Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Wiki Showcase: Paths Revisited

Part of returning to Communion means looking at the Paths of Communion once again.  I wrote paths originally as a sort of "Prestige Class" for Communion users.  Instead of just being "a mystic" you could decide in what way you were a mystic.  I borrowed heavily from the idea of Avatars from Unknown Armies and "the Magic of Stories" by Kelly Pedersen in Pyramid #3/13: the idea is that you need to attune yourself to this cosmic trope and, in so doing, gain additional power.  This way, you can more clearly define your relationship with Communion: all Communion users, say, might be able to heal, see visions or fight well, but you pick one of these things as your specialty.

Since then, paths have evolved a bit to become the center of cults and perceptions of divinity.  The Divine Masks worships gods as "aspects" of some primal image represented by paths.  Instead of worshiping "Dark Communion" as an entity, they instead give a name to and worship the image of "the Beautiful Fool" or "the Rebellious Beast," because these are more concrete things, and their high priests and priestesses follow these paths, becoming incarnations of that divine image.  The same sort of approach should work for a variety of cults, such as the Asrathi death-cult, or the ancestor worship of Maradonians.  This approach required revisiting how paths interacted with miracles to more clearly define what fell under the purview of a path and what didn't.

Originally I designed three paths, but part of this revision has increased the number of paths per form of Communion to 4, to encourage more variety and to discourage this idea that "these are all the paths that exist," because that's just not true.  As time goes on, I'll add additional paths, or remixed paths, based on different traditions or philosophies.

The Anatomy of a Path

I thought I'd take a moment to revisit the how and why of how I wrote paths, since not everything is necessarily explicitly clear.

Alternate Names

This sort of thing might seem irrelevant, like a cute wink and a nod, but I included it because specific cults or followers of a concept might not recognize the more generic terms used in the name, but use their own.  For example, the Ranathim refer to their "god" of the Rebellious Beast as "Thamet Sonostra" or "the Lord of Rage."

The Paths are also fairly gendered, as I want you to picture them as people, but I don't want people who read it to think that there's never a female Rebellious Beast or a male Bound Princess.  There absolutely are, so alternate names became ways of referring to the paths in other terms to help you broaden your understanding of the path.


In keeping with the idea of "specialization," Paths require additional investment in the imagery of the archetype.  This tends to be represented in taking on a new disadvantage, which the exception of Broken Communion paths.  Instead, those tend to give you specific disadvantages in the form of Corruption.  If you want to keep the values correct, then Broken Communion path miracles need to always give you Corruption, rather than letting you have the option of making them ghostly miracles.

Paths always require you to follow Disciplines of Faith (Ritualism).  This represents the strictures of sticking to the imagery of your path.  What this means it up to the GM; he might insist that you bear at least one recognizable symbol of the path, and you need to behave in a way "consistent" with the path, whatever the GM decides that means; this is likely to mostly be negative, such as the Rebellious Beast doesn't always have to be angry, but he shouldn't casually defer to authority either.  It also means you must fulfill your milestones, but more on that in a bit.

Symbols and their Invocation

I partially created paths as a hook on which to hang Mandatory Modifiers a la GURPS Cabal.  Symbols would tie in nicely with what the character would have to do to fulfill the imagery of the archetype, or they might represent ways in which the GM signals something of significance to the players.  

Like in Cabal, I expect players to exploit the hell out of them, which is fine, but I wanted to broaden their use.  Instead of just being something people on the path exploit, I wanted others to be able to exploit them too. As with Mandatory Modifiers, they can be used more broadly (You can invoke symbols for generic miracles, though they're half as effective), but with Zathare Sorcery, I used the idea that people can invoke them for their psychic powers too.  I've added a section where I discuss what powers you might use symbols to improve, or for what sorts of things.  For example, you might invoke the Bound Princess for Psychic Healing, or to (honestly) earn someone's trust. This requires a perk, but a GM who wants to emphasize the occult nature of psychic powers might allow everyone to use it: the perk is really just a Rules Option buy in that's not necessary of if everyone can do it.

It's come up as a question, but symbols are never necessary to invoke a miracle.  For example, one of the symbols of the Other is ritual cannibalism: the eating of the flesh of your own species.  He used this as proof that it must be "evil," but I pointed out that this was optional: you can invoke the miracles of the Other without consuming the flesh of your own species.  This was not clear to him, so I've tried to clarify the language, but I want to make it clear to you too, dear reader: they give you a bonus, but you don't have to engage in them.

I've removed opposing symbolism for now.  I like the idea of people using superstitions and symbolism to "protect themselves" from the power of a path (such as wearing garlic or something to ward off the Miracles of Death).  It also created "cycles" in Communion, such as True Communion being beaten by Dark Communion, but Dark Communion being beaten by Broken Communion, etc.  Without opposing symbolism, this goes away.  But we can generalize the superstitions (as I have done for Broken Communion), and it was never really clear what you had to do to oppose a path, such as at what point does the symbol get invoked.  It also created tight bonds between paths, which made it harder to create new paths.  If the Path of the Bound Princess is defeated by the Path of the Beautiful Fool, and you create a new path, and it's also defeated by the Path of the Beautiful Fool, then the Path of the Beautiful Fool is "better" than any other path.  So you need to either create them in sets, and possibly reconfigure the whole set of counter-symbolism, which is a headache.  So, they create a lot of problems and seem not to add that much value, so I set them aside for now.  I may revisit them, but they'll be in a different form.


I drew Milestones from the core inspiration of the Paths: the Avatars of Unknown Armies.  Those too demand you behave in a particular way, but I wanted to create something with more mythical resonance, so I wrote them as specific events with pre-determined outcomes.

I've designed them this way for a few reasons.  First, they act as story hooks for the GM.  If he wants you to go down a path, or your PC is already going down a path, then Milestones act as something he can toss in your path.  They also "tell the story" of the path, which means they can "tell the story" of the player character. Many of them also present clear choices: a moment of truth in which the player must decide what to do, with one outcome predeterimed by the path.  The predetermination is meant as part of the choice: you can do the thing the milestone says you're supposed to do, or you can depart the path.  Most of these "forced choices" have negative consequences, like killing an ally, or losing something important, or forgiving someone you'd rather not forgive, etc.  Thus, it forces you to choose between your own best interests and the imagery of the path.

But I don't want players to explore these passively, hoping the GM throws them in front of them.  As a GM, you should allow a player to recharacterize a moment as a milestone or try to turn a moment into a milestone with Serendipity or an Impulse Buy.  For example, the Bound Princess has the following Milestone (inspired by Frau Holle)

The Bound Princess undertakes a simple and humble task that unexpectedly turns out to have vastly larger implications. She is gifted with greater social position as a result of her unintentional heroism and the clear virtue that motivated her undertake the task in the first place.
This could be triggered by nearly any "mundane" event, especially if it's one most people wouldn't bother with.  For example, if your starfighter pilot goes to recalibrate her fighter cannons "because it follows the regs" and someone makes fun of her for doing it herself or for being overly concerned about her fighter (making it a "humble" task), then she might spend Serendipity to invoke this milestone.  That might mean the GM gives her a boost to her cannons in the next battle which helps her perform a feat of heroism, justifying her attention to detail; because of her heroism, she is given an enormous promotion that puts her in a new position of importance and shifts her deeper down the Path of the Bound Princess.

Milestones tend to take ordinary moments in a game and turn them into Important Scenes with Narrative Resonance.  In the above example, the "calibrating my cannons" goes from a forgettable moment of emphasizing a character's quirks or disadvantages into a character-defining moment.  It creates a symbolic link between the PC and her fighter, as her attention to it gave her her position of power.  When people tell her story in the future, people will point to that moment as "the beginning of her greatness," etc.  This is also the intention of the milestones: to create a sense of mythical resonance.


Originally, each Path had three "unique" miracles, in addition to some typical miracles (Talents or Avatar states).  These were meant to create a sort of "minimum" for bringing across the themes of the path, and to reward those who followed the path.  Most paths have expanded to have a few more unique miracles, and I've cleaned up the avatar states a little, but the biggest change here is the inclusion of non-unique miracles.

Increasingly, I wanted people to have the chance to explore paths not as specializations of Communion, but their only access to Communion.  That means cutting them off from the rest of Communion and focusing down on what the path really is about. Thus, each path has a list of miracles associated with it.  This clarifies what miracles you might expect specific cults to perform, and on what miracles you can claim a few symbolism bonus.

Sometimes people ask me if someone from outside the path can invoke a miracle, or something similar to the miracle.  The truth is, Communion can do whatever it wants, so yes, you can invoke unique miracles from outside the path technically.  I would tend to discourage it, though, because we want to maintain the niche of each path.  If just anyone can invoke Lay on Hands, then why bother with the Path of the Bound Princess (other than the benefits of Archetypal Reputation).  You can make this stricter too, if you want, such as pushing some of the associated miracles into the paths as unique miracles.

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