• The Infractions Forum is available for public view. Please note that if you have been suspended you will need to open a private/incognito browser window to view it.

MoonHunter Sayeth 20180629


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Techniques: Foreshadowing
Or who is Chekhov and why do I care about his gun?

'Chekhov's Gun' is a concept (literary rule) that describes how every element of a story should contribute to the whole. It comes from Anton Chekhov (who wrote a number of famous books on writing), "If in Act I you have a gun hanging on the wall, then it must fire by the last act"
This piece is all about foreshadowing: hints about what will happen (in the future) of the story. Chekhov's gun is a literary device related to, but separate from, foreshadowing.

Chekhov's Gun makes two important points for writers, playwrights, and screenwriters. First, there should be nothing in your story that does not advance the plot. Everything mentioned is important. Second, it is about a promise. For gamers, the promise is what is important. Gamers have to ignore the first point... in general.

Why are we ignoring the First Point? The GM has only minimal control over the real direction of the chronicle story. No one knows what will truly advance the plot in play. A GM can make an educated guess on which one or two options the players will go with, but players are notorious for taking "What is behind Door Number Three". There needs to be a lot of options present in the chronicle to avoid railroading/ single path solutions that if you deviate from the rails/ path you crash.

The GM should litter their chronicle with plot hooks and option, while players should seize upon them and use them.

*** *0* ***​

Foreshadowing is

Simply put, foreshadowing prepares players for what happens later in the chronicle. Not tells them what will happen, just prepares them for what should happen. (*1)

In theory, Foreshadowing is simple. Foreshadowing is done by mentioning or showing things or people or events before they actually "come to be" in the chronicle.

Foreshadowing does two things
  1. Set up expectations (you see these coming down the line)
  2. Set up plot twist (you don't see these coming until after the fact and you go... Ohhhhh there were clues.)

In practice, it is a little harder.

In general (or major or corporal...)

Foreshadowing should never be done in narrator moment or during an "info dump" of any kind. (A case can be made for and against encyclopedia moments). GM's will do it, and nobody takes them away to a holding cell when they do, but the information you need them to remember is usually lost in the noise of the info dump. (Some people manage to make this work with their players, so YMMV).

If the foreshadowing is subtle, it should be done in embedded description during the actions of the scene. This GM Technique is adding little bits of useful description every time you can. This prevents the info dump or big boring descriptive bits. It is a little ladle of information with every action. This could be used for highlighting an item or a trait on the character.

Really, it depends on how you want to implement them. Sometimes the foreshadowing can be stage front. They could be side scenes (little vignettes that happen near the characters), something the character watches/ experiences, details they notice on a non-protagonist character (or a protagonist character), and so on. Generally the way to do it.

When planning a scene, they can be one of the purposes of a scene. "Drop X piece of information" is a note found on many a scene card. It is up to the GM to figure out how and when.

Places to Foreshadow
This is not a definitive list, but a good way to think about it.
  • Foreshadow in the earliest part of the scene. This is best used if the thing foreshadowed happens at the end of the scene.
  • Foreshadow by description of the setting/ character. Use your little ladle of description, including the descriptive bit about the subject during actions and scene setting. Often all it takes in an NPC to comment on a situation or character to foreshadow what you want.
  • Foreshadow by action/ activity. This is mostly done by having a side scene or event the character is witnessing. This can take more set up, but it reaps greater rewards.
  • Foreshadow by a subplot or story arc . Set up scenes and events in the story arc that do nothing but lead in or foreshadow the events towards the end of the story line. These scenes often build up the importance of things that will happen later. You can even have a storyline that will set up another storyline. That shows your story chops.
  • Foreshadow in cut scene/ flashback. This is perhaps my favorite way to foreshadow things. Cut Scenes to other places can foreshadow things for the players that their characters do not know. I do like the flashback method as well and it works for a callback.

*** *0* ***​
Some Points to Bring it All Together

The Rule of 3
The Rule of 3 is applicable to foreshadowing. If a fact or idea or piece of information is important to the players, it should be foreshadowed three times. If it is something they must know but you don't want to put it in an encyclopedia moment, reference it three times over the chronicle... and it is likely the players should pick it up.

If you set it up, make it pay off
That title was inspired by Joss Whedon. His quote was, "Set it up and for God's Sake Pay if off. Otherwise, the players think they have been had". This is The Promise. Joss is all about The Promise. This is the second part of Chekov's Gun, that I foreshadowed earlier. (See what I did there?) Chekhov’s Gun refers to the unspoken agreement that a writer won’t make “false promises” to a reader by introducing elements that are unexplained. In other words, if the writer draws attention to something, The writer will eventually need to reveal why it's worth noticing. Insert GM for Writer and Player for reader, and you get the Gamer Quote.

To Review - Chekhov’s Gun and how does it differ from foreshadowing?

Chekhov’s Gun refers to the unspoken agreement that a writer won’t make “false promises” to a reader by introducing elements that are unexplained. In other words, if you draw attention to something, you will eventually need to reveal why it's worth noticing. - Everything mentioned needs to be important to the story.

Foreshadowing involves almost the opposite: the writer hints at something they only want the reader to kind of notice. The reader’s attention is not directly pointed to a specific element; the element is simply presented so that the reader is aware of it.
If you are a GM, always make sure that Chekov's Gun is in your inventory list.

Red Herrings - a broken promise of sorts
A red herring is a literary device used to throw readers “off the scent.” They’re most often used in mystery and crime novels, but can be found in many other genres, too. When an author uses a red herring, they introduce items in a way that makes the reader think they are important to the story — when in fact they are there to distract the reader from what’s really going on. The Chekhov's Gun Rule still applies to Red Herrings. Nothing totally random should ever be introduced to the chronicle. Even if the element is minor or only related to a subplot, a red herring should still have some relationship to the story.

Technically, the use of Chekov's gun in this article is a red herring. Sort of important, but in the end ... not.

MacGuffin: The Anti-Chekov's Gun. (Completely Unrelated Trivia)
Since we keep talking about the Gun that is not important to this article... The MacGuffin (McGuffin or maguffin) is a plot device that can be seen as the inverse to Chekhov’s Gun. Popularized by Alfred Hitchcock, the MacGuffin typically takes the form of a goal or object of desire for the protagonist that is simply used in order to take the character on a journey — while the actual goal/object carries no narrative significance itself. The classic is the Maltese Falcon. In the movie, nobody had it, everyone wanted it, and all it did was mix several characters together and watch their personal drama drive the action.

Call Backs A different way to do this.
This is a thing I don't do enough. Sure I do foreshadowing. However, this is a bit different - another related element. It is something great comedians and storytellers do all the time (and you should too). A callback is when you reference something that was said or that happened earlier. It reinforces the idea. (In fact, the rule of three can apply here.) Call back to things earlier in the chronicle, though you can go "shallow" and call back to earlier in the session. The story element that's referenced should be relevant to what's happening now in the story. This technique will tie your chronicle together, making events seem less random and part of a greater whole. (It is like foreshadowing, but it is done after the fact. The GM (or player) is referencing and sometimes flashing back to something that happened earlier.)

*** *0* ***​

*** *0* ***​

*1) Smart players take the foreshadowing as the warnings they often are.

1) https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/deliver-foreshadowing-in-a-1-2-3-punch/
2) https://www.nownovel.com/blog/use-chekhovs-gun/
3) https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/how-to-use-foreshadowing/
4) https://blog.reedsy.com/chekhovs-gun/


RPGnet Member
Validated User
Good article.

Another cult TV show creator, J. Michael Strackzinski, made heavy use of foreshadowing in Babylon 5. What appeared to be a small thing in season 1 could end up being important later. He regularly fired Chekov's gun.

For RPGs, I have found that the players sometimes pick up on a clue as a red herring when it is not. What do you think about breaking the Fourth Wall and letting the players know, 'that's not important?'

I concur that having details in the game be meaningful and that repeating information helps. A random mess kit on the trail could just be some flavor item for the PCs to find when they are searching and I need a random loot item. If the players want more than to just find a mess kit, I'm going to work up a story for it. 'This mess kit has the letters BSA on it and a three-foil flower design. The pot is burned from heavy use, with a dark stain resembling chocolate.' Then the players can explore why a BSA member was cooking chocolate and burnt it--either by speculation or by further investigation.

And for that story, well I'm thinking back to a critical failure in my cooking in Boy Scouts where I burned the chocolate in the pan and it took months to come out.


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
RPGnet Member
Validated User
baakyocalder;bt643 said:
Another cult TV show creator, J. Michael Strackzinski, made heavy use of foreshadowing in Babylon 5.
Ah yes, a man who does not get enough credit for his work on that show.

baakyocalder;bt643 said:
For RPGs, I have found that the players sometimes pick up on a clue as a red herring when it is not. What do you think about breaking the Fourth Wall and letting the players know, 'that's not important?'
I have actually broken the fourth wall for just that reason. People were taking detailed notes on my opening moments of the game. Not the encyclopedia moment they should of been taking notes on, but the description of the wide panaramic view of the lands about them, narrowing in to the local town, then the where they were at the castle, just to set the scene of where they are and what is going on around them. Admittedly, they were newer gamers to our group. They thought that The GM only said "plot important things". It took them a little while to get used to cinematic style gaming and actual "color descriptions".

I have said to a player, "yes that is important" or "no, that isn't important" (or "yes, that is important, but you will get it multiple times and it is in the Chronicle Packet"), so I could make sure their notes had the right points. Most people don't need their notes after a while, but it is always a good habit to reinforce.


RPGnet Member
Validated User
Thank you for the explanation.

Cinematic style is definitely hard to do if players are used to gamist thinking where the rules define what you can do more than what you and the others in the story agree is fun.
Top Bottom