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The divination spell states:

Similar to augury but more powerful, a divination spell can provide you with a useful piece of advice in reply to a question concerning a specific goal, event, or activity that is to occur within 1 week.

I'm not sure what limitations the language about "a specific goal, event, or activity" imposes. The immediate motivation for this comes from a Kingmaker campaign that I'm currently running. After an attack on their capital, my players came up with the idea of casting divination once a week to ask "Will anything attack our kingdom this week?"

I'm trying to figure out if this is specific enough, and if not, what would be specific enough. On one hand, it's not a specific event - they aren't expecting any particular attack. On the other hand, it's arguably a specific goal - keeping their citizens safe from large-scale threats.

Also, I expect my players to use divination many times during this campaign, so I'd like to know how this language limits the spell beyond this one case.

One limitation I've imposed so far is that sufficiently obscure or protected knowledge might be beyond divination's power. For example, "Where is the legendary artifact called 'The Eye of Ragnarok' hidden?" would yield the equivalent of "I don't know". I've seen this limitation mentioned before in published adventures, and my players seem fine with it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not entirely sure this can be answered objectively, so we might need to draw on good subjective from GM's who have experience with divination-oriented players. Would that type of answer be acceptable? (IE "this is what I've done and it's been well received") \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso May 4 '20 at 8:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I was expecting "good subjective" answers. If someone has insight into the design process, that would be great, but I wasn't expecting it. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben S. May 4 '20 at 18:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ This question can be answered objectively by focusing on the description of what the spell does. The players are trying to exceed its purpose. \$\endgroup\$ – ruffdove Aug 22 '20 at 18:46
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Specific goals, events and activities are things that the caster proposes doing when casting the spell. Divination guides the caster in an endeavor, it does not allow him to foresee future events or the future actions of others.

A key point here is this: "similar to augury, but more powerful..."

Augury tells you whether "a particular action will bring good or bad results for you in the immediate future." In other words, Augury lets you ask about something you are considering doing yourself and it lets you know--in a very unspecific way--if the results will be good, bad, both, or neither. You're not seeing the future, just getting a hint about it from something that can.

With Divination, you ask about "a specific goal, event, or activity that is to occur within 1 week (emphasis added)." You're not asking about something that might occur, you are asking about something that you know will occur because you are planning on doing it. Further, you receive "advice" about the proposed action, not any kind of prediction of the future or success. The power you contact may itself see the future in order to provide the advice, but the feedback to the caster is advice only and not a direct look at the future. Divination is "similar to Augury" in that both spells provide insight and guidance on a planned course of action, but the increased power of Divination extends the time frame out to a week and instead of a vague idea of what the outcome will be, you get actual advice on the best way to succeed.

Note that this interpretation of how Divination works is further supported by the Core Rulebook's shorthand description of the spell given in the spell lists: "Provides useful advice for specific proposed actions." This shorthand desciption makes it even more clear that Divination does not provide future prediction, it provides guidance for actions the caster is proposing or planning.

Your players are misusing the spell.

What your players are trying to do--learn about someone else's plans, or whether something is to occur--is as much beyond the scope of Divination as asking for a secret password would be beyond the scope of Augury. You can't ask about something that "is to occur" unless you know it "is to occur." They could use Divination to maybe get an edge against a possible invasion--"I am redistributing my forces this week; how can I do that most effectively?"--but to actually foresee an invasion is not what this spell does. If, through good intelligence gathering, adventuring, and role-playing, they come to learn that an invasion "is to occur," then they can use Divination to plan their defense.

How to use Divination properly...

In my experience, Divination can be a great tool for players and GMs alike when it comes to getting past snags, recovering from missed clues, and advancing the plot. You mentioned your players used it to try to locate the Eye of Ragnarok. Suggest to them that instead of asking "Where is the Eye of Ragnarok?" they instead say: "We are undertaking a quest for the Eye of Ragnarok, how might we begin?" To which the entity contacted through Divination might reply with something like: "Look closer at the tapestry you found in the Wicked Stronghold" or "Find the blind monk in the attic of the Imperial Library," thus leading them to the clues they need.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your last section seems to be a style of play commentary. Could you back it up with information from the book about why Divination doesn't work how they describe? \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Sep 8 '20 at 17:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ I suppose it is a style of play commentary. I can remove it if that is not allowed, but I thought the questioner might find it helpful. I think I have used information from Core Rule book to thoroughly support the argument that Divination provides advice on a proposed course of action and does not predict the future. What additional information do you require? I could quote the full description of Divination, but it wouldn't add any more clarity. \$\endgroup\$ – ruffdove Sep 8 '20 at 17:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would just alter the last section into a good subjective section "In my groups, these guidelines have worked well...". The rest seems pretty solid. \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Sep 8 '20 at 18:06
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To me, a question like "Will anything attack our kingdom this week?" would be sufficient to yield an answer, but to encourage the players to be more specific, I'd do something like the following:

Players: "Will anything attack our kingdom this week?"

Divination: "Yes."

Ok, so now they know that something will attack their kingdom, but little do they know, it's just some birds not native to the region, on their normal migratory cycle, flying through the edge of the kingdom's territory, and they happened to land a few droppings on some unlucky merchants.

So specific-enough questions like that may yield an answer, but likely one that's not helpful. They may know something will attack their kingdom, but as for what, and in what way... that's not what they asked for, so why should I tell them? If you do it this way, the limitation you've imposed would also protect you from having to answer a follow up cast of Divination, asking "What will attack our kingdom this week?" or "When will they invade?". Much in the same way you won't tell them where the Eye of Ragnarok is hidden, you wouldn't tell them who the invaders are, or what their plans are either.

On the other hand, if the players ask something like "Will the kingdom of Alderkar attack Sandport this week?" That's MUCH more specific, and would therefore yield a much more useful answer.

If you wanted to, however, you could also use a vague question like that to give the players a hint at an upcoming story arc, via the "cryptic rhyme or omen" part of the spell description, allowing you to send your players on a new adventure filled week of investigation, plots, corruption, scandals, and combat, trying to figure out the details such as:

  1. Who's attacking?
  2. When will they invade?
  3. What will they invade with?
  4. How much devastation will there be?
  5. Who's involved?
  6. What can we do about it?
  7. etc.

Yet another option would be that you can turn a vague Divination into a self-fulfilling prophecy, that's ultimately harmless to show your players that they can't keep doing this.

To summarize:

To answer the question itself: Yes, that particular question is "specific enough", though the answer you get would be all but useless. And I could see how the goal of the spell would be to protect their citizens, but no good ruler would rely on one source, and one source only to give them all the answers. A good ruler would bolster their kingdom's defenses anyway, making it stronger against whatever may come their way, and to form alliances with neighboring kingdoms, and to make his people happy to help reduce potential threats.

For future reference on the Divination spell: If it were me, I'd say, the more specific the question, the more helpful the answer, with the reverse being true as well, unless you needed a way to send your players on a new quest, in which case, you can give them a cryptic prophecy, Percy Jackson style, to send them in the right direction.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This sounds like a re-hashing of Dale M's answer but expanding on how the GM would make it annoying to the players for even trying to use the spell. This doesn't address the fact that the answer could come in a small phrase (how about "Of course it will..." or "By some definition of attack...?) or other media. \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Sep 8 '20 at 17:43
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Specific means specific

specific adjective: clearly defined or identified

So, do you think "anything", "attack" and "kingdom" are specific?

Given that "anything" literally encompasses everything in the multiverse, "attack" could be anything from counterfeiting coinage, through covert interaction and invasion all the way to a nuclear strike, and "kingdom" is probably a significant chunk of both physical territory as well as a geopolitical sovereign state the request doesn't seem particularly "specific" to me.

Of course, given the breadth of the question, the answer is going to inevitably be "yes" each and every week. So if they want to blow 25gp on a no brainer I guess I would let them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As entertaining as it is to me to imagine the GM coming up with a dozen ways that the kingdom could be "attacked" that has nothing to do with what the players expect, I don't feel like this truly answers the question. By this interpretation, the 4th level spell Divination is worse than conjecture. Furthermore, you don't show knowledge of the context (the "kingdom" in Kingmaker isn't some massive imperium for most groups, most of the campaign and, according to the rules for Kingdom events, you are not likely to be attacked, by any definition, every week) \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso May 5 '20 at 12:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's true that, at this stage of the campaign, the kingdom comprises only two small towns. I'm inclined to agree that the question is too broad, but I'm trying to decide what would be specific enough. For example, is "Will an organized fighting force attack the town of Meadowbrook this week?" sufficiently specific by narrowing it down to a location and kind of attack? \$\endgroup\$ – Ben S. May 5 '20 at 20:18

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