“Yourself” uses cards from a tarot deck to inspire and guide responses. Instead of a traditional tarot deck, I’m using the Hollow Valley Tarot that I inherited from my friend Sara, who died recently. Sara and I met in a game of “Trophy Gold”, in fact, and her spirit is a part of my playthrough here in important ways. This playthrough is not truly allegorical, but it certainly has many aspects of allusion and tribute.
I have set this particular playthrough in the world of Trophy, a dark medieval fantasy world largely dominated by a great and terrible forest known as the Kalduhr. The Kalduhr contains many magical and monstrous things, including the fae.
From “Trophy Loom”:
The Fae are creatures - elves, trolls, and their kin - which live in the heart of the forest and across the veil in their own mysterious world. For some inscrutable reason, they secret themselves into the mortal world to abduct newborn babes and leave behind faeborn: mimics who wear masks to make themselves look just like the replaced children.
The masks the faeborn wear contain many powerful illusory charms, allowing them to appear as average mortal folk. Oftentimes, a faeborn doesn’t even know they wear the mask until they reach adulthood and the magic binding them to their mask weakens. Only when they are fully unmasked and the glamour unraveled is their true fae heritage revealed. Some continue to wear the mask and try to live the life they thought was theirs; others accept their new identity and enter the forest in search of answers.
“The fae” is the collective name for a variety of unrelated beings who live within the forest and are said to come from the land of Faerie: trolls, sprites, fauns, elves, ogres, and the like. Despite having a wide range of intelligences, societies, habits, and goals, humans treat them as a monolithic culture bent on destroying humanity. That some fae do have that goal only confuses matters.
The dreaded Kalduhr Forest looms large in the minds of the residents of the three kingdoms. Millennia ago, it was the home to a vast and powerful civilization, as is evidenced by the wondrous treasures and temples still hidden within. And yet, that culture is now lost. Little is known about why it disappeared - or how. Sure, moralizing tales exist about the decadence and hubris which surely led to Old Kalduhr’s fall, but only the old gods and monsters of the forest now know for sure.
“Yourself” is a solo RPG where the player records a story based around drawing cards and using the prompts from the included tables. This is a game of introspection and identity. As such, it does not have a set goal or challenge to overcome. Instead, the player engages in an in-depth character of who this character is, what they feel, and why.
The core concept of “Yourself” is that the character was raised to believe that they were entirely human. Strong magic held back its influence, but the signs were always there. The illusions have gone thin, and the character now knows themselves to be a “changeling” or “faeborn”. Traditional stories say the fae take a human child and replace them with either one of their own kind or something under an illusion to look human. ((I have chosen to play a character that is indeed truly fae.))
I am using Trophy Dark and Loom as well as Yourself to create the character. However, I won’t be tracking Ruin as that is specifically a Trophy mechanic.
The card representing Esfahen’s human side is Moth which connotes anxiety, inconstancy, self-destruction, doubt, and erraticism.
The card representing Esfahen’s fae side is Moon which connotes inconstancy, psychic power, movement, generation, creativity, sexuality, and magic.
The signs that only made sense in retrospect.
I have decided to use the One Entry Method. I will draw three prompts at once and one Hollow Valley tarot card. These will be combined into one narrative entry.
You felt that something’s always wrong. You always had a nagging sensation deep in your chest. What did you used to think it was? What did you used to do to try to feel right?
It seemed the animals all knew. The animals around you acted differently than other humans. How would wild animals react? And pets? Were they overly friendly or were you regarded as danger?
You have felt you don’t belong. You thought yourself an outsider to your own home. Did other people actively make you feel unwelcome or was this a private feeling? In what ways did you feel alone? How did you deal with these feelings?
Ring: Permanence, bonding, promises, protection, fulfillment, acceptance.
Ring asks us to make permanent bonds - decisions on what path to follow and where to plant our feet. At this point in your life, you have made promises or delved into a passion, and where you are now is where you should stay. Bind yourself to the things and people you find yourself drawn to now - you will find fulfillment through this stability. Sometimes we are drawn to movement, but Ring asks you to put down roots and make a commitment. You will find comfort and safety in the relationships you hold fast to at this time in your life.
Esfahen always felt “wrong” and “different” - not as in being mistaken about facts, but that something about himself wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. Sometimes he’d try to talk to his father Baldrik about it, but all he’d get in response was a shrug and an acknowledgment that everyone feels a little out of place sometimes. While they didn’t have any family pets, he would wander to the small creeks around their tiny forest village and sit for hours, watching the frogs and minnows and insects going about their own existence. Unlike with other children, though, these creatures didn’t flee for safety when he came around. Perhaps they knew themselves to be safe with him, that he had no desire to do anything to them other than observe and share their presence.
His father’s booming laugh and stream of curses always drove him a little further away. Baldrik meant well, but the boy simply didn’t understand that amount of effusive interaction with the world. Better to simply be quiet and, well, simply be. But that wasn’t the way of things there, and so Esfahen spent more and more time alone at the place where the forest and the village met.
The changes to your body and your feelings towards it.
Accommodation’s new demands. Each day you need to take into account your body or mind in a new way. What is it and how does this make you feel?
The oddity of clothes compounds. How has your new body changed the clothing you wear? Do you still try to wear your old things? Do you try something new? What about the clothes you buy don’t work for you? Can you even find things that fit? How much of you is what you wear?
Your speaking voice has found new sounds. How does your voice sound? Has it changed at all? Do you want it to change? Do you still sing?
Home: Shelter, belonging, safety, rest, contentment, intimacy.
Home asks us to find the places that we feel most safe - the places we can be ourselves entirely. Home can be a physical space, but it can also be a person or a time of life, an all-encompassing warmth that allows you to flourish, and be your best. Find your home, wherever it may be, and work to preserve it. It will do you well on your journey to have a comfortable place to come back to in times of uncertainty and fear. Spend some time cleaning, organizing, and cozying your physical space as well. You’ll be glad you did.
((I have decided not to replace the tarot cards back into the deck, not least because the variety of cards is so great here, much more than the Major Arcana in a traditional tarot deck.))
Now that Esfahen knows who he is - or at least, “what” he is - he takes the time to adapt to his environment in the ways that fit him rather than the people around him. Wearing the mask is tiring and he does so less and less frequently as the days go by. Headwear doesn’t fit, and he prefers to bathe out in a nearby river when no one is around. He’s not ashamed of himself, but constantly giving responses tires him out.
More than even when he was a child, he loves to sing. Somehow he knows songs that have a complexity and rhythm that the others he grew up around don’t understand, and he has no idea where they came from. But singing them out into the forest at night helps him feel connected in ways he can only explain in the songs themselves or in the notes he writes down in a small journal he inherited from his grandmother. (Surely the lily pad motif pressed into the leather cover wasn’t an allusion to his true nature, because surely she could never have known… surely?)
Your friends, your family, and the fae.
And have you sought to find each other? Do you seek the company of other Changelings? If yes, how do you find them? If no, why not and would you join them if they came to you?
A dear friend that you can’t replace. Someone is always by your side. Who are they and how do they support you?
Received gifts from a new relation. The fae have brought you a gift. What is it, how did you find it, and what do you give in return?
Air: Imagination, weightlessness, perspective, ideation.
Air asks us to use our heads - but in the soft way that leads to ideation, creativity, and joy. When we allow ourselves to fill our heads with weightless plans and exciting thoughts, we begin to see what things in life will bring us the greatest happiness. Allowing yourself some lofty thoughts will bring you above the clouds of your own consciousness and let you see the bigger picture. What dreams can you bring with you when you must head back down to the earth?
When he and Baum first became friends, it was as if they’d always known each other. Even before either of them knew their true identity, they had a shared understanding of the dangers and allures of the forest. Baum’s balding pate, kind eyes, and patched clothing all spoke to a kindred soul. Eventually, the magic of the glamour weakened for both, and they came to understand that the people they were inside mattered far more than how they presented themselves to human society. In recognition of this, Baum gave Esfahen a mask of terrifying splendor, formed of lacquered birch bark and layered with shedded snakeskin, polished antlers, tufts of silver fox fur, and dried flowers.
Generated by DALL-E 3
Baum could not accompany Esfahen on the long journey of exploration where he spends time learning at the feet of a forest queen whose name cannot be formed by the minds of mortals, but her memory was carried there and lives on in the verses Esfahen leaves among the fae.
The encroachment of the future.
Through hardships fledgling ties do bloom. You have made new connections. Who are they and how will they helped you? Where do you see these relationships going in the future?
Both sides of you should be regarded. How do you balance being both of fae and human origin? Have you had to make any compromises?
Through what appearance have you changed? Why do you look different? What made you decide to change? Was it something small or something big?
River: Change, journey, cleansing, passage, flux, fluidity.
Of all the forms that water takes, the River is the most changeable and flighty. River is about moving on, about the constant cleansing of your psyche. You are in flux - constantly running to the next thing and allowing yourself to be open to new possibilities. Right now, the journey is what drives you, not the destination. Use this time to explore ideas that seem far-fetched and impossible. Use this time to discover things about your wants, needs, and self that aren’t always easy to see when you are stagnant.
Eventually, Esfahen journeys far down the Nevask River. He fills notebooks with the words he writes of the peoples he met, some human, some not, and some unclear. Ultimately, like the others he met, Esfahen doesn’t have to choose between being human or fae, or consider himself “half” anything. He is both.
Now I shuffle the tarot cards back together and choose the one, face down, that calls to me.
Pearl: Healing, self-luminosity, humility, purity, delicacy, renewal.
Pearl is the power hidden inside of you. Pearl reminds us that there is an innocence, a newness, a sense of hope that we hold deep inside of us even when the world around us puts us through the wringer and roughens our edges. Pearl reminds us that pressure and irritation create beauty and luminosity. Let the hard parts of your life shine the pearl within you. Keep your heart soft and your mind humble.
What does it mean to be yourself? The choice was always yours to make.
Years have passed. Esfahen learns more of who he is every day, shaping the narrative of his time in his village, his travels along the Nevask, and his time with the forest queen, the Old One of the Forest, and the many others he knew. All of those have shaped him into the person he is now, a work that will remain forever in progress just as everyone else is. The rich and beautiful in the Rose District of Ambaret never truly understand the message: the people we meet are part of us, and the joy is in the oneness.
I love you, Sara. Someday we’ll all be stardust together.