Monday, February 2, 2009

Playing Cards

I've recently found out a few interesting things about playing cards.

First, the traditional associations of the suits.

HEARTS (chalice) - Clergy (Clerics?) - Water
DIAMONDS (coins) - Merchants (Rogues?) - Earth
CLUBS (clubs in the agricultural sense, or wands) - Agricultural (druidic or wizardly?) - Fire
SPADES (swords) - Military (fighters/warriors?) - Air

Obviously those all lend themselves nicely to classical fantasy archetypes. Whether it be the core classes, key magic items, or the classical elements (and all the symbolism THAT entails!) they relate pretty nicely.

Next, each of the face cards has a historical allegory in the French tradition. I won't list them all here (check out Wikipedia for the list) but there's lots of room there for magic items (Charlemagne's sword, anyone?), on-the-fly NPC development, etc.

Also, some of the face cards are notable. From wiki:

Though specific design elements of the court cards are rarely used in game play and many differ between designs, a few are notable. The Jack of Spades, Jack of Hearts, and King of Diamonds are drawn in profile, while the rest of the courts are shown in full face; these cards are commonly called "one-eyed". When deciding which cards are to be made wild in some games, the phrase "acey, deucey, one-eyed jack" (or "deuces, aces, one-eyed faces") is sometimes used, which means that aces, twos, and the one-eyed jacks are all wild. The King of Hearts is the only King with no mustache, and is also typically shown with a sword behind his head, making him appear to be stabbing himself. The axe held by the King of Diamonds is behind his head with the blade facing toward him. This leads to the nickname "suicide kings". The Jack of Diamonds is sometimes known as "laughing boy"[15]. The King of Diamonds is traditionally armed with an axe while the other three kings are armed with swords, and thus the King of Diamonds is sometimes referred to as "the man with the axe" because of this. This is the basis of the trump "one-eyed jacks and the man with the axe". The Ace of Spades, unique in its large, ornate spade, is sometimes said to be the death card, and in some games is used as a trump card. The Queen of Spades usually holds a scepter and is sometimes known as "the bedpost queen", though more often she is called "Black Lady". In many decks, the Queen of Clubs holds a flower. She is thus known as the "flower Queen", though this design element is among the most variable; the standard Bicycle Poker deck depicts all Queens with a flower styled according to their suit.

There's possibly some work that can be done there, especially with the Queen of Spades!

The cards themselves could be useful for quite a few things. I like the idea of using them as a play aid. Perhaps standing in for magic items, action/hero/karma point rewards, or character powers. For example, when buying an item, maybe you just draw X cards (determined by character charisma, size of the local market, price paid, etc) and choose your favorite -- you don't always get what you ask for! They could also be plot cards. Given the connotations of the suits/face cards they could stand for all sorts of plot twists in a vague tarot-sort of way.

Just some musings...

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