One of the core elements of Vraszenian culture is a belief in pattern: the force of fate and the interconnectedness of things.
Nowhere is this expressed more clearly than in the pattern deck. This set of sixty cards (formerly sixty-seven) is simultaneously sacred and commonplace, a tool for divination and a means of passing the time.
A pattern deck is divided into three suits, referred to as threads, each with its own symbol and significance. The spinning thread, marked by a spindle, represents the “inner self” — the mind and the spiritual world. The woven thread, marked by a shuttle, represents the “outer self” — relationships and the social world. And the cut thread, marked by a pair of shears, represents the “physical self” — the body and the material world.
Each thread consists of two types of card, aspect and unaligned. Aspect cards, which occupy a role similar to court cards in a Western deck, are divided into Faces and Masks. These terms come from Vraszenian religion, where each deity is believed to have both a benevolent aspect (represented by the Face) and a malevolent one (represented by a Mask). For example, the same deity presides over both health and medicine, and disease and poison. Unaligned cards are similar to the “pip” cards of a Western deck, but they are not numbered; each has a unique name. There are twelve unaligned cards and eight aspect cards (four Faces and four Masks) in each thread.
In times past there used to be seven additional cards, associated with the seven Vraszenian clans. With the destruction of the Ižranyi, the clan cards fell out of use, and are difficult to find nowadays.
A pattern-reader is formally referred to as a szorsa. Traditionally all szorsas are female; however, if a boy shows a strong interest in or a gift for pattern, he may take on a female gender identity in order to pursue that calling. Such individuals are referred to as reslitse.
The interpretation of a card depends on its position. The Vraszenian belief that deities contain both good and bad within them carries over to the deck; all cards may indicate both positive and negative meanings, and often reflect the hidden downside of a good thing badly applied, or the silver lining of a bad thing in the right circumstances. When a card is in a negative position, its is described as “veiled,” and when it is in a positive position, it is described as “revealed.”
When it comes to the Faces and Masks, novice szorsas must take care not to blur the lines between them. The Face of Roses is the card of health and medicine, but when veiled, it does not indicate disease and poison — that is the sphere of its counterpart, The Mask of Worms. Instead it indicates the negative side of its domain, such as the lack of a doctor when one is needed, a quack doctor peddling false medicine, or recovery that will not come for a long time. Conversely, The Mask of Worms in revealed position might indicate that painful and unpleasant measures are called for — for example, amputating an infected limb to save the patient’s life.
Although the deck is meant to be a sacred tool for understanding pattern, it inevitably has also become a common diversion among Vraszenians, and even among the Liganti inhabitants of Nadežra. All games are played with only the aspect and unaligned cards; if a deck holds any of the clan cards, those are removed before play.
One game, sixes, only came into being after the destruction of the Ižranyi, when the number of clans was reduced to six. It uses only the unaligned cards (with multiple decks if there are too many players for a single deck), and operates along lines similar to poker, defining valid hands on the basis of the naming conventions of the cards. Another, nytsa, is popular for two-person play, and resembles the Japanese game koi-koi. A third, barčin, also uses the names of the cards, and is a rummy-style game similar to the Chinese Four Color Cards.
There are also “pattern dice,” which use simplified symbols to represent the threads: a line for the spinning thread, a hash for the woven thread, and an X for the cut thread. Players pay into the pot to reroll some or all of their hidden dice, hoping to make a combination that outranks those of the other players.