Monday, December 15, 2014

Taking My Crazy Entropy Rote a Bit Farther

So I recently posted some rote Ideas for my mage character and I've been using them in the chronicle  recently joined.  They're working out so far, but the way I wanted to use one of them went well beyond the intention of the initial rote, so I haven't been getting the benefit of "magickal muscle memory".  So I'm writing up a description of the new rote my Mage is trying to develop to tackle the larger scope of what he's attempting.  This is an expanded version of Deconstruct Organization (Entropy 3 Mind 2) from the linked post.  I am posting this both to elicit feedback from the great wired mind, and so I can send it to my ST to see if he'll even let me go down this road.

Societal Deconstruction Entropy 3 Mind 2:  It is possible to impact a discreet organization's activities directly by engaging with various individuals who are part of the larger organization.  Disrupt Organization is a small discreet effect, and is the purview of Mages who are only beginning to think about the big picture.  It is effective for concrete activities such as internal board elections or a specific PR campaign.  This rote is much more about creating ripples that will impact an organization for weeks, months or generations.  As such it can be much more powerful, but is far less predictable.  This power is always an extended action engaged in over a period of time, and is best performed with multiple mages.  It can even be useful to have mages with massively divergent paradigms performing this rote simultaneously as the forms of luck they bring to bear often mix in spectacular ways.  To affect an organization the mage may monitor them via the internet looking for long term trends as they appear and then slowly teasing those trends in different directions, they may slowly work their way into social networks that overlap with the organization's, they may buy stock, or volunteer with an organization for months or years at a time dropping words or ideas in the ears of influential individuals.  (Note much as the Lasombra don't care about titles, only power influential individuals are often a different breed than prominent individuals)  The use of Mind in this rote is partially about increasing the processing power of the Mage's mind temporarily while they are sifting through the mass of data associated with this rote, partially about directly gaining information from individuals they may interact with in pursuit of this effect, and partially about engaging with the emergent properties of the collective societal mind they begin to see over an extended study of such an organization.  (Maybe corporations aren't people, but to technocratic practitioners of this power there is little question that they are perhaps a bit sentient)  (Side on Collective Sentience: This is a touchy subject.  Some STs might be ok with you engaging on this level, some may consider that the purview of oracles.  The general concept of the rote works without your mage becoming fully aware of organizational sentience, but if you do allow your mages to engage with a collective mind through the patterns that emerge here it would certainly allow for more dramatic effects and some interesting narrative)  There are stories of oracles within the NWO and the Syndicate who can leverage this power with the kind of precision that an acolyte might predict a craps throw, but no one can prove that kind of precision has ever actually been achieved.  For most mages they can influence the general fortune of an organization over generations this way, which is incredibly powerful but you can never quite predict how your meddling with manifest.

Example of How My Mage Uses This in His Paradigm: My mage's paradigm is largely Syndicate, with a far sprinkling of Hermetic thrown in to express his attachment to unity.  (I know I know Unity is an Al I Batin thing. Well I'm an orphan and don't know any better.  Unity is also a very strong theme in actually Kabbahlistic writing dealing with the full tree of life reflecting in each sephirot recursively forever.  Everything is after all an emanation, even varied understandings are an emanation and therefore have all the sephirot within them, and the 777 association tables are just an incredibly strong concrete expression of Unity.)  He leverages the correspondence that has worked it's way into the consensus, but does not directly leverage magickal correspondence effects when working this rote.  This is powerful but also limited to what you can imagine really seeing on the internet.  He has a focus that is several monitors setup in a chart of the kabbalah on the wall of my room.  Each monitor fills a sephirot and next to each sphere there is another small monitor that taps into the entropy programs that the Technocracy has automatically drawing associations across the internet. (anyone who's ever seen "suggested articles" on FB knows what I'm talking about here.  There are some amazing Entropy powers that have made it directly into consensus in the last 10 years, and just run for anyone who is willing to type a search into the right search engine).  My mage then picks up the already partially entropied results and starts to apply direct entropic analysis, breaking them down into how they relate to the manifestations of the 4 worlds of the Kabbalah within the sephirot a given piece of information/writing is related to.  This is specifically an expression of the 4 worlds as they relate to the emergence of systems within systems, not the spiritual expression of the 4 worlds.  This allows my mage to do a few things over the long term.  He can see trends that are beginning to show themselves in pieces across many articles, but haven't fully manifested as an idea that can be recognized and then can tease those "possibilities" into more complete focus and bring them down through the worlds, or he can squash them entirely and make sure they don't ever fully manifest into Assiah.  This involves using this interface not only for observation, but also to respond, knowing the perfect letter to the editor to write, the appropriate Facebook response to make, the right online group to join, or podcast to send an unsolicited contribution to.  In a less direct way my mage could share a writing opportunity and know to include a seemingly unrelated journalism hashtag, because the right journalism student will notice and write just the perfect piece on the topic the mage needs to get into the system he's influencing.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Rote Ideas

I'm wanting to compile some rotes for my character in the Mage game I'm going to be playing a character who was initially scouted by the syndicate, however while he works well in their paradigm he's completely against their goals.  He is also a student of kabbalah.  Do I am going to try to combined those paradigms in some of theses rotes.
Gematria (entropy 2 mind 1): This rote makes use of standard gematria techniques and abuses some of the correspondence that has been built into consensus.  The mage collects news from a number of seemingly random sources.  They can attempt to gather news that is obviously related, but it really doesn't help.  The mage then reads through all the news or watches several news feeds at once.  This is where the mind comes into effect.  By increasing their own mental capabilities they can process multiple feeds of information at once.  They then begin to draw connections between the information.  This comes in very useful while making stock decisions, investigating organized crime or corporate crime, and when trying to figure out the political layout of a new city or other structure.

Deconstruct Organization (Entropy 3 Mind 2): This is the flip side of Gematria.  Here the Mage uses the information to reorganize an organizations fortune.  This is commonly used during elections and as a way to tilt the stock market.  In order to use this rote the mage must either have access to the organization or must also use correspondence level 3 as well.  That access can be via the internet, but depending on the organization that may or may not work.  It is a common practice to use Gematria and then to attend a high end fund raiser to spread this power through a night of drinking and gossiping.  This can also take a somewhat more subversive form and a mage can use an intermediary organization to get the job done.  This power was behind a lot of what happened with Occupy.  While they weren't part of the government they experienced a lot of "good luck" when it came to the right messages making it into the political conversation.  That was no coincidence, though it was coincidental.  (If the individuals you're working with speak a different language than you do Mind 3 may be necessary for this rote)

Share Gematric Connections (Mind 2 Entropy 2):  This is about distracting the mind of those who do not understand the meaning of meaningless connection.  While someone is attempting to concentrate on something else (commonly combat but anything really) the mage sends Gematric associations to everything around them and everything that's happening.  This is a situation where intelligence is a disadvantage.  For truly intelligent individuals their own ability to create mental connections and associations increase the distracting effects of this power.  The targets own intelligence continues the associations after the initial effect.  The effect will stay in place each turn that the mage maintains contact with the target.  When the mage initiates contact the target rolls intelligence difficulty (8??? or whatever the ST feels is appropriate) And each success causes the effect to continue for one turn past where the mage maintains contact.  This result should not be shared with the Mage.  If the target botches then the botches subtract successes from the mage's roll.  This is specifically not using Entropy 4 where you control randomness within a mind pattern itself.  This is just using entropy to more efficiently build a distracting message and then using Mind to transmit it into a target's mind.  As a result this has a much less dramatic impact than Entropy 5 effects.  The distraction increases the difficulty of any actions taken while the effect persists by the number of successes the mage recieved.  So if the Mage uses this effect and rolls 2 5s, but the target's mind isn't powerful enough to really latch onto the data then all rolls on their next turn would be at +2.  If they were  brilliant and their mind started making associations on it's own then their difficulty might be at +2 for a couple rounds.  At the end of the day this is just a very fancy distraction technique.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Game of Intrigue and Investigation

So I recently started a new Mage campaign as a player (short interlude for storyteller who gets to actually play in an ongoing chronicle doing ridiculous happy dance).  Our last session was a doozy for a couple reasons so I wanted to give it a writeup while it was still fresh in my mind . . . and there may have been some extra XP in it as we had some players out who needed a good debriefing.

This was our second session and we are a very motley crew to say the least.  In our first game we get to know each other and our Seattle home before our chantry was infested by what appeared to be magically enhanced centipedes with an impressively venomous sting.  After a fair bit of brute force destruction on our part and a quick call to Orkin just because we were referred to a specialty extermination named Wai Kwai Bei Extermination.  After some preliminary scanning of the exterminator as they came up the steps we established that they were definitely not human, and one was likely undead.  We quickly worked to distract them from our Chantry while we decided what to do about the situation.  In this process we almost chased them away entirely, but broke the engine in their truck while we decided if they needed to be eliminated entirely.  That sets the scene for the game session that follows.

The cabal's resident Euthanatoi Vic stands against the shadows of our house wrapping the quickly disappearing dusk light around him so that no one can see his presence.  He is prepared to keep these supers out of our chantry using time honored Euthanatoi methods which I'm sure no one needs any introduction to.  The cabal's Verbena, Thom Brodin was also outside with the exterminators working to find out what was really going on before letting them into the cabal.  While the exterminators called their offices about their broken down vehicle my character leverages his developed telepathy (Mind in the hands of an Orphan with a paradigm that isn't quite technocratic or tradition in its structures) to scan the mind of the exterminator who is not undead.  She is hoping that they can now get into the house because she is so very very hungry and wants to find some of the centipedes we called about as a late night snack.  While this is more than a little unnerving I don't sense any malice towards myself or any of my companions so I comment that we should let them in.  They don't seem to be a threat and we might learn something from them.

The following half hour in our chantry is deeply unsettling.  The presumably undead individual works very hard to distract us from the work that is being done.  He does an excellent job while his partner completely disappears.  During this time my character uses what he knows about the extermination company name to scour any meaningful information about what's going on  using the Internet and entropy to pull out the significant information from all the Internet noise.  While I am working on Thom and our Dreamspeaker Ashkii Dighin discover that the female exterminator has completely disappeared and immediately begin work to scan our house for her life pattern which was very distinct or for any sign of her in the umbra.  They are able to find no evidence that she is still in our house at all.

During my investigations online I discovered that the extermination company Wai Kwai Bei appears to be owned or at least controlled by the Bai Tong which was once known as a Triad, but now has a kinder gentler role in the society of Seattle's Chinatown.  Thom, Ashki, and I run into each other as we all finish our separate investigators and share what we've discovered.  We immediately head downstairs to where our Virtual Adept cabal member Trent is desperately watching over his servers with the assistance of Vic as the undead exterminator works very hard to distract him.

As we're arriving he has realized that he's watching over someone who's just wasting his time.  As soon as we confront him about what he's doing in our house his partner re-appears saying she's found no evidence of any centipedes or eggs.  She seems terribly disappointed.  I immediately scan her mind again and see that she was able to break herself into hundred, maybe thousands of spiders and crawl through our walls looking for evidence of our infestation.  While this image deeply DEEPLY disturbs me I share it with Thom using mind because I'm a terrible human being, and it's faster than explaining it.  Maybe some day he'll forgive me, or work with Vic to kill me in my sleep.  Both seem equally plausible, but he was the most likely to know what the hell the things were.

After we push the exterminators out of our house as quickly as possible we compare notes and Ashkii recognizes our description of the swarming spider shape changer as an Ananasi.  Trent also lets us know about something he found online about the Wah Mee Masacre ( that seems to be tied to the gang activity we connected the Exterminators with.  At this point in the session we all decide that we have a variety of different things we could do to investigate what's going on so we briefly go our separate ways.  Thom goes and does some volunteer work at a local alternative health clinic that he regularly "assists" at staying just on the right side of coincidence.  He was committed to go there already, but takes the opportunity to find out more about what kinds of injuries are on the rise, and if any of them are related to the centipedes we found in our chantry.  Several people have come in with bites from the centipedes and they temporarily numb large portions of the body, but aren't lethal unless someone comes in with several bites.

I contact a network of Mages I'm a part of online that I regularly get together to try to find ways to work between disparate paradigms.  I arrange for us all to get together for our somewhat irregularly scheduled "coffee Klach" and Ashkii comes along.  It's a more motley crew than our cabal which is no small feat, and after asking a few questions I find out a little bit more about the Ananansi from a member of the group who has extensive experience in a tribal paradigm from Africa.  I don't discover anything particularly concerning about them from this meeting, but there is a lot of interest around the centipedes because there is a lot of other supernatural activity that's been going on for the past couple years in Seattle connected with wild animals.  It's mostly from the sea, but it still peaks everyone's interest.  We tell them we'll stay in touch.

Finally Trent meets up with the Mr. Johnson to gives him most of his less than reputable private contracting work.  After Trent asks him about what's going on in Chinatown as we have also traced the centipedes as coming from Chinatown he says that he has no idea, but he wants Trent to find out for him.  Trent would have pushed back on the "hey wait I told you I needed to know what do you mean I have to find out" if there hadn't been 10 grand as compensation and an overt threat that if he didn't deliver then there might not be any more work for him in the future.  Gotta pay the bills, so SURE I'll find out what's going on in Chinatown.  The job specifically centered around the gang activity in Chinatown, and why Trent's employer isn't able to get any information out of the place.

When everyone gets home from their various investigations we compare notes and I tell Trent that if he can just get a boatload of data on the gangs in the area and the extermination company that I'm willing to cut it apart with Entropy, which is generally what I do anyway.  He says he's going to wait till he gets confirmation from his Mr. Johnson about some followup questions he had and in the meantime I do some additional digging.  I look at all the reporting that's been going on about Chinatown over the past couple  years and see if I can find a journalist that's hit on something.  The last real news item is quite old, and it looks like the journalist was moved to a different beat.  I put my best naieve and stupid face on and ask if she'd be willing to meet and talk with me about her work.  I don't mention her old beat, just the new business news beat.  I claim to be a young journalist student who's trying to find a good way to get an in to the industry.  We met and I buttered her up for a little while before tentatively asking about her old crime work, while scanning her thoughts with Mind.  I discovered that there was a strong connection between the crime and the major media outlets in Seattle.  She was stopped from ever getting close enough to anything to be in any personal danger, and her superiors were obviously part of the scheme.  I take her info and head back to the chantry.

Back at the Chantry Trent received a hard drive from his Mr. Johnson that had been extracted from the extermination company.  He is already given the first installment of his pay, because his employer hadn't made the extermination company connection so they saw even that small piece of information as a big win.  I start to rip the hard drive apart with Entropy to find the most useful information and discover financial statements from several restaurants, several more strong connections to the Bai Tong and several snuff films that look like they have been produced for distribution.  We decide to go to the restaurants that have their financials all over the hard drive and do a little correspondence recon (we would have done it from a distanced, but we'd already racked up some paradox this session, and being at the restaurant allowed for simpler spheres and lower difficulties).  We establish that two of the restaurants (5 Joys and Wok Chop Sockey Martial Arts themed restaurant.  This was the portion of the game where the term "Dances with Racism" came up again.  I fear this term may become a theme.) both have torture chambers in their basements that are obviously where these videos are begin produced.  Trent gives this information to his employer and scores another 2500 payout.  He also finds out from his contact that these videos are being distributed back in Asia, but not here in the US, even though they're being produced here.

While Trent was doing that I go out to make contact with my old room mate who is now a member of the Syndicate.  We are both of the opinion that there is a lot of room to do good in the world "across paradigms" though he clearly thinks I'm working for the less effective team.  We stay in contact and as long as I feed him useful information and don't do anything that smacks too terribly of reality deviance his higher ups leave us alone, though we both know perfectly well they know what's going on.  I get in touch with him because there was news of a Tsunami that was supposed to hit San Francisco all the way up to Seattle but it just didn't.  There was a perfect counter wave that negated most of the Tsunami, and redirected what it didn't destroy up towards Alaska and uninhabited portions of Canada.  I assume something as grossly unlikely as that is probably technocratic.  When I meet with him and chat I tell him about the gang activity in Chinatown and how it's tied to some serious reality deviant behavior of the kind that even the company I'm keeping finds unsavory.  He tells me the technocracy really doesn't have time to deal with anything that petty because they're too busy stopping tsunamis from wiping out the entire western sea  board.  As we keep talking we realize that there are some really striking correlations between the timing of the increase in supernatural Chinatown activity that seems to have moved in from South East Asia through Hawaii and the seismic activity that the technocracy is trying to save millions of people from.  We both go our separate ways and I promise to tell him anything that I find out that would be helpful (We have an unspoken truce that we only work in common interests and accept that we're each also doing things that are probably much more problematic.  So don't ask, don't tell, no self or ally incrimination ever)

We had met out on an island off the shore for privacy sake, and as I'm kayaking back a huge pile of the radioactive jellyfish that have been tormenting the seaboard begin to glom onto my boat with what I realize through some simple mind magick is the intention of eating me for lunch.  I call Trent and with Ashkii's life and his correspondence they are able to take out the jellyfish so I can make it home.  I take one of the jellyfish home with me so that Thom can investigate what it is.  Thom does some work on it with life magick and concludes that it's very magickally enhanced and again with a little bit more news analysis we realize that these jellyfish started showing up about two years ago at the same time that the gang activity kicked up in Chinatown.  By this point in the session we've established that the two sides of the gang war in Chinatown are the Bai Tong and a much more elusive gang leveraging business interests out of Hawaii.  We extract from the retrieved hard drive that the Hawaiian gang is tied up in some sort of long term magickal act that will take several rituals, but will eventually open "the gate" which we suspect is out in the pacific in the location where all of the new seismic activity that the technocracy has been fighting is centered.  The Bai Tong is working against them, but not very effectively (at least according to the Hawaiian gang).  The Bai Tong is also producing the snuff films, which Trent does a little more investigating on and establishes that at least some of the snuff films are recordings of some sort of magickal ritual.

This is where we wrapped up.  I'm not going to lie, I probably got the order of some of the investigation wrong and may have missed some major details.  A LOT happened, but it was all very socially constructed.  I'm going to come back and deal with the spelling and grammatical atrocities that I'm sure run through this whole writeup later, and if any of my co players want to writeup anything I missed/got wrong in the comments please do.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ghost in the Shell the Movie!!! or How my Head Exploded Friday Morning

So this all started when I woke up this morning and shortly after beginning my day I saw my name tagged in what I assumed to be a silly innocent facebook post by my boyfriend.  The post was a link to this article.

Soooooo.  Scarlett Johansson has been offered the lead role in Ghost in the Shell slated to be written by William Wheeler and directed by Rupert Sanders.  I have opinions on this news.  LOTS of them.  Let me first start out by saying that I think if you were to take Ghost in the Shell and move it to a western context and make all the characters suddenly white that Johansson is the perfect casting.  She has shown in Under the Skin and in a somewhat simpler way in Lucy that she can do cerebral, she has shown in Lucy and her work in the Marvel cinematic universe that she can do action, and she has shown in several contexts she can do stone cold pseudo sociopath.  While that's not who Motoko Kusanagi is, it's the persona she presents to much of the world.  In this respect she's a lot like Black Widow.  I love this casting for this project.  That's where my love ends.

I do not think this project is worth doing.  Now before people start lining up their arguments that are pro live action film rendition and pro alternate universe retelling let me say I would LOVE to see a live action GITS, and I am 100% all for AU, especially with a property like GITS that has 3 AU versions already (comic, movie, series). I have no issues with spinning another alternate telling.  My issues have to do with casting a western actress for this part and what that represents.

For another round of disclaimers I really don't want to get into the argument about the whitewashing of racial roles in the abstract.  There is a broad array of content on the internet about why this is a problematic trend, and I agree with the vast majority of it.  However I feel no particular need to re-hash it and I have so many complaints about westernizing this particular piece of IP that I really want to focus on my GITS specific issues instead of getting into the broader cultural trend of casting robust POC roles with white actors.

So with all the disclaimers and straw men swept away (I hope) let me go into my problems with this project.  First and foremost I do not trust Hollywood with post homo sapien sentience storylines.  There is a long history of Hollywood watering down these stories.  The most recent example I can think of is Her.  I know a lot of people liked this film, but to me it felt like they walked up to every major question common to this genre and then didn't actually address any of them.  "Oh I've evolved past connecting with one person and that's a really interesting opportunity to explore what that would mean for you as a human in love with me and maybe looking at poly dynamics and wait I'm about to leave.  Nope I only want to be with you now" (which basically means the earlier state was meaningless).  "Oh I'm changing and becoming so much more than I was programmed to be, but I'm going to continue to emotionally process exactly like a normal human".  I could go on, but you get the point.  It was not a nuanced inspection of post human sentience by any means.  The other example that comes to mind is Bicentennial Man which Hollywood felt for some bizarre reason required trampling on the Laws of Robotics (they were violated at several points during the film) and taking what was an internal evolution of sentience and making it a romance story.  That externalized the main character's motivation for wanting to be human and honestly drew the focus entirely away from his personal evolution.  While the evolution did happen, and was required to make the romance make sense it became a supporting role in the much more conventional plot instead of the core point of the story.

This genre isn't the bread an butter of Ghost in the Shell, but it is a major theme that is woven throughout the universe and it has to be handled deftly.  I have very little faith in Hollywood's ability to handle something as abstract as the Puppetmaster, let alone the evolution of the Tachikoma over the course of Stand Alone Complex.  While neither of these stories will necessarily be a part of the American film, if the theme itself is missing the story will really fall flat for most GITS fans.  What would be worse is if it's present but done poorly, which I feel is more likely.  The sci-fi coming out of Hollywood right town tends towards the action packed and less than cerebral.  Given that trend I find it very difficult to believe that the studios are going to have the stomach to do a truly cerebral GITS film as a big budget flick.  It just doesn't fit their current risk profile.  The closest thing we've seen to that sort of experimentation recently is Lucy, and it was a very superficial approach to the genre.

The other concern I have is that many of the themes in Ghost in the Shell just don't make sense in an American context.  First and foremost the politics of the series are based on interactions with a corrupt but very functional government.  What I mean by this is that several actors in the government that Section 6 exists in are acting in unethical ways, but they are all acting.  The speed at which things happen in the politics of the Ghost in the Shell universe is kind of mind boggling.  Even the most corrupt individuals in the government of our fictional futuristic Japan are generally doing what they believe is right for the country.  They may be trampling individual rights in the process, but they are doing what they think is right.  Also, the actions built into this story are often lacking the kind of gravity of "personal liberty" trampling in the way it's framed because Japan is a profoundly more collectivist country than the US is.  I mean let's be honest at this point the US is probably the least collectivist major power on the planet.  This sense of duty to the whole over the needs of the individual are core to much of the political maneuvering in Ghost in the Shell.  What all of the public safety sections represent would be a HUGE violation of due process and civil rights in America.  Yet that theme is rarely touched on in Ghost in the Shell.  Attempting to strip that cultural context will either leave you with a very poor story infrastructure or if you replace it with something more western will profoundly change the foundation of most of the Ghost in the Shell universe.

The other piece that will be missing is what it means that everyone is Section 6 except for Togusa has a military background.  If the story is set in Japan this comes with an huge amount of cultural significance.  Japan is not allowed to have a standing military.  They can have a local militarized police force, but the actions of that force may not be deployed beyond their own territory.  This was a portion of the treaty that came out of WWII and it was dictated by the United States as a term of surrender.  There is a great deal written on the significance of this in the Japanese psyche, even in Ghost in the Shell where Japan has retaken their standing as a military power in the world America has been upgraded to an empire.  The details of this global political  landscape are not necessarily the subject of exposition in the original material but they bear very specific significance.  This relationship is a major aspect of Japanese history that can be treated as assumed knowledge, much as the American Revolutionary and Civil wars can be treated in American media.  I can't really imagine a way that this context could be maintained in a western version of the story, and without it much of the characters' and the fictional government's core foundation is compromise.

So that bring us back to the core purpose and scope of telling the GITS story with westernized characters and presumably in a western setting.  GITS is really a cyberpunk story.  However, unlike most cyberpunk stories it is not fundamentally dystopian.  It is a future not unlike our own.  It focuses on political corruption, military corruption, but at it's core the characters are doing the right thing, for the right reasons.  They may be a touch jaded and deeply pragmatic, but at their core they are functioning within a government agency trying to do right by their world in a paramilitary "we don't really exist" context.  Now try to place that story in the cultural context of Edward Snowden, and Prism, and Ferguson.  With headlines pushing for the demilitarization of US police forces because of how dysfunctional they have become how can these characters possibly resonate as heroes?  In a country that suffers not from having their military hands tied, but from being far too loose with military might abroad and at home how are Motoko, and Batou and Ape face supposed to be protagonists?  In a society driven by a completely dysfunctional federal government that can't get anything done, and that is notorious for outsourcing their military force with no functional oversight how could section 6 read as anything other than a far off fantasy?

Section 6 represents a realistic answer to the questions "What if our hands were untied?", "What if the future comes with more overwhelming political and social challenges than we've ever seen before?", and "What would it look like if we had the skills and the right people in the right places to tackle those challenges?".  It is a far more serious socio-political commentary than Americans are used to from our action flicks let alone our cartoons.  It would be none of those things in a western context, and doesn't resonate with any of the current trends or themes prevalent in the world Americans wake up in every day.

I love Ghost in the Shell.  I love it for the tension it maintains between Japan's place as a world superpower and how much power is denied them.  I love it for the tension it maintains between a future even more corrupt than the one we live in now and the hope that there might still be institutional heroes in that world that will make it survivable.  I love it for the harsh pragmatism it represents, and the deep emotional strings it still pulls in the face of that pragmatism.  I love it for all of these things, and I just can't imagine any of those themes translating to a western setting.  I would love to see a live action Ghost in the Shell movie.  I think done properly it could be glorious.  I just don't see how westernizing the story could result in it being done properly.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ain Soph, Unity or HOW DO I BUILD THIS PARADIGM?!?!?!?

So this is going to be a somewhat meandering post on paradigm in the new Mage20 rules, the meaning of belief and why being a student of occult in the real world can make playing Mage kind of complicated actually.  My situation is as follows:

A friend of mine who has a lot of background in Mage is going to be running a Mage campaign and I'm going to be one of his players.  I am doing something I almost never do and building a character based in large part on myself.  I generally avoid this because it can cause a lot of issues in game, but as a pagan and at least a basic student of several occult studies I really wanted to see how my real life paradigm/beliefs worked in Mage.  It seemed like a dynamic I would never get to play out in any other games.  So I'm trying to make my characters personality very distinct from myself, but his beliefs are roughly based on my own beliefs.  This is where things get tricky.

I am not a high ritual magician.  I just am not, and I never will be.  I think most of that pomp and circumstance is just ridiculous.  However, in terms of my belief systems which I more or less worked out for myself in high school Kabbalah/Qabalah really strike a serious chord with me.  I like the abstracted and universal themes that lie within.  So while I don't practice a very Golden Dawn/OTO style of practice/contemplation/meditation I do use almost all of the concepts in high magickal systems in my practice of finding pattern in and understanding the world.

Things aren't tricky yet.  So most high magickal texts that I've found really focus on the sephirot, and Gematria, and the intersection of Qaballah with other occult practices and isn't that lovely.  I only care in as much as those practices are wonderful ways to see how all is one.  The process of seeing that all is one is the first major step to accepting that all is nothing.  This is represented in the Tree of Life generally as Ain,  Ain Soph, and Ain Soph Aur.  In 777 these attributes which exist above and beyond the sephira are described as:

000 Ain: Zero Absolute
00: Ain Soph: Zero as Undefinable
0: Ain Soph Aur: Zero as basis of possible vibration

The first kabbalistic text I ever read was "The Essential Kabbalah, The Heart of Jewish Mysticism" by Daniel C. Matt.  It was a completely non system book.  It was written to describe the philosophies of Kabbalah from an entirely Jewish standpoint in prose.  So no charts, no Gematria, and a hefty helping of narrative.  It explained Ain Soph quite elegantly.  I'm going to retell that story here from memory and as I go parallel it into the World of Darkness.

In the beginning there was absolute light everywhere.  This was not the light we know which is a distinct thing that exists in discreet pieces and wavelengths.  This was the divine light (quintessence in Mage terminology).  It was everything reality could be, every physical, mental, spiritual, etc. form that could exist all at once everywhere at once.  It was everything and nothing, and it filled all of existence.  This was magnificent, but also uniform.  There was no differentiation at all.  Now this light was not just the work of the divine, it was the divine.  At some point for whatever reason, perhaps a plan, perhaps boredom, perhaps a reason that discreet consciousness is incapable of comprehending the divine light retracted from the universe.  It didn't cease to be, it just pulled away from existence and only darkness was left in it's wake.  The divine light was the pure ones.  In fact identifying the pure ones in the plural would run very counter to my Mage's paradigm because in the beginning there could be no division at all.

So the next step in creation was that the light re-entered existence.  It didn't fill it completely this time though.  It emanated into 10 spheres and filled the spheres like water fills cups.  Taking on the form of the spheres and thereby differentiating itself from itself.  These 10 spheres were the sephira of the tree of life.  Now for those who have studied Kabbalah the spheres emanated in a particular order, duplicating themselves as they went, but for the purpose of understanding my views on Ain Soph and my struggles with defining a Mage paradigm based on those views that detail isn't important, so here we go.

The initial divine light is Ain Soph Aur.  While it is everything, everything is nothing.  As it is not distinct it cannot be a 1 or a 2 or a 3, nor can it be some irrational cousin of those numbers.  It is everything, and because it is everything it is nothing, but the potential for all vibration and pattern exists within it.  Until the discreet emanation happens though it is nothing.

The blackness is Ain Soph.  It is undefinable.  With the universe empty of the divine light, even for an indescribably short period of time (which time itself couldn't exist without the emanation) you cannot define what this blackness is, and ultimately it is the same as Ain Soph Aur for even that void is the result of the retraction of the undifferentiated emanation, and so couldn't have a context without the divine light of Ain Soph Aur.

Ain is . . . well absolute.  This is where the fun really starts.  I have never found a good explanation of Ain, and I don't think I would find any written explanation of Ain satisfying.  I think the best we can do is define what the search of Ain is, not Ain itself.  Ain is the nothingness that we seek to understand.  It can only be understood by returning to it, for to be discreet is to be unable to understand nothingness.  It is the reminder that no matter how far we've come in understanding nothingness because we have discreetly explained it to ourselves we don't understand and should therefore keep seeking.  It is about accepting the completely infuriating fact that you have chosen a impossible goal, and it is worth working towards because it is impossible.  The tension between our desire to attain it and it's unattainable place will likely do one of two things.  One, we will snap under the pressure of it impossibility and stop striving, two we will be driven mad by our quest and go down the path of the unending drive for money, will, emotional bliss, purity of thought, etc.  Down this path lie conquerors, CEO's,  Union Leaders, Cardinals, Aleister Crowley . . . wait did I just list the same thing 4 times?  Oh yes we were talking about nothingness and unity so I suppose I did.  There is a third option though.  It is the least likely option by far, but it is the one we're going for as will workers.  This is the option of the Buddhist.  It is not the goal, it is the path.  It doesn't mean you don't have a goal, but you let go of your connection to the goal and merely walk the path the goal defines because it is the path.  Now I haven't reached Nirvana, so I can't exactly explain the purpose of walking the path when the goal doesn't matter, but it's makes sense to me.  It really always has, even when I didn't realize that it made sense.

So from these three concepts extrapolated from this story we see a shape of the path form, but we don't truly understand what the path or paradigm are yet.  We must now look from the unity of nothingness and everything down to the emanation.  Now while I described the emanation above I want to avoid using any of the terms above here.  The purpose stops at the emanation itself before we see what the emanation is in terms of defining my character's paradigm.  It doesn't matter what we see in the emanation, what we say Ain Soph Aur emanated into, what it's shape is, what it's resonance is, whether it is good or evil, active or passive, or any other attribute we can ascribe to it, or them.  It merely matters that the emanation is.  When we stop here we see the absence of all paradigm.  We haven't defined anything that is actually definable other than perhaps the beginning, but of what we do not know.  This ignorance is important, we must lean into it, we must embrace it and we must internalize it.  We must let the absoluteness of it wash away any shame associated with the idea of ignorance, and then when it has almost destroyed what we are as individuals then we let it pass through us and allow the emanation to complete.  Now the emanation will take shape.  However, the shape doesn't matter.  The fact that it has a shape is important (not really, but as we are finite it is important to us), but what the shape is has no meaning.  The reason for this is we create the shape.  All magickal systems are constructions of human language, mathematical language, perhaps even universal natural language for some more primordial practices that allow us to express the unexpressable.  They allow our wills to reach into the unexpressable and shape it, forcing the vessel that contains the divine light to bear the shape we will.  The structures and forms which allow our mind access to the universal tapestry is meaningless.  It is that which resonates with us, and as we move closer to enlightenment we will move between foci and interfaces to Ain Soph more regularly as the realization of their meaninglessness moves from a thing we tell ourselves to a thing we actually understand and resonate with.

So here is my problem.  I don't want my character to believe in paradigm.  I mean there are some scraps of structure and pattern that loosely hold together his belief in Ain Soph, but he even believes that those are lies he tells himself to allow his human mind to wrap itself around some degraded abridged version of truth.  He often forgets that the scraps of pattern are lies because he is human and imperfect, but I imagine him living in Chicago and regularly eating hot dogs on buns with ketchup on Friday because being profane against 4 great religions isn't enough, so ketchup it is.  He does this thing because it's ridiculous, because the ridiculousness reminds him that all things sacred are a crystallization of belief and a distraction from Unity, and because we are not profane to be disrespectful, we are profane to remind ourselves there is nothing to disrespect other than a translation of something that cannot be translated.  To top it all off, or to be the cherry on this sundae of paradimatic abstraction he was once head hunted by the Syndicate because of his PhD in Economics.  The Economics thing ties into his paradigm in that he is a touch obsessed with emergent properties of systems that seem to be self creating.  That gets into his views of emanation and the more concrete portions of the kabbalah that have to do with the Sephira which I have avoided here, it works in my head.  If he has a goal he wants to get back to the great work big picture physical world type of workings that the Freemasons were pulling off during the founding of America.  A lot of good came from those workings, and the founders clearly had deep ties to what would now be considered Hermetic paradigm, and the foundations of much of the Technocratic societal paradigms.  He wants to rediscover the unity that has separated the tradition and technocratic paradigms.  I'm likely to give it to him as a driving goal flaw, as clearly it's never going to happen.  Still he dreams.

So now that I've written all of this it strikes me that maybe I need to just pick 9 completely different foci, from 9 completely different existing paradigms and assign those to his 9 spheres and call it a day.  Maybe in game terms that's as close to a "system" for this paradigm as I'm going to get.  I'll still post this on FB to see if anyone wants to comment on it.  It's been burning a hole in my skull since I first started thinking about this guy.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Dark Balkan Beginning

The first game of the Vampire campaign went very well.  Because the beginning was an intro to the world and the initial embrace it flowed a bit like a video game opening cinematic, but I warned my players that would happen and that it wouldn't be the norm.

The game opened with a little back story on how they were being prepared for the embrace ritual.  I explained that they had been chosen and given the opportunity to  become Gods like those they had worshiped their entire lives.  Over a month of preparation they learned at least a little bit about what would be required of them once they became "gods" but honestly the important things were not shared.

They were cleaned and prepared in fine ritual robes and taken to the central court of their vampire lord.  There several vampires and Mages held court and watched the ritual, but 5 specifically walked forward and took part.  They were drained of all of their blood to the point where they were dead, but the last thing they remembered was some of each of their blood being collected in a chalice.

Then in the vague way you see things through the eyes of your dying soul when it is untethered enough to see but has not yet left your body the 5 vampires collected their blood in a chalice and the lord walked down and added one drop of his own  blood.  While the other vampires' blood was thick the lord's blood looked practically solid.  The very nature of whatever allowed it to move at all obviously not of natural origin.  When it touched the other blood on the chalice it merged and flowed and became as the other vitae.

The blood was then given back to the players now dead corpses.  As with all embraces they rose at the first taste, but were left in a state of extreme hunger.

The court watched patiently as their bodies died and they suffered the agonies of first creation.  When it was complete a group of humans were brought into the court in irons.  They were introduced as those who had earned the death by committing crimes against their fellow man.  The players were all held tightly and made to face one of the prisoners while bits of their human blood from before the embrace was splashed onto their faces.  The smell of blood, even their own drove them into frenzy as they were only given enough vitae to fuel the change.  Then they were released on the prisoners.  However, they were not allowed to completely kill the criminals before them.  Something powerful in the core of their  blood was brought alive and pulled them back from frenzy.  Somehow they were all aware that this power originated with their king.  When they pulled away the vampires that made them moved in and the king spoke more words of the ritual.  He spoke of the beast and death.  His voice rang out in the hall and cried for the beast being so driving and so infernal that it can be summoned even by the scent of ones own humanity.  He looked at the players, almost as if into all of their eyes at once and told them that the chained rabid thing in their gut is their beast.  It knows not love or compassion, it knows not right or wrong.  The beast knows only hunger and rage.  The criminals which lie before them bleeding onto the court's floor are here to die, but they had not rended their throats out of justice or what was right.  If they had killed those before them the beast would have taken a part of the vampires with them as it is always want to do.  Death and killing are part of the world, but the beast must never be allowed to fuel those drives.  Then their sires finished the criminals off in a cold calculated manner that, if anything was more unsettling and alien than their previous blood frenzy.

At this point in the ritual the corpses of the criminals were removed and the players closest human companions were brought into the court.  The players characters were each put in front of their particular loved one and the king began speaking again, this time about the creatures they had become and the power and responsibility that they assumed as a part of that transition.  Now it was time to understand the eternal nature of their new existence.  Then their sires walked up behind them and staked them.  After an eternity which both lasted for a time beyond agony and was only a few moments they re-awakened with the same loved ones in front of them, only 10 years had passed.  A teenage son was now a middle aged boy, and a pregnant wife now stands with with her 9 year old son by her side.  The ritual progressed from here with the characters being bound through the blood to the one thing in their life which both ties them to their lingering humanity and reminds them of the alien things they have become.  The players are offered their closest loved ones to keep as ghouls.  So that they could each have someone to walk with them through the long night ahead who can understand them, but who will give them a link to the mortal world they have left behind.

Their loved ones had been offered a special place standing eternally by the side of a god, and could hardly refuse.  They they were all prepared for this moment.  After their human companions were bonded to them the ritual was ended and they were taken from the hall and shown their new home, and told of the valley in which they all now live.  Their first task would be to go down into the courtyard where the gypsy's were setup and gather information about the outside world.

The players went to the gypsy camp and each of them spoke with someone different.  While the gypsies had a relationship with the king of this little mini kingdom they obviously did not hold him in high regard.  Many of them were dismissive of the Lord's goals, which were revealed to be the recreation of the balance of the first city.  After quite a bit of discussion and investigation one of the childer heard strange voices coming from one of the gypsy's wagons.  He asked to look inside, but was refused.  The sire who had accompanied them assured the childe that there was nothing to worry about.  Though none of the players nerves were settled by that assurance.

They took the news of a coming war, and unstable times back to the king, and then proceeded towards their first day of sleep as new vampires.  Though one of the childer was not satisfied with the dismissive approach of just assuring them that the unsettling voices they had heard were nothing to be concerned with.  The players confronted the sire who accompanied them to their sleeping chambers and asked again what they had heard.  When it was apparent that the young cainites would not be content to sit by and accept what they had been told they were informed that they had heard several names of the dark mother.  They were told briefly of Cain's time in the darkness after the first murder and that he was taken up and cared for by the first woman Lilith.  It was in her arms, and under her tutelage that he had come into his dark powers.

This satisfied the players and so they thanked the elder for his forthrightness and retired for the day.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

From the Dark Ages to Modern Times an Experiment with Elysium and Inexperienced Players

So I'm going to be making some role playing blog posts here on occasion.  No promises about how often.  There are some other blogs that I post to and I only have so much writing in me from day to day, but I do want to post the larger events in my chronicle to this blog.  So first my concept and how I came up with it.

It all started with the current season of True Blood.  The story about Lilith and the vampire "Authority" got me thinking about Elysium games.  For one thing much as I'm happier with True Blood's treatment of vampire society this season than previous seasons I still find the overall story lacking.  I blame White Wolf for setting an unrealistic bar on this front.  I want the Lilith mythology in True Blood to be as rich as the mythology of Cain murdering his brother out of love and then twisting the power of God back around on himself as a curse for what he had done.  I know not everyone reads the Book of Nod in this light, but I very much see the Noddist texts and the nature of Golconda to point to a mythology where God was actually totally ok with what Cain did.  After all, it's a rather epic sacrifice.  However, when he continues to offer Cain access to the kingdom of heaven Cain's own guilt warps the offerings into curses.  Either that or God is so put off by the fact that he has lost the individual who gave him the greatest sacrifice imaginable that he decided to curse Cain instead of bless him, but he gave him a way out if he can overcome his own guilt.  Between that and the role the Dark Mother plays in the creation story and the end days there is a richness filled with deep psychological torment and complexity that would make Poe blush at least a little.  I really want that from True Blood, but while they are creating a ground breaking excellent vampire story if you look at TV history it's no Black Dog buffet.

So that brought me to wanting to run an Elysium campaign.  Now I've always been very apprehensive about the idea of an Elysium game.  You give players that kind of power and they are bound to run amok with it.  Much like a good Wraith game you need players who are willing to dig into the story and aren't going to power monger.  You also need a storyteller who can out think all his players.  The last time I really played vampire I was in mid college and I wasn't nearly good enough at storytelling to do that kind of wrangling.  However, I am now 30 (at least for a few more days) and I have an end times Mage chronicle that lasted over a year under my belt where at least one of the players wanted to take the story in a completely different direction than I or most of the other players did for at least 80% of the chronicle.  I felt like on a basic skill level I could handle an Elysium game.

Awesome, so that's one barrier down.  Now for the larger barrier.  I'm not playing with experienced White Wolfers.  My partners have both played a little bit of White Wolf since meeting me, and two of the other players in the campaign only have a Changeling game with a little over half a dozen sessions as primer in the WW universe.  If I tried to jump into an Elysium game none of the good plot twists would ring true because the players don't have the lore knowledge to make any of it make sense.  They are a talented, mature excellent group, just without lore context.

So I got to thinking about that problem and thought it might be interesting to play out the entire life of a group of vampires.  You could slowly build up their understanding of Vampire society.  It's also a fascinating opportunity to create organizations that are completely unique with a complete set of "errenous assumption", because let's be honest every group in the World of Darkness has their own set of assumptions about what is right and true, and they are ALL wrong.  White Wolf was very clear about that one fundamental element of the world from the beginning.  It was never your side, my side and the truth, it was 500 different sides on a slow day and a truth that no one ever actually understood but each storyteller could craft for themselves.  That's what I have always loved about the game.

Ok, so now I had a rough framework, what was I going to do with it?  I wanted the game to involve major meta lore, so that when the game moved into a modern Elysium style setting I could easily engage with major WoD events and have the players understand what was happening, and I had to figure out how to pace a game like this.  The solution lied in the basic campaign model as described in the White Wolf books, that ironically very few people adhere to.

A chronicle in the WW model is a series of stories.  Where each story has a conclusion, comes with extra experience and gives an opportunity to start a new story and take the chronicle in a different direction.  So I thought each story could be a time period moving forward through history.  The waypoints along the way could change based on inspiration, the direction the players take the story in etc.  Each time the chronicle moved forward in time they would be given a chunk of experience that would represent the accumulation of power represented by the "Age" background in the Elysium book.

All that was left was establishing the first setting.  Choosing something truly iconic in the history of the Vampire experience, but doing so without going so far back in time that I'd be dealing with Elders who's only place in a modern context would be Gehenna.  After giving it some thought and pouring back over the Book of Nod and reading the Erciyes Fragments for the first time I decided that a recreation of the first city was in order.  A city where man and vampire lived in harmony, and where vampires were worshiped as demigods, though they seek no worship.  It goes against written cannon, but is hardly impossible that an elder survived from the first city and sought to re-establish that ephemeral Utopia again.  It would be a naive act, but elders can be shockingly idealistic and silly when they put their minds to it.  So the game is set in a recreation of Enoch, hidden in a valley in the Balkan mountains.

The players will be raised to live symbiotically with humans.  Not exactly "mainstreaming" as the trendy kids are calling it these days, but also hardly the debauchery of modern Kindred living.  While I wouldn't describe the results of this little experiment as being devoid of evil I wanted to create something with an idealism to it that will hopefully rub off on the players.  Then as time progresses and they move into the world they will have to interact with and adapt to more pervasive Cainite norms. 

I would love to post more details about my plans, but the first session hasn't happened yet, and I don't want to put anything in here that the players shouldn't know.  I will hopefully be posting summaries of the games themselves and occasionally putting up NPC docs, and maybe even PC stat sheets and back stories.  I'm definitely curious about what people think of the chronicle as it unfolds.