Self Fulfilling Prophecies
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"Why Gawain? ",
"I… suppose it's a good strong name for a fighter…"
"A self-fulfilling prophecy I suspect ,"

(Death and Susan speculating on the name of the Gaiter's son in Hogfather by Terry Pratchett)

Basic Information

Self Fulfilling Prophecies are prophecies that come true because they were made; knowledge of the prophecy causes characters to act in a way that eventually makes it come true. Usually they act this way to try to prevent it. When a hero tries to prevent the prophesied release of an ancient evil, his actions will help it escape because You Cant Fight Fate. When the Big Bad tries to kill its prophesied nemesis before he can become a threat, it will only manage to create the hero it fears, Because Destiny Says So. A misinterpretation due to a Prophecy Twist or Prophetic Fallacy may be involved.

The archetypal Older Than Dirt example is the myth of Oedipus. A prophecy says the king will be killed by his own son, so the king orders his infant son killed. (He has him crippled and abandoned in the wilderness, instead of just breaking his neck.) Oedipus is rescued, and brought up not knowing he's the prince. Twenty years later he learns his fate: he will kill his father and marry his mother. Wanting to protect his adoptive family — who he believes are his natural parents — Oedipus leaves home. On the road, he doesn't recognize his father, gets into an argument, and kills him. Shortly thereafter he comes to the city his father ruled, and frees them from the Sphinx; as a reward Oedipus is made king of the city and marries the widowed queen…his own mother. The other version of this myth involves Oedipus becoming an athlete, and a thrown discus killing his father, who was watching, by pure coincidence.

Most of the real-world prophecies that come true are also self-fulfilling — simply stating that something will happen often ensures that it will happen someday, whether by accident or because someone read your prophecy and decided he'd make it happen. An example sometimes given is that a prediction of a bank becoming insolvent becomes true because everyone tries to withdraw their money from the bank, which (since the bank uses fractional-reserve banking) they don't have at that moment (they'd have to recall all the loans they'd given), and this then causes the bank to become insolvent. Another popular example is the fear that there will be a shortage of a commodity (especially gas). Everybody stocks up on the commodity, resulting in a shortage.

Often an integral part of Tragedy. See also Fate and Prophecy tropes.



Game and Story Use

  • This is a classic, but it may be better if most of the self-fulfilling is done by an npc. Getting pcs to act in the right way may be tricky, and even if it works the players may feel railroaded.
    • If the npc is sufficiently powerful, the pcs may even be aware of this. A plot may revolve around keeping a misguided npc from inadvertently making a bad prophecy come true. He doesn't even have to be particularly villainous, depending on taste.
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