type of character. This character should have good physical stats (including a high BODY score), a good EGO, Regenerative Healing (Resurrection, Heal Lost Limbs), and extra Body with the Limitation of Only to Stave Off Point of Death (-2) (see Ninja Hero 5th Edition). Naturally, such a character would probably have the Psych Lim of "Reckless".
- Traits— Great change, death, rebirth.
- Character— Male, Spanish. Death, like the Hanged Man, is a card that means more than it appears to. It is not a "death" card per se, but instead indicates great changes or a new beginning. In my old Champions campaign, Death was a mild, unassuming man in a gray suit who bore a marked resemblance to Patrick Stewart. I never intended to give him a character sheet, instead deciding that if I wanted him to be able to do something, he would do it (I also never intended for him to fight the PCs in the campaign, since he was their ally.) Possible powers for Death could be Aid (or Healing), Killing Attacks, and Major Transforms. Playing off of his depiction on many Tarot cards, he could appear as a skull-face man wearing late 15th Century plate armor (black of course).
- Traits— Ability to hone and sharpen the raw forces of one's skills. Mature adaptation.
- Character— Female, Asian descent (China or Japan works best). A perfect character concept for Temperance is found in Exploring the Tarot (pg. 109); "In the fullest sense, temperance is the ability to hone and sharpen the raw forces of our skills and talents so that they are able to perform at full effectiveness....". A martial artist is a natural choice, especially one schooled in the more philosophical fighting arts. Naturally, the character should have excellent physical skills, as well as a proper set of martial artist skills. To symbolize the "sharpen the raw forces of one's skills," the character should have somewhere between two and six Overall Levels capable of being used to immediately improve any needed skill to "full effectiveness." To counterbalance this ability, these Overall Levels should cost END and should be "all or nothing," in other words, the character can only use them to improve one skill per Phase, they cannot be split up among (for example) OCV, DCV, Acrobatics, and Damage.
- Traits— Destructive force, emphasis on the material and the carnal. Lust, obsession, bondage, temptation.
- Character— Male, Eastern European. The Devil suggests a whole host of character ideas, all of them evil. The card itself depicts an inhuman, diabolic figure, bat-winged with a distinct goatish aspect. A possible character concept could pay upon this design, with the Tarot Council Devil a man who can transform into a raging diabolic beast. Great strength, wings, resistance to damage, and destructive powers (such as Explosive Energy Blasts and Armor Piercing RKAs) are obvious choices. In his human form, the Devil should be loud, boisterous, and crude, having totally given himself over to man's more basic nature. Psychological limitations such as "Sadist," "Overconfidence," "Womanizer," "Obsessive," and "Greedy" would all be fitting for such a character.
- Traits— Unforeseen catastrophe, disruption. Punishment.
- Character— Depiction's of the Tower (as a card) vary. Most show a tall stone tower struck by lighting. Some show the tower shattered by the blast and two figures (one male and one female) being hurled from the top. (A quick note—in many decks, the male and female figures shown on The Lovers, The Devil, and The Tower are considered to be the same people.) As a character, two possible choices exist for the Tower; one gives the Tower the ability to literally shatter towers, defined as a large HKA (possible Area of Effect) with the limitation of "Only versus Buildings" or some such. The other concept makes the Tower the Council's personal assassin. Working from the traits of punishment and catastrophe, the Tower exists to eliminate those who prove to be far too troublesome to the Council.
- Traits— Hope, aspiration, healing, beauty. The sphere of intuition.
- Character— Female. The typical representation for the Star is a nude woman kneeling by a stream, filling a jug. Based on the traits, powers for such a character are obvious—healing. The character could possess a variety of Healing powers (including Aid and Succor) designed to cure wounds as well as defeat poisons and disease. A high COM would fit, as well as a reasonable level of EGO and INT (the Star does represent the sphere of intuition after all). One could also consider Danger Sense, making it another aspect of the Star's "intuition."
- Traits— Psychic powers, secrecy, dreams. The realm of emotion.
- Character— The Moon symbolizes the mysterious and subconscious. As a character, the Moon should have mental powers such as Mind Control and Mental Illusions. These powers should affect the emotional state of the target, creating such feelings a fear and anxiety. Area of Effect would be a fitting Advantage for all of the Moon's powers. The various modifications to Mind Control and Mental Illusions suggested in The Ultimate Mentalist 4th Edition would work well for this character.
- Traits— Growth, success, abundance. Cosmic knowledge, the source of all things.
- Character— As the "source of all things," the Sun sounds a bit difficult to quantify as a character. One possibility to make the Sun a living END reserve, able to restore lost END and STUN with a touch. He (or she), could also have more mystical powers, such as the ability to bestow success and good fortune (Luck or Overall Levels Usable on Others) on those who need it. A third power might be the ability to Aid and/or Succor just about any characteristic and/or power.
- Traits— Rebirth and reward.
- Character— Judgment is also very difficult to quantify as a character. The card usually depicts Gabriel calling forth the dead on Judgment Day, with coffins opening and skeletons appearing. One character concept gives Judgment limited precognitive powers, allowing the Tarot Council to consult him as to the best course of action in a given situation. Judgment could also possess a powerful "sixth sense" that allows him to unconsciously make correct choices when faced with an uncertain situation (Luck, Overall Levels, or a form of Precognitive Clairsentience). Talents such as Danger Sense, Bump of Direction, Absolute Time Sense, and Lightning Calculator would all fit for this character.
- Traits— Female. Perfection, eternity, cosmic consciousness.
- Character— The World is possibly the most powerful member of the Tarot Council. She has at her command control of the world itself. She can manipulate objects at the atomic level, and can turn lead into gold, walk on air, melt a car with a wave of her hand, and survive virtually any environment... in fact there is very little the World cannot do. As an embodiment of perfection, the World should have a fairly high COM score, although there is no particular need for the rest of her characteristics to be bought to superhuman levels. Her cosmic consciousness does warrant a good INT and EGO score, as well as some form of precognitive power.