So aged twelve, I painted illustrations for my game, like actual illustrations drawn only as a twelve year old with some talent and no technical skill whatsoever could, mainly using the idiom of 1980s Marvel comics, and came the with all these ideas, and none of them survive. They were all destroyed in my teens out of acute embarrassment, which is sad, because I would have loved to show them to you.
Among the cultures that came out of my fevered mind were the Atlantean Blue Women, a genetically modified group who existed in huge coastal bunkers; genetically modified from human forebears, they became cold-blooded, egg-laying and monosexed (by which I mean, there were no guys). I remember painting dozens of blue women with like improbable half-shaved haircuts, in swimsuits, with prosthetic eyes and fantasy cyborg claw hands. I think back to that time, and think, I want to make something that awesome. So I spent the last couple days in a white heat making that character image.
Thirty-odd years later, this is my first example character. She's called Makarakan, a native of the City of the Blue Women, one of a dozen or more areas that bear the scars of Black Atlantean experimentation. An egg-laying, amphibious, cold blooded child of the Flask, Makarakan has nonetheless turned against the nation that created her.
I know I haven't gone into character generation yet (soon!), but we're going to need at least one character to demonstrate how this thing plays, so this is her statblock:
Culture: Atlantean // Station: Noble // Fate: Invincible Charioteer (Strength, the Chariot)
Suits: Cups 2, Pentacles 3, Swords 4, Wands 7
Attributes: Animal 3, Body 4, City 1, Hands 0, Machines 6, People 3, Psychic 1, Wilds 0, Will 3
Relationships: Queen of Swords, Knight of Cups, King of Pentacles (all undefined)
That's really it (my first go at this game had a grand total of four attributes, so you should count yourself lucky).
Culture is, well, where you were born. There are five: Lemurian, Rmoahal, Tlavatlis, Atlantean and Muvian.
Your Station is the social class you came out of, who you are now, and while your choices may be restricted by culture, they are: Citizen, Mystic, Noble, Outcast, Slave, Soldier or Tribal (anyone can think of a better word than Tribal, please let me know).
Finally, your Fate is where you're going, the role you choose to play in the coming catastophe. There are eleven, each tied to two cards in the Major Arcana, and I'll go into those later on. All three of these things give points to Attributes, and then you get a few extra points to customise with.
Your relationships (you start with three) are essentially important people in your past, present and future. They're tied to Court cards, and you can choose to say who they are, or allow them to come up in play. Again, more on this later.
Oh, I should perhaps include an NPC statblock too.
Flat-tooth, Atlantean marine harness-beastImportant NPCs get statblocks like PCs, but this is just a beast (there are a lot of beasts, oh my) so it gets the basic one.
Cards 4; Power 5
Suits: Cups 1, Pentacles 1, Swords 2, Wands 7
The flat-tooth is basically a smallish liopleurodon, used as a military riding beast by the amphious Atlantean troops. Part of your initiation into the amphibious invasion force is to catch and tame your own flat-tooth and bring it back for decerebration and harnessing without getting eaten. If you come back without getting eaten, well. All the better if you lose something in the process and still make it back (it's how Makarakan lost her right eye) because that shows you're hard as nails, and Atlantean technology is sufficiently advanced to replace most body parts.
Anyway, I wanted to talk about mechanics, and all this is a prelude to me demonstrating it.
Makarakan is separated from her friends. She's alone on a disintegrating vimana (a White Atlantean Silverman brought it down with a lucky shot) some miles out to sea. So much for invincible sky chariots.
It's sinking. The beasts are circling. She can swim fine, but she's not going to be able to fight off all the of the carnivorous creatures ready to take a bite. But is that...? It is! A wild flat-tooth. Makarakan conceives a wild ray of hope.
The Mystic Hand of Fate (the GM to you) has decreed that this is a new scene, so Makara's player draws five cards gets dealt a hand of six cards (Player Characters always get a basic hand of six cards). The GM takes four for the flat-tooth (that's what the Cards stat is for. If there were two flat-tooths, the GM would take eight cards, for for each beast, but keep them in one hand).
OK, What do we have?
Makarakan's player has: 5 of Pentacles, 9 of Wands, 10 of Wands, 2 of Swords, the Knight of Cups, in the Minor Arcana, and Justice of the Major Arcana.
The GM has: 7 of Swords, King of Swords, 8 of Wands of the Minor Arcana and The Star of the Major Arcana.
The Knight of Cups is significant, because it's one of Makarakan's undefined Relationships. We'll see what that means presently.
OK, so we have to set the stakes. Makarakan's stated goal is to tame the beast and ride it to relative safety. The beast wants a snack. Makarakan is using sheer force of will to fight the dumb brute into submission, because reason isn't going to cut it. The beast is just going to go straight for her.
Makarakan therefore is using Wands + Animal (10); the beast is using Wands + Power (12).
The loser is the first character to lose all her points in the suit she's using, or the first to run out of cards, whichever comes first.
Both sides pick a card, and put it face down, then reveal together.
Makarakan: 2 of Swords.
Beast: King of Swords.
Makarakan's total is 12, but it doesn't matter, because a court card always beats a number. Makarakan loses a point from her Wands total, which is now 6, meaning her starting score for the next round is 9 (6 for Wands, 3 for Animal). Makarakan's player decided to get the crappy card out of the way, which is a decent strategy.
(Makarakan steadies herself on the sinking sky-chariot, only for the beast to charge the thing, knocking her into the water before she's ready.)
Makarakan: 9 of Wands.
Beast: The Star.
Makarakan used a Wand card. Because she's using a card of the same suit as her chosen suit for the contest, she adds one point to Wands, which is now 7, meaning that Wands + Animal is back to 10 for next round. This is just as well, because the beast's card was a Major Arcana, meaning that the round is a draw. The Star denotes pain for its user, so the GM says that Makarakan, swimming as only a genetically modified amphibian can, kicks the beast in the eye before it can take her leg off. It shakes its head.
Because a Major Arcana was drawn, everyone also has the option to change the scores they are using. Makarakan says she's OK, and the beast is sort of angry now, so neither side wants to change just yet.
Makarakan: Knight of Cups.
Beast: 8 of Wands.
The beast, using a Wands card, gets to add one to its Suit score, so from now on its score is 8. However, Makarakan drew a court card, so the beast loses that point straight away.
Moreover, she drew a Court Card that matches one of her relationships. She can choose to define that relationship if it's undefined and weave it into the story. The Knight of Cups denotes a lover, so Makarakan, about to give in, pictures her love, Arsake, far away in the City of Golden Gates, and the thought of her gives Makarakan new strength.
Because she's used a relationship card, Makarakan adds a point to Cups (because that's the suit the relationship corresponded with).
Makarakan: 10 of Wands.
Beast: 8 of Swords.
Makarakan gets an extra point to Wands for having a matching card, meaning that her total is 21 (Wands 8 + Animal 3 + 10 for the card), and her Wands score goes up to 8. The beast's total is 21 as well, but Makarakan is using a card of the right suit, so that takes precedence and the beast loses a point (in the event of a real draw, neither side would lose a point).
Makarakan manages to hook a hand in the creature's blowhole, causing it terrible pain.
Makarakan: 5 of Pentacles
Beast: no cards remaining.
With no cards remaining, the beast forfeits the contest.
After a few cursory thrashes, Makarakan mounts the thing, and begins to ride.
The beast couldn't have won! That's true. But you do, if you're worried about running out, have the option of sacrificing a point from your suit before you turn your card over, forfeiting the round and keeping the card until the next round. Which of course carries its own risk.
Although the GM could have decided to do that, the conflict was useful because it helped shape the narrative of what happened, and Makarakan comes out of it stronger than before, since her Wands pool has now gone up to 8. Because she won the contest, she gets another point, too, ending with a Wands score of 9, and, because of the relationship, a Cups score of 3.
This contest wasn't really designed to be a challenge though; it's quite possible that other encounters will erode Makarakan's points right back down again.