The Hidden Isles is an upcoming tabletop RPG where players use a deck of tarot cards instead of dice to create characters, resolve contests and live as magical protectors on an island of political and social outcasts.
Currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter, The Hidden Isles has already smashed past its initial goal of creating a core sourcebook that will provide everything a group needs to enter the hidden city-state of Dioscoria. The title was created by Austrian-based studio Causa Creations as a follow-up to their board game Sefirot and is set in the same shared world - The Hidden Isles and a related tarot deck are part of a concerted effort to build a universe through several tabletop titles.
Dioscoria is home to anyone who feels restricted, oppressed or vilified by the outside world and finds their way to its shores - through invitation or sanctuary - largely due to the efforts of heroes such as those created by the player characters. Backstories, ideals and burdens are all revealed by a tarot reading at the beginning of the game, and players can choose amongst six core classes - Illusionist, Scoundrel, Occultist, Prowler, Champion or Hunter.
The Hidden Isle plays similar to Forged in the Dark-derived games: the party sets out from the Dioscoria on a mission, their powers are fueled by taking harm that can become trauma if stacked too high, and their downtime between escapades is spent developing bonds between each other and key NPC. Where Causa Creation’s work differs is the subject matter - missions usually entails heading to real-world locations in its alternate 16th-century Mediterranean to safeguard knowledge, rescue endangered locals or thwart plots by those who would undermine Dioscoria’s noble goals.
Character roleplay hinges on a system of emotional burden and ideals that might catalyze heroic growth or lead them down a path of temptation. None of the game’s description states a rigid ethical framework girding The Hidden Isles writing, but one gets the sense that temptation, selfish action and ‘too much of a good thing’ might play a large role in your character’s overarching story.
The tarot deck gets plenty of other uses outside of character creation. Pre-mission blessings give each player a peek into the past, present or future via card readings, and contests involve drawing and comparing cards with the Seer (GM) - trump suits tied to character skills give them an edge when using their preferred approach. Seers who don’t like mountains of prep can even use the Tarot deck as an oracle in coordination with random tables printed in the sourcebook to roll up missions, foes, challenges and even the loose structure of a larger campaign on the fly.
None of the players or Seer need prior experience with Tarot cards and readings to jump into The Hidden Isle, but Causa Creations says veteran consultors will appreciate how the values of tarot - connectedness, introspection and an ever-moving world - are woven into the rules and narrative of The Hidden Isle. To that end, the party’s successes and failures will be reflected in a world that evolves out of their exploits and further diverges from our real-world history.
Causa Creations is joined by Clockwork Bird Studio to create and produce The Hidden Isle, while Viv Tanner and Eliot Baum (co-creators of comic Heart of Gold) supplied the gorgeous and evocative art style that does much to set the RPG apart in a busy market. Painterly, dreamlike and aspirational, their approach coats Dioscoria and the world beyond in purple and blue-dominated hues that are both calming and mysterious.
The Kickstarter campaign for The Hidden Isle runs through October 28th to fund the creation of a 230-page sourcebook and additional solo mode. A digital and physical version is available - along with a tarot deck in a matching art style, and shipping to backers is expected to begin in July 2024.