In our fantasy worlds, we often focus on the things on the ground. Sometimes we may remember that a few things can fly. But just like our PCs, sometimes we forget to look up. In this case, it’s the skies above we forget to mine for ideas.
Until modern astronomy came along, most folks interpreted astronomical events as “signs from the gods” that things were going to go crazy. Sure, some of the Greek deep thinkers and a few others through antiquity may have had a clue it was the natural world at work, but usually if something fell out of the sky or happened differently than the night before it was bad news.
So why not leverage some of those ideas in our games?
In some cultures, an eclipse signified the devouring of the sun or moon by an otherworldly being (demon, god, celestial beast, etc.). Many cultures tried to scare such beings away with loud noises. Others probably hid. But imagine some of the stories you could use in your own settings and mythologies…
- Perhaps an eclipse signifies the battle between two deities.
- Maybe a jealous celestial being devours the moon or sun to gain power until the orb is returned to the sky. The amount of time such a being holds this power depends on how long the orb is gone, so if it passes beyond the horizon while being “consumed” it may have a full day cycle to complete whatever nefarious plans it has concocted.
- Or it may just be an opportunity for a night-time assassination attempt or raid with more darkness to hide in.
When stars hang in the sky with bright tails for days, weeks, or months, somebody is bound to notice. Comets have always been portents of change in our world. Some comets have even been bright enough to see during the day, which would really freak some people out. Why not…
- Have rulers interpret comets as signs it’s a good time to attack their neighbors to gain land and resources. So long as the comet hangs in the air, their efforts can’t fail, right?
- Other rulers may see the sign as a good time to circle the wagons and get all their people indoors to hide from whatever may be coming.
- Still others may see a comet as a vehicle affording spiritual transport to the next realm, committing great sacrifices of human life to encourage a safe journey. What sort of bloodshed might a dedicated cult or religion try to accomplish during that time?
Meteors, like comets, often bring portents of change. A single meteor may bring a message from the gods, interpreted as a sign of good luck for the observer while a flood of meteors suggests that the gods are angry and seeking to destroy the world one flaming fireball at a time. Having your home flattened by a falling star is the ultimate bad luck charm.
A suddenly bright star in the night sky can bring all sorts of interpretations as well. The color red may be a sign of war or passion. A bright white light may signify that the gaze of the gods is upon you and mortals must be extremely vigilant. Blue might mean that the gods were particularly pleased with a recent event, such as the birth of a major figure. And a star winking out of existence… well, that was usually interpreted as the death of a deity.
People in power, whether they believe the superstitions about such astronomical events or not, will tend to use such events to their advantage. Watching the stars and particular constellations would be an important job in such cases. Advisors may suggest strategies for manipulating their own populations or use psychological warfare tactics against their enemy. A campaign of rumors and innuendo might put an entire kingdom on edge, offering an advantageous time for assassination, kidnapping, or theft.
Use such opportunities in your games to keep your players and PCs on guard from strange forces well beyond their control or understanding. Random or not, they can inject a grander scale into our PCs (and NPCs) daily lives that can be leveraged in
evil mysterious ways!!