Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Oracle Fulfilled

Story of my life. I spent last night researching this post and allowed myself to fall down an internet pit while Patrick went out and wrote on the same idea. There's probably some life lesson to this whole "action vs fucking around", but I'll cry "zeitgeist" and just use a bunch of pictures.

I want to talk about Fate. Not this Fate.

This Fate. Spin. Measure. Cut. Spin. Measure. Cut.
Van Arno - The Fates Endure an Unforseen Downturn
I never liked Fate. I have consistently perceived it as anti-free will, railroady crap, and nothing I would want within spitting distance of a D&D game. Recently, Adventure Time has caused me to completely re-examine the concept of Fate and think about why I didn't like it. This in turn has made me consider that Fate may be something fantastic to add to games.

First, a quote from the False Machine (emphasis mine):
"The doom acts just like a railroady DM. **It knows what is meant to happen and just keeps shuffling the deck until it does**."

Patrick nails exactly what I despise about the concept. The fate, or doom, or divine providence, or pre-destination has parameters that must be met. It requires some sort of setup or alignment and thus has a right way to go down. Here's part of one of Tolkien's horrible complexities, from the Doom of Mandos:

"Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the House of Fëanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their Oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be for ever."

The problem, as I've identified it, is SPECIFICITY. Usually brought about by use of the word "and".

Not only will the Valar fence Valinor against you, this doom decrees it will work so well that not even sounds you make can penetrate the wards. That's lame. Likewise, it decrees that you will lose your treasure because of your oath. It can't just be orcs, or theft, or mismanagement of resources. No, according to fate there's gotta be some bullshit conspiracy behind it all that ties the loss to your personal oath in some way. If that string doesn't exist then the whole thing starts to crumble. Then of course is the decree that all things you start that begin well will turn to evil in the end. On its own that could be a pretty sweet curse but then that dratted "and" drops down some big old imagination walls. The thing will go evil because of treason, or the fear of the possibility of treason. Lame. Did the mining operation go bad because a telepathic demon was dug up? Nope. Treason. The foreman just started shipping stuff to your political rival. Again.

So how do you do fate "gameably"? Take a page from the story of Perseus, or Finn the Human.

Klimt - Danaë
In the story of Perseus, the Oracle of Delphi tells King Acrisius he will be killed by his grandson. That's it. She doesn't say how, or why, or when, just "You will be killed by your grandson." Simple. No "because" to worry about, and Acrisius' free will is left perfectly intact. So when he locks Danaë up in a tower so she can never get preggers, he *chooses* of his own free will to be a big shit bag and destroy his family. After Zeus goes all golden shower to get with Danaë despite her dad's protection, Acrisius *chooses* to lock the Perseus and his mother in a trunk and throw them out to sea 9 months after the coin fall. The king, and his fear, are completely in control of what happens. When Perseus finally does kill him, it's a complete accident from the perspective of everyone involved except Clotho and her sisters (Perseus throws a discus poorly in a competition. It flies into the crowd striking and killing his grandfather. Neither knew the other were there.).

In Adventure Time, Finn is doomed to lose his right arm. The how, why and when aren't just unknown they're completely mutable depending on how things play out. The doom follows him across time, realities, and even lives. There're an almost infinite number of ways it could occur, and so even though it is his fate there are no rails.
Finn meditating - Mortal Folly

The idea:
When you make a character, roll on a fate table. Tell no one your fate but the DM. Play begins and proceeds normally, but when the time is right the DM adjudicates its occurrence.

Can be implemented poorly (lame DM fiat, or just boring execution)
Likely requires campaign play to be interesting/meaningful

Con #1 is a big one. For example, if you roll "Sire a prophet" there are plenty of boring ways to bring forth the doom. It can override a carousing table roll. It could happen "off screen" as soon as your character retires from adventuring and finds a nice person to settle down with. It could be a flat 5% chance every time your character makes with the sexy tiems. This of course is lame as shit.

More interesting alternatives would be that you sire a prophet because, while carrying a dead sheep up a hill in an attempt to bribe a Cyclops you get struck by lightning and the sheep animates and begins speaking in riddles. Or, as you kill a creature in the shrine of an oracle you throw their body into a pit where holy gasses animate it. You could sire your prophet by botanical experiments gone wrong. Or an interrupted magic mouth spell. Or your characters blood and a cursed tome.

To steal an example from history (, the Emperor Nero was apparently told by the oracle that "The number 73 marks the hour of your downfall!". He assumed this meant he would live to be 73, but as it turns out, the person who killed him was apparently 73. The more simple and straightforward the fate, the easier it is to twist or flex or pun into something epic.

Fifty Dooms

01 - 02 - Sire a king/queen
03 - 04 - Sire a prophet
05 - 06 - Sire a great warrior
07 - 08 - Sire an antichrist
09 - 10 - Found a city
11 - 12 - Found a village
13 - 14 - Found a kingdom
15 - 16 - Found an empire
17 - 18 - Found a religion
19 - 20 - Find something unfindable
21 - 22 - Overthrow a city
23 - 24 - Overthrow a village
25 - 26 - Overthrow a kingdom
27 - 28 - Overthrow an empire
29 - 30 - Overthrow a religion
31 - 32 - Establish a legacy that lasts 1000 years
33 - 34 - Create a work of indescribable beauty
35 - 36 - Destroy forgotten knowledge
37 - 38 - Three times will you recover truth long lost
39 - 40 - Lose an arm
41 - 42 - Lose a leg
43 - 44 - Lose yourself
45 - 46 - Lose your mind
47 - 48 - Be resurrected
49 - 50 - Be resurrected as a demigod
51 - 52 - Be raised as undead
53 - 54 - Speak a true prophecy
55 - 56 - Unleash the wind
57 - 58 - Bring forth fire from the earth
59 - 60 - Wake the dead
61 - 62 - Tame an untamable beast
63 - 64 - Understand the speech of the dumb
65 - 66 - Hear the voiceless
67 - 68 - Drown a spirit in woe
69 - 70 - Tear a king limb from limb
71 - 72 - Conquer the world with silver spears
73 - 74 - The number ## marks the hour of your downfall!
75 - 76 - Shatter the heart of the world
77 - 78 - Be hunted by the gods
79 - 80 - Be banished from hell
81 - 82 - Be banished from heaven
83 - 84 - Blind many with radiance
85 - 86 - Open that which is not a portal
87 - 88 - Break the heart of a forest
89 - 90 - Steal the voice of the sea
91 - 92 - Break unbreakable shackles
93 - 94 - Undermine the core of creation
95 - 96 - Fall from the pinnacle of grace
97 - 98 - Usurp a king
99 - 00 - Usurp a god

If still in doubt let Adventure Time be your guide....
Finn sees himself in a dream - King Worm
Finn in an alternate, lichless reality. - The Lich
Finn in the pillowverse. - Puhoy
Finn in a past life as Shoko. - The Vault
Finn in an MMO. Ok, not an MMO. Finn in an infinite train filled with an MMO style reputation grind. - Dungeon Train


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