Tuesday, June 2, 2015

myth building- apocalypses.

And I pray, oh my god do I pray
I pray every single day
For a revolution
                     - 4 non blondes

This post is an observation about mythologies, which I expect to be useful for contriving mythologies for a gameworld.

I've already written some about apocalypses, especially concerning millenarianism in American culture.
But millenarianism isn't restricted to one time or place, or even one form of ideology. Belief in the "end times" is generally associated with religious outlooks. But it seems that even political or ethnic ideologies have some notion of this. That would account for pretty much all ideologies.

Ideologies form their own views on history, that is, they customize a mythology. This mythological history would naturally interpret past events. And it would also develop conjectures about the future and the direction history is going in.

Basically, no matter what your outlook, whether you are Jew, Gentile, Hopi, Sioux, Republican, Anarchist, Burner, Evangelist, Progressive, Positivist, Luddite or Flower-Child, you probably have some notion that something is going to happen. And probably soon.

People imagine this thing differently. They have different words for it: apocalypse, rapture, the technological singularity, when the Shit Hits the Fan, The Transcendental Object at the End of Time, The Age of Aquarius, The Revolution. Ragnarok.
And then there's the one where the internet stops working and we all don football pads and grab our ARs and kill eachother for the last bottle of coke. Plot twist: the last coke will be warm and taste awful.

It seems to me that all these various apocalypses hold Anxiety as their common origin.
It is uncertainty or a perceived threat which causes people to make these guesses that something serious is going to happen.
The nature of the anxiety reflects on the principle concerns of the rest of the mythology.
For instance:
Who will be saved, who will be damned.
Environmental concerns or concerns over limited resources.
Concerns about group-identity or social position.
Civil liberties or political power.

The term "Apocalypse" has come to mean the end of the world as we know it. But in the original sense, it meant a revelation. Apocalyptic literature was a genre of religious writing in which people wrote about the bizarre visions they had while fasting or in trance. In this state, they believed that God was revealing things to them. So in a more basic sense, an apocalypse is how-things-are-going-to-turn-out.

In this view, when the apocalypse happens, questions are answered, things turn out, and the anxiety is resolved. That is why people are fascinated by the idea. It is appealing in a sense.

People take for granted that a mythology will have a creation story. But don't forget that they almost always have some future which they expect as well.


There's hardly anything actually useful in this post. Just musing on worldbuilding for general purposes.

I left the last post on a bit of a question mark.

In short, I made distinction between the domains of craft, science and technology on one hand, and ineffable magic on the other. In game terms, One field is more or less understood and under the control of the character. The powers of the other field are unpredictable, and they strike like the inspiration of a muse.

This left me in a bit of a muddle as a Game Master, since it is difficult to create a system to regulate divine inspiration or a character's affinity for the eternal tao.
The other field is easy to regulate: a character knows this much science and has such and such resources. A character has the mental endurance to memorize and cast so many spells a day. It's straightforward and rational.

The first thing that occurred was simple DM fiat. But nobody wants the unbridled whim of the DM as their character's main source of power.

Also, I was writing like I was imagining the source of magic-magic as the one ultimate reality of the universe. God in short. The sort of polytheistic set up common in science-fantasy settings were not really being considered.

In standard D&D, clerical magic is channeled to Clerics from their deity as sheer spells per day.
I figured his could be interpreted either as technology- where the deities are super-powerful wizards who distribute their extra-planar energies to their acolytes. Or it could function as magic-magic, where the deities embody more abstract principles which a devotee "tunes in" to. So I left it undefined.
One of these models could suit your campaign world better than the other, depending on the statement you are trying to make.
Heck, you could have both; creating a distinction between "true" and "false" gods of which the players may not even be aware.

Then my buddy came over, the same one who go me thinking about the proper distinction between technology-magic and magic-magic.
Somehow, we got to talking about ritual magic, basically that practiced by priests and magicians in our own history. Imagine a pagan priest attempting to invoke the power of Athena or Mars or somebody like that. They invent a ritual which involves the trappings associated with the given deity in an attempt to attract their power. This is something like sympathetic magic, which operates on the theory that like is affected by like.
Thing is, even with such a ritual, the practitioners are never really sure whether it worked or not.
If the desired result appears, then maybe it is due to the god's intervention or maybe not. It is with this uncertainty, that priest-craft becomes a mystical , mysterious, ineffable process; the success of which possibly attributable to the skill of the priest or the whim of the god or both.

At this point, I noticed that Priestcraft is like hunting or fishing in this regard; you could be doing everything right, but still not get what you want. Possibly simply because of forces beyond your understanding or control.
It doesn't necessarily have to be understood by the players, so long as the DM understand the whys and wherefores.

I argued that the theory of the existence of gods and the ritual associations used to influence them were a sort of cultural technology- a sort of rational formula based on a given understanding of the cosmos. But I also agreed that because the "science" of it was so vague, that this was kind of a moot point and the whole pursuit is in the realm of the mystical.
If there is am unproven hypothesis with only limited evidence to support it, acting on that hypothesis would be rather like relying on magic, wouldn't it?

I realize, I already proposed a reasonably good system for distribution of clerical magic where anybody can do cleric stuff regardless of class. Mechanically, it's built on the framework of standard D&D. Needs Playtesting.