Saturday, January 30, 2010

Perversions and Opposition: Satan's Supernatural Evils

Tying somewhat into the last post, I have some thoughts about the supernatural.

I hate the move away from the supernatural in modern fiction, particularly movies. The first example that springs to mind is Blade (I will speak about things from the first two movies as I have not seen the third). There were some supernatural occurrences in Blade (like the scene in the blood god) but I remember the first movie sort of went out of its way to make vampires completely mundane. Vampirism originates with a virus; vampires are vulnerable to UV radiation; mirrors and crosses don't work on vampires. This is a great disservice to the Western myth of the vampire. The traditions we strongly associate with vampires are intricately related to the Christian faith of the Western world. Vampires cannot stand sunlight because the sun is a symbol of God and purity. Mirrors show no reflection because vampires have sold their souls to the devil and the mirror reflects the emptiness inside them. Crosses repel vampires because of the blessing and the power of Christ inherent in the symbol.

The point of this post, however, is to examine the opposite perspective. It is my opinion that these supernatural creatures are symbols of the perversions of Christian goods. They can be seen as Satan trying to emulate God (in a bid to show he is God's equal) or mock God (sort of a supernatural sarcasm).

The undead are mockeries of the resurrection. Whereas God has the power to bring a person back to life, like Lazarus or Jesus in the Bible (or all of us at the end of time), Satan can only animate the bodies of the dead, imparting the barest semblance of life.

Wights eat flesh and vampires drink blood, dark opposites of the Eucharist.

God has given mankind the gift of free will; Satan and his demons possess man, abrogating their free will.

In the paladin mythos, the Incarnation is mocked when demons take flesh. It is the essential point behind the entire mythos, the very reason the paladins exist.

Christian Dualism

This is something I thought about a few weeks ago and it was recently recalled to mind after watching the move Legion (not that good).

I have seen the argument that some sects of Christianity raise the Devil to pseudo-divinity in the name of dualism. The Devil is the opposite of God, seeking to undo all that God has done, and some raise his level of power (perhaps without meaning to do so) to the level of God Himself. In such a system, God must actively fend off the plans of Satan in order to maintain control of creation. This is poppycock.

From the human perspective, God, the angels, Satan, and the demons are all vastly superior to us in power. From the human perspective, like that of an ant, the difference between an elephant and a brontosaurus is irrelevant; both are orders of magnitude beyond our comprehension and either could snuff us out in an instance. But rising above the human perspective to the spiritual perspective, God is as far beyond Satan as Satan is beyond mankind.

We often speak of the incident in the Garden of Eden as Original Sin. Certainly it is so for humanity, but it is not the first instance of sin. To my knowledge, the Church teaches that the first rejection of the will of the Creator by the created was perpetrated by Satan and culminated in the war of the heavens when Satan and his demons were thrust into hell. We are led to believe that this primal sin was one of hubris, and pride has forevermore been listed as chief among the Seven Deadly Sins (and, in my own opinion, all sin must necessarily have pride at its root). Satan, no doubt great among the angels, did more than recognize the greatness he had been given; he put his will before God's and was cast from heaven.

The war between God and Satan is not a war, for to be a war there must be some threat and Satan has as much hope against God as an ant does against the sun. A better metaphor is that Satan is a petulant child who thought he was special and was laid low. Like a child, he cannot struggle with any efficacy against his Father, and so he exerts his will indirectly: by hurting us. Satan's only weapon against God is God's love for others. God desires that all men should be saved and so Satan tempts men from salvation to damnation, like a child who breaks his Father's prized possessions.

The great war of the Apocalypse, as envisioned by fundamentalist Christians, may very well one day come. But far from being an epic struggle between God and Satan, it will only be a struggle between Satan and us. God's victory has never been in question; even Satan has known that since his beginning. Rather, the question is the extent of God's victory. How many men will be claimed by Satan before he is sequestered for all eternity in the pit of fire?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Trokair Overview

The Ruins of Trokair

The Ruins of Trokair is a dungeon I have been working on for years. The original idea came to me after reading an article in Dragon Magazine about the original Castle Greyhawk dungeon. And just as the original idea came from another source, a lot of what I have put into the Ruins of Trokair has come from other sources, like the name Ruins of Trokair, which is a card in Magic the Gathering.

The basic idea of the ruins of Trokair is a layered dungeon. On the surface are the actual ruins of Trokair, a city that has stood lifeless for about 100 years. The PCs would explore the surface ruins and find entrances into the sewers. In the sewers, PCs would find a series of secret rooms that connect to a hidden temple complex. This complex is carved from natural caves that cut beneath Trokair. A collapsed floor leads yet lower into the earth, revealing the ruined city of Ancient Trokair in the midst of a giant cavern. Beneath Ancient Trokair lie a huge expanse of catacombs and another temple, far older than the one above but bearing a great resemblance.

This ancient temple holds two key secrets in the history of both ruined cities. The first is that Ancient Trokair somehow sunk far into the earth (far enough that a natural cave system, sewer system, and another city could be built atop it without problem). The second has to do with the undead problem, which we will get to in a minute.

My original idea for the surface ruins was to have a few dangerous animals to harry the PCs as they sought out an entrance to the sewers; the sewers were to be the real point of the dungeon. I later decided against this. Why waste the only above-ground portion of the dungeon on a simple game of hide-and-seek? So I decided to add a few factions and make the surface a dungeon level of its own. I first added animal encounters to the forest that surrounded the southern half of the city. They would harry PCs as they went between the ruins and their base camp at a nearby settlement. I also added a mountain range north of the city, allowing for more dangerous monsters.

The first faction was a tribe of orcs who came down from the mountains seeking treasure in the ruins. Their main camp remained in the mountains and they sent teams down to forage. The second faction was a group of bandits. They lived in the southern ruins and raided caravans on the road past the forest. The third and fourth factions were both necromancers. One was a cleric of the goddess of death and the other was a wizard. They lived in the middle of the city ruins between the orcs and bandits. They did not work together (in fact, they hate each other).

The orcs seek treasure. The bandits seek refuge. Why are the necromancers in Trokair? Because of the undead problem. For decades, there have been scattered and sporadic accounts of the walking dead around the area of Trokair. The necromancers have come to investigate why. Unfortunately for them, the reason lies in the heart of the temple buried beneath the ruins of Ancient Trokair: an artifact of immense power called the Cup of Life. The Cup of Life has the ability to raise people from the dead. The cult that controlled the temple beneath Ancient Trokair sought to use the Cup to make themselves and the whole city immortal. They only half succeeded. The dead of Ancient Trokair, and those who die near the ruins of Trokair, can rise as undead. The further the body lies from the Cup, the longer the process takes (and not even those in Ancient Trokair have all risen). However, unlike the “normal” undead that are created by necromancy, these undead are not soulless husks animated by magic. The power of the Cup of Life, modified by rites performed in that ancient temple, ties the soul to the body. And so the cleric of the goddess of death seeks the reason why these people are kept from his Mistress while the wizard seeks the power that raises them.

Letter By Mark Twain to JH Todd

Nov. 20. 1905

J. H. Todd
1212 Webster St.
San Francisco, Cal.

Dear Sir,

Your letter is an insoluble puzzle to me. The handwriting is good and exhibits considerable character, and there are even traces of intelligence in what you say, yet the letter and the accompanying advertisements profess to be the work of the same hand. The person who wrote the advertisements is without doubt the most ignorant person now alive on the planet; also without doubt he is an idiot, an idiot of the 33rd degree, and scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link. It puzzles me to make out how the same hand could have constructed your letter and your advertisements. Puzzles fret me, puzzles annoy me, puzzles exasperate me; and always, for a moment, they arouse in me an unkind state of mind toward the person who has puzzled me. A few moments from now my resentment will have faded and passed and I shall probably even be praying for you; but while there is yet time I hasten to wish that you may take a dose of your own poison by mistake, and enter swiftly into the damnation which you and all other patent medicine assassins have so remorselessly earned and do so richly deserve.

Adieu, adieu, adieu!

Mark Twain

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Trokair Rumors

I am reading Joe Abercrombie's The First Law trilogy (The Blade Itself; Before They Are Hanged; The Last Argument of Kings) and it is really good. Crowroadaw is also working on Iron Heroes v2 and between the two I am thinking about Trokair.

I have always wanted a rumor table for PCs to roll on at the beginning of the campaign. Because Trokair's charm lies in its mutability, I want to leave it up to the PCs to shape the course of the campaign. To do so, however, they need information about the various factions, their goals, and motivations. To guard against my influence, I want it to be a random table (though it still allows me to dictate which rumors I give; I need not present accurate information if I do not care to at the time).

Rumors need to be an assortment of: truths, half-truths, and lies about the factions; true and false rumors about the ruins and environs unrelated to the factions; and some rumors about areas unrelated to the ruins at all.

I am not sure if I want to organize the rumors by truth or by subject (their arrangement in the table is irrelevant as they are randomly generated).

To follow: Rumors
When I went to bed last night, I had an idea for the presentation of a rumor or a quest (NPC hires PCs).

"You remember an afternoon in the tavern, not too long ago, when a bedraggled merchant stumbled through the door, weary, world-worn, and really pissed off. He starts out grumbling under his breath but after a few drinks his complaints increase in volume. He was robbed on the road to (insert city name; Free City Valor, Thornscape, Free City Somethingelse); the bandits did not take everything but he would be lucky to break even on what he has left."

(Here, if you want a quest, you can mention that a special order for a customer was among the stolen goods and if he could recover that, the trip would turn a handsome profit. The special order is actually meant for Dhamon Riales, the wizard necromancer. PCs who recover it could meet his nephew in town during the sale (since he will have the money the merchant needs to pay them) or, if they meet Dhamon in the ruins, they could cut the merchant out of the deal and sell it directly.)

The above rumor is just "there are bandits on the road." Extra details, such as other bar patrons mentioning the old city ruins of Trokair in that area, or that the bandits are supposed to be former soldiers from the Free City region, or that Kelem is supposed to be an army officer/noble from Valor, can be added on top of that. False rumors are also needed. Man I suck at false rumors.

False rumors need to be interesting enough to catch the PCs attention and lead them in the right direction, but not so terribly interesting that the players are disappointed when the rumor turns out to be false. Of course, if they really get into a false rumor, you can just make it true, I guess.

Kelem is a noble from Valor.
Kelem is an army officer who fought for the nobles of Valor.
The bandits are mostly ex-soldiers from the armies who fought for Valorian nobles.
The bandits are mostly escaped thieves who serve the bandit king, Kelem.
Haunting spirits and the restless undead walk the streets of Trokair.
A necromancer lives in the ruins of Trokair.
People have been disappearing near the shrine to Derrgan.
The lame keeper of Derrgan's shrine was cursed by the Wandering God.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tabletop Tactical RPG Wargame

After playing Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2: Grimoire of the Rift, FFTA 1, and watching videos of ulillia playing FFT and Disgaia on YouTube, I want to return to making a tabletop tactical RPG/wargame.

Previously I had found and started to work on the Final Fantasy Tactics rules I had found online. I hardly got anywhere, though, because my neat-freak requires a complete overhaul of the document's layout and formatting before I can start digging into the rules. Beyond that, the system detailed in that document is very loyal to the original game and, thus, is complex (the math was written for the Playstation CPU to calculate, not humans). I will, however, look back into that document for ideas once I progress to the point of mechanics. Until then, I want to focus on my overarching goals for the game.

Following is a list of wants. I do not believe all wants can be satisfied in one game, so I have to pick and choose the wise wants:

I want a game that plays out in campaigns. All the FFT games have a rich, overarching storyline. However, this is difficult to pull off in a wargame that might be played in pick-up games in stores.

I want the character pieces to be large in size but small in number. I want players to be able to play with only 5 characters. With only a few pieces, I feel they should be larger pieces (like 2" square bases) with plenty of color and detail. These would not be cheaply produced minis like WotC has put out in D&D Minis.

More later.

Shikabane Hime

I am not sure what I want to write about Shikabane Hime. My brother told me about the show after he watched it on Hulu.

The art and camera perspectives remind me of FLCL, though even with the undead monsters it lacks the latter's weird factor. It is also not as colorful; the dark subject matter and constant reference to death demands a much more subdued color palette.

When people die with strong regrets or obsessions that tie them to the world, they can come back to life as shikabane. Shikabane are dead, immortal, regenerating monsters who exist to fulfill their regrets and obsessions. They have no compunction against killing humans and, in fact, many actively seek to kill. Some shikabane have even greater supernatural powers called curses. The effects of these curses are varied but they can be profound. One shikabane reflects any injury to itself back on its attacker while another can open a "trench", or extradimensional space, to isolate or trap its enemies or prey.

In order to protect humanity from the ravages of shikabane, the Kougon Sect buddhist monks utilize shikabane hime, or shikabane princesses, to fight against them. Shikabane hime are shikabane; each of them died and came back as a shikabane with the same supernatural strengths and regenerative capacity. They may even have come back with regrets and obsessions like shikabane; it is not 100% clear from the series (so far; I am at episode 15/25) whether they return on their own but I suspect it is true; it is also unclear if they have to be female (so far all of them are female and the -hime honorific means princess) (edit: in a later episode, it is mentioned that the Kougon sect no longer possesses the full knowledge of the ritual to create shikabane hime and so they can only contract with young girls of a certain age range). In the window of time between the shikabane's return and her descent into inhumanity, the Kougon sect is able to bind her to a contracted monk (most monks are men but there is a female monk).

Once bound to a contracted monk, the shikabane becomes a shikabane hime. Her descent into inhumanity ceases (or maybe slows to a glacial crawl) and she derives her existence from the monk's life force (called rune) rather than her regrets and obsessions. The spiritual and vital strength of the monk also powers the shikabane hime's supernatural strength; some shikabane hime are stronger than others and it is mentioned that it has to do with the strength and purity/holiness of the contracted monk (one of the stronger shikabane hime belongs to the heir of one of the Ten Holy Families and this is mentioned by one of the main bad guys as a good reason to flee a battle). The ultimate goal of the shikabane hime is to kill 108 shikabane. Once they have accomplished that, they can move on to tengoku (heaven), having paid for the crime of becoming shikabane.

The main plot revolves around two conflicts. The background conflict is a split of the Kougon sect into two factions. One supports the use of shikabane hime in destroying shikabane while the other considers shikabane hime to be no different than shikabane and their use should be stopped as it is a defilement of their order. The head of the Kougon sect belongs to the former faction while the head underling (and several other high ranking monks) belongs to the latter. The main conflict involves a group of powerful, cursed shikabane called The Seven Stars. They believe they have progressed beyond regrets and obsessions. They believe that immortality and the powers of shikabane are inherent to their nature and that they represent the only true human beings, having shed the weaknesses of death and regrets. Another villain, the Traitor Monk, used to be a contracted monk. He apparently switched factions in the Kougon sect and killed his own shikabane hime. He originally sought to create more shikabane to steal some of their power and he seeks to destroy either the whole Kougon sect or just the faction that uses shikabane hime. He joined with the Seven Stars after being defeated by the monks but the Stars are not particularly beholden to him.

The parallels between the contracted monks/shikabane hime and the paladins with their battle angels are obvious; it was particularly underscored in an episode where the strongest shikabane hime performs a sword slash that throws out a huge blast of spiritual power; the effect was almost identical to what I imagine el armor del oro's purging flame looks like.

Throughout the series, I have viewed the monks as a pagan analog to the paladins and thought about how they could work together against a common enemy. I want to wait until the end to determine where it would be best to introduce them but I have no qualms with discussing the moral and theological implications of the shikabane hime. They are very similar to Veronica in that they have cheated death and overcome the tainted nature of undeath to work for good. They differ in that apparently they came back willingly (through their regrets and obsessions).