So: Grim Portents.

So: Grim Portents.

So: Grim Portents. Can they trigger offscreen, without the PCs knowing they triggered? I’ve always assumed that if they PCs aren’t present to observe a Portent, it can happen without them and they might find evidence of it and/or face the repercussions of it later. Or never find out it happened at all.

This has played out as me making a GM move by ticking a box on a list and not telling the players what just happened, and/or saying something like, “The wheels turn,” to let them know that their slowness or bad luck has allowed something bad to happen, but not telling them what. 

Do Grim Portents always need to be on a scale where they are overtly announced, or can they tick off in the background?  

19 thoughts on “So: Grim Portents.”

  1. They can happen if the events which trigger them happen, no matter if the PCs are involved at the time. If you want them to ever mean something, eventually the PCs should be aware that something happened, probably because they were off doing something else.

    You can also:

    – only progress them when it makes sense to. If you like them all and don’t want folks to miss them, you can certainly choose to let them be known through some narrative method.

  2. A portent is a sign or warning. If no one knows about it it is neither.

    Grim portens can come in different types. On campaign level a grim portent can be a rumor. “They say orcs have been spotted in the copper mountains.” Thats an off screen grim portent of the orcs front with the impending doom of war against the orcs.

    It can also be an adventure starter “the four of you are on horseback in the copper canyon. Suddenly a shot rings out and Jason’s horse falls dead under him. Tom, you see an orc sniper on a rock high above you. What do you do?” This is an on screen grim portent of the coming orc war.

    On a session level it can be off screen: You meet a farmer who tells you how the orcs massacred his town. Or on screen: You come across the body of a murdered farmer so you know there are orcs around. Since this is session level, the impending doom is not War with the Orcs, but simply meeting an orc raiding party.

    Of course things can happen off screen only the GM knows about. But then they are not portents.

  3. Thanks, Jason Healey, that jibes with my understanding. But I can’t find any direct reinforcement of that interpretation in the text of the rules, beyond this from p200:

    “Fronts continue along apace no matter whether the characters are there to see it or not. Think offscreen, especially where Fronts are concerned.”

  4. Take the Hobbit movie: The front is the Necromancer. The grim portents are orcs close to Rivendell, spiders in Mirkwood and the discovery of a Morgul blade. The impending doom is Sauron’s return and at stake is the future if Middle Earth.

  5. Wynand Louw, I understand all of that, but are you saying that none of those things can happen offscreen? Or that I should cut from the action and describe a scene that the characters themselves cannot see? Are Grim Portents always signs that the PCs must directly observe?

    EDIT: Had not seen your preceding and more detailed response before writing this!

  6. I always find myself a little bit hesitant to let grim portents happen off screen since it feels unfair that the players weren’t there for it or could do anything to stop it.

  7. I agree that Grim Portents can happen off screen, but characters must be made aware of them in some fashion otherwise they are not providing the intended effect of providing a visible countdown to the impending doom.  +Wynand Louw gives some great examples.  The other side of this is to design Grim Portents that will have some visibility to the characters.

  8. When I ran Cinder Queen (kickstarting now) some of the best moments were when they blew a roll and I flipped a page and checked off the progress of the villain and then told them to continue. They knew bad things were happening that they couldn’t see yet.

  9. Casey McKenzie, great! That’s how I intended it to work. My concern now — due to a PM from someone reading the beta of Servants and encountering that very list — is whether the way I wrote the Portents diverges so much from the commonly-understood definition that I need to call them something else, rewrite them somehow to match the standard definition, or be more explicit about my intentions (i.e., to have the GM check them off in front of the players without telling them what specifically happened).

  10. You could put in a line about options like just checking off ominously, doing a cutaway scene that the hero’s don’t see but the players do, or showing the players through sound, premonition, a tremor in the force.

  11. Yeah, Indigo Galleon is great. And 3 out of its 4 Fronts have Grim Portents that are set up to affect the PCs directly. But the Grim Portents for Front “The Marauders’ New Home” look like this:

    * Marauders learn that Codcliffe is nearby

    * Marauders scout Codcliffe, seeing it is nearly undefended

    * Marauders test Codcliffe, raiding it, seizing hostages, food, and goods

    * Marauders make demands: Codcliffe must yield or be pillaged

    Some or all of these could occur without the PCs’ direct knowledge, depending on where they are when the Front advances.

    It’s not that I don’t understand how to write or use “standard” Portents — I do and have on many occasions. But sometimes I write them like the Marauder ones above, as events that will happen whether or not the PCs are there to observe them, and which impact the world in ways that the PCs will likely discover, eventually, but don’t know right away.

    I think I will do what Casey McKenzie suggests, and include a note about how to handle kind of unseen Portent in the context of my adventure.

    Thanks for the thoughts, y’all!

  12. The thing I would have problem with is when you would advance grim portents that the players don’t see. I mean how does a failed roll in a dungeon or whatever connect to the marauder front?

  13. james day

    I know this is just semantics, but portents don’t advance. They are the signs and warnings that fronts are advancing, ie something is happening.

    por·tent  [pawr-tent, pohr-]  Show IPA

    noun indication or omen of something about to happen, especially something momentous.

    2.threatening or disquieting significance: an occurrence of dire portent.

    3.a prodigy or marvel.


    1555–65;  < Latin portentum  sign, token, noun use of neuter of portentus,  past participle of portendere  to portend

    So as because it is a “sign” or “warning” it is not a “portent” if nobody knows about it. 

    Adam or Sage (can’t remember which one) once said that fronts is the story that happens if PCs don’t interfere.

    So my Front is: Albert the Tyrant.

    Albert has a plan of action: He wants his city state to become an empire. 

    The Albert plans his storyline in advance: 

    1) To root out all opposition to his rule. This the PC’s wont know. What they see are the grim portents:

    –his sister, Carlotta an her son Albrecht (Second and third in line to the throne) are murdered.

    –Duke Whatsisname is thrown into prison and beheaded under manifestly false charges of treason. 

    2) To establish military supremacy

    The grim portents are

    –Young men are rounded up in town and pressed into military service.

    –Weapons factories are built and slaves are brought from colonies to man the production lines. 

    3) To create an army of undead

    — Necromancers flood the city with their unhealthy presence

    — Random localized outbreaks of zombie infestations. 

    So the way I see it is that Albert executing his plan of action is the front. It is the story as it happens if the PC’s don’t interfere. The PC’s don’t see this and cannot know it directly. But they can INFER it from what they do see – the Grim Portents. 

    Now each of the Grim Portents that I developed here is a potential story hook, or adventure starter. Or a potential front in a single session. Lets say this session will be about one of the necromancers Albert hired. 

    FADE IN:

     It way past midnight in the graveyard. As you come around the corner of a family crypt, you run into a young, very pale man with goth / emo makeup. He is just as surprised as you are – and drops the rotting, severed human head he is carrying. 

    ☻Why are you in the graveyard at this unholy hour?

    ☻This guy has all the marks of an apprentice necromancer. Do any of you know him? How?

    And so on. 

    So in this session the Front is John the Necromancer.

    His plan of action is to get corpses and body parts for his experiments. That is the story if the PCs don’t interfere. 

    The dangers are:

    ☻His apprentices



    Grim portents are

    ☻People digging up graves

    ☻Zombies spawning in the graveyard. 

    The stakes are: If the necromancer succeeds, the city will be run over by the dead. Nobody will be safe. 

    Impending doom  Turning the city into a necropolis. Or on a more focused level: John using the PC’s in his experiments. 

  14. Wynand Louw  has it.  Grim Portents are a warning to the players of the impending doom that is approaching and they should be events that the players can potentially prevent.  Grim Portents come to pass either when the party fails an encounter related to that front or is ignoring a Front.  If they don’t find out about the Grim Portent, they won’t know the danger is escalating.  I suggest going back and reading the Front, Dangers, and Portents section  (p. 36) of the Dungeon World guide:

  15. Let’s look back at Indigo Galleon and an example, compressed run through to show how the Grim Portents could play out.  Obviously it will play out differently with various players.  The intro hints at several possible adventure hooks and dangers – the Imperials, the Marauders, the treasure galleon, and the Octopus folk.  Assume the party is initially accosted by the Imperials to go after the Marauders.  They ignore him and decide to make a try for the treasure in the Galleon.  

    Upon their return, they may be greeted by one or more Grim Portents that have come to pass:

    -On the way back from the wreck, they find a body in marauder garb floating in the water with strange sigils painted on his skin.

    -In town, they learn of the Captain-Senator’s decree and the ploymorph of the villagers.

    -They overhear a young boy recount how he met a man in strange garb on the road to the old dwarven mine and the man was asking a lot of questions about Codcliffe.

    As they are loitering in town,  a villager entreats them to reverse the ploymorph.  This pushes the party to speak with the Captain-Senator and try to convince him to reverse the ploymorph if they agree to go after Hobart and the marauders.  They fail and he says he will only relent when he has Hobart in his hands.

    -Someone reports that a small group of marauders were spotted on a bluff pointing at the town

    -They overhear Talley the halfling raving about a 100 year tide rolling into the flats and how it will spell doom for the town

    They decide to head out to the mine to investigate the marauders.

    -On the way out to the mine, a villager offers them a bag of coin to eliminate the Captain-Senator

    Upon their return after defeating the marauders they see a villager hanging from the gallows and learn he tried to assassinate the Captain-Senator and was foiled.  If any marauders had escaped the encounter, that would lead to a later raid on the village.

    The party investigate a large group of villagers crowded on the shore who are watching a horde of octopus folk surging toward an islet out on the flats.  When they seek out Talley to discover what this means, they learn he was last seen rowing out toward that same islet.

    At this point, they decide to investigate the Octopus folk and as they are preparing their boat, they see The Captain-Senator releasing a message pigeon.  Upon their return, they are left with the Imperial front to resolve.

    As you can see, all of the Grim Portents were visible to the players even though they didn’t necessarily happen right in front of the players.

  16. a grim portent is by definition a sybol of things to come ( it suggests the existence  or nature of an impending doom).  

    if the great god of death waking up and killing everything that is alive on the contenant-is your impending doom .  you might have the portence- 1) the dead start to rise from there graves, 2) no babies are being born and no crops grow or produce seeds  3) everyone with sense starts to abandon the contenant like rats from a sinking ship.

    these three things (portents) exist to clue the party into the fact that trouble is brewing.

    first portent is a clue. the players say ‘oh! somethng weird is happening and it could be a big problem!’  

     if the party ignores the first portence and pursues some other objective. you may show them the second eventually. ‘oh! ya!’ they say  ‘ that creepy stuff… should we deal with that now?’ 

    what they ignore that?!? they decided to rob a bank? give em the third portence “holy crap!” they say “the cities are empty!, are we the only ones dum enough to still be on this contenant?!?”

    now if they dont act quickly your doom happens BAM! they got three warnings to bad for them.  maybe they turn and run and just never deal with your impending doom. fine! it comes to pass and they see the world change around them “wow!” they say “we didnt even do anything and we changed the world!!!”

Comments are closed.