Sorcery Without Master

A mod for Swords Without Master that uses a Tarot deck to replace the two six-sided dice. Go grab that PDF, or none of the rest of this doc will make any sense.


Whenever you would roll the dice, reveal a tarot card instead. Use it to determine the tone. In the minor arcana, 5s are stymies. In the major arcana, those named for people are morals, those named otherwise are mysteries.

Swords Without Master,… and Cups, Wands, and Coins

The original game had two tones: glum and jovial. In a sense, this mod gives you 78 – one for each card in the deck. Each card is a lens through which you view the story, coloring your actions in the game.

Switching from a single pair of dice to 78 individual cards has a ripple effect on the rest of the game, but doesn’t change the core of the system or the feel. You’re still playing in phases, still listening for threads, and still narrating a wondrous, dangerous adventure in the sword-and-sorcery genre.

The 78 Tones

“Isn’t a bunch of the game dependent on having exactly two tones?”

Only a few things, really. Your Feats Heroic, obviously, but you can still write them as in the original game, using the two original tones. Whenever you reveal a card, you can ignore it and use up one of your Feats instead, just like normal.

“But wait: changing the tones means it won’t feel right!”

Think of it like the Unparalleled trick. For that trick, you still must add a tone that fits the genre. Tarot cards tend to fit the genre pretty well anyway.

“What if I don’t know anything about Tarot?”

Look at the imagery on the card: does it feel glum or jovial? Just treat it like that tone. Sinister? Lonely? Active? Don’t worry about matching normal Tarot readings: your intuition is enough to make it work. If you have someone in the group with some Tarot background, ask them if you need more prompts or help.

The Dramatic Reveal

The purpose of changing to Tarot cards is to change the ritual of the game.

With dice, the question is when do you roll and what will you get. With cards, the question is when will you reveal, and what are you already holding. You also have an easier symbol of the ongoing overtone and each player’s most recent tone: just leave the card there.

At the beginning of each phase, the Overplayer flips a card instead of rolling for the Overtone. This card can just be placed on the previous Overtone, so you don’t need the glum/jovial paper. The Overtone will stay constant for the phase.

Whenever you’d hand the dice to another player, you draw a card for them instead. Don’t look at it! The deck has something in store for them, not you. You hand them the card face down and they keep it face down until they would roll the dice in the normal game. Instead of rolling, they reveal. This card is the player’s tone, and stays in front of them until they reveal another card.

In general, the player with the power to end the phase holds the deck.

Arcana, Stymies, and Threads

As the Tarot has no ties, how do you know when to stymie, or write a new moral or mystery?

Yes, this means there are more opportunities for failure when using the Tarot, and far more Mysterious failures. Such is the world of Arcana.

Other Stuff

You probably won’t run out of cards. If you do, just grab everything but the current Overtone and shuffle em back in. (But really, how are you not at endgame yet?)

Use a deck with lots of imagery! Find one with great sword-and-sorcery art. Large cards are great, too.

Again, don’t worry too much about adhering to a strict reading: the cards are there to help you narrate, not bind you to the past.

Good luck! Tell me how it goes; I’m @hackerblinks.