Using Tarot Cards in RPGs
Tarot Cards are pretty damn sweet. My recent plays of Hand of Fate 2 and even Cyberpunk 2077 have had my wheels spinning on how these incredibly evocative tools can be used for procedural generation. All of this is purely theoretical at the moment, but I'm going to use it in my upcoming games and see how it goes, tweaking as needed. As with any procedural generation in RPGs, you should always be keen to use common sense when randomization ends up in subpar results.
This was one of the very first things that popped into mind for me. You've got 78 cards in your tarot deck, so using this process, you could populate up to 78 hexes with a significant variety of landmarks. Simply shuffle your deck, then locate the Emperor. Slap down your capital on a hex of your choosing and start working your way outward. Once you're done, it's time to start filling in blanks on a contextual level.
Here's what the cards could mean.
Empress- A benevolent, influential power. Probably a prominent noble house's land.
Magician- Tower of the most powerful magic user in the land. Fearsome, enigmatic, and widely known.
High Priestess- Elven Kingdom, entry to the Feywild, or noble house of a spymaster.
Hierophant- The most powerful holy site in the realm, equivalent to the Vatican.
Lovers- A site of seduction. Nymphs, sirens, houses of lechers, demons could all be on the table.
Chariot- A figure of overwhelming martial power, a place belonging to a Conqueror. May be adversarial, may be the biggest threat to peace in the realm.
Strength- A tactician, a peacekeeper, or a great hero lives(lived?) here.., or a site for a maguffin.
Hermit- The home of a profoundly wise but eccentric sage. Can offer answers to many questions, but is slow to trust.
Wheel/Fortune- A house that has fallen to ruin, or that benefited greatly from calculated risks, or that is known as unpredictable. Could be a site of transformation, a nexus of ley lines, or anything fundamentally unstable.
Justice- An Order such as Templars or Inquisitors are based out of here, or a den of an oppressive Dragon, or the home of the Dwarves.
Hanged Man- Here's a great place to put down the resting site of a historical martyr. The stories may be embellished, but it's a common cultural site for pilgrimage.
Death- A blighted land, or the keep of a revenant lord. Think Minas Morgul.
Temperance- The home of a powerful Druid, perhaps, largely uninvolved in the outside world unless their hand is forced. They wait to act until the precise moment, and their judgment is unerring.
Devil- House of a beguiling influencer who brings harm in their wake, but in ways that are rarely questioned. Perhaps a literal devil, perhaps more figurative.
Tower- Ruins of a fallen civilization. Great place for a megadungeon.
Star- An Oracle, a guide, a fabled astronomer, a gate to another world.
Moon- Whatever the players should be aspiring for for their characters, this should be something that spurs on this aspiration. The keep of rival adventurers, perhaps, to grow a rivalry. Perhaps the first great threat that foretells of more troubles to come. The Moon is incredibly abstract, but it's meant to push a longing in them. Or you can just make it aliens or something.
Sun- A place of vast resources, a person of incredibly generosity. Ironically, a magic spring wouldn't hurt for this, but it'd have to be a huge deal. Likely tended to by protective forces. Or, a place of tremendous opportunity.
Judgment- This place houses a calamitous entity waiting to be unleashed. A relic of unimaginable power, a growing force of unrelenting conquest, a cult bent on calling an entropic foe.
World- Land of the Halflings, an idyllic city with lush farmlands, a site for a potential stronghold.
Fool- The starting location of the campaign, perhaps, or the home of a figure that is utterly carefree. Perhaps a dimwitted giant or dragon, a tribe of drug addled pacifists under the protection of some fearsome power.
Wands- Wands relate to the toiling of common folk. Agricultural villages under the protection of Lords of varying importance, peaceful settlements that are largely self-sufficient. The higher the number, the greater the significance of the location or the Lord presiding over it. If they end up unrealistically spread apart, there's nothing wrong with clustering them and removing them from the deck.
Pentacles- These locations may represent increasingly lucrative sites for expeditions, or large cities with massive trade (add a water source).
Cups- These locations should relate to religious sites, whether they are abbeys, shrines, temples, or a kingdom ruled directly by why it perceived to be a deity's decree. Cult sites are also a natural fit for the lower numbers.
Swords- This is where the assholes live. I would use the numbers between 1 and 14 to pull creatures by hit dice and make this their lair. Where swords are drawn, there should be an enormous threat. If an incredibly powerful creature is drawn near a major settlement, there may be plans for a siege in place.
Specific Encounter Types
First, pick four factions from your world that are likely to be encountered. Make each faction correspond to the suits of the minor Arcanas. Add a new category to whatever encounter table you're using that corresponds to important NPCs, which is when you draw a card. The King of each suit corresponds to the leader of the faction, etc. Create important figures that correspond to each of the Major Arcanas as well. You'll have to decide on an improvisational level if they actually are on location or if it's just something related to them being found. If they're on location, the surroundings may inform what they're up to.
Events Related To Factions and NPCs
With any tarot deck, you'll find explanations as to what each card foretells. When trying to determine what's going on with any significant group, you can simply pull a card and see what the results suggest. While the results can seem dramatic, all it takes is a look at our own world and you'll see just how crazy things can be.
I Don't Have A Tarot Deck
I highly suggest you get one, but some have made books that have dice procedures and results. A great example is the Old School Companion by RPGPundit, which you can find here: Old School Companion: DTRPG.
Like I said, I plan on testing everything out. I'll be putting together a world with this and seeing how it pans out. I'll keep you posted!