Steele Wizard Tarot
Self Published 2006
A few times a month, I get together with some of my best friends to have adventures. Typically, we all meet at a crowded tavern and the night begins with some light eavesdropping for rumors and consulting the tavern keeper for news of anyone who might need help.
Then, in typical fashion, we set off for a nearby town and attempt to help solve a mystery or help out someone in need.
Typically, at some point, some people die. Usually it’s other people, but sometimes it’s a member of our group. We’re adventurers. It happens.
“Hold the Keys, Unlock the Mysteries, Begin the Journey” – Box Copy for Steele Wizard Tarot
“The Gateway to Adventure” – Poster Copy for Dungeons & Dragons
I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) for a few decades now, since the days of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition. Over the years, the rules have evolved, but the game remains the same. You create a character in a fantasy setting and then you (using dice to determine how successful a particular action is) cooperatively tell a story with your friends…hopefully a story that doesn’t end with you and your friends perishing at the hands of a mad sorcerer, the glaive of a frenzied barbarian, or the snapping jaws of a titular dragon.
When I started looking through the 88 oversized cards of the Steele Wizard Tarot, I couldn’t take my mind off of D&D. Each card of the minor arcana looks like a situation or an individual taken from an adventure in a far off land where arcane magic is common and the countryside is lousy with adventuring parties.
The Ten of Wands is one of my favorite cards in any deck. Here, we see our hero encumbered by the staves on their back, muscles flexing as they attempt to carry their heavy load up the side of a cliff. This is a character who’s made some choices, and is now completing a decidedly unglamorous task in order to reach some reward at the end of the journey. The King of Wands is a Druid shaman, ready to impart wisdom for the next leg of the adventure. The lion at his side is a capable familiar who might be useful if the village comes under attack by evil forces (likely to happen in a D&D world). The King of Pentacles has a proper castle, and probably rules over a larger city. He’s the type of character that will have a lucrative offer for our heroes to get them started along the path.
The Ten of Swords shows the aftermath of a Total Party Kill (TPK). Complete annihilation of you and your friends. It’s the end of the story, a time to mourn fallen heroes, and a time to get after creating a new character. The three of swords gives us another snapshot of the less exciting side of adventuring. We can imagine that this cloaked thief was stealthily hiding in the shadows and had to watch their friends be murdered by underground elves. As we move forward into the seven of swords, we see another thief (or maybe it’s the same one) looking frightened over their shoulder as guards burst in the room to catch them stealing swords from the armory.
The women in the Three of Cups might be a party that recently returned from a successful quest, who are now celebrating a job well done and their newfound riches. Meanwhile, the four of cups seems to be a warning against taking wine from strangers. There’s something untrustworthy about that Satyr, and our hero is having none of it.
The Major Arcana seem to fall into the D&D realm at the building block level. The archetypes presented are big parts of the story. The situations and choices on these cards paint the picture of a full character. We talk in D&D about “sessions” and “campaigns,” the former being an instance of playing together, and the latter being a story arc that occurs over the course of several sessions, usually with lasting effects and repercussions on the characters and players.
The Fool is our hero at the start of every new adventure. Completely fresh, with full Hit Points and Spell Slots. Eager to head out, not sure where they’re going. Prepared for anything by virtue of blind confidence. On the Hanged Man, our hero has made a mistake. They’ll learn humility and perhaps a bit of caution before the end of this adventure. The Devil is represented in this deck by “Materialism.” This is an affliction that attacks even the most experienced role-player. Notice how our hero is reaching for a rope to climb or to be pulled out of the well where they stand, but at the same time, their bag is full to overflowing with golden baubles and gewgaws. In order to be free, they’ll have to learn to dial back on the greed a bit. Then, of course, we have the Tower, in which a literal dragon spews flame while crushing a castle tower. Paradigm-shifting, world-changing events like this are often the beginnings and endings of epic adventures.
The Dungeonmaster (See also: Gamemaster, DM, GM, etc.) crafts and guides the story as the players continue along their adventure. A DM is the arbiter of the rules of the game, and the architect for the adventures that you and your party will enjoy. The major arcana in the Steele Wizard has cards for the DM as well.
The Weaver (one of six new major arcana cards) is the first one that comes to mind. The Weaver’s web is spread in the background as the weaver spins more thread. This calls to mind the intricate stories that a DM is responsible for building and maintaining…each connecting thread tightly wound to the others, providing tension for the story and urgency for the characters. The World represents the actual worldbuilding that a DM is responsible for. And Judgement represents the dice: the difference between winning and losing, pride and mortification, life and death.
The reason we play these games isn’t exclusively for the imminent peril and imaginary loot. Those things merely help to set the stage for the character arcs that you and your friends experience over the course of many sessions and campaigns. Which brings me to the last two cards I pulled for this review. Evolution and I Am are both new cards, and speak to character growth and the symbiotic fulfillment you get when you’re in tune with your hero.
This deck has many key elements of an exciting and fun-filled D&D campaign, while still remaining true to the RWS system that came before it. If you’d like to get your own copy of the deck, you can go to the Steele Wizard Tarot website.