Psychosis is a unique game in which the players' perception and understanding of reality shifts constantly and can never be trusted. Unlike most games, it is not a competition between the players, but is more like a cooperative effort at uncovering a complex mystery buried within the enigmatic plotline of a story. The course of the storyline, and even the object of the game, are not clear at the beginning. The challenge of Psychosis is to explore this fictional world and discover the objective.
Psychosis requires a group of three to seven players. One of your number will be the Guide, and the rest will be the Players: Players in the game, Players of cards and Players of roles. If you are going to be a Player, read only this introductory section, otherwise you will spoil your enjoyment of the adventure. If you are going to be the Guide for a group of Players, you should read through the game rules over the next few pages and at least the beginnings of the adventure that follows. You will be the only one who knows the secrets behind the game's mysteries, and it will be your job to describe the settings and events of the adventure, to take the roles of all the characters who are not Players, and to generally help the story's plot unfold.
As a Player, you will be faced with an ever-changing vision of the game world, a vision which will be confusing at times, but which will gradually take shape as you move through the story. If you are an experienced roleplaying gamer, leave behind all preconceptions on how roleplaying games can and should work. Your previous experiences with skills, attributes, characters sheets and dice rolling have no bearing in this game. If this is your first roleplaying game, prepare yourself for a unique and imaginative experience. In either case, read the next few pages, which will introduce you to the game rules, then get ready to leave your world behind as you enter the realm of Psychosis.
Psychosis is played by three to seven people using a deck of cards. One of the participants takes the role of Guide, and acts as referee and narrator. The Guide describes the setting for the Players, charting their paths through the adventure. Whenever the Players try to do something which is challenging, cards are played to find the outcome. By winning challenges and collecting clues, the Players will gradually solve the mysteries and complete the adventure.
To play Psychosis you'll need a standard Tarot card deck. The Tarot deck consists of seventy-eight cards--fourteen in each of the four minor suits (numbered one to ten, plus four royalty cards), and twenty-two unique major Arcana. The numbering and exact names of the Arcana, and the names of the minor suits, can vary from deck to deck, but regardless of terminology any standard 78-card Tarot deck is perfectly suitable for use in Psychosis.
The complete deck is separated into two piles during play. Minor cards are used for challenge resolution, and are placed in the Challenge Deck. The Arcana make up the Arcana Deck, and have special effects, each unique to that particular card, and to each adventure campaign. Each minor suit in the Challenge Deck represents a sphere of action or capability: Staves represent strength or brute force; Swords agility or dexterity, Coins intellect and knowledge, and Cups intuition, empathy and psyche. Again, in some Tarot decks the suits are slightly different (coins are sometimes called disks or pentacles, for example), but as long as you know what each suit represents, you won't have any problems.
The four minor suits relate to one another as shown in the illustration to the right: Swords and Coins are diametrically opposed, as are Cups and Staves. Those to either side of a given suit are related.
Every minor card has a value, equal to its number. Royalty cards are valued at 12 for Pages, 14 for Knights, 16 for Queens, and 20 for Kings. In general, high values are desirable, for they beat lower values when the cards are played. Aces are set aside when they appear, but usually indicate a draw from the Arcana deck.
At the very beginning of the game, your Guide will deal you five cards from the Challenge Deck. If you get an ace at this time discard it and the Guide will give you a new card. The five cards dealt to you are your hand. You may opt to place some cards face-up in front of you--up to one card from each suit. Lay these cards neatly out on the table before you. This collection of face-up cards is your trace.
It's a good idea to only put cards with high values in your trace. If you don't have high cards, you may want to wait until later on when you are dealt something better. You can move cards from your hand to your trace at any time, but never from your trace back into your hand. The cards in your trace still count towards the size of your hand (in other words, you can only have a total of five cards between your trace and your hand), but trace cards are not discarded when used. They stay in play until your Guide instructs you to remove them.
Cards from both your hand and your trace are used during the game in a manner to be described in just a moment. At times your hand will become depleted as you use and discard cards. At other times your Guide may instruct you to discard some or all of the cards in your trace. Between game sessions, your cards will be set aside as a record of your character's capabilities.
Cards are played to determine whether or not your character succeeds at the many tasks and difficulties faced over the course of your story--such as driving a car in a high-speed chase, fending off the attacks of a terrible monster, or jumping from one rooftop to another while being pursued by enemy agents. Such tasks are called Challenges.
The Guide will describe your character's situation, and it's your job to determine how your character deals with it. Based on the course of action you choose, the Guide will determine which sphere (strength or brute force; agility or dexterity, intellect or knowledge, or intuition, empathy and psyche) is most suitable, and hence, which suit is trump. You will then make a brief card play to determine how successful your character is in overcoming the challenge.
Let's look at an example. Your character has been confronted by a mad Baron known to be a master swordsman. The guide describes the situation: you are cornered, the Baron has his sword drawn, and there's blood in his eyes. You might choose to fight him fair and square, counting on your character's physical prowess (represented by the high Staves cards in your trace and hand--for swordfighting is an act of force and strength). If you don't like those odds, you might choose to rely on your character's dexterity and try to trick the Baron into a misstep during the duel, framing your character's actions in the sphere of agility and the suit of Swords. If those cards don't look good, you might try to talk the Baron out of the fight, relying on your powers of intuition and empathy (and your cards in the suit of Cups). In short, the strengths of your cards determine the strengths of your character--it's up to you to play to those strengths and avoid your character's weaknesses.
Once you've figured out what your character will try to do, and your Guide has determined the trump suit, it's time to play cards. You must play a trump card from your hand or trace if you can. If you have no trump, you may choose to play no cards at all, or you may play a single card of a related suit from your hand only, but not your trace. Check the diagram on page 5 to see which suits are related.
If you do play a trump, you may boost the trump card's total value by adding additional trump or related cards from your hand, your trace, or both, up to the total value of all the trump cards you played*. If Swords were trump, for example, you could play the 9 of Swords from your trace, plus the 7 of Swords and 2 of Cups in your hand, for a total value of 18. You could not add the Page of Coins in your trace, however, because Coins are not related to Swords.
Once you've decided which cards to play, push those cards from your trace forward a little to indicate that you are using them, and lay any cards from your hand face up in front of you. You must complete your decision before the Guide can reveal his or her cards and announce your success or failure in the challenge.
Once the action is complete, discard any cards that came from your hand. You must keep the cards in your trace.
If you run out of cards in your hand, the Guide will deal you new cards to bring your total up to five. You will only be dealt new cards between challenges. The total number of cards in your possession, including both your hand and your trace, may not exceed five, and that maximum may actually go down if your character becomes injured. If you are dealt an ace, or the Guide reveals an ace during a challenge, this means a draw from the Arcana deck will take place after the challenge has been completed. Whenever you draw an ace set it aside and draw a replacement card immediately.
The Arcana are special cards which have unique effects that vary with the circumstances of the game. Some Arcana cause good things to happen, some cause bad things, but in most cases their effect can be good or bad, depending on the circumstances. Initially, you'll have no way of knowing what effect a given Arcana card will have. As time goes on, you may come to understand the effects of some or all of the Arcana.
The effects of the Arcana vary depending on the adventure and your specific circumstances. Sometimes, your guide will place the Arcana face up next to your trace, where it will stay until you draw another Arcana card, or your Guide removes it.
One more thing. Psychosis is played with cards and only cards. Leave your pencils and notepads at the door. Any information that can't be represented by the cards or stored in your head is doomed to be lost. This may be a little frustrating at first, as you attempt to assemble hundreds of bits of disparate information, but it makes sense in the final analysis. You'll figure it out.
That's all you need to know. Sometimes, your Guide will instruct you to draw new cards, filling your hand back to a total of five, including your trace. At other times, he or she will tell you to discard everything and draw five new cards. You may or may not be given an explanation. That's OK, Psychosis is an enigmatic game, and your Guide knows a lot more about what's happening than you do.
You won't be able to finish a game of Psychosis in a single sitting--in fact, you might not even scratch the surface. At the end of a session, stack all of your trace cards in one pile, and the cards from your hand in another. Put the two piles face-to-face (so you can tell them apart next time), put a rubber band around them, and give them to your Guide.
That's it. There's a lot more for your Guide to know, but as a Player it's best to stick to just those rules and hints above. Don't read any of the rest of this book, as tempting as it may be, or you will rob yourself and your fellow Players of the surprise and spontaneity of an unfolding adventure. And don't be discouraged if episodes seem a bit confusing--this game is like an enormous jigsaw puzzle, put together with little pieces of information. You'll be surprised at how the big picture comes together.
Best of luck.
© 1996 Chameleon Eclectic Entertainment, Inc.
*This line contains a house rule. The original instructions did not place a limit on the amount of additional cards that could be played.
The black and white Tarot images on these pages are from David's Tarot which is Copyright © David Chastain and used with permission. David is also wisely reserving all rights, but I'd bet he'd be happy to discuss whatever ideas you have.
Psychosis is a trademark of (now defunct) Chameleon Eclectic Entertainment, Inc.
This file was last modified on November 09 2000 04:59:47.