16
\$\begingroup\$

Augury

You receive an omen from an otherworldly entity about the results of a specific course of action that you plan to take within the next 30 minutes

I found it obvious how to interpret this, but in question How does one tell what's in a Bag of Holding? user markovchain had a completely different interpretation and I'd like to know which if any are supported by rules as written.

Suppose you have three bags of holding. one contains a demilich, one contains treasure, and one contains nothing. In fact, A contains the lich, B contains the treasure, and C contains nothing, but you don't know that.

You ask an augury for "if Bag A contains a demilich, I will open Bag B, else I will open Bag C" (without opening bag A).

Interpretation 1

I say that this plan doesn't work, and the augury will tell you what happens when you get stuck on step 1 because you don't know if A has the demilich or not (presumably "nothing" because you just sit around confused, but if you would do something else, then the result of that).

Interpretation 2

markovchain thinks that because the being answering the question knows that the lich is in A, it will continue evaluating your plan as if you knew that, and hence tell you the result of your opening bag B with the treasure only, ie. "Weal".

Which interpretation is correct?

\$\endgroup\$

closed as primarily opinion-based by user27327, ShadowKras, Thomas Jacobs, Tritium21, the dark wanderer Jun 8 '17 at 4:55

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: how does Augury work, exactly? \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jun 6 '17 at 16:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please add more of the setup for the bags in the question. Questions should be at least minimally self-contained. As it is, the only context is through the link you have provided and you have changed the situation sufficiently such that we really don't know what you have in mind (we can only guess). You should provide at least a minimal summary of the situation. With what is provided in the question, all three bags could be empty, all three contain a demilich, or any combination of anything. \$\endgroup\$ – Makyen Jun 6 '17 at 21:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ You have no information whatsoever about the content of the bags. The extra details used in the other question need not be present and are not relevant to whether, or not, you can ask if your bag of holding contains a lich, as far as I can tell, you should be able to answer the question here without reading the linked question. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack V. Jun 6 '17 at 21:10
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe The point in this extremely specific case is that the proposed plan being submitted for augury depends on information that the caster will not have while they are following said plan. \$\endgroup\$ – Marq Jun 7 '17 at 10:49
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe I should have phrased the title "can the augury spell be used to gain information about any topic whatsoever however unrelated to your immediate situation if you phrase it the right way" but I felt that woud be too biased. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack V. Jun 7 '17 at 13:10
36
\$\begingroup\$

That specific question would augur nothing.

Suppose the question were phrased thusly:

I will not examine the contents of bag A. Nevertheless, should bag A contain a demilich, I will take <some action X>. Elsewise, I will take <some action Y>.

That's not a plan you can carry out, since you can't make the decision that the plan depends on and still follow the plan. It doesn't matter what actions X and Y are. Since the plan is logically inconsistent, the only sensible reply is nothing.

As a DM, I would interpret "specific course of action" as meaning a simple, fixed, completely known series of actions. "Drink from the well" is a perfectly good example; if the well is poisoned, a response of woe is appropriate; weal if it's not.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ The problem, then, is a poorly worded sentence. If you want to carry on with the plan you should use Augury with "I open bag A", then Augury tells it sees you fighting (or being killed) by a demilich, or something completely different. Depending on this answer you open bag B or bag C. \$\endgroup\$ – Rekesoft Jun 7 '17 at 7:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rekesoft That's insightful. Check out the original phrase in the linked answer in this Q: "If A contains a Lich, I will open A and B. Otherwise, I will open C." \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Jun 7 '17 at 9:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ But if you get the extra information "for free", then you can use it any number of times in the plan you're asking about. If you need to cast augury, you would start suffering failure chances if you would need to ask more than once. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack V. Jun 7 '17 at 10:10
17
\$\begingroup\$

A better reference would be D&D Beyond's Entry on Augury, because it's an official WoTC source.

That said, augury is a form of divination, "the art or practice that seeks to foresee or foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge usually by the interpretation of omens or by the aid of supernatural powers."

The entire point of augury is to predict a possible future based on incomplete information. The spell requires you to describe the intended course of action, and the GM basically says "good idea" or "bad idea". Once you have that information, you're not required to go through with the action.

Whether or not you can take the course of action isn't a factor in deciding whether or not you can ask about the course of action. It may factor into the answer the DM gives you. If successfully completing the proposed course of action is impossible but has no risk of harm, the answer can be "nothing". If it's going to get the asker hurt or injured, it would be "woe".

\$\endgroup\$
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer. "I am going to follow X procedure" results in the following check of causality: does opening bag A result in a bad outcome? (demilitches seem like a bad idea to me) If no, does opening bag C? Etc. If any of the results are bad, Augury returns "bad idea." At no point does this tell the player which bag they opened in the hypothetical or whether or not bag A contains a demilitch. \$\endgroup\$ – Draco18s Jun 6 '17 at 22:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for including the WoTC source and the definition for augury/divination. \$\endgroup\$ – smiley trashbag Jun 6 '17 at 22:47
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The first paragraph is rather close to a link-only answer, particularly as it's inaccessible to anyone who doesn't want to make a Twitch account. -- I'd recommend (fair-use) quoting of the particular sections you feel are relevant to answering this question. \$\endgroup\$ – R.M. Jun 7 '17 at 14:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @R.M. The first paragraph is partially an aside, to bring attention to an official rules resource, rather than the Roll20 link the original poster used. It's not behind a paywall, just a registration, so I'm not unduly concerned. The actual content of the answer is based on the dictionary definition of the terms involved, which is provided. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jun 7 '17 at 14:41
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I particularly like this: "if-then" is not how this works. It only completes the statement of "the result of this course of action is (good)/(bad)." \$\endgroup\$ – PipperChip Jun 7 '17 at 17:36
8
\$\begingroup\$

I'd say the outlined plan fails on the "specific" part of "specific course of action".

Specific is "free from ambiguity" (MW) or "clearly defined or identified"; "Precise and clear in making statements or issuing instructions." (Oxford Dictionaries). I'd argue the plan, as stated, is not precise and clearly defined, as it is contingent on obtaining knowledge of what's in Bag A.

An analogy. Imagine the players are in a jail cell, and are attempting to escape. They manage to cast Augury to assist them. Their plan is "We obtain the guard's truncheon, bludgeon him over the head to knock him out, and steal the keys." How does this augur? Well, it depends on how they plan to obtain the truncheon. Do they do it by stealth? (How good a pick-pocket is the Paladin?) Do they charm it off him? (Grogette the half-orc is rather pretty, for a half-orc ...). Do they strong arm him? (The Wizard has been working out ...)

Augury doesn't work here because the plan isn't specific enough. It's not just enough to say "I obtain the truncheon", you have to say how you try to obtain the truncheon. You can go from weal to woe pretty quickly if you attempt to do something the hard way rather than do it by a reasonable method. -- Certainly, you don't have to give a blow-by-blow recounting of what you'd do, but you have to at least give a detailed enough plan that relevant weal/woe calculations can be made.

By that metric, the outlined plan in the question isn't specific enough. "If Bag A contains a demilich ..." - okay, how are you planning to figure that out to actually carry out your plan? By opening the bag? By casting another Augury? By some other method? The outcome of your plan (weal/woe) depends critically on which method you would hypothetically use when carrying out the plan. You can't know how the plan would turn out until you know the specifics of how they plan to execute it, and the specifics of figuring out if bag A contains a demilich are critical to actually pulling off the plan as stated.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is the clearest explanation of why the "plan" won't work. Nothing in any of the formulations of the question indicate how the caster determines if a lich is or isn't in bag A. +1 \$\endgroup\$ – stannius Jun 7 '17 at 22:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ You cast Augury to gain information you do not already have. All plans of action proposed for Augury should have some unknown element you don't know about that the DM will consider, otherwise you could have figured it out on your own. The given plan in this Q does not say "If I think Bag A contains a Lich" or "I will examine Bag A" but rather goes straight to the truth value of "If Bag A contains a Lich." \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Jun 8 '17 at 1:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Consider the difference between "I will drink from this cup" and "If this cup is not poisoned, I will drink from it." The same idea of drinking from the cup is used, but in the second one, there is an additional clause to emphasize they don't want to drink from a poisoned cup. Is the second somehow less specific than the first? \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Jun 8 '17 at 1:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @markovchain All plans have unknowns, but the unknowns are normally in the result, not in the attempted execution. For your example, the first is a plan you can actually carry out without additional information: you just drink from the cup. The second can't be carried out until you determine if the cup is actually poisoned. It's less specific because you have the added complexity of needing to figure out if it's poisoned before you can (hypothetically) execute it. -- Or to give another example, "cure world hunger" is not a specific plan. How are you planning on curing world hunger? \$\endgroup\$ – R.M. Jun 9 '17 at 0:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @R.M. Indeed, curing world hunger is general. It does not share any similarity with "If this cup is not poisoned, I will drink from it." The former may be a fantasy with many ways of being done, the latter just involves you drinking from a cup. \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Jun 9 '17 at 1:02
6
\$\begingroup\$

For the record, my answer would be:

  1. A "course of action" includes only things you can do. Everyone agrees that if step 1 is fly to the moon, or become young again, or find out something that will happen 50 years from now, then step 1 just fails and then you never get to step 2. And that even if the being answering the question could grant you that power, the augury spell doesn't make it do so. I think "know what's in Bag A without opening it" is an extra power not included in the spell description, and is just as impossible as all those other things.

  2. If for some reason augury could tell you the result of plans that involve acting on knowledge you don't have, it would allow the spell to replace higher-level spells like "commune" and tell you that knowledge, even if it wouldn't , To do that, structure your augury so that you plan to take a "good" action if the answer is yes and a "bad" action if the answer is no, find out which would happen, and then abandon the plan.

\$\endgroup\$
6
\$\begingroup\$

I have another argument as to why the spell fails. Looking at the logical bits of the spell:

Augury

You receive an omen from an otherworldly entity about the results of a specific course of action that you plan to take within the next 30 minutes.

"A specific course of action" is singular. If/then/else statements consist of at least two courses of actions. Asking it an if/then/else questions gives the augury spell two courses of actions where it was expecting only one. If magic is programming language, this would result in a runtime error.

For the sake of interpreting the spell, I would define a course of action as: "a concise, one-declarative-clause-without-adjunct-clauses statement about one's behavior that does not adjust for any new information gained while performing that behavior." If/then/else-s are not single courses of actions!

Additionally, you can nest if/then/else statements, and therefore could predict arbitrarily advanced actions because you "started" that course of action within 30 minutes from now.

As an example as to why if/then/else-s cannot be "a single course of action:"

  • "If I go into town:

  • then:

    • if inn is open,

    • then:

      • I buy a beer
    • else:

      • I go on a rant about the lack of inns in this world
  • else:

    • I make camp

Not only does this show how if/then/else-s which nest can be abused, but the innermost if-then-else shows the problem of considering two very different courses of actions. It won't matter if the difference between the two proposed courses of action is opening one bag or another, or totally different, they're still two different courses of action. Giving an augury an if-then-else (or even an if-then) should result in a failed, or incomplete, spell!

I am also a little leery about if-then causes, because it is a specific course of action, but there is a problem. Are you asking: "if this happens, is this a good idea?" Or are you asking "is this true, and is this the appropriate response?"

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ @markovchain as you can see from my post, I disagree. The differences between what can happen in the "then" and the "else" part seem to be two different courses of action. Either way, votes decide. \$\endgroup\$ – PipperChip Jun 8 '17 at 14:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ On the contrary, vote scores do not always choose the correct result (look at who the votes chose, over in the US). At any rate, I've left my vote here. \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Jun 8 '17 at 14:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @markovchain IF you down-vote me, THEN I receive a small ping to my rep score, ELSE my rep score remains unchanged. Does this 'course' of action result in the same thing every time? No: it is obviously two courses of action bundled into one because the results of the then/else are different. These are two different courses of action. \$\endgroup\$ – PipperChip Jun 8 '17 at 15:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, it remains unchanged every time. If it changed, if you got pinged when I did not downvote you, that is a bug and should be reported in Meta. \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Jun 8 '17 at 15:21
5
\$\begingroup\$

To look at this from another angle: can a "course of action" submitted for Augury depend on information gleaned from the Augury itself?

There are some cases where the answer is clearly "No". Consider this extreme case: "If the reply to my Augury is 'woe', I will not stab myself in the heart; in all other cases I will."

This presents a paradox: if the Augury predicts a "woe", the woeful thing doesn't happen, but if it doesn't predict it, it does happen. The Augury is broken.

So some of these cases are clearly not permissible...but is this a general problem or a specific one? Is the "three bags of holding" example in the question allowable?

Whether or not the "three bags" scenario creates a paradox depends on how Augury works. If the "hidden force" providing the prediction has actual direct knowledge of the future, it must be an alternate future in which the Augury did not take place, or else all Augury would be paradoxical. In this case the "three bags" example would not be allowed. On the other hand, if the "hidden force" is simply making a very, very educated guess based on its unlimited or near-unlimited information about the present moment, then the "three bags" example does not create a paradox.

Reading further on in the description of Augury, it says:

The spell doesn't take into account any possible circumstances that might change the outcome, such as the casting of additional Spells or the loss or gain of a companion.

So it seems that Augury is not based on direct knowledge of the future, or else it would take changes of circumstance into account. Thus the "three bags" example does not create a paradox.

But there is another problem.

The "hidden force" may know what is in the first sack, but it knows that you do not, which means that you have no way to carry out the course of action you proposed (as Marq pointed out in his answer). So the Augury may do one of two things:

  • Return nothing by default, just as Marq described in his answer.

  • Return the outcome that would occur if you were capable of following the course of action...which you aren't.

In the "three bags" example, this second option does not provide any useful information. (e.g. The Augury returns "weal", but you still don't know if the treasure is in the second bag or the third.) But as Jack V. pointed out in a comment, there are proposed courses of action that could provide useful information. For instance, you could say, "If the treasure is hidden in such-and-such a place, I will stab myself, otherwise I will heal myself", and the Augury would return "woe" or "weal" accordingly.

While I share Jack V.'s concern that this interpretation makes Augury much more powerful than it was intended to be, I do not see anything in the RAW forbidding this interpretation. So I would argue that the choice between the two options is up to the DM.


Addendum: Jack V. has raised another point: when a course of action cannot be executed due to lack of ability, e.g. a plan to fly to the moon, we expect Augury to tell us the outcome of trying the plan and failing, not what would happen if we could follow the plan. So why should courses of action that cannot be executed due to lack of information be any different?

I think the key word there is "trying". In the case of the moon example, presumably you will do something to try to get to the moon: cast a spell, throw a grappling hook, flap your arms very very hard. And presumably the "hidden source" of the Augury can predict what you will try, even if you don't state it explicitly, and tell you the outcome of that action. On the other hand, to go back to the "three bags" example, knowing what is inside the first bag is treated as a prerequisite for action. It may be part of the overall "course" of action, but it is not an action in and of itself. The person casting the Augury does not intend to even try to find out what is inside the first bag.

This last bit of interpretation—that a "course of action" can contain things that would not be "actions" if they stood by themselves—feels pretty shaky to me. I think it's possible to argue for it, which means it's still a matter for DM discretion, but I personally would not argue that side.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree with "the prediction is useless to you". It would be incredibly valuable, because it lets you find out any information you want, by making a plan based on being able to find it out and then suffering a good or bad outcome, rather than only "the results of a course of action you plan to take in the next 30 minutes" as per the spell description. That's WHY I don't think you should be able to do that. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack V. Jun 7 '17 at 9:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jack V. Excellent point. I've updated my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – MJ713 Jun 7 '17 at 13:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for incorporating that, that edit is a good description of the problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack V. Jun 7 '17 at 14:22
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ OOI, do you think "tell you what happens if you were capable of following that course of action" includes any ability you plan to have but don't have, or only knowledge? markovchain and I both agreed that if you tried to ask "if I fly to the moon, what will result when I get there", you'd get an answer about trying to fly and failing, not about what you'd find on the moon. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack V. Jun 7 '17 at 14:25
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Jack V. I updated my answer again to discuss this point. \$\endgroup\$ – MJ713 Jun 7 '17 at 22:29
1
\$\begingroup\$

The question as currently stated: "Can the Augury spell tell you the result of a course of action depending on information you don't have?" would seem to have an obvious answer of "yes."

Let's simplify the example a bit away from the more complex logic phrasing of the "unknown" info in question to something more direct.

Augery ($DIETY/GM/Source-of-knowledge): "I will flip a fair coin, if it is heads, I will open door A and if it is tails I will open door B. That is my plan. Weal or woe?" I have a concrete plan, with an outcome based on info I don't have. It is a single plan, simple and direct.

If the magic knows what the outcome of the coin flip will be, and the results of opening one door or the other, it should be able to answer.

Good stuff behind both doors? "Weal" Badstuff behind both doors? "Woe." Good behind one, and bad behind the other, and if the magic knows the result of the coin toss, it can still answer appropriately.

This would seem a clear example of asking god behind the scenes for info you don't have (and may never get), while still getting a coherent answer from the Augery.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jun 7 '17 at 4:56
0
\$\begingroup\$

To the question in the title, yes: because if it couldn't, then the DM can't tell you anything

You cast Augury to gain information you don't have. If Augury prevented the DM from using information you don't have, then the DM can only use your own knowledge, and tell you only the things you already know.

Then drinking from the poisoned well, which you don't know is poisoned, will yield Weal because you are thirsty, and not Woe because you will be poisoned.


To the question in the body: yes, it is a valid plan. It's useless though

Using a strict and literal reading of the rules, Augury requires "a specific course of action that you plan to take within the next 30 minutes." The question is, does the following qualify as a "specific course of action"? If it does, it meets the criteria for Augury.

If Bag A contains a Demilich, I will open Bag B, else I will open Bag C

Yes, the above is a course of action. It is of the form "If X, then Y. Else, Z." A course of action is "a procedure adopted to deal with a situation." Then we can break this plan down into:

If X (situation), then Y (procedure). Else (situation), Z (procedure).

An objection to this might be, "oh, but then that's two plans!" to which the answer is: it is a singular plan, with the singular objective of finding the treasure (in the context of this Q), but composed of two procedures, Y and Z, and one evaluation criteria, X.

Note that there are no other restrictions on what the COA might be. By RAW, you are not forbidden from posing a COA that is impossible. Indeed, some COAs can be impossible, such as retreating from an enemy who can outrun you.

You are also not forbidden by RAW from posing COAs that depend on information you don't have, as long as you carry it out in the next 30 minutes. You could ask about leaving the rendezvous point in the middle of a war zone, if the extraction unit does not come and pick you up in the next 10 minutes.

As long as it is a course of action, it qualifies for Augury, with no restrictions imposed by RAW.

But it doesn't tell you anything useful

The specific plan in the question:

If Bag A contains a Demilich, I will open Bag B, else I will open Bag C

Does not tell you anything useful, even if it's valid. If you get Weal, any of the bags could still be the treasure. If you get Woe, any could be the Lich. If you get nothing, any could be empty.

The useful formulation of the plan is:

If A contains a Lich, I will open A and B. Otherwise, I will open C.


I will provide a summarized/abridged of the conversation in this chat, to serve as a background for this question and to provide context.

Q: "If B has the treasure, I will open B and D. Otherwise, I will open E." It sounds like, your decision is based on the information you don't yet have.

A: Yes, Augury can provide you information that you don't yet have. Otherwise, it cannot do anything, if the DM cannot use any of their knowledge that you do not know.

Q: Consider a "plan" like "If A has the treasure, I will open A. If B has the treasure, I will open B and stab myself in the foot. If C has the treasure, I will stab myself in the foot. If D has the treasure I will do nothing." I claim that's not a plan because you have no way of knowing which is true and will stand around stuck

A: A plan can be "An intention or decision about what one is going to do" or "A detailed proposal for doing or achieving something." The "else" clause is a contingent plan.

Q: You can't do: "if there's buried treasure at the beach, I'll go to the beach, else the movie" because you DON'T KNOW if there's treasure until you look.

A: You are asking a god to check for you. You don't know, but Augury directs the question at someone who does -- ie, the DM.

Q: But there's nothing in the Augury spell that says the being that knows the answer tells you. It says it tells you the result of your plan.

A: The god will not tell you the "free" answer though, only Weal, Woe, Weal and Woe, or nothing.

Q: OK, so what do you think augury can do? What bits, if any, do you think it can do that are not in the spell description?

A: All you need is a specific course of action that you plan (but are not bound to take, as of course, receiving Woe should enable you to change your mind), and you may receive an omen.

We then go into defining what is "a plan" or "a course of action," and if "if Bag A contains a demilich, I will open Bag B, else I will open Bag C" qualifies as either a plan or a course of action. However, at this point, the querent decided to ask the question to the Stack instead, so this Q is essentially the continuation of that. As such, I cannot abridge it -- this Q is that continuation.

\$\endgroup\$

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.