Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Wiki Showcase: the Path of Madness

The Path of Madness was the second path I wrote for Broken Communion, and the second Path I created for all forms of Communion.  I needed to contrast "Broken Communion as Psychosis" from "Broken Communion as a drive for self-destruction," and so the paths were born.

The Path of Madness changed the least of the Broken Communion Paths. While the rest saw quite some changes to accommodate new elements and concepts, it was pretty set in stone.  I did have an idea of messing with Duplication with the Path of the Nameless Hero, but then I decided that having a twin where you couldn't tell if you were the duplicate or they were was the sort of existential crisis that only the Path of Madness would have, and I added it to the Path.

You can see the revised version here.

The Scrawlings of a Madman

When looking at Broken Communion through the lens of the Path of Madness, its fundamental character changes a lot.  Instead of it being the product of "ghosts" or "dark gods" or "psychic disruptions," it becomes a manifestation of the character's own unbalanced mind.  Is he really being haunted, or does he just think he is?  Are there really space monsters, or does he just think there are?  Regions of Twisted Psychic Energy become regions where either the fundamental nature of reality begins to break down, or it's a region where madness becomes infectious or more pronounced.

In a sense, this makes Madness the simplest of the paths, likely why it saw the least changes.  If we accept the forms of Communion as manifestations of certain psychological principles, then the Path of Madness becomes the manifestation of what psychic powers do when the mind behind them doesn't work right.  Psychic powers themselves might be manifestations of madness, where one thinks he can read minds or see the future, but is wrong.  

The theme of the uncertainty of reality runs through the Path.  Each milestone grants it some unique insight that can either be viewed as some great benefit or the character being off their rocker.  The final milestone confirms this truth for at least one other milestone but not necessarily for all.  This means that the character really can draw power from Madness, really gain true insights, but at the cost of not knowing which is real and which isn't. A fun (if dirty) trick would be to give a player who takes a secret advantage or disadvantage the Destiny to Follow the Path of Madness and then slowly ramp up the uncertainty around them.  Especially consider making miracles manifest only when others aren't around to see them or their effects, or in ways that are sufficiently subtle that people could dispute their results.

I personally find it difficult to see the Path of Madness as "super-evil," (though if we view it as a form of malicious chaos, perhaps it can be "super-evil," a force that makes the "world go mad") but I can easily see it as Tragic or Weird.  Tragedy comes from accepting the Path of Madness at face value: if you're mad, that's not your fault, and it has tragic consequences.

But consider the ultimate nature of madness: we tend to say that madness is the inability to distinguish reality from hallucination, but the problem with this is that we ourselves cannot make that distinction.  Philosophy is full of riddles and points that illustrate how tenuous a grasp we have on reality in the best of times.  Worse, we tend to stigmatize certain behaviors or neurological layouts that don't line up with our culture's preconceptions of sanity as insanity.  Not that long ago, homosexuality was classified as a psychological illness; the nature of homosexuality didn't change, only the social acceptance of it.  The "madness" of yesterday can be reclassified as the perfectly healthy behavior of today and vice versa.  This suggests that, on some level, we define madness not by someone's grasp of reality, but our own grasp on reality and whether someone else agrees with it, which means we've never entirely sure if we're the sane one, or they are.

If we follow this idea to its ultimate conclusion, we might begin to explore the ideas of "Neural diversity" and "Outsider Art" and other attempts to destigmatize "madness."  We might become "psychonauts" who begin to grasp that "madness," stigmatized forms of thinking and seeing the world, might give us insights into the actual nature of reality that "sane" people don't have (for example, I often see it reported that depressed people are better able to predict their own capabilities and the ultimate outcome of their actions than "healthy" people are).

A note on gender (the last one, I promise): I chose a feminine pronoun for Madness because, at the time, I had one "feminine" path per form of Communion, and the word "Mania" sounds feminine, so it fit nicely and maintained the pattern.  Obviously, men can follow the Path of Madness as well.

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