Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Pasiphae to End All Pasiphae (Or a Look into my Storytelling Design Process)

So a few days ago I ran across the above tweet while quietly stalking our beloved Wraith DeadGuy on Twitter.  It got me thinking about my last Wraith campaign, so I figured it would be an engaging exercise to do a writeup on the setting, primary antagonist, and where my inspiration for this story came from.  I was particularly happy with what I created for this chronicle, though at some point I'd really like to run the setting again with a different group of players.  In a lot of ways I got in over my head and I think I could tell this story much more elegantly now.  Before I dive into the rest of the story, let me just say I take some themes that are hinted at in the canon to their extremes to make this story work, but what is Wraith if not a game of extremes.  I am very proud of the groundwork I laid for this narrative, but I'm positive not everyone views Stygian society through this lens.  That variety is both expected and part of what makes the World of Darkness so fantastic.  One final note before I begin, I know it's over a decade late but spoiler alert?

The chronicle was set in Dundee, Scotland, with the majority of the action centering around a haunt on the north end of the city.  This particular haunt looks quite attractive in the Skinlands, but in the Shadowlands it is dark and twisted, with a deep corruption beyond the normal decay that permeates everything else in the Shadowlands.  The walls are covered with fragments of soulforged steel.  None of the fragments seem to serve any particular purpose, but they are bound onto nearly every surface in the house.  The steel looks significantly different from any other Stygian steel the players have ever encountered in that all of it is rusted and warped in some manner.  If the players have awareness they may also detect a faint whisper coming from the steel.  The fragments are forged not from wraiths, or thralls, but from spectres.  Unlike normal Stygian steel made from the corpus of wraiths who have been drained of their pathos and vitality, this steel was forged from spectres at the height of their darkest passions, as a way to preserve that corruption and prevent its consumption by the void.

This was meant to capture an atrocity which plays on a narrative thread that is woven into most of the Wraith lore about Oblivion.  All things which are touched by Oblivion are ultimately destroyed by Oblivion.  It is what keeps spectres from completely taking over the Shadowlands.  The largest influx of new spectres are Mortwights which, lacking fetters or strong passions aside from those associated with their grisly deaths, burn themselves out in short order.  What if they could be preserved though?  What if a great and powerful spectre were to learn the art of soulforging?  A casual inspection of soulforging would make one think that no spectre could ever bring themselves to practice this art, because soul forged spirits are bound against the power of oblivion, and even a wraith with no fetters at all may remain in the Shadowlands eternally with no fetter to keep them.  In fact any wraith which has been soulforged loses all their passions and fetters in the draining of essence that occurs at the beginning of the soulforging process.  So what purpose would such soulforging serve?

Therein lies the rub though; that draining of passion, thought, and psychic being that occurs at the beginning of the soulforging process in Stygia is optional.  There are stories about artifacts in Stygia where the process was rushed or, in the case of the soulforging of particularly atrocious criminals, is skipped intentionally.  (I think we would all like to imagine a certain ashtray wailing in frustration into an endless Stygian night.)  So then what if spectres that would have fallen to the pit in short order anyway were soulforged en masse, thereby preserving otherwise "lost resources" in the fight for Oblivion.   How would such a dramatic shift in paradigm (to borrow a Mage term) affect the war between Stygia and the hordes of spectres waiting to burst forth from the deepest recesses of the Labyrinth?

This question was how I began my chronicle planning.  The next question was what benefit would this provide to the hordes that serve the void at the base of the Veinous Stair?  So I imagined a haunt where this Labyrinth steel was built into the core structure of the haunt and the impact it would have on the other side of the shroud.  The long hum of corruption this would fill the haunt with would be deeply corruptive on both sides of the shroud.  It is possible that there could even be low level use of Dark Arcanoi seeping through the shroud, and there would be little to nothing that the psyche trapped in the corrupt steel could do to mitigate the horrors being enacted by their now eternally preserved shadows.

I have been fascinated by corrupted, haunted places in the world - places that no amount of purification can render pure.  Haunted places associated with true atrocity are something that has been largely overlooked in Wraith because most spectres move outside of wraithly society, and they can't afford to stay in one place long enough to establish such a horror house.  So then I wondered what would allow a spectre to preserve itself long enough to create such horror while staying hidden from the Hierarchy, and overcoming the primal forces which have kept spectres from using soulforging for the centuries since the art was brought up from the heart of the Labyrinth by Nudri?

First, let's get the obvious out of the way.  Spectres absolutely know how to soulforge.  You cannot convince me that no Artificer working the forges has ever become a Doppelganger.  Even if somehow every Artificer that has ever fallen to their shadow was caught and killed before they could escape to the Labyrinth, despite the forge's proximity to the pit their secrets would eventually escape.  Every Artificer who ever forged a soul lives and shares all they know with their shadow, and over the centuries at least a few of those traitors within would have unquestionably revealed their Psyche's secrets through the seeping tethers of the Hive Mind.  Why then has no spectre ever founded forges deep within the Labyrinth to leverage their abominable power?  Quite simply, the nature of soulforging is anathema to spectres.  As much as a rational actor would quickly recognize the power of preserving those tainted by Oblivion in the lands above the tempest, spectres are in no way rational actors.

If we take a step back and look at how spectres are not rational actors, we also run into a cosmological dynamic within the armies of Oblivion that is often ignored.  Oblivion is the last functional arm of the Triadic Wyrm.  Now, for all you literalists, let me back up a second and state that you can read that as an expression of an abstract cosmological concept if you don't want to read it as literal because you don't want your Werewolf getting its sticky claw marks all over your not-so-shiny rotting shadowlands.  If you still recoil at the connection, I urge you to hear me out.  The Triad is at the conceptual core of pretty much the entire WoD narrative aside from Vampire.  It's clearly central to Werewolf, in Mage the struggle between the Technocracy and Traditions is fundamentally the struggle between the Weaver and Wyld, and the Technocracy's success has very much the same effect on the world as the Weaver's in Werewolf, leaving the representatives of the Wyrm (the Nephandi) long corrupt and beyond any sort of reasonable function in the system.  In Changeling the themes are less obvious, but the primary actor's relationship with order, raw creativity, and specifically the phenomenon of the Dauntain highlights very similar themes, even if the correlations are a bit messier.

In Wraith, I honestly think these themes are perhaps more directly dealt with than in any other game, while also being shockingly easy to miss.  If you look at the text that was recently leaked by Onyx Path on Harrowings, it is made clear that Harrowings used to be a productive part of the path to Transcendence.  This concept was also included in the text on Harrowings from Wraith Second Edition.  This text's prominent place in both editions makes it very clear that it is an important part of Wraith cosmology.  Yet Harrowings are run by spectres, and as far as anyone can tell they have always been run by spectres.  So if spectres once ran Harrowings that were brutal, but ultimately productive for the psyche why did they change?  More importantly why do the the spectres who exist only in the Labyrinth, doing nothing but acting out the strange psychodrama of wraithly Harrowings continue to fulfill their task according to the strict set of rules they began with, even if they abuse the intent Harrowings originally represented?

There are several ways to answer the questions above about Harrowings and spectres, but the easiest explanation to my mind is that Oblivion was meant to be a purifying force in the world, much like the original Wyrm, but humanity's resistance to its influence has driven it to desperation at least, and insanity at worst.  When you look through the lens of the Triadic myth it's easy to miss the more core psychology of what would be happening in this situation.  Throughout mythology you see several manifestations of the purpose of temptation and trials.  In the Kabbalah, Gevurah is seen in Hebrew study to represent the ability to repress the innate desire to offer compassion and assistance to those who are unworthy and likely to misuse your support.  In western Hermetic traditions, it is seen as a purifying fire which destroys that which is unworthy of divine perfection before it can ascend any higher up the Tree of Life, leaving behind only that refined spiritual energy which is meant to reunite with the Divine One.  There are interpretations of the Gospels that talk about the many times Jesus was tempted - in the desert, at Gethsemane, and at other points during his life that demonstrate how important such trials are.  Even the son of God had to be tempted, and only once he was forged by the trial of having resisted those temptations could he fulfill his purpose.  Similar themes appear in older pre-Abrahamic myths, and certainly within many eastern teachings.

Once we frame the history and mythos of Stygia against this interpretation of Oblivion we have to ask, why did it go wrong?  The simple answer is Stygia.  Charon's whole purpose upon entering the Shadowlands has been to stave off Oblivion.  Soulforging and the creation of thralls was motivated primarily as a way to prevent souls from descending to Oblivion.  Initially Charon's motivations seem honorable, necessary, and well-intentioned.  Well, the road to hell is paved with cobbles forged from well-intentioned souls. 

By creating a society that prevents souls that lack the grace to transcend or the will to survive the horrors of the shadowlands from being "cleaned out of the system", Charon created a horror show unlike any other.  It is not unreasonable to think of Oblivion and the legions of spectres as primordial forces acting as avatars of a deeply frightening, but fundamentally necessary aspect of existence.  Seen through that lens, they would be built with some drive to push them to perform their role in the cosmic order.  So they hunger for souls, and when properly sated are terrifying but ultimately productive predators who like any predator are naturally drawn to the “weak and the wounded” (to quote Session 9).

After centuries of starving Oblivion, centuries of the empty, passionless souls, Oblivion should have been feeding on being sheltered from the void in the form of thralls and furniture in the lands of the dead, Oblivion grew . . . shall we say hangry.  So Harrowings become more twisted, legions of spectres lay siege to Necropoli far and wide, and more and more spectres begin to reach across the shroud, and sink their Moliated flesh hooks into the corpus and psyches of otherwise resilient wraiths.  The agents of the void no longer seek out only the souls of those who are already touched by Oblivion.  They seek to consume everything around them out of a deep starvation, but ultimately because they cannot feast, stagnation and corruption becomes inevitable.  Even at Oblivion's worst, in the modern canon, there is a compelling and unsettling argument to be made for its productive place in the cosmic order.

So if we look at the above inspection of what it means to be a spectre, then the idea of soulforging would be beyond compare the most abominable thing imaginable to them.  All things must be drawn to the pit.  All things must feed the great hunger.  The ability to see the potential of soulforging to further the corruption of the world would be missed by the denizens of the Hive Mind, because they are ultimately a primordial expression of the darkest manifestations of our Freudian Id imaginable.

After stopping to think about all the influences that make the manifestation of Labyrinth Steel both seem impossible, and so profoundly horrific, we are left with the final question in this thought experiment:  What horror could possibly cross this line?  With all of the context above I couldn't just throw Labyrinth Steel into the story without doing some serious work to make it seem believable, because to do otherwise would just feel like a thematic version of cheap gore porn.  This question brings me to a strange loophole in the Ends of Empire metastory.

In the Ends of Empire book we discover that the Mnemoi, most vile of the forbidden guilds are actually the unsung heroes of Stygia.  After spending an entire line of books being painted as responsible for the greatest betrayal Stygia has ever known, and for wielding an Arcanos that inherently leads to temptation and corruption, we learn that not only is that narrative propaganda to keep Stygian wraiths from a secret they must not know, but that the Mnemoi inflicted this fate on themselves, with the very art they would come to be hated for.  (It's honestly my favorite plot twist in all of the WoD canon).

The Mnemoi gathered and each took a portion of Charon's memories into themselves before Charon went out to face the Malfean Gorool, and send him back into the Labyrinthine pit he crawled out of.  In the process of this battle Charon transcended and was reincarnated into the skinlands.  The reason the Mnemoi took charge of his memories, and re-wrote the collective memory of all of Stygia to demonize themselves is because they knew Charon would eventually return to Stygia, and he needed to remember what had come before so he could play his proper role in final days of the empire.  The Mnemoi had to be pushed far from Stygian society because otherwise Charon feared that the Deathlords would discover what he had done, and attempt to claim his memories for themselves.  Given how untrustworthy the deathlords had proven to be, Charon had to prevent this from ever happening.  So the Mnemoi rewrote the memories of all of the wraiths in the Dark Kingdom of Iron so they will be forced beyond the edges of Stygian society and hunker down while they wait for Charon's return.  This may be the only instance of true selflessness in the entire Wraith canon.

Now we move forward to the portion of Ends of Empire when Charon returns.  A fascinating thing happens upon Charon's returns to the shadowlands.  He doesn't have a shadow.  He doesn't have a shadow because he transcended, and truthfully never would have returned to the shadowlands if the players in the adventure module that opens the book hadn't killed and reaped him so carefully.  There it is though, the greatest wraith in all of Stygian society existing with no shadow.  Before I go into why this is significant, I have to tell what may seem like an unrelated story, that also comes from the Ends of Empire book.  The tale of the Ferrymen and the Pasiphae.

The Ferrymen were founded by Charon in the early days before the Stygian empire.   Then they developed the Ritual of Severance, where a Ferryman's shadow is broken off from their psyche and given its own corporeal body in the underworld.  These dark and powerful entities are the Pasiphae, who had a long and mysterious history before Ends of Empire was released.  When the Ferrymen came to Charon and asked him to go through the Ritual of Severance he refused, and not delicately.  This is another moment where on the surface it would be easy to write off Charon having become corrupted by his political power.  This is how the Ferrymen view him at this point and honestly for the rest of his reign as emperor.  The problem with this interpretation is it ignores the most core aspect of a wraith's existence, and one that is particularly problematic for Charon: The Shadow.

Charon is a phenomenally powerful wraith.  Not only in terms of supernatural power, but also as a person of unparalleled political and social acumen.  A point which is made regularly in a variety of Wraith sourcebooks is that playing the power game in Wraith is profoundly counter productive.  Every new power you purchase is a another tool for your shadow to abuse when your character experiences catharsis.  If we presume that Charon has in fact NOT gone mad with power then no other wraith in the history of Stygia would understand this dynamic more intimately than Charon.  He had the will to remake all of the underworld, and as the wraith who saved Nudhri the great smith from the labyrinth, Charon unquestionably holds the secrets to soul forging, as well as all the darkest secrets of of the empire.  If he took part in the ritual of severance his then independent shadow would be free to abuse all of his power and knowledge unchecked.  The Ferrymen, who have held the empire in nothing but contempt for its entire history, unsurprisingly do not appreciate the scope of how terrifying Charon's pasiphae would be if it were ever unleashed.  Charon however, fully understands the scope of this horror.  If we put ourselves inside Charon's experience it becomes clear that he not only appreciates how terrible that would be, but he has experienced it in the form of countless catharses during his centuries long existence in the underworld.

Charon's catharses are not theoretical.  In the chapter of The Road of Steel and Souls that prefaces the Pardoner's guild book we are taken through the experience of Charon's personal Pardoner, including a retelling of the first time he saw Charon after the breaking of the guilds.  Charon wasn't proud, he wasn't angry, he wasn't still filled with the rage that caused him to break the guilds.  He was already filled with regret and his words to his Pardoner were "I needed you".  That moment, more than any other moment in the Wraith canon stayed with me, and speaks volumes to what Charon must have felt when the Ferrymen asked him to give his own shadow independent agency and corporeal form.

This bring us back to a the question "What servant of Oblivion could possibly leverage the power of soulforging?".  The answer is Charon's pasiphae; the same one that he abjectly refused to unleash on the underworld.  You will remember earlier that Charon returns to the Shadowlands with no shadow, and the implication is that is because of his Transcendence.  The problem is his memories were collected before his transcendence, when his shadow still existed.  Now, it would presumably be very weak at this point because the path to transcendence is a long one, and it’s fair to assume that Charon had a seriously compromised shadow by the time Gorool rose from the pit.  However, Charon’s memories were being transferred to wraiths with full potent shadows, and all of his secrets with them.

At this point we have Charon’s memories spread amongst a series of Mnemoi, and Ends of Empire makes it very clear that Charon’s memories cannot be copied.  When a Mnemoi transfers them to another wraith they loose them, which is unlike any other memories.  So the memories are spread among several wraiths over the next several years.  After all, you don’t want to have all your eggs in one basket.  In the adventure chapter of Ends of Empire the Lady of Fate is very disappointed when the Mnemoi return Charon’s memories to him, because in her words there are “Pitifully Few” of them.  This implies that some were lost.  This is where things get fun.

Where would these Mnemoi be lost?  You don’t just disappear in the shadowlands.  When you lose all your corpus you are thrown into a Harrowing.  Even if you totally and completely botch a normal Harrowing you are thrown back out into the shadowlands or the tempest down a permanent corpus, but fundamentally ok.  It is only if you enter a destruction Harrowing that you risk being undone.  These events are not common, but let’s say a few Mnemoi were lost to this fate.  What happened to the rest?  It’s not exactly a leap to assume a few of them joined the ranks of the shadow eaten.  Doppelgangers with a handful of  Charon’s memories and mastery of the Mnemosynis Arcanos.  Tell me that isn’t terrifying.

So imagine a few of these spectres end up wandering the Shadowlands, and through the Hive Mind they come to find each other.  They are capable of gathering their memories together, and it is not unreasonable to think that each of these wraiths could have a dark passion tied to rebirthing Charon’s dark self.  It is in fact not unreasonable to imagine a scenario where upon Charon discovering the secret of the Ritual of Severance, his shadow became obsessed with finding a way to push Charon into taking part in the ritual.  Now, only partially realized in these Doppelganger forms, that becomes a possibility.

So we have to take the thought experiment one step further. Charon was the first Ferryman, and I imagine that when the Ferrymen approached him about completing the Ritual of Severance they were willing to do anything to convince him reinitiate to The Boatmen’s Society.  The ritual was developed in collaboration with Anubis or Anpu from the Egyptian underworld.  If Charon wanted to know the details of the ritual the Ferrymen would likely have shared them in as much detail as Charon demanded.  Once he realized exactly what was going on, and that the ramifications of the ritual would be he recoiled, but at that point the damage was already done.  His shadow knew the basic mechanics of the working.  Alternatively, these Doppelgangers could have approached one of the many Pasiphae already wandering the underworld to learn the pertinent details of how they were created.

In the end all that matters at this point is that some sliver of Charon’s shadow was now active within one of the shadow eaten, with the knowledge necessary to sever itself from its psyche.  Then it began hunting Mnemoi, and collecting their memories.  Some of them may have already fallen to their shadows, but most were still wraiths.  Once Charon’s growing Pasiphae took the memories it needed, it had to keep the ravaged corpus holding the fragments of Charon’s psyche active, for the same reason a normal Pasiphae cannot kill the Ferryman who birthed it.  Once it collected enough of Charon’s memories and power into one vessel few wraiths even among the Mnemoi could stand against it.

This is the prime villain I created for my chronicle.  A spectre with no psyche, that eventually will collect enough of Charon’s memories to discover the secrets of soulforging, and who unlike every other spectre in existence has had to sit and watch the horrible Oblivion abating power Charon forged Stygia into for centuries.  Through Charon’s own will he created a shadow who was forged in the fires of endurance and longevity.  Unlike every other servant of Oblivion, this shadow understood the power of crafting something to endure, because his now shattered psyche had spent 500 years teaching that lesson in every action it took building the empire of Stygia.  To use a Werewolf analogy, this servant of the Wrym has been captured and corrupted completely by the Weaver.

Now with the appropriate power, no Psyche to keep him in check, and an iron will, this Pasiphae begins to build the corrupted Haunt I described at the beginning of this post.  I had him craft a miniature labyrinthe underneath the haunt with his extensive knowledge of Tempest Weaving, and the first spectres he’d crafted into Labyrinth steel.  He has turned this labyrinthe into a mockery of the memory palace described in Ends of Empire.  It is a winding twisting horrorshow filled with memories of Charon’s shadow, no the memories of his psyche depicted in Ends of Empire.  These moments depict Charon’s greatest failures and vulnerabilities on brutal display for anyone close enough to see.  The players of my chronicle experienced several of what I imagined were Charon’s weakest moments.  The moments when his shadow drove him to the actions that would ultimately turn Stygia into the atrocity we know in the modern setting.

I could keep going, but this has turned into a marathon of the blog post.  I want to do a followup post that discusses what went well with this chronicle, and honestly what I would do differently if I had it all to do over again.  I can’t lie, this was the only meaty Wraith chronicle I have been able to run.  I shoved all the story related to this into 6 months, which I did because I was also running a Vampire chronicle and was seriously burning out around the 5 month point, but I refused to not complete this story.  I honestly think this chronicle probably needed another 3-4 months to really do properly, but I didn’t have it in me at the time.  I hope to have some more details for you all soon.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Alternate Interpretations of Entropy 4 and 5

Ok, so I am currently playing an orphan who leans heavily towards the Syndicate paradigm, but really REALLY dislikes their goals.  He's designed around the idea of "what would a mage who's running the rolling jubilee or coordinating a lot of Occupy activity look like?"  His main spheres are entropy and mind.  As I just started playing him he only has 3 arete, so hasn't gotten to levels 4 or 5 of entropy.  As I've been thinking about how to advance him in the future though I'm really realizing how much levels 4 and 5 of entropy are very limiting.  They feel like the person who originally designed entropy ran out of pattern ideas so just tacked combined Life and Mind effects on and called it a day.  4th level Entropy especially I just want to skip because as someone who's heavily using the Syndicate paradigm (not entirely but heavily) level 4 doesn't even really apply to me so why would I ever take it?  As such I've been thinking about what I'd really like levels 4 and 5 of entropy to look like.  These are ideas for alternate sphere options.  Obviously they wouldn't work for all mage games, but I think they would definitely help with games that focus on very specific themes related to Entropy.  These are just ideas right now, I haven't playtested them, and I'm sure there is nuance to how these spheres would play that could be improved, but something maybe worth brainstorming.

Alternative Entropy Level 4 Control Complex Patterns: Where as level 3 Entropy allows you to control predictable patterns such as a game of poker, or a mechanical machine level 4 allows you to control complex "unpredictible" patterns.  (the true master of entropy knows all patterns can be predicted, but these really take a master's touch to understand).  This includes the ebb and flow of life, mental patterns, weather patterns, the flow of emotion and logic in a multi person debate, etc., the cultural evolution during a corporate merger, etc.  All of these things count as complex systems, and depending on your paradigm you may think of several others.  The important thing to remember about this level of Entropy is that you may well be working with patterns governed by other spheres, and unless you have knowledge of the sphere which governs the pattern you are manipulating you will have a very rough ability to influence the pattern, and you risk wildly unexpected results.  Conversely pairing this power with the appropriate companion sphere allows you to hedge your bets against making a "bad decision".  This can be summed up with the general idea that using this power alone on a pattern you don't understand can be a huge act of hubris as the effects can be highly unexpected though done with a gentle touch can still be very useful.  Combining this effect with a companion sphere is effectively removing hubris.  A master of life may assume they know what is best, but while they can manipulate life any way they choose they may not fully comprehend all the implications.  By using their ability to work with the clay of existence with Entropy they can basically "insure" against their own short sightedness by introducing some randomness into their effect that is built to the best possible outcome they themselves may not have even thought of.  You need a mage with enough humility to accept they may not always choose the most desirable outcome to make this leap though.  The challenge there is hardly the magickal effect, it's just pure mage ego.  The danger of this effect is is unintended consequences.  Fully understanding the impacts of manipulating complicated systems is the purview of masters and oracles of entropy, so when a mage first gains access to this power they often do more harm than good.  Marginal successes on this power should have unintended side effects.  Maybe a mage nudged a person's life pattern so they would be able to survive through a poison exposure, but in doing so dramatically increased their metabolism to the point where they can do nothing but eat and still begin loosing weight.  Maybe a mage tweaked the conversation in a party such that the mood quickly fell apart and in doing so prompted a fight that sent one of their closest friends to the hospital.   Storytellers should reward carefully explained applications of this power, but unexpected consequences, sometimes good and sometimes bad are par for the course.

Examples of Effects: Group Emotional Orchestration: There are few systems as complicated as a group of human beings.  This power looks very much like mind magick, but isn't.  With Mind you are touching a target's mind and manipulating their thought patterns directly.  This is a very different kind of emotional manipulation.  You may be watching a crossfire debate and use the effect not to make the participants choose their arguments.  They after all know what they're talking about and you may not know at all, however under the effects of this power their word choices may be a little less sensitive than they normally would be.  One poorly chosen word can destroy the entire tone of a conversation, or an argument phrased in a more delicate manner can change a listener's entire perspective.  How this power affects a system of people should never be particularly precise and the Storyteller should always structure the result in a way that accounts for the fact that no direct mind magick has been done.  It's just the random chance of poorly, or excellently chosen wording/body language/etc.

Entropy Level 5 Control System Interactions: Entropy levels 1-4 deal with randomness within a specific system.  Entropy level 5 begins to look at how systems are interconnected and plays with the lines of fate that weave between seemingly unconnected systems.  This is commonly known in younger pop culture circles as the butterfly effect power.  Previous levels of Entropy focus on controlling randomness and fate within a given pattern.  However, patterns don't exist in a vacuum and they affect each other all the time.  A master of Entropy can begin to see not only how entropy exists within a system, but how many systems together makeup larger systems.  This power may allow a Syndicate member to may an entire stock market, or a Euthanatoi to cause the worst elements involved in an organized crime war to find themselves revealed on the news.  It can allow a Verbena to slowly improve the health of an entire forest not just through direct life magick, but through making certain that the forest fires that happen over a period of time are always the most productive, and least corrupting.  How this power manifests through various paradigms and in combination with other spheres varies wildly.  The most experienced masters of entropy begin to see how seemingly totally unrelated systems are interconnected, and how one's fate will affect another.  A simple example of how this might play out would be something like the following.  As opportunities for women increase within a culture reproduction rate reduces.  As the reproduction rate reduces issues connected with carbon emissions and resource scarcity reduce.  Simultaneously a cultural trend begins to develop tied to self sufficiency and sustainability.  This spreads most dramatically within the now smaller upcoming generation and the convergence of these two effects causes a sudden drop in resource consumption and carbon emission.  While this is happening a series of corporate scandals develop around a particularly company which is known for low cost name brand consumerism.  In a market that is increasingly difficult to thrive in because of the dramatic societal shifts this company cannot withstand the scandals that are hitting the news and they have to cut their scale down considerably.  After filling for bankruptcy they are bought out by a consortium of their employees which happens to be organized by a Mage who has strong ties to the occupy movement.  The chain is converted into a fully employee owned coop and makes big waves on the news.  A similar story ending in a very different way could be orchestrated by a master of Entropy working within the Syndicate.  While not all effects tied to this power necessarily require a generation to fully play out it lends itself to drawn out extended role style effects.  While anyone could see the effects above at play and attempt to manually make the right moves to take advantage of them, in this case all of these coincidences were orchestrated by a single mage.

Instead of writing up an example of what this looks like  in game terms I want to instead link to some examples of this in the real world.  They are all very technocratic examples, but I still think they sum up the potential effects of this sphere level quite nicely.  At it's most basic level 5 can function as level 4 only without the unintended consequences as the Mage is now much better at playing not only their actions, but the ripples those actions will create.

Example of Getting an Appropriate Dataset/Focus for this Sphere:

Example of Modeling the System You Will Then Manipulate with this Sphere:

Example of Executing this Power:  (To be fair this could require Mind as well, but could be come self perpetuating)

Other examples that haven't necessarily been written about include the shift in the political conversation that happened when Occupy became a big phenomenon.  The 99% meme didn't come out of nowhere and it completely altered the direction of politics and honestly still has.  What if that was intentional?

This power could also be used in combination with other spheres to control a system of interconnected systems.  So for example a Verbena may use this with life to heal an entire forest as if it were a single organism (which Gaia theory would posit that it both is a single organism, and is merely an organ of an even larger one).  Similarly you could over time use this to shift the flow of not just weather, but climate in a given area.  you could affect the luck not of a person or an organization, but of an entire movement causing a trend of renewable energy to rise or fall based on your whims.  These would all be very long workings probably made up of many smaller workings, but honestly isn't this what entropy's good for?  This would also serve to give context to some larger spiritual phenomenon.  In a recent mage game one of our players wanted to get in touch with "The spirit of Seattle".  That spirit unquestionably exists, but depending on what themes you wanted to explore in a game communicating with a spirit of an amalgam system like that could require this sphere.  All in all this has the potential to flesh out a lot of larger scale interactions that Mage makes possible.

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.