Wednesday, July 06, 2016

"...As was foretold in the PROPHECY!"

Which, incidentally is another phrase I'm no longer allowed to say at work. Right along with, "That's what she said." and "Funnily enough, that was our prom theme" and "No kidding, that's also the name of my "blank-blank" cover band.

But I digress.

The path of life is full of twists and turns. Most people who have a bit of sense try to see the road ahead and figure out what they're going to do.  You, as GM, have to be ahead of the curve.

Let's tackle this one without being at all flowery.  You've usually got a few players who have made some kind of investment in some sort of prophetic powers.  Some are volitional, like tarot readers, tea leaf readers, those few gifted with enough skill to call a prophetic vision. But others are people who are willing to invest some points in an ability they have little control over.

Bless those people.

It can be difficult for a Game Master because players often want multiple ways of avoiding knowing about things. If they know about things, then they might have to do things, and by extension, do things they don’t want to, or do things that are manifestly dangerous.  It’s the same impulse that makes the hero turn away from the call of adventure, at least the first time...Which is cool and all. But that’s literary. It doesn’t make as much sense when you are playing a game that the point of, is to have an adventure. I often scratch my head over this, and look as puzzled as Amish folk at Best Buy.

In any case, when you have someone who WANTS to be told things, even if the things are all some variation on “DOOM IS COMING!” You should certainly treasure them, but you can’t exactly make it easy for them.  Prophecies are finicky and in order for them to work dramatically, They have a few rules.

1) Prophecies should be confusing.
Ideally, a prophecy is a hint of foreshadowing of a planned event, that is only ever figured out when it’s almost too late to do anything about it. In fact, you might hold a tiny piece of the puzzle in reserve right up until the players are running against the clock. Just so that you can drop it in their laps at the last moment. Oh sure, If they figure it all out righteously, don’t STEAL that from them. But if they are still struggling and the bad guys are about to win, give them a “Penny drop” roll and watch them run like hell.

As a result, You as GM, should have a license to be as opaque in the early going of trying to figure out what the visions mean.  If you run games, it probably means you have a few occult books on your bookshelf. Go out and buy a dream dictionary so that you can use the imagery in it to make the vision confusing and/or poetic.  You might see if you can’t find a good book on occult symbols and choose the most  obscure ones to figure prominently in your vision.  Visions should feel like a dream most of the time. with a sort of twisted, and yet internally consistent logic to them.

In fact, one of things that I have done in an actual game was to give a player a list of imagery on a piece of paper and then begin a countdown from 30, and at 30 take the piece of paper back.  I've even tinkered with the idea of making the list on a piece of flash paper, just for a bit of extra flair.
Memory can be treacherous, and dreams and visions fade as a person wakes. Ain't that a BITCH.

2) The more concrete a prophecy is, the more misleading it should be.
I’m not saying that you should ever give information to a person with these gifts that is flatly wrong. But you should on occasion make certain that the things that they experience in a vision or prophecy are never exactly straightforward, and that the ones that APPEAR straightforward are anything but.  My suggestion to you is that the television show, “The Dead Zone” is a masterclass in this basic concept.  I am particularly reminded of the episode where there is a bank robbery and Johnny keeps seeing different versions of the same vision with someone different dying each time.  Rapidly evolving situations, with many moving pieces, may do exactly the same thing. 
Also: there is the concept of point of view being very fluid. A trusted friend pointing a weapon at you and firing may be firing on someone behind you or your point of view may be from looking in a mirror. You or someone else performing some horrible act that you’d ordinarily NEVER do, may come about as the result of a necessity that you can’t SEE right now.   Hey, the prophecy says that the Chosen One will definitely die. But it doesn’t say anything about the Chosen One STAYING DEAD. know what I mean? Good thing I had that crash cart parked nearby.
The rule of thumb to follow here is that very little in a vision is exactly what it seems to be.

3) Prophecies should never be Proof.
Prophets are not necessarily the sort of people that rational people ought to take seriously. I mean those people who make pronouncements to the National Enquirer don’t hit more than 50 percent of the time. Otherwise the Pentagon and Wall Street would be all over that shit. Individuals are certainly free to make their choices as they will do. But you should never allow a prophet to walk into a situation, make a dire pronouncement, and have the entire group of players turn on the dime as a result.  There are safeguards for this.
*You should probably make certain that the NPC’s either don’t believe, or think that the prophecies are politically motivated.
* You might take some effort to make objective reality look like the prophet is foolish or crazy.
* You might mention to the Prophet that he sees the following thing happening in 6 out of 10 frames.  This especially good for extremely short duration visions.  It occasionally means that the prophet will be WRONG. and may make hash out of his credibility and/or his confidence.

4) Prophecies should never be free.
Magic is a not a gumball machine. You don’t put in a nickel and then get a piece of gum, like some protocol of cause and effect. There used to be a magic item in a game of mine which was an Italian water clock. It would give it’s possessor visions if a certain ritual was enacted. but the ritual involved filling the water clock with the blood of a living creature. And as time went on, it was discovered that the accuracy of the visions was augmented by the purity of the blood involved.  Animal blood was fine for some things, but when real stakes were on the table one had to consider how much clearer it would if someone sacrificed a young virgin...or even, an infant.
   In a similar vein, I had an NPC Demon, who was the Demon Prince of Awful Truths. He could look into things for a player, unless they were shielded from observation. But his price for doing so was a sliding scale.  To do so once, he would require the player to tell him a true secret.  To do so more than 3 times might involve the Awful Truth Dare, where a petitioner would have to avoid telling a lie for the turning of a moon.
If they did tell a lie during that period, then they would be struck for a non trivial amount of unsoakable aggravated damage.  Big jobs might require that you become INCAPABLE of telling a lie for a limited time. See the movie “Liar Liar” for how messed up a persons life can become as a result.
   The point i’m trying to get at here is that there is always a price for magic.  Sometimes it seems incidental. Like maybe during a vision, you happen to see another player who has a secret, and maybe that shows itself like the player’s character has two shadows and one is always whispering to the other. This will, by necessity CHANGE how that player interacts with the other person, and you should give that other player a “penny drop” roll to figure out, “Oh shit. HE KNOWS!”  Neither player has a scrap of proof of course.   
Sorry. Had to make some effort to wipe the sadistic smile from my face.
  There’s always the more pedestrian effort of making certain that the vision is actually frustrating AND painful.  I remember a Mage game some years ago, where the players were tracking a serial killer who beat his victims to death with his fists.  When our Cultist of Ecstasy attempted to use retrocognition at the crime scene, she found herself in the shoes of the actual victim and found herself being beaten to death by a masked figure.   When she came out the vision, she had plentiful bruising damage and we asked her what she had found out, and she said, “Apparently, it hurts to be hit repeatedly.”

Hey, if a hypnotist can poke you with a pencil and say, “I am burning you” and it will raise blisters in about an hour, then a vision of a nuclear apocalypse could result in a nasty sunburn and temporary blindness. I’m just saying.


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