8 thoughts on “When and how do you trigger portents. I always seem to have the timing wrong.”

  1. No worries. You can trigger a portent whenever a player rolls a 6-. I would also say you can trigger one for larger events if the characters waste a lot of time doing silly things or stall out. It’s an art more than a science, IMO, but usually as a result of character failure (a hard move, IOW).

  2. Samuel Aguirre Any, your choice. It doesn’t have to specifically relate. Typically though it would either directly relate (because you failed at X, Y just happened) or it would be a case where they failed and you couldn’t think of anything more juicy to do in the moment. That’s when you have to decide whether and how to show it to them. You can just wiggle your eyebrows, say “ooookay then,” and make a mark in your GM book or whatever and not explain it at al! (Builds tension.) Or you can describe something that happens that they can sense. “Far off, in another part of the dungeon, you hear a grinding noise, three sharp clanking sounds, and a thud.” Or you can show it to them even though their characters can’t see it. “In another part of the kingdom a little boy sits on the hearth of his house staring into the fire. Behind him his mother is ladling out the soup that she just took off the iron spider. While her back is turned he sees a small black spot in the flames, then another. Soon the whole fire is black. He thinks about calling out, but his lips are frozen. A few minutes later, when he mother turns around to call him to the table, he is an empty shell. She screams as he crumbles into ash.”

    Don’t get caught up in waiting for them to do X so you can do Y. Stuff is always happening in the world, not just in their 60′ radius of torchlight.

  3. Samuel Aguirre I would say: when the fiction doesn’t demand a another clear gm move.

    In my experience you get plenty of opportunities as a gm to make moves, and often I’m struggling a little to come up with something that feels right. In those situations it’s good to have a list of grim portents at hand, or a count down clock.

  4. To directly answer your question, though:

    Grim portents and impending dooms are your plans. They represent what will happen unless the PCs intervene. Like all prep, they give you something interesting to say when it’s your turn to talk. They reduce your cognitive load during play. They give you permission to have bad things happen to stuff that you and the players care about.

    They can trigger prescriptively or descriptively.

    By prescriptively, I mean: it’s your turn to make a move. You think “Ah! I’ll trigger one of these grim portents.” And then you somehow show that on screen, in a way that makes sense for the fiction.

    Depending on the grim portent, this might be direct and obvious: “Oh, you got a miss? Well, you lunge at the high priest with your sword but as you do, the convulsing stops and he looks up at your with these glowing inhuman eyes and just reaches up and grabs your sword with his hand, completely unharmed, stopping you cold. You’re too late! The Dark Lord has taken a vessel!”

    But the grim portent could also be something that happens off screen, and is only hinted at or implied: “Oh, you got a miss to Spout Lore? Well, as you’re standing there pondering the runes around the door, not making any progress, the earth starts to shake! It’s rumbling and grinding, like an earthquake, and it seems to go on forever. When it stops, there are cracks in the ceiling and walls, but worse than that, Ovid… you’ve got these feeling that something dark and powerful has just entered this world.”

    By _descriptively, I mean: the grim portent is something that just happens in the fiction. Maybe it’s your turn to make a move and you decide to reveal an unwelcome truth, and the truth you reveal is that the Stone Blight is spreading… as they travel through the woods they come across a grove of petrified trees, and it’s big! Bigger than they would have expected. You weren’t intentionally triggering a grim portent, but when you look at your notes, “[ ] The Stone Blight starts to spread” is one of your portents. Cool, your prep payed off and gave you something interesting to say! Check that grim portent during a break or between sessions.

    Or, maybe the PCs don’t do anything about the Stone Blight and they go off and sail the Sapphire Seas for a few months. When they come back to Greenwood, you look at your notes and see that you’ve got:

    [X] The Stone Blight starts to spread

    [ ] The Thornwatch Druids’ ritual fails to contain it

    [ ] The Thornwatch start taking prisoners

    [ ] Timbertown is abandoned

    [ ] The Thornwatch sacrifice all their prisoners

    [ ] DOOM: pestilence… the blood sacrifice fails to stop the Blight and actually spurs it; the Greenwood is completely petrified and the Blight spreads to other lands!

    Well then… how far did the grim portents advance during their absence? Decide! Check off those grim portents and that stuff has all happened now. As you describe the situation and tell them what they see and make GM moves, those grim portents have all happened! They are the past, the truth. So when they head toward’s Timbertown they’ll find it eerily quiet and the roads empty. When they arrive, you reveal that town is deserted, except maybe one or two holdouts who can reveal what’s been going on. The grim portents simply described what happened in the PCs absence, and here’s the situation now, what do they do?

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