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View Full Version : DM Help How should I handle prophecy and foresight in my games?



MonkeySage
2018-09-20, 11:05 PM
This is something that fascinates me and something i've attempted to employ in the past through various means.

This time around, I've got an opportunity to do it again, and I'd like to do it right.

One of my players, through his own choices, is currently possessed by a powerful and ancient being that at one time devoured countless souls. Not out of malice, but rather she was lonely and devoured willing souls so that they would join her "family". Thus those souls were not destroyed- they exist inside her, and by extension inside my player.

She's not taking active control of his body or mind, but occasionally one of the souls may send him a message. Perhaps a vision of the past, or a premonition of some sort. He recently got his first vision: A blurry vision of a fleet of military vessels chasing one of their own, firing weapons on it. I'd rather not give away too much information, though, and I don't want any of this to be predictive towards how the players will influence the plot.

Darth Ultron
2018-09-21, 12:12 AM
Well, you either give away information, clues and influence the plot......or you don't. Seems simple enough.


What do you see as a problem?

Nifft
2018-09-21, 01:20 AM
The Draconic Prophecy from Eberron is a nice model for adding foresight without removing agency.

What it says is stuff like: "If (x) does (y), then (z)." Generally, z is one of the Overlords getting free, because that's what the Draconic Prophecy is about.

You can murder (x); you can prevent (y) from happening. If (x) doing (y) is prevented, then the prophecy will change to describe a different value of x and y. It's a real-time computation of conditions -> results, focused on a very specific type of result (the Overlords getting bound, or getting free if they're already bound, and currently they all are bound -- but your campaign could free one, and then you'd presumably want to use the obverse).

The neat thing is that the Draconic Prophecy never tells you what ~you~ will do, it only says that a certain type of very undesirable consequences will result if specific events transpire. This gives the players a target (to accomplish or prevent), without giving them a plot to which they must conform.

Pelle
2018-09-21, 02:23 AM
Check out horoscopes, they usually give out predictions that can be interpreted in many ways. "You will meet a tall dark man"

Heh, in a game I ran, one player made a sacrifice to a stone spirit to have his future told, and I rolled that he would become rich. And then the character was killed not soon after. Had to do some creative thinking to make sense of the prophecy afterwards...

Silly Name
2018-09-21, 03:43 AM
In your specific case, make use of symbolism and make it so the events foretold don't require specific actions on the part of the PC/the party as a whole.

For example, the fleet chasing away one of its own ships could serve to warn the character that their rich and/or noble family has been scheming to keep them out of Uncle Pennybags' will, and they're going to try to drive the PC away from the family. Or maybe it's about how the country is going to fall into a civil war, with one large faction (the fleet) trying to destroy a political/religious/racial/your choice minority (the lone ship).

The suggestion of using "if X, then Y" styles of prophecies in the future is pretty good, and it has "historical precedent". For example, in Greek mythology, a prophecy stated that the Greeks would win the war of Troy only if both the son of Achilles and the own of Heracles' bow fought along with them, aka "if X and Y happens, then Z".

Jay R
2018-09-21, 07:12 PM
Show something from right now, but far away, rather than true prophecy.

Don't show the sack of a city; show the army marching toward it. Don't show the young Arthur pulling the sword from the stone and becoming King; show him being trained by Merlin. Don't show the Chosen One's destiny twenty years from now; show her hearing about her destiny today.

Mutazoia
2018-09-21, 09:44 PM
"What's really going to bake your noodle later is, would you still have broken it if I hadn't said anything."

There are two cardinal rules of Prophecy:


Trying to stop a Prophecy always makes it come true.
Trying to hurry a Prophecy always makes it come true, in the worst way possible.




In the first instance, we can turn to the Prophecy in the movie "Willow" as an example. The Prophecy stated that a child born with a certain birthmark, would bring about the end of Queen Bavmorda's reign.

So what does Bavmorda do? She hunts down all children until she finds the one with the birthmark. This child is rescued (because everybody now knows who she is) and is the resulting fight for the child ends with Bavmorda zapping herself into an alternate dimension. Trying to stop the prophecy made it happen faster, with a bad ending.

She could have easily announced that she planned to adopt the child and raise her as a princess and hand over power to her when she came of age (and then ruled with the girl as a puppet), and still satisfied the prophecy....

Bavmorda fought the Prophecy, and the Prophecy won.


In the second instance, we have the example of MacBeth. MacBeth is wandering around after a battle and happens on some witches cooking up a pot of stew. They tell MacBeth that he is going to get a nice promotion, and lo and behold he does. The next time he chats with them, They say he will become King. So what happens? His wife, in a hurry be be queen, murders the King and causes his son's to scamper for their lives. Lo and behold, the hero of the battle, MacBeth, is chosen to be King. And then everything goes to ****, as Lady MacBeth slowly goes insane, and our Anti-Hero, thinking he can't be killed by anyone "borne of woman" gets skewered by one of the princes who just happened to be born by C-Section (and thus not considered to have been "borne by woman" by the logic of the times.)

MacBeth got impatient and rushed the prophecy, and instead of a fine wine, he got rotten grapes (and skewered).

Lunali
2018-09-21, 10:55 PM
"What's really going to bake your noodle later is, would you still have broken it if I hadn't said anything."

There are two cardinal rules of Prophecy:


Trying to stop a Prophecy always makes it come true.
Trying to hurry a Prophecy always makes it come true, in the worst way possible.




I'd say these are only cardinal rules of prophecy in worlds where prophecy is guaranteed to come true. In other worlds, the prophecy will always come true unless someone acts based on the prophecy.

exelsisxax
2018-09-21, 11:11 PM
The Draconic Prophecy from Eberron is a nice model for adding foresight without removing agency.

What it says is stuff like: "If (x) does (y), then (z)." Generally, z is one of the Overlords getting free, because that's what the Draconic Prophecy is about.

You can murder (x); you can prevent (y) from happening. If (x) doing (y) is prevented, then the prophecy will change to describe a different value of x and y. It's a real-time computation of conditions -> results, focused on a very specific type of result (the Overlords getting bound, or getting free if they're already bound, and currently they all are bound -- but your campaign could free one, and then you'd presumably want to use the obverse).

The neat thing is that the Draconic Prophecy never tells you what ~you~ will do, it only says that a certain type of very undesirable consequences will result if specific events transpire. This gives the players a target (to accomplish or prevent), without giving them a plot to which they must conform.

I came here to say this, but this is better than I was going to say it.

All other prophesies are DM fiat and/or agency removal. The Draconic Prophecy is neither.

Xuc Xac
2018-09-22, 09:43 AM
All other prophesies are DM fiat and/or agency removal. The Draconic Prophecy is neither.

In some games, prophecies just make things more likely. For example, "You will meet your end near water" gives the "victim" a big penalty when near water. He can still do whatever he wants, but if he gets in a fight next to a river or gets attacked by pirates during an ocean voyage, the odds are against him. His luck will run out eventually.

Lunali
2018-09-22, 10:11 AM
In some games, prophecies just make things more likely. For example, "You will meet your end near water" gives the "victim" a big penalty when near water. He can still do whatever he wants, but if he gets in a fight next to a river or gets attacked by pirates during an ocean voyage, the odds are against him. His luck will run out eventually.

Then in the end you finally kill him in the middle of the desert with someone he first met next to a river.

Nifft
2018-09-22, 10:20 AM
In some games, prophecies just make things more likely. For example, "You will meet your end near water" gives the "victim" a big penalty when near water. He can still do whatever he wants, but if he gets in a fight next to a river or gets attacked by pirates during an ocean voyage, the odds are against him. His luck will run out eventually.

I'd want some kind of water-related reward or I would just never go near water.

For 5e, maybe something like...
- You have Advantage on any roll while near water. You can't use this again until you complete a long or short rest.
- You die after two failed death saving throws (not three) while near water.

vasilidor
2018-09-22, 02:04 PM
or he dies of old age with a half full canteen by his side.

Xuc Xac
2018-09-23, 08:13 AM
One way to go is give a bonus to actions that go along with the prophecy and a penalty to actions that oppose it. You don't have to fulfill the prophecy, but fulfilling it is the path of least resistance. If you want to avoid it and someone else wants to fulfill it, you'll have an uphill struggle against fate.

Some games also use this for social skills, so instead of persuasion being mind control, it's just easier to go along with the convincing argument.

Mark Hall
2018-09-23, 08:36 AM
I tend to separate future vision into two categories... that we'll call prophecy and foresight.

Prophecy is events far enough in the future that they can be changed.
Foresight is events close enough to the current time that they cannot.

So, prophecy involves biggish things months or years down the road, or smallish things in the next day or so. Foresight almost always involves the immediate future. Prophecies are the most likely outcome (or the most desirable outcome for those making a prophecy). Foresight WILL happen. Prophecy is "You will lose your wealth soon after it arrives", foresight is "If you take your pouch of gems to the market, you will get pickpocketed." Now, in game terms, that foresight might translate into a bonus to Spot (because you know its coming), but someone is going to attempt to pickpocket you, and you'll have to deal with that.

Tanarii
2018-09-23, 10:42 AM
Check out horoscopes, they usually give out predictions that can be interpreted in many ways. "You will meet a tall dark man"

Heh, in a game I ran, one player made a sacrifice to a stone spirit to have his future told, and I rolled that he would become rich. And then the character was killed not soon after. Had to do some creative thinking to make sense of the prophecy afterwards...
Should have given yourself an out, an if clause. "If you survive ..." is always a nice one in games where PCs are somewhat likely to die. :smallamused:

Frozen_Feet
2018-09-24, 09:25 AM
The best way to handle divination is a combination of descriptive statements which can be used for prediction and if-then-conditionals based on knowable causality. If you're using dice or other random factor, you may need to use probabilistic or uncertain statements.

If you feel daring, you may instead use prerolls to create prescriptive statements of the future. For example: "Will I hit my next target?" Make the attack roll when the prophecy is made and then use it when time becomes appropriate.

The funny thing about this latter model is that in it, prophecy and such don't predict the future, they dictate it. All prophecies are fundamentally self-fulfilling.

Pelle
2018-09-24, 09:37 AM
Should have given yourself an out, an if clause. "If you survive ..." is always a nice one in games where PCs are somewhat likely to die. :smallamused:

Nah, that's too cowardly :smalltongue: In the end, we managed to make sense out of it by the fact that post mortem, prosperity was brought to the characters' tribe due to his actions.

kyoryu
2018-09-24, 10:16 AM
The Draconic Prophecy from Eberron is a nice model for adding foresight without removing agency.

What it says is stuff like: "If (x) does (y), then (z)." Generally, z is one of the Overlords getting free, because that's what the Draconic Prophecy is about.

The interesting thing about that is it also does a very good job of setting stakes and communicating them to the players.

Beleriphon
2018-09-24, 02:37 PM
For pure prophetic vagueness you can't go wrong with Pythia and Delphic Oracular statements.

Here's a list of historically significant ones from The Wiki.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oracular_statements_from_Delphi

Max_Killjoy
2018-09-25, 12:36 PM
Honestly, prophecies and visions are part and parcel of some game settings and genres... and perhaps one of my least-favorite things to GM.

I feel like I'm walking a very thin line between giving away information "cheaply", or no-selling the player's efforts or abilities, and coming up with "just vague enough" without sounding weaselly isn't as easy as some make it out to be.

Tanarii
2018-09-25, 01:57 PM
Nah, that's too cowardly :smalltongue: In the end, we managed to make sense out of it by the fact that post mortem, prosperity was brought to the characters' tribe due to his actions.Personally I prefer prophecies with an if/then or and/or to ones where it gets pretzled to fit. The latter blows my suspension of disbelief.

Pelle
2018-09-25, 03:06 PM
Personally I prefer prophecies with an if/then or and/or to ones where it gets pretzled to fit. The latter blows my suspension of disbelief.

The former just feels like hedging your bets though. Not really a prophecy if you cover all the bases. I find it more fun with a bold prophecy, and then hoping it will work out. Then you can attribute it to the prophecy if it indeed does, or at least get some direction when improvising is called for, and generally hope it don't backfire :smallsmile:

kyoryu
2018-09-25, 03:26 PM
What would be interesting is to give a prophecy some amount of power at the metagame level. Allow the existence of a prophecy to give the GM some number of rerolls/adjustments/etc. So that the very act of getting something prophesied makes it more likely to come true.

Tanarii
2018-09-25, 07:58 PM
The former just feels like hedging your bets though. Not really a prophecy if you cover all the bases. I find it more fun with a bold prophecy, and then hoping it will work out. Then you can attribute it to the prophecy if it indeed does, or at least get some direction when improvising is called for, and generally hope it don't backfire :smallsmile:
Oh, it's definitely blatantly hedging your bets. :smallbiggrin:

I just find twisting prophecy to fit what actually happened and saying AHA! see, told you! to give me some serious knee jerk eye rolling.

But clearly it's a personal preference for which makes us roll eyes and which doesn't. :smallwink: