I’ve been working on a class that tells the future and generally acquires obscure knowledge by mystic means.

I’ve been working on a class that tells the future and generally acquires obscure knowledge by mystic means.

I’ve been working on a class that tells the future and generally acquires obscure knowledge by mystic means. I call it The Seer. If anyone wants to use this playbook in their game, I’d love to hear how it goes. EDIT #2: Upated again, this time to v1.2. I describe the change below. EDIT: File’s been updated. If you still want to see the old one, I think I have Google Drive set so that you can download earlier revisions. See my post below for details.

It was inspired in part by Olli Ketola’s Augur, which you can find here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1qxllSnBOZV_1i9TwQ1sba_SiyWUqz156bL5FomAmANE/edit  I got started working on this by thinking about some ways that I wished the Augur was different. It ended up being a full-blown overhaul, and I came up with a new name to represent that, but I think you can still see the Augur’s influence. So, thank you, Olli Ketola.

While I’m giving credit where it’s due, I should mention that to format the playbook I used the excellent Word 2008 template that zarathud posted on the Barf Forth Apocalyptica forums. You can find it here: http://apocalypse-world.com/forums/index.php?topic=6529.msg27880#msg27880

I’m new to Google+, so I’m crossing my fingers that both those links work as copy-pasted. Let me know if they don’t for you.

I’m also new to Dungeon World, and have been finding the kind of thinking it encourages me to do about narrative and play really stimulating. One of the neat things about working on this was that it brought some stuff about the system into focus for me, specifically stuff about the ways moves determine not only who gets to say what happens, but also how, when, and what they get to say. I’ll add some posts below trying to explain how my thinking influenced the development of some of the elements of the playbook. If you’re interested in that, or if you think my approach is totally off-base, I’d love to hear about that too.

Thanks for reading!

25 thoughts on “I’ve been working on a class that tells the future and generally acquires obscure knowledge by mystic means.”

  1. First, I should note that in general I think the main problem with what I’ve done is that there are a number of super-complex moves in the playbook. I guess I’m comfortable with that? Telling the future is a crazy business, so I’ve been willing to accept a lot of fiddliness to produce the kinds of results in the story that I want. But it probably is a flaw.


    This is the sine-qua-non move for a character like this. As I’ve written it, it’s a basic pick-from-the-list move, but the list is really long. There are four “benefit” options and two “avoid-a-penalty” options. The basic idea is that if you get a partial success, you don’t have to take a penalty but you have no control over what you see. For a full success, you can have a little control with no penalty. Or, in either case, you can accept penalties to acquire more control over what you see. This reflects something — is it a design principle for this class? It’s sort of a core feature of the ficiton I’m trying to create — that emerged while I was working: powerful visions are costly or risky, and rare.

    As I write this, it occurs to me that the last option on the list should probably be “does not confuse you and inflict one other debility of the GM’s choice,” full stop. Otherwise that option is just too easy to take. If you can be good to go after a good night’s sleep, it’s not that scary.

    The advanced move HARUSPEX basically just expands your options while introducing another penalty you can take (ghost birds!). It’s phrased strangely, but it was the most concise wording I could come up with.

    In terms of what this does for a group in the game, I think of it sort of like the Wizard’s Ritual move. People describe the ritual as being a powerful story generator: the wizard’s player says what they want to accomplish and the GM throws up obstacles — instant drama. This is probably a little less powerful and is certainly less direct, but it’s similar in that it allows the characters to sort of discover their own goals, particularly when the Seer learns something about how to avert or ensure the fortune. The drama should get especially interesting when the “can’t talk about it” penalty is taken; the character is either going to have to arrange things without their party-members knowing about it, or give the GM some golden opportunities.

  2. This is a lot to process. Not sure how well this works. 

    Read Auspices however looks super complex (can it be explained in clearer terms?) 

    and it can be used A LOT, especially when you upgrade to the +3 WIS. 

  3. Tim Franzke Yeah, that had occurred to me about the drawbacks sort of disappearing at +3 WIS. I have been thinking of it by analogy with the druid, who can get a bunch of free moves (with limits) on a successful change shape roll; the seer gets some do-overs (with a chance of failing) on a successful read auspices roll. But maybe it would end up being a pain in the butt to keep going back and redoing failed rolls? Slow the game down too much?

  4. I really like this!  I was working on something similar, but I’m not sure I have to now.

    I think you could probably make Read Auspices a bit more concise, and I’d enjoy it if the GM holds 1 on a 7-9 too.

    Uncanny Preparations seems a bit… bleh, compared to the others.  Maybe “When you need a specific item no one thought to bring along, roll +Wis. On a 10+, you can draw it smugly from your pack, or you know where you can get one nearby.  On a 7-9, you have access to something similar.

    For gear, I think a sacrificial knife, or lead ingots, or tea, or something would be appropriate.

    I don’t like moves that trigger only on a 10+.  Is there any way Deeper Reading can be made easier to trigger?  Something like “When Reading Auspices, you may take +2 hold by granting the GM +1 hold.

    Portentous Dream:  There’s no mechanism for generating dreams.  Do you intend the player to be able to say ‘I totally had a dream about this’ or is the GM supposed to create dreams?

    Awesome work.

  5. Peter Johansen Huh. Good question. I don’t know if I have a very satisfying answer. Fictionally speaking, they warn you of danger and provide access to knowledge you might not have had otherwise. Mechanically speaking, reading auspices lets your party reroll — which, as others have pointed out, may be a problematic mechanic. As for the question of whether a seer fits into a standard dungeoneering party, I dunno, maybe they don’t. Do you think the class would push the game into directions it wasn’t meant to go?

  6. Michael Verstelle Tim Franzke Oh, good points both. I had totally forgotten about exp on a failure. It would suck if your seer is going around robbing the other characters of experience. I guess there’s a sort of way around that already, in that you can “allow events to proceed as narrated.” So if the results of failure are fun and interesting, or you’re willing to accept them for exp, you can let them happen, but if the fighter’s going to be reduced to paste you can try to avert that fate.

    Edit: Maybe there’s a way to build the rule so that it takes more account of the desirability of failure? My goal was never to build a class that could keep failure from happening, but having a character see the bad thing that’s about to happen and try to prevent it seems like fun to me.

  7. Well, with the move as written now, you do: “The GM narrates the immediate outcome of the move, but this is the outcome as portended, not yet as it is in reality.” Then you get to say whether that happens, or whether you act differently or warn someone else so they can act differently.

    But, as I just edited my post above to say, maybe there are ways of rethinking the move to allow the cool “averting bad fates” thing without violating the principle (is that the right word?) that failure should be fun.

    Like, maybe you could spend hold to make some kind of limited modification to what the GM has narrated? 

  8. Huh.  Maybe rather than averting a failure, it lets you capitalize on a failure?  You’ve seen it, so it will happen.  But since you know it’s going to happen, you can grant a bonus on a subsequent move?

  9. Michael Atlin Glad you like the class. I’d be delighted to hear if you use it or any modified version of it.  

    I’m responding to a bunch of your posts at once, so most recent first: that idea about capitalizing on failure sounds great to me. I’m going to think hard about that.

    Spending hold from reading auspices: there actually are a number of advanced moves that depend on hold from read auspices. Or did you mean the hold the GM gets? I wanted to leave that up to the GM; they can make as hard a move as they want.

    Uncanny preparations: is it lame if I admit this is boring by design? The class already had two complex starting moves, and I thought it would be nice to provide a small, flavorful bonus to resources. The analogy would be the druid not having to use rations.

    Gear: I wanted to let the player decide what their fortune-telling implements look like. But I will also admit that gear got short shrift because I was running out of room on the page. Not a very good reason, but there you are.

    Deeper Reading is modeled on Empower from the Wizard and Cleric lists. But your way certainly sounds like it would work.

    The “portentous dream” in Knowledge from Dreams is meant to be an in-fiction limitation on what you can use the move for, in the same way that “using strict deduction” is in the wizard move Logical. So when you’re trying to spout lore about a forgotten temple, you could say “Wait, I think I had a portentous dream about this,” but everyone will call BS on you if you try to do the same about municipal government.

  10. Yes, I noticed some of the ways to spend hold.  And I like them!  But the idea of using up GM hold is interesting too.  I’ll have to think about that.

    Uncanny preparation:  That’s fair.  It’s just a bit odd that the Seer’s adventuring gear has more stuff in it than other characters’.  You can skin it as it all being useful, as opposed to being filled up with the stuff that never gets used… but it’s still a little odd.

    Gear:  I totally understand that impulse.  But I would argue that in this case, restrictions grant freedom.  In the same way that you’re encouraged to choose your Look from the options, it’s good to provide colourful signature gear, like the Bard’s instrument.

    I think the difference between strict deduction and a portentous dream is significant.  Strict deduction is something you can DO, as opposed to a dream, which is something you HAVE.  There’s no reason you COULDN’T apply dream interpretation to municipal policy.  That’s basically what Joseph did with Pharaoh’s dream about the cows.

  11. Michael Atlin re: Portentous dream — Ha! Great example. And a very good point. This is a place where I started with an effect I wanted (“The seer is good at knowing secret and mystical stuff”) and tried to develop a trigger for it. I still kind of think there is a narrative logic for portentous dreams — they may be good for epic matters of municipal policy, but not when you need to know who to talk to about your garbage pickup — but your point about the difference between DO and HAVE seems absolutely right.

  12. Wow, did this ever turn into a long post. This is probably the last of these reflections I’ll do; probably no one needs to read an additional unsolicited essayabout the advanced moves. (Although if you have questions, please ask. I’ll try to respond concisely.)

    I’m afraid this reads as a kind of “Apologia for the Seer,” but I really just mean it as a sort of record of my thinking, as much for myself as for anyone else.


    While casting fortunes is probably more important for establishing the theme of the seer, I think this is the move that is going to have the most effect on how it feels moment to moment to play one. The basic result I was going for here was “*the seer sees bad things about to happen and cries out attempting to stop them*”. That’s the element I wanted to make available to players. 

    (As I think about a point Adam Koebel was making in his thread on unstated moves today, it occurs to me that this story element is always available to the GM, unless it contradicts some basic agreement you all have about your fiction; as long as it fits the move they’re making, the GM can always say something like “A vision of something bad flashes through your mind. You know it’s about to happen. What do you do?” The point of the Read Auspices move is to make that story element predictable and available to the other players.)

    I feel like this could move in a fairly straightforward fashion in play, but describing it in rule-language is complicated. There are lots of cases, and two timelines. I’m not sure I did a good job of it. Here’s how I imagine it looking:

    FIGHTER: OK, I spin around and smash the shambling ghoul with the butt of my axe.

    GM: Great, you’re hacking and slashing.

    FIGHTER: [rolls a failure] Nuts. I’m going to be pretty low on HP if it bites me.

    SEER: Wait! I read the auspices a minute ago. Out of the corner of my eye, I recognize this moment as one I foresaw. [spends a hold]

    GM: Well then, you saw the ghoul sway out of the way of the blow, then leap forward preternaturally quickly and bite the fighter in the neck. Do you want to let that future go forward?

    SEER: No, I want to warn her. 

    GM: OK, you’re busy with the skeleton that’s after you, but you can shout something quick. What do you say?

    SEER: “Beware, it’s fast!”

    GM: Fighter, you hear that just before you’re about to spin and hit the thing with the butt of your axe. Do you go ahead with it?

    FIGHTER: No, I pivot, then wait for it to come at me and chop at it over the top of my shield when it does. [rolls hack-and-slash again]

    There are other things that could happen: the seer could have triggered his move on the fighter’s partial success; the seer could have let the ghoul go ahead and bite the fighter; the fighter could have declined to change her action and so not have rerolled; the fighter could have described an action that triggered a new move entirely (probably defy danger in this case). But this gives the basic idea of how I see this working. Hopefully it also explains the exception for last breath, spout lore, and discern realities. It just doesn’t make sense for the move to apply to them.  

    On the GM side of things, it’s much simpler; they just get a right to make a hard move out of nowhere. I like this as a way of representing “inescapable misfortune,” and it’s an attempt at embodying something else I think is important about the class, which is that you can look into the future but you might not like what you see.

    So, that’s what happens when you or the GM spends hold.

    I’ve been using the metaphor of “push” to think about how often and under what circumstances you get to spend hold. Using hold from read auspices lets you give the story of what happens a big push, not necessarily towards something, but away from the outcome you foresaw. Now, no other class gets to push the narrative in quite this way, but they do all have their own ways to push: the fighter has a powerful weapon and a big damage die, the wizard has spells that do all kinds of stuff. (In case it’s not obvious, I’m thinking in terms of a fight here, but I feel like the push metaphor could apply to any situation.) 

    The druid is the class that has a way of pushing that’s most like the seer’s, mechanically speaking. Somewhere on the Apocalypse World forums Sage LaTorra suggested we should think of the druid as essentially banking the success they roll on Shapeshifter, then using it to get some free successes on the animal form’s moves, at the cost of assuming that form’s limitations. When the seer rolls +WIS to read auspices he does a similar kind of banking. He doesn’t have to assume the limitation of an animal form, but 1)he just banks do-overs, not successes, 2) he gets fewer of them, and (because it still seems like a pretty strong push, even with those drawbacks) 3) on a failed roll the GM not only gets to make as hard a move as she wants (a big push for the GM), but bank one in the form of hold (a second big push for the GM) too.

    Here is where things begin to get away from me a little. Like I said, I like that representation of “inescapable misfortune,” and I wanted to make the seer pay a little more for his pushiness. But two hard moves from the GM on a failure just seemed too stark, too feast-or-faminey. So I decided to grant a hold on a fail as well. The problem with that is that it violates the normal order of things on a 10+/7-9/6- roll. Instead of good/mixed/watch out!, we have best/good/good-mixed-with-double-the-watch-out! That’s kind of confusing, and looked at in a certain way it just seems wrong. That’s the way I’ve left it, but if anyone has any ideas, or thinks there’s a problem with the metaphor of push I’ve been using to approach this, let me know.

    One final note on this very long post: a couple of people have suggested that the reroll mechanic is flawed because in Dungeon World, the 6- rolls are what produce interesting, fun problems. It’s a point I honestly hadn’t considered, and I see what’s problematic about it. That said, my back-of-envelope calculations suggest the effect of rerolling isn’t way different than giving +1 to the original roll. If you only reroll 6-‘s, you end up with a much better chance of avoiding failures than you would just adding +1 to the original roll, but a much worse chance of full success. If you focus on turning partial failures into full successes, you get a somewhat better chance of full success than with +1, but you also get a somewhat better chance of failure. 

    Make of that what you will. You wouldn’t necessarily want a class to be able to throw +1’s around all over the place either. Though the cleric can Bless at first level? Hmmmm. More mental balancing. I suppose I need to see (or hear from others!) how it works in play.

    [Edited to clarify one sentence and make a small paragraphing change.]

  13. OK, I’ve made some changes and updated the file [edit: to V 1.1]. I made the fix I contemplated above to the last option on the Cast Fortune list. More importantly, I’ve altered Read Auspices in a moderate-to-big way, and altered a few advanced moves that depended on it (Deeper Reading, All is Revealed, and Two — now Three — Moves Ahead). I also did some copy-editing. Hopefully even the parts I didn’t really change read a little more clearly. 

    So, basically, you now pay for Read Auspices by giving the GM 1 hold no matter what, to be used later for an immediate hard move (an “inescapable misfortune”). In return you get to roll the dice, banking 3 do-overs on a 10+, 2 on a 7-9, and 1 plus whatever the GM says on a fail. 

    In my last post I told the tale of my troubles getting Read Auspices to work like the druid’s Shapechanger, which essentially lets you turn success on one roll into later automatic successes on your animal form’s moves, at the cost of assuming the form’s limitations. In my mind,  this  version makes the do-overs  analagous to the free animal-form moves, and the GM hold analagous to the limitations the druid takes on when assuming the form.

    I like this change for two reasons. First, it makes the results of the roll look much more normal, more like what you expect in DW. The previous version sort of stuck the mixed result in the fail outcome, and basically just looked confusingly wrong. Second, this change keeps the move from being quite so much about avoiding hard moves. There’s always going to be a hard move in response when you use this move; you have to decide if you’re willing to accept that. Hopefully this will put a kind of natural limit on its overuse, too. (Maybe too much of one? Does that cost just mean no one will ever read auspices? Something to watch out for.)

    A cool outcome of this change was that suddenly Deeper Reading and All is Revealed could make a lot more sense. I always meant them to be similar to the Empower moves for Cleric and Wizard. Now I think they really are. Empower essentially lets you add a partial success to your full succes on a 10+: you get double the effect, but one of the 7-9 drawbacks. That’s now exactly how Deeper Reading works too. Greater Empower lets you add a full success on a 12+: double the benefit, none of the drawbacks. All is Revealed does the same for Read Auspices: on a 12+, it’s exactly as though you had rolled another full success on the move. Neat!

  14. V 1.2 introduces one more change to the starting moves, this time to Uncanny Preparations. The more I looked at it, the more I came around to Michael Atlin’s point of view that it was boring.  

    And I got to thinking about something Vincent Baker wrote on his blog as part of his series on positioning: “One of the wicked and interesting features of the fictional timeline is that the entirety of its length is available to us at every moment of play .” Here’s the link: http://lumpley.com/index.php/anyway/thread/696#17863

    So, the way the move works now is that when you find you want something that’s not part of your adventuring gear, you get to go back and change the timeline so that you tried to buy it at some earlier point when you had the opportunity. That’s the essence of it; the rest of the language is just making sure you do that in a way that’s consistent with the fiction you’ve established and that doesn’t limit the GM’s responses. 

    Since I’ve been thinking about it, it occurs to me that this is basically the way spending hold from Read Auspices works too. It’s the same solution to the same problem: how can I foretell the future in DW? Well, you can’t really know what happens in advance; you’re playing to find out. Instead, you see what happens, then go back and alter your timeline so that you were ready for it.

    I’m not sure this is a kind of play that will appeal to everyone. Collating timelines is kind of a pain in the butt, which is part of the reason some of the moves I’ve written ended up over-elaborate. Plus it still has the effect of “smoothing out” some potentially fun problems. But I’ve found it fun to think about. 

  15. I like it. Reminds me of Leverage flashbacks.  “Oh, when I was sneaking around in here last night I emptied the the bullets from the gun you’re holding.  So I’ll be leaving with this briefcase full of cash, then.  Ta.”

  16. Quoting the Apocalypse: 

    Here’s a pretty interesting custom peripheral move:

    When you declare retroactively that you’ve already set something up, roll+sharp. On a 10+, it’s just as you say. On a 7–9, you set it up, yes, but here at the crucial moment the MC can introduce some hitch or delay. On a miss, you set it up, yes, but since then things you don’t know about have seriously changed.

    is is for times when the player springs things on you in the moment, like “say Rolfball, see that red dot on your chest? at’s the sniper I brought with me” or “oh, of course I gassed the beast up before we left Hatchet City.” is move lets you as MC go with it, but without always giving the player her way. Sometimes you have to say “wow, so you did! A sniper!” but other times you get to say “yeah, about that? You’ve been waiting for that dot to appear, but it hasn’t yet. What do you do?”

    It’s not nuts to have a move follow what’s happening at the table in the real world, not what’s happening in the characters’ fictional world, like this one does. After all, a hardholder’s wealth move — “at the beginning of the session” — does the same, with no problems. I will note though that this move in particular changes the creative dynamic of the game. It’s small but fundamental. It means that the players have to be a little less careful what they launch their characters into, and you as MC have to be a little more willing to reimagine situations as you go. It’s not for everyone’s Apocalypse World.

  17. Tim Franzke Hey, cool! Thanks. I’m embarrassed to admit, I haven’t actually read or played Apocalypse World yet, despite casting around Vincent Baker’s blog a good bit. Maybe that’s kind of cart-before-horse in my PbtA education. Will have to get to it soon.

    Michael Atlin Glad you like it!

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