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