Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Building Paths

Communion on its own would be enough, but I find Divine Favor somewhat bland-as-written, at least as far as it goes when it comes to defining a character.  If you have Divine Favor, you have Divine Favor. The paladin might have Stoicism as his Learned Prayer and the Priestess might have Lay On Hands, but nothing actually stops them from using the each others'prayers as generic miracles.  Divine Favor tends to define God and your relationship with him MORE than it really defines your character's role.  This is evident in Star Wars too.  If I say "I wanna play a Jedi,"  someone might ask "Light or Dark?" But there's little else to ask.  That's essentially the defining feature: Light or Dark.  In my version of the Force, we have Ego, Id and Psychosis (Communion, Dark Communion, and Broken Communion), but two characters who follow Ego Communion have effectively the same powers. That's not too much of a problem ("I'm a telepath with Communion" is sufficiently different from "I'm a psychokinetic with Communion"), but I wondered if you could do more.

Yesterday, I referred to this idea of characters "channeling" the Force, letting it flow through them, but rather than have a generic form of the "force flowing through you" I want something the players can better customize and control, to allow them to define how and in what way they interact with Communion. I thought I might have a power based on the "Powerful Convictions" prayer, a divinely-inspired talent, but that they players could choose which talent... only that might be too broad, too flexible.  How could I make it more mystical? Finally, there's a one-line throwaway in Divine Favors:
At the GM’s option, the mandatory and significant mod-
ifiers from GURPS Thaumatology (pp. 82-89 and 244-255)
may apply (to Petition and Reaction rolls) as well.
-GURPS Powers: Divine Favor, page 5
What does that mean?  Whatever I want it to, I suppose.  But the bonuses in thaumatology were derived from using very medieval symbolism.  What about symbolic imagery more appropriate to science-fiction?  But on what structure could I hang that?  Trying to build an entire symbolic structure from scratch is difficult, plus you need to sell it to your players.  I'd much rather steal.  What could I steal from as a structure for this symoblic imagery?

Then I discovered Carl Jung's primordial images: his archetypes.

Well, I lie, I didn't discover them, anymore than I discovered Id and Ego.  I knew about these concepts, but I was digging around in psychology and parapsychology and stumbled across them again and thought "Oh hey!  Idea!"

Archetypes as Psychological Concept

Jung argues that humans are not tabula rasa. We do not come out of the womb with "empty hard-drives," as it were, but with some pre-installed software, or hardwired instincts, or something in between.  For the purposes of this concept, he argues that people have a sort of pre-arranged way of viewing the world.  For a somewhat obvious example, people are hardwired to pick out faces very well, so we tend to see faces in mountain sides, clouds, or in jumbled punctuation ^_^

We tend to naturally see other things too, to associate one concept with another.  If I were to describe a character going up a mountain to train with a master, the image that pops into your head is an old man.  The wise old man is a concept that we find again and again, and how we see how that old man behaves tends to have consistencies too, not because they are true, but because we are more likely to see an archetype, to emphasize certain traits that we want to see.

An archetype isn't precisely a thing you see, though, so much as a point around which an idea can crystalize.  If we see a woman leaning over a baby, gently caressing him, smiling, laughing, her eyes aglow with love as she takes him into her arms, we begin to crystalize the concept of "mother" around her.  That doesn't mean we stop seeing her own traits, it's just that how we begin to process that woman is shaped by this primordial archetype, this primal concept we've had since the dawn of our species, so that we begin to associate her with this larger concept of "Mother."

And this is a concept that we share across our species.  "Mother" and motherly associations tend to be found across cultures.  There's some variation, of course, nuance and difference from culture to culture, person to person ("What does 'mother' mean to you?"), but there's always this core something around which it turns, around which we all intuitively grasp.  That something is what Jung called an archetype.

That sounded like something that would be impeded into the global super-consciousness.  What if the global-superconsciousness wasn't just shaped by people, but it shaped how people thought?  In that case, these archetypes are sort of super-concepts embedded in this larger psionic construct that shapes how we see and understand the world.

Archetypes as Mystical Concept

Archetypes can be found again and again in stories, and that makes sense given the way archetypes shape how we think.  But this gives them a mythical weight, as they actually show up in our myths.  George Lucas deliberately used this while writing Star Wars, borrowing these archetypes from the Heroic Journey, and turning them into living characters.  Characters like Luke and Leia and Obi-Wan are literally archetypes breathed to life.

When something is mythical, it has a sort of magic to it.  Kelly Penderson pegged this perfectly in her "the Magic of Stories" from Pyramid #3-13: Thaumatology, wherein the Archetypes (she uses the term Archetype, specifically) of fairy-tales become magical paths that magicians who are explicitly attempting to emulate can evoke for magical effect.  Quite a few should sound familiar: The Captive Maiden (Leia in the first movie), the Noble Knight (Luke), the Dark Sorceror (the Emperor).

Another favorite game of mine took a similar path with different results.  In Unknown Armies, characters attempt to embody primordial concepts like "the Masterless Man" or "the Mystic Hermaphrodite", and in so doing become "Avatars" who walk "paths."  Following a path means aligning yourself symbolically with the archetypal life of the path.  So, someone who wants to evoke the power of the Masterless Man must be the Masterless Man.  He must quit whatever job he has, cut his ties to the world, wander from town to town, village to village, wearing a hat and carrying a weapon.  He doesn't have to stop injustice that he sees, but if he doesn't, he'll find it chases him. As he becomes more like the Masterless Man, the universe begins to treat him like the Masterless Man.  As the man walks the path, the path begins to walk the man until both are inextricably linked.  At that point, the avatar has real, almost god-like power, and might even begin to change what it means to be the Masterless Man.

That sounds like a concept for Psi-Wars.  The great psychic consciousness of all sapientkind carries these primordial images in it, and as you begin to align yourself with them, the universe respond by making events fall into place more appropriate for the story it suddenly recognizes.  It would definitely encourage players to fall in line with narrative tropes because narrative tropes have psychic weight to them, it would allow me to offer greater differentiation to players, a symbolic structure on which to hang a bunch of bonuses and penalties (as well as to inspire prophecies).

And thus, Paths were born.

Building Archetypes

I wanted paths to represent an optional part of the journey of a psion. Any player could start as a psion, but those who wanted to develop further might consider in investing in Communion of one stripe or another, creating the next big step in their journey.  Those who wanted to go even further in "understanding" communion might pick out a path they like, and attempt to embody it.

The Structure of Paths

Obviously, paths are a part of Divine Favor, but they represent a deeper journey into them.  Divine Favor has a -10% Divine modifer (a pact, for the most part).  Paths would expand this to a -15%, the extra -5% representing a commitment to modeling your life on the specific path's symoblism.

Then, of course, you could get powers.  This mostly represents letting the "force flow through you."  You commune with communion and become more like your archetype.  The two obvious ways to do this are a talent-based power (You become good at appropriate skills), and the Avatar power I created back in the Divine Favor model a few weeks back.  We could use a simpler, more subtle version, or we go for the full-blown "Incarnate god of Communion!".

Next, we could create some miracles and learned prayers specific to the themes of each.  I need to be careful here, though, and not isolate generally useful power simply because I ran out inspiration, a task I'm still not sure I accomplished.

Finally, I need the symbolism itself. If we flip to through the modifiers of thaumatology, you can get an idea of what they all feel like.  Quite a few work, a lot don't work so well.  For example, an animal associated with an archetype won't work.  I hear the guy in the back saying "What about the horse for the Knight!?" but we're in space, we don't have horses.  We'd have to define the animals of the setting and then pick one, which would likely seem arbitrary, and do little to explain the concepts involved ("The archetype of the star priestess has the Flibberjabber as her iconic animal, and I'm sure that clears up a lot of ambiguity about her role in the setting for you!").  Dates or signs of the horoscope become weird in a galaxy-spanning game.  But a few symbols do work rather well:
  • Color: Here, the color we mean is explicitly the color a force sword blade, though I'm sure characters can work in the color in other ways.
  • Regalia: Things worn by the character.  This can be a color of a garment, or a type of garment, or a state of dress or undress.
  • Tools: Items and technology associated with the path.
  • Locations: Places particularly noted for their resonance with the energies of the path.
  • Opposing Paths: It can't all be twinky fun and games for those who walk a path.  Mandatory Modifiers often impose penalties as well as bonuses, and the simplest way to do that is to include certain paths as opposing other paths.  The presence of their symbolism acts as a penalty, rather than a bonus, on the path's rolls.  As a rule, Ego beats Id ("Good shall always triumph"), Psychosis beats Ego ("Nothing makes sense anymore!") and Id beats Psychosis ("Someday, you will need my power!")
Another set of symoblism is found in milestones. To be able to align their life with that of their path, they need to be able to have something to align their life to.  Milestones represent the sorts of things one might see in a story featuring that particular narrative archetype.  At least one of them is always negative, the price of following the path.  When milestones occur (either because the player went out of his way to arrange them in an attempt to align his life with Communion, or because random events, or Communion, has conspired to draw a character's life into alignment with an archetype, typical if someone has a proper Destiny), the character can purchase a level of Legendary Reputation (provided enough people are aware of the deed that the global super-consciousness begins to resonate with it), and gets a bonus to Petitions and Reaction rolls for his archetype during that particular event (typically +1 to +4).  Milestones, thus, act as prerequisites, and a sort of pre-packaged story-deal that the GM can dip into whenever he's running low on inspiration ("Oh I see that the Noble Knight slays a maurading beast!  Hmm, we can arrange something like that").

Choosing the Paths

Okay... so what paths?

The easiest answer would be to just steal the paths from "the Magic of Stories," but those don't necessarily fit the genre, and there's only five of them.  We could raid Star Wars itself, as it's an awfully formulaic series, but we risk hewing too closely to the source material.  Finally, there are sources, of varying levels of credibility, that claim to discuss Jung's archetypes, such as this one on 12 common archetypes (one of the less credible, but still fairly useful).

Of course, we could use all three, which is totally what I did!

But I had a few concerns.  First, if I turned all of those into archetypes, well, that's way too much work for me to do.  This is a quickbash campaign, and I know some of you are guffawing at that right now as I've been doing this for nearly half a year, but writing all of this down for my blog is taking up most of my time, and in any case writing up 36 paths or something would really slow me down far too much, and second, I think narrow archetypes risk over-defining a character.  If a Noble Knight is always a combat-oriented slayer of monsters, then there's no flexibility there.  I'd rather there was enough flex in a path that multiple players could tackle it from different perspectives.

Thus, I came up with 3 archetypes for each path, each drawing inspiration from one of the Magic of Stories archetypes, one of the 12 common archetypes, and a Star Wars character (with the exception of the Psychosis paths which break all the rules, appropriately enough).  By combining several archetypes together, I hope to create that flex in a specific character (the Righteous Crusader could be a combat-oriented knight, but he's also a careful investigator), and it reduced the number of archetypes I had to build to cover various niches.
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