GM Tips is our series to help Storytellers and Game Masters improve their craft and create memorable role-playing experiences. GM Tips has focused on advice, but sometimes we just need quick content past a writer’s block. These one-shot encounters are designed for inspiration in any system.
Fortune-tellers are a recurring theme in tabletop games. The trope of the old witch, or prophetic traveler with a set of tarot cards, is a time-honored method to foreshadow plot and get players moving in an adventure. In some games, players get hooked on returning back to those fortune tellers and having their futures foretold, and in others, they gleefully ignore them and run sideways off plot-cliffs. For our own sadistic storyteller amusement and to break the mold, here’s an encounter for a crazy rune-reader that is extremely unreliable (by unreliable, as in he provides WAY too much information)
Here’s the hook:
No matter the setting or style of your game, or even what system you are using, the character is the same regardless. A middle-aged pepper bearded man with a flask of spiced booze finds himself in front of the players. Perhaps they encounter him sitting on the floor of an Imperial Star-Destroyer with some Storm-Troopers or maybe he’s sitting at a tavern gambling with some dwarves. Recognizing the party as a group of bastards in need of some good (or ill) fortune, he offers them a chance at reading some runes provided they buy the drinks for him. Everyone around will vouch for this vets skill and accuracy at reading… provided you get them before his third drink.
Well Isn’t That An Interesting Secret
The rune reader is a huckster and washed up spy who goes by the name of Reed, and his agenda is to give him a vacation from a cursed object in his possession (we’ll get to that). Once the characters sit down at the table, Reed pulls out silver runestones and places them in an old wooden cup—then slams them down with a loud boom. Leaning in with narrow eyes, he’ll warn those before him that stones only speak the truth, unlike crystal balls. If the storyteller has any runes in real life, this scene becomes even cooler…
On the first pull, Reed will look at the party and demonstrate his talents— revealing a very dangerous or bad secret that the party has done. As a storyteller, this is your chance to pull some wickedly cool deed our secret out into the forefront. Reed pulls this feat off not through the runes, however, but from a cursed scroll (or tablet) in his lap. This first secret is critical to hook the players into the rest of this encounter, so feel free to use anything in your GM Toolkit. Once the players are invested that Reed knows what he’s doing, is when things become a tad more unreliable. Every bit of information after the third drink is when the secrets become…a little too detailed. Example: “Ah, yes, the General. He did indeed issue the orders to wipe out the army, while he was wearing his purple socks that day and would later be plagued with terrible bowel movements. His lunch was fish.”
This encounter should go on for as long as it is needed, with Reed revealing deeper and darker secrets about everyone out there. At no point, should this fortune-teller ever talk about the future, only what’s currently happening or had happened, and maybe the players start to catch on that something fishy is up. How could this gentleman truly know so many horrible or explosive secrets from just plucking a single rune from a cup? As the storyteller, if you need to keep adding on the layers so thick till it’s obvious that the runes are a farce…do so after Reed’s third drink.
The encounter comes to a close once Reed is called out that the runes mean nothing and the characters start asking how he knows such potent or personal secrets about anyone and everyone. At which point, Reed turns into a nervous wreck, and pulls out a scroll (or a sci-fi tablet) while begging the players to take it and run. On the scroll, contains the information about everything that has happened or is currently happening. Easily a legendary artifact or an advanced artificial intelligence is contained within the object and the temptation to run off with the artifact should be grand, yet as with most power; comes a devastating price. Anyone who takes the device will find themselves becoming obsessed with using it more, and more, and more, until all they want to do is look. In time, people stop believing the character or associating with them; until they return the object back to the person they took it from. This time is a ton of fun for GMs answering lore questions about the world in hilariously specific ways—hopefully keeping the characters awake at night, and the next, and the next.
The mystery is what the party does with the object. If they leave it in Reed’s hands after he asks them to take it—he’ll never tell the truth to them again. If the party tries to pass it onto someone else, it quickly gets returned back to the party. Only when the party takes it for a time, uses it, gets obsessed, and comes hucking it back at Reed—he’ll accept it back in exchange for money or favors, along with revealing why he doesn’t return it himself:
He killed the previous owner and stole it.
Are you in need of quick encounters? Let us know in the comments what system agnostic encounters you need!
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Featured Image by: Dragon Scales: A Tabletop RPG Runic Game of Chance
Image Credits: Shadowrun Standoff by Catalyst Games, Plane of Air by Wizards of the Coast
Rick Heinz is the author of The Seventh Age Series, Dread Adventures, and a storyteller with a focus on D&D For Kids, Wraith: The Oblivion, Ravnica, and an overdose of LARPs. You can follow the game or urban fantasy related thingies on Twitter or Facebook or reach out for writing at [email protected]