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Pulp Cthulhu - Divination skill - Suggestions on handling it


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I think I' ve created a monster!

Me and my players are about to start The Two-Headed Serpent tonight. I allowed one of them to get the Psychic talent and gave him the Divination skill. It is currently at 80% and I think he intends to use it constantly for everything, which might be a potential spoiler for all things to come.

Even though it's not mentioned anywhere, I came to the conclusion that I as a keeper, should do a hidden roll whenever he goes for it and give him the "yes" or "no". This way he will know that there is a very good chance that the answer might be true, but he can never be certain.

Have you ever faced a similar situation? How did you handle it? Do you have any suggestions on how to work things out? 

Thanks for your time!

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I've got something similar with one of my players at the moment.

He has Psychometry so tries to use it everywhere to figure out whats going on with items and places so what I do now is hit him with san losses when he over uses it. I see it as him spending too much time on the psychic plane and getting hooked to it. You could do something similar where the character starts to suffer from over use of his power and it drains his POW or SAN from abuse.

Think of it as how drugs affect the body, over use causes some serious side effects.

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Yes Mandilaras, that is exactly how you should handle it. Secret rolls. You should also take every opportunity to twist his request however possible. And if you can think of a way that there might not be an answer, go with it.

If you can make Divination inconvenient, or debilitating as Castings suggested, that's fair game as well.

But honestly, I can't imagine even giving a player, let alone a starting one, such a potential game-breaker. Your feeling about his plans only reinforces my urge to limit his ability any way you can.

You might even talk to him before the game, so he understands that you're not going to let him spoil everyone else's fun.

Good luck.

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This sort of thing has come up in other games, too, such as the Talents in the 1984 pulp adventure title Justice, Inc.  Cool as it is to have psychic abilities, the player should never be able to depend on them.  The results should always be murky, uncertain, hard to interpret until after the.fact.  The abilities.should serve the GM's purposes in guiding the scenario rather than providing the player and his character with a Get Out of Jail Free card.

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“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” — Yoda

As @Baron said, handle it as an Information Roll, so a secret roll by the Keeper is warranted. Plus, it’s unreliable by its very nature, so even a skill value of 80+% cannot tell anything with absolute certainty. Divination is looking at a probability-space (or quantum superstate) that contains all possible developments, and which gets exponentially larger with every second further away. Like trying to illuminate a pitch-black, growing room with the narrow beam of a flashlight: you can only see small, incoherent spots at a time, and the stuff you see might not even be relevant to you. The experience alone can be straining, if not outright grueling...

Additionally, this being a Cthulhu setting: the Key and the Guardian of the Gate YOG-SOTHOTH sees all and knows all. Try emulating it too often, dare treading on its domain uninvited one time too many, you may attract its attention, and inevitably, incur its wrath.

 

Edited by foolcat
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On 10/12/2019 at 9:50 PM, MandilarasM said:

I think I've created a monster!

Me and my players are about to start The Two-Headed Serpent tonight. I allowed one of them to get the Psychic talent and gave him the Divination skill. It is currently at 80% and I think he intends to use it constantly for everything, which might be a potential spoiler for all things to come.

Even though it's not mentioned anywhere, I came to the conclusion that I as a keeper, should do a hidden roll whenever he goes for it and give him the "yes" or "no". This way he will know that there is a very good chance that the answer might be true, but he can never be certain.

Have you ever faced a similar situation? How did you handle it? Do you have any suggestions on how to work things out? 

Thanks for your time!

I would point out a couple of things.  Firstly, divination should take a while to perform.  It isn't simply a reliable coin toss.  Secondly, you could make it that it becomes less reliable the more often you use it, decreasing it by 5% increments for each use in a day after the first, or, better yet, make each divination cost MP and/or SAN (but only when it comes true, as relying on magic to solve every problem is not very sane in a modern setting).  Thirdly, not everything can be answered with a "yes" or "no", and without a "maybe" option, those maybe questions are always going to be way more ambivalent than the answer can ever suggest.

Personally, when it came to divination, I would normally give my players one pertinent but occluded hint about the scenario.  For example, when there is a haunted crockery cupboard, the clue is "the one you seek guards china".

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I really don't remember exactly how PH divination is written but in the past in other games when this type of came up I never gave clear answers. And I definitely made it a hidden role.

I'd describe a indistinct vision.  A sense of foreboding.  A whispering voice only heard by the player. 

I put as much flair into failed roles as successful ones.  I answered what they asked, not what they meant to ask.

But I personally never gave a yes or no answer.

Edited by Spence
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I just plain don't like the way it's written up. It calls for yes/no answers and IMHO that is way too specific. When I've given a character a psychic skill, I've gone for clairvoyance or psychometry and narrated a vague and hopefully confusing feeling or vision or whatever. But avoided direct yes/no or details.

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HP Lovecraft treated divination as a two way street, you might get away with it once or twice, or not, but people exercising extraordinary abilities tend to attract unwanted attention.

Think The Haunter of the Dark, or From Beyond

In both stories the protagonist got their insane insight, but the cost was far greater than any value they derived.

By all means use the power - but every time the player uses it they see unnatural shifting shadows and piercing eyes glittering in the darkness beyond the light of their vision, hungering for the opportunity to draw closer to the foolish mortal who so recklessly drew their attention. Soon the scary visions start to intrude even when the player isn’t trying to use their gift...

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Come to think of it,  HP Lovecraft's story The Call of Cthulhu had a psychic character, an artist - his "talent" made his mind especially susceptible to Cthulhu's telepathic call. The Shadow Over Innsmouth the deep ones sent sanity destroying visions to the main character, so its not just Cthulhu who can use this talent.

Edited by EricW
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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 1 year later...

I am late to the party here, but to put another idea to paper here, when you have skills of that calibre people will seek you out. You might be constantly sought for all kinds of sundry reasons, but asking piercing questions about people who are mystically inclined might get you noticed by them as well.

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On 10/12/2019 at 9:50 PM, MandilarasM said:

I think I' ve created a monster!

Me and my players are about to start The Two-Headed Serpent tonight. I allowed one of them to get the Psychic talent and gave him the Divination skill. It is currently at 80% and I think he intends to use it constantly for everything, which might be a potential spoiler for all things to come.

Even though it's not mentioned anywhere, I came to the conclusion that I as a keeper, should do a hidden roll whenever he goes for it and give him the "yes" or "no". This way he will know that there is a very good chance that the answer might be true, but he can never be certain.

Have you ever faced a similar situation? How did you handle it? Do you have any suggestions on how to work things out? 

Thanks for your time!

Simply put, you seem to have given your player a skill that has no limits to its use.  It would have been better to limit its use with a Magic Point cost.

Questions to ask... What happens to the ability when it fumbles?  Is it "out for a day".  How long does it take to activate the skill?  1 minute? 5mins? 10 Mins?  What if the answer changes?  Such as... Is it safe to open this door?  Well it was... 

Divination is enormously subject to interpretation.  If the character is a practicing religious type, they might find that their guardian angel wants them safe in heaven asap.  Or... what happens to your psychic power when you go insane?

Remember, you have to answer yes or no; never "maybe".  There is no grey area.  That, my friends, is truck sized loophole.

If the player starts to game the system, give them the opposite result on the second try and then a SAN check when their power is malfunctioning because they are second guessing themselves and tying themselves in mental knots with anxiety.  "Fear is the mind killer" after all, and a coward dies a thousand deaths etc.

I have always found that smiling in a sinister fashion when you roll such checks is just great for player confidence in their abilities, or sighing and tutting...

Then there is the issue of what happens when a time related monster encounters someone with Divination.  This human who can dimly sense the paths of the 4th Dimension.  How many ways to mess with them are there?  The answer?  Plenty!

By and large, I have generally found in Call of C'thulhu, that if you give players any sort of power, they tend to use it extremely foolishly and wind up killing themselves with it, even something as apparently harmless as Divination.  You probably won't even have to try particularly hard.  Also, Divination is of no use in confrontation, it is only useful in avoiding confrontation, and sometimes that is not a good thing.

 

 

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2 hours ago, Darius West said:

By and large, I have generally found in Call of C'thulhu, that if you give players any sort of power, they tend to use it extremely foolishly and wind up killing themselves with it, even something as apparently harmless as Divination.  You probably won't even have to try particularly hard.

🤣

 

You made me snort my drink when I read this. 😂

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9 hours ago, Darius West said:

Then there is the issue of what happens when a time related monster encounters someone with Divination.  This human who can dimly sense the paths of the 4th Dimension.  How many ways to mess with them are there?  The answer?  Plenty!

Possibly some monsters can see back.

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2 hours ago, SunlessNick said:

Possibly some monsters can see back.

You are correct Sunless Nick.  Your 2 classic time monsters are the Hounds of Tindalos and the Great Race of Yith.  Now we know that the ravenous Hounds have a 1 size fits all situations approach to humans; they eat them and leave them covered in blue pus.  As to the Great Race, well, they are potentially far more nuanced and manipulative in their approach to humans who can see the future.  That ability to see the short term future is likely something the Great Race would covet and seek to mechanize and duplicate.  They would first seek to bring the individual possessing the ability into their orbit, and use them to test the ability repeatedly to see what readings they were receiving.  Ultimately they would need to autopsy the human and pick over their "hardware" with precision instruments.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The One Ring gave Frodo divination skill, but the magically enhanced vision Frodo gained didn't really help him.

If someone starts using divination skill in the vicinity of a mythos horror surely they would start seeing images of what will happen if the party fails to stop the plot. The presence of a powerful mythos being influences planes other than the mundane, and they haven't successfully stopped the conspiracy yet, so the mythos being is still on track to win.

 

Edited by EricW
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more funny and more general that yes/no, one could reply with tarot card!

oh.. you get the lover, the knight and the tower on that question!
although.. it might be a bit too vague... but seeing death, or the fool, or the phenix is pretty clear!

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I gave some thoughts to that today, I think there are a few things to consider.

1st CoC is not D&D, you don't have to wait to be level 20 to get a cool power of your choice, I really like that!

however , also, as a gm I really use to hate divination spells , and just removed them from the game. However I realised, when you have magical way to bypass all defence and magical way to leave no trace, it is kind of OK to also have magical way to find evidence after all!...

However, as advised in the book, you might decide that this particular ability is only for villain (not my favourite choice) or for select few NPC.

Finally if a spell / power somewhat bother you, inform your players and take some liberty and do some experiment, taking the behaviour away from the per the book definition! 

Hope that helps :)

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8 hours ago, Lloyd Dupont said:

I gave some thoughts to that today, I think there are a few things to consider.

1st CoC is not D&D, you don't have to wait to be level 20 to get a cool power of your choice, I really like that!

however , also, as a gm I really use to hate divination spells , and just removed them from the game. However I realised, when you have magical way to bypass all defence and magical way to leave no trace, it is kind of OK to also have magical way to find evidence after all!...

However, as advised in the book, you might decide that this particular ability is only for villain (not my favourite choice) or for select few NPC.

Finally if a spell / power somewhat bother you, inform your players and take some liberty and do some experiment, taking the behaviour away from the per the book definition! 

Hope that helps 🙂

Divination - open your mind to the Cosmos. CoC - the Cosmos wants to eat you.

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On 4/16/2021 at 9:27 AM, Lloyd Dupont said:

Gnom, gnom, gnom. Cosmos hungry! 😄

Nyarlathotep:  "Yesss... Yesss ! Apparently you are destined to be eaten by Yog Sothoth.  Here are some visions to help you get there."

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