Tale 1. One of the more curious aspects of The Court of Ardor is the “Deck of Ardan”, a tarot-like magical set of cards. At first glance, the deck simply acts as an “org chart” for the mysterious Court and assigns members to various roles based on a playing deck. Additionally, the deck holds other powers, two of which are detailed. The first is the ability to communicate with other members of the Court featured in the deck. This can be through voice, or if chosen a visual window akin to modern “Facetime”. The second detailed power was enhanced “Channeling”–per the channeling skill in Rolemaster. Since no one I know has ever used the Channeling skill (as described in RM2), it was interesting but ultimately unhelpful. (I recently asked Terry about the origins of the Channeling skill, but that’s another blog!)
Tale 2. The Court of Ardor was not the first appearance of a Tarot style deck in fantasy that replaced the cards with characters in the particular story. It has been decades since I had read Roger Zelazny’s “Nine Princes in Amber” but I vaguely recalled the same style device being used. The book was published in 1970, so it clearly predated Rolemaster and I’m not the first that noted the similarity. Age of Ravens blog noted the similarity in 2011.
So was this just a coincidence or an example of convergent creativity in early fantasy? When I asked Terry, he provided this short explanation:
“Yes the Ardan Tarot was inspired by Zelazny’s books. More details I am afraid I don’t recall after all these years!”
So there we have an answer, but answers to questions I had about additional powers of the deck or further ideas on their use were lost in the mists of time!
Tale 3. 29 years after Zelazny’s book and 16 years after The Court of Ardor, a Tarot plot device appeared in another fantasy series. One that had it’s birth in fantasy gaming. Gardens of the Moon is the first Book of the Malazan and featured the Deck of Dragons. This deck of cards was both a divination tool and depicted the various members of a pantheons court. The Deck of Dragons plays a major role in the early Malazan books, but less so as the books go on and other systems replace the deck. I’d enjoy asking Steven or Cameron (the authors) if they too were inspired by Zelazny’s book; the Malazan series was driven primarily by their early roleplaying games.
Perhaps I’ll read Nine Princes in Amber again, but I’m still intrigued by the use of Tarot cards in Court of Ardor and Malazan. Zelazny might have been the progenitor of an idea that is now shared DNA in two other fantasy settings.