Monday, November 18, 2019

Wiki Showcase: Broken Communion

The last form of Communion to cover is Broken Communion, or "Psychosis Communion," the communion that arises from shared insanity and the attempts by the human mind to comprehend the incomprehensible.

Broken Communion is, perhaps, the most complex of the forms of Communion.  Where True Communion embraces community and selflessness and Dark Communion embraces chaos and selfishness, Broken Communion embodies self-destructiveness, weirdness and mounting horror. It represents psychic powers as unnatural force, a peeling back the skin of the world to show the monsters within.  As such, it festers and writhes in its own self-horror.  Those who use Broken Communion become changed by it, but also change the world; they cannot control what they become, they cannot control what they spawn, and Broken Communion itself controls nothing.  Things happen, sometimes for a reason, sometimes in ways that defy logic.

Broken Communion is a great "go-to" for forbidden powers, power that "costs your soul," or as a rich mine for horrors.  Be sure to check out the additional articles detailing Psychic Diseases, Corruption Metatraits, and the Ghosts of Broken Communion.  You can check it all out here.

On the Morality of Broken Communion

"If True Communion is Good, and Dark Communion is Evil, then is Broken Communion, like, more evil?" -- The Gentleman Gamer

I find a lot of people trip up on the morality of Broken Communion and that's partially intentional.  I knew that by creating three forms of Communion, I would break up dichotomies.  You couldn't really talk about Good vs Evil anymore when you're talking about three things.  Instead, you have to stop and wrestle with the implications of a multi-dimensional structure, which is why I always recommend you go with at least three things, rather than two: to avoid trapping yourself in a single-dimension.

Thus, exploring the morality of Broken Communion, how you feel about it, can inform you on the morality of the rest of Communion.

(A theme I want to touch on that I hope will illuminate the difference between the three forms of Communion: True Communion seeks to expand the self to the community; it favors the other over the self.  Dark Communion seeks to benefit the self at the cost of the community.  Broken Communion harms the self to harm the other; it seeks to dissolve all things).

Broken Communion is Super Evil

"In the far future, the [human group] fights a pitched battle against the mighty [alien name] Empire, but deep in the mysterious [region of space], among the ruins of the past, a darker threat looms." --Standard Space Opera Setting, TV Tropes
 A common trope in fantasy and space opera is the idea of "Good, Evil and Worse Evil." Humans fight the orcs, but then they both need to team up to defeat the Demons.  In this context, Broken Communion becomes the "worse."  This literally happened once in Psi-Wars, with the Ranathim (Dark Communion) teaming up with the Keleni (True Communion) to defeat the Eldoth (Broken Communion).

True Communion and Dark Communion have their philosophical differences, but one can build some sort of functional society with the psychological principles upon which they are founded. You cannot build anything with Broken Communion as it lashes out self-destructively.  It destroys not just those around it, but those who embrace it too.

Part of the danger of Dark Communion is that it can give rise to Broken Communion, which requires True Communion to "heal."  So, if we accept Dark Communion as "evil," it's a lesser sort of evil, a gateway to a greater evil: the Pagan Witchcraft that accidentally gives rise to full on Cthulhu worship eventually.  For example, a Mystical Tyrant might turn to the powers of Death or Madness to fuel his maniacal rise, which makes the Bad of Dark Communion Worse.

Broken Communion is Tragic

Alternatively, we can consider calling Broken Communion "evil" as a sort of "victim blaming."  If we accept Dark Communion as "evil," we must acknowledge that it's the sort of evil one must indulge in: nobody forces you to accept Dark Communion's free power, nobody forces the addiction of it on you, nor the using of others.  Broken Communion, by contrast, just happens.  It's the only form of Communion open to certain people, and things like Twisted Psionic Energy inflict Corruption on people not because they did wicked things or because they accepted its power, but just by its nature.

We can conceive of Broken Communion not as a monstrous thing, but the result of monstrous acts. Death is not evil, but rather, murder is.  Madness is not evil, but willfully inflicting sufficient trauma on someone to inflict madness is.  Broken Communion represents the consequences of Dark Communion.  This is why, if you follow the "cycles" of Communion, Broken Communion defeats Dark Communion, because Dark Communion gives rise to Broken Communion.  Left unchecked, the Id will result inevitably in psychosis, yours or someone else's.

In this case, the proper thing to do with Broken Communion is to heal it.  True Communion's consecration can override Broken Communion corruption and heal the mad and bring back the dead.  It builds bridges to those who have been alienated and brings them back.

Broken Communion is Weird (and Wondrous)

When I wrote the three, I joked to a friend that they were the "Good, the Bad and the Ugly."  Broken Communion isn't evil so much as weird.  A lot of its powers are actually very helpful, and you can argue that it's not such self-destructive as self-changing.  Sure, players might take a dim view on gaining new disadvantages, but disadvantages aren't necessarily "evil," they can represent how the character is changing and, to some extent, improving.

Broken Communion looks at concepts that are difficult for the human mind to understand.  It points to the Terra Incognita of the mind and of reality and seeks to explore those things.  Those who follow its paths learn to explore those worlds and those concepts.  It lets one speak to the dead, communicate with the alien, understand the mad, and grasp the deeper implications of the infinite.

These things tend to scare us; Lovecraftian horror turns on this sort of fear.  But if you strip the words "evil" and "horrible" out of Lovecraftian stories, you're left with straight up sci-fi stories about people exploring impossibly ancient and advanced alien races and their ruins.  With a slight change in tone, we go from the horror of Lovecraft to the wonder of Sci-fi authors.  I think the film "Annihilation" captures this essence of Broken Communion perfectly: it changes you and it's this uncaring, alien thing, but it's not necessarily malicious and it can even be beautiful, if you know how to look at it.  I sometimes get questions like "Why isn't there a Broken Communion philosophy," and an answer I sometimes give that leaves people confused is that Neo-Rationalism is a Broken Communion philosophy.  When I say that, I mean it in this sense, in the sense of the Weird and Wondrous, in exploring the universe and all of its implications, not just that which you've designated "good and worthy."

Broken Communion is also the only option for many of the setting's misfits.  If you're an anti-psi, or a semi-willful member of the Scourge, or a genetic abomination, your only recourse to Communion is Broken Communion, but it is a form of Communion and all forms of Communion allow you to connect with the broader universe.  The rest of the Galaxy recoils from you like you're a monster, is that your fault, or their mistake?

Broken Communion as Set Dressing

Broken Communion does some unique things that other forms of Communion do not.  Namely, where other forms of Communion sit around passively, acting as a source for cool powers for heroes, Broken Communion actively changes the world around it.  It twists the landscape and the inhabitants within to create new and alien worlds.  This means that if you're looking for something unique to put into your campaign, it can act as a great source.

Space Ghosts!

I often describe Broken Communion as "willful."  The idea here is that it resembles the "baleful energies" that suffuse "bad places." If you have a spaceship that's become corrupted with Broken Communion then obviously you have a haunted spaceship.  The easiest way to handle this is to just invoke some random Broken Communion miracles: someone gets a horrific vision of some unplatable truth (Horrifying Truth), or they find that certain doors or mirrors take them to seemingly disconnected places, perhaps thousands of light years away (Roads of Communion), or things can rise up as though held by an invisible hand and lash out at the players (Poltergeist) but a better way to understand the "haunting" of Broken Communion might be to conceive of it as "ghosts."

"Ghosts" have motivations and histories.  They typically suffered trauma and seek to rectify their situation.  This allows you to apply a certain logic and limitations to the weird events in Broken Communion.  Instead of randomly rolling on a table of High Weirdness, you create an interesting mystery for your players to explore, where the madness of Broken Communion seems to follow a certain logic, and then by defeating or helping the ghost, Broken Communion can be "resolved" and healed, returning to normal.

If you want an even more powerful version, you can think of "ascended ghosts" or "Dark gods."  Malefic beings or empowered Tulpa that has drives and desires (typically to be freed from its prison, or to have worshipers, or to enact some terrible, world-changing thing).  These too follow a logic, one that creates a mystery for the players to solve.

Excessive randomness is something to be endured.  Why are the players suffering corruption? Why are they getting psychic diseases? Why are they seeing these visions? "I dunno, just how Broken Communion is" just means the only thing players can do is get out and nuke the place from orbit.  By giving Broken Communion some form of logic, albeit an alien and strange logic, it can create a more satisfying experience.

To return to our haunted ship, it may turn out that its powered by a Eldothic Deep Engine which has cracked and unleashed whatever malefic influence had been locked within.  Also, the ship had been an experiment in psychic navigation, and had a chamber where a powerful psychic was imprisoned.  The ship is currently the site of a psychic war between the malefic Dark God and the ghost of the psychic.  She seeks to be put to rest and to see the Dark God rechained, while it seeks to be free and to consume the sanity of those aboard and turn them into its thralls.  Her visions warn people of the danger and plead with people to bury her corpse; its visions tempt people with power.  It seeks to kill those who might help the psychic, she seeks to protect them long enough to get them off the ship.  The weird visions and circumstances that occur can be, with sufficient exploration and research, explained by this logic.

You can read more at The Ghosts of Broken Communion. I borrowed a lot of material from GURPS Horror and the Ghosts of GURPS Monster Hunters 3 to give us a cohesive system of ghosts. While it's written with an eye towards Psi-Wars for obvious reasons, I think it fits well in almost any setting.  In particular, check out the section on the origins of Broken Communion and ghosts.

Space Monsters!

Most monsters in Psi-Wars will be natural or semi-natural: either biological creatures that evolved on alien worlds, or they're mutants or cyborgs or other creations of science.

But given the corruption of Broken Communion and the way it changes people not just mentally, but also physically, it too can create monsters.  This fits the logic of the "bad place energy."  If you spend too long on a haunted world or on a haunted ship, surely you'll become infused with the monstrousness of your environment.

I've included a few ideas as to what this might be like, such as the Gnarlspawn, which are Rakghouls with the serial numbers filed off.  Such monsters can give the players something tangible to fight that emphasizes the danger (and weirdness) of their environment without leaving them feeling helpless as ghosts might.

Space monsters also give you a way to create new "aliens," such as beings who require Twisted Psychic Energy to survive, perhaps even entire civilizations or cities lost in the recesses of some especially weird part of space.  The Eldoth arguably already represent this, but Broken Communion can create new races and perhaps even, if you believe the lore of the Akashics, doorways to alternate timelines.

You can read more at The Shape of Corruption. The idea here is that when dealing with Broken Communion, you risk Corruption.  Corruption ultimately manifests as disadvantages that you have to take.  The Broken Communion paths are full of suggestions for what disadvantages might manifest from Broken Communion.  But if, as a GM, you want to heighten the danger of Corruption and focus on its transformative aspects, you can also use meta-traits.  After all, the point of Corruption is to make you lose points and to change who you are.

In this more liberal interpretation of Corruption, a failed Corruption roll results in the opportunity to change your character.  You could layer a new racial template atop yours, or add a host of traits as long as they result in a net loss of points equal to the expected loss.  This contains a list of such metatraits as suggestions.

This also represents a useful opportunity to look at what sorts of people or creatures one might encounter in a Corrupted region. After all, we have entire worlds covered in Twisted Psychic Energy. What became of the inhabitants after years of exposure to corruption? What sort of monsters might you face?  This section has some suggestions.

Psychic Disease

If Broken communion represents a violation of the cosmic order and that violation can seep into your body and corrupt you, the most obvious manifestation of that would be as a disease.  You can already think of corruption as a disease, but we can make it more specific and give it more flavor.  Just as standing around breathing the miasma of a swamp can make you sick, so too can hanging out in a haunted area.

Psychic diseases do more than give a name and some details to the corruption someone suffers from excessive exposure to Broken Communion.  It also represents a concrete way in which Esoteric Healing can be useful.  If you go into the ancient shrine of a dead god and return with the Black Hunger, then a True Communion Monk can lay you beneath a crystal and meditate over you, sorting out not your body, which is fine, but your soul and spirit.  Broken Communion represents a uniquely psychic phenomenon, and the inability of "medical science" to treat the maladies it inflicts emphasizes the psychic nature of Psi-wars.

Thinking of Broken Communion as a psychic disease also helps emphasize another thematic element of Broken Communion: it spreads. If you go into a Bad Place and return "sick" with the badness of the place, like the Mummy's Curse or the Malaria of the Dark Jungle, you can infect others around you with that badness, bringing the "bad" of the "bad place" into the good wholesomeness of "home."  Dark gods might use this to spread their influence and corruption, like sending out tendrils of their influence. The sick might even see visions of the God or Ghost, lurking over their shoulder, in the corner of their eye.  Once a region of Twisted Psychic Energy begins, the wise might seek to quarantine it, not just because it's dangerous to those who go into it, but those who return from it carry that danger with them.

You can read more at Psychic Diseases. Psi-Wars emphasizes mysticism and psychic powers, which means psychic healing.  I spent a great deal of time exploring esoteric healing (there's even a patreon special for it).  But to really get the most out of it, we need some psychic diseases to play with.  This section expands on the corruption one can gain from over-exposure to twisted psychic energy with the option to instead gain psychic diseases.  These give esoteric healers and psychic healers an excuse to practice their craft, as well as creating flavorful new diseases to play with.  This also synergizes with the Ghost Venom power from the Ghosts of Broken Communion, giving them a suite of powers to pick from, as well as the Plagues of Madness Broken Communion miracle.

Using Broken Communion in your Setting

If I had to pick any form of Communion to use outside of Psi-Wars, I would pick Broken Communion. It fits well with Dungeon Fantasy's depiction of Psychics as vulnerable to psychic diseases, or with 40ks imagery of the Warp.  It can represent a malefic force that seeps into the world and threatens it.  It can represent the high weirdness that psychic powers bring with them, and the costs of exploring that weirdness.

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