Thursday, December 14, 2017

Symbolism of Mystical Tyranny

The Cult of the Mystic Tyrant originally draws most of its imagery and symbolism from the Divine Masks system, though it treats its symbols as just that: symbols. For the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant, symbols exist to help frame your mind, or to fool the poor, ignorant masses. No true master of the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant truly believes in the symbolism of the Cult.

Divine Mask Imagery

The Cult of the Mystic Tyrant began as a Ranathim Dark Communion cult, and it tends to retain that imagery. The Ranathim have a powerful cultural impact on much of the galaxy and modern humanity tends to be impressed by their exotic, ancient imagery. That doesn’t mean that the Cult won’t co-opt imagery and symbolism from other philosophies; the Cult believes in focusing your mind, and symbolism acts as tools to do just that. If a dacifferent culture has different symbols that would better suit them, the Cult borrows those. The same goes for language: while many rites and rituals in the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant were originally in Lithian, the Cult translates them into other languages as necessary, and Galactic Common is, by far, the most used language of the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant.

Common Divine Mask imagery includes:

Fire: The Divine Masks makes use of brazier and incense to represent the presence of the divine, preferring to light their temples with the “divine light” of fire rather than artificial, electric light. The Cult prefers this approach, but also use fire as a symbol for passion, and “burning away” distractions, or to teach lessons about the importance of embracing pain.

The Gate: The Divine Masks philosophy often has symbolic gates and doorways that separate the sacred space of the temple from the mundane space of the outer world. The Cult of the Mystic Tyrant is less concerned with the concept of “sacred space,” but uses gates, labyrinths and thresholds as metaphors for hidden self-knowledge and power, and the means by which one may acquire them.

The Lash and Scepter: Traditionally held in the hands of the divine emperor of the Ranathim empire, with his arms crossed over his body, the scepter represents power and the lash represents submission. The original imagery was meant to convey that the emperor represented both the enslaved classes and the master classes, but for the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant, they represent the fact that all men must choose between self mastery or service to another, and that both principles reside within all people.

The Crown: The Divine Emperor of the Ranathim wore a complex, composite crown that represented all people that he ruled. Since the fall of the Empire, the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant continues with the tradition of a crown, but typically simpler, usually just a circlet with a psionic-boosting gem, worn by those who symbolically represent the Mystic Tyrant, such as those leading an initiation rite.

The Psi-Sword: Originally, the royal guard of the Divine Emperor wore these powerful weapons, but after its fall, all members of the Cult began to practice with them. They represent a natural focus for one’s psionic potential, and directly manifest that as physical power. Those taken as an apprentice by a Tyrant, or inducted into the Cult directly, typically craft (or steal!) their psi-sword themselves. With the increasing inclusion of humanity into the Cult, the force sword, or the combined technology of both, has become more common.

The Tower and Throne: The Cult of the Mystic Tyrant never had an idol to their “God,”for their “God” was a living and breathing Emperor. Likewise, they lack temples and replace them with places of political power. The most iconic image of this is either a tower or throne (a tower or throne surmounted by a crown of fire is a common pictoral symbol for the Cult). Such towers tend to naturally accumulate sanctity to Dark Communion, and their thrones are often built with psi-booster technology.

The Bones of Tyrants: Because a tyrant is a living embodiment of the divine power of the Mystic Tyrant, and because the Cult seeks to find some means to transcend death, they often treat the bones of their dead with respect… and fear. Dead tyrants tend to be interred in strong, fortress-like mausoleums… often with safeguards meant to prevent some unexpected force from either getting in to steal those bones, or from the Tyrant using some means to rise again and getting out (especially if he was an unpopular Tyrant). Devoted apprentices and slaves often carry fragments of the bones of their masters in phylacteries worn around their neck.

The Many Worlds: The Cult of the Mystic Tyrant does not believe in other worlds, but finds the imagery of the many worlds to be a useful parallel to self-understanding. Those who understand physics and mundane concerns have gained mastery of “Jenteku,””or the physical, while those who have mastered psionic power have gained access to “Akaleku,” or the “Astral, those who have mastered Communion have mastered “Falineku,”and those who have transcended all limitations to become a true tyrant are said to have mastered “Lithe,” to have become “Divine.”

The Labyrinth: The Labyrinth is unique to the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant and a late addition to its imagery. It represents the mind, set against itself in turmoil. The Tyrant must “delve into the labyrinth” to become a master of his own mind and passions, and finds at the heart of the labyrinth his truest desire, which becomes the burning flame the consumes all other passions and ambitions.

The Tetrahedron: Usually just called a “Pyramid,” the three-sided pyramid contains the rich symbolism of all three forms of Communion, each represented by a side, with each side containing three points, which represents the three paths of each form of Communion. The base of the pyramid represents slave and the masses and the pinnacle of the pyramid, where all forms of Communion join, which looks down upon all the rest, represents the transcendent master and the ultimate goal of all cultists of the Mystic Tyrant.
Game of Thrones Redesign by tryingtofly


The Aesthetics of Power

The Cult of the Mystic Tyrant understand that power is perceptual. If one believes that one has power, one does. They use their symbolism and their philosophical aesthetic to emphasize this. They build vast buildings with steps that raise the tyrant over those who approach him, surround him with banners and dress in garments that project their own majestic power.

The Colors of Tyranny

The Cult of the Mystic Tyrant uses color in its decoration and fashion both as a symbol for self-understanding, and to signal to others one’s level of initiation, or one’s purpose in the Cult.

Black is the color of the physical world and the color of shadows. It represents the lowest level of initiation and the blur of shadows that cloud the minds of men. It is worn by the lowest initiates, but also by those whose role is stealth, obfuscation or hiding the Cult from outsiders, such as enforcers or assassins.

Red is the color of the astral world and the color of fire and passion. It represents those initiated into the deeper secrets of the Cult, those who have gained sufficient passion that they can drive themselves towards greatness. It is worn by the apprentices of masters, but also those who wage war on the behalf of the Cult, its foot soldiers, agents and guardians.

White is the color of Communion and the color of clarity and ashes; it represents those of the highest degree of initiation, the leaders and masters of the cult, and whose wisdom has given them clarity to see the truth. It also represents those who keep or advance the knowledge of the Cult, such as archivists or archaeologists.

Gold is the color of the Mystic Tyrant, and the color of the divine; it represents those who have transcended the limitations of the Cult to become true tyrants. Cultists with a strong religious devotion to the Cult often wear gold as a reminder of their faith, but most who wear it do so to express power. They tend to be the absolute leaders of the Cult.

Names

Names, in the Divine Mask system, have power. The Divine Emperor would take a new name upon his ascent to the throne, representing his ascension to a divine state. The Cult continues this practice: those initiated to a sufficient degree gain a new name from their master, typically a Lithian one, and the title “Thamet.” In this case, it represents his parting from mundane ignorance and his first steps onto a path of true enlightenment. Those who claim to have achieved transcendence take on a new name of their own, representing how they forge both the universe and themselves with their new vision.

Oaths, and Master/Slave relationships

The concept of slavery and mastery is central to the Mystic Tyrant ideology, as represented by the scepter and lash. Each Tyrant must make himself a slave to his own ambition and passion, and thus becoming his own master, and anyone who can master himself can master others. Slaves shelter in the power of their master.

A master/slave relationship is one of patronage rewarded with obedience and vice versa. A slave bends knee to the master, and the master may do with the slave what he wishes. In turn, the master trains and protects the slave. The greatest of slaves is the apprentice (sometimes called a “prince” or “princess”), the right-hand of the master, who is groomed to take his place, or to join him as a master.

The Cult treats the master/slave relationship very seriously, and makes a show of dominance and submission. Those who are slaves often wear the sigils or names of their master and other items displaying submission, such as slave colors, chains or constricting (or revealing) clothing. They must supplicate themselves before their master and refer to him as “master” (or, in Lithian, “Thamara”) For his part, the master is expected to maintain an air of regal dignity, and to refer to his slaves by their position, rather than their name (the exception is the apprentice, who has earned a position of importance).

The Rituals of the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant

Meditation (“Delving into the Labyrinth”)

The Cult of the Mystic Tyrant concerns itself with self-mastery above all other things. Only those who master themselves can master others. They define this self-mastery as the elevation of one passion over all others, or the alignment of all desires in a single, central focus. This allows the achievement of greatness. The Cultist achieves this alignment through self-knowledge, which includes harrowing inner journey using meditation.

The Cult typically describes the journey as “wandering through a labyrinth.” The character confronts his own weaknesses and passions, often in vivid, hallucinatory detail, and must wrestle with them, flee from them or negotiate with them. They often describe some of their own passions as “monsters.” Some argue for battling and conquering one’s inner demons, but many suggest, instead, submitting to or sacrificing yourself to your inner demons; after all, they’re the most powerful passions and drives within you.

The exact experience varies from person to person and is entirely a metaphorical journey of psychological self-discovery. The Cult may speak of this as “a journey into inner worlds,” but they don’t actually believe this.

Rite of Initiation

Horus by Merl1ncz
The Cult has always kept secrets from outsiders, whether it was the political decisions of the Divine Emperor, or the conspiring of the cult that came after his fall. Those who wish to gain access to those secrets must prove their worth to the Cult through an initiation ritual.

The exact parameters vary based on the specific cult and the level of initiation the initiate is achieving, but certain commonalities pervade all such rituals. First, the initiate is kidnapped and blind-folded and then brought to an undisclosed location where he is confronted by black-clad masters. First, they demand to know his name. Then they test the initiate. The exact nature of the test varies; at the lowest levels, these might be simple questions about Cult doctrines or tests of loyalty; at higher levels these might be extremely demanding riddles, extreme demands (such as killing a loved one) or extreme, nigh-lethal tests. Once these have been surmounted, the initiate is walked through a threshold and before a crowned master, typically with the lash and scepter and seated upon a throne. The crowned master issues an oath of loyalty (to the Cult) and secrecy to the cultist, and when the cultist has completed his oath, the crowned master grants him the color appropriate to his initiation and, if appropriate, pronounces his new name.

Oath of Submission

When a cultist swears an oath to the Cult or to a Master, this is called an oath of submission. To perform an oath of submission, the cultist kneels before his new master, or a crowned master representing the cult as a whole (depending to whom the cultist is swearing loyalty). The cultist states his name and makes a solemn oath (“upon punishment of death”) to absolutely obey the commands of their new master and to keep their secrets. They then make an offering to their master, typically an offering of their own blood, but possessions or wealth are also acceptable, or an offering of a symbol prepared for the occasion. The Master then accepts the offering, accepts, states his own obligations (to protect and guide his new slave/apprentice) and then offers a hand to lift the slave up.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Metaphysics of Mystical Tyranny

The Principles of the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant

  1. There is no truth; the true nature of reality cannot be understood by mortal minds, nor express with mortal language.
  2. There is no morality; morality is a lie told by the weak to the weak to justify their weakness, and to the powerful to hobble them. The only true “good” is power. True power lies in the knowledge of what you want, and the strength to seize it.
  3. The world has no purpose; The world is chaotic, primal and unfathomable, and it is the only world that exists; there are no supernatural worlds, nor an afterlife. The only purpose the world has is one imposed upon it through will.
  4. All that matters is power; power is the expression of will and knowledge; All living beings have the ability to express will; the greater the being, the greater the will. Thus, psionic beings are inherently better than non-psionic beings (they have “greater will.”)
  5. Passion and pain indicate our true desires desires and thus our will. True power requires the alignment of all desire and will in the same direction; to impose your vision upon the universe, you must first impose your vision upon yourself.
  6. Those too weak to impose their vision on the universe crave having the vision of others imposed upon them. Through the power of the state and the submission of the people to the vision of a powerful tyrant can order be brought to a disordered universe.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Cultural Context of the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant

The Cult of the Mystic Tyrant has its foundations in the Divine Masks philosophy of the Ranathim Empire. Early in Ranathim Culture, the race of psychic vampires stumbled across the phenomenon of Dark Communion and began to embody and worship the various archetypes, paths, of Dark Communion as gods. Among these paths was the path of the Mystic Tyrant, and the ritualistic priesthood of the Mystic Tyrant became indistinguishable from the rulers of the Ranathim people, forging the role of the God-Emperor of the Ranathim ultimately codified by their greatest ruler, Anthara.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Patreon Preview: Cult of the Mystic Tyrant


A space opera setting inspired by Star Wars wouldn't be complete without a Jedi and Sith stand-in, and today, I've started the series on the first of those two: the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant, a philosophy dedicated to the transcendence exemplified by the Dark Communion path of the Mystic Tyrant and to ruling the Galaxy from the shadows.  The Emperor himself subscribes to this philosophy, perhaps explaining his lightning rise to dominant force in the Galaxy.

I've been wanting to work on this particular philosophy for ages (it was one of the first philosophies I had a rough draft for even before I started working on the Philosophy sub-iteration), so I'm pleased to present the Patreon preview of the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant, which is available here for all $3+ patrons.  This includes:
  • A look at the beliefs, history and symbolism of the Cult
  • A look at the core organization of the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant and it's secret "face" organization
  • The Cult of the Mystic Tyrant as an Esoteric Skill
  • The Schisms of the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant, including 
    • The original Ranathim God-King, Anthara
    • The criminal philosopher, Satra Temos
    • The True Communion Traitor Knight, Revalis White
I still have yet to complete additional psionic styles, martial arts, alternate paths and, most critically, the transcendent principles.  These will be available later.  In the meantime, thank you, Patrons, for supporting me, and be sure to check it out! 

The Cult of the Mystic Tyrant: an Intro



Peace is a lie, there is only passion. Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, I gain power. Through power, I gain victory. Through victory, my chains are broken. The Force shall free me. -The Sith Code, Knights of the Old Republic

Star Wars follows a very simple sort of morality. On the one side, you have the good guys, the Jedi, who are good, and on the other, you have the Sith, who are bad. The films rarely stop to discuss the inherent morality of one side or the other. Even when the Jedi are at their most decadent and corrupt, all that really means is that they lose their ability to oppose the true source of evil, and at their best, the Sith can only offer lies. The latest films seem to suggest an effort at “balance,” which we’ll have to wait to see, but only in video games, where players may want real choice, do we get a glimmer of value or worth from the Sith philosophy, and even there, I often find how it’s treated to be incoherent (and I’m not the only one). I find little true balance in how Star Wars treats its philosophies.

That said, Psi-Wars needs their Sith. We need a dark, conspiratorial force that seeks to undermine the moral systems of the Galaxy and throw everyone in chains. We need a reason for our not-Jedi to keep their tradition alive and a force for them to defend against. We need the sort of villain who draws upon Dark Communion and TK-Squeezes the throats of his enemy while wielding a terrifying, red force sword.

But I personally find the black/white morality of Star Wars limiting when it comes to setting design. I do not object to GMs wishing to make True Communion the good guys with the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant as the bad guys. After all, that’s my default stance! And it’s likely the stance of anyone hewing close to Star Wars as inspiration. But I find that mustache-twirling villainy to strain plausibility for most mature audiences and, on the flip side, I see many players who chafe at the false choice presented by the Jedi/Sith split. Why would you, as a player, ever choose the dark side if it isn’t better, demands you kill a loved one, and leaves you irredeemably corrupted? For cool powers? Speaking of which, why precisely must one kill loved ones and become irredeemably corrupt to gain access to force choke? And if the GM is going to include dark villains who choose this dark path, he may want better motivation for that choice than “Mwahaha, I’m so evil!”

At the same time, a GM who doesn’t want the black and white morality of Star Wars may well want to make the “Sith” the legitimate good-guys without turning them into Jedi who just wear black. What does that look like? What options does he have? I’ve not spoke of him much, partly because I liked him so much, but a character like Vesper Tane, who embraces Dark Communion in his effort to end the Empire should be a feasible choice. What sort of philosophy might he follow?

To me, choice is the heart of an RPG, not just the choice of a player, but the choice of a GM in how he wishes to depict his setting. I know players will want to choose the dark side, and I know GMs will want a more nuanced and sympathetic depiction of its villains. As such, I feel that the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant, while dark, should be potentially seen as not villainous. One should be able to see their perspective and, with a few tweaks, make them into the good guys, if one wishes.

So, here begins the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant, a cynical path that denies morality, that denies truth, that seeks to enslave others, and to become master over everything in the Galaxy. It hides in the shadows and builds its power while whispering honeyed words into those who will listen and then, like a parasite, co-opts the philosophical system of others. This, then, is your villain’s philosophy. But it’s a philosophy that strips away the comforting lies we tell ourselves and forces its practitioners to either admit their cowardice or face the full, terrifying truths of reality head on. It demands individual responsibility from those who would be king, and demands that those who seek answers forge them for themselves. It embraces the here and now, rather than promising a fairy-tale where everything’s gonna be okay. This, then, is a philosophy of misunderstood heroes, men who lead when the rest of the world cowers at their feet.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

State of the Patreon: December

Another month, another State of the Patreon.  Where are we as 2017 closes out?

November, for views, was a disaster.  I haven't been this low in views since I started Psi-Wars (perhaps the first couple of months were worse, but this is definitely the worst month of 2017).  Why was it so bad?  Well, I cut my posting rate from 4 a week to 2 a week, and for a few weeks in the middle, due to illness, I failed to promote my posts across various social media platforms, and with the Philosophy series I've been giving all of my material to my Patrons up front, which means they don't view it as much.  It might also be that Divine Masks was just a less interesting philosophy for most people, but I've heard some vocal interest in it, so I suspect it's more the first three.

Am I worried?  No.  My Patreon is up again, which suggests to me that interest hasn't dropped.  I've halved the posting schedule and thus halved my views, I think it follows pretty logically. Moreover, there's nothing I can really do about this right now.  Slowing my posting schedule means I can take up side projects and continue to produce material at a reasonable pace while being a responsible husband and father. If circumstances change, I may go back to my previous pace, but I think I have to accept that this is the new normal.

Nevertheless, my approach is already paying dividends.  In December, I have the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant almost complete.  By "almost complete" I mean that I have more than enough material to fill up the month, but that I keep thinking of new ideas that I'm not sure if they should be Patreon specials, or if I should keep going with the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant into January.  We will see!

So, for you faithful viewers, I have the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant this month, including a minimum of:

  • An Introduction, including a discussion of the Sith, Thomas Hobbes, Friedrich Nietzsche and GURPS Cabal
  • Cultural Context, including how the Cult went from a Ranathim imperial cult to a pan-galactic conspiracy.
  • The Beliefs of the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant, which will dive into their moral and metaphysical nihilism as well as their views on the state.
  • The Symbolism of the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant, including their initiation rites and their master/slave relationships
  • The Cult and Conspiracy, a look at their global organization and their conspiratorial sub-organizations.
  • The three schisms of the Cult, including the imperial cult of Anthara, the criminal conspiracy of Satra Temos, and the grey path of the former Knight of Communion, Revalis White
I have more, but I'll get back to you on how I intend to release it.

For you, my dear patrons, I already have one post up for you on a new expansion for Anti-Psi, Negative-Psi, which seeks to expand the utility of Anti-Psi from just screwing with psions and moving it into something broadly useful, more closely themed with Broken Communion, and with a more complex relationship with the rest of Psi.  It was inspired by a discussion on Discord and, in part, by Darth Nihilus as a "wound in the Force."  This is available now for all $1+ patrons! Check it out!

Soon (at the latest, when the Intro for the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant drops), I'll decide how I want to put together the Mystic Tyrant document and it will be available to all $3+ patrons.  It will either contain the additional material that I'm working on directly, as an addendum later (when it finishes), or they'll be stand-alone Patreon specials for all $3+ patrons.  One way or another, you'll have them.  They may (no promises!) include:
  • Psionic Styles unique to the Cult
  • Martial Styles unique to the Cult
  • New Communion Paths carved out of Communion by the self-serving will of its Transcendent Masters
  • Transcendent Powers available to the Transcendent Masters of the Cult (I already have a first draft of this document).


By the end of December, I will have a poll on the fourth schism of the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant: the current Galactic Emperor and the true power and philosophy behind his throne!  This will be available to all $5+ patrons!

So, I've been busy!  This month should be hopping! I hope you enjoy reading this stuff as much as I wrote it.  If you're a patron, my family and I want to thank you for supporting me while writing this blog, especially as the Christmas season comes up.  I hope you, all of you, enjoy what I have in store for you.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Necro-Psionic Technology: The Legacy of the Dead Art

Necro-Psionic Technology

The Ranathim mastered the Dead Art and used it and its synthetic flesh to craft unliving biological machines that fed off of psionic energy to empower their uses. This technology gave them the edge they needed to forge their empire, but also had drawbacks, both in slowly twisting and corrupting their users, and in the intense specialization and skill needed to train necrocrafters. Thus, after the Ranathim Empire fell, most of its Necro-Psionic technology fell with it. Even so, some practitioners of the Dead Art still exist in the Galaxy, and many Ranathim relics still use this technology, or the living warmachines created by the Ranathim Empire still roam the decaying remnants of their great empire.

In essence, Necro-Psionic technology is bio-tech with a highly specific focus (synthetic flesh or dead flesh), and shaped with a specific technique (Necrokinesis). In a sense, it’s similar to “Variant Biotech” from BT 30, except that we use psionics instead of magic, and the Dead Art has a very distinc thematic flavor. Anything, from plague engineering to human engineering to bio-tech gadgets and bio-mods can be made using synthetic flesh or dead flesh and necrokinesis. The following represents a catalog of “common” technology as inspiration.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Dead Art: Necrocrafting

The Dead Art

Alternate Names: Anala Ivasur, Anala Ikafri, Dapomarvan, Jiburre, Necrocrafting

When the great armies of the Monolith marched on the nascent Ranathim Empire, they brought with them the secrets of Necrokinesis, a dark science gained from their deep understanding of Broken Communion and twisted psionic energy. The Ranathim stole a portion of that secret, Thanatokinesis, which resonated well with their powers of psychokinesis and psychic vampirism. Using it, one of their great mystic-technicians, Thamet Kafri, created synthetic flesh, vat-grown flesh that responded to the dark prompting of Thanatokinesis, and she mastered the art of embedding the animating force of Thanatokinesis into the synthetic flesh, or even into corpses, to create permanent half-living servitors. She also mastered the art of reshaping dead flesh, to give it a property she wanted.

This great breakthrough allowed the Ranathim to create strange, biological machinery that they crafted into war engines, monsters and soldiers that they used to defeat the Monolith. With the fall of their empire, Kafri’s art largely vanished, as much of the universe considered it and its creations abominations. Nonetheless, the ability to conquer death offers tantalizing possibilities and the relics of Kafri’s experimentations still litter the part of the Galaxy where the war was fought the fiercest, and she created one of the races of the Galaxy, the Gaunts (or the Tarvathim). It is, thus, the rarest and most controversial of the Zathare practices.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Zathare: Ranathim Sorcery

Alternate Names: Anala Izathan, Ranathim Sorcery

When Ranathim speak of the Anala Izathan, they most often mean Zathare specifically. The typical practitioner of Zathare, a Zathan or a warlock, tends to be wealthy enough to hunt down strange and rare relics, which he collects in his grand estate, as well as ancient tomes detailing powerful psionic rituals compiled by other, more ancient warlocks. He speaks Lithian, even if he’s a non-Ranathim practitioner, and many warlocks are non-Ranathim (humans find it especially appealing).

To the Zathan, the “Divinities” of the Divine Mask are just psionic energies and forces that can be understood and negotiated with. Their focus is not on channeling the divine directly, as cults or Ranathim witches do, but in harnessing that energy to empower and improve their psionics. Zathare teaches techniques and skills that can improve any psion’s power, but their preferred psionic powers are Pyshic Vampirism, Psychokinesis and Telepathy, though they regularly pilfer the cults of the Divine Mask for additional psionic knowledge. They use ornate rituals, rich Communion imagery and words of power found buried in old Lithian to empower their abilities.

The warlocks of Zathare have little respect for the divinities of the cults, but when they do treat directly with the Gods of the Domen, they do so as equals, negotiating for power. They take a Communion Oath, twisting their own destinies in service to one or more (often many!) paths to gain access to some specific miracle. Thus, the most powerful warlocks are often constrained by their own arcane oaths and, if forced to break them, will suffer a dark fate indeed.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Navare: Ranathim Witchcraft

Alternate Names: Chivare, Anala Inavale, Domen Achamor, Ranathim Witchcraft

Navare is the most common of the Divine Mask practices that falls under the categories of Anala Izathare, or the practices, and is so closely tied to the Cults of the Divine Masks that many modern followers refer to it as Chivare and its practioners as Chiva even though this is technically wrong. For most Ranathim or other alien followers of the Divine Masks who find themselves far from the temples of the Dark Arm of the Galaxy, finding a Navare witch is usually as close as one can come to an actual chiva, or cult priestess, and even many cultists supplement their own style by dabbling in Navare, especially Domen Venalina.

Navare, literally “Healing”, studies the divine energies of Communion and how they interact with the living. Navare teaches that most disease and misfortune come from misalignments of Communion energy, or from angering the divine. When someone comes to them, they first check to see how they’ve misaligned with their own destiny by using Fortune Telling, then prescribe a treatment that aligns with appropriate Path symbolism using Esoteric Medicine. Some witches use gentle massage or herbal remedies to speed the recovery process, or use modern technological medicine (though this tends to be too expensive for the communities where Navare is most likely to be practiced).

Navare witches can also double as low-rent priests or priestesses. They have an extensive knowledge of the basics of all cults, and often specialize in a deep learning of one or two specific cults and even fold that imagery and powers into their work. Rather than serve a single god, the Navare witch usually claims to serve all gods, to walk any path as needed. This gives them a relatively unique ability to take on and set aside any mask at will, often literally. The masters of the art can set on the mask of, say, Fitres Venalina to pardon you of your sins, and then Sefelina Midra to free you from your bonds. As such, they often serve as the spiritual center for their communities if no cults exist, and as such, tend to be mistakenly called chiva.

Finally, the most recognizable aspect of Navare are their amulets. Small stone, bone, clay or wooden amulets festoon their abodes, places of worship and shops, all for sale. These amulets provide modest protection from evil supernatural energies, or even grant the wearer a moment of power or a small, modest miracle. They tend to be expensive, but beautiful, and even non-practitioners sometimes take to collecting amulets.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Patreon Poll: The Cult of Death

It's time for another Patreon poll.

The Divine Masks worships the Archetypes of Communion as Gods and its priests master the power of incarnation to become living Gods.  I've explored, or will explore, all three Dark Communion Archetypes (the Rebellious Beast, the Beautiful Fool and, coming soon, the Mystic Tyrant), but I also wanted to touch on True and Broken Communion.  For True Communion, I chose the Bound Princess, but for Broken Communion, I revisited an old favorite: Death.

But what should Death look like?  Should it be an ancient funerary cult?  An assassin cult dedicated to the unmitigated power of Death?  Or perhaps the terrifying worship of something beyond human (or Ranathim) conception? And, if you've read the Dead Art and the Gaunt preview, what's the relationship between these and the Cult of Death?

It's all up to you, Patron.  I've created 13 posts (an introduction, available here and 12 questions), which are available to all $5+ Patrons.  If you're a patron, check it out!  If you're not, as always, I'd love to have you.

Support me on Patreon!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Domen Venalina: the Sin Eaters

Domen Venalina: The Sin-Eaters, the Cult of the Bound Princess

Fitres Venalina, rei harfu imanathurem
Fitres Venalina, forgive my sins
--Prayer to
Fitres Venalina

Many Ranathim believe that something is fundamentally wrong with them. Their culture encourages them to sate their passions and feed their hunger, by trickery or by force, at the expense of others. And yet, the damage they inflict lasts far longer than the sensation of satiation. Guilt gnaws at them, and when it becomes too much for them to bear, they turn to Fitres Venalina, the pure lady. In her grace, even the most abhorrent Ranathim can find forgiveness, love, and release from his hungers.

When the Ranathim Empire encountered True Communion, they recognized the power as similar to their own Dark Communion, but they had no ability to access it. And many saw that True Communion contained within it the power to heal, soothe and comfort, while Dark Communion only had the power to steal and corrupt, but the Ranathim had no capacity to access True Communion. Their very nature denied them access to the sense of community that True Communion offered, and to some Ranathim, they could only come to one conclusion: the Ranathim were fundamentally monstrous and corrupt.

According to the lore of Domen Venelina, one of the members of the race that founded True Communion, Fitres Venalina, took pity upon the wretched Ranathim and taught them how to escape the confines of Dark Communion and to join her in True Communion. For this, the fallen and sinful Ranathim rewarded her with death, but even as they placed her upon the execution block, she whispered her forgiveness to the executioner. Those she taught, and the executioner himself, forsook their sinful ways and began to follow the path of Fitres Venalina.

Regardless of lore, Domen Venalina is among the “newer” cults, though still thousands of years old, and arose shortly after the Ranathim encountered the philosophy of True Communion. Annifem Lithe did what it always does, and folded the concept of True Communion. The paths of the Righteous Crusader, the Bound Princess and the Exiled Master became yet more Lithaja, Gods, albeit ones much harder for the Ranathim themselves to worship. This didn’t stop them from trying!

Domen Venalina arose as one such cult dedicated to a True Communion “God,” in this case Fitres Venalina, or the Bound Princess. They see her as the path from their inherent sinfulness, thuremka, and into a state of grace, or Venaka. To do this, the Chiva Thurulina must bring grace to the rest of her race. Like Fitres Venalina, they sacrifice themselves on the behalf of their race and community, and they do this by consuming the sinful thoughts and deeds of others, giving them a chance to live life as the other races do, free of their wicked passions. In this service to others, they find a way to connect with the rest of their race, and with True Communion.

Domen Venalina is an odd faith. Some mistakenly call it an off-shoot of True Communion. It certainly is not. Rather, it’s an imitation of True Communion, as seen through the lens of Annifem Lithe. The Ranathim who practice it don’t truly understand the harmony it seeks, but instead see the same pattern of oath and divine wrath that steeps the rest of the Anala system. Through submission to and channeling of Fitres Venalina, they seek a reward, in this case, redemption from their vampiric nature. At the same time, Domen Venalina stands at odds with the rest of the Anala system in that it inherently rejects the core values of Ranathim culture, such as hedonism and pleasure. Chiva Thurulena instead embrace a form of masochistic asceticism in explicit rejection of Ranathim culture.

Chiva Thurulena, or just Thurulina (for women) or Thurule (for men), can be found on the corners of streets, offering their services or begging for food. Their temples often act as monasteries, places where one can isolate herself from the world and from temptations of the flesh, and they act as sanctuaries for anyone who wishes to escape the perils of society or their own sinful ways.

Chiva Thurulena offer their services to others, taking the burdens of unwanted passions onto themselves, or healing the wounded and weak as best as they can. They also offer permanent relief from their sins by embracing Fitres Venalina, which they claim has purged them of their passions and even their endless hunger for psionic energy. They’ve replaced it with self-flagellation and wailing songs to the grace of Fitres Venalina and bemoaning the fallen state of their people.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Domen Sonostra: the Knights of Rage

Thamet Sonostra, rei jiva mei girdi
Thamet Sonostra, give me strength
--Prayer to
Thamet Sonostra

The predatory, winner-takes-all nature of the Ranathim often means that every winner leaves behind him a trail of losers. The distraught, wounded and broken victims of the depredations of the Ranathim may turn to the law or to the charity of friends and family for assistance, but when even these fail, when all that is left to a Ranathim is his own blinding tears and burning rage, he turns them to Thamet Sonostra, the lord of rage, and begs him for Jenum, justice. To this, Thamet Sonostra always responds the same: “Do it yourself.”

Domen Sonostrum is a cult of revenge and vigilantism. Its members once suffered injustice or had a loved one suffer injustice, and they seek to rectify it by their own hand. The find ecstatic divinity in their own rage; they mete out of justice in back alleys, and under the cover of night. They accept no law, for law has failed them. They accept no defeat, for they have already suffered the humiliation of defeat and have risen again. They accept only vengeance. For the modern Ranathim, under the yoke of the slaver empire, they represent a brutal sort of hope: “May the Nasatemo Sonostra find you” a Ranathim victim will spit at those that oppress him.

Domen Sonostrum, the Cult of Rage, rose in the dawn of the Ranathim civilization as a barbaric counter-reaction to the rise of said civilization. Those who suffered under oppression took first to the mountains and then the stars to escape their bonds. There, their rage festered and reached divine proportions. When they fell upon their enemies, they did it with howling rage. Long before the Ranathim forged an empire, these ecstatic warriors had already carved out pocket realms in the stars in the name of their god. The rising Ranathim Empire first conquered these fiefdoms, and then unified them. The Mystic Tyrant whispered to them of the greatness of their deeds and the awe in which the Ranathim people held them. He turned their attention outward, not at the Ranathim, but at those who threatened the Ranathim. In so doing, he turned them from marauders and pirates and into the Nasatemo Sonostra, the Knights of Rage.

As the Knights of Rage, they served for centuries as the shocktroops of the Ranathim Empire. Whenever injustice befell the Ranathim people or when they met an enemy that no conventional army could defeat, the Mystic Tyrant unleashed his Knights of Rage upon his enemy. They discarded honor in favor of victory, law in favor of revenge. Their brutal tactics terrorized his enemies into submission, and earned the admiration of the Ranathim people.

When the Ranathim Empire collapsed and aliens began to prey upon the Ranathim, the Knights of Rage scattered and returned to their old brigand ways, but they never forgot their purpose as a protector of their people. They turned their piracy against the enemies of the Ranathim, and became the seeds of terror and insurgency. Wherever they found Ranathim children wailing over their fallen parents, they would take them up, fuel their hatred and forge them into weapons wielded by the bloody-handed Thamet Sonostrum. The Ranathim will never forget their grudges against other races, and they don’t have to, thanks to the justice of the shadows.

Stereotyically, Satemo Sonostra are fit, sinewy Ranathim men, covered in tattoos and blood-splashed armor, wielding a psi-sword. In practice, female Ranathim and aliens make up a sizeable portion of their ranks. They wear armor only when necessary, often dressing in civilian clothing and secreting away their psi-swords until they need them. As with all nadomen, the Domen Sonostrum have great temples; theirs are darkly lit with slow burning braziers with an altar before the great idol of Thamet Sonostra, with an altar before him, covered in blood and gruesome trophies taken from the slain enemies of Thamet Sonostra. Elsewhere in the temple, Nasatemo swap stories of injustices that need to be righted, plan attacks, or train in their brutal arts.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Patreon Post: the Gaunt (and the Dead Art preview)

When the Ranathim fought their great and terrible war with the "Monolith," they stole the secrets of Necro-Psi (and more here) and used them to forge an army of half-living constructs made of "synthetic flesh" that they called the "Tarvathim," but the rest of the Galaxy now calls the Gaunt.  The forbidden secrets of their construction have largely been lost (but not entirely!), and without their masters around to rule them, the hideous Gaunt have dispersed throughout the galaxy, struggling to eke out an existence in a galaxy that recoils from them in disgust, and when one of the ancient "True Tarvathim," immortal constructs built at the dawn of that terrible war, arrive in a community of the Gaunt, their lesser kindred flock to them, looking for leadership.

The Gaunt are a new PC race option, one deeply tied to the Ranathim, with extreme survivability balanced by unpleasant appearance (not to mention smell!) and psionic susceptibility.  The True Tarvathim are a new PC race option for players who want to try something ancient and terrifying, or for GMs who want to unleash an ancient horror upon the galaxy.

Both (and a Dead Arts preview, for context; it'll be available on this blog at the end of the month) are available now to all $3+ patrons on my patreon.  If you're a patron, enjoy! If not, as with all previews, these will eventually come out, but if you want to see them now, I'd love to have you.

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Dome Sefelina: The Cult of the Beautiful Fool

Sefelina Midra, rei indra mei fet imasevaiku
Sefelina Midra, free me from slavery
--Prayer to Sefelina Midra

Domen Sefelina is among the oldest of Annifem Lithe cults, and predates the Anala system. They followed a lurid, tempting trickster goddess, Sefelina Midra, the untameable dancer. At the heart of their temple, the Nachiva Sefelina dances beneath her idol to the beat of drums and the piping of flutes and the scent of intoxicating incense, while the high priestess channeles Her divine will and deliveres commands and miracles to Her faithful. Her commands and miracles liberated the downtrodden, the poor and the slave, giving them a home and a purpose, and the dispossessed flocked to her temples to give Her offerings and to enter her service.

The Nachiva Sefelina, the preistesses of Sefelina Midra, offer their services to any who bring the temple offerings. The services include many forms of amusement, including feasts, intimacy and intoxicants of all kinds. This earned them their moniker of Sacred Whores; this suggests that they offer vice for a price, but this is not the case. They offer vice to liberate others. They know that all Ranathim want to indulge in their passions, and the Nachiva Selfelina assist them.

They indulge in vice and they obey the commands of their high priestess for a purpose. Domen Sefelina preaches a theology of liberation. Those who seek freedom from morality, law or slavery can always find a haven in the temples of Domen Sefelina. This proved troublesome with the rise of the Ranathim Empire, and so the Divine Emperor of the Ranathim inducted them into his House and symbolically married the high priestess of the temple, forging a union between the Domen Sefelina and the Imperial Cult, so that the dominion of the Empire was the dominion of the Domen Selfelina. This helped to tamp down their tendency to undermine authority.

This arrangement collapsed with the fall of the Ranathim Empire. As the rapacious races of the Galaxy began to take the Ranathim as slaves, the popularity of Domen Sefelina exploded across the space occupied by the Ranathim population. At first, slaves who escaped would make their way to the temples, seeking sanctuary, but soon the Sefelina Midra, the Goddess of the Domen, made her will known: “Free the slaves.” The Domen Sefelina has, in the modern galaxy, integrated with many criminal organizations, offering whores and drugs in return for the service of smugglers and assassins, so that they can work to free slaves and undermine any authority throughout space where they have influence. They have gained a reputation for the witches of the criminal world, and the last hope of the desperate.

Stereotyically, Nachivana Sefelina are beautiful, immodestly dressed female Ranathim. In reality, they include male members, and many less attractive Nachiva serve the Domen, they just tend not to be its face. The center of the Dovem Sefelina are its temples, festooned with the imagery and symbolism of Sefelina Midra, the Beautiful Fool, and at its heart is a great idol of Sefelina Midra in all her lascivious beauty. Resting on a dias, at her feet, is the high preistess of the Domen Sefelina, who speaks for Sefelina Midra.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Cults of the Divine Mask

The foundation of Annifem Lithe are the old cults, the Nadomen, of the Ranathim. Their lore and theology served as the basis for how other “similar” cults from other alien races, or even other Ranathim cults. Though the cults have changed over time, Ranathim and other aliens, and even some humans, still worship those original cults, and a multitude of cults beside.

What worship means varies from cult to cult, and how believers interact with their cults, and with Annifem Lithe differ from believer to believer. Many faithful focus intently on a single cult, absorbing their specific practices and superstitions Others attend a variety of cults superficially based on their needs, treating each cult as a different set of supernatural specialists. Others take Annifem Lithe as a whole cohesive system and see individual cults as suffering from tunnel vision. Those who treat primarily with the cults are said to practice Chivare and those who treat with the Annifem Lithe as a whole are said to practice Zathare. The Nadomen, the cults, are the only meaningful organizations of the Annifem Lithe system. Those who study Zathare, or who practice broader Chivare tend to have little organization beyond local master-apprentice relationsships, or small circles of individuals sometimes called covens.

Those who follow a specific cult might, instead of having the Believer (Annifem Lithe) quirk, they might have a Believer (Specific Cult) quirk. Most believers subscribe to the various superstitions associated with their cult, which double as small ritual acts. Characters may take these as quirks, or as Delusion (Superstition) disadvantages, usually worth no more than -5 points.

Annifem Lithe categorizes all of its various cults into the categories of the 9 communion paths A sample of cults under the Annifem Lithe system include:

  • Domen Sefelina: The Cult of the Dancer celebrates hedonistic freedom, and grants that freedom to all who make offerings to their goddess. They traditionally served as the brides of the Ranathim Divine Tyrant; today they offer their services to the underworld and fight to liberate their kind from slavery. Domen Sefelina worships the Beautiful Fool. Other cults that worship the Beautiful Fool, according to Annifem Lithe, include the “Cult” of Esau Elegans.
  • Domen Sonostrum: The Knights of Rage fight against the injustices that nobody else will fight against. They take revenge for the fallen, for the outcast and dispossessed. They traditionally served as the secretive enforcers for the Ranatahim Empire, but today, the serve as a seed of insurgency against those who oppress the Ranathim. Domen Sonostrum worships the Rebellious Beat. Other cults that worship the Rebellious Beast, according to Annitehm Lithe are the Ithin-Kor, and the “Cult” of Lothar Kain.
  • Domen Venalina: The Sin-Eaters have discovered a way to purify the Ranathim of their “inherently sinful nature” and to gain access to True Communion, and they offer to liberate all other Ranathim of their sins and dark impulses and draw them into the grace of True Communion along with them. Domen Venalina worships the Bound Princess. Other cults, according to Annifem Lithe, that worship the Bound Princess, include the cult of Sissi Sabine.

Agendas of the Cults of the Divine Masks

Each Cult has their own specific concerns and agendas, but cults, taken as a whole, have similar sorts of agendas. Cults broadly tend to be concerned with protecting their holy spaces, expanding their membership and influence, and in collecting relics associated with their particular faith. The Annifem Lithe cults also rely on powerful psions if they want to gain access to Communion, thus they remain constantly on the look-out for powerful potential psions. Examples of such agendas include:

Once thought lost forever, the shifting hyperspace storms of the Tangled Expanse have opened to reveal a path that leads to a lost Ranathim world upon which a famed Ranathim temple rests in ruins. The cult must send an explorer to survey the damage, drive out any intruders, and make it safe for a pilgrimage of a Chivaga who restore is sanctity to their God.

An ancient relic, once thought forever lost after the fall of the Ranathim empire, has turned up on the antiquities black market in the hands of a human smuggler who likely doesn’t know its true power. The cult must quietly contact the smuggler and secure the relic. If his asking price is too high, the cult may use other means to secure it. However, the operation must remain quiet, lest rival cults or, worse, the Nazathan, hear of the relic and try to seize if for themselves!

The date of a great Cult festivity looms near. The faithful brim with excitement, but the authorities grow nervous as pilgrims from all across the world flock to the city in which the temple is located. The cult has never been more powerful, nor in a more precarious position! The leadership must find some way to assure the leadership that nothing unfortunate will happen, while making preparations to ensure that the festivities go off without a hitch, despite increasing political tensions which such a large mass of faithful are slowly making worse with their presence.

A daughter of the divine has been born! A cult, long without a proper Chivaga has learned of a child who has faced the milestones of the divine path, and displays a capacity of miraculous power. Naturally, her mysterious power frightens the locals and her own family, who lost their faith in the Annifem Lithe long ago. The cult must dispatch a chiva to comfort or cow the populace, collect the child, train her in her destiny as Chivaga and then install her as a new leader. Be careful! Whomever trains the child will likely control that child’s destiny and thus become a behind-the-throne power for the child-priestess!

Cult of the Divine Masks as Opposition

The Cults have access to well-trained psions and limited access to Communion. Their membership tends to be more enthusiastic than well-trained. Most cultists will have combatants no better than civilians, at BAD -0, though likely with unusual powers. More militant cults, like Domen Sonostrum, can field full space knights might field combatants as effective as BAD -5. Organizationally, the Cults typically have a BAD of -0 to -2, not because they have exceptional security measures, but because their psionic training offer them additional security. The PSI-BAD at least equals or exceeds their BAD.

Serving in a Cult of the Divine Masks

Religious Rank

6: Thamel (Master/Mistress), Chivaga (Head Priest/Priestess)

5: Chiavagi (High Priest/Priestess)

4: Chiva Siva (Special Priest/Priestess)

3: Chiva (Priest/Priestess)

2: Chivago (Lesser Priest/Priestess)

1: Kigalegi (Senior Acolyte)

0: Seva (Slave), Kigale (Acolyte)

If one wishes to serve a cult, they first submit either as a Seva (slave or servant), who labors for the temple and does whatever the cultists need of him, or they become a Kigale, an “Acolyte” (lit “Follower”). Acolytes serve in a lay faculty, serving higher priests directly and governing the Seva.

Those who have sufficient psionic acumen or who have a destiny that bring them in alignment with the path of the cult can become Chiva or priests or priestess (lit “Witch”). Apprenticeship begins with the rank of Chivago or “Lesser priest/priestess.” Such priests learn at the feet of greater priests and typically focus on Communion Oaths as the source of their connection with Communion. Once a character has graduated, they become full-fledged Chiva. Most Chiva have at least a Communion Oath, or are Archetypes. The Chiva Siva (lit “Special Witch”) work as agents out in the world, collecting artifacts, spreading doctrines and subverting danger against the cult.

The greatest priests and priestess must either be Archtypes or have achieved Communion itself. These become Chivagi (Greater priests/priestesses), or the Chivaga or Thamel. These lead the cult on a local level, running the temple, wearing the mask of their divinity and making pronouncements in their stead. No higher organization exists. There’s no “High Master of all Domen Sefelina.” Each temple follows their own cult in their own way, and some cults worshiping the same path might even begin to form rivalries with one another!

Favors of a Cult of the Divine Masks

Generally, cults offer their members access to supernatural power and insight.

Communion Miracles: The Cults of the Divine Mask do have access to Communion, albeit in a more limited way than the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant or True Communion. Treat requests for miracles as requests for technical means (PR 15), but apply an additional -2 to represent the greater cost for Communion miracles associated with the cult.

Relics: Cults of the Divine Mask regularly collect and worship relics associated with their particular path, adding them to their own god’s mythology. They may be willing to part with them, if you have sufficient draw with the cult! Treat this as gear (PR 16), but apply a -5, similar to “experimental gear with no price tag.”

Sacred Spaces: Cults of the Divine Mask have access to places “Holy” to certain forms of Communion (most commonly Dark Communion, but some cults to paths of True or Broken Communion do exist!). Treat this as Facilities (PR pp 18-19) if the characters want to make use of the site to enact a miracle.

Introduction (PR 18): While the Cults of the Divine Masks don’t really hold much sway with the galactic elite, many members of the criminal underworld, or members of outcast races, worship the Cults. However, cross-cult introductions (such as joining Domen Sonostrum and looking for an introduction to the high priestess of Domen Sefelina) do not benefit from the +5 for “introduction to members of the same organization.” The Cults of the Divine Mask are related, but not that closely!

Teaching (Services, PR 18): The Cults of the Divine Masks have access to secrets and will willingly part with them to almost all members, though Anala Izathan, the Practices of Sorcery, tend to have greater access to actual secrets, rather than the cults.

Cult Character Considerations

Requirements: Characters serving a Cult of the Divine Masks have no minimum wealth, and must have Religious Rank 0, and have a Duty of at least 9 or less. Most will have an appropriate Vow or Disciplines of Faith (Ritual).

A Favor from a Cult of the Divine Masks institute is worth 1 point/rank. A Cult as a Patron is worth 15 points as a base. A Cult as an Enemy is worth -15 points.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Divine Mask Symbolism and Ceremonies

Annifem Lithe Symoblism

Annifem Lithe pretends to be a cohesive system, but it might be better described as a cataloging of various systems with a rough attempt at creating a grand unified theory that underlies them. As such, it necessarily encompasses many systems that have few similarities in symbolism or ceremonies. Thus, one cannot completely describe all possible symbols or ceremonies for Anala. Instead, this documents some of the most common symbols.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Divine Masks: Beliefs

 The Principles of Annifem Lithe


  1. The world emanated from divine source (“Litheja”)
  2. The world consists of four, possibly five layers: The divine (“Litheja”), the Dreaming or Communion (“Falineku”), the Astral or the world of the Mind/Psionics (“Akaleku”) and the physical world (“Jenteku”). There may exist a fifth layer “beneath” the physical, where the dead reside (“Hell” or “Tarvagant”)
  3. All religions and cults are just “masks”, Annifem, worn by one of the nine paths of Communion, and thus inherently compatible with one another.
  4. All mystical thought provide insight into the greater mysteries of the magical nature of the world; no mystical thought is so sacred or alien that it cannot be folded into Anala.
  5. There is no “good” or “evil,” only that which makes you stronger and better and that which makes you weaker and worse. All people naturally seek to maximize their pleasure.
  6. Death is terrible and people naturally seek to avoid it or transcend it. The secrets to both can be found in Anala, if one looks deep enough.


Monday, October 30, 2017

After Action Report: Tinker Titan Rebel Spy, Session 1

I wrapped up the first session of Tinker Titan Rebel Spy a couple of weeks ago, and I don't have to give you a session report, because loads of my players already did that.  You can see them here:

I also have some commentary from Kalzazz, which I'll include a the tail end of this post.

Today's post, thus, will not be about what happened, but why I did what I did and what I thought about things.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

State of the Patreon: November

Another month has finished.  This would be yet another month where the blog continued it's rise if I hadn't drastically slowed my pace of posting, which I'll talk about shortly.  The most popular posts of the month, setting aside the Primer, are Tinker Titan Rebel Spy, which received a huge response (I want to thank everyone for that) and I'll have an after-action report up soon.  Then we have Akashic Ancestor Veneration followed by (surprise surprise) Grimshaw Ancestor Veneration (You guys like Grimshaw huh?) and then the Divine Masks cultural context.  I'm surprised to see the warm reception it's received.  I felt it was an important philosophy to tackle, but I assumed most of my readership would give it a collective shrug.  That seems not to be the case!

After a big talk with my wife about the stress of getting the posts out in time paired with my fatherly duties and my work, she made the wise suggestion of "Just don't post so much."  I used to write once a week.  So why do I post 4x a week now?  Because I want to get through this.  I wanted to finish by the end of the year.  That's not going to happen, and perhaps I should just acknowledge that I'm generating a lot of content, but a breakneck pace like I've been writing isn't really feasible and it's getting in the way of other projects that I really need to get back to.  So, expect to see 1-2 posts a week, rather than 4 posts a week like you have been seeing.  I would still like to get Patreon posts out at their regular schedule though.

Speaking of the Patron, it's going well, and I've hit my goal for sketch art, and I've paid for my first piece of art, a sketch of the Ranathim, for the Ranathim preview.  With luck I'll be able to land the first official artwork, and once I have the ball rolling on that, we should see quite a few more coming out.  At least, that's my hope.

In the coming month, for you, my dear Patrons, I have a $3 patron preview for the Tarvathim, the constructed race of the Ranathim, built out of synthetic flesh with forbidden arts to be their psionically vulnerable foot soldiers for their God-Emperor, but since the fall of that decadent Empire, they still proliferate throughout the galaxy, trying to find their place while their original purpose has faded away.  I also have a $5+ poll for the Death Cult of the Ranathim!   For $1+, I have something in the works, but I don't want to talk about it in case I am unable to finish it, in which case I don't want to make promises that I can't kee.

For everyone, this month will complete the Divine Masks, including Beliefs and Symbolism, a look at Ranathim Communion Cults (including three detailed cults), and then two "Sorcery" styles inspired by (space!) witchcraft and (space!) wizardry.  And of course, Tinker Titan Rebel Spy continues.

Thanks so much for supporting the blog this month, and I hope you continue your support in the coming month.  As usual, if you're not a patron, I'm glad you read my stuff, use my material, and chat with me on Discord!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Patreon Post: Ranathim Preview

I have, today, the first of the new races.  We cannot discuss a Ranathim ideology without looking at the Ranathim themselves.  Today, I have a preview document for the Ranathim, and I want to emphasize preview. I lack a detailed look at their technology or their complete culture (though I would argue that between this document and the Divine Masks, they don't need much more culture to be fairly distinct).  I am definitely open to feedback on this, as the final version won't be released before the next iteration.

This post is available to all $3+ Patrons!  If you're a patron, check it out.  If not, as always, I'd love to have you.


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Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Divine Masks: Cultural Context

Aliens ruled the galaxy long before humanity ever set foot on another planet. The race that ruled he galaxy in the epoch before the rise of man were the Ranathim, a race of beautiful psychic vampires driven by their insatiable appetites. They fought off foreign empires and conquered their own arm of the galaxy and then the galactic core and created a long era of ruthless, though cosmopolitan, rule.

The Ranathim, being innately psionic, have a tradition of psionic cults, and many of the most devout had already begun to touch upon the power of Communion (though, being psychic vampires, the Ranathim were limited to Dark and Broken Communion). Each cult had their own beliefs, and as the Empire conquered other cultures, those cultures tossed their psionic insights and morals into the vast melting pot of the Ranathim Empire, including True Communion, which wielded powers alien to the Ranathim. Rather than crush all dissent, the Ranathim Emperor created an “umbrella” philosophy, called the Annifem Lithe or more simply Anala, sometimes termed “the Nifemnic Mysteries,” the Divine Masks, or the Practices, which put forward that all people worshiped the same Gods, but the apparent differences could be explained by the fact that they worshiped aspects of the “true” Gods, that is, that the gods of all cultures were but masks over the true and unknowable divinity beneath. Those who worshiped the brutal and terrifying Ithin-Kor worshipped the same god as those who worshiped the ferocious war-god Thamet Sonostra. At the head of these many cults stood the Domen Meret, the imperial cult, which was the mask worn by the Mystic Tyrant.

The collapse of their home star into a blackhole by some unknown means shattered their empire, and the once proud Ranathim empire collapsed, leaving its people scattered and unprotected. New powers rose up, enslaving many Ranathim, or forcing them to flee or fight to keep what scraps of power they had left. Even so, their metaphysical system, Annifem Lithe, remained in place, as many non-Ranathim had adopted it and adapted their belief systems to its conceits.

As Annifem Lithe as a religious system faded in importance, the powerful symbolism and the effective occult imagery remained in place, and people, Ranathim or otherwise, began to study it for greater facility with psionic powers and, perhaps, to gain some measure of access to and control over Communion. This created a split in Anala between Anala Izathan, or “magical practices” and Anala Ichiva, or “religious practices”, but while the latter tends to be antagonistic towards the former’s wholesale appropriation of their sacred traditions, the metaphysics of both systems more-or-less agree.

Today, Annifem Lithe is mostly a curiosity. Aliens who practice strange, old cults or weird alien warlocks and witches who harrow their enemies with strange psionic “spells” both get accused, rightly or wrongly, of practicing Anala. Anala tend to frustrate imperials who try to impose their Neo-Rationalism on the inherently irrational and mystical values of Anala.

Ranathim Culture and Values

Primal instincts and insatiable desire drive the Ranathim and, in turn, their culture. Where other cultures might celebrate restraint, the Ranathim take it as a matter of course that all species wish to indulge their appetites, and so they celebrate their own decadence, and envy the decadence of others. When they wish to honor one another, they do so by indulging one another's basest desires.

Unfortunately, this comes at a cost, which someone must bear, especially given the Ranathim’s vampiric nature. If one Ranathim is to enjoy a feast, upon whom is he feasting? Who must labor to indulge another, and who enjoys the benefits of those labors? For the Ranathim, life is a zero-sum game, with winners and losers. The winners enjoy the spoils of victory and become masters, or thamara, while the losers become their victims and slaves, or seva. This dichotomy between master and slave informs much of Ranathim culture, and thus they care a great deal about prestige. A Ranathim prince or princess would need to exercise their power, not just to gain access to that which they wanted, but to remind people of their power and, hopefully, to keep anyone from even trying to exploit them. By the same token, a Ranathim slave learns to abject themselves before their masters so as not to be beaten; those who served particularly well might gain the favor of their master and even find their freedom through service; an imperial slave was often more powerful than a free master! Thus, masters flaunt their power with rich jewelry and finery, while slaves bear marks that denote their close relationship to their master. The more richly dressed the slave, the more powerful the master!

For the Ranathim, mystical power is as real as physical power, and they see the two as intertwined. Ranathim with deep insights into the nature of psionic power command the fear and admiration of all Ranathim. Those who command the powers of Communion, of course, command the greatest respect, but reaching such levels of power and self-control requires intense discipline and a ritualistic lifestyle. When a Ranathim, caught up in the throes of channeling Dark Communion speaks a commandment, the Ranathim listen, in part because they hope to gain some measure of that same power, but also because the practitioners of Dark Communion are obviously thamara, powerful enough to crush you, so you must do what they say. Religious edict is typically the only lasting means of checking the rapacious hungers of the Ranathim race, and thus became the ultimate tool for the state.

Calling the Ranathim tolerant might be a stretch. They saw themselves as masters and other races as slaves. But they understood that power is power, and they practiced it in whatever form they could. They also had no delusions about who was powerful. Of course a mighty alien could best and enslave a Ranathim, and of course he would want to! The Ranathim would do the same in his position! Thus, if the Ranathim found themselves under the boot of another race, the wisest Ranathim would borrow from their traditions, seem to empower themselves, and then overthrow their oppressors. The Ranathim Empire enshrined this principle of respect for all forms of mystical power via its traditions of the Divine Masks.

The Divine Masks and the Galaxy

Annifem lithe once dominated the galaxy, but that was thousands of years ago, and today, most races largely considered a curiosity throughout most of the galaxy. It lacks the state sanction of Neo-Rationalism or the Akashic Mysteries and the wide-spread popularity of True Communion. It does inform the basic implicit cultural assumptions of many aliens in the galactic core and into the dark arm of the galaxy, and forms the basis for many existing cults, cabals and religions among more remote alien species. It also contains legitimately powerful psionic secrets, which intrigue imperial archeologists, who often learn of Anala to better understand the artifacts they dig up.

Anala Ichiva cults, or domen, remain popular in the dark arm of the galaxy, in the part of the galaxy where the Ranathim originated, and where their power was strongest. Aliens continue to worship as they did for centuries, and where their cults come under fire (which they often do, as outsiders tend to see them as subversive, bloody and frightening), they’re quick to go underground and take up arms. Anala Izathan, by contrast, is found in many places throughout the galaxy, often in spooky old shops in the underbelly of space stations or in creepy clubs set up by wealthy imperials who enjoy exploring the “occult” ideas of Anala. Anala Izathan has the most non-Ranathim practitioners, as it demands no rigorous worship, just a willingness to explore mystical ideas, and thus even psionically-talented humans might have a few Zathanis works in their libraries.





Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Divine Masks: An Introduction

The driving force behind black magic is hunger for power” --Richard Cavendish, The Black Arts


Is Psi-Wars like Star Wars? Does it have Sith Alchemy? Because if you don’t have magic in it, it’s not Star Wars.” --GodBeastX, I think, and paraphrased, because I can’t find the comment anymore


Star Wars is space opera. It tries to invoke the same feel as fantasy stories, wild west stories and pulp exploration stories where the heroes stumble across a cannibalistic tribe featuring crazy witch doctors. Unfortunately, Star Wars doesn’t invoke this feel, which leads to one of my big complaints about it, in that, for the most part, it only has “the Force,” with the Sith vs the Jedi, and that’s it. We have no spooky space magic, no weird traditions, no alternate ideas.

This changes in the expanded setting because of course it does. It must! You cannot tell enough stories of adventure and exploration if you keep coming back to the same setting elements over and over again. And thus, we gained the Nightsisters, a witchy offshoot that comes from the same world as Darth Maul, Dathomir which, for my money is probably one of the single best additions made to the setting. We get a complete world with its own alternate culture, alternate magic system, its own races and social dynamics and its own aesthetic. Wonderful!

So far in Psi-Wars, we’ve only explored human philosophy, and we know that we’re getting close to the “Sith” philosophy of the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant and the “Jedi” philosophy of True Communion. So why insert this weird bastard child that nobody asked for? Doesn’t it violate the “Keep it simple” principle of Psi-Wars? What purpose does it serve.

The Divine Masks offer us that chance to explore something alien. We know what humanity looks like. Now we can tip-toe into the alien quarter and find their wild and ecstatic witch doctors and gyrating, orientalist dancers. The problem with the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant and True Communion is that they represent superior alien philosophy, the thought that (by base default assumptions) make a mockery of human philosophy. We need to represent alien “superstition,” one that is inferior or at least no better than human philosophy.

The Divine Masks also represents an occult tradition of psionics, one that wraps itself thoroughly in the mystical nature of psionics. It does not seek to explain psionics, only to embellish them. It embraces the imagery of communion without really understanding it. It sits at the feet of greater traditions like True Communion and the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant, but genuinely understands the basics, making it serve as a great “setting gateway.” An alien who follows the traditions of the Divine Masks will happily quote to you most of the stuff in the rules on Communion, at least the basic stuff on paths.

A final note: to emphasize its exotic nature, the Divine Masks uses a con-lang to create its terminology. I’ve chosen the Lithian language, a conlang by @ttekusariko. The idea here is not to pretentiously show off my cool new conlang (it’s not even mine! If you like it, give all glory to Mr. Ttekusariko!), but to have an internally consistent language that fits in with the naming scheme I choose for this race, and to be able to generate quotes that also fit with the language. It also emphasizes the exotic, alien nature of the philosophy. I will translate the terms, but please note that I’ve taken a little artistic license with my choice of words, that my mastery of the language is shaky at best, and that ttekusariko is still at work on the language, which means it might change between the writing of these posts and when you get to reading them, if you want to check my work.


The Historical Inspiration: Roman Syncretism

If the Akashic Mysteries are the Elusinian Mysteries, and Neo-Rationalism is “pagan philosophy” and Neo-Platonism, then the Nifmena traditions are the various “barbarian” cults that the Roman Empire tolerated, and even folded into their larger system.

The Mediterranean civilization was already ancient by the time the Roman Empire came to dominate it. The Egyptians still worshiped Isis, Osiris and their many Gods, as did the Greeks, and the Persians, etc. Rome had learned an important lesson about religious tolerance (one it would later forget), in that it understood they shouldn’t stop on the cultures of the conquered, with some notable exceptions (the Jews, eventually). Instead, the Romans “appropriated” the cultures of others. The image above is Serapis, was an invention of the Ptolemaic dynasty to fuse Egyptian imagery of Osiris and Apis with Greek imagery of Hades, Demeter and Dionysus. The Romans took this a step further, noting that various gods were all facets of one another: Demeter was Ceres was Isis; Hermes was Mercury was Thoth and together were Hermes Trismegistus, which served as the foundation for hermetic magic.

The Greco-Roman world wasn’t the only, first, or last to fuse various deities into one. (Some forms of) Hinduism does something similar, arguing that all the various Gods of India are, ultimately, just facets of Brahman. Syncretism pops up in East Asia too, where various Daoist or Shinto “deities” fused with Buddhist imagery to create a new sort of conception of both. Wherever cultures have mixed in a sufficiently large degree, they begin to find parallels and conflate one religion with another, forming larger and greater communities, often with richer and more complex traditions as a result.

The Divine Masks follows a similar trend. The alien empire that conquered many worlds fused its own cults with those of other worlds and argued that they were all facets of the same thing and, like the Roman Empire, placed its own imperial cult at the pinnacle, planting the seeds for the Cult of the Mystic Tyrant to arise later. This is helped by the nature of Communion archetypes, which also argues that various divinities may well just be facets of a particular path.

Chaos Magick, the Occult and Neo-Paganism

You are a magpie of magic. A thief of tradition. You steal from other people's cultures and beliefs to suit your own purposes.” --Papa Midnite, Constantine

The Divine Masks are an ancient tradition, one that dates back to before even the rise of humanity, let alone their Empire. The philosophies of humanity supplanted the alien philosophies that preceded them, but not completely. They still remain in older, more distant parts of the galaxy, and they still have a compelling power for cultures that object to mankind’s dominance and wish to return to their old ways. In this sense, they parallel Neo-Paganism, which is fundamentally an objection to the dominance of Christianity and an attempt to re-connect with one’s ancient roots. Here too, the tradition of the Divine Masks is either a continuous cult from ancient times, or an attempt to reconstruct that cult from days gone by in an attempt to regain one’s roots.

But at the same time, the tradition of the Divine Masks is an attempt at a single, cohesive cosmology that covers all psionics and all religion and tosses them into a single bag. This requires a rather expansive philosophical system, one that has become more academic than religious over time, and in a way completely unrelated to the actual religious practice. They explore the power of this religious imagery in a manner stripped of faith, for the pursuit of their own gains. Rather than heal with faith, they’ll heal with the imagery of faith, and the ritual of faith, and the words of faith, but they treat it as a system.

This creates a tension between those who believe, and those who attempt to manipulate in a coldly logical manner. Most occult systems, but especially post-modern occult systems like Chaos Magick follow a similar path. They largely dismiss faith and the fundamental mystical experience of becoming one with the divine, or trusting that the divine will make everything okay, and seeing religious practices as something of a science or an art, a system that can be manipulated and used. If a religious ritual allows one to boil a few grains of rice and say a special prayer/incantation over it to get more rice, then surely one can boil a few coins of gold and say a special incantation over it to get more gold!

Imagine if modern Wiccans and Vodouists, practicing their faith, came across a magician who thought their traditions were “neat” and co-opted them for his magical rituals. Imagine the tension this might create. The traditions of the Divine Masks has such practitioners who explore the metaphysics behind the various cults, as defined by the tradition of Divine Masks, and attempt to turn it into a cohesive occult system.

The Divine Masks as the RPG Religion

D&D drew considerable inspiration from the Greco-Roman world, and greatly simplified the idea of polytheism to create a simple system that allowed magical priests to align themselves with a specific power. This, of course, isn’t really how polytheism worked, which is a big catch-all that covers everything from animistic systems stuffed to the gills with small gods, to complex systems where the masses worshiped a pantheon of Gods, to systems where multiple religions were cast under a single umbrella. However, simplification works well, and in this case, while I’m trying to capture the complexity of the ancient world, in practice, most of the practitioners of the Divine Masks either act like wizards, who approach the system as one vast mystical tradition, or like clerics, who follow one single deity and gain power from that singular association.

But D&D isn’t the only, or even primary, source of RPG inspiration for the Divine Masks. Instead, Communion itself serves as inspiration. I use religion and philosophy as vehicles for interpreting the Communion system I’ve created, but we need at least one that follows the default interpretation, especially with a deep focus on the Paths. The Paths offer us modifiers similar to the GURPS Cabal modifiers, and the sort of devotion found Unknown Armies with its Avatars. The Divine Masks takes full advantage of these sources to create what I hope feels like a deeply occult system that rewards knowledge of how the various paths work. It also means that many of the cults might seem fairly obvious in their execution (the cult of the Beautiful Fool will tend to specialize in the miracles of the Beautiful Fool, etc).

What is the Tradition of the Divine Masks?

At its core, the Traditions of Divine Masks aren’t really a thing. It’s a story told by a long-dead empire in an effort to get everyone within that empire to get along. They created a cohesive metaphysics meant to explain, justify and empower the various cults that had gathered in that Empire.

When that Empire died, the culture behind those traditions remained. It created a system in which various followers of that culture could interact and allowed cults to remain on good terms with one another. Some followers of that culture began to fixate on the conceptual metaphysics behind the cults, however, they began to look at the story itself, rather than the purpose of the story, and explored it for its own sake, creating an occult system that they used to empower their psionic abilities.

The Divine Masks is also a vehicle for players to better understand and interact with the Paths of Communion, one of the more popular features of Communion, and given its inherent flexibility, it serves as a tradition that players interested in other philosophies can relatively easily bolt onto their chosen philosophy.





















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