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Alright, so, in a world of men and monsters, where magic is commonplace and can be learned by any if they can endure the training, there exists a group of people who have dedicated every ounce of their magic into, mostly, one area: to see into the future. Known colloquially as "Oracles," they are incredibly powerful, being able to see into the future with ease and their "visions" of the future are incredibly detailed, and very accurate. They can make “predictions” of events that will happen hundreds of miles away, so long as they “focus” their vision on a general area.

For example, If they look into the future of some bar in a random town, they might see a conversation between a group of people an hour from now, and will see exactly how the conversation went, what was said, and how it ended. They would also see about a dozen different events in that same small town, each with the same amount of clarity and detail as their first vision.

Their only weaknesses were that they could only have so many visions a day (let’s say in the dozens, with each one being a different event), and if two Oracles tried to see the future of the same event/place, both of their visions would “blackout” due to interference from both of their magic. Oracles were once known for being game-changers in the world, able to predict the movements of any one person, or even large organizations, with ease. They could learn an enemy’s plan, see who could be useful to them and who needed to be taken care of, learn the motivations of every person in their vision, and use that to their advantage. They were some of the scariest magic users in the world.

For a short while, anyway.

For you see, due to the abject threat they posed to everyone, a group of magic-users developed a perfect counterspell to them. In essence, the spell would be cast on a person and/or place, and if any Oracle tried to see the future of those places or people, it would seem to work as normal. They see the future of whatever people or places they happened to see in their visions, with the same amount of clarity and details as always. Except it wasn’t a real future they were seeing.

The counterspell works by showing an Oracle completely fake futures that are indistinguishable from the real futures. For example: say an Oracle uses her powers and sees a variety of futures. in Future A, an Oracle might see Bob fighting Dave, with Dave winning the fight after whipping out his magic Glock and shooting Bob in the face, and in Future B, they see their own home, and nothing happens to it, or them, at all, it’s just a normal day. However, once the events actually do happen, Bob is the one that wins the fight by nailing Dave in the head with a brick just before he could take out his gum and the Oracles Home was raided by their enemies and torched to the ground, and they’re killed in the flames. And this absolutely crippling counter spell could be cast on anything and anyone, and could be done by even the most incompetent of magic users.

(Edit: Additionally, the counterspell itself is what determines what the Oracle sees, able to create convincing visions without any need for creativity on the caster's part. And for further clarity, the counterspells are placed on a person/place/thing that isn't the Oracle, which makes all predictions from all Oracles about that particular thing false, to varying degrees.)

The counterspell was quickly spread to almost every corner of the globe, and the Oracles, once one of the most feared people in the world, are all but a laughing stock in the magic community. And one of my characters is a part of this fallen group of magic users, hellbent on restoring them to their former glory. The problem is, they need to first overcome the hurdle of that counterspell. They can’t really “break” the counterspell, as for one they have no idea if one is being used until what they saw in the future either does or doesn’t happen. And even if they know one has been placed, they can only “break” it if one someone goes in person to “wipe it” off whatever person or place the counter was put on.

Through study, my character has found that if they use their powers for short-term visions, as in events happening in the next few minutes, they're more accurate, if somewhat flawed. For example, they see themselves in a fight, Thug #1 throws a punch that hits them in the face and then Thug #2 sneaks up on them from behind and hits them with a wooden chair; when the event does happen, the Oracle uses what they saw to doge the punch from Thug #1, but when they turn around, expecting Thug #2 to attack from behind, instead he comes at the Oracle by jumping off a wooden chair and poised to stab them with a knife. If they try to see further than a few minutes, then their vision is completely “deceived” by the counterspells.

So how does an Oracle use their powers effectively in a world that’s learned to counter their abilities?

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    $\begingroup$ Very difficult to say at present, since you've not really told us about your world except within the narrow confines of oracles and counter-oracles and that apparently there are some fights. Even then it would be opinion-based or story-based. We invite you to take our tour and read-up in the help center about how we work. We deal with focused worldbuilding issues, that's important to understand. $\endgroup$ May 2 at 0:31
  • $\begingroup$ If the oracle knows they’re being counterspelled then they can assume no future they see is going to come true, right? $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    May 2 at 8:29
  • $\begingroup$ Can we have more details on the counterspell? Who determines what the Oracles see? Does the counterspell do it on its own perfectly, or does the caster need to create a fake vision (and then, depending on their creativity, the visions could be better or worse)? $\endgroup$
    – Vilx-
    May 3 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ Also it seems there is some unclarity among the answers about whether the counterspell is cast on an Oracle (rendering ALL their predictions false), or on a specific place/person/object (rendering ALL predictions form ALL Oracles false, but only about that particular thing). $\endgroup$
    – Vilx-
    May 3 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ "How can the simple answer is I beat this perfect thing I invented, even though I've already defined it to be perfect?" Just stop giving your world perfect counters to other perfect things. Make everything imperfect and subject to skill, expertise, circumstances and failure. $\endgroup$ May 3 at 16:08

13 Answers 13

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Forensic Oracles.

How can oracles use their powers despite ubiquitous counterspelling? Similar to how computer viruses and hacking still work despite security and antivirus software. It still works, you just have to be a lot cleverer about what and how you predict.

The mages guild charges a premium for counterspells that do any of: (a) affect a large area; (b) provide more believable false predictions; (c) work for predictions of the near future. . . . So it is unfeasible that everything and everyone be counterspelled. The more valuable targets will have security measures, but those always have cracks if we are clever enough to exploit them.

For example suppose we want to poison the ambassador at tomorrow's performance, and need to find which chair he sits in. The ambassador is a high-value official and is heavily counterspelled. We cannot find the chair by scrying him directly. Instead we can scry every possible chair until we find one that later seats the ambassador.

For another example suppose you want to predict which city David will travel to tomorrow. First you scry on David himself. Then you scry several more times, at different times in the day. If the various visions contradict each other you know David has scry-proofed himself, and move on to harder things. For example you find all the carriages David might travel on the following morning, and scry on those, to see which one contains David. Or you buy one seat on every carriage out of town, pay a trusted associate to take that seat, and scry that person to see if anyone of them are sitting beside David.

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    $\begingroup$ Bonus: I am not even sure that the counterspell would naturally form as there is a much easier way to "counterspell" that doesn't require ruining a valuable industry for the nobles. simply hire 2 oracles to scry an event you want to have kept secret. the blackout effect will cause both the random oracles you hired as well as any your opponents hire to fail. $\endgroup$
    – IT Alex
    May 3 at 13:41
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Solitary confinement

Take a small number of people and put them in places where they cannot have the deception spell cast on them. Maybe wilderness areas or inside of caverns beneath the earth. It's up to you as the author to decide if these people are volunteers or prisoners. The oracles will know their visions of these people are accurate and that nobody else has seen that specific future. This has two purposes:

  1. They know whatever they can learn from watching their subjects is accurate. If your wilderness person is getting rained on then you know it's about to rain in his area, which could be extremely useful.

  2. The oracle can compare her visions of other people to what she knows is true from the subjects. So if she has a vision where it's sunny and she knows it's going to rain, she knows that someone interfered and can look into who cast the interference spell.

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    $\begingroup$ With a small addition, this can be used to predict literally anything that can be known in hindsight. Simply go into the cavern every day and read the news to the prisoner. Tell your Oracle to look for the prisoner hearing tomorrow's news. $\endgroup$
    – Robyn
    May 3 at 5:39
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Don't spy on the target. Spy on yourself.

So say you want to know which seat an important official will be sitting in. Both the official and the venue are blocked to you, so no luck there. You don't even need to check to know that there's no point in checking them. But, there's someone you can be very sure you can spy on. Yourself. All you need to do is look into the future at yourself, after whatever you want to do is done, and has had acceptable results, and listen to what you tell yourself to do. Thus you can see as far into the future as you ever could, making your protagonist appear able to pierce the counter, a nice image to project, even if untrue.

Unfortunately, this method is not without weaknesses. You cannot find someone discussing plans, but you can find out what those plans ended up doing. This works perfectly if your visions are inviolable, what you see must occur. But, as appears to be the case, if you can change the the future this has problems for your enemies responses. You may also be subject to some butterfly effect problems once your enemies figure out what you are doing and start using some randomness in their plans. Your visions will also, necessarily convey much less information. Hearing the phrase "the official sits at the head of the table at 4:27" does not give the details that seeing the official sit would. Its better than nothing, but if your future self gets poor information, so does your past self.

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    $\begingroup$ This scheme works both ways. The oracles would always be checking on future selves I am sure. One day I check on Willk in 5 years and he tells me - dude, and I mean dude in 2016 not you others, - I need you to tell me what this guy is going to do tomorrow \, because in my time he has a spell blocking my power. In 2016 I do the oracle thing and write it down for future reference. Back in 2021 I check my future file corresponding to today because I dont remember all of the old results from years ago.. I no longer do a whole lot of oracle work but my past selves are kept very busy. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    May 2 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't have to be limited to yourself either. You could hire known-good targets and spy on them in the future. $\endgroup$ May 3 at 21:53
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Simple work around

Instead of doing one cast, do two casts, one right after the next. The fake stories might not match up. If you see one person going to the market right before noon, and then being in a restaurant right after noon seconds later, you know it is a fake story. This means you can't now the future, but you will know when you are being lied to. This means that you will at least never be wrong and can still be trusted.

You can choose secrecy or spell slots

lots of spell casting

In order to maintain security every single person who needs to be protected needs to be given a counter spell. Then every person who interacts with that person need it since they might be targeted and leak the information. Also Counter spell is probably a very expensive spell since it counters a spell that only a few people high level can do, and not many times a day. If it lasts for a long time then it probably is higher level and takes more energy to cast. Otherwise it needs a lot of short low level casts. In D&D the actual spell counter spell is a level three spell that max level wizards can cast 15 times per cycle. However, counter spell needs to be cast in response to a specific spell, and the spell fails entirely, not letting the enemy think that the spell succeeded. This spell lasts over a period time and targets a specific person. It also disguises the spell failure also. This is a very strong spell that might take a lot of effort.

Counter spell, counter spell, counter spell

This means secret organizations will have all their mages burning all their spell slots to even get decent but not full coverage. This means that any side that has the oracles either has a knowledge or spell advantage over their enemies. Also, unless the coverage is full, the oracles can just get two people to look at the same place and time (or close enough to not overlap) and if they get the same story that person isn't protected. If they get different fake stories, they know that those people are protected and can move on. otherwise they know they have the truth. If you see that you are getting lots of counter spells all the time, then you might not know what the people are doing, but you will know they are doing it without spell slots.

Defense is more expensive than offense

In order to cause your enemies to waste spell slots on counter spell, you don't need to actually use your oracle powers. The threat of using your powers is enough to cause your enemy to invest in defense. Yes, you now spend twice as many spells to see your enemy, but your enemy is using many more spell slots to counter you. Also, this upkeep is constant, while your upkeep is nothing, only the one use cost of the ability.

Most people don't want to counter spell

The king doesn't want to counter spell the oracles when he asks what the crop yields will be for this year, so he knows weather to stock up or export grain. In fact anyone who might counter spell will likely find themselves targeted by the city guard. Not to mention that getting counter spell on every place and time that the oracle could do a reading is basically impossible. You want to know if you will marry a pretty man (or woman) in the future? You aren't going to counter spell yourself in that case.

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Focus on the here and now.

If they're able to see accurately within a minute or two, or even a few seconds, this could become invaluable in combat, as you note, but they have to focus their attention on the immediate situation. It would be, essentially, a version of Spider-Man's Spider Sense, which people like bodyguards would give up anything to have. Can only see the bullet coming in ten seconds before the shot? That's an eternity to get a protectee out of the bullet (or arrow's) path.

So your Oracle isn't simply a mage: he's trained just as hard in combat. He's primarily a warrior who has an extra skill on top of his entirely adequate fighting skills, and while mages might snicker at such a lame power, someone facing him in combat isn't laughing at all. And if they use magic to nullify his power? He's still a dangerous opponent, just slightly less dangerous than before. So what if he can't accurately see what the second guy is going to do any more than a normal person? His power still lets him defeat the first efficiently, giving him time to turn and focus his attention on enemy number two, and then get an accurate reading on that one's actions in the next few seconds.

She'd also be a skilled infiltrator: is that door booby-trapped, or is where she's about to make a step trigger an alarm? She only needs to see a few seconds into the future to know that.

Assassination would also be interesting if the assassin knew that ten seconds from now the general would stick their head over the parapet right there, just in time to meet the crossbow bolt that was fired before their head even popped up.

In short, in order for your Oracle to play the game where things are loaded against him, change the game. A complete wimp in terms of mages? Don't act like a mage.

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  • $\begingroup$ Very smart answer! Any mage's greatest weakness is a good warrior, or in other words, "no one can cast a spell after getting punched in the face." $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Jul 8 at 23:12
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Consequences are still visible

To predict the future is still Incredibly powerful. They just have to focus more effort on a single prediction. Not knowing how large areas are or how long the counter spell lasts I can't give the perfect answers. That being said, I can give the mindset to still predict the future.

First of all, anything newsworthy is easily found and read. Newspapers and the internet give tons of information. Sure it's not always accurate or truthful, which is more and more a problem in this society, but many events can still give a good description. Deaths and miraculous escapes. Secret place that people convened that was deducted later. It makes sense to employ very good private investigators (PI) to research these things as well. This both augments their information powers, while having a reliable source to scry upon for knowledge. Even if the PI is counterspelled, he or she can write it down on a safe location or send via the internet, which means that not every location where the information is displayed is counterspelled. You can check these with the visions at leasure.

To more directly circumvent the counterspell you can use more teams. As in your example, someone checks the restaurant and sees a scene unfold that is just Bob and Dave eating. The next one looks outside and sees Bob fleeing the scene. The next one looks outside later and sees a body being loaded in a hearse. You know there was a counterspell in the restaurant and not outside, as the further visions show a comprehensive whole. These suggest that there was a murder and Bob ran away. Not as detailed, but can still be invaluable. Together with checking the news and your PIs, you can still have detailed enough reports.

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CATCHING A WHIFF OF THE FUTURE:

Well, it sucks that counter-spells are messing things up. But I'd say there should be a few ways to work around this problem. Use the oracular powers to detect where the counter-spells are happening, and investigate the area. Use the limited but accurate detection you have to its best effect.

  • Predicting things even moments in the future is no different than seeing through a crystal ball: If the shorter you look back in time, the more accurate the prediction is, then don't look back as much as away. While not as useful as knowing the actual future, seeing another place far away is, by itself, very useful. Since the closer to the current time, the more accurate the prediction, I'd say there is something about the time difference that means it's easier for the mage to see something only seconds in the future. Maybe they can do it more often. So look a fraction of a second into the future, and the prediction will be almost as good as being there.
  • Counter-spells need a mage: Counter-spells require that a mage jamming the oracle is using magic to jam magic. So seeing things where there is no mage should still work. It also means that the mage needs to anticipate that an oracle will be trying to look, and that there is something worth seeing that makes the trouble of a counter-spell worth while. 90% of the time, it wouldn't occur to most mages that there is anything worth the trouble to block. And why would a mage bother most of the time?
  • Triangulation prediction (detecting the counter-spell): To see what there is really going on, scry in the area around the affected zone. Look for future events large enough to be spotted from the surrounding countryside (and unlikely to be screened). So the passage of a courier could be masked, but an army passing through would be too big a thing to miss. Have oracles working in teams. If the oracle sees something, and the next oracle sees something different, you've confirmed something worth seeing. Then cast a wide net, looking for two predictions that match, defining the area covered by the counter-spell. While you may not see the heart of a secret, you define it's range and can get hints of what it is covering.
  • If the scrying sees the future, and is blocked in the future: The counter spell works either by being cast in the future or by being cast in the current time. If the casting works by being cast in the future, then magic can seriously mess with causality. Use a modified form of scrying to detect the counter-spell. That way, while you can't get an accurate depiction of the future, you CAN tell when and where people will have something to hide. Arrange for good old fashioned spies to be present in the locations that have been blocked.
  • If the scrying sees the future, but is blocked in the now: How do the rival mages know when the oracle is going to look into the future, and cast a spell to block them? Do you need to cast it on the oracle? If so, the oracle needs to work in secrecy, not exposing who and what they are monitoring. Does it work by blocking the area scried? If so, how far into the future does it block? How are mages who AREN'T oracles going to know when an oracle is going to look at something that hasn't happened? The actual utility of the scrying at viewing predictable places that might be regularly blocked is low (say, for example, a senate chamber) but the likelihood that someone knows there will be a secret meeting tomorrow in a bar is low, and it can be missed. Again, this suggests that someone needs to develop a spell to detect counter-spells. People only cover up what they don't want seen. Planning a secret meeting for tomorrow if the counter-spell can be detected means the mages doing the hiding need to cast their obfuscation net wide to hide the real secret. I don't know about you, but I thought most mages had a limit on how much magic they could use.
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The counterspell has to be cast on a specific target, voiding their capability of seeing the future.

A countermeasure is to do something like instrument check in electronics: in the simplest version take n>2 oracles, if all of them see the same future than they are counterspell free, if 1 disagrees then they have been likely been tampered with.

The only way to cheat this countermeasure is to implant the same future in all the counterspelled targets, which can be tricky if one doesn't know how many of them will be used for validation.

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    $\begingroup$ I think the counterspell was cast no on the Oracles, but rather on the objects/places/people they were trying to observe. $\endgroup$
    – Vilx-
    May 3 at 14:01
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The consequence of greater accuracy in prediction is greater determinacy.

The oracles are playing a long game. A small cabal foresaw the counter-spell, secretly took over its research, and added a back door to it. However, many other oracles did not know about the back door or how to operate it.

But the oracles are biding their time. It suits them to be seen to be weak. They also know the precise moment at which to strike, and then they shall move to establish global domination - and the very end to free will!!

Mwahahahaha.

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Detective Oracles

The main character realizes they can, by reversing the polarity of the magical flux, see the past instead of the future. The counterspell only works in one direction, so is useless against the reversed version, therefore the Oracles can become the greatest detectives of all time. Kings, noblemen, lords pay them handsomely and guarantee their safety in return for accurate and reliable information about crimes and other dastardly deeds that happened to their interests. Questions like "Did the Queen die a natural death or was slipped a poison, and if so, then by whom?", "Who was the spy who sent the details of yesterday's ambush to the enemy captain?", "Who was the lone rider who passed by the mountains a day before the dam burst and where did he go?", "In which of my pockets did I put that magical seal?" will no longer remain unanswered, for the right price, be it gold, influence, favors or something else.

Of course, with the proper motivation, the Oracle might see the past as happened, but tell just a slightly different story, if that is in their long-term interest and can ensure that their reputation isn't tarnished. At least until another Oracle comes by to investigate the case...

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Security. Places that you own allow you to temporarily scrub the protective spell and then see what will happen in the area. From tracking theft on the marketplaces to seeing if, when and where an attack might take place to checking for assasination attempts.

Finding out what is considered important. Secretly scrub the place/mages that cast the obfuscation spells. Then check what and who are all protected by these spells. For example if you find out that some messengers get these spells cast on them then they must be considered for high-value material.

Secret Intelligence gathering. Your opponents (and supposed allies) feel safe and secure in their spell-protected places. In fact they will likely gather much more in such places and place more sensitive materials there than before. So what if you can scrub the spells there and on the persons involved without anyone noticing? Suddenly you can learn tons of information deemed secure, giving you a massive leg-up. Its like breaking Enigma without your enemy realizing. Ofcourse if it gets out you will enter a spy era where false information is spread and intelligence is gathered on what is compromised and what not etc.

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Breaking the counter-spell

As oracles have visions of a false future, they wear away at the counter-spell inhibiting the truth. Thus, after multiple targeted visions, the oracles can confidently report their vision.

It's rumored that some oracles have developed a shared ability, where multiple oracles can wear away at the same counter-spell.

Some oracles claim that consistent visions, such as every hour or every evening, is key to wearing away the counter-spell effectively. Conversely, other mages believe erratic visions, where there is no pattern, is more effective.

Subverting the counter-spell

Through employing mages skilled at protecting and/or cleansing themselves from the counter-spell and crafting/enchanting physical objects with counter-spell protection, the oracles have a wide range of people and objects they can observe with confidence.

This has initiated an espionage race of identifying protected people and objects and inversely, inventing more novels ways of infiltrating.

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  • $\begingroup$ You could also change the wear away with a process of elimination. If an oracle has 10 visions of an event, and in 8 of the 10 visions he sees a deadly potion kill someone, he can confidently identify the potion as deadly. $\endgroup$ May 3 at 22:12
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Subterfuge

The council of oracles could enact a top-secret, devious plan like this:

  • Plant a person or object that will be "read" by an oracle
  • Arrange for a well-known mage outside the council to cast the troublesome counterspell on the plant
  • Have an oracle perform a reading that now works
  • Let it "slip" that the oracle has found a weakness in the counterspell that he/she is now employing
  • Repeat this process for years
  • Let the knowledge of this new counter to the counter spread throughout the land like wildfire
  • Over time, faith in the counterspell should wane
  • Profit

To keep the illusion going:

  • Every once in a while, arrange for someone outside the council to "discover" a new hardening of the counterspell
  • Then, a little while later, let an oracle "discover" a weakness in this new method, re-asserting dominance
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