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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    OrcBarbarianGirl

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    Default A theological clash...

    I need to work out a perplexing sociological problem.

    The setting of the current game is E6, extremely restricted spellcasting via banning classes and races that aren't locally supported.

    Themes include that the "Gods" are powerful and well organized monsters who have gone a bit Mythic, and which now reluctantly preserve their worshippers from destruction.

    A new player wants to originate from some mountains somewhat nearby, and while I know what is there in general, the specifics elude me.

    The area in question is a small mining city that supports the ancient mines below. The city itself changed ownership decades ago, being taken by the Lycan empire, worshippers of the God-King Reborn Feraal and a meritocracy of lycanthropes. (Not intentional, but if you are familiar with Elder Scrolls' Hircine, they're generally identical in outlook and philosophy.)

    The original natives of the area—who worship something similar to a Kyton less interested with corruption and more interested by pain as an abstract concept—were sent away and reeducated forcefully in the town. They had been mining in the upper reaches of the mine.

    The Empire sent human miners into the depths of the mine, and they came back as Human-based psionic Duergar from DSP. Feraal and the Night Hag Covens nearer to the coast had already described the overarching creator of the world as sleeping and "below", so this is alarming. The Imperials do not have any spell casters of their own. (they craft items if needed, though their craftswork isn't particularly legendary)

    At around the same time, the capital city was razed by angry plant monsters, and the Empire wrote the entire island off as a failed investment.

    The question would be, what sort of effects is the transformation of its miners to that specific theological stance likely to have on theology and social structure in general for the mining city? I can't imagine that having a bunch of people suddenly turn up changed and obsessed with That Which Sleeps Below wouldn't put a tilt on the standard worship notes.
    "We were once so close to heaven, Peter came out and gave us medals declaring us 'The nicest of the damned'.."
    - They Might Be Giants, "Road Movie To Berlin"

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Orc in the Playground
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    May 2009

    Default Re: A theological clash...

    In effect, you have a series of events that disrupt the status quo and the cultural-religious understanding of "what is normal," combined with scraps of information that invite speculation as to why.

    Well, a lot is going to depend on how capable people within the setting are of discerning "what is true" with regard to the supernatural activity, regardless of what you know as "what really happened" as storyteller. The less clear the channels of information or the basic capacity for discernment is, the more likely there's going to the kind of speculation and uncertainty that forms into new religious movements. At a low enough level of verification, you'd just have charismatic figures and sophists making themselves a niche, tying whatever their particular hang-up was to one of the strange events in an opportunistic manner similar to conspiracy mongers.

    The ability to speak directly with divinities, and whether those beings give honest answers, is part of this calculation of "what is true."

    What will also effect the outcomes is the willingness of people (and gods) to use uncertainty as a wedge to get what they want, regardless of whether they know what is true.

    And the third thing is the effect will be impacted by how distal the mining has been relative to the empire's center. Empire maintenance tactics incorporate cultural hegemony--imposing a conceptual framework dictated top-down by the people with power--as a means of social control, but the bigger an empire gets, the more population there are that are too far away, have too many existing cultural norms to overwrite, and in fantasy settings are fundamentally not-the-same-thing as their hegemons*. The mining town is geographically distant and populated by non-Lycan and apparently has been abandoned, so it is distal in several respects; however, if that mine was very important to the empire at some point, great emphasis could have be put on instilling the ideology of the center in the population (including the migrant labor selecting to work there).

    * Reading about Hircine, the emphasis on predation, challenge, and competition that ties directly into hunting and violence...while this religion putatively might support a meritocracy it is clearly centers a certain kind of bodily aggression and instinctive predatory behavior that not every other fantasy race would easily meld into or feel incentivized to participate in. It also strikes me that this kind of "fight to be worthy in the hierarchy where the pinnacle is a fixed un-supplantable cadre" philosophy would not create a particularly harmonious empire, but rather one that relied a lot of divide and conquer. Honor is an incredibly slippery construct, because honor cultures at once believe in a kind of "fair play" within a sphere of like-minded people, but also designate individuals and groups that do not receive "fair play" reciprocity.

    In a highest information scenario, it can be rapidly understood:

    - what is at the bottom of the mine, how the new duergar came to be, and what their powers "mean.**"
    - how and why giant plants destroyed the capital
    - what the relationship between the Kyton worshippers in the upper mines was to the being in the lower mines (including "no relationship" whatsoever)

    which means that the status quo will be less disrupted...these are disturbing but understandable events. Religious authorities could use existing explanatory frameworks to try and contextualize what happened in a manner that conformed to the approved theology...maintaining as much of their authority and status quo as possible.

    **It is unclear from your description if psionics is something completely novel in the setting or even "understood" as discrete from other supernatural abilities, and what the overall frequency of psionics is with the known world.

    With less information about any of those components, the uncertainty will spawn more apophenia, more opportunism, and more fitting of the events into pre-existing frameworks of religious groups that compete with the imperial mortuary cult.

    With all that said...

    The imperial cult

    The imperial cult's priority is going to be explaining the destruction of their capital in a way that continues the legitimacy of their beliefs, and thus their monarch, and thus their temporal/material power. To do this, they're likely to re-focus the conversation away from the mine-things and the duergar and postulate an explanation continuous with the values and priorities of the deified founder-emperor: the capital was destroyed as a test; because he's angry; because someone who isn't us, the people in power, messed up really bad.

    In this situation the obvious target to blame is the duergar and anyone that says their appearance casts doubt on the imperial mortuary cult.

    However, the destruction of the capital is also an opportunity for the local imperial cult to at once maintain their temporal power, but create a syncretic theology that shifts authority from the far-off "center" of the religion to them directly. "We are now the legitimate interpolaters of the deified emperor" is a likely tactic that also explains away the capital's destruction. This strategy might include trying to incorporate the duergar, but downplay the idea of the thing in the deep mine.

    The thing under the mountain is going to be the biggest struggle for the imperial cult to explain adequately. There's precedent for the idea of a sleeping cthonic creator in their religion, so it becomes a question of whether they frame the situation as a taboo--the thing exists, but we shouldn't touch it--or attempt to create some kind of new syncretic explanation--yes, it is the creator down there but the god-emperor is more important and here's why. This is the moment where verification is really important: the less is "known" the more room there is for interpretation (or just deceit), so the more boldly the existing religion can just tell the people what thing mine thing is.

    The duergar

    Having been physically altered (?) and granted unusual powers, the new duergar are both going to have thoughts about the meaning of what happened to them, and be canvasses on which other people paint their interpretations. The duergar as a collective or individuals are in a position to say "THE GOD IN THE MINE SAID X, BEHOLD MY SPARKLE POWERS" and get an audience.

    There are a lot of unaccounted-for details, though:

    Are these people reincorporated into the mining village or now wholly apart? Are they antagonistic, neutral, or benevolent, individually and collectively?
    Do the duergar talk about what happened?
    ...what they think happened?
    Do they all tell the same story?
    Have they formed a consensus about what their shared experience meant?
    If they differ in their interpretation of what happened, are there individuals who have greater confidence or claim to have proof?
    Are the duergar present in the mining town's culture so that some have pre-existing social status or clout that grants them credibility?

    Anyways, with their air of mystery and magic and their embeddedness in the community (as former miners) the duergar are going to be the focus point for religious innovation. How much religious innovation depends on:

    what they actually know
    what they think they know
    what non duergar think they know about the duergar
    what any of these people are wiling to say to get what they want

    These obvious innovation is "thing in the mine is a bigger god, now we direct worship that way"...but where this get interesting is that whoever is making this assertion then has to construct the form of worship and explain the benefits of worship...and there's a lot of angles to that.

    There's "worship with me and get transformed and have powers."
    There's "worship with and I used my powers to materially benefit you."
    There's "we've been given powers to send a message, so now you have to do X and Y or mine god is going to get angry.***"
    Or, in a low verification scenario...all of the above simultaneously.

    *** that last one works really well if someone leaps to "mine god destroyed wolfboy capitol with a plague of Oddishes"

    The thing in the mine

    I call it -thing- because I'm not assuming it's even a deity or an entity with intentionality. It could be a magic radiation field, or football hooligans, or a pachinko machine that poops duergar. And it remains a possibility that the very notion that the location is the deciding factor on those guys transforming is wrong.

    For our purposes, though, it is going to be the strongest attractor of pure speculation.

    If there's a pre-existing lore of an underground creator deity, then materials and stories about that are first going to be attached to -thing-, and then new speculation syncretized with existing material to create a reading -thing- as that deity, and how to proceed with worship...or avoidance taboos, or appeasement. And people won't necessarily reach a consensus, particularly since the majority religion is a mortuary cult with the central figure by the god-as-order-preserver, so the meaning and function of creator.

    The pairing of -thing- as god, with "destroyed religious center of other god" is going to be...exploitable...by anyone opposed to the empire, but especially in the mining town that is so close the mine where it happened. From there you get the theological basis for a political rebellion.

    The displaced kyton-worshippers

    Forcible conversion to another religion and lifestyle practice is generally about the priorities of empire: subjects showing their compliance by performing loyalty, shutting down beliefs that could result in dissent, re-structuring social systems to create more efficient resources flow to the center. It doesn't delete the previous belief system nor does it guarantee wholehearted acceptance of the new worldview.

    So regardless of what really happened and why, the kyton-worshippers have just won the apophenia sweepstakes: their ideological opponent is down power because of an obvious supernatural cataclysm, the mines they once worked have produced a blatant supernatural transformation...and these events can be fitted to a reading of the situation in which (1) they were right to worship their former mine-adjacent deity, (2) the people that forced their conversion got walloped and that's a sign their beliefs are inferior.

    It's not that they'd perfectly transition back to the Old Ways, it's that they mash up old traditions with new novel elements to create a sense of continuity...we are returning, but what was lost is rising to meet us. Sort of like a millenarian reading. However, the kyton worshippers could also bend the other way: theirs is the upper mine god, and -thing- in the lower mines is taboo or bad, so their religious revival is about a rejection of what has happened (and the destruction of the capitol is a sign of the folly of the empire in meddling with something taboo) and the creation of new beliefs about how to allay or protect against further harm (by, coincidentally, doing stuff their kyton-god is already down for).
    Last edited by Yanagi; 2020-09-20 at 04:18 PM.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    OrcBarbarianGirl

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    Default Re: A theological clash...

    Oooh, lots to work with here. Let me start addressing some of the questions.
    Quote Originally Posted by Yanagi View Post
    .. how capable people within the setting are of discerning "what is true" with regard to the supernatural activity, regardless of what you know as "what really happened" as storyteller.
    The gods themselves vary in this. The Hags know more than Feraal, and Agon'x is in the middle, above the Grey-Green that destroyed the colony capital. The Thing That Sleeps is asleep, says nothing.

    The lycanthropes are separated from Feraal by an ocean that is no longer a trade route. They are left with existing canon texts and the ability to legally grow fur and claws and eat dissidents. Any dissidents that fail to be eaten are brought into the fold—"honored prey"—offered The Bite, and pressured to follow the party line, paid off for silence.

    According to the Hags, who are in the swamp at the end of the river along which supplies were shipped to waiting ships at the sea, the lycanthropes tried to drain swampland against their advice, enraging the Grey-Green. Treants, Vegepygmies, Musk Zombies, fungal creatures, and more proceeded to raze the capital, which was a sea port. The Grey-Green has no meat followers to communicate with.

    The Hags have never let anyone forget that they offer omens and portents, and the level of cackling "I told you so!" was epic. This area has no Hag Coven, though.

    Agon'x, God of pain, surgery, bone, and blood, is followed directly in numerous towns. Agon'x supplies healers and hospitals to the people of the forest. They teach enlightenment through mastery of pain and the body. They acknowledge, but do not speak in depth about, the Sleeper Below. Any signs of power from the Duermen is acknowledged with the statement that their experience below must have been torturous. "Good that they have found some enlightenment, but their minds have clearly been destroyed by the ordeal. We train you to retain your sanity."

    The Duermen are monolithic in their understanding of their origin story. They don't want to disturb the Sleeper through worship, and mostly stay in the mine, emerging for supplies. The aboriginal miners had been following ancient warnings to avoid the deep mines; it had been closed off, but following a seam led to the blocked off area.
    Quote Originally Posted by Yanagi View Post
    how distal the mining has been relative to the empire's center.
    About a quarter of a world away, a couple thousand miles. By sea and in terms of climate, the relation is similar to a trip from Anchorage to Los Angeles.
    Quote Originally Posted by Yanagi View Post
    Empire maintenance tactics incorporate cultural hegemony...if that mine was very important to the empire at some point, great emphasis could have be put on instilling the ideology of the center in the population (including the migrant labor selecting to work there).
    Exotic materia of strategic value, similar to a lithium mine or oil. Not the ONLY place to get exotics, but a rich deposit.
    Quote Originally Posted by Yanagi View Post
    **(is) psionics.. novel in the setting or even "understood" as discrete from other supernatural abilities
    Considered to be magic, as different as wizardry is from bard magic in a default setting.
    Quote Originally Posted by Yanagi View Post
    Are (Deep Folk) reincorporated into the mining village or now wholly apart? Are they antagonistic, neutral, or benevolent, individually and collectively?
    If nothing else, they cut off access to the mine. The miners are now a different civilization, that does not welcome visitors. They do not export much material, thankfully coinciding with the loss of the overseas market. Some of the things they trade with are items of power.
    They tell what they claim to have found, but not in detail. The answer is always the same. They were once humans with history in the town, but no longer care about that past.
    These two are the norm for gods in the setting:
    There's "worship with and I used my powers to materially benefit you."
    There's "we've been given powers to send a message, so now you have to do X and Y or mine god is going to get angry.***"
    The conclusion "The Sleeper destroyed the capital" is one that likely has multiple interpretations, as neither of those gods communicate.

    Oooh, lots to work with here. Let me start addressing some of the questions.
    Quote Originally Posted by Yanagi View Post
    .. how capable people within the setting are of discerning "what is true" with regard to the supernatural activity, regardless of what you know as "what really happened" as storyteller.
    The gods themselves vary in this. The Hags know more than Feraal, and Agon'x is in the middle, above the Grey-Green that destroyed the colony capital. The Thing That Sleeps is asleep, says nothing.
    The setting is small enough that individuals can get an audience with Gods or their direct mouthpieces. Last session, the main party spoke to the local coven of Hags directly. (Only one party member has the language they demand all audiences use.)

    The lycanthropes are separated from Feraal by an ocean that is no longer a trade route. They are left with existing canon texts and the ability to legally grow fur and claws and eat dissidents. Any dissidents that fail to be eaten are brought into the fold—"honored prey"—offered The Bite, and pressured to follow the party line, paid off for silence. Honored prey and loyal supporters are offered secondary position in the afterlife; groundskeepers, cooks, etc. in their Valhalla-like hunting grounds. As above, so below.
    They don't have a crafter here, but known artifacts are steel and preserved animal parts.

    According to the Hags, who are in the swamp at the end of the river along which supplies were shipped to waiting ships at the sea, the lycanthropes tried to drain swampland against their advice, enraging the Grey-Green. Treants, Vegepygmies, Musk Zombies, fungal creatures, and more proceeded to raze the capital, which was a sea port. The Grey-Green has no meat followers to communicate with. It's few human adherents were transformed when the capital was razed.
    Example magic item granted to its followers: "Chain Shirt +1—A thick mat of lichen and thin roots in a tangle. Lifting it, it is unmistakably in the shape of a long shirt."

    The Hags, whose territory traders had to navigate to bring goods to Imperial ships, have never let anyone forget that they offer omens and portents. The level of cackling "I told you so!" was epic. It meshes well with Hag teachings that "The One One One, creator of all, sleeps. All All All dreams the dreams of the dead, and when All All All wakes, this world will end." This area is not claimed by a Hag Coven, though.
    Example item from the Hags: "Arrows, +1 Flaming—These arrows, along with their fletching, are black, metallic, and translucent, with a faint red glow at the tip. The arrowheads are irregularly jagged. Every time you look at it, the arrowhead looks different, but you never see it change."

    Agon'x, God (kyton) of pain, surgery, bone, and blood, is followed directly in numerous towns in the inland forest between the swamp and the mountains. Agon'x supplies healers and hospitals to the people of the forest. They teach enlightenment through mastery of pain and the body, and grant power generously to followers willing to suffer the extensive torture needed. They acknowledge, but do not speak in depth about, the Sleeper Below. Any signs of power from the Duermen is acknowledged with the statement that their experience below must have been torturous. "Good that they have found some enlightenment, but their minds have clearly been destroyed by the ordeal. We train you to retain your sanity."
    Example artifact: "Scabbard of Magic Weapon 3x/day—A scabbard, apparently made from the vivisected remains of a river snake. Wait, it's eyes just moved. Oh... Oh dear."

    The Duermen are monolithic in their understanding of their origin story. They don't want to disturb the Sleeper through worship, and mostly stay in the mine, emerging for supplies. The aboriginal miners had been following ancient warnings to avoid the deep mines; it had been closed off, but following a seam led to the blocked off area. Artifacts they create tend to be exotic materials and non-euclidean.

    The Drowned Lady, patron of the sea, Merfolk, darkness, storms, and drowning, is thus far silent.

    I hadn't detailed the mountaintops yet; something avian, I'm sure.
    Quote Originally Posted by Yanagi View Post
    how distal the mining has been relative to the empire's center.
    About a quarter of a world away, a couple thousand miles. By sea and in terms of climate, the relation is similar to a trip from Anchorage to Los Angeles.
    Quote Originally Posted by Yanagi View Post
    Empire maintenance tactics incorporate cultural hegemony...if that mine was very important to the empire at some point, great emphasis could have be put on instilling the ideology of the center in the population (including the migrant labor selecting to work there).
    Exotic materia of strategic value, similar to a lithium mine or oil. Not the ONLY place to get exotics, but a rich deposit.
    Quote Originally Posted by Yanagi View Post
    **(is) psionics.. novel in the setting or even "understood" as discrete from other supernatural abilities
    Considered to be magic, as different as wizardry is from bard magic in a default setting.
    Quote Originally Posted by Yanagi View Post
    Are (Deep Folk) reincorporated into the mining village or now wholly apart? Are they antagonistic, neutral, or benevolent, individually and collectively?
    If nothing else, they cut off access to the mine. The miners are now a different civilization, that does not welcome visitors. They do not export much material, thankfully coinciding with the loss of the overseas market. Some of the things they trade with are items of power.
    They tell what they claim to have found, but not in detail. The answer is always the same. They were once humans with history in the town, but no longer care about that past.
    These three are the norm for gods in the setting; this one describes the Deep Folk best:
    "we've been given powers to send a message, so now you have to do X and Y or mine god is going to get angry.***"

    *** that last one works really well if someone leaps to "mine god destroyed wolfboy capitol with a plague of Oddishes"
    The conclusion "The Sleeper destroyed the capital" is one that likely has multiple interpretations, as neither of those gods communicate.

    The Sleeper is described by the Deep Folk as not having intentionality, and their followers try very hard to keep it that way.
    Both the Hags and Feraal have ways to describe it as connected to the faith. The Hags are very clear to accuse the Empire of having caused their downfall with hubris. The Deep Folk also assert that the Empire was a victim of hubris.
    The pairing of -thing- as god, with "destroyed religious center of other god" is going to be...exploitable...by anyone opposed to the empire, but especially in the mining town that is so close the mine where it happened. From there you get the theological basis for a political rebellion.
    This being a key factor. The Deep Ones do not want to expand their power, the Hags were not positioned to capitalize on it immediately, and the opportunity does not play towards Agon'x's features and strengths directly. All indicators point towards the Empire overreaching and failing to heed the warnings left by the Hags and no longer existing Ancient Ones. The Hags very likely are trying to weasel their way in now, with their philosophies of respecting and fearing things around them, omens and portents, and offering safety for those who follow their rule. That said, they have a force projection issue reaching there until they can develop a strong coven. In the swamp where the main party is right now, one can get an audience with the Hags and make bargains with them.
    I hadn't determined what is on the mountain tops, but it is not particularly expansionist. Not above using chaos to their advantage, though.
    So I'm trying to figure out what's coming apart right now, and how it looks.
    "We were once so close to heaven, Peter came out and gave us medals declaring us 'The nicest of the damned'.."
    - They Might Be Giants, "Road Movie To Berlin"

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