Saturday, July 2, 2016

An Overview of the Original World of Darkness (part 2)

(continued from part 1)

Mage: The Ascension: 

Players take on the role of a powerful wizard. There are three primal forces that work together to form the universe: Dynamism (creation and unbridled possibility, often seen as pure chaos), Stasis (order and lack of changeability), and Entropy (destruction and cessation of existence). There are four factions of mages: the Technocracy (representing Stasis, champions of safety and dependable mundanity; they see themselves as stewards shepherding the Sleepers — those humans who've not awoken to the true magical nature of the universe — into a paradise of technology and security), the Mauraders (those mages who have given themselves over to — or been overtaken by — the pure chaos and insanity of Dynamism), the Nephandi (mages representing Entropy who have 'sold their souls' to ancient demonic beings from other planes of existence, serving them in exchange for vast power), and the Tradition Mages (those who represent some level of balance between Stasis, Dynamism, and Entropy). Tradition mages run the gamut from traditional Hermetic magi (think Merlin or Gandalf) to shamans to Wiccans to the mentalist Buddhist-monk type, and even mad scientists or those who use computers to try to free the minds of the Sleepers.

Normally, players play a Tradition mage. According to the game, the universe is pliable, conforming to the beliefs of the majority of the people alive in the world. Thus, back when most people believed that the world was flat, it was flat, and after early wizards 'proved' (through the use of their magic) that it was actually round, and people came to believe that the world was round, it became round. Mages are those who have 'Awoken' to the true nature of the universe, and have learned to alter reality through force of will. That is, by forcing themselves to believe strongly enough that a bolt of lightning will fly from their fingertip and electrocute the person standing in front of them, a mage causes reality to alter to the point where that lightning bolt actually does shoot out of their fingertip! Of course, reality doesn't like to be altered in such a crass manner; making something happen that is so far outside of the 'realm of possibility' results in a force known as Paradox, which can (especially in large quantities) be disastrous for a mage. They can counteract this by making their magical effects look more plausible (instead of a lightning bolt shooting out of your fingertips, you can have your victim 'accidentally' touch an exposed electrical circuit).

The premise of the game is that the mages are engaged in a war to determine the nature of reality: free for all Sleepers, utterly chaotic, enslaved to extradimensional demonic entities, or conforming to the consensus for their own good. Right now, it looks like the Technocracy is winning, but the fight's not over yet...

Wraith: The Oblivion

Imagine that you have just died, but you weren't ready to die yet because you haven't resolved all of the issues that you had in life. Maybe you didn't get to resolve the conflict between you and your father, or maybe your soul can't rest in peace because you never reached your goal of becoming the richest person in Omaha. Whatever it is that is tying you to the world of the living, it has prevented you from moving on to the 'real' afterlife. Instead, you find yourself standing at the site of your death, looking around you at the scene of your final breathing moments. Everything looks darker; the colours are muted (almost black and white). The world is blurry, as if you've lost your corrective lenses (even if you never needed them before). You try to touch things, only to feel an apparent barrier between you and the object. If you force it, you feel an intense pain, and suddenly you are immaterial. You can pass right through anything you try to touch. A few moments later, you regain your substance, but the invisible barrier is still there. Then, you see someone coming towards you. This person looks more substantial than the other people you see (the rescue crew working the scene of your fatal accident, the doctors trying to revive you in the hospital, your killer standing over your bloody corpse, etc). He's still bereft of colour and blurry, but not as much as the others. Whoever he is, he reaches up and grabs a membrane that had been covering you, which you did not realise was there previously. He pulls the caul from you, and suddenly, the world falls into sharper focus, though the colours are still drained and pale.

What happens to you next depends on who has removed your caul. If you're lucky, this person is recruiting for the Heirarchy, or for the Renegades, or possibly one of the Heretic Cults. Another fortunate option is to be recruited into one of the Guilds, the organisations that oversee and regulate the various powers (known as Arcanoi) that wraiths can learn.

Most wraiths aren't so lucky, though. Very few physical objects enter the Shadowlands. As such, the only way to create physical items is from the ghostly substance that makes up the 'body' of wraiths themselves. The majority of ghosts are captured by such individuals, their corpus being melted down to forge into coins, bricks, weapons, or other items. This 'soulforging' process does not destroy the consciousness of a wraith so forged, however; this means that when using a coin to pay someone in the Shadowlands, you may hear the wailing of the soul of the person that was forged into that coin...

As you move beyond the Shadowlands (the reflection of the living world where wraiths can observe, but seldom interact with, the living), you come to the Tempest, a massive writhing storm which buffets the spirits of the dead, all drawing you inexorably closer to Oblivion, the gaping morass of non-existence at the centre of the Tempest which unmakes any unlucky enough to fall into it. There are stable points within the Tempest, however; one such island is known as Stygia, the Dark Kingdom of Iron. This is the home of the Hierarchy, originally founded by Charon before he disappeared millennia ago. 

As you grow accustomed to your new existence, you find yourself torn between the desire to continue existing in this eternal torment, and the desire to resolve your Passions (the emotional bonds that prevent you from moving on to your final release) so that you may Transcend. But there is a third force: your Shadow. The darker aspect of your personality has splintered away from the main force of your Psyche, and is now a voice that whispers in the back of your head, tempting you to give up, to embrace Oblivion. It can offer you boons, but be ware of accepting help from your Shadow, for it always comes at a price.

This is the dark and grim world of Wraith: The Oblivion.

Changeling: The Dreaming

I know I've described Changeling in detail elsewhere, but for those who don't know:

At the dawn of time, the first humans dreamed. These dreams became the first fae; dreams of nobility and honour became the trolls, dreams of winsome playful animals became the pooka, dreams of hedonism and sex became the satyrs, dreams of things that go skritch in the night became the sluagh, and so on. These beings needed the energy of Glamour, the force which originates from the dreams and hopes and fears of humanity, in order to survive. Glamour makes up the substance of the fae, as well as fueling their magic.

So, when humans began to turn away from dreams in favour of cold rationality, Glamour began to wane, and a new force, Banality, emerged. Over time, as humans became more rational, Banality grew and Glamour faded, until the Renaissance, when the sidhe, the elven rulers of the fae, declared that the human world was no longer safe. They began an exodus to Arcadia, the distant homeland of the fae in the deepest reaches of the spirit realm known as The Dreaming. The sidhe demanded their right as rulers to travel first, despite the speed with which portals leading to Arcadia were collapsing. Just as the last sidhe passed through the last portal, it collapsed, trapping the commoners on earth.

In order to survive, the remaining fae cloaked their faerie spirits in human bodies. This allowed them to survive, but they have now been forever tainted with Banality, such that they can never return to Arcadia, even if they were able to find a way to travel there. Now they must balance two lives: their human lives, where they interact with and exist as humans, and their faerie lives, where they are kings and queens and knights and bards and pirates and adventurers and crafters of wondrous things, interacting with dragons and goblins and giants and gorgons and other magical creatures besides.

They must balance the two halves of their being; if they neglect their fae side, they fall to Banality, and risk erasing their faerie soul forever. If they neglect their human side, the excessive Glamour will drive them to insanity. And the worst part of all is that, even though most of them have little memory of the lives they lived before, when their faerie souls inhabited human bodies in previous incarnations, throughout the last six centuries, they know that they used to be so much more than what they are now. Cavorting with fantastical creatures such as the nar-pea-raffe (a hybrid of a peacock, a giraffe, and a narwhal) and casting cantrips that allow them to teleport, or control a person's emotions, or transform a car into a giant gryphon, it is a pale shadow of what they once where, back when they were pure fae, and could have grandiose adventures beyond the ken of mortal man.

That is the true horror of Changeling: knowing what you once had, what you once were, but can never attain again.

To Be Concluded...

I'm going to finish this overview next week. Until then, remember to play more games, have more fun, and as always above all, remember always to

Game on!

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