Breathe In, Breathe Out

“Some say a comet will fall from the sky, followed by meter showers, and tidal waves…”, AEnema, Tool

A strong lead in, eh? Your attention is rapt and you are awaiting further input. This is good. Today, we’re going to talk about a simple literary technique which can elevate your game from beyond the ordinary. The technique of which I speak? Foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing is the literary technique of providing clues to the reader of stuff which is going to happen later on in the story. The classic example is Chekov’s gun…”if you are presented with a gun on the mantle in scene one, it better have gone off before the end of the story”. Read here if you want more detail about foreshadowing. In this instance, Wikipedia does a solid job of conveying a lot of accurate info.

Foreshadowing within an RPG can be accomplished by a GM providing he has constructed a proper plot to his adventure and is not running a game on the fly (where the rules are, by their very nature, more tenuous, and the plot–if any–is a more malleable and fragile thing). 

Ways to foreshadow include, but are not limited to:

1. An NPC whose behavior later gets them into trouble. A philanderer is found slain in his bed. A smoker is discovered to die by fire. A gambler is found “swimming with the sharks”, and so on.

2. A vague prophecy presented to the characters. This one is entertaining as broad strokes of “beware the bald man” can create tension and add intrigue when a bald man is later encountered. Is this a shot in the dark from a charlatan or accurate information?

3. A dream sequence which later begins revealing itself as eerily accurate. A character dreams of finding a treasure in a ruined castle, and later discovers a stack of old newspapers (“valuable for the information within”) in an old plantation house.

4. Items seen in passing which later gain significance. The blunderbuss on Mr. Waxy’s wall is later found in the dead hands of Mr. Waxy who murdered his wife before turning it upon himself…

5. Symbolism or parallel dilemmas can be presented as well. What if the characters find a book which is about slaying a dragon and the troubles presented therein parallel the dangers they themselves face? 

When carefully thought out, this technique can provide “A ha!” moments from your players and deepen your storylines. Try to sprinkle a few into your next adventure, but like anything, be careful not to overuse this technique–a little foreshadowing goes a long way and you don’t want to muddy up your storyline. Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!

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