When I was burning my character, I noticed “Omen-wise” in one of the lifepaths. (Midwife, I think.) It sounded cool and it fit with my character’s focus on superstition and astrology, so I picked it up with general points.
It’s been a bit fiddly in play, though. To some degree, it would seem to give me the ability to prophecise anything and then have it come to pass!
Here’s an example of a time I used it that wasn’t so great: “I want to use omen-wise to know that this snake [which the GM had just narrated into existence], as a symbol of health, implies that my missing brother is alive and well.” It seemed to make sense in the moment, but later felt awkward and dumb and cheaty. My brother’s well-being was important and probably part of a Belief at the time, and I probably shouldn’t have been able to roll for “I see a snake, therefore he’s fine.”
(Not to mention, “there’s a snake in the jungle” is a sucky omen for anything. It didn’t even have two heads!)
Has anyone else used this wise, or one similar to it? How’d it go? What did you use it for? Any suggestions for me or for my GM on how to approach this one?
Wises only let players make facts true in the game when the GM hasn’t established things one way or the other. In your case, the GM should have known whether the brother was alive or not and set an obstacle accordingly (probably details, Ob 3, for the omen to reveal to you whether your brother was alive or not). Success wouldn’t change your brother’s state, it would give you a sense of whether he was alive or not.
Setting acceptable intents for tasks is critical. Omen-wise doesn’t let you declare truths, it lets you declare that something is an omen. “X is an omen of Y, so Z.” If X is snake, and Y is brother’s health, that’s fine. But Z can’t be “brother is alive” because that’s outside the scope of omens. You could use that knowledge to convince someone else your brother is alive. You can use Omens-Wise to interpret dreams and impress the king. But you can’t make your interpretations true, only consistent with how omens are understood.
Omens-Wise should make you no better at foretelling the future (or the present) than a real-world soothsayer (and I’m not terribly superstitious). Set intents accordingly. Then it’s up to the GM to decide whether to make your predictions come true or not. The better uses I’ve seen have used Omens-Wise to make statements about lucky or unlucky things that could give confidence or rattle people when pointed out. Lots of FoRKs to social skills. No guarantees of truth or accuracy. And a great failure complication is having the prediction fail utterly to come to pass, leaving people skeptical of the character’s knowledge of signs and portents. (So’s going Cassandra, but that means the GM is giving you predictive power.)
I think it also depends upon just how invested the character is in their psydo-supernatural skill.
Having Omen-Wise (Folklore, Astrology, Apocalypse-Wise, ect) gives you the knowledge and ability to use the particular skill, and depending your skill exponent, a certain level of proficiency with it. But without a belief or instinct to back it up it has little, if any, effect on how your character reacts to its usage.
If you have a belief about the validity of omens and you come across a bad one on your path (Black Cat, Raven, Toad) you could trigger a steel test as if having witnessed magic because of the belief in the supernatural omen.
An Instinct to “Consult the “_____” before I journey” can set the tone for the entire trip as the Belief in “____” colors the characters mood and perception of things that happen along the way (giving the gm complications and plot hooks to play with is always fun).
Omens-wise is also a ubiquitous Help/FoRK skill. A little flavor added to any test. It’s also a great skill for Linked Tests, as omens can really be brought in to any skill test. But you’re right, I rarely see it used on its own.
And to clarify Wayfarer’s point, it doesn’t let you create omens. That’d be Omencraft or Runecasting or whatever.
Omen-wise means you know about omens. If there’s an omen out there, you’ll likely know more about it than anyone else. And if there’s some sketchy shit happening in the animal kingdom or celestial vaults, you’ll be able to take a look and say “Yup. Omen. Bad one.” or “Nope, just rain you superstitious jerks.”
You do NOT get to say, “Royal King God, you have a pimple! You shall die ere it is popped!” That’s wayyyyyyyyy beyond the intent and task for Omen-wise. Maybe if you had Royal King God-wise
Thanks, guys! I think this is helpful. I’ll point the GM in the direction of this thread and see what he thinks, too.
So, Luke, when you say it doesn’t let me create omens, you’re saying that if I said “Hey, maybe I know that last week, a red star shone over Kardvolt Castle,” that’s no good? I can’t establish the existence of omens as setting details with omen-wise? Or do you mean I just can’t go “Hey, I’m going to summon a star of ill fortune over Kardvolt Castle” with the wise?
Or do you mean I can’t declare arbitrary things are omens? Like, “That funny-looking stick over there is totally an omen!”
Leaving aside where the omens come from, if omen-wise can’t predict the future, does that mean that omens can only be baseless superstition? Because if omens do have predictive power in the game’s setting, surely omen-wise lets me interpret them to know what they predict. And if I roll to know what the red star over Kardvolt Castle portends, and the GM hasn’t actually come up with anything for some reason, so I say “it means a son will be born within three moons,” then if my roll is successful, that implies that a son had better be born within three moons, right? Or else my “correct” interpretation wasn’t actually correct.
So if I can’t use omen-wise to predict the future, assuming omens are more than baseless superstition, that means either I can’t actually use the skill to interpret omens at all, or there’s some weird thing where an omen can objectively “mean” something within the game world, but still maybe not come to pass.
Or is “omen” meant to imply a certain level of vagueness, so I wouldn’t be able to say anything more specific than “The red star means ill fortune is upon you”?
Forgive me if I’m over-thinking this. It’s pretty important in our game, though, since superstition and the merits of astrology are a central theme. (I’m happy to stick with using omen-wise as social leverage, the way Wayfarer suggests. I don’t specifically want to be able to predict the future. I’m just trying to figure out what makes sense and what works as good gameplay.)
There aren’t really rules for it. It’s about what makes sense, what makes a good game, and what player and GM want out of things.
I think it’s less important to figure out what you can add to the fiction than what you can get out of intents. Can you declare a red star over Kardvolt? Maybe; not important. What really matters, however you dress up the task, is that you’re rolling Omens-wise to get a result you want.
Can that result be a specific prediction of the future? I would say no. The key here is that there are future prediction skills, and they are a lot heavier. Runecaster, Doomsayer, they require a lot from the character. Or the Dreamer trait, which leaves things in the GM’s hands. You can’t predict the future because that’s outside the scope of the skill; similarly you can’t use Kingdom-wise to declare yourself actually the rightful king all along, as everyone knows.
That doesn’t mean your character can’t make predictions based on omens, but that’s not a matter of intent and task. That’s roleplaying, and the accuracy is up to the GM. If you don’t like it, I suggest adapting Runecasting for your character.
Can it be a vague prediction of the future? Maybe. You can spout out prophetic stuff and maybe roll to have it come true, but in that prophetic way where the omens may not be all that helpful, or they may be a trick or self-fulfilling. But that isn’t interesting, because that would never be an intent. You don’t roll for that; it’s Say Yes territory.
Mostly, consider what’s within reason for other wises. Is there a wise that would allow you to declare your brother healthy from miles away? No, that’s not how wises work. What about declaring that a son will be born? I’m skeptical. Yes, this means using omens effectively in the game is hard to do and fuzzy on rules. Pick up a skill that isn’t a wise to do it so the rules work for you.
Part of what I’m stumbling around is that I don’t think Omens-wise is a good authorial skill. It’s one that gets really messy if you use it to add things to the story. It gets weird.
How it would work just fine is used in the traditional knowledge way. If the GM throws out description that’s obviously portentious, you roll to interpret omens. The GM gives you correct or incorrect understanding based on meeting or failing to meet the Ob. You don’t get to decide what the omen means, the GM does, and the GM should only give you things to interpret when there’s an interesting, important, and already determined future at stake.
So no, no rolling because there’s a snake, and the GM should feel free to Say Yes and tell you that that snake is just a snake, no deeper meaning. But if you say you wake up and dawn to observe the first flight of birds for the day, you’re asking for signs to interpret. If the GM says that the birds are flying in an unusual pattern or that you pass a large red snake eating a small green snake, and then says that you recall something about that in augury school, go ahead and pick up the dice.
Another thing about omens as opposed to other predictive skills, is that it involves passive observation rather than active participation. You see the star in the western sky, you remember a prophesy or an event associated with it. Rather than charting the heavens to predict when it will appear.
If superstitions, signs, and omens are that important to your game world I suggest the gm either make it a part of the narrative or your character have an instinct to assess omens. That way it becomes an automatic given that whenever you see an omen, you assess its meaning. If anything important could be divulged through signs and interpretations of omens gm calls for a roll and informs you what has transpired.
A while back, I was in a game where I played a conwoman who made a living by peddling made-up prophesies to the gullible and superstitious (My character also had the Dreamer trait, and so legitimately did have prophetic abilities, but her genuine prophesies weren’t the kind that sold well). We represented this mechanically with a bunch of Falsehood checks with FoRKs from Omen-wise to make the snake oil seem believable.