"I always bring a deck of tarot cards with me to the gaming table. They can also be used to answer questions about the world—but I find that they can be a little cryptic if you’re asking the deck anything concrete like “what does this magic item do?” or “what taverns are in the area?” They are much better at generating high-level concepts.
For NPCs, I will use a simple three card layout. The left card represents the character’s past, the middle card represents the character’s appearance or how they “seem” to other people, and the right card represents the character’s motivations. It’s generally important to try to make that character’s motivation something the party would potentially care about."
This is an interesting method, so I gave it a try, and generated six NPCs. Each spread took about two minutes. I based my interpretation on personal visual associations with the iconography (I have a Rider-Waite-Smith deck), in certain cases a simple printout of Tarot meanings, and in two cases rolls on the "36 character types" table.
Six Tarot-based NPCs
- King of Wands, inverted + Page of Wands, inverted + Knight
Scion of disgraced noble house, disguised as a lowly servant, conspiring to achieve personal grandeur.
- The Empress, inverted + The Fool, inverted + Six of Cups
Matronly woman, grieving the loss of her sons in the recent war, asks to retrieve lost heirlooms.
- Ace of Pentacles, inverted + Four of Pentacles, inverted +
Adventurer ready to gamble away everything but a single gold medallion – it was given to them by a dead friend, but is in fact cursed and the source of bad luck.
- Four of Swords, inverted + Knight of Swords + Seven of
Famed warrior, the last of his militant order, must lead a last charge, while dreaming of settling down and growing grapes.
- Ten of Cups + The Tower + Knight of Pentacles
Family sorting through the ruins of their destroyed home suspiciously optimistic about the future.
- Two of Swords, inverted + Ace of Cups, inverted + The
Mysterious stranger from the Upper Spheres dispenses healing water, but preaches against the tenets of local authority.