Saturday, October 3, 2020

Miniposts: Tower Wizards, Funeral Customs, Paracausality

This Place is Not a Place of Honor


Tower-wizards are the great weapons of deterrence. Any conflict that escalates to the point of releasing them is one where, at the very minimum, entire cities are going to have to be rendered uninhabitable. Simply implying that wizards should be used to resolve a conflict is considered a war crime. Not even the most amoral members of the Cartographer's Guild would welcome a wizarding war, though if any of them survived they would certainly become very rich in the aftermath.

Wizards (or more specifically, wizards that have reached the point where they have begun to build themselves a Tower) are paranoid, megalomaniacal, obsessive, and long ago threw away any ethical compunctions that might have once possessed. They will do unspeakably cruel things simple because the thought crossed their mind, and will abandon such fancies the moment another idea crosses their mind. The prospect of the horrific deaths of tens of thousands or more would not even register as an event, so blinded they are by their depthless and all-consuming hatred of all other wizards.

And so, for those nations that house Tower-Wizards within their borders, the goal becomes containment above all else.

Towers are placed far away from human habitation (or, rather, no normal humans would ever habitate close to an inhabited Tower), though not far enough away to weaken surveillance. Each is  surrounded by acres of hostile architecture - angular earthworks, enormous concrete spikes, fields of broken glass. Warnings of death written in ten languages or more are carved in monolithic stones along the perimeter.

The Tower's interior is combination private study, labyrinth, prison and playground, filled with their creations and projects. Space and time are malleable there - always bigger on the inside than the outside, stretching up far taller and digging down far deeper than its stone shell would suggest.

The best way to keep a wizard in his Tower is to keep him distracted - and the best way to do this is some combination of short-term dopamine feedback loops.

Petty arguments and pornography.

For the former; through the tireless efforts of skilled necromancers, a lobotomized spider-godling, and the entire priesthood of a god of communication, an incredibly elaborate means of scrying directly with the countless souls of the dead was created. Specifically so that the wizard might never run out of people to argue with, that the people he argues with are in no danger of death, and so that he is perpetually distracted from attempting to contact other wizards. It is an astounding success, but the countless souls of the dead have made it clear that they do this purely to prevent overwhelming the cthonic bureaucracy, and refuse outright to participate in a wider application.

For the latter, a thaumovore is used - a simple arcane parasite that feeds off of excess atmospheric orgone, and in exchange will provide the host with whatever visions and illusions will provide them with the most energy to feed on.

Many wizards will brag of their expansive succubi harems - these projection-manifestations are always the work of a clever thaumovore rather than any actual demonology work, and for that we should be thankful.

Should containment fail and a wizard go rogue, it instantly becomes an international crisis. Better have no wizards at all than be the nation that let one run amok and start conflict with another wizard. A single indication of a change in the wizard's behavior, even his mere contemplating leaving the Tower, is enough reason to kill the wizard. Containment breaches cannot be risked.

To do so, a covert insertions is necessary when - mobilizing an entire army would simply alert him faster. Small parties of specialists kept on retainer by the government responsible will be inserted through the exterior defenses in such a way that they cannot get out again until the Wizard is dead - an unfortunate but necessary precaution.

Common wizard's servitors found inside towers include:

  • Vigilant Sentries - The wizard plucks out one of their eyes and feeds it all of their paranoia and spite until it has become a bloated, raving, bloodshot guardian. It will wander the halls of the tower babbling conspiracies to itself.
  • Homunculi - Mandrake roots (a potent alchemical reagent), infused with semen (provided by the wizard) and fermented in a warm bath of humours inside a horse's womb. Why? Because they fucking can.
  • Animated Objects and Armor - A menial task of wizardry. Given simple "If–then(–else)" programming while the wizard waits for the kettle to boil, and then let loose in the house.
  • Imps - Wizards will often summon and bind minor demons such as these for single tasks and leave them collecting dust in their cages for decades. Eventually they escape, but without being dismissed they are forced to live in the walls like mice.
  • Gargoyles - Statues embedded with the spirits of the dead. Transmit recordings of events to outside observers.

Hill Country Funeral Customs

And Chonagah asked the heron "Is it true then, that you know the way to the land of my fathers?"

"Ah, yes, that way. A swift way, a dark road through a dark forest. It is not a way one can turn back upon."

Certain spirits are fond of unattended bodies, and so funerary customs around the world must take on a third responsibility: beyond consoling of the family and safe internment of the body,there is the prevention of dangerous undead. In the hill country, the process goes like this.

The town witch (or her apprentice) will be called to the home or the House of Departing as soon as the death has occurred. She will lead the preparation of the body - in her absence, family or other community members can still safely prepare the body so long as they follow the appropriate customs.

The deceased will be carefully cleaned and dressed in a funeral garment - in these parts, funeral shrouds are traditionally given as wedding gifts from parents to children. Fungal shrouds from Llaphedon are becoming a common alternative in these days of greater connection in the world, as is the bequeathing of bones to necromancers

Two copper coins are placed on the eyes of the deceased. They are stamped with a quartering cross, and the quarters are marked with four signs.

  • A heron, traditional psychopomp of the region
  • A sun crossing the horizon, marking a point of transition.
  • A river trout, leaping up out of the water, a symbol of travelers and journeys.
  • The North Star with attendants, symbol of eternity, stability, and peace.

If the body is to be cremated, a face veil will be used as a substitute and the coins added later, when the bones are interred. For unclaimed or unknown bodies, it is traditional to present them for cremation wearing a wooden crown, according to ancient hospitality custom - any stranger among you might be a honored person in their own land.

A vigil will be kept through the night, with the town witch and family members taking shifts. This is the most delicate time, where the body is most vulnerable to possession, but so long as at least one person is awake and sitting vigil, the deceased will come to no harm. If no family or community members are present (a rare occurrence), the witch will sit for the entire night.

The funeral will take place at dawn the following day, led by the town priest (if possible, a priest of a funeral god; if needed, anyone in the community can say the rites). The body will be cremated (typical) or buried (becoming more common with fungal shrouds). Bones and ashes will be interred in catacombs or otherwise buried.

From there, the funeral concerns itself with the living, and if all has gone well the danger has passed.

Should something go wrong, or rites not be performed at all, the appearance of an undead is not guaranteed, but is likely. The most common are:

  • Ghosts are the embers of souls, stirred into activity by the desecration of their burial sites or the mishandling of a corpse.
  • Ambulmorts are bodies that have been possessed by ghosts or minor demons. These are most commonly caused by improper preparation of the deceased or failure to maintain vigil. Most are incapable of much more than stumbling about, but those possessed by particularly potent ghosts or demons are much more active and capable of a great deal more, sometimes even speech. Possessed bodies will still decompose at the normal rate.

Commonly misconceived as undead are:

  • Ghouls are humans that have contracted ghul-disease (corporophagia) through consumption of human corpses. Primary symptoms are hair loss, weight loss, nerve degeneration, sensitivity to light, the drive to consume more corpses, greying rashes/boils over the entire body, and changes to the teeth, fingers, cartilaginous structures, etc. The disease is not related to leprosy, but resembles it in its early stages close enough that "ghoul-leper" is still a common term. No cure or effective treatment is yet known.
    • It should be noted that cultures that practice funerary cannibalism will have customs and practices in place to prevent contraction of disease, through consumption of an analeptic during the meal.
  • Vampires are humans that have been infected with victiscolex.

Paracausality and You

As best I can tell, "paracausality" first occurred in Destiny, a game I have never played and don't particularly plan on playing (I only know it because certain Youtube folks I enjoy talk about it on occasion). 

It is a good word, and good words invite brazen theft.

On the SCP Wiki, "anomaly" would be used (or "scip" if you're really in deep). Lobotomy Corporation uses "abnomality". Control uses "objects of power". Paranormal or supernatural are common parlance. I like paracausality more than all of them because like any good faux-scientific term, it is specific: something is bypassing steps in the chain of cause and effect. It is not dependent on perceptions of "normal" or "natural", and eliminates any wiggle room for principles we have yet to understand. It is set apart from miracles (which have the same function but involve intervening gods) and magic (which involves  knowable, consistent, replicatable systems)

At its most simple, I can whittle down paracausalities into three very, very broad categories.

  • Type A: Existence Without Cause
    • There is no way for the subject to exist or occur within the framework of cause-and-effect found in the rest of the universe.  
    • Ex: A pristine late medieval French castle at the bottom of the Pacific.
  • Type B: Disconnected Effect
    • The cause should produce effect A, but instead produces effect Z (or sometimes A+Z). 
    • Ex: Antique lamp that triggers whale beachings when turned on.
  • Type C: Mess Plate
    • The subject possesses traits of both A and B types. Honestly this is the grab bag catch-all.
    • Ex: Moths fighting with thorns, in the style of samurai movies. The loser commits seppuku.
  • Type D: Parallel Processing
    • Multiple subjects operating along the cause and effect chain that is nonetheless incompatible with the rest of the universe.

A post hoc schema to describe something that is supposed to be ineffable within the hoc.

I get a decent (that is, non-zero) number of comments praising my Lighthouse field guide posts and the contents therein, so I will round out this minipost with the writing techniques I use.

  • Be specific - Describe the paracausality as it is, with as much detail as you can within the space you have alloted. Avoid using "it appears to be", unless you can confirm that it is not what it looks like. Write me an image.
  • Avoid judgement terms - Describe the paracausality in as neutral a tone as you can manage. Let the reader make the judgement calls.
  • Be inconsistent on the broad scale - Resist the urge to make too many links between paracausalities. It's a great deal of fun, but it will shift your genre into a more traditional fantasy mold.
  • Use the weirdness of the mundane world to your advantage - You see plenty of weird or unsettling things just going out for a drive. Let that do the heavy lifting for you.
  • Reject genre expectations - Those just impose different cause and effect schemas to fulfill a plot. Bin them.
  • The interaction with the world we know is where the meat is - The paracausality is in many cases the launching point - it exists in conjunction with those observing it and interacting with it. This interaction might only be implied or briefly stated, but it will be there - while the subject itself bypasses cause and effect, those who interact with it are not so free.


12 comments:

  1. Now that I look at the final result, these really aren't mini anymore.

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    1. Yeah I was gonna say every one of these could easily be its own post!

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  2. Top notch stuff on the tower wizards - I like this a lot, am instantly thinking how it can be incorporated into ongoing games...

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    1. I agree, it is an interesting idea. In my setting, you can't start out as a Wizard, only as a researcher or scholar with knowledge of sorcery. Magic must be acquired through questing, research or service to more powerful creatures such as Dragons, Djinn, or other Wizards.

      So that could be an idea- a normal human who gains the power of sorcery and slowly becomes disconnected from humanity through their increasing strength, until they withdraw into their own world and have to be contained, or at least distracted, from ever using that power for fear of the horrors they could unleash.

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  3. Not mini, but high quality. The Tower posts is particularly interesting, and usable - this definitely could be a feature in a game.

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  4. Paracausality is indeed a good word, and I think you make a good point about the Weirdness of avoiding "magic" or "miracles" as explanations for how something works. No explanation at all is much stranger and more unsettling.

    Imagine your horror if you begin to suspect that the new lamp in the corner, the one you've only turned on a few times, might somehow be causing mass whale-beachings that show up in the news the next day. That couldn't really be true, could it? Surely, it must be a coincidence, mustn't it? And yet, if it is true, how could you even live with yourself for turning it on one more time to test it? (And are you sure it's safe to unplug it? To destroy it? Are you SURE sure?)

    The lamp example feels more like a short story than a gameable treasure, but it's easy to see how you could apply the same principle.

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  5. "Resist the urge to make too many links between paracausalities. "

    This really speaks to me. Things like the Magnus Archive stop being interesting to me as soon as it becomes apparent that there's an actual "cosmology" behind it all.

    I want my inexplicable spooky things to remain inexplicable and spooky.

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    1. I loved putting the pieces together in Magnus, but as soon as the puzzle is solved there's nothing left to do.

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    2. I let pieces be put together in my games and stories but often I try to avoid there even being a complete puzzle.
      Connect the dots all you want, you may be right but the full picture is on a scale that's just too vast for you to ever reasonably understand it.

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  6. Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from nuclear stockpiles.

    I've been kicking around a setting idea that is basically "Fallout: Eberron" and I think you just gave me how the ancient civilization ended!

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  7. Thanks for the writing tips, got my brain sparking

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  8. "Each is surrounded by acres of hostile architecture - angular earthworks, enormous concrete spikes, fields of broken glass. Warnings of death written in ten languages or more are carved in monolithic stones along the perimeter."
    https://tmblr.co/ZP7VLsZ05ENgqi00

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