False Prophecy and Hoaxes in RPGs

17 June, 2011

This morning I encountered an article of wikipedia on Drake’s Plate of Brass, a historical hoax, and it spiralled out into thoughts of prophecy in RPGs and the idea of deliberately false or hoaxed prophecy.

What better way to cement your religions place than to have a prophecy show that a member of your faith will save the King/City/Land at some indeterminate time in the future?  Or produce a prophecy that shows that is was because of your god(s) divine favor that the current ruler, rules, and that if the faith is not exalted, she or he (or it) will lose divine favor and fall from power?  What if they forgot that these prophecies are not real?

Equally, a rival faith might plant a hoax prophecy in an attempt to discredit or waste the resources of their enemies or encourage false prophecy to try and lure donations and worshippers away.  Even in a polytheistic setting, priests like to have nice things for their temple and status.

Though a prophecy does not even have to be false to cause problems, traditionally, prophecies are open to interpretation maybe they have just been misread all these years and only one mad scholar has figured out the truth?  Or they got recorded in the wrong order and the bad thing is much closer to happening than everyone thought.

What if a prophecy is inspiring a nation to hold fast against some evil and the characters find out it is all bunk.  Do they keep going along with it and try and force the prophecy to become real?  Do they go through the motions to keep up morale?  Or do they tell the truth?

Just some ideas for turning the traditional “fated heroes” trope on its head.

Edit:  And some thoughts about prophecy in the Sea of Stars.


  1. I REALLY like the “force the prophecy to become real” angle. That could be a great way to turn a “good” church into an antagonist.

  2. I really like the false prophecy idea.

    A similar take I’ve been using in my campaign is that a particularly powerful individual worked for the last century to warp the ancient prophecies. He altered the existing copies, used crazy temporal magic to push the timeline slightly out of shape, and coaxed other vastly powerful beings to try and buck the coming events.

    As such, now that the Time of Prophecy is at hand, even the gods are somewhat surprised. Things aren’t working quite the way they are supposed to. The individual responsible has now been killed (by the PCs), and the universe is forcing the tapestry of events back into shape. Will the End of Time still happen the way it is supposed to, or will everything unravel?

    • Glad you enjoyed the article but it seems that you have already put the ideas into practice.

  3. […] or destroy a religion in your games? Sean Holland at the Sea of Stars offers some ideas on using False Prophecy and Hoaxes in RPGs that I honestly hadn’t considered before. Great ideas to provide a slippery slope for groups […]

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