Prophecies Of The Eclipse

And here we have an offline question…

Eclipse puts “True Prophet” under Deep Sleep – presumably because it’s associated with meditation and trances – but how does prophecy work in the game?

Now that’s a good question, because prophecy is always a bit tricky. To see why, we’ll need to take a look at what prophecy is. After all, it’s more than just making predictions. No one regards “the sun will rise tomorrow” as a prophecy. While that’s not quite a sure thing on the cosmic scale, on a human scale, it pretty much is. Predicting that the sun will not rise might be prophecy though – but it’s far more likely to simply be irrational. “Try it, you’ll like it” is far more likely to come true, but I don’t think anyone would count it as a prophecy either. So what IS prophecy?

Some definitions simply use “prophecy” to mean “inspired advice”.

But if some geologists and volcanologists are inspired by their instruments and training to tell you that “Based on these readings and our best model of there is an almost 80% chance of an eruption occurring within the next three days”, their prediction is useful, important, and may inspire urgent emergency action – but it’s a prediction, not a prophecy.

Now, if we throw in “inspired by a supernatural source” that’s a bit more like it. That’s where diviners, astrologers, and similar sorts come in and where statisticians and actuarial experts get out.

And this will mostly work for predictions along the lines of “In three days a great tidal wave will hit the city and many will die!”. After all, given enough knowledge about the current situation, many future natural events are increasingly predictable as the scale increases. This sort of “prophecy” is more along the lines of “expert advice offered by someone with access to special sources of information” – and so can still fail; if someone influential enough believes the prophecy and evacuates the city… the tidal wave will still strike and there will be massive damages – but few if any will die.

On the other hand, we hear a lot of statements along the lines of “The stars incline, but do not compel” because advice – no matter what inspiration people claim for it – often goes wrong. Even something as simple and short-term as “your date will go well!” (which is somewhat self-fulfilling since it may give you more confidence and cut back on your nerves) can easily be badly wrong if you fall down the stairs or something. Predicting a vaguely defined outcome well within the range of reasonable expectations isn’t going to impress anyone as a prophecy.

We can also exclude things like Nostradamus’s quatrains. Something that is so vague that dozens of different events can be interpreted as “fulfilling it” after the fact is not a prophecy – especially when people studying them point to many different events as being what was “predicted”.

Conditional warnings were big in the Old Testament, but they don’t always qualify either. “If you don’t cut back on smoking three packs a day your COPD is going to continue to get worse” is fairly ironclad as a prediction no matter if it’s inspired by medical information, by annoyance with a stubborn relative, or by a ghost – but no one is going to call it a prophecy even if it IS fairly specific.

It isn’t really prophecy unless the predicted future is very unlikely to occur naturally. So “you’re going to get fat”, or even “if you don’t cut back on the donuts you will get fat!” are not prophecies.

Now, “If you don’t cut back on the donuts fire will descend from the sky and incinerate your bloated carcass!” might be prophecy – but if you make such predictions about ten thousand people, and are wrong about nine thousand, nine hundred, and ninety-nine of them but then a burning plane falls on someone you spoke to… that’s coincidence, not prophecy.

Prophecy not only has to predict something very unlikely, but it has to be RIGHT.

So that gets us a definition.

True Prophecy is the reliable prediction of reasonably long-term future events which are very unlikely to come to pass but do so anyway in clear fulfillment of the prophecy. There may be some wiggle-room of the ironic “Oh. So THAT’S what it meant” variety, but the result must be clearly recognizable or it’s not prophecy.

Prophecies are not warnings, or guideposts, or ways to reduce the impact of untoward events (although they may serve as such for those why pay attention to them). Prophecies are demonstrations of raw supernatural power, just like a royal proclamation followed by sending in the army to make it happen is a demonstration of raw political and military power. The distinction is that prophecies are enforced by the action of nigh-irresistible hidden magical forces that mortals may attempt to defy, but will inevitably lose to, usually just making whatever-it-is worse.

Free will, randomness, and other factors make true prophecy the exclusive domain of major supernatural entities who have both the near-omniscient knowledge and vast power required to force such events to happen.

Prophecies are – and should be – terrifying. The major prophecies of the Old Testament were not mere predictions, or advice, or warnings (although such “minor prophecies” were common enough). They were claims that men, kings, armies, nations, the forces of nature, and other gods and powers were less than a speck of dust before a hurricane before the will of the LORD who made these things to be.

If a city is prophesied to fall, it WILL fall – no matter how small the attacking force, or how well protected it is. You may be able to delay it, to evacuate most of the population, and to save many of its treasures thanks to that warning, but the prophecy itself WILL come to pass.

That’s a big part of what makes it a prophecy.

Since Eclipse is intended to let you build anything, it provides access to both the lesser and the major forms of prophecy – albeit limited to allow for opposing divine intervention since most settings don’t have an activist supreme deity and requiring approval from the game master. Even small-scale True Prophecies can still twist destiny though.

  • Warnings of Major Events are straightforward; ask the game master if you can make any prophecies about upcoming major events – but be aware that once you pronounce such a prophecy, the event is fixed, and nothing can be done to stop it. That doesn’t mean that you can’t mitigate the impact or at least prepare for it though.
  • Vague pronouncements of Doom – or Blessings – are usually simple as long as you’re targeting NPC’s. Unless the game master is going to have some NPC assassinated, or turn out to be the long-lost heir to the throne or some such, giving them vague destinies (“Happiness and Long Life!” or “Accursed Shall Be All Your Days!”) is generally simple. Even things like “you shall die at your son’s hands!” are usually workable. After all, if your extremely elderly and your somewhat elderly son slips while trying to help you out of your rocking chair, you still died at the hands of your son. Similarly, a Fairy Godmother’s blessing – 0r curse – is pretty much a Prophecy.

The trouble with targeting player characters with such pronouncements is that they can take away a good bit of the characters freedom – potentially making the game unplayable. If someone is blessed with a “long life”, and the city he or she lives in is due to be swallowed by an ocean of fire… Destiny may shove them out of town regardless of their wishes. Alien slavers may snatch a lot of people who won’t be missed at the last second. Perhaps they will be transformed into a near-mindless magma elemental. The prophecy WILL come true, but even though the required vagueness leaves a lot of wiggle-room that may require overruling the player.

There’s a further discussion of Destiny Magic over HERE – but for player characters it is best to stick with vague, short-term, stuff like “we shall have good fortune in our upcoming battle!”. That gets you some bonuses without asking the game master to twist the scene towards a specific ending, which is far more dangerous. Fortunately, since the game master has to approve True Prophecies… this is easy to enforce.

Trying to force a specific outcome with Prophecy is a lot like dealing with a Literal – and possibly a Jerkass – Genie. Are you ever REALLY going to be that desperate?

  • At least in Eclipse you can use prophecy to fish for information. – if the game master tells you that you COULD make a prediction about gaining wealth by plundering the treasures of some long-forgotten tomb then at least you know that the place has treasure in it to steal – but you are risking giving the game master ideas there.
  • Finally, of course, we have the “Do this or SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES!” form of prophecy – the either/or option. Really, this amounts to “Hey game master! Do you have any upcoming quests for us?” – followed closely by an attempt to exploit any such prophecy to gain extra backing. After all… if there is a True Prophecy that “The Dark Gate must be sealed before the winter solstice or monsters will come forth to ravage the world!” then the heroes going off to try and seal the Dark Gate are likely to get plenty of support. When the fate of the world is at stake, who is going to begrudge them a few healing potions and other bits of gear?

And that should cover most of the ways to use the basic version of the True Prophecy ability. Fundamentally, it’s a very powerful option – but it’s also tricky and dangerous to use. Of course, that’s part of the fun.

And I hope that helps!

2 Responses

  1. Huh. This went differently than I thought it would from the title. I thought you were going to maybe reiterate the rules for curses. After all, a curse is like a nasty form of prophecy. And having a spirit with several spell levels of possible effects trying its best to nudge a prophecy to completion is a very valid way of doing things.

    • Well, that is the default for the Malediction spell template. I never went into detail there because the general idea was “the player characters want to go and fight the evil power that is supporting this curse? Well, that’s one dose of “seek out the seer who can tell them who’s supporting it and do whatever it is he wants as payment”, a bit of “reach the hidden portal”, a dash of “explore the otherworldly lair”, and a standard helping of “minor encounters then a Boss Battle”. That’s got next sessions adventure set up…”.

      Fortunately most curses are a lot less inevitable than prophecies are!

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