Fortune Telling and the roleplaying geist


Rumor has it that Julius Caesar was killed after being warned by a fortune teller to “beware the ides of March.”

Fortune Telling is important in role playing games. It’s a source of plot hooks, adventures, trouble, and great stories. Some people have issues with stories about prophecies and destiny, because if everything doesn’t fall out exactly the way it’s destined to be, then the fortune teller is lousy or someone dropped the ball. In order to keep fortune tellers interesting, you have to keep them different. They can’t all be creepy little old ladies in gypsy garb who have a crystal ball and say mysterious stuff.

Here are a few ways to spice up your prophecies.

1) The heroes know the fortune teller exists, unfortunately, the fortune teller exists in a remote or weird location, forcing the heroes to go get the fortune teller and acquire the necessary information. Variants of this include the kidnapped fortune teller, the fortune teller as romantic interest (I’ll read your fortune if you take me on a date), and the fortune teller as villain (My prophecy says you die, ha ha ha).

2) Competing fortune tellers with different styles. This can be a constant source of irritation if the fortune tellers are well-meaning, or an entire adventure/series of adventures if one or both fortune tellers are evil. This can be a colossal mess, as the heroes constantly hear phrases like “I knew this would happen. Might I perhaps pay you another two thousand gold pieces to counter the latest scheme of Radizoc the Half-Blind?” Either one can get the heroes killed, but hey, that’s the adventuring life.

3) The prophecy the fortune teller issues can’t be fulfilled unless the heroes do something antithetical to their very nature. (In a superhero game, a hero retires unexpectedly in order to produce a result, in a fantasy game, a heroic champion of good murders a baby in cold blood.) While it’s easy to have an NPC do this and get the ball rolling on your prophecy, consider other means by which a prophecy can function.

4) The fortune teller is dreadfully wrong. All the time. Or the fortune teller neglects key details which lead to arguments. “Why didn’t you tell me about the Bridge of Spikes and Swords patrolled by giant snapping turtles?”/”Would you have gone if I told you about the Bridge of Spikes and Swords patrolled by giant snapping turtles?”/”No.”/”Well, you see then? I was right?” A maniacal cackle (And possibly a beating) ensue.

5) The fortune teller is right most of the time, but when they’re wrong, it’s a humdinger. “I can’t believe my oracle sphere had a dead fly on it. You should be six hundred miles to the southwest.”/”!@#$$$!!!!!”

6) The fortune teller comes in a form that doesn’t fit the standard variety. The fortune teller is a book that tells the PC’s what to do and where to go, or the fortune teller is a small blind child that the heroes have to carry everywhere and protect. The fortune teller is a monkey, and the interpreter of the monkey reads his flung poo. Dare to be different. Well, maybe not with the last one. That’s kind of gross.

  • Upcoming Appearances

    Heroicon, Decatur, Illinois, May 15-17

    Michael will be appearing at Heroicon as a Special Guest, where he will run games and appear on panels. All proceeds from this convention go to benefit troops overseas with games, both donated and purchased, sponsored by a group called Games for Troops. I know it's a trek. Come join me anyway.

    Nexus Game Fair, Milwaukee, WI, June 25-28

    Michael will be appearing at Nexus Game Fair as a Special Guest, where he will run games and appear on Panels.

    Gencon, Indianapolis, IN, July 29-August 2.

    Michael will be attending Gencon and representing Blackwyrm Games, where his latest products will be playtested and he will have at least one signing.