Destiny! What is it good for?

The latest episode of the podcast has me and Roger wittering about Destiny and him expressing his dislike of the GURPS rule on the topic.

Which led to me thinking about the idea that you can have a preset Destiny for good or ill and it collided with an idea about running a portal fantasy.

I’m wondering what a world where everybody has a Destiny would look like. Where everybody knows what their Destiny is… because it’s easy to find out. How would people live?

And what would be the effect if the player characters were immigrants from a world where either there is no Destiny or all of them were recruited as they lay dying, their Destiny behind them. How would they discover the strangeness of the new world? How could they break the binding on the people of this world to bring them something like freedom?

(Apologies to those who don’t like metaphysics.)

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As I mentioned over on the SJGames forum, this strikes me as a sort of anti- Celtic Myth . Daibhaeaidhaibh MacAeraith is a grand hero, who can slay an enemy host with one arm tied behind his back… but thanks to his wyrd he never goes within a mile of a beehive, and the Dark Lord knows that and has several with every army. Pete the newcomer from Earth isn’t tied into that web of prophecy and counterprophecy, and he could do anything .

I have never used that GURPS rule. It originated in GURPS Vikings, where it is thematically appropriate, but for a lot of settings, it does not make much sense.

In a world where everyone knows their destiny, good or bad, some people would ignore the matter, as humans ignore the fact that they will eventually die for much of their lives. Others would try to get it over with and feel freer when they had, and another group would fight against it, either to do good when their destiny is bad, or to cancel out a “good” destiny they don’t like.

Perhaps most people don’t want to know. Or perhaps it has to be harder to know if you want a world that works enough like our own to live in.

But there are people out there who do want to know The Thing They Were Born To Do and once they know… They become Heroes! Or at least more effective Bloody Nuisances.

You’re not going to die until you have saved the world from the Dark Lord. Untill then everything is practice!

And the players come along and they get the chance of a Reading… And when the diviner goes mad they know that they are a threat to everything.

Hmmm, how to work the Gods into this… Perhaps only they can give you a true vision…

Hmmm… Roger, I may have buggered up the spare topic I was keeping for the next podcast by starting these threads.

How specific is the Destiny? How much room is there for interpretation? What percentage of a person’s life does it cover? How much life does one have after fulfilling their Destiny and does this mean no longer have a Destiny?

I did a bit in A&E about PCs as the fate-less, people who had no fate and for whom no prophesy would hold. In fact, their presence could screw up prophecies. “I as destined to be king until those pesky adventurers showed up.” They were like The Mule from Foundation.

It may be that bit in A&E that got me thinking about this.

I may be pushing a lot of ideas forward in the next few weeks as I try to get a handle on the next thing I want to run.

Or not. It was a while ago.

Maybe I take too much pleasure in subverting expectations, especially those of divine origin, that every time I think about Destiny! I think of ways it could go wrong. One of my favorite character concepts for Buffy the Vampire Slayer was Cian, destined to be the greatest magician of his generation, but didn’t. Yes, he had read the books and knew the lore, but no magical talent ever manifested. His father has given up and effectively disowned him. His mother still thinks he’s a “late bloomer” and still tries tricks and potions to awaken his talent (none of which I, the player, ever expected to work). The (online, PBP) game didn’t last long enough to explore any of this, but I liked the character who was the anti-Harry Potter: he knew a lot but couldn’t do anything.

I also have a fondness for the mundane and ironic:

  • “You are destined(!) to fail algebra.”
  • “Your destiny is to become President… of your community horticultural club.”
  • “You will gain great fame” by being the first person to be killed by a falling penguin.

If a player knows their PC has a destiny, they must trust to GM to give it meaning and closure and the GM must trust the player not to abuse that knowledge. Otherwise, there a bunch of ways it could go wrong logically and narratively.


Yes, this! Surely the majority of destinies will be mundane or parochial?

Also if you are going for a ‘realistic’ fantasy world, most people’s destinies will be to drop dead whilst still a child, because of the infant mortality rates. No parent would ever cast the runes to find out their children’s destinies, in case they got the bad news that the poor little mites were not long for this world.

EDIT: you could weaponise Destiny predictions.

King Bob: Huzzah! The Queen has borne me an Heir! Long live Prince Fred!
Evil Court Vizier: Oh how sad. The wise woman has just foreseen his destiny is to fall off his pony aged 6 and die. Better luck next time, sire.

I think someone mentioned on the other forum “You are destined to die defending Valhalla”. Then he’s murdered in an alley, and the camera tilts¹ up to show the sign for the Valhalla Inn…

¹ dammit panning is a side to side motion, not up/down (tilt) or in/out (zoom or dolly).