Thursday, April 30, 2015

Darkness and Light: A Perspective of Dissent from Church Doctrine in Akenia

Darkness and Light: A Perspective of Dissent from Church Doctrine
By Ahonlo Limn Defray, Dissident Theologian of the Murean Seminary of Wisdom

The Akenian Churches of Light and the Calianite Church of Dark disagree on almost everything. However, there is one common dogma that inextricably binds them both together: the belief that Light and Darkness are absolutely exclusive and oppositional forces.  Traditional dogma holds of the two forces locked in an ever-lasting tug-of-war for supremacy for all creation. These Twin Churches of Light and Dark are merely opposite on what force is right; they are in effect reflections of each other.

1The true answers of the Light and Dark have long been out there for those who have sought them. Deep communion with the forces of Light and Dark has always revealed that their eternal natures are beyond our mortal comprehension. They exist merely to exist, not to fight each other or any other activity we mortals can understand.  Thus, we may embrace them as we wish. True, the natures of Light and Dark may lend them to being embraced more easily in some ways than others, but we should not equivocate this with a total difference between Light and Dark. Darkness is neither Chaos nor Evil incarnate; Light is certainly neither Law nor Good incarnate.  After all, whereas the Dark can obscure, only the Light can blind.

An encounter a being of both Light and Dark (source)

Recent events1 have called the official Church credos into question within the public sphere. Skepticism for official Church doctrine is nothing new from both the scholarly and the meditative. However, the collective public consciousness never hurts in getting that needed push for widespread, thoughtful inquiry and evaluation of what previously went unchallenged.  I have written this treatise to provide a guide for those mindful enough to look past what they’ve been told about Darkness and Light.

Overview of Church Doctrine
Before I begin extracting the truths and illusions from the official credos of the Twin Churches, I will present a basic overview of their theologies of Light and Darkness. The Profound Darkness, as the Dark is formally referred to, is commonly associated with personal empowerment, individual ambition, and entropy. The Invincible Bright, as the Light is formally referred to, is commonly associated with collective will, duty, and preservation of purity.  Each respective Church venerates the concepts that “belongs” to their respective force and sees these principles at their ultimate truths. As the Profound Darkness and the Invincible Bright are anathema by nature in these conceptions, the twin Churches are officially enemies. In reality, the Twin Churches necessitate the existence of each other simply for some visible valediction of their existences.

Within their own religions, the Twin Churches have schisms that curiously mirror one another. Both of the Twins have an older sect that subscribes to an orthodox set of beliefs and a newer sect that subscribes to more reformist beliefs. 

The Church of Dark is divided between:
* The Tenebralists (the orthodox sect), whom believe that mankind has a sacred duty to the (now exiled) gods of Darkness by spreading entropy,

A Tenebralist (source)

* The Progressive Penumbra (the reformist sect), whom belief that Darkness the vehicle for achieving individual enlightenment through power and ambition.
One of the Progressive Penumbra (source) 

Meanwhile, the Church of Light is divided between
*the Dawn Orthodoxy (the orthodox sect), whom belief that the decree of Light is to eradicate Darkness and to maintain order through the rule of the wise and the pure

A Knight of the Dawn Orthodoxy (source)

*the Luminaires (the reformist sect), whom belief that Light is the vehicle for achieving individual enlightenment through collective service and common good will.
One of the Luminaires (source)

It may appear that the Church of Light is all about selflessness and the Church of Darkness is all about selfishness; but that varies on how we define the self.  We shall elucidate in the following section.

Light as Discipline; Darkness as Harmony
 Before we begin, let me bring into the conversation a couple of terms from the discourse of your Barovanian (robo)psychiatrist Dr. Karl von Reinbach III2 Although overly idealistic, his work has two concepts of basic motivation that might be useful for our discussion. In terms of motivation, the Wild is our natural, unrestrained impulses, our baser instincts as it were. On the other hand, the Chain is what we use to restrain the Wild; the Chain is our learned inhibitions that let us see what behavior is in accordance with the greater good.  Applied both within the individual soul and within the collective soul (even the soul of the entire world), acceptance of the natural Wild is called Harmony; restraining with the Chain it is called Discipline.

We can apply Harmony and Discipline to the Dark and the Light. The Dark is a passive entity- it exists in the absence of Light. The Light is an active presence, banishing the Dark. The Dark provides shade and the freedom to do as one pleases without judgement. Light burns brightly and focuses attention such that judgement may be passed. Hence, the Light may be characterized as Discipline and the Dark may be characterized as Harmony.

The Churches of Light and Dark are both essentially selfish (and maybe a little selfless), though they differ in how.  The Church of Dark is fairly obvious- it focus on elements that benefit the individual self and the dispersal of the ties that bind. Yet there is an element of essential honest humility lacking in the Church of Light- the Church of Dark focus more on being in Harmony with the Wild of their own goals and those of their dark lords more than controlling the lives of others.  The Church of Light, on the other hand, is all about establishing standards for “the collective good”. In practice, this means a very hard stance on Discipline- enforcing their Chain upon the wills other people. The Dawn Orthodoxy is particularly dangerous in this regard- ancient documents recovered from the depths of the Tower of Asmodal tell us the Church to have once even considered the God Kings of old as useful tools for social control.

If the Dawn Orthodoxy could have gained control of the God Kings, the Orthodoxy would’ve had a powerful set of weapons. The Gods Kings ruled Akenia many millennia before the Churches of Light and Darkness were even conceived, for the God Kings were the powers that provided divine power to their servants. Such were the Gods Kings’ power; many of them could harness and channel both Light and Dark magic directly from the Invincible Bright and the Profound Darkness themselves. In order to fully understand how much things have changed in Akenia, let us go back to the forgotten days of ancient Akenia.

Although the God Kings had innumerable appearances and personalities, they were always highly dangerous if provoked. (source)

The True History of Light and Darkness: The Eternal War has not always been
 Perhaps the greatest myth of the Twin Churches’ doctrine is the Eternal War of Light and Darkness. According to traditional doctrine, the Light and the Dark have fought since the beginning of time. Just as adventurers recently toppled the aged titan Asmodal from his lofty tower perch, so will the information gained from their tower delves topple the myth of the Eternal War.3 We’ve learned that Asmodal was called the Twilight Prince for a reason; he born half of the Netherworlds and half of the Heavens. He was a master of both Light magic and Dark magic, a so-called “Twilight Aligned” being. (Yes, there is a whole class of users who practice a middle way of both Light and Dark paths of magic.)

In the days of ancient Akenia, a cabal of ancient prophet-kings dominated normal man. Their first, and perhaps greatest, was the Iron King. According to the ancient chronicles, he raised both Calian and Akenia from the murky oceans. So definite was the power of these enlightened sages, priesthoods and cults surrounded these powerful figures and kinged them as gods.

Back in those heady days of yore, there was no separate Churches of Light or Darkness. Rather, the God Kings could dispense out channeled power of either force, essentially acting as middlemen of magic power. There was no need for a separate understanding of Light or Dark, at least not until the Great Wars of Rebellion.

The End of the Age of Gods and Kings and the Beginning of the Age of Light and Darkness
 As with all dynasties since their time, somewhere down the line the immortal God Kings lost their way. Or humanity grew proud and rebellious. The ancient sources are unclear, but whatever the case, relations between the God Kings and their subjects began to fray.  Things became worse when Iron King had a falling out with one of his most powerful contemporaries, the Goddess of Hope, over the fate of humanity. Supposedly, the Goddess saw the greed and arrogance the Iron King began to show as he claimed the Profound Darkness. Now fully a servant of the Invincible Bright, the Goddess shed her divine mantle and simply became the Madokami we know today, ultimately siding with the rebellious humans.

Although the Iron King was now profoundly a servant of the Dark and the Madokami a servant of the Light, it is important to note that neither the mortals nor the God Kings were totally aligned with either Light or Dark. However, with the war against the God Kings removing the “divine” middleman, truly understanding the forces of magic became an important thing. Thus, research into Light and Dark magic began for the first time somewhere between the start of humanity’s dissent against the God Kings and the defeat of Asmodal, the champion the God Kings sent as vengeance for their defeat.

The Twin Churches began simply as one church, but politics intervened. Like the Iron King and Madokami before them, the relations between one-time associates turned into bitter loathing. This time it was blood against blood. Pyrus the Great, once of the heroes who sealed away Asmodal in the Tower and the founder of the Church of Light, did something awful to provoke the wrath of Kaius, his sister. She disowned him and went onto become the founder of her own church: the Church of Dark.

 As we come to the end of this treatise, we must make sure we look upon the past and toss aside the dogmas that would rid us of our mindfulness.  We must know that regardless of whether things become too Bright or too Dark, we will still be unable to see if we let them get out of control.

Let us not think we can live without both Dark and Light. Let us not repeat the mistakes of far-off worlds who cast aside one for the other. Let us learn from the mistake of the brain-eating darkness-dwellers in snuffing out the hated sun.  True, they were now in the total Dark of night, but without Light they destroyed themselves by wiping out the chain of life that gave them all their tasty brains. And let us not be like all those Sky-Cultists who sought to commune with the heavens only to be roasted by the Light they so stridently pulled towards.  Alas, these are stories for different times, different places.

As a final message, let me speak to you of how Dark and Light can exist side by side, a new school of thought that blooms with their coexistence. I speak of that of Shadow. Shadow is neither all Dark nor all Light, neither thesis nor antithesis, but rather the synthesis of both.  I urge you to explore Shadow and think upon how you might find your right balance of Light and Dark.


1 For a record of these events, I point the reader to the various Travel Guides by Valentine MacGee, especially his guides to Asmodal Tower. Sadly, MacGee is neither of sound mind nor of unbiased judgement, but he has compiled the most thorough body of work known to me. <

2 Reprogramming: The Automaton's Construction of the Self; written by Dr. Karl von Reinbach III, PhD., M.D., D.D.T; published by Puella Publishing (a division of Puella's Item Emporium), unfortunately not as of yet released to the general public

3 Although I have consulted Valentine MacGee's Travelogue to Asmodal Tower as one of my written sources, rest assured I have verified all knowledge included in this article through the most diligent of conferences with the former inhabitants of the Tower. References available upon request.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Complementary Roles: The Yaysayer and the Naysayer

The eternal tug of war between whether to go forward or whether to pull back (source)
One side says, "Hey, we've not gone far enough! Let’s go do this thing, NOW!"
The other side says, "Hey, we've gone too far. Let's stop this thing, NOW!"

The first is the voice of the Yaysayer "YAY! Let's do this thing!"
The second is the voice of the Naysayer "NAY! Let's not do this thing!"

Stop or go, move forward or pull back, seize or cease, the tension between these two forces characterizes much of the action behind what makes an open world fun. At the same time, the Yaysayer and the Naysayer are often seen as adversaries, one impulse comes at the cost of another. When the action runs high, tempers can flare, people can get stuck in their ways, and well we all know what comes after that. 

But it doesn't have to be like that. The Yaysayer and the Naysayer don't really have to be at odds with each other. Both usually want the same thing- fulfilment and success- they just go about it from different perspectives. The former is about acquiring and achieving new things; whereas the latter is about preserving what what's been already gained and reflecting upon it.  On average, you need one to do the other- to achieve new things you need prior resources, and to have prior resources to conserve you need to take risks to get them in the first place.

I've found that the group can work really well when there is a dialogue between the Yaysayer and the Naysayer and they use their perspectives to augment and complement each other. The Yaysayer can pull the Naysayer out of his comfort zone while at the same time allowing the Naysayer practice to refine his critical skills on evaluating plans of action. On the other hand, the Naysayer can refine the Yaysayer's daring plot with further developments to make the plan more successful.

Even in disagreement, there can be gains for both parties provided they reciprocate good will to each other. When the Yaysayer wins out, sometimes the Naysayer will be pleasantly surprised with the luck of the draw and an unexpected reward, not to mention later experience to draw from in evaluating dangers. When the Naysayer wins out, the Yaysayer can explore further chances for alternative ideas with the Naysayer.

 So we might think of it this way. The Naysayer can allow the Yaysayer to be even more daring knowing the Naysayer has her back, and the Yaysayer allows the Naysayer to be even more evaluative and reflective by providing the Naysayer with things to critique.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

B is for Beasts (and bestiaries)

In a previous entry I mentioned about how we often portray animals in fantasy RPGs as part of the natural world and how we think the natural world operates. However, D&D (and the like) being a fantasy game, animals don't necessarily always have to operate like they do in the real world. In fact, if we examine some of the descriptions of mundane animals from the days of yore (like in old bestiaries), we can find some wondrous oddities. Case in point, check out this page on medieval bestiaries. It includes not only monsters we'd recognize as mythical today but also descriptions of  animals that are no less mythical.

For example, did you know that you don't even need a rust monster? According to Pliny the Elder, some kinda=s of mice were known to gnaw on iron and even gold!

And the blood of the pelican's breast resurrects her dead offspring

For that matter, we need not stop with characteristics of specific animals. We can build whole ecologies from outdated theories of the generation of life. One of my favorite disproved theories is spontaneous generation. This theory refers to how life might spontaneously birth itself from dead or inanimate objects. For example, without understanding the relation of flies to maggots, it was really easy to observe how maggots seem to sprout from rancid meat without any sort of outside cause.

Taken further, spontaneous generation could have profound implications for the "living dungeon", a dungeon that lives and breathes of its own (mysterious and seemingly incomprehensible) accord. You know the one, that weird link to the mythic underworld that mutates and evolves given enough time to sit alone. How does it get its monsters? Well now we have an answer!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A to Z: A is for Animal

Animals occupy a strange niche in the world of fantasy roleplaying games.  On the one hand, they can often be grouped, along with mundane humans, as part of the mundane and natural world as distinctive from the world of the magical and the mystical. Basically, more or less how modern science might view them (or at least how we might think modern science might view them). Historically, the separation between the mystical and the mundane haven't always been so clear-cut, and animals were sometimes ascribed properties that we today would mark as unnatural. (More on this in a later entry)

On the other hand, we often overemphasize animal behaviors or even ascribe to them behaviors that they don't do in real life. For example, predators are fairly common results on random encounter charts, and it seems just about as common for them to be treated as simple mindless cannon fodder that attack large, well-armed groups of adventurers unprovoked. (Not that this characterization is alien to folklore, however)
Napad wilków (Wolves attack) by Józef Chełmoński (1883) at the Museum of Polish Army, Warsaw, Poland
For example, many times wolf packs make unprovoked attacks without any specific explanation. However, past interactions with humans have given many wolves an instinctive aversion to bothering humans (or at least groups of well-armed humans) without some outside context. Such context can include varies causes such as the onset of rabies, defending territory or young, habituation to interactions with humans, or simple provocation by those they encounter. (Wikipedia source)  

Now, this isn't to say that animals can't make for interesting random encounters, but including some context for hostile encounters can make the game world more immersive or even foreshadow at other threats in the area. For example, animals are often the minions of powerful evils like the darklords of Ravenloft. Animals acting unusually aggressive, when natural causes have been eliminated, might indicate some unnatural influence or taint in the environment they occupy.

Because of the importance of context, I have created the following random table to provide an attack motivation for hostile animal encounters.

1d20: Random animal attack motivations
1-3: Defending nearby young
3-7: Territoriality
8-11: Afflicted with rabies or other disease that has driven the animals mad.
12-13: Past encounters with humans have taught the animals not to fear humans.
13-14: Animals have escaped captivity from an abusive master.
15-16: An unnatural taint has afflicted the local area, warping the flora and fauna.
17-18: The animals are led by an intelligent shapeshifting being that hides among their ranks. (Example: jackalwere with normal jackals).
19: The animals are spiritual avatars of an offended nature spirit.
20: The animals have been sent by some great but unknown evil to dispatch the player characters specifically. Somehow they have earned the enmity of some powerful force.