The Mechanical Tarot

The last big part of GearHead Caramel that I need to work out before making a release is the mechanical tarot system. It’s sort of but not exactly a random story generator, since the idea is for it to create an interactive situation rather than a sequence of events. Sort of like the difference between Fallout and Final Fantasy.

The system is loosely based on Smart Terrain Causality Chains, but instead of physical objects the puzzle pieces in this case describe abstract things about the scenario. Things like the roles and motivations of NPCs, or the environmental factors affecting a city. The player can trigger interactions between cards which change the situation. Cards enter play in a “face down” state and must be uncovered by the PC before they can interact.

To generate a scenario, first a desired outcome is chosen. For instance, a village suffering from drought might need a new moisture farm. The scenario generator then works backwards from the desired end point by finding card combinations that lead to it. A moisture farm might be generated by a broken moisture farm plus a water chip. The water chip might be found by bringing an ancient treasure map to a scholar. But the scholar has been falsely accused of murder, so first you need to clear their name… This scenario would begin with cards for the drought, the falsely accused scholar, the broken moisture farm, and the evidence to clear the scholar’s name.

One interesting thing about this scenario generator is that there is no guarantee things will end as planned. Depending on the cards generated, the player might do something completely different from the desired outcome chosen for the scenario. This is perfectly alright. The more cards in play, the greater the chance of unintended interactions being possible.

Because of this, the mechanical tarot scenarios have to be designed with the assumption that the end state is unknowable. I’ll describe how I’m handling that in a later post.

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