As a result of being raised in a land steeped in tradition and superstition, you are skilled at communicating with the spirit world.
Prerequisites: Ability to cast divination spells.
Benefit: Upon taking this feat, choose a focus item for your divination magic—a crystal ball, runes, a harrow deck, or some such item. Whenever you cast a spell from the divination school, you may use this focus item instead of the spell’s material component, as long as the cost of the material component is no more than 1,000 gp. If you choose to perform the spell using your focus item and the spell’s normal material component (regardless of that component’s cost), you cast the spell at +1 caster level.
Fortune-telling conjures images of hazy tents, mysterious women shrouded in shawls, and portents wafting through the air like incense.
So how do you, in your modern game room that is probably noticeably lacking in crystal balls and mysterious tents, use the illusion of fortune-telling to give your players the same excited trepidation, as well as both hope and fear for their characters’ destinies? No matter how the fortune-telling enters your campaign, you as the Gamemaster have options. You can choose to roll some dice behind a screen and simply tell your players the result—or you can choose to use the moment to create dramatic tension and the feeling that the players’ characters are integral to the fortune-telling. While the second option is likely a lot more fun for all involved, it does require some work on your part.
Cold Readings: A cold reading is when you decide to plunge into a fortune-telling situation without much—if any—preparation. This might occur because the players suddenly seek out a fortune-teller or because it suddenly seems right in your campaign.
For a cold reading, you can either revert to reading the palms of your players’ characters, throwing stones, using cards or dice, or other mystical-feeling methods. The critical thing with a cold reading is not to commit too anything too concrete or detailed in the fortuneteller’s answers. You haven’t prepared and committing to a possible game changer or other critical game element on the fly can come back to haunt you.
With such readings, attempt to give vague answers or ones filled with symbolism that the players can interpret (“I see a red hawk at your shoulder. Its left foot is crippled, a black ribbon tangled in its claws.”). While such prophecies might have little meaning initially, you can work manifestations of such revelations into future adventures—or not, depending on the legitimacy of your fortune-telling NPC.
True Randomness: With this method of fortunetelling you let the sticks, dice, cards, or stones fall as they may. Then it is up to you to interpret the results in a way that is useful and potentially meaningful for your players. This method works best if you write down a few possible results for each player. You can do this by listing several positive and negative results (say, having the upper numbers on dice tell something positive and the lower numbers mean a negative future). Doing so allows you to create a few vague and optional fates that work with your campaign and your characters’ abilities, but still afford the excitement of leaving the results up to chance.
False Randomness: Many fortune-telling methods can be made to look random while allowing you to remain in total control of the outcome. This is easiest to do with a prop like a spirit board, but can also be done easily with cards. The advantage to false randomness is that it allows you to give players specific information you want to impart about their futures. By spelling out words on a spirit board or stacking a deck so certain cards are revealed, you can impart meanings specific to the needs of your game. The disadvantage of this technique is that, if you mess up, players know you rigged the results and don’t feel as excited or as invested in the results as they might otherwise.
It is usually helpful to use props in the course of a fortune-telling. You can simply use a player’s palm as a prop, but players tend to get more excited when they feel that an element of randomness and fate are involved, which rolling dice or drawing cards provide. Of course, you also have to be prepared to deal with that randomness and come up with appropriate responses for the answers, which often require some preparation or research. Certain tools, like tarot cards, imply particular interpretations, and familiarizing yourself with these can help guide your fortune-telling by suggesting results.
There are far more fortune-telling methods in the world than can be addressed here, but the following often prove easiest to integrate into a fantasy roleplaying campaign. If you’re interested, the library and Internet have a wealth of information on other fortune-telling methods such as the I-Ching, pendulum reading, horacy, crystalmancy, chiromancy, and countless others.
Cards: These can be used either as single cards drawn from a deck or in more complicated fortune-telling spreads. You should have an idea of what each card means in fortune-telling or in your world before doing such a reading, as being able to interpret each card off the top of your head or with only a quick reference of your notes goes a long way to increasing the verisimilitude of the experience. The Harrow Deck offers cards designed specifically for use in the Pathfinder RPG, dealing with RPG-related themes, and can be useful in shortening your research time to convert real-world answers to your fantasy world.
Dice, Sticks, or Stones: Dice are something every Gamemaster has readily available. Many also have shiny stones of different colors and types. The GM reveals fortunes using thse props by interpreting either marks on their surfaces or how they fall in relation to one another. While such items typically prove vague enough that only the “fortune-teller” can decipher them, they offer little in the way of thematic suggestions, and thus prove difficult to ad-lib with unless the GM already has an idea of how he wants the prophecy to play out. They do, however, lend an air of action, mysticism, and randomness that simple palm reading or staring into a crystal ball does not.
Crystal Ball, Fire, Foci: When using a crystal ball, fire, or any other prop that offers no visible result, you need to use a more theatrical style. These readings tend to be more scripted (see Fortune-Telling as Theater), although you can still add player interaction into such encounters by asking the players questions, such as “What animal comes to mind as you stare into the fire?” You must then be ready to assign a meaning to the animal or whatever other factors you decide have relevance.
With a bit of preparation, you can give a truly theatrical fortune-telling session using palm reading, a crystal ball, or any other interpretive method where you, as the fortune-teller, are telling the players what you “see” in their future. First off, try to set the mood. Dimming the lights and insisting that everyone stay in character can go far toward eliminating disruptions.
In addition, make sure you have a good message in mind, one using metaphor and/or allegory liberally. Sometimes it helps to actually write a brief script for yourself ahead of time. For example, let’s say the message is that the characters will wind up trapped in a magical labyrinth, and the only way out is to find the labyrinth’s guardian who has a golden key. Instead of saying this straight out in a reading, you might instead phrase it more mysteriously, such as, “I see you lost, trapped in an endless series of choices… Do not allow yourself to spiral out of control or all is lost. Darkness… confusion… grief and terror. All this I see, but there is a glimpse of golden hope, a spider spinning a golden web of safety. Find her or find oblivion.”
The technique here is to not simply spoon feed your players the information they need. You want to give them clues they must unravel as they adventure forward. Also, be sure that whatever scenario your fortune-teller is describing is one you’re pretty sure the players will soon face. You can, of course, combine this theatrical reading style with one of the more random fortune-telling elements. The combination can be particularly powerful. And always remember that, even in the most directed of readings, you want to integrate the players into the process. This will provide them with the most powerful and enjoyable experience, and will also give them things to look forward to—or dread—in the coming adventure. That kind of emotional engagement and suspense can turn a run-of-the-mill adventure into a truly magical experience.
One of the first things PCs are likely to wonder before or after having their fates revealed is whether or not their fortune-teller’s words are true. Some fortune-tellers are complete con artists, devoid of any kind of mystical power, using the same techniques as real-world mystics. If a fortune teller is scamming the PCs, you should roll a Bluff check to determine the effectiveness of her performance. Don’t call for a Sense Motive check from the characters unless they raise the question of their seer’s legitimacy. Part of the effectiveness of fortune-telling is the recipient’s belief in the medium’s miraculous insights. Only once a character doubts these powers does the illusion risk breaking down.
The Pathfinder RPG also presents many magical options for fortune-telling. The spells augury, contact other plane, and vision, along with a host of other divination spells, all prove useful in giving characters insights into the future, where classic magic items like crystal balls and medallions of thoughts allow seers to demonstrate their uncanny insights. A variety of illusion-based spells and magic items, such as a wand of major image or a deck of illusions, help bring flair to a fortune-teller’s readings, regardless of actual truthfulness. The harrower prestige class employs the aforementioned Harrow Deck and allows characters to play a kind of adventuring fortune-teller.
Source: Gamemastery Guide
Section 15: Copyright Notice
Pathfinder Campaign Setting: The Inner Sea World Guide. © 2011, Paizo Publishing, LLC; Authors: Keith Baker, Wolfgang Baur, Clinton J. Boomer, Jason Bulmahn, Joshua J. Frost, Ed Greenwood, Stephen S. Greer, Jeff Grubb, James Jacobs, Michael Kortes, Tito Leati, Mike McArtor, Rob McCreary, Erik Mona, Jason Eric Nelson, Jeff Quick, Sean K Reynolds, F. Wesley Schneider, Leandra Christine Schneider, David Schwartz, Amber E. Scott, Stan!, Owen K.C. Stephens, Todd Stewart, James L. Sutter, Greg A. Vaughan, Jeremy Walker, and JD Wiker.