Gaming: Astrodice

IMG_9251On the recommendation of a friend in the astrology community, I got a trio of these astro-dice.  They’re 12-sided dice, of course — because the 12-sided die is the Platonic Solid representing space, or the universe, or the Aetheric realms, rather than the four elements (fire=tetrahedron, air=octohedron, water=icosahedron, earth=cube).  One of the dies has eight planets, the Sun and Moon, the North Node and the South Node.  One of them has the 12 houses or topic areas, and one of them has the 12 signs of the zodiac.

Now, astrologers use these dice as practice tools. You throw the dice, and think, “Oh, Mercury in Aquarius in the twelfth house!? What does that mean?”  Then you try to say something intelligent and cool and transformative (you could add in an egg timer or similar timing device and make it a full game for learning astrology… (which, I kinda gather, someone has already done).

But it occurred to me that these are also a useful tool for gamers, especially for adding a level of world-building detail in fantasy roleplaying games.  Working up a full-on astrological chart for each and every gaming session would be both silly and difficult — and those powerful moments “when the stars align” that evil wizard-overlords are always using to bring about their plans would almost never happen.  Far better to set your gaming group up for success or failure by using these three dice for one of several purposes.

First, it’s important to have a sense of what themes or ideas are represented by each die.

The House Die is probably the easiest to wrap one’s head around:

  1. Self, “I am”, person, appearance
  2. money, wealth, moveable property, assets
  3. extended family, neighbors, basic learning, short-distance travel,
  4. house and home, mothers and women
  5. pleasures, enjoyments, young people, and food
  6. daily life and labors, servants, household animals
  7. relationship, partner, spouse, open enemies, business partners and marriages.
  8. death, inheritance, other people’s stuff, taxes, and sex
  9. higher learning, magic, books, long-distance travel, religion, law
  10. career, public honors, fame, attention, patronage, fathers and men
  11. friends and allies, associations, guilds
  12. secret enemies, prisons, old people

The Planet Die, in a game setting, might look something like this:

  1. ☽ – Moon – woman, sorcerer, cleric, wise woman,
  2. ☿ – Mercury – male or female, sorcerer, bard, wizard, cleric, sage,
  3. ♀ – Venus – young woman, seductress, artist/artisan,
  4. ☉- Sun – fighter, paladin, cleric, scholar,
  5. ♂ – Mars – fighter, ranger, blacksmith, armorer, surgeon, doctor
  6. ♃ – Jupiter – cleric, paladin, king, high priest, religion, law, noble
  7. ♄ – Saturn  – druid, ranger, farmer, gardener, hermit, monk
  8. ☊ – North Node – More
  9. ☋ – South Node – Less
  10. ♅ – Uranus – upheaval, revolution, significant change,
  11. ♆ – Neptune – dissolution, water, illusions
  12. ♇ – Pluto – wealth, riches, toxicity

And the Signs die, might read something like this.  It may be helpful to think of cardinal as ‘beginning’, and mutable as changing, and fixed should be self-explanatory.  I’ve chosen to give each of these a generic place, a plot device, and a McGuffin (or object to move the plot of your game along:

  1. Aries — Cardinal Fire — an arena or battle field, a soldier, a weapon
  2. Taurus — Fixed Earth — a palace, a sybarite (pleasure-seeker), a tapestry or garment
  3. Gemini — Mutable Air — a temple, identical twins, a set of keys
  4. Cancer —  Cardinal Water — an island, a monk or hermit, a piece of armor
  5. Leo — Fixed Fire — wilderness, an actor or performer, a piece of royal regalia
  6. Virgo — Mutable Earth —  farmland, an accountant, evidence of guilt or innocence
  7. Libra — Cardinal Air — a marketplace, a merchant, a message in secret writing
  8. Scorpio — Fixed Water — a sewer system, an assassin, a poisonous medicine
  9. Sagittarius — Mutable Fire — a school or place of learning, a a hybrid being (minotaur, centaur, etc), a bow and/or arrows
  10. Capricorn — Cardinal Earth — a smuggler’s landing place, a person transformed into someone/thing else, a
  11. Aquarius — Fixed Air —  a great hall, a servant with secret knowledge, a book of ancient lore
  12. Pisces — Mutable Water —  The ocean, chained fugitives with different objectives, a magical fish-hook.

How do we then use these three lists?  In the photographed example above, we have Mercury in Aquarius in the 12th house. I could use the words above to create the following:

  • A sorcerer has decided to set himself against the PCs; he’s after their wizard’s spell book, because a servant in the king’s hall told him about a spell the wizard has that he wants.
  • A servant now in prison has the information that the PCs seek about a missing book of lore.
  • A sorcerer has taken over a large house in the countryside in order to summon demons with the help of an ancient book
  • The servant of a sage is trying to sell one of her master’s books.

I can also use these astrodice tools in a more-astrological sense:

  • Mercury in Aquarius in the 12th house suggests that all spells involving finding or learning knowledge can be cast especially well, perhaps +4 to Identification or Detection spells.
  • Mercury in Aquarius means that Air Elementals can be more easily summoned at this time, but because it’s in the 12th  house, these Air Elementals tend to be more villainous than usual or turn on their handlers more easily.

It’s worth noting, of course, that in-game, it’s possible for players to be sufficiently aware of astrology that they could be allowed to roll on these tables personally and publicly:

Player: Before I cast this spell, I’d like to think whether or not astrology could aid me
DM: Roll 3D12 and tell me the numbers; and roll an Astrology check.
Player:  a 6, a 9, and a 2; and… the check is a 9.
DM: OK, you think that Jupiter is in Sagittarius in the 2nd house at present — so your fire spells are likely to be unpredictable because of the mutable energy of fire… but casting spells on valuable religious objects might be more effective.
DM secretly decides that spells that enchant objects are at +2, and fire spells are more likely to fail explosively or last for less time than normal.  

It’s also worth noting  that in our world, the planets don’t change signs every day. It takes a month for the Sun to go through a sign, while it takes Saturn about three years, and Jupiter a year.  The Moon changes signs every couple of days, while Venus and Mercury can take several weeks, and Mars can take a few months.

However, every planet’s House changes every couple of hours, as the Earth turns (and house numbers count down, rather than up). So, if you announce during a session that Jupiter is in Sagittarius in the 12th house, don’t announce twenty minutes later that Jupiter is in Taurus… because you’ve just told your players that nearly five years has passed.  However, it’s perfectly reasonable to say after 20 minutes of play-time (and a few hours of time in-game) that Jupiter in Sagittarius is now in the 9th house, and it’s time for the cleric to rest and pray.

In some ways, using Astrodice to represent a fixed calendar is silly and maybe even dangerous.  On the other hand, it’s a great way to generate non-player characters, plot devices, McGuffins and other ins-and-outs within your game.

Another way to use these dice (or just three 12-sided dice of different colors, color-coded to the lists above) is to search for these terms on Google, such as “Mercury in Aquarius” and “Mercury in the 12th house”.  By doing so, you’ll gain a lot of insight into how astrologers read these two symbol-combinations. The astrologers won’t be creating exact +1s or -4’s for your gaming needs, of course — but reading closely will give you ideas for adventures, NPCs, plot lines for adventures, characteristics of villains, and more.  Maybe you’ll even discover that one of an astrologer’s major tools is quality metaphor: in other words, reading astrologers might give you good ideas on how to be a better game-player and game-master, because you’ll discover more language of personality and experience to draw on in your game play.

And of course, you might just learn a lot of astrology from playing around with these dice, an added side-quest of some usefulness in a fantasy game world.

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