This is the one hundred forty-fifth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Our one hundred forty-fifth random selection from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality has written us a series of missives. It’s The Queen Returns, by James Chip, and its tagline in the bundle reads:

A solo rpg about the fate of a country in the Queens absence .

When the Queen is gone, people have to play their role-playing games by themselves.

Most tabletop role-playing games require a group of people to play, so I haven’t actually played many of them for this series. The Queen Returns, however, is designed to be played solo, although there is a two-player variant included as well. But it’s not what you might expect when you hear “role-playing game”, as it’s played entirely by writing short letters. Based on Princess With a Cursed Sword by Anna Anthropy (which is not in the bundle), players in The Queen Returns begin by answering a few questions about the Queen and the country she rules, and why she has left in secret. Then, they write short letters to the Queen about the things occurring in her absence, forming a story of a country in peril.

For story prompts, The Queen Returns uses a tarot deck, which was initially a problem. I do not own a tarot deck. I foolishly assumed I’d be able to find a virtual tarot deck online somewhere, much like the virtual dice roller I use to randomly select things from the bundle for this series. This is not the case. Without tarot cards, I thought I might not be able to play The Queen Returns after all, and I actually found this a little comforting. Creative writing is not something I do often, and is not something I think I’m particularly good at. But then I realized that there were probably tarot decks available for Tabletop Simulator, which I started using for board game sessions during the pandemic and have continued to use to play with friends who are no longer local. There are quite a few tarot deck options, actually. I eventually selected Cosmic Tarot, which was created by Norbert Losche and originally published in 1986, because I like the card art.

That’s important, because The Queen Returns only offers story prompts based on the suit of the drawn card — wands, swords, pentacles, cups, or major arcana — and asks players to come up with a story based on the artwork on the card. Some tarot decks only have unique art for the major arcana, but Cosmic Tarot has beautiful artwork for every single card, which helped me choose an appropriate prompt (each suit has a few) and often helped with the actual story. Honestly, though, I surprised myself by getting into the story even before I’d drawn any cards at all. I had a few ideas about the Queen and her country for the initial scene setting and started penning a surprisingly detailed account. From there, drawn cards helped me tell a story of a country beset by both mundane and mystical threats.

Sometimes, players might decide that these threats are especially dire, and flip a few coins as extra guides as they tell the story of particularly momentous events. I only did this once, but my coin flips indicated that the country was irrevocably changed. I probably didn’t make this change profound enough, but it was fun because it changed the immediate situation for my own character (I was a trusted advisor to the Queen, tasked with ensuring none knew of her absence) which affected all the letters I wrote afterward.

Stories run until players decide that the Queen returns, at which point they write an epilogue. I found myself waiting for an appropriate prompt before letting the Queen come home, and therefore may have drawn too many cards for the story I’d created. I also ran into some of the limits of the random card draws, pulling a surprising number of swords cards which made it harder to keep finding unique prompts. I think I used all of the available prompts for swords cards, and even used the same prompt twice. Tarot decks contain an impressive 78 cards, but The Queen Returns cannot support a long narrative with its limited set of prompts. I felt I was pushing it at 16 drawn cards. Plan for a short session.

I enjoyed The Queen Returns more than expected, and it made me curious to see what Princess With a Cursed Sword is like. Perhaps I’ll check it out at some point. If you are intrigued, The Queen Returns is sold for a minimum price of $2 for those who missed it in the bundle.

That’s 145 down, and only 1596 to go!