Instant Powers: The Cascade Spread
Read on for examples of how to use a Tarot spread to create a new power or revelation for a character! Or, if you want the basics, learn more about Tarot in general!
The Cascade Spread
Let’s try a slightly more defined tarot reading, called a ‘spread.’ Generally, a spread is a set of cards you lay out in a specific pattern, where each card will be assigned to a specific idea or part of the overall interpretation. Here, I’ll go over the pattern I’ll be using, and then walk through an example.
I call this spread the Cascade, because it reminds me of falling water and the idea of actions leading to consequences. In this case, I’m using this spread to discover a major revelation about a character: something life-altering, like a super-power, major personal talent, or world-changing invention.
The first draw, card one, goes at the top, and represents the root of the talent. View the card and consider what aspect of personality, background, motivation, skill, goal, or destiny is being referenced; anything from important or powerful ancestors, to the desire to save a friend’s life, or even an unshakeable belief in righteousness could be the catalyst. I’ll note that this could also be the root of an entirely new character, if you are trying to build one based around a shocking power or revelation in their lives!
With the root in mind, cards two and three make up a new row below card one. Card two represents the most important benefits of this new talent or ability, and card three the drawbacks. While these two things may not balance out in terms of apparent ‘level’ or importance, that’s okay! The critical thing to do is to consider: What new talent, superpower, discovery, or other revelation would be rooted in card one, and have the impacts suggested in cards two and three? The connection between cause and effect is what the character learns or gains!
Finally, cards four through seven are placed below cards two and three; they can form a new row, but I place the cards in the Cascade so they fan outward. Each of these cards represents a long-term impact either the benefit or the drawback have: four is the benefit’s positive impact on the character, and five is the benefit’s (probably positive) impact on other characters or the world around them; six is the drawback’s negative effect on the character, and seven is the drawback’s (probably negative) impact on others or the world at large.
An Example: A Detective’s Discovery
Let’s go back to the example I used for an Instant Villain, and give our detective an Instant Power! In this scenario, the genre is fantasy-crime-thriller, or possibly even veering into fantasy-noir, and the main character is a rogue-turned-City-Watch who specializes in persuasion and deduction. I want to give her a boost in capability, so she can match her magically, socially, and financially powerful nemesis!
Given all that, the results of this Cascade spread could create anything from a magical power or artifact to an important revelation about her family’s history and social standing, so let’s see where it takes us!
I lay out all seven cards, face down, and then flip over card one! Though the picture will show them all face up at once, and it is also fine to lay them out face up to begin with, I tend to lay them face down and then flip them as I go.
Card one, the root: King of Wands: Confidence in action and leadership.
Given that Anela is so silver-tongued, it seems pretty clear that this indicates her personal capabilities and confidence. The root of this new talent or discovery is Anela’s ability to persuade others to listen to her--though that doesn’t necessarily mean the talent is just more of the same. That’s the part of her that this reading will draw from for inspiration!
That done, I flip over the next two cards so I can see where this is going!
Card two, the benefit: Four of Wands: Synergy, making a community grow through cooperation.
Card three, the drawback: Queen of Wands: Independence, working alone.
Well, those are rather… diametrically opposed! Especially interesting that all three so far are wands, and thus about creation and action and energy. What power or revelation would enable Anela to foster synergy and close cooperation, but also (to take the negative aspect from the Queen of Wands) isolate her and leave her alone, or even lonely?
Anela is already good at making herself understood and getting people to do what she wants, so the power isn’t going to be mind control or perfectly charismatic leadership abilities--those wouldn’t isolate her, anyway… but what about telepathy? The ability to reach out and read the thoughts of others, or to project her own thoughts?
That would let her guide a group of people and coordinate them extremely well, making her an excellent team leader. It might also make others uncomfortable. It would make people look at her differently, treat her like she is always spying on them. I like it! It fits both the benefit and the drawback, and relates to her self-confidence and ability to communicate, without just duplicating that part of her personality.
Next, I take a look at the two cards that will tell me more about this benefit!
Card four, the benefit’s impact on the character: Two of Cups: Connection, achieving perfect harmony with a soul mate.
Card five, the benefit’s impact on others: Page of Cups: Idealism, childlike trust and outlook.
Interesting! So the ability to read minds is going to lead to perfect harmony with someone; possibly a romantic interest, but that could also include a professional harmony between Anela and her sometimes-irksome partner, Loma. Two detectives communicating telepathically during takedowns sounds pretty excellent!
The Page of Cups also suggests some neat possibilities. Perhaps this perfect harmony between partners leads to some epic moments, and suddenly everyone is treating Anela like she’s actually a hero. That could be more than a little useful, but also stands a chance of leading to some dramatic consequences if she can’t live up to expectations!
And finally, I look at the last two cards to see what the drawback might lead to.
Card six, the drawback’s impact on the character: Wheel of Fortune: Fate or chance is at play.
Card seven, the drawback’s impact on others: Four of Swords: Tactical Retreat, cutting losses and seeking refuge.
Ouch! That’s perfect, and also provides opportunity for challenges: Some people are withdrawing from Anela completely, cutting her out of their lives, once they discover the truth. Sometimes this is terribly isolating, even though the power is extremely helpful. Anela will swing between feeling excellent and well-connected, and feeling alone.
I can even see this as an interesting arc: After discovering her power, there will of course be a period where Anela experiments with it and has some success, gaining the acclaim and love of the people she helps (and possibly of her partner, Loma!). However, at some point, either chance or ill-timing will reveal her ability to others, and she will be a bit of a pariah. Some people will treat her like a dangerous criminal, and she will have to decide how to respond to that--and hope she can find some way to prove herself once again! A classic rise and fall, with an open end to the story!