February 19, 2011

5 Non-Epic Prophecies

By Hannah Lipsky

Mystery, magic, the swirling of smoke above the oracular fire. Everyone loves prophecies, so why not throw a few into your games?

They can be anything from a bit of local color to the focal point of a story arc. And it’s this former function most people forget – not every word that passes your prophet’s lips must be the fulcrum on which fates are turned.

Here are five prophecies that range from the mild to the moderate, without ever setting foot in epic territory. You can use them in your campaign, or just use them as inspiration.

1. The nameless huntress will thrive during a rainstorm

The words came down from the oracle on a cold winter day. This was good news and bad, for rain wouldn’t come to the small village of Ordin for another two months. They had that long to figure out the prophecy, and that long to labor under its shadow. Few boons follow epithets like “nameless huntress.”

The elders debated, wondering what the words might mean. Fishers and farmers huddled around fires while the village hunters – all properly named – laid in extra stocks of meat against the uncertainty of the coming thaw. The first winds of spring were greeted with more anxiety than joy.

Finally, it happened. The spring rain began – and did not end. The storms raged for days, and the river overflowed its banks. The muddy waters carried fish, flotsam – and disease. The tainted water seeped into basements and wells, fouling food and water alike. One villager after another succumbed to the sickness.

By the time the rainy season passed, not one house was unmarked with grief. The nameless huntress had come.

2. The compassionate duchess must not profit

He’d been against going to a seer for political advice from the start. Sure, sometimes they came up with catchy slogans, but mostly they confused everyone to the point where the peasants rioted and the nobility all stayed home and refused to vote. How was a person to win a council seat in an environment like that?

But no, his sister – his older sister, who’d worked on the consul’s campaign, and don’t you forget it – had insisted. He’d tried to argue for a private reading at least, but no, she’d said, the people will be suspicious of anything you say after that. What if they got a bad prophecy in public? Nothing’s so bad that you can’t spin it, she’d said.

And now he was stuck with “The compassionate duchess must not profit.” Having their candidate described as compassionate was great. That’s what the people wanted. Always an attribute that polled well. Except in wartime, of course, but the lands had been at peace for some time now. It was the “must not profit” bit that was the problem.

Did that mean no campaign contributions? Or just that she should spend them all? Did that mean it would be the worse for them all if she got elected? Or just that she’d have to restrain herself from kickbacks while in office? The latter interpretation was almost worse – no one voted for an honest noble. Too suspicious. Everyone knows, if they’re not taking bribes, they’re probably sacrificing babies to demons.

The compassionate duchess must not profit. How was he supposed to win an election with that?

3. The mad duke shall lope in the mountains

Some prophecies are opaque. Some are obscure. Some aren’t obvious until retrospect, and some, not even then. This was none of those.

My great-uncle was a werewolf. My grandfather was a werewolf. My father is a renowned trophy hunter with exotic pelts all over his walls who goes into offended coughing fits at the mere mention of the supernatural and is, unfortunately for all of us, the current duke.

Not that I think this prophecy means he’s a werewolf. Oh no. He’s one good illness away from being on permanent bed rest. At which point I, his eldest son, assume the title.

I guess I’d better start working on my howl.

4. She shall not return with the green lord on a journey

Hiking up the mountain is a dark, sweaty, dirty adventure. It’s dangerous, it’s uncomfortable, and it pays better than anything else this side of honest work.

Here’s how it works: the high priestess believes her wisdom is an ethereal, celestial thing. It should only be dispensed to those brave of heart and pure of soul, those who are willing to travel to the ends of the earth in pursuit of noble truths.

Here’s how it also works: the merchant caravans believe prophecies are handy things, and so they’ll pay silver to get them and gold to bring them back. Silver, if you undertake the risk and promise that they’ll have first shot at hearing whatever you find out. Gold, if you tell it to them exclusively. Never decide beforehand, because you never know what you’ll get. So lucky for us all that the high priestess is not also an empath.

Silver and gold there’s been before, but this prophecy is the one. This prophecy is platinum. “She shall not return with the green lord on a journey.” Does that mean the untested scion who is wooing the heiress? The queen who even now accompanies the young prince on a tour of his lands? Or could it be an obscure reference to the grain merchants, the chief of which is said to be looking for a partner in a new venture?

Either way, it’s important news. Platinum important.

5. The heliotrope skeleton will never yawn during winter

Dust. Dust, with tracks in it. But old tracks, older than the boots on my feet, boots passed down by my grandfather. Tracks so old they made you realize the dust must be older still. Layers of it.

It didn’t smell, didn’t make me sneeze. The biting cold drove all smell out of the mountain caverns, even the scents of moss and underground rivers. The moss was crumbling and black at this temperature, and I could almost imagine that even the hidden streams were frozen solid. I certainly was.

No one had traveled this way since my grandfather’s grandfather’s time. No one was sure the passage still existed. But the news I was bringing was important, and it couldn’t wait until spring.

We should have been able to cross through the mountain pass in our carts, like we usually did. Skeleton pass was named for the remains of the bandits who’d hung there in my father’s time. Before that, it had another name. Something to do with the flowers that dotted the mountain’s sides – violets, daisies and heliotrope.

That’s how we knew the ice and snow wouldn’t clear out in time this winter. Those fateful words might’ve befuddled the traveling gypsy fortune teller who’d traded a reading for a night’s board at the inn, but it was plain as day to us mountain folk. No one was getting through that pass until spring.

And that’s why I’m forging my way through ancient caverns by the light of a guttering lantern, following the boot prints into the depths.


There you have it. Five prophecies, and a few bits of story to go with them – each one a different way of working prophecy into your game. The words of oracles and seers don’t have to be the launching pads of epic journeys. They can be a part of every day life, or something not far from it.

And by the way? All five of these came from the random Prophecy Generator at Chaotic Shiny

Aaron

As I was reading them I asked myself if they were from Chaotic Shiny. They’re absolutely brilliant!! Way to take somewhat awkwardly worded phrases and creatively turn them into immersive story hooks. ~: )

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