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Some of the fantasy magic systems we are/were playing provide spell casters with access to spells that provide the player with information about future events. Now, we know from many movies and stories that any kind of time-travelling or prophesying comes with its own set of problems - so lets for the sake of this answer assume that the divination spells at hand are accurate at least to some degree - as otherwise they wouldn't be very useful1). I.e. the assumption is that the spells provide at least some actionable information about future events.

The current example we're facing is from the Rolemaster Seer list #1402). The spell allows a PC to:

  • experience a vision of the future3) of the next couple of minutes,
  • telling them what would happen if they were to perform a certain action.

What has been happening so far (and how we've been handling divination spells in our group) is this:

  1. Players see that some dangerous/critical decision X is at hand that is not immediately time-critical.
  2. The Seer of the group uses a divination spell on the assumption that they (or some other player) take action X.
  3. A scene is played out (including some dice rolls) of what would happen, were the players to perform action X.
  4. The players then take their time deciding if they want to do X after all, having essentially complete information of the immediate effects.
    • If they do X, then the before played out scene basically happens as is --> The suspense of the dangerous situation is gone, making the whole process rather tedious.
    • If they don't do X we just wasted time on some never-going-to-happen version of the future.

So the players were using these spells as de-facto 'savepoints', to try out something in the game with the possibility of 'rolling back' in case the outcome wasn't to their liking.

How can we handle these situations as game masters and/or players in order to..

  • keep the spells interesting and worth casting,
  • not holding up the game playing out long hypothetical scenarios,
  • prohibit divination spells taking out the suspense (read: risk/danger) of taking critical decisions.

1) What I mean by this is that I'd like to avoid discussing the usual time-traval paradoxa, such as "if we know X we would never have done Y, but then we would never have known X, which means we did do Y, etc. etc.".

2)I can't quote the rules precisely as I don't own them in English. In German the spell is called 'Eingebung' and exists in levels I, III, V and XV, each level providing increased duration of the vision into the future. The English equivalent is Intuitions and it comes from the Future Visions List from the Seer Base Lists.

3) The rules are not exactly clear on how accurate this vision is, however we read 'experiencing it' for some minutes as rather accurate.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I changed the question and tags to be system-specific. If the close-voters are still unhappy I'd appreciate some sort of comment, as I don't think this question is close-worthy. If I'm breaking any rules or practices, tell me so. \$\endgroup\$ – fgysin Sep 6 '17 at 16:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @fgysin adding the setting makes it better, because those who are experts on the system will not use other systems as baseline for their answers. And those unfamiliar with it will read the divination spells of that system instead of coming up with answers based on D&D experience, for example. I mentioned Cthulhutech because there is one specific spell there that is completely different from any divination spells in D&D games, as it specifically states that it shows not one, but several possible futures based on the topic you want to dream about. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Sep 6 '17 at 16:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've removed all the existing answers. How a specific spell works, and experience using it in this situation, is necessary to properly answer this question from expertise, so all previous answers that were written with no awareness of the specific game, traditions, and mechanics involved are suspect. Because of voting artifacts, I will request that anyone who thinks their answer is still appropriate for the question to 1) submit a new answer-post based on their previous answer, that is 2) revised to meaningfully acknowledge the answer's relationship (or lack thereof) to Rolemaster. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 6 '17 at 17:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @fgysin What's the name of the spell in question? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 6 '17 at 17:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you quote the actual content of the spell so I don't have to go into my attic for that one book. :-) \$\endgroup\$ – JWT Sep 6 '17 at 17:32
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For reference:

From Rolemaster 2nd Edition Spell Law (English Version) pg 121

14.4: Seer Base Lists

Future Visions

1 - Intuitions I : Caster gets a vision of what will happen in the next minute if he takes a specified action.

There is a II, V, & X level that extend the visions out to 3, 5, and 10 mins respectively.

In my opinion, playing out the encounter and letting them choose to "keep" the results if they like them is WAY too powerful for at best a tenth level (out of 50 levels) spell.

Not only that, this is a large time sink for the game, and can make gameplay boring and repetitive.

But that only answers half of your question. If you don't go that option, how should you handle this spell without making it too lame?

This is tough, but I appreciate your attempt to address this. Many GMs brush right over divination spells because adjudicating them them can be hard.

First you want to keep it short, and set up a quick vignette that you can describe to them. You can look to real world to see how they do it for an example. Present outcomes as a set of probabilities, like a forecast. ex. You sense that there is a 70% probability that you go right, and come the the locked door, 20% you go straight and fall into the pit, and 10% you turn back.

Or look to how Hollywood does it. TV shows & Movies like the Flash, Harry Potter, and Buffy have characters who have visions all the time. Use the imagery there to set the scene for the vision.

Examples:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pa09OhAak4I

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0vyVT4HFgM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5y99rpk8to

Or perhaps combine the two where they see the top three most likely outcomes. in a vision that rewinds and plays forward through each of the probable threads.

As for how to play it out mechanically, I would first give the seer story hints. If that is not an option then look to similar level spells to get an idea of what kind of benefit this should confer.

For example, Leaping I allows the caster to clear a pit easily; Balance allows the caster to get 50 to any roll for a slow maneuver; Blur subtracts 10 from all attacks. And so on.

So find an appropriate spell of the same level that fits the obstacle that the seer faces next and just give them this mechanical bonus. Sure the seer has much more flexibility, but this is offset by the fact that the seer may cast the spell when there is not much happening in the next ten minutes.

Also don't be afraid to tell them every now and then - not much happens in the next ten minutes. Maybe set up a random mechanic to determine this?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 I like the actionable advice, also looking at the future more like a set of probabilities. \$\endgroup\$ – fgysin Sep 12 '17 at 7:20
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The way I interpret all divinations is as a probability of a set of events happening. This works for Rolemaster's seer spells just fine as it was to answer your specific question that we developed it.

Mostly, this was due to high powered enemies using the seer spell to play the encounter then re-set if things did not go their way. This was incredibly annoying as a player as you could never defeat them. So, we changed it. In any case, this makes seers massively over powered.

Because Rolemaster is a generic system, it does not (generally) subscribe to divination being effectively the will of the God(s) in most settings. This is consistent since seers are mentalism (aka powered by one's own mind) based and not channelling (powered by the Gods) based. So, divination as will of the Gods is out.

For all divinations, I guesstimate what dice rolls (if any) would be and answer based on the enemies, their states, and what I (as GM) know of the current tactical situation. In addition to this, I will inject an element of Fate/Luck which could/should drives the story into a more interesting directions. The latter can be decided with the players themselves, making them architects in the story being told. This gives me probable course of events which I then relate to the characters.

However, Lady Luck is known for being a fickle and mischievous lady. Thus, any actual game play might have an interference from her and derails the best laid plans. You might chose it to be chaos instead of luck, or any other arch-deity of your world intervening for or again the characters. Therefore, if the characters decide on the course of action, it gets played out, but now, for good or ill, Lady Luck has her say in the matter…

Experience a vision of the future for some time (some minutes)

A vision does not need to be either clear or even focused nor does it need to exactly answer the question asked. Cryptic is the key word here, although always present some useful information as otherwise the players get frustrated getting nothing of use.

Telling them what would happen if they were to perform a certain action.

If an action is a dice roll, make it. It does not take time and does not necessarily through things out. However, you might get into a retry until success loop.

If the action is more complex but not over reaching you can easily plan the outcome in the same way as above.

For example, should the seer ask "should I kill the King?", the answer would be:

You attack the King and fall to the ground, into a pool of your own blood. The King stands over you laughing and as your head finally crashes into the marble floor, you see the King is lying next to you looking at you through lifeless eyes.

So, yeah. Whether or not you kill the King, you will die to… This is the most likely outcome of an assassination action.

PS: Note that the same problem exist in the dream spells of channelling. You get an answer to a question -- or more questions at higher levels. However, this is directly related to the knowledge of the God you are praying to and thus influenced by their views and desires.

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