Throughout the ages, Tarot decks have been utilized by people with a certain gift for divination, as well as many without. They have also been a favored item for Game Masters, mainly for application in role-playing games aplenty. Where do the lines blur between fantasy and “true sight” in reality? We got The Ultimate RPG Tarot Deck, designed by Jef Aldrich and Jon Taylor and produced by Simon & Schuster. Here’s what we think of the deck!
A Word Of Foreboding From The First Tarot
Before we get into the contents and design of what we received for review, we must stress something a bit dire. We received this deck for review as a gift from Simon & Schuster. However, we ended up having to request a replacement because the first deck’s box was noticeably crushed. We do not believe this to be a shipping error as the packaging was in fine condition when it got to us. However, we believe it to be an issue with shrinkwrapping.
We will not be showcasing images of the defective product, as it isn’t indicative of what we ended up with. Furthermore, the cards in it were intact, albeit hard to remove from the crushed box. Nevertheless, we deem it important to mention that if you need a replacement, Simon & Schuster will likely be able to provide it for you, as they did for us.
The Ultimate RPG Tarot‘s Design
The illustrations for The Ultimate RPG Tarot, done by Zachary Bacus, show the many intricacies of your typical RPG campaign. The cards feature the usual names and overall depictions of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck. However, every card, both in Major and Minor Arcana, also stylizes the illustrations with a classic tabletop-RPG spin and annotates this beneath the card titles. The resulting deck is something made with true adoration for the art form that is role-playing.
The Contents of The Ultimate RPG Tarot Deck
The Ultimate RPG Tarot Deck comes with the full Major and Minor Arcana of the aforementioned Rider-Waite-style Tarot deck, as well as an instruction manual on how to properly divine the deck. All of this comes compactly stored in a box with an embossed title on the front face.
Some cards like “The Hanged Man” being “The Long Rest” were striking in their illustration. “The Empress” is depicted as “The Tavern Keeper”, a female orc tending to a shelf of drinks and plants, to amusingly comedic effect. On a similar note, as a Dungeon Master myself, I was moved by “The Emperor” depicted as “The Final Arbiter”, a tabletop DM complete with screen, dice, miniatures, and pencil. It is remarkably respectful and I’m all for that.
On the topic of respect, we also have “Judgment” as “The Session Zero”, which is a tool I love to use for fostering a bond between my players. The Ultimate RPG Tarot Deck‘s card depicts the same.
Some of the concepts in the Rider-Waite Tarot are notoriously difficult to reimagine. Therefore, cards like “The Tower” (“Wild Magic”) or “The Sun” (“Critical Success”) have illustrations that are fairly similar to the source. This is fine, as liberties have been taken to a degree by Bacus. Besides, many of The Ultimate RPG Tarot Deck‘s cards have been rendered with great differences already.
I will admit that I am not an avid Tarot reader. Thus, I cannot divine the Minor Arcana… yet. Nonetheless, this deck spares no card the same treatment as the ones described above. And I get how some Minor Arcana, such as “The Ten of Swords” (“Backstab”) make sense. The Swords suit is typically no good to encounter in a Tarot. In that way, I’d assume “Backstab” encapsulates the meaning behind its counterpart. It’s things like this that make The Ultimate RPG Tarot Deck really neat.
In short, The Ultimate RPG Tarot Deck is, at least to us, a critical success in terms of design and execution. If there was one thing we would say was a pitfall it was the shipping issue, but overall that was small potatoes and something easily overcame. The art is gorgeous, at times cute but also at times poignant. The book explains things easily and even comes with a short lexicon of RPG terms that fit with their respective cards. Ultimately, an effective Tarot deck for diviners and dabblers alike.
You can get this deck on Simon & Schuster’s website and wherever Tarot decks are sold.