26
\$\begingroup\$

I am the DM for a party that started to rely more and more on the augury spell, casting it as a ritual at least daily, because it has shown them the 'right' path on multiple occasions in the past.

The description of augury seems pretty straightforward, but in our experience there are many different ways how the omens can be interpreted. This can leave players feeling deceived if they have a different interpretation than the DM.

Maybe we've overthought and complicated the spell, but I think these details are important, because a misinterpreted augury might have very nasty consequences, while the goal of the spell is to avoid exactly that!

In answers I'm looking for your experiences how to best handle this spell, minimizing ambiguity for the players.


Description of the spell, emphasis mine:

By casting gem-inlaid sticks, rolling dragon bones, laying out ornate cards, or employing some other divining tool, 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. The DM chooses from the following possible omens:

  • Weal, for good results
  • Woe, for bad results
  • Weal and woe, for both good and bad results
  • Nothing, for results that aren’t especially good or bad

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. If you cast the spell two or more times before completing your next long rest, there is a cumulative 25 percent chance for each casting after the first that you get a random reading. The DM makes this roll in secret. (PHB pp.215-216)

Questions

A. Timing

As suggested in comments, this section has been moved to a question of its own: How does the timing on Augury work?


B. Subject

Who is the subject of the result?

  • The character who cast the spell;
  • The entire party;
  • The player of the character who cast the spell.

Examples

Imagine the Rogue in the party has done some nasty deeds in the past, and there is a warrant out for his arrest. The party wants to visit town, but they are worried the Rogue might be recognized and jailed. This would be a bad result for the Rogue, but the Cleric does not particularly care. Yes, the Rogue is a valuable asset to the party, but then again bad deeds should not go unpunished. The other members of the party would consider that a big loss and urge the Cleric to cast Augury to learn if the they should enter town or not.

Assuming the Rogue would be recognized and arrested by the guards at the gate of the town, what would the omen be?

  • Nothing, because the caster does not care whether the Rogue gets arrested or not;
  • Woe, because losing the Rogue is a bad result for the party;
  • Weal, because the Cleric's player is fed up with confronting the Rogue on his nasty deeds and prefers to see the Rogue character retired.

I would give the omen "Nothing", because the Augury only answers the caster. The other members party might experience a nasty surprise when the Rogue would get arrested, though. Also, it can be hard for the DM to gauge what would be good for the individual caster, without asking the player directly what their character would consider good or bad results. (without giving away what the actual result will be!) When characters have secrets from each other, this could be tricky to address during play.


C. Perspective

Is good or bad results from the caster's perspective or the otherworldly being's?

In the latter case, is the otherworldly being the Cleric's deity, or some sort of neutral all-sentient entity?

Examples

Let's say that in the example above, where the party considers to enter the town, the Cleric would consider it a bad result if the Rogue were to be arrested. But his lawful good deity disagrees, and thinks the Rogue needs be jailed. What would the omen be?

  • Woe, because both the caster and the party would be dealt a bad result;
  • Weal, because the result is preferred by the deity.

In our group we use the perspective of the deity, because it is one of the few ways for a Cleric to communicate directly with them. It is a way to gauge what the diety thinks that should be done. This may lead to unexpected results when the agenda or mood of the deity is not clear (chaotic); if it is sadistic and enjoys to see the party suffer (evil); or obnoxiously judgemental (lawful good).

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel like an angle has been missed regarding "B. Subject". Augury reads "results of a specific course of action that you plan to take...". If you assume the subject is the caster, asking what happens when the party enters town isn't what the spell does. You have to ask what happens when the cleric enters town. Things then get tricky - does the Augury "assume" that the cleric enters town with the thief? I think you have to be specific "what happens if I enter town with the thief and the rest of the party?" Or am I being semantic and that is all assumed in the question? \$\endgroup\$ – M. Vienneau Sep 24 '18 at 1:36
33
\$\begingroup\$

I'm going to take a markedly-different approach from many of the others; hopefully this perspective is useful, too.

Start by looking at the nearest-neighbor spell to augury: aura of life. 30' radius, resistance to necrotic damage, regains 1hp at start of 0hp turn. Very easy, and the only thing really left up to interpretation is "nonhostile."

Most spells are like this: they're very clearly... spelled out, using defined terms. [/rimshot]

Augury is a different type of spell.

Augury is a super-vague spell, with lots of room for GM interpretation, preference, style, &c. And you're a first-time GM, so you feel like you've got little guidance from the spell. You're right, by the way.

There's a reason for that: while most spells are a manifestation of the player character's will, this spell is designed to do something fundamentally different. Augury allows the player character to engage in conversation with the GM. Not the player; the player character.

I want to be clear on this: the purpose of augury (and some other divinations) is markedly different than most other spells. Once you realize that, things fall into place.

At some tables it's perfectly appropriate for a GM to say to the players "hey guys, if you take on this dragon you're all probably going to die." If necessary, this is justified in-fiction as "your characters are noting the number of dried skeletons of previous adventurers, they know stories of Smaug from their childhood, they've trekked through miles of desolate wasteland just to get here." Or it's hand-waved away.

At other tables that would be completely unacceptable. It'd ruin immersion, it'd destroy people's roleplay, it'd cheapen the game. Crossing the boundary between in-world and at-table knowledge/conversation/interaction is forbidden.

Augury explicitly crosses that boundary, in a way supported in the fiction. Augury allows the character to talk (specify course of action taken very soon) and the GM to respond: "that should go well," "uh, I wouldn't do that," "kinda mixed bag," or "meh."

But what about timing, subject, and adjudicator?

My best advice is never to spend more than 30 seconds on an augury. Listen to the question/proposition, lean back, think for five seconds, and give an answer. If your players or PCs want better answers, they can wait (or pay) for divination, commune, or foresight.

\$\endgroup\$
10
\$\begingroup\$

What does the "30 minutes" exactly apply to? Initiating the course of action, since 'taking a course of action' is not necessarily 'completing' a course of action.

Who is the subject of the result? Typically the caster (since the range is 'Self'), which normally also encompasses people the caster wishes well (like his party or innocent bystanders). The player however is not a relevant entity in the game world (bad things for the PC would appear as woe even if the player might enjoy them).

Regarding "The party wants to visit town, but they are worried the Rogue might be recognized and jailed": the party might expect 'woe' to be mentioned if that was the case. The caster may not care about the rogue, but the rest of the party does, and presumably the caster cares about the rest of the party.

Who judges whether the result is good or bad? The DM (with the caster in mind). The "otherworldly entity" is not necessarily the Cleric's deity.

\$\endgroup\$
-2
\$\begingroup\$

A. Timing

The action is what is specified within the next 30 minutes, not the results. So the results need not occur before then.

However, I see nothing in the spell text to suggest that the action must or may not be completed. However, what is considered the action, and what is considered the result depends on your point of view. In your case 3, receiving the staff could be considered the results of your signing the contract. Thus the players should receive Weal, provided they sign the contract within 30 minutes.

I think that it makes more sense, given the flavor of the spell, to say that if they started on the action within 30 minutes, that it should qualify as "taken", and would rule it that way in my games. But I think it could be interpreted either way. If you want to make a magical ritual that takes 35 minutes to complete because the players won't be able to rely on the spell (maybe that's why the contract takes 35 minutes to complete?), then go for it.

B. Subject

The spell only says you so it implies the caster only. However, if it were cast as a ritual, and all the players helped, I would say that it would be the collective you, meaning the entire party. But that would be homebrew.

Regardless, this is the sort of thing you should tell your players, since, regardless of which way you choose, it's the sort of thing that someone who regularly casts that spell would know.

C. Perspective

The spell does not specify that the otherworldly entity must be associated with the caster or the party in any way, or that the players can choose who to ask. This would be a perfectly acceptable homebrew modification to this spell, but then it would be homebrew, and outside the expertise of RPG.SE

As far as who judges benefit/harm, I think this one has to be the caster. There would be little purpose in casting a spell to ask a random entity if they should take that action, since there is a non-zero chance that the entity hold opposing goals as the party. This is purely based on the fact that the spell would be next to useless without this clarification.

\$\endgroup\$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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