Thursday, December 13, 2012

DCC Donnerstag: The Almanac of Improbable Outcomes

It's been awhile since I've written a DCC Donnerstag article, so I figured it was about time. The only problem was what to write about? Well over at the Iron Tavern, Jeffrey Tadlock just wrote an article about grimoires in DCC (by grimoires here, he specifically means unique spellbooks with a sense of history and theme about them) that inspired me a bit. Then there was the discussion just a moment ago on the DCC G+ community about this article by Erik Tenkar and how to "DCC it up." Mash that discussion up with the idea already circulating around in my head and you have this, the Almanac of Improbable Outcomes.

The Almanac of Improbable Outcomes

One knows that one is gazing upon the Almanac of Improbable Outcomes not because of any text upon its metal and leather cover, but because the brass-ringed eye on its front stares back. And blinks. The ancient pages hold verse after verse of unusual prognostications and bizarre predictions that seem too strange or specific to come true. Some examples might include:

"Aunt Gwarldine game over for tea and discussed the price of Volczik wheat. She doesn't know it yet, but her son Larmis is already stockpiling balgis root for if the shortage ever comes." 

or

"Out, out from deepest sky above / shall dwindle and flollop toward earth / greatest and least of Wednesdays / that final-most of bolts shall tingle in the furthest digits / and the wandering wookolars shall come to roost."

Though often thought by scholars too specific or nonsensical to be of any practical value, sages who spend any length of time reading the Almanac begin to notice two curious facts: first, that many of the passages seem to have some relevance to their own lives (maybe he has an Aunt Gwarldine and cousin Larmis; perhaps the nonsense words were the only ones he could use describe the terrible storm last Wednesday when he could feel the lightning's electricity in his fingertips) but leave further mysteries unsolved (what are balgis root and wookolars, anyway?); second, it can be impossible to find the same passage more than once.

History

While no one scholar can say too terribly much for sure about the Almanac of Improbable Outcomes, there are a few facts that are not in dispute. First, the tome itself seems terribly old\, but it doesn't seem quite ancient enough to have predated the Dominion of Man. Despite its apparent age, the book must be older than Man's freedom, since records of the fallen elven and serpent man empires found in Ur-Hadad both make reference to the text, using the same name known to Man (though this title appears nowhere on the book). These references mention the book having been written in the respective languages of those races, even though modern scholars say that the book is clearly written in Common, a fact independently verified by those dwarven and elven scholars of the modern age who have viewed it. The records of the elves and serpent men similarly state that accounts even more ancient than their own existed that dated the Almanac even earlier than their own era, and that it then seemed written in whatever ineffable language those races from primordial ages had devised.

There are three persistent rumors about the origin of the Almanac of Improbable Outcomes. The first claims that the Almanac was devised by some godlike wizard from the dawn ages when magic flowed like water from a fountain and that he or she imbued it with the secrets of the universe but, since no mortal mind can understand the infinite or the truths of creation, he concealed it behind nonsense and code. Another rumor states that the Almanac is merely mildly psychic and records the thoughts of those whom the eye on its cover has viewed. The nonsense passages are thereby often interpreted as dreams. Yet another rumor claims that the Almanac actually comes from the future and was sent back in time to a point where the first event that it had recorded would be needed. This interpretation considers the Almanac a sort of history text, just often of inconsequential or pointless events, many of which have yet to occur.

Using The Almanac

Merely setting eyes on the Almanac can be an unsettling experience; as soon as anyone gets within fifteen feet of the book, the eye on the cover opens and darts around until it lights upon the approacher. This eye is cold and unfeeling, like the eye of some sea creature or inscrutable animal. Other than being unnerving, this viewing seems to have no lasting effect or consequence, but it has been enough for more than one scholar to be dissuaded from looking further into the text and has caused more than a few nobles to order the text's destruction (which never seems to work).

Upon an initial perusal of the text, many readers will be convinced of its irrelevance or, rather, its relevance as being preeminent in the field of nonsense books with living eyes on the cover. An observant reader may notice (on a Luck check) that the bookmark -- a fine leather thong ending in a circular metal frame containing a thin glass lens -- seems to indicate a particular passage. The content of the passage is up to the Judge, but it directly mentions events that are either about to happen or just happened to or around the reader. A reader should be allowed no more than three such Luck checks; failing all three means that the reader is simply oblivious to the supernatural effects of the tome and will simply continue the myth of the Almanac's irrelevance.

It will soon become apparent to any reader who passes the Luck check that the Almanac has some oracular ability and that it attempts to provide guidance to those who look for it within its pages. Should a reader spend special attention to decoding the mysteries of the text, rather than simply perusing the verses, he may unlock knowledge hidden deep within a pattern of coincidences hidden within another pattern of coincidence hidden within still another series of minor correlations between different verses in the text. All in all, there are three different stages of revelation that the Almanac may impart.

Stage One: Awareness of Coincidences
The reader becomes more and more accutely aware of how events in his life indirectly correlate to passages he has read in the book. He may make an Intelligence or Luck check to uncover some significant knowledge relevant to this type of awareness of coincidences. Should he thereby unlock these mysteries, he finds the formulae for the Wizard spell Detect magic hidden among the verses of the Almanac and may attempt to learn this spell the next time he may learn a Wizard spell, and the check to do so is made with a +2 bonus.

Step Two: Phenomenological Interpretation
At some point, the reader becomes aware that many of the nonsense predictions are not predictions of exact things that will come to pass as written, but often are descriptions of what it feels like when those things come to pass. The tricky part comes in deciphering whether this knowledge is the phenomenology of an observer of the events or a participant in them. Again, and with all levels of understanding that come through perusal of the Almanac, a further Intelligence or Luck check is necessary. After reaching this stage of understanding, the reader may learn the Wizard spell ESP the next time he is eligible to learn a 2nd level Wizard spell and do so at a +2 bonus.

Step Three: Predictive Research
Now that the reader has a base knowledge of how to interpret the verses within the Almanac, and a fuller understanding of the nature of the experiences around him, he may begin to search through the book to find passages that predict events he may be interested in. It is possible, for example, if looking for information on an upcoming disaster, to find the nonsensified experience of an observer of that cataclysm, even if that observer was a nearby cactus, thus allowing one to accurately predict where and when it would strike. The accuracy and detail of such information, however, is limited by the scope of the reader's investigation, however. By the same token, once making his comprehension check for this stage of knowledge, the reader may learn the Wizard spell Consult spirit (treat the book as the spirit in this case) the next time he is eligible to learn a 3rd level Wizard spell (again, at a +2 bonus to do so).

The influence of the Almanac does not end there. Should the Almanac be consulted or used as a focus when a Wizard or Elf is casting any of the spells granted by it, the spellchecks to cast these spells are made with one higher die on the dice chain (d24, usually). However, the caster soon becomes reliant on the Almanac to cast such spells; every time he casts any of these spells using the Almanac, he must make a Will save (DC 16). After three such failed saves, he uses one die smaller on the dice chain whenever he casts the spells without the Almanac. At the Judge's discretion, this penalty may continue to accrue with subsequent uses of the Almanac as a focus, reducing the die type further and further every third failed save.

The Truth

After a fashion, all three rumors surrounding the origin and nature of the Almanac of Improbable Outcomes are true. It was fashioned by a primordial, vastly powerful sorcerer who traveled to the extreme reaches of time and space for the typical wizardly reasons and who bound a mildly psychic portion of his psyche into the book by donating to it one of his hideous eyes and the skin that forms the leather of the cover. He may or may not have tanned this skin using a portion of his vast brain that he hadn't been using for anything else. Exactly who or what this spellcaster from the dawn age was is largely irrelevant; with the powers at his disposal, concepts like body, mind, biology, physics and other constraints of the mortal no longer applied to him, making other concepts like self and species not even academic, but mere nitpicking.

Today, this mildly psychic remnant of a supreme arcanist exists as a sort of key left behind by that being as it fled our meager plane of existence to experience even higher mysteries than those that led it to create the Almanac. The passages in the Alamanc exist to assist those of wizardly bent in unlocking mysteries of the cosmos, in learning to make reality irrelevant and in the practice of defying the existential constraints of life. Thus, in addition to the effects mentioned above, the Almanac may act as a sort of guide to those who learn to listen to it, and may even help push the aspiring cosmic sorcerer along the path toward greater and greater arcane glories, often by suggesting courses of action or quests through mysteries revealed through contemplation upon it. The Judge is encouraged to offer the aspirant some momentary boon should he choose to undertake such a quest and to avoid any sort of geas-like effect.

Of course, the Almanac might have an even more sinister goal, but that would be entirely up to the Judge. It might be simply using the reader to craft him into a vessel worthy of carrying the soul of its creator when he returns to this reality, but don't take my word for it.