Divvying up the Divinations

I don’t play too many games where predicting the future comes up all that often. Additionally, I don’t find my players actually take this sort of past information-gathering skill too often, usually being more in favour of interacting with Contacts and so on, but when they do, I like to shoot for portraying things as a mix of impressions, emotions, and other random sense impressions which leave them with a lot of data that will make their investigations make sense after they start making mundane progress.

By themselves, the clues from divination or other prophetic powers do not need to make sense, but once the character starts to get an idea of what is going on, or who may be involved, and so on, the impressions start to put flesh on the bones of their researches.

Divination in All for One: Regime Diabolique
These days, I have begun an All for One campaign set in Paris in the setting’s base year of 1636.  Divination is just one of a whole parcel of powers magically adept characters might pursue, so I have been giving it a lot of thought of late. I don’t want it to slow the pace, dilute the tension or excitement, but at the same time, I don’t want the choice of this power to feel like it was in error, an annoyance, or worst of all – useless.

The description in the core book uses vision related examples pretty exclusively, and suggests methods of the mutability of the future as a means to prevent use of this power from getting out of hand, so I would run it like that if it were taken in my game – for divining the future. The future does not yet exist, so no impressions have been laid in reaction to it… it is just a prediction of possibility, and I like the idea of portraying that as a vision, lacking other elements such as speech or emotion.

For the divining of past events, however, there are myriad impressions which might be perceived and these can be portrayed as overlapping and sowing confusion in the vision so that part of the challenge is just making sense of what has been communicated.

Example: Ambush
The characters are nearing the enemy encampment and the Diviner in the group hopes to ascertain a safer route to their objective.

The trail splits near a tree, likewise split by a fiery tongue of lightning and thunder like the crash of cannons into a thick section and a thin section. The thick trunk and healthy branches of the tree bend toward the right fork and cast broad, cool shadows on sunlit grass and the even ground of the wide, clear path. The thin sliver of trunk hangs dangerously over the rocky ground of the path on the left, with bare branches projecting fiercely at eye-height in the barely lit darkness of a moonless night.

With a bit like this I can communicate a few bits of information and maybe stir up some speculation at the same time, all without revealing exactly what awaits the group, and where.

  • Implies cannons or firearms
  • Clear indication that Left is Death (as it always is, handist SoBs in RPG writing, I swear!)
  • Implies that the danger is greater or perhaps only present at night… or maybe… night is just another abused metaphor for danger…?

Example: Murder and Abduction
The characters wish to know who captured their friend and brutally slew his lackey in the supposed sanctity of his private home above their favorite tavern. The Diviner in the bunch slips the landlord/barkeeper some coin and heads upstairs to dip a few chicken bones in the gore…

Outrage! Regret… fear… Fear of loss, fear of failure Pain! Serpent on skin, glass teeth bite, sands of time press heavily, What’s at the window?! Yellow and Black, under black, the reaper cloaks the shield, blood falls, weakness comes, Pain!*

Here, arguably, we have nothing but gibberish, but one part of it (glass teeth bite) can quickly be resolved and set the characters on the trail of the villains. Investigation of the room might reveal small drops of acid, as would investigation of the lackey’s body. A little bit of personal awareness or aid from a contact, patron, or the like may put them on the trail of whomever makes glass daggers, and from there more and more of the clues will come to confirm (not provide) information that they uncover, to help address and prevent analysis paralysis. The biggest clues will come into focus when they get a list of possible suspects and realize that the sigil of one of them is in yellow and black, and the killer himself has a serpent shape burned into the flesh of his lower arm.
Sands of time may never make sense to the players, or perhaps it will make sense right from the start in conjunction with the references to the window… the killers might be worried about being seen, and fighting the pair is taking too long… Or… Wink

You see what I mean. The characters have a few concrete things to go on and the rest can serve as fuel for fun, in character speculation.

How do you handle divination in your games?

*I can’t write, speak, or think things like these without hearing Leonard Nimoy in my head talking about the Chamber of the Ages. No Kill I. Shalom. 

6 Responses to “Divvying up the Divinations”
  1. Rhetorical Gamer says:

    This is great. I’m with you on the fact that my players tend to favor contacts and conversation over divination so I’ve had little use for it over the years.

    I have had some players who got caught up in Trump scrying in Amber — and I’ve run a few prophecies before, but I always went more for the “fun” aspects than the useful aspects when running these. I generally tend to “let things slip” more than I probably should, mostly so a player has that moment of “I KNEW IT!” that they can enjoy.

    Though, on a few occasions, I have allowed the player to project their own expectations onto the divination and I’ve taken my cues as GM from them… that always ends in weirdness and sometimes greater fun… Not always.

    I think you make a really good point though about allowing the divination to “confirm” player legwork as a means to limit analysis paralysis. I’d never considered how this could be a really useful way to incorporate visions and such. I love learning new things from smart people.

    Great post.

  2. 1nsomniac says:

    I have a few characters in my Shadowrun campaigns that like using Divination to try and come up with information from the stuff that has not yet happened. I use a route much like yours, where everything is steeped in metaphor. I also treat Divination like an imprecise tool… after all, you never know how far in the future you’re looking.

    The team was having to deal with an old adversary and they divined on whether they ever did catch up with him. The mage saw an image of the man and a spray of blood, but everything was jumbled in the background. They assumed they were finally going to kill the guy this time. When he escaped again, they looked at me in frustration. It was another couple of months before the sniper finally ended the guy and he died exactly as the mage had foreseen. Then there was that “Hey, wait a second…” moment.

    It is an interesting ability to be sure and when done properly it can really help drive the plot forward, or spin it off on a new tangent.

    • Runeslinger says:

      It is really important to have a balance of concrete and vague details. I guess the hardest part is giving them enough interesting and immediately useful information to inspire them to action, or help them over a rough spot, without making them prescient.

      • morrisonmp says:

        Yeah, I think that the divination can be used to set up long-term thinking/happenings but having some immediately useful information — either to spur them forward or to make them feel “better” is just as important.

        • Runeslinger says:

          Yes, I much prefer to see the group acting with confidence, than hesitating and waffling because they cannot decide what to do.

          On a related note, I am finding that in a similar sense, Intelligence Services to players work in a similar fashion, and I have to admit I think I have been dropping the ball in that area in my Mechwarrior Campaign. I understand the players wanting to have as much information as possible before planning operations, but it seems like a hunger which can never be sated. I wonder if approaching mission ops planning and enemy action prediction like I do divination might give us better results…

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