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The spell:

Commune 5th-level divination (ritual) ...

You contact your deity or a divine proxy and ask up to three questions that can be answered with a yes or no. You must ask your questions before the spell ends. You receive a correct answer for each question.

Divine beings aren’t necessarily omniscient, so you might receive “unclear” as an answer if a question pertains to information that lies beyond the deity’s knowledge. In a case where a one-word answer could be misleading or contrary to the deity’s interests, the DM might offer a short phrase as an answer instead. ...

The setup:

Eric the Cleric of Yog-Sothoth has a burning desire to know how a particular affair is going to turn out. Fortunately, he has an idea of how to leverage even a small piece of future-sight to his advantage. For the sake of example, let's say the outcome of a war, but this method should be generalizable.

First, Eric the Cleric swears an oath to cast commune each day and write down the answers he receives.

Then, Eric the Cleric casts commune and asks:

  1. "What is the outcome of the Shoggoth War?"
  2. "What will I see tomorrow on this piece of paper?"

Each day, Eric will see on the paper the answers to tomorrow's questions, which are the answers to the questions from the day after tomorrow, which are the answers to the questions from the day after that, which are ultimately the answers from the final day he ever casts commune.

The question(s):

  • Assuming it's not the case that future "information[...] lies beyond the deity’s knowledge", would this divination method permit arbitrarily long future-sight?
  • Even if the future were uncertain to the gods past a certain point, couldn't Eric the Cleric of Yog-Sothoth at least employ this method of communion to see as far into the future as the gods can?
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  • \$\begingroup\$ "Assuming it's not the case that future "information[...] lies beyond the deity’s knowledge"" This is massively begging the question. The only possible way that a deity in-universe could have that knowledge of future events, is if said deity controls them. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 20, 2023 at 14:58

2 Answers 2

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First, a nit-pick.

The communed-ed questions as-written are inappropriate for the spell, since neither are yes/no questions. However, they're relatively easily turned into:

  1. Will we win the Shoggoth War?
  2. What word will I write on this paper tomorrow?

... both of which are yes/no. Some may argue that question 1 is ambiguous ("who is 'we'?" and "how do you define 'win'?"; I appreciate that, and will address that later; in the interim, let's assume that 1 is sufficiently unambiguous).

So, on to the questions in the OP.

Assuming it's not the case that future "information[...] lies beyond the deity’s knowledge", would this divination method permit arbitrarily long future-sight?

No. Or, perhaps, "not necessarily". There is a vast difference between having knowledge of what will happen in 10 minutes and 10 years.

In the lore of virtually every TTRPG I've played in or heard about, the future is unwritten (some horror stories about heavy-handed railroading notwithstanding). Or, at least, the book of the future is only revealed one page at a time. Deities may be able to peek at the next page, but they are rarely able to read the next chapter. Even deities of prophecy typically see only glimpses of the pages to come.

This is the only option, really, that makes sense in the real world: if the gods know how everything is going to turn out, then the game world is one in which there is no free will in-game, thus the players have no real agency. In-world: if the gods know how everything is going to turn out, why bother with any plans that fail? Put another way: if everything is pre-determined, you're not playing a game but are writing a book.

Even if the future were uncertain to the gods past a certain point, couldn't Eric the Cleric of Yog-Sothoth at least employ this method of communion to see as far into the future as the gods can?

No. The second question's answer can be "yes", "no", or "unclear" (or a short phrase that largely means the same thing). Only the "unclear" result would meaningfully apply to an event past the deity's foresight.

The cleric may, though, be able to determine how far into the future the deity can see.

Let's say that the Shoggoth War will last for 12 days, but that Yog-Sothoth can only reliably see 10 days into the future. When the cleric casts the spell, Yog-Sothoth doesn't know how the answer to the first question, nor do they know what the answer will be tomorrow. Thus, day 1 will see answers of "unclear" and "unclear". Similarly on day 2: the end of the war is now 11 days out, so the answers are again "unclear" and "unclear". On day 3, the end of the war is now 10 days out, so Yog-Sthoth can now see it; the answers become "yes" and "yes". The answers remain the same through the end of the war, so the cleric can assume that Yog-Sthoth's foresight is about 10 days.

We're into house-rule territory here, but I tend to run prophesying divination spells like this as carrying an implicit probability component, usually relying on the PCs to change the future. Thus, my answer to question 1 would be "only with your help" rather than a straight "yes/no/unclear".

Is any of this information useful?

Uncertain, but probably "no". There's no particular reason to assume that Yog-Sothoth can always and only see 10 days into the future. Perhaps he can see 8 days reliably, at which point victory is assured even though the mop-up will take some time. Perhaps he can see 10 days for events in which he is personally involved (ie., where he's nudging things behind the scenes) but not at all for other events (eg., if another deity is quietly gathering forces to assault Yog-Sothoth's sanctum, he might still be blind-sided depending on the assaulting force's operational security).

There's also the ever-popular question in time travel stories about whether and how knowledge of the future affects decisions in the present. Does the fact that the PCs know that they'll win the Shoggoth War mean that they become complacent, thus not being in the right place at the right time, thus causing the war to be lost?

And, there's the question I mentioned earlier: is question 1 sufficiently unambiguous? More broadly: is it possible to word question 1 so that it is sufficiently unambiguous? I would argue that the answer is "no". In this particular case, the party's definition of "we" and "win" may be sufficiently different to Yog-Sothoth's that the latter can reasonably answer "yes" even if the PCs think the war is lost (perhaps Yog-Sothoth is taking an extremely long view, that the Shoggoth War is a constant, ongoing event that will only end with the death of the universe, at which point he'll declare victory).

But, why, though?

Because dice resolve questions of uncertainty, and the dice can be fickle; thus, the gods must answer such questions probabilistically. If a party of 20th level adventurers full to the brim with legendary magic items and artefacts cast commune to ask whether they would survive an encounter with a random goblin (straight out of the monster manual), the GM would almost certainly answer "yes" even though it's theoretically possible (albeit vanishingly unlikely) that the goblin could emerge victorious (possibly via dirty tricks). Thus, the only actual answer to any question about the future is "uncertain", but that's quite boring - even frustrating - at the table. So, I - and, I daresay, most GMs - resolve such questions probabilistically whether they think they do or not: if the odds are, say, 90% for or against, answer "yes" or "no"; otherwise "uncertain" (or the short phrase).

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    \$\begingroup\$ D'oh! Thank you for catching the yes/no issue and running with it anyway. \$\endgroup\$
    – order
    Aug 18, 2023 at 16:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ The In a case where a one-word answer could be misleading or contrary to the deity's interests, the DM might offer a short phrase as an answer instead stipulation is also a get-out-of-jail card: if it's not in their interest to tell the truth, gods can provide information that directly leads to your death. Which I'd fully expect someone like Yog-Sothoth to give. \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Aug 18, 2023 at 16:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @biziclop: I think there's room to disagree on whether that clause overrides the "You receive a correct answer for each question" one (though I tend to think it doesn't, else the spell's utility is wholly removed), but yes: that's where things like his "only with your help" response comes from. And, yes: it may well be the case that "your help" is dying in a particular place so that the war can be won later. \$\endgroup\$
    – minnmass
    Aug 18, 2023 at 17:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Great answer :) But I don't fully agree with 2-nd paragraph. If war will take 12 days and deity can only see 10 days in the future then it is beyond deity's knowledge and no induction(no matter how clever) can help this. Because of what you said in your answer. If I was gm-ing this campaing I would go with this and wouldn't allow to ask this question. But I would certainly reward this idea with an ispiration point in spite of this fact :) So you kind of ignore one assumption. If we assume this, then the answer is yes, you can. That being said, I really like your answer :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Maxxer
    Aug 18, 2023 at 17:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @minnmass This is exactly the kind of answer I had in mind, yes. \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Aug 18, 2023 at 18:22
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Yog either knows the answer, or they don’t. Clever notes cannot create that knowledge in their mind.

What you write on a piece of paper has no effect on Yog-Sothoth. They either know the answer to your questions, or they don’t, and the DM determines that. You can’t create knowledge they don’t have by playing word games with your spell.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sure, but if the gods have any amount of certain future-sight >= 1 day, then the idea is that a consistent player behavior could combine with that ability to retrieve information from the future. If future-sight is foggier, well, that's a different issue. \$\endgroup\$
    – order
    Aug 18, 2023 at 17:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @order: So you're proposing that there's a mechanism for a god to literally see the future before it happens, and they use this on the paper instead of the actual events? Rather than predicting based on currently-known facts (but none exist yet about tomorrow's answers or paper.) If there is true future-sight, then yes your method works, but as minnmass points out, that would mean there is an (unchangeable?) future that concretely already exists, which is problematic world-building for a fantasy adventure setting. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 19, 2023 at 8:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would add to this that the god could know that you're not going to write ANYTHING on the paper tomorrow, because you'll be dead. Or that once you think you have the answer to this question, you'll be tempted to write a different question tomorrow because you no longer need to ask this question. There are so many ways this could twist and turn (q.v. traditional DM interpretation of "Wish"). \$\endgroup\$
    – JefferMC
    Aug 20, 2023 at 0:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @order - To me, that just sounds like a proof that a deity with the ability to see only see a finite time into the future cannot see everything (concretely, cannot see what answer they will return or any outcome resulting from that). In other words, it's a proof that "predicting a finite portion of the future at certain regular intervals" and "perfectly predicting one's own actions" are incompatible concepts. \$\endgroup\$
    – Obie 2.0
    Aug 20, 2023 at 10:58

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