Deep Dive - Tarot

His Majesty the Worm is a new-school game with old-school sensibilities: the classic megadungeon experience given fresh life through a focus on the mundanities and small moments of daily life inside the dungeon. This post is part of a series of deep dives into the mechanics of the game.


His Majesty the Worm uses a standard deck of tarot cards to play the game (instead of dice).

It is not the first RPG to do so. I read maybe half a dozen while designing it to get the lay of the land. Here is a pretty thorough list of games with card-based mechanics, including tarot cards.

Many of the games that use tarot cards lean into it as their primary gimmick. “This is the tarot card RPG,” they say. Not so with His Majesty the Worm. His Majesty the Worm is a megadungeon exploration game. The tarot cards are mostly incidental–but certainly referenced in the art and graphic design.

How are tarot cards used?

Tarot cards are used as randomizers in His Majesty the Worm.

Cards can do lots of cool things when used as game mechanics:

  • Cards are informationally rich. Each card has a number and a suit. There are numbered cards and face cards. Some suits are phallic and some are yonic. The cards have art and imagery.
  • Cards are persistent. You can have a hand of cards. You can count the cards in your discard pile.
  • Cards are physical. You can trade cards to your friends. You can play cards face down. You can turn/tap cards to represent different states.
  • Cards are limited. You won’t get the same effect on a table twice if its keyed to a card.
  • Cards are gameable. Draw 3 keep 1. Put 1 on the bottom of the deck and 1 at the top of the deck. Play from the top of the discard pile. Etc.

In the combat system, the Challenge Phase, I think all of these elements come together in a very fun way. Every player draws 4 cards. One card will be their Initiative, which represents how fast they move and how easy it is to hit them. The rest are spent during the round to take actions. You can take actions at any time if you play a card whose suit matches the action you want to take. Combat takes on this Dark Souls quality where you’re dodge rolling, backing off to regain stamina, and performing split-second attacks.

Tarot spreads can also be used to generate interesting and inspirational city and megadungeon layouts. I published rough drafts of these chapters as Omphalos and Dungeon Seeds, respectively.

How are tarot cards not used?

Tarot cards do not have any oracular properties in His Majesty the Worm. That is, there are really no mechanics for using the normal methods of tarot symbolism and interpretation to generate scenarios, NPCs, plots, etc.

I think you can do that. I just don’t, myself. His Majesty the Worm is essentially me capturing how I run games and trying to teach you how to do it. I don’t use the cards that way, so I don’t talk about it.

I’d love for a future supplement to dive into this more.

Then why tarot?

I think tarot cards look cool. That’s pretty much it.

I do not think tarot cards are magical. Tarot cards are just Rorschach blots. They’re groups of symbols and inspirational art.

For example: You draw a card that represents something that’s blocking your progress. You draw The Emperor (IV) and think about a male in a position of authority. You think of your boss. You think about your relationship with him. It’s Mad Libs.

I wanted to play with tarot cards because they’re weirder than playing cards, they make the game feel more heavy metal and arcane, and they’re interesting to look at. I like them.


Log in with to leave a comment.

Do you intend to release any tarot cards with the final product? Whenever that lands of course.

Good question! No, no plans to release a set of tarot cards for the game. A pack of $20 Rider-Waite will suit you well for it, though.


Wow! Really curious to learn more about the combat system, sounds super cool!

Looking forward to sharing it with you!


Cool article! HMTW got me thinking about using cards instead of dice, so thank you.