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Visions and Portents

posted Apr 23, 2014, 4:36 PM by Christopher Ellison
For the campaign I'm currently running, I've been using visions and dreams as a mechanism to give the PCs information they couldn't otherwise have.  The campaign has an overarching puzzle-storyline that the PCs are trying to solve, and these visions are part of the way I'm feeding in background information they'll need to solve the puzzle.  For me, this has always been a difficult part of running a campaign.  When you have all the answers to the puzzle, I always find that it's very difficult to figure out the types of hints to give out to the players and pace those hints properly.  Finding the balance between overly-obscure and too-obvious hints has always been tricky for me.

I'd like to say I've learned something about balancing those hints this campaign, but I'm not sure I have yet.  I'm working on it, though.  Since my main mechanism this campaign has been first-person storylines from the perspectives of the individual PCs, that's been at least making me think more about what they might actually see and hear in the visions.

Here is one of the visions I wrote up for a recent session.  The PCs had found a hidden throne room, long lost to the civilization that built it.  Upon solving a puzzle related to the thrones, three PCs sat in the three thrones present.  This is the vision that was granted to one of the PCs upon sitting in the throne of the king's closest advisor (the king's right-hand man, traditionally a spellcaster).

As Maleos settles into the stone throne, the vision of another world fades in, replacing his view of the cavern.  He glances around, confused, finding himself on a mountain road in a wintery forest.  He is aware that someone else is there with him, watching him from the trees, but he doesn't turn, doesn't acknowledge them; they don't concern him.  He is looking for something else, an auspicious location.  It must be nearby.  He closes his eyes, feeling the flows of magic in the forest around him, letting them guide him.

After a long moment, his eyes snap open.  He strides confidently to a large tree overhanging both the road and the mountainside.  The tree has grown near a magical node, and its wood has tasted that magic as it has ebbed and flowed through the years.  Maleos regards the spot for a moment, then nods.  He starts preparing his tools, pulling his backpack from him, but pauses for a moment to incline his head apologetically toward the forest.  That done, he pulls out a hatchet, reaches up, and begins carving ornate designs into the trunk of the tree.

Lost in the work, night falls around Maleos.  Panting and sweating, he finally stands from his kneeling position.  He steps back and looks upon his work; it twists and writhes in his vision, dancing unreadably before his eyes.  Again, he nods in satisfaction and retreats across the road into the forest, preparing his crossbow for what he knows will come.

Maleos snaps awake.  He's still crouched near the edge of the forest, looking upon his rune-tree, his crossbow propped carefully beside him.  His muscles are stiff and sore from sleeping kneeling against a tree, but he dares not risk moving.  He can sense a presence nearby, the presence, coming toward the tree.  Slowly he eases the crossbow onto his lap, waiting for the moment.

Time creeps by.  Maleos draws long, slow breaths to keep his movements steady and his aim from drifting.  The forest has gone silent, but the presence has not yet shown itself.  Suddenly, the rune-tree crumples and implodes, a formless void snapping into place where it once stood.  There is no time to think.  Maleos feels his finger tighten on the trigger of his crossbow before he's even aware of it.  The bolt leaps toward the void, but Maleos doesn't pause to see its effect; before it's reached the target, he's already sprung onto the roadway, running toward the sea.

The time that was crawling now flits by in barely-remembered flashes, moments of terror that cannot be fully appreciated until long after the moment has passed.  He stumbles, costing him a few steps, but likely saving his arm as a sharp fire flashes through his shoulder.  He hears a rush of air near his head and throws himself to the side as a vast, unseeable tendril whips through the space his head had just occupied.  He leaps and bounds away, occasionally throwing hindrances behind him but never daring to turn, never daring to look.

Before he knows it, Maleos has come to a wall of stone, a dead end.  He whips his last trick from his now-empty back, dashing it to the ground and rolling aside as a dozen more of him spring to life in front of him.  Without hesitation, the pursuing tendrils smash through six of his decoys, sundering their forms back to mana and shattering the brittle stone of the cliff face before him.  

Again, time seems to leap forward as the fight moves into the freshly-hewn cavern.  Maleos hears cries all around him, the clash of steel, the creaking of leather... and then, with a final resounding thunderstroke, only panting is left.  Maleos hears someone nearby cough out "It is done!  Begin the ritual!", and, blearily, he stumbles over the now-glowing metal wall before him and begins chanting.  Thoughts again leave his mind as he falls into the pattern of the ritual....

An unknown time later -- could it have been minutes?  hours?  days? -- Maleos's thoughts return to his head.  The ritual around him is finishing, but his part is complete.  The earth is shaking like he's never seen before, bucking like a maverick horse under his feet.  The cavern is suffused by a boiling red light.  Maleos's instinct is to run, to flee, but between his exhaustion and the lurching of the cavern floor, he can barely stumble toward the light.  He feels hands on his arm dragging him toward the entrance.  The next thing he knows, he's on the roadway outside the cavern entrance.  The ground still bucks beneath him, and he collapses and turns to look back.  He is dimly aware of others collapsing to the ground around him, but he can't tear his eyes away from the cliff face as the bucking earth sunders it from the rest of the mountainside and throws it down into the beckoning sea.

Everything before him becomes a foaming mist of sea spray.  Maleos shudders and blinks, clearing his vision as he realizes he's sitting in the throne, his hands tightly gripping the ivory staff.