Book Review: Visions of the Oracle by Sigfried Trent (Open Design)

What is an oracle? An oracle, whether discussing it in terms of religion or mythology, is a person or group who can tell the future. Sometimes this was through connection to a deity, the cosmos, or some other magical interpretation. The Oracle at Delphi is the one that most often comes to mind, otherwise known as Pythia a priestess of Apollo. It’s said she would be overcome by fumes from the earth and speak with the voice of Apollo to those who sought audience.

Obviously the concept of the oracle is ripe for fantasy roleplaying games. Whether an oracle inhales fumes, is possessed by spirits, or seeks patterns in the entrails of animal sacrifices to catch glimpses of the future, it’s a great way to keep PCs guessing as to what’s coming next!

That said, the next in the Advanced Feats series from Sigfried Trent and Open Design offers many great suggestions on how to work oracular magic into a campaign. Visions of the Oracle not only offers 30 new feats for Pathfinder, but provides three sample character builds as examples to see the Oracle class and feats in action.

I have to admit the cover raised my eyebrows a bit and had me wondering. Is it an old guy or gal? Is s/he blind or setting a fashion trend with grapes in their sunglasses? It appears that s/he is floating above an image on the floor and bleeding… Is it their blood? And don’t get me started on the jewelry, belt, and outfit choices… Ultimately I’m left with the impression that this oracle is a rock star and that sort of fits with my impression of ancient oracles as well!

The concept of an Oracle class as a spontaneous divine caster class makes a ton of sense. And pulling in the “curse” and “mystery” mechanics offers unique ways to really make each oracle a special person. The idea of tying each type of mystery (from Battle and Bones to Waves and Wind) to feat trees and spell lists really offers some cool ways to play on those ancient oracular stereotypes.

Many of the thirty feats included had me scratching my head as to how they would be Oracle-specific. Feats like Armored Touch Casting, Concentration Spell, Elemental Boost, and Savage Critical (along with many others) seem more suited to other caster types or even front-line fighters than to oracles. But others such as Potent Divination, Prophetic Dreamer, and Strange Revelation fit in perfectly to the oracular mystique.

As with the other Advanced Feats books, I looked forward to the sidebars in the book detailing rules decisions or offering glimpses of historical precedent. The “Oracles in History” box offered some insights into the oracle at Delphi. The trick of wording prophecies to make them seem true under any conditions through vague, symbolic, or emotional language is something I think all gamemasters should work on if they plan on including oracles or any sort of divination of future events in their games!

When I got to the “Character Builds” portion of the book, I hit pay dirt. The “Visionary Healer” for example provides a reason for an oracle to leave the safety of their temple or place of origin. The concept of a random innkeeper touched by the gods and given miraculous healing abilities but not granted the power to save everyone is very Biblical in scope. It’s trials like these that give missions to everyday folk and turn them from commoners to saints. Imagine joining forces with an NPC with a sacred vow to never “let another in his care fall to anything other than old age.” Wouldn’t you want that NPC in your party?

Even better, can you imagine granting an experienced roleplayer this role? In a critical scene, those people he or she cares for dying around them, a deity sees the opportunity to help a situation with a price. It’s that sort of role that can make a campaign memorable for years to come if done well.

Honestly I wasn’t sure what to expect in Sigfried Trent’s Visions of the Oracle, but I knew there would be some great nuggets hidden within its pages. At only 17 pages, it offers multiple tools to players and GMs alike, but I think the heart lies with the example characters at the end. Trent and Open Design continue to impress with this line of thoughtful tools for gamers. I wonder what’s next?

(See my reviews of The Summoner’s Circle and The Cavalier’s Creed – the other two books in the Advanced Feats series from Sigfried Trent and Open Design!)

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