Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Oracle Rolls a Funny Shaped Die and Tells You…

Image courtesy of the Met
I keep seeing these ancient d20s popping up on my social media feeds. The one pictured here was found in Egypt, carved during the Ptolemaic period, after the country had been conquered by Alexander the Fucking Insane. Hence the use of Greek letters (which were also used as numbers). The Romans produced similar dice, also using Greek letters. I’m guessing an icosahedron with enough room on one side to legibly carve XVIII would have been pretty big and heavy.

Gamers around the world have been having fun trying to imagine what sort of games the ancients were playing with these dice, but what if they weren’t used for games at all? Playing cards started out as divination tools, why not dice? I’ve never really been satisfied with how prophecies work in D&D, which is why I’ve never used them, so let’s see if I can do better.

If you type “greek alphabet oracle” into google, you’ll find a bunch of tables sort of similar to the one below, along with some possible ways in which the table could have been used (shaking a bowl of 24 stones until one flies out was apparently common). Obviously I’m going to want to use dice, but unfortunately, there are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet, not just 20.

Good thing I’ve got that d24 that came in a set with my d30.

1 - Alpha | Successfully: You will be successful in your endeavors
Effect: The PC may, at any time but only once, declare a short-term goal to be the endeavor described by the oracle. Any actions taken by that PC to work towards that goal get a +15% (3 in 20 or about 1 in 6) bonus to succeed.
2 - Beta | You will get assistance, but you must complete the task
Effect: The PC may, at any time but only once, declare a short-term goal to be the task described by the oracle. That PC’s mirror image will appear. It isn’t under the control of the PC in the way that a summoned creature would generally be, but its sole motivation is to bring the task to completion, allowing the double to return to the other side of the mirror. The double will not allow the PC to indulge in any distractions whatsoever until then, even going so far as attacking if the PC tries to rest or return to town.
3 - Gamma | You will have a fruitful harvest from your labors
Effect: Okay this one’s super easy. The value of the next significant treasure the PC finds is multiplied by 1d6+2.
4 - Delta | You must use finesse more than strength
Effect: The PC loses 6 points of STR and gains 6 points of DEX (or agility or whatever). This can be reversed by a remove curse spell, assuming the PC even wants to.
5 - Epsilon | You desire to see a successful union
Effect: This PC will gain enough XP to advance a 5th level PC if they can find some NPC willing to marry them, and any time they can either adopt a willing child or make their own. It is assumed that they will all be taken hostage at some point.
6 - Zeta | You must escape the storm before it worsens
Effect: A large group of experienced marauders will come to sack the town in 1d12 hours. 
7 - Heta | The sun, which watches everything, watches you.
Effect: Exposure to direct sunlight will heal 1 HP every ten second round. If the PC ever goes back on their word, fails to fulfill an oath, or tells an outright lie, this regeneration effect ceases, and the PC is stricken blind. If the PC manages to somehow fulfill the oath after this occurs, the regeneration effect is reestablished and the PC regains the ability to see.
8 - Theta | You are guided by The Gods in your path.
Effect: The PC can call upon whatever forces lie beyond and ask them where a specific person, place, or thing can be found. The first time in a day this is attempted, they/she/he/it are guaranteed to answer. Each successive time this ability is used in a day, the chance of these powers ignoring the call increases by 1/6.
9 - Iota | You need to work harder to succeed
Effect: From now on, the PC must gain 150% the normal amount of XP in order to level up. Whoops.
10 - Kappa | To fight the waves is difficult; you must endure hardship to proceed.
Effect: DM, you can stop making random encounter checks. There is one every time you would normally check.
11 - Lambda | You will receive a blessing in disguise.
Effect: The DM must find an appropriate way for the PC to be stricken blind before the end of the current game session. At the end of the NEXT session, announce that the PC has mastered echolocation. Torches is for suckers, yo.
12 - Mu | It is necessary to labor, but the change will be admirable.
Effect: From now on, the PC must gather double the normal amount of XP to level up, and also picks one of their six core attribute scores to add one point to each level.
13 - Nu | A gift will answer your question.
Effect: The DM must introduce a new NPC, a stranger to the PCs, that must give them them a note, map, or other clue before the end of this session, that can lead them to a sizable hoard later(with complications, of course).
14 - Xi | You will not profit from something without potential.
Effect: The PC may no longer gain XP or levels in their current class, and must immediately switch to a different class, gaining the powers of a lvl 1 whatever-it-is the next time they get enough XP to level up. All abilities of the current class are retained.
15 - Omicron | You must reap what you sow
Effect: Someone you have killed is now a vengeful undead abomination.
16 - Pi | Completing many contests, you will seize the prize.
Effect: A team gladiatorial tournament will be held to choose a traitorous officer corps’ replacements. If there’s a TPK, the players can use the tournament as a convenient way to work in new characters.
17 - Rho | You must learn when to go and when to stay
Effect: From now on, anytime the PC takes no action during combat, then attempts to flee during the next round, the attempt will automatically succeed.
18 - Sigma | You must wait or stand your ground - be patient
Effect: If the PC takes no action this combat round, all attacks against them are made at disadvantage.
19 - Tau | You will separate from friends or enemies
Effect: Shit, time to split the party.
20 - Upsilon | The affair holds a noble undertaking
Effect: The next random encounter will be with a noble or royal, who is isolated, wounded, desperate, vulnerable.
21 - Phi | The gods (or universe or whatever) will not help you until you help yourself.
Effect: Starting the next time the PC levels up, they may automatically succeed at one action or attack of their choice per level. This power cannot be used to perform anything that would be physically impossible, i.e. it has be something that the player would normally be allowed to roll to perform, and the uses of this ability do not “roll over” into the next level.
22 - Chi | You must seize a golden opportunity
Effect: The PC will meet an NPC (with a lot of cash and a series of favors that need doing) in a chance encounter.
23 - Psi | You are given a fair judgement
Effect: Everyone that the PC wrongs in some way will always be able to find them, and there will always be at least one surviving (possibly by hiding from the PC) witness.
24 - Omega | You will have an unfortunate harvest

Effect: Basically the opposite of #3. The value of the next significant treasure the PC finds is divided by 1d6+2.


  1. Short suggestion - when you are using a futlhark rune-set, you are not just drawing random runes, there are also certain 'figures' you lay out to set them into context to each other, to further obfuscate meaning and strenghen the the sense of 'prophecy'.

    I could not find ad-hoc reference online, but you would lay out different cross-shapes, some Runes would be representing the past, the now and the future, pretty much like you do with tarot cards.
    The great thing about techniques like that is, that the resulting 'message' is so obscure, that It almost allways feels like it's actually coming true. ;)

    1. I can see how that could create interesting background fluff, but I'm really more focused on having mechanics that cause each prophecy to come true, or at least to be more likely, whether the PCs buy into them or not. Adding the nuances you're talking about would be more accurate and possibly more flavorful, but it would also make things complicated to the point of not being much fun for me anymore.