Imagine the setting: you are a group of friends and you enter the tent of a mysterious fortune-teller.
Then, you ask her what is your future for you and all the persons in your group.
She tells you that your group is facing a problem on this one suit or another, and then she draws a few cards.
If the suits on the cards are the correct one, she tells you things will go nicely, other wise they may tell an incoming disaster.
That's the principle of fortune-telling. And this game works the same way.
Cartomancy is a game that claims to be a simple, math-free role-playing game, for tests it uses a strange process called the oracle.
And all is built upon that way the fortune-tellers "work".
All oracles are based on the 3 following rules:
- Each suit has a meaning, always the same, for characters or situation, like Hearts are for muscles and Spades for mental things like enigmas.
- The DM draws cards for the group then players may draw for their characters
- Quality ratings depends on whether or not you draw cards of the correct suit. If any one card is of the suit picked by the DM it's a triumph, if all cards are of the wrong red or black color it's a failure, other wise it's a simple success.
If the group's oracle (called the fate) is not good enough, or if they want to score a special something, players can draw their characters' oracle (called their outcomes).
But they need a good reason and there are only 3:
- Having strategically chosen the current kind of challenges the character expects to face (i.e.: the suit he's ready for). You show it by a counter on your character sheet that you can change whenever you want... except inside an oracle.
- Having a quality that is relevant to the situation, knowing you are given 6 at character creation plus 1 per suit where you decide you will not be able to pu your counter on (meaning a real disadvantages)
- Or risking a fumble: it means that if the color of the card drawn is of the wrong color, you botch!
There are more rules above this, like each quality gives you a single-use chip thqt can be a confidence (black) or an effort (red) and you can spend them to get additionnal effects or quickly succeed. They are not like hero points but rather like fatigue bec ause you get them back by eating or resting.
Contrarily to the previous demo, the combats are shown and work exactly the same way that all oracles do: threats levels of enemies tells the number of fate cards. The nice part are two welcome notions:
"danger" is the level of meaner enemies: if all cards drawn are below its level, it means that the character suffers a wound and delete a suit, and can't strategically chose it anymore. When you have none left you are dead. BTW why not using it to cover all oracles where you risk hurting yourself with traps coming in mind instantly.
"automatisms" are powers for meanest enemies and use the same system. The difference is that instead of giving a generic wound it gives an effect. For example versus a vampire, if all the cards are aces you are enthralled by the undead for a full 24 hours.
There is something amazing about this game: it does not use dice, it has no lists of skills or flaws and edges, there is no maths, it is clearly a narrativist engine but is seems to make sense. Maybe it's the name, maybe it's the lightning-quick character generation, or the oracle process (there are 3 pages of examples and combat is handled the same) or perhaps it's the cover but there is that great feeling that all is simple, evident, and straight-forward.
I long for the magic rules and I don't know neither what to expect nor how the game handles this or super powers but, I must have drawn aces only:
I'm enthralled by this crazy little game.