5 Tips for Playing Better Oracles
A Pathfinder RPG Guide
The gods work in mysterious ways, and perhaps none of those ways are more mysterious than individuals who are both blessed and cursed by the whims of the divine. Outcast as often as they are held in awe, these agents of deific power are given no choice in whether or not they wished to wield it. Some rail against the gods that cursed them, longing for the normal life they were denied. Others seek to understand the power they have been given, whether or not they wished for it.
Oracles have a difficult path to walk. If you've had some trouble stretching beyond their stereotypical portrayals, though, then this guide is here to help!
If you enjoy this entry into my ongoing 5 Tips project, check out the master list at 5 Tips Master List, over on my blog Improved Initiative.
For more tabletop resources, check out all of my Vocal articles!
Tip #1: When Did It Happen?
An oracle's power is bestowed upon them by mysterious forces, but it's important to ask when that power first manifested... or even when it was first suspected?
For example, were there signs and portents surrounding the oracle's birth? Were they born during an eclipse, for example, or did their birth herald the breaking of a deadly storm? Did they have any strange birthmarks that singled them out as unusual or strange? Were they born with the curse of blindness, deafness, or a club foot, or did those things manifest later?
If your oracle wasn't born under strange circumstances, then what events led to them becoming what they are? Did their sight grow steadily worse as they grew older, and when the darkness finally settled in they began to see the mysteries they'd been opened to? Were things often broken in the home when they were a child, and despite their protestations of innocence no one believed them until the haunting grew more powerful? Did your oracle break a taboo on a dare as a teenager, entering a forbidden place and finding themselves chosen by strange powers? Or did they send up a prayer in a moment of anger, weakness, or desperation, and something answered them... though perhaps not in the way they wanted?
Young or old, marked or non, gradual or sudden, the manifestation of power is one of the most important points in an oracle's life. So think about when it happened, and what their life had been like up to that point before it changed.
Tip #2: How Do People Treat You?
With other spellcasters there is an understanding where their power comes from. Druids draw on the forces of nature, wizards master esoteric arts, sorcerers possess a bloodline, and clerics have been chosen by a specific deity... but oracles? An oracle's power is mysterious by its very nature. It is divine, yes, but oracles keep no oaths, follow no creed, and offer no prayers to keep it. In many ways their powers break established rules, the same way an oracle's very existence does.
Which is why you should ask; how are they viewed by those around them?
Because on the one hand, it's true that an oracle's strangeness might frighten those around them. They may be labeled as socially untouchable, and cast out as unclean or corrupt. On the other hand, it's just as possible that an oracle might be seen as blessed. They are a vessel for the holy, and they might be treated as an object of reverence; a literal bridge of flesh between this world and the next. An oracle might become a community's spiritual leader, their words given weight by their power... even if the oracle was only a child at the time. They were chosen, and that is what matters.
An oracle's life can run the gamut, from a danger to be feared, to a figure of awe, to an intellectual curiosity studied by priests and wizards alike. Which one is up to you. Also, consider their Small Legend, as the very nature of who they are and what they do is likely to start rumors spreading that builds a reputation for them.
Tip #3: Why Did It Happen?
There is often no rhyme or reason as to why an oracle was chosen. Fate, a whim of the divine, or maybe a quirk of timing is responsible. People often try to establish a pattern where there is none, though, and an oracle might clutch at some reason, any reason, rather than accept it was pure chance that led them to become what they are.
So why was this oracle granted power? And why do they think they were granted power (as well as their curse) if what they believe is not the true reason?
If an oracle is haunted, and develops the mystery of bones, is it because they handle the dead? If they gave into cowardice in war, did the gods take their sight and put a flame of battle in their heart? Was it the day of their birth and the arrangement of the stars, the spirit quest they went on in the wastes, the streak of the red comet in the heavens, or being born of a certain bloodline? Or is that all just nonsense?
There might be a reason for an oracle's powers, and even if they don't know it, you should.
Tip #4: Who Do You Pray To?
There is no denying that an oracle's power flows from a divine source... but there is no one god that grants them their abilities. Whether it comes from an entire pantheon, a collection of gods who share certain aspects, or from even stranger sources, it's impossible to pin down a single wellspring that grants an oracle power.
So, like everyone else, they have to make the decision of what god to pray to on their own. Or to not pray at all, if that's their decision.
Unlike clerics, inquisitors, and similar classes who have a simple answer for their religions convictions (you pray to the source that grants you your powers if you want to keep them), oracles face a more convoluted situation. Are they looking for an explanation? Guidance? To grow their powers even greater? Do they pray to gods they wish to emulate, or whom they were brought up to revere? Or do they worship pantheons, believing that all the gods of a region or a nation may have made them what they are?
Or does your oracle refuse to pray? If that's the case, is it because praying gains them no benefits they can see? Is it out of bitterness for their curse? Or is it because they see no reason to call on gods when they were given so much power to help themselves? The motivations for not praying are often just as complex as the ones for being deeply religious.
Tip #5: Does Your Power Match Your Personality?
Oracles are infused with power... but they're still people. The question you need to answer is how does their power mesh with who they are? And does it change them over time, or does the oracle attempt to hold on to who they were in spite of the powers they now have?
A kind-hearted healer may consider the curative spells at his command a boon, but he cannot ignore the stench of death that lurks in his soul as he delves deeper into the mystery of the bones. An arrogant warrior finds that she's a been gifted with the mystery of giving life rather than taking it, and it slowly changes her perspective on whether there is any inherent glory in the shedding of blood. A city-dwelling lord has never been comfortable in the wilderness, but when he learns how to listen he realizes that nature can make her guests as comfortable as any manse.
Whether an oracle's mysteries suit them, or run counter to their nature, is up to you. Just remember that it should move in an arc as the character grows, changes, and learns more about themselves, and the mysteries that have been revealed to them.
Additional Inspiration For Oracles
If you're looking for some additional ways to fill in your background, or to spark ideas, consider checking out the following supplements!
- 100 Random Oracular Pronouncements: If you want to have your oracle speak the words of prophecy unbidden, or just give them some wise things to say, this supplement is filled with pronouncements that can be philosophical or practical, depending on how they're interpreted.
- 100 Secret Societies: Oracles are unusual in and of themselves, and it's likely they would find acceptance among secret societies. Especially if those societies are able to help them understand their powers, and the factors that make them what they are.
- 100 Cults: Oracles may be held in high regard by cults, and there are times where they're raised by them to serve a particular function. The cults in this supplement run the gamut, but they could be allies or enemies of your oracle in addition to filling in some of their backstory.
About the Creator
Neal Litherland is an author, freelance blogger, and RPG designer. A regular on the Chicago convention circuit, he works in a variety of genres.
Blog: Improved Initiative and The Literary Mercenary
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