There may come a time when you feel as if the world has conspired to set you on a path not of your choosing. Strange things happen to you, and the people around you. You on a course for something you do not want, and may not even understand. You are no longer in control of your life. Someone else is steering the ship, and you don’t like the look of the waters you’re headed towards.
Say you are in the army, at war. You are a scout, but your assignments are erratic. You never seem to see the enemy, even when you’re sent in their direction. After a while you feel something like apprehension. Well, more like honest fear, but you can’t say that out loud, or even to yourself. Maybe it has something to do with the empty wilds and tiny towns that you are constantly visiting for no apparent purpose. Or maybe it’s because your officers never explain why they send you out, and also seem to die at an alarming rate, and of apparently random causes. Burst stomach, pneumonia, falling from a horse. One got hit by lightning – lightning! You soon expect to enter the command structure – something you are not looking forward to.
And these events would be random, taken alone. But it keeps happening. Arrows narrowly miss you. Your outriders fall in a gorge in a night time ride, but you land unharmed. The whole camp gets dysentery, but you don’t. No one is this lucky. And when you think about it, it has also been happening. Your father dies suddenly and young, and you inherit his mill. Your mill burned down in the off season. Yet because of your property qualification and in spite of your lame foot, you have been drafted to fight in a war and can no longer pay someone to take your place. And come to think of it, how did this war start again?
You become convinced of a conspiracy. Someone, for some reason, has decided you will comb the wilds, looking for something. They have decided you will also come into the command, eventually. They have ruled that you will serve some unknown purpose, and they are altering your life to accomplish it. They have decided this despite your lack of distinction in military – or really, any – matters. It doesn’t explain the lightning, but that has to be it, right? Right?
When you fall asleep, before the dreams that you can’t remember the next day while still sitting heavy on your mind, you wonder if you’re going mad. Maybe this is what going mad feels like. Maybe your mother was right about you.
What the hell is happening to me?
The good news is, you are not entirely wrong. It’s not who, really, more “what” or perhaps “why.” Let the metaphysicians handle it. But anyway, you’re life is definitely being fucked with. Good of you to notice.
The bad news is that your life is being fucked with, by something so totally beyond your control that your only recourse seems to be riding it out. And let’s not even get into what your mother thinks of you.
Imagine you flip a coin. 50% heads, 50% tails. Simple enough. Now you flip two in a row. 25% chance of getting two heads, a 25% chance of getting tails, and a 25% chance of getting a heads and a tails in each order. Straightforward.
Now imagine you flip the coin thirty billion times in a row, looking for a very specific number of heads and tails in a specific order.
Now say you need some specific outcome, where there’s more than two choices. Say you need someone to be in a very specific place at a very specific time, and they have to be wearing the right color shirt and socks on top. Because when the princess passes by in her carriage and locks eyes with your ridiculous gettup under the clock tower at 5:14pm, her mood will be lightened. She will become breezy, fatuous, even a little flirtatious. She will go to her state function and so woo a potential suitor that the man will be driven to suicide when she refuses.
That man’s father was a duke. He just started a war against his liege, and you can bet your soon-to-be-devalued bottom dollar that things are going to get Out of Hand. Maybe try chartreuse next time?
But of course, it isn’t your fault all this happened. You do not possess the machine-like mind to calculate the probabilities leading up to such an event, nor the foresight to imagine the possibilities that may branch from each action leading up to your maroon socks precipitating civil war. And even if you did know about all that, you have only a limited ability to steer the probabilities involved. Even with inhuman intelligence, you would still be looking at almost non-existent odds of pulling something like this off. So who could do this?
They aren’t from here. They live outside our reality. They have some goal, and they have the tools to make it happen. They will never set a foot in our world. You will never see them. They use probability like an artist uses paint. Or a canvas, or a block of marble. And not just “if x happens, y is twice as likely to happen” stuff either. They can alter probabilities directly, with relying on the crutch of causality. How else do you explain the lightning strikes?
On that subject, they are not subtle, hence why people tend to notice their interfering. They like to use singular agents, one person at a time, usually an otherwise unnoteworthy one. It seems to be easier that way. A human is a contained system, at least in comparison to an entire kingdom, continent, or world. But honestly, who’s to say they didn’t “cause” the high taxes that grew the revolt, or the king’s foul demeanor that soured his vassals on him, or the suitor’s suicidal tendencies.
They always have some specific goal in mind, when using an individual. Those metaphysicians are sure that they don’t really think. These are just quantum anomalies. Purpose without thought, morality, or malice. Their tools almost always “survive.” because a living human can do a lot more than a dead one. Any sense of humor they seem to have is just a projection. Really.
But of course, they never want nice things, do they? It’s always wars and plagues, famines and floods. Maybe we only notice the bad ones. Maybe someone, somewhere, had the perfect, incredibly unlikely sequence of events placed before him so that he would meet the love of his life, marry, settle down, have four beautiful blonde children who grow fat and happy, and dying contentedly in his sleep after 87 years of fulfilling, joyous life. He just didn’t think to examine or question his circumstances, which is why the metaphysicians have never heard about it.
A comforting thought. Strange to think that these even chains never lead to, say, a bumper crop harvest, or someone catching the dam’s fatal design flaw in time, or the most worthy son inheriting the throne. Strange that probabilities only seem to be altered in favor of the bad outcome. Very strange.
And you swear they’re fucking with you. I mean, obviously they are, in the broader sense. But also in a sense that they seem to delight in ruining your life, and also in needlessly close calls. They act like a child holding a finger a half-inch away from your face, yelling “Not touching you! Not touching you!” Did that arrow really need to punch through your armor before being caught by your undershirt? I mean, come on. It could’ve just missed, and somehow you doubt pissing yourself is a necessary step in the inexorable process of achieving whatever the hell it is they want.
Maybe they aren’t as mindless as we hope. Maybe they just seem cruel – maybe stopping the arrow at the last moment is easier for them than causing it to miss. Maybe they only understand the difference between alive and dead, and not all the intermediate steps in between.
How to use this bullshit
Fuck if I know. One thing you should keep in mind is that you don’t want to railroad your players. The primary challenges in fighting them should be noticing them and figuring out what they want. They can be beaten this way, perhaps even fairly easily. They don’t actually seem terribly creative, and this is probability, not prophecy. It is entirely possible, perhaps even easy, for a human to preclude something happening. Take a vacation to the country you’ve been thinking about.
That said, it shouldn’t be the only challenge. Maybe give all rolls that help bring about the outcome they want advantage or something. And of course, encounters should be designed with some intermediary steps to their goal in mind, but that’s what you were doing anyway, wasn’t it? Your vacation will definitely be interrupted at some point.
You could always have this happen to a player, but I think the more interesting path is having it fall on some unfortunate NPC. First of all, this gives you more leeway to control the target’s actions, and thereby makes the interlopers seem more effective, since the target’s actions now follow their plan. She asks the PCs for help, and despite seeming (and at this point, possibly being) insane, the PCs slowly realize something is up. It could be a huge payoff/reveal that something is really happening once the evidence is too compelling to ignore.
It also gives you the chance to explore the psychological effects of this happening to someone. For PCs, it may fall flat, or backfire, since they may not care too much about their characters or get annoyed at your obvious fuckery. To be totally clear, this shit is totally fucked. Absolutely out of line. It would ruin your life. Sell the destruction, disruption, the anguish. Sell the cruelty of a world that at best doesn’t care, and at worst actively wants to ruin you and employ you for ruin, while you are powerless to strike back. Sell the hopelessness of facing an enemy that seems infused into the fabric of existence. Sell the paranoia, the second guessing, the sense someone is watching you, taunting you, that you must be going mad. This could be powerful stuff.