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Villainous Tarot

Read on for examples of how to use the Tarot to create a nuanced villain in a game or story! Or, if you want the basics, learn more about Tarot in general!

Creating an Instant Villain

Let’s say I’m playing a game--or writing a story--in the genre of fantasy crime thriller. My main character is a cunning investigator, and I need an equally clever villain to be her nemesis. Is this going to be a Joker-style sociopath who just wants to watch the world burn? A new Hannibal Lecter, intense and focused and evil? An Al Capone-esque crime boss? I have no idea!

I’ll build this person from the ground up, starting with their background! I draw one card and see what it tells me.

The Ace of Coins: The Seed

The Ace of Coins: The Seed

So, my villain started with everything they needed to make a good life for themselves; money, power, or simply a caring home. I’ll decide exactly what this ‘seed’ was once I see what happens next, because now I’m wondering: What became of that fortunate start? Did they squander their wealth? Did their family fall from power? Why did they turn to evil? I draw another card!

The Ten of Wands: Burden of Success

The Ten of Wands: Burden of Success

That’s interesting! So, the seed grew into a success that somehow soured for them—or soured them. Either they grew bored with their easy life and turned to crime to entertain themselves, or they perhaps feel that ‘might makes right,’ and their power is a sign that they should be remaking the world as they see fit? Or maybe a third option entirely? What was the next step on their road to corruption?

Two of Cups: Connection

Two of Cups: Connection

The best possible motivation for anyone: love! This is great--this villain had everything they wanted, grew powerful and successful, and then stepped slowly across that thin line into evil because they wanted to do something out of love! The best villains believe themselves to be heroes, and so we should have a winner here! But what is it that they did?

The Magician: Ultimate creative power.

The Magician: Ultimate creative power.

The Magician represents having the focus and power to make change in the world; it can also represent creativity, and even leaping on the opportunity to take action. I think this combines well with the Ten of Wands: This person, born to opportunity and raised to power, has become successful enough that they feel they can change the world for the better. They truly love… let’s say, since they are a businessperson, that they love The City, the great fantasy metropolis where this story takes place… or at least they did, once. Now, as they have seen The City fall into what they consider ruin and decadence, their love has twisted into the belief that they and they alone know what is best for it.

The next question: How will they go about ‘fixing’ The City they love so much? I draw a card!

The Knight of Coins: Steadfast Patience

The Knight of Coins: Steadfast Patience

Ah, so they’re all about the slow play. They believe in hard work and devotion, enduring the difficult times to reach the end goal. That doesn’t sound like outright violence or upheaval; this would fit better with long cons, political machinations, and social maneuvering. This villain is trying to manipulate the levers of society to give themselves the power to enact their ultimate plan. Which is what?

The Eight of Cups: Moving Onward

The Eight of Cups: Moving Onward

The villain’s end-game is to gain power and then create some particularly major change in The City. That isn’t surprising, and really just adds flavor to what I already knew: They feel that society needs to break away from what it considers safe and reliable, and strike out into the unknown! Try something new! But what is that new thing?

The Emperor, reversed: Totalitarianism and fascism.

The Emperor, reversed: Totalitarianism and fascism.

And I think that settles it for me! Our story is set in a bustling, crime-riddled city, home to hundreds of thousands of souls, and our villain loves it. They grew up here, and turned a small but opportunely-timed business venture into a massive success, perhaps having been responsible for something truly vital, but also unglamorous: maybe they improved the sewer system and sanitation by bringing magical sources of clean and flowing water into The City. 

From this life experience, they’ve learned the values of hard work and perseverance, but things took a darker turn recently. They feel like the boons they’ve ‘granted’ The City are being squandered, and the City Counsel--a group of leading merchants and guildmasters, elected by their peers--are refusing to take action against the rising crime rates and unrest; something must be done!

Using their power and wealth, this villain is trying to maneuver themselves into a position on the City Counsel, and from there will use their increased influence to implement martial law, crushing crime beneath an iron heel, but taking most of The City’s freedoms with it. This means that, for now, they may be quite friendly to anyone they see as a part of the solution, and their overall goal (to ‘restore order’ to The City) is actually quite well known, as they have been campaigning for it for some time… but now that we have a villain with real motivation, only time will tell what lengths they’ll go to in order to achieve their ends!

I think this makes for an especially appealing villain for a crime-fighting hero, since the villain will certainly believe, at least at first, that they are all on the same side! They will work to end violence, offer resources to the City Watch, and even provide personal favors if they think it wise. Quite the opportunity for drama!

I’m looking forward to fleshing out this all-too-determined individual in an example of solo roleplaying over on the site Rolegate, which (as of this writing in June of 2019) I’m currently experimenting with for solo gaming. If you wish to read the game that inspired me to need this villain, you can follow this link (and then scroll UP for the beginning of the game and story!).