Inspire 5E D&D Adventure by Reading the Tarokka Deck and Spirit Board from Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft
Salutations, nerds! It’s time to get down with some mystical woohoo stuff for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. By this I mean fortune telling and communion with the spirit world courtesy of Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. I know you can’t see me but imagine me wiggling my fingers at you. This particular topic is near and dear to my heart because I myself am an avid collector of tarot cards, which the Tarokka Deck is based on for 5E D&D, and use them frequently. I’ve been reading for about 17 years now and whether you believe there’s any real magic in them or not there’s something really fun about turning over a card and seeing what the reading has to say for you. In Ravenloft this is doubly true. A draw of a card from the Tarokka Deck or contacting spirits or other mysterious forces via a Spirit Board can greatly change the shape of your 5E D&D adventure and this is really cool. So let’s get to it, shall we?
Tarokka Deck and Spirit Board for 5E D&D
“Ravenloft has a tradition of adventures featuring setting-specific props and memorable, set-piece encounters. Such atmospheric scenes immerse players in an experience unique to the Land of the Mist. Two fateful tools used in such encounters are detailed here, the tarokka deck and spirit board. Consider including these mystery-steeped props in your own Ravenloft adventures, or use them as inspiration to create other immersive experiences.” — from Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft
There are 54 cards in the Tarokka Deck. This is two more than a standard deck of playing cards and 24 fewer than a tarot deck. If you want to use a tarot deck instead of the Tarokka deck then remove the face cards from the suits and all of the major arcana 15 and up. Read Cups as Glyphs and Rods as Stars. Let’s break these down.
- Crowns. These are the major arcana. When you’re reading tarot and a reading comes up mostly major arcana it’s an omen of great potency meaning what’s about to happen is going to rattle your world. They are described in the book as representing distinct forces of fate, change and despair. Crowns are kind of a big deal.
- Coins. Here is a suit taken directly from the tarot. It represents commerce, work and acquisition. Of course Ravenloft makes everything darker and edgier so we’re looking specifically at greed and personal gain.
- Glyphs. I pin these as cups because glyphs are about faith and inner strength. Cups are about emotions but love and compassion aren’t thematic to Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft’s Genres of Horror so I can see why they changed this.
- Stars. Rods! This suit represents desire for personal power and control over mysterious forces, which seems pretty magical to me. And that’s pretty par for the course as far as the rods suit in a tarot deck goes.
- Swords. Also a suit in the tarot deck this is what comes up when you’ve chosen violence. Swords are the suit of war. I don’t mean the tin can paladins wear either.
Even if you’re sketchy at best about tarot anywhere else the Tarokka Deck can be a really fun time in a 5E D&D game. As a matter of fact I think I’d enjoy seeing a character playing the skeptic at a reading. This could be really fun and true to form.
Van Ricthen’s Guide to Ravenloft suggests using the Tarokka Decks to run encounters where fortune tellers predict characters’ fates. The book points out how familiarity with the cards and their meanings allows you to tie interpretations to characters’ pasts or events in your campaign or to use the results of a Tarokka Deck reading to guide the campaign and ensure predictions come to pass. This is similar to how the deck is used in both the original 1983 Ravenloft adventure and 5E D&D’s Curse of Strahd.
A Spirit Board is basically a ouija board in the same way the Tarokka Deck is a tarot analog, right? Except I’m pretty sure in Ravenloft using one of them isn’t going to open a gate in your house and let things in all indiscriminately.
Most of the people I know finger shake and offer advice like never ever use a Spirit Board. Confidentially between you and me I never had an issue with it. Think of the Spirit Board like an internet connection. You can totally get online with no VPN or firewall or antivirus on your computer. And it’s true — nothing bad might happen. But you might also end up getting a lot of weird bugs and spyware.
If you cast a circle before you start using the Spirit Board there’s your firewall. If you don’t give your name that’s like a VPN. If you cleanse afterward you’ve implemented your anti-virus. You just have to be careful about it and know what you’re doing.
I feel like a lot of this probably applies to your 5E D&D party as well. The party wizard is probably going to know how to do this safely but the barbarian might just be like an adolescent who bought a Spirit Board from the toy store to play with and ends up with a haunted house or other Supernatural Region. Do you want ghosts? Because this is how you get ghosts. In 5E D&D it might be fun to vex characters who aren’t taking it as seriously with an adventure to rid a house of ghosts.
Of course running this in 5E D&D is going to run a bit differently than the Tarokka Deck because in that case you’re actually drawing cards and interpreting them but with the Spirit Board the invisible third hand guiding the planchette is your own. This makes it almost more useful if you want to plant a specific idea.
This book’s appendix provides a depiction of a spirit board to use in your adventures, while a planchette to be used with it appears here. The adventure “The House of Lament” later in this chapter features séances employing a spirit board. When making use of this game prop, you take the role of the forces guiding the planchette. Move the planchette subtly to reveal mysterious messages appropriate to your adventures.
I hope you enjoyed this fun look at some of the fuzzier aspects of what Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft brings to 5E D&D. I really like the inclusion of the Tarokka Deck and Spirit Board! If you agree (or disagree) and want to hark me about it let us know in the comments, connecting with us on Facebook or tweeting us @Nerdarchy. Feel free to comment or tweet me @Pyrosynthesis too. Go forth, have fun and of course stay nerdy!
*Featured image — According to Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft a Spirit Board is an implement employed by the spiritualists known as the Keepers of the Feather as the focal points of séances and attempts to contact worlds beyond. [Art courtesy Wizards of the Coast]