Inspired I was.
Throughout my many years of gaming, I have written reams of material for the various games I've run. This month's RPG Blog Carnival topic, Prophecies & Omens, hosted by Tales of GM inspired me to dig into my archives and write a post.
Combing through my archived material, like the crazy old wizard I am, I ran across my very first attempt at a prophecy. Keep in mind, I wrote this close to 30 years ago. This was during my wildly inexperienced first years of being a DM. I wrote the prophecy with every hope of being able to get the PCs to dive in and stop the impending doom. In a stunning, though not very surprising turn of events, the PCs didn't take the hook. I consigned the prophecy I was so proud of to the start of what would become quite a thick file of unrealized game ideas. There it sat, growing ever more yellowed and increasingly tattered from repeated assaults by rampaging kittens. Probably the best thing for it...
The Dragon Orbs prophecy
In this the second great age of men and magic. 3333 cycles after the last wars of men. The sages and seers foretold of the wars that would divide the world as it would be known to men. The omens have been foretold as being eight in number and terrible of purpose. First of the signs of warning is that a great warrior king of the north will die without an heir, forcing the dragon barbarian tribes in to a ritual search for the next bloodline of nobility. The second fearful foretelling states to start the dragon tribes rites of succession, the eight orbs of dragonkind must be held. The shamans of the dragon tribes call forth the hoards to capture the orbs by the candidates of succession. The third of these omens is that the overking of the dragon rivers valley fall under the blade of a lone dark warrior from the land of perpetual shadow. The sighting of war parties from the strange lands by outposts on the northern frontier will be the forth in the numbered steps to the next great war of men and their sorcery. The fifth catalyst to the war of hearts and armor will take the form of an epic battle in the silver city. Wherein heroes of instinctive powers and abilities will make war on the masters of stealth for the welfare of the surrounding lands. The exodus of the elves marks the passing of the sixth prophecy of violence. The dwarf king of the western mountains will fulfill his role in the legends and events, number seven stage of evils quest for ultimate power. When eight heroes of worth undertake the summoning of the dragon council, the eighth and last sign of ages long past and the second great war of men and their magic answer it's calling as well.
Ya know, that one started off like gangbusters, but I rode it right off the rails. Over the river and through the woods. Right of the reservation. Reading it now, I realize why the PCs didn't take the hook. They didn't understand the prophecy. I don't either now. I'm fairly certain that when I wrote this, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. No wonder the game fizzled. Let it be a lesson to you friends of how NOT to write a game hook.
So you've seen my checkered past, let me show a more recent example...
The Bloodrose prophecy
The tainted blood will be redeemed, by pureblood that is yet unseen.
Short, sweet and to the point, ain't it. By dropping hints, and some overtly obvious clues, I intend to let the PCs know the old gypsy woman in town is the key to this one. She is related to the big bad in the Bloodrose valley, and she is the untainted blood. (She also happens to have a vial of the big bad's blood in a locket) I haven't figured out what exactly the ritual will be, to kill off the big bad. But it will probably have something to do with mixing the blood and using it as a sort of poison to kill him.
Digging the old one out of the annals of my DM binders for this post, I think I'll take a stab at rewriting the dragon orbs prophecy into something a tad more logical and useable.
Lets move on to prophets, shall we?
Among the myriad of half formed ideas scrawled on any number of paper scraps, floating around my office. I have a half done strung together series of adventures I call Tiamat's War. This was going to be a campaign length game, wherein the PCs would try and stop Tiamat's followers from taking over the lands of the Wolf and Tiger nomads. Tiamat had already imprisoned Iuz, and was using his country and resources as the staging ground.
One of the first adventures in the campaign, was to have the PCs consign a prisoner to a private secret prison, deep in a forest. When they get there, they find the prison infested with some tiny psionic creatures that were killing off the inmates. I can't remember the name of the adventure, but I seem to remember downloading it from somewhere. Anyhoo... back on topic. During the course of the adventure the PCs will have rescued a crazy old man. He would rant and rave, be completely insane, and occasionally spew forth a clue as to where to find things. Magical things. I intended to use him to drop clues as to location of the McGuffin of the campaign also. The PCs were going to discover over the course of the campaign that Tiamat had imprisoned Iuz and her cultists were constructing a undead dreadnaught, they were going to be tasked to stop it. If the idea of a crazy old man spouting prophetical ramblings sounds familiar, you've probably read a book called "Tailchaser's Song" one of the side characters in that book is a cat named "eatbugs" rambling and insane, he eventually gets revealed to be a sort of cat god. Good story, I recommend it.
Wow. While writing this post, I just had an glimmer of an idea. I have and area in my world called the Nemyrothean plains. This huge flat space is a essentially a prison for uppity Liches. I'm thinking of using a character similar to Mako's character Akiro from the first Conan film. I'll have to tinker with it, but he would make a good prophet I think.
I haven't been very successful with using prophets in any of my games. Mostly because you can never really predict what the PCs are likely to do. Giving them a prophecy invariably focuses them on some small insignificant detail, and you end up throwing most of your hard thought plans out the window. I do have much more success with Oracles.
In my campaign world, I have a magical book store. The proprietor, a gnome with and oriental accent named Master Ping, can answer any question the PCs have. He isn't the oracle however. Out in front of Master Ping's shop sits a squat, fairly ugly, toad like creature. He sits behind a small table stacked high with books. All the books are for sale. The PCs will not be able to identify the race of the creature, and if they ask him questions he will respond with only "thrug". This is not only the creatures name, but also the only sound he makes. Kind of like a certain body guard from a well known HBO series...
So, if the PCs ask Thrug a question, he will grab a piece of parchment and scrawl a short cryptic phrase on it and hand it to them. i.e. The Dark Moon is oft overlooked or The Courts of Sunrise are preparing for war. When I thought up Thrug, the object was to let the players determine where they wanted to go. Thrug is an experiment I'm going to try. Let the players write the adventure, just don't let them know they're writing it.
I've never had much luck with omens either. Either the players didn't pay attention to it or they paid too much attention to it, to the point of distraction. If I were going to use omens, I would probably use pagan omens. Only because I'm more familiar with those than anything else. Blood on the moon, Red sunrises, things like that can add lots of flavor to an otherwise bland game. I can foresee some pitfalls though. you could spook your players into inaction by constantly throwing omens at them. Just as it's ingrained into the dna of a player never to trust any npc, so it will become with omens. I'm inclined to think (at least with the groups I've played with) that if you drop too many omens, they are going to retreat back to the tavern and drink ale until the impending apocalypse arrives.
Hopefully I've given you something to work with for your game. But if not, I hope I've least entertained you for a few minutes.