Applying Theory: Perils of Prophecy

I’m in the pattern of starting series of articles lately. I like this; it means I’m looking at this blog thing long-haul, I guess.

This is the first in what will likely be a long-running series focused on doing exactly what the title says: applying theory. More specifically, I have found that a lot (and by that, I mean the majority) of gaming blogs, even some of the really good blogs, have a habit that lines up dead-on with one my my biggest pet peeves: they explain a theory– often one that makes a great deal of sense or makes me think of something in a new light– but then never give examples of how to apply the theories they espouse.

I try really hard not to do that here at The Action Point. It’s one of the reasons you’ll find references to my Brittanis games throughout this blog– it’s my way of showing you, the reader, that I’m not just talking about stuff I *might* use or think *could* be a good idea. I’m an armored vehicle mechanic in my daily life, and my philosophy about my blog follows my theory on turning wrenches: you can tell me how to do something all day long, but I’ll be able to repeat it if you show me, even just once.

So this, dear reader, is my first attempt at putting my money where my mouth is in a very real way. I’m going to take an article from a blog I like and show you how *I* would or will apply the ideas therein. This is not a critique on the idea or topic: you’re not going to find me using this forum to bash anyone else in that way (product reviews are, however, another thing entirely). Instead, I’m looking to do something entirely practical– to apply some of the really awesome ideas floating around the interwebs and put them in a way that can be actively, practically used in my game–and by extension, yours. So here we go.

A prophecy in a forgotten language--classic fantasy!

In their awesome article Perils of Prophecy, Campaign Mastery (see my previous post) goes into incredible detail on how to use–and just as important, how NOT to use– prophecy in your game to great effect. It’s a stellar article. It’s so good, in fact, that I yoinked two specific concepts from it into my Brittanis game, twisted them all around each other, and came up with something really, really cool.

In the article, Mike mentions firstly that in order to get good use of prophecy, you have to know your campaign in detail. I totally agree with this: even if you don’t have any idea where your game is headed, you can use prophecy as an awesome tool for helping your player’s immersion in your game world, whether you’re playing fantasy, space opera, steampunk or something else. However, you need to know how to fit the prophecy into your world without making it stick out like a sore thumb to your players.

Secondly, and I’m going to use a block quote here and let Mike’s words speak for themselves:

Nostrodamus’ prophecies are famous – first, because there are so many of them, so vaguelly worded and using poetic allusions rather than actual names. Some have been accounted to have come true on three seperate occasions, depending on how you interpret the language.

One of the reasons for this vagueness is that he wrote them in his native language, translated them into another language in which he was only semi-literate, translated that into code, and then randomly broke them up and changed their order. By the time you combine the poetic allusions factor, this imbues the meaning with so much vagueness that the prophecies have no practical value, but can still be considered “fair warning” to the players.

The big downside to this approach is that to make it work properly, you need to create dozens of prophecies – most of which you intend to ignore. The corrosponding upside is that you can wait until the PCs decide what they want to do and then pick a prophecy that can be hammered and filed to fit, making them story seeds and sources of inspiration. Using prophecies in this way means that they start being completely meaningless, and have whatever meaning you want assigned as opportunity permits.

This is such a great idea!! When I read it, my jaw literally dropped open and I sat there, staring at the screen, dumbfounded by the awesomeness. See, here’s the thing: I’m a lazy GM. My players would never say that if you asked them, but it’s true. The trick I use is simple. I steal EVERYTHING I possibly can and then twist it ever so slightly to use in my campaign. So when I read that paragraph, I had an epiphany and immediately went Googling for Nostradamus’ quatrains. Turns out they’re in the public domain (go figure) and there are actually several different translations of them out there, depending on who did the translating and what era they lived in. I really liked the older, more archaic-sounding translations, so I went with that.

I went through and read a bunch of the quatrains and cherrypicked the first thirteen that really struck my fancy as being easily modified to fit a fantasy game. That’s the “steal everything” part. Then, I used my knowledge of my setting and the NPCs, nations, races, and threats extant in it to change some of the words and sentences into something that is usable by me, the GM, in my game. That’s the “twist it ever so slightly” part.

So now, I have a large chunk of prophecy that I can use in my game however I see fit. Maybe it’s true; maybe it’s folly. Maybe I’ll let one of the PCs who is especially prophecy-centric find the whole thing, or maybe he’ll get it in bits and pieces. I don’t know yet. But in less than 15 minutes, I have a document that can guide and mold the campaign as time goes on. Or, it could be something I keep in the background, letting it allude to things on the grander scale until the PCs are movers and shakers on that level. Then perhaps they’ll find that the Eagle mentioned is one of the PCs– or maybe it’s the Boar. Maybe the nation of Albion is the Dragon, or maybe an actual DRAGON is the Dragon– who knows? But the thing is this: now I have that resource, and I can use it. In less time than it takes to cook dinner I built something that I could easily hang an entire campaign on.

I’d say Campaign Mastery has a damn good article there, wouldn’t you?

And here’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. Dear reader, I give you the first 13 (of course thirteen– it’s a classic creepy number!) verses of The Brittanic Prophecies!!

1

In the world there will be made a king

who will have little peace and a short life.

At this time the ship of the kingdom will be lost,

governed to its greatest detriment.

2

Arrived too late, the act has been done.

The wind was against them, letters intercepted.

The conspirators were fourteen of a party.

By the Lion shall these enterprises be undertaken.

3

How often will you be captured, O city of the sun

Changing laws that are barbaric and vain.

Bad times approach; No longer will you be a slave.

Ancient blood will revive your veins.

4

From the sands will come the ancient heart

to trouble the Dragon and the heirs of honor.

Accompanied by a mighty fleet

the temple of light in the islands shall be broken.

5

A coffin is put into the vault of iron,

where seven children of the king are held.

The ancestors will arise from the depths of hell,

lamenting to see thus dead the fruit of their line.

6

A treacherous man will rule a short time,

quickly raised from low to high estate.

He will suddenly turn disloyal and volatile.

This man will govern the green plains.

7

The dead Prince shall arise from the flame

And plot against his brother’s progeny.

Secretly he will place enemies as a threat,

And the Nightmare King shall live again.

8

Dagmar threatens us with the force of war

and will cause blood to be spilt seventy times.

The clergy will be both exalted and reviled;

The temples split in twain.

9

Because of brotherly discord and negligence

an opening shall be given to the wyld.

The land and sea will be soaked in blood,

and the coast covered with ships and sails.

10

When the snakes surround the altar,

and the Lion’s blood is troubled by the Dragon.

Because of them, a great number will be lessened.

The leader flees, hidden in the swampy marshes.

11

In the third month, at sunrise,

the Boar and the Leopard meet on the battlefield.

The fatigued Leopard looks up to heaven

and sees a Dragon flying around the sun.

12

The lost thing discovered, hidden for centuries.

An assassin will be celebrated as a god-like figure.

This is when the moon completes her great cycle,

but by other rumors she shall be dishonored.

13

Beneath the white tree of Gulthias,

the Taken are hidden beneath.

That which for many centuries had been gathered,

when found, wakens the Chained Chaos.

1

In the world there will be made a king

who will have little peace and a short life.

At this time the ship of the kingdom will be lost,

governed to its greatest detriment.

2
Arrived too late, the act has been done.
The wind was against them, letters intercepted.
The conspirators were fourteen of a party.
By the Lion shall these enterprises be undertaken.
3
How often will you be captured, O city of the sun 
Changing laws that are barbaric and vain.
Bad times approach; No longer will you be a slave.
Ancient blood will revive your veins.
4
From the sands will come the ancient heart
to trouble the Dragon and the heirs of honor.
Accompanied by a mighty fleet
the temple of light in the islands shall be broken.
 
 
5
A coffin is put into the vault of iron,
where seven children of the king are held.
The ancestors will arise from the depths of hell,
lamenting to see thus dead the fruit of their line.
6
A treacherous man will rule a short time,
quickly raised from low to high estate.
He will suddenly turn disloyal and volatile.
This man will govern the green plains.
7
The dead Prince shall arise from the flame
And plot against his brothers progeny.
Secretly he will place enemies as a threat,
And the Nightmare King shall live again.
 
8
Dagmar threatens us with the force of war
and will cause blood to be spilt seventy times.
The clergy will be both exalted and reviled;
The temples split in twain.
 
9
Because of brotherly discord and negligence
an opening shall be given to the wyld.
The land and sea will be soaked in blood,
and the coast covered with ships and sails.
10
When the snakes surround the altar,
and the Lions blood is troubled by the Dragon.
Because of them, a great number will be lessened.
The leader flees, hidden in the swampy marshes.
11
In the third month, at sunrise,
the Boar and the Leopard meet on the battlefield.
The fatigued Leopard looks up to heaven
and sees a Dragon flying around the sun.
12
The lost thing discovered, hidden for centuries.
An assassin will be celebrated as a god-like figure.
This is when the moon completes her great cycle,
but by other rumors she shall be dishonored.
 
 
13
Beneath the white tree of Gulthias, 
the Taken are hidden beneath.
That which for many centuries had been gathered,
when found, wakens the Chained Chaos.
This entry was posted in Applying Theory, Brittanis, GM Advice, Rules, Tropes, Worldbuilding. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Applying Theory: Perils of Prophecy

  1. Morten Greis says:

    I really like your approach. I find that ideas and suggestions as how to do things are quite removed from how people actually do things or even if they are tied up into their own game, it is difficult to see how the ideas are used. I recently started blogging and I am myself focusing on the rules and styles, that are being used in my own groups. For example all the house rules presented are rules that being used in the campaigns, here is one of them: http://mortengreis.wordpress.com/2010/08/30/the-art-of-using-magic-a-house-rule-for-terrifying-commoners/

    So now that you presented us, the dear readers, for your prophecies, I would really like to hear how you used them and they shaped your play. Can you tell something about that?

  2. Impressive amount of work there. It will be exciting to read how the prophecies play out for you.

    Do the prophecies have a named prophet? It seem that could be a route to additional information, seeking after the person behind the prophecy.

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