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I am new to roleplaying games, and my character is a gnome wizard. I have yet to reveal his backstory because I want to make him be a fortune teller, without any abilities to let him see the future - so basically, make things up that sound plausible. I wanted to find a way that my party would never know for sure if he was really able to tell the future or not. Does anyone have any tips?

Psionics are currently disallowed as a houserule, but I may be able to get a psionic ability reskinned as a spell because my DM thinks my character concept would be very funny if I can pull it off.

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Hi! I've edited your question to help bring out the core information you want, but if you think I've changed the meaning too much, feel free to change it again. It's an interesting question, have +1 –  Dakeyras Jun 8 at 18:31
    
Thanks! My thought process so far has been that i could take bluff, and possibly read minds? This would allow me to tell any npc what they want to hear. On a failed roll, theyll just think i missed the mark this time? However i expect my party to want me to do it for them, and im not sure how read minds would work then. –  Pruck Jun 8 at 19:54
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Please do not answer in comments. –  C. Ross Jun 9 at 1:49
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IMportant question: Are you looking to fool the other players, or just their characters? –  GMJoe Jun 10 at 4:33
    
The players. Which is why i am having such issue. –  Pruck Jun 11 at 1:10
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5 Answers 5

One option might be to turn to real-life fortune-teller-esque techniques. Essentially, psychics use these to demonstrate their great insight to the audience. While these could be useful tools for convincing others that you can see the future, you might also use them as they were originally intended for some flavor. I've included the Wikipedia links, because they do an excellent job of explaining and expanding upon them.

Cold reading

Cold reading is tricking your audience into thinking you have powers based on general psychological knowledge. This boils down to making broad statements, likely about a large group of people/things, such that the statement will be true for at least one of them. For example, your PC might say, "I sense impending misfortune. One of you will fall sick in a short time," to a group of people. In almost all cases, this will be correct. Alternately, you can predict something common, but notable, about a single person's future. You might tell a shopkeeper that they will have a fight with someone in their family, or tell an adventurer that they will be injured. In general, keep your statements vague,

Hot reading

Hot reading refers to using prior knowledge, gained without the audience's knowledge, to pretend that you have special insight. This might be more mechanical; you might secretly make Listen checks to overhear conversations, Sense Motive checks to determine truth from lies, or Gather Information checks to find out more about someone, or, of course, just read their mind via magic. Then, you can present it as if you used psychic powers to determine it. You might use these skills to determine information, then interpret it yourself, or ask your DM to let you roll to use your character's Wisdom to interpret it.

For example, you might ask around about the Lord of Greenwood, find out that he loves to fight, and that he will hold a tournament next month. Then, approach him, presenting yourself as a stranger with no knowledge of the area, and "sense" that he'll soon become greatly admired for his skill. This statement stays vague (after all, you'd be in trouble if you predicted that he'd win and he lost in the first round!) but is still specific to him, and he will take it positively.

To read someone's personality, make vague, positive statements about them. These are commonly known as Barnum Statements, and is sometimes called warm reading. If you make these statements contradictory, in what's known as the rainbow ruse, they will always apply. For example, if you say, "You are a warm and kind person, but sometimes you're unable to show how you feel," it will appear that you have deep insight about them, but the statement applies to just about everyone.

Overall, remember to keep your statements vague and open-ended, and allow the people you tell the fortunes of to interpret your words themselves. If you want to keep the fact that you're not really a fortune-teller secret from your fellow players, pass notes with the DM, even if they're actually blank. That way, it looks like you're using your powers, when you're really just using simple ways to make statements apply anywhere.

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Yes, yes, passing notes to the DM is a must and in my opinion and should be use more often then I have experienced. I endorse this answer. –  Trevor Goodchild Jun 10 at 5:53
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This is something that would be handled with a bluff check. I play thieves all the time and I sometimes use fortune telling as a con to swindle extra cash. A high charisma will help you in this effort. Let your DM know what your character is doing and let them help you keep that information secret from the rest of the players. I hope this helps.

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Welcome to RPG Stackexchange, good first answer! Please take a look at our About to learn more about our site. –  C. Ross Jun 8 at 21:39
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You can't really tell the future in D&D, mainly because we can't really tell what's going to happen in the game. Here's what you can do.

  • Lie: Simply bluff people that you're seeing the future.
  • Cold reading: Use Sense Motive to find out about your mark they don't know you know.
  • Detect Thoughts: You are a wizard, you can read minds.
  • Clairvoyance: You are a wizard, can can hear or see things others can't.
  • Detect Evil/Other alignments: "I can sense that this one is going to be trouble for us."Cleric only

In general, you can play off any Divination spell as seeing a bit of the future. Also make sure to use prestidigitation to make your eyes glow and whatnot.

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I'm separating my answer into role-play advice and rule centered advice:

Roleplaying tips

Diversion and Misdirection
Gnomes are notorious tricksters and tinkerers - your gnome can camouflage his lack of actual fortune telling abilities by an overdose of eccentric, colorful and distracting gestures, mambo-gumbu and "tools" - have him craft his own "crystal prism" ("it works much better than those stupid spheres") or use a costume tarot deck ("Oh dear, the smiling hamster, the jack of wrenches and the four of toads? we'll need more firewood..."). Use minor spells and trickery to keep the others guessing whether you've just casted a spell (and which one?!) and generally question your gnome's sanity - give them other stuff to concentrate on so that the fortune telling seems like just another bit of flavor in a zany character.

Help the Players Believe it
This is taking the previous point to the next level - No matter how high is your bluff skill, or how good is your roleplay - Some players will wonder what rules you are using to have these wonderful powers. Work with your GM beforehand, and come up with something that'll help your fellow players accept it - maybe you are using divine magic? maybe you are haunted by a fortune-telling spirit? maybe your "fortune telling equipment" includes a "magical item" of some sorts? maybe your familiar is really special!

Do Some Research
Learn a little (or a lot) about real-world fortune telling. You don't need to become a real-life fortune teller, just know enough so you can "talk the talk". Anything from how frauds use "cold reading" to fool those who are already too eager to believe, going through some of the differing underlying philosophies behind tarot reading, astrology, numerology, palm reading etc. And all the way to familiarizing yourself with some of the more bizarre forms of divination humanity used throughout history - looking at birds, or flames or animal entrails - examining the iris or scalp of a person - throwing inscribed sticks or stones or bones - and even marking a tortoise shell, tossing it to the fire and waiting for one side to crack...
Use this knowledge to invent or combine any of these to something fitting your character and a gnomish culture (maybe something based on gears and pendulums, or observing nature - it may involve inventing or crafting - and probably won't have much to do with slaughtered animals' entrails...)


Relevant Character Traits and Rules

Depending on how much you are willing to sacrifice (or rather "dedicate") your character's combat effectiveness to augment your fortune-telling. consider using any mixture of the following:

Abilities You'll benefit greatly from high cha. as it'll help you bluff and convince others. High int. is useful to any wizard, but more so for you since you can benefit from a lot of skills and skill points. Finally, a high wis. score will help with profession and sense-motive checks.

Useful Skills
A high rank bluff will help your gnome convince others that he is "the real deal" and not a charlatan. Similarly, high rank in sense motive will help him get a hunch about what others want to hear. Any of the following skills might help him "do his homework" - actually know something without magical divination: gather information, knowledge(local), knowledge(history), and, with GM's approval, maybe some brand of perform(acting) or profession(fortune teller) to augment the bluff (maybe even generate a synergy bonus limited only to "fake divination").

Useful (Low Level) Wizard Spells
Prestidigitation - This one gives you a whole hour in which you can make all sort of minor impressive tricks - you can make words appear in dust or smoke, change cards to look like different ones ("I told you I can always find the 'Ace of Spades'") - or have the faces on them change to someone familiar. It may be used to create minor "visions" by distorting the colors seen through a crystal ball, in disturbed water or amidst the flames and embers of a campfire. You can also use it to fulfill some trivial prophecies - which might be "just the first sign" ("I see pain, shame and blood in your future - a bee will sting you in a moment, in ten minutes your trousers will tear, and in three days - you will transform into a horrible sun-werebadger - Unless you do exactly as I tell you...") 1001 different uses - I recommend clearing at least some ideas with your GM first, both so that you won't be surprised with what you can or can't do with this spell, but also so that he can describe some of the effects - so the other players won't suspect...
Any of the following can help achieve more specific tricks: Mage Hand, Ghost Sound, Dancing Lights, Light, Silent Image.
Finally, Magic Aura can be very useful in folling other PCs and NPCs with the ability to detect magic to think you are actually using magic or have a magical divination aid.
Obviously, when you can use actual divinations such as Detect Thoughts and Locate Object, you can be much more convincing - but that's hardly "faking it" anymore now is it?

Useful feats
Skill Focus on one of the skills mentioned above (probably bluff, perform, sense-motive, or profession(fortune-teller). Jack of all Trades (Complete Adventurer) preq.: int 13. benefit: you can make skill checks on any 'trained only' skills in which you have no ranks (this is great for a high int. wizard gaining access to all knowledge skills at once - and a very useful means to justify your character's "insights").


Good luck - hope you find something useful for you in this list.

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As a GM, if I had a player who was "fortune telling" I would constantly tweak the story to cause those bits to come about, and make the player himself wonder if he's a fortune teller! –  Mooing Duck Jun 9 at 21:38
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Knowledge is power

Real life fortune tellers are impressive because they know things that they shouldn't. At least, that is how most people who go to them see it. In reality they typically use techniques such as cold reading, generalization and educated guessing to give the illusion of mystical knowledge. But you aren't a real life fortune teller. You have actual mystical (arcane, really, but that's just semantics) knowledge. And while you can cast illusions to fool the simple-minded, you have many better options available to you.

Scry her? I hardly know her!

Your main focus should be the Divination school of magic, which has a variety of scrying type spells that will give you just enough information to impress those around you. Your bread and butter starting out will probably be Clairaudience/Clairvoyance, which will let you spy on people and gain information that you'd have no other way of knowing. If the owner of the inn you're staying at has a bandage around his hand, anyone can guess that he cut his hand while preparing food. But only you know that he cut his hand while chopping cabbage for tomorrow's stew while humming an old ballad. The downside to this technique is that you have to choose targets ahead of time and you won't always see/hear anything special enough to use. But if being a huckster were easy everyone would do it.

You're thinking of a card...

Later on you can get spells such as Detect Thought which will make your job much simpler. You'll probably want to invest in the Still and/or Silent Spell metamagics so that you can cast Detect Thoughts without anyone noticing. Besides coming in handy during many social interactions, such as bluffing guards or negotiating with merchants, you can also use this to impress people wherever you go. Pick up a deck of playing cards, have your mark pick one out of the deck, Detect which card they chose, then use Prestidigitation to make the deck cut itself so that their card is on top. Afterwards you can bask in the warm glow afforded by a captive audience, and probably a few free drinks.

A man of many talents

As others have pointed out, it is perfectly possible to use skill checks to gain insight about the people around you. Listen, Spot, Sense Motive, Bluff. Depending on the situation and your skill ranks you could potentially learn more about a mark using these than via the magic route. Luckily as a Wizard you are going to have a high Int score, which means more skills to throw around per level. Where other wizards put their time learning more about nature and the planes, or how to create magic items, you are going to learn the nuances of human(oid) interactions. With enough time and practice, and skill points, you'll be able to do most of your fortune telling without so much as a puff of arcane smoke. But you should still use some regular smoke, to keep up appearances

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