Thursday, August 27, 2015

Where Tim Went Wrong and Right. Witches, Chaos, Cults, And Witchcraft In Old School Retroclone Campaigns

I've been following Tim Brannan's blog now for many months and he's been doing some very nice Fantastic Heroes and Witchery posts and talking about mixing in Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea. He's going to try and smooth out some of the rough edges of  Fantastic Heroes and Witchery with the pseudo historic wonderfulness of Dark Albion from the mighty pen of +Kasimir Urbanski's aka RPGPundit's in his latest book Dark Albion: The Rose War. For the better part of  over a month I've been looking into Dark Albion's demonic and chaotic foundations. And I think that's where Tim is missing some vital information. He's done some damn fine posts about FH&W  All of these very solid posts can be found right over HERE, HERE & right over HERE
  Which brings up the point here, FH&W's implied lack of a cleric goes to the heart of the nature of Chaos in the rule book. Chaos in Fantastic Heroes and Witchery is all things of Hell, the Abyss, and Chaos. Occultists walk indeed a very fine line and a razor's edge in the game one to which can indeed cut the throat of the very expert in Magick as its implied in the book. Fantastic Heroes and Witchery takes grave pains to wear its Gothic pedigree on its sleeve especially in regards to its conventions towards Hell and the powers of Chaos especially within its spells. The six hundred and sixty six spells have had great pains by the author to have them modified to fit his world view of the corrupting and dangerous nature of Chaos. A view that is both shared by me and Kasimir Urbanski. Dark Albion presents a very solid pseudo historical  structure for its view of Hell, Chaos and its Demons. This is not so much based on a refinement of actual history but a blending of occult fictional tradition, historical ideas, and mythological conceits wrapped in very rich game setting.

And that's really part of the problem with mixing and matching some of these sources, Lord knows I've been wrestling with this problem ever since I received Dark Albion. Tim Brannan's style is the mixing and matching of these styles of games according to him:
'Another point of commonality is Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. I wanted to use it as a game system for both Dark Albion and my witch adventures.  I think it would work out well.  I need to find locales in "Dark" Europe for all of these adventures.'

What time's not getting is very dark and dangerous nature of Dark Albion, AS&SH, along with FH&W. These games are not so much D&D as they are Gothic pulp sword and sorcery wrapped in the seeming tropes of D&D. Rpgpundit went through a very carefully contrived blog entry regarding demons, cults, and chaos worship in Dark Albion :
'Regarding Chaos worship, some people have asked just what a Chaos-cult in Albion should look like.  Now the thing is, the particular manifestations of Chaos-worship in the setting ought to be extremely varied. Law is One, Chaos is Legion. So I don't think there's a lot of uniform things you can say about it. There are heretical subversive cults that appear to worship the Unconquered Sun (like the Cathari), there are secret 'satanic'-style sects, lone would-be witches venerating some dark thing in the woods, there was Bishop Peacock's sect that looked like a regular church congregation on the outside but they were preparing to open a gate to hell in the old Arcadian catacombs, there are of course the Frogmen and their Frog-Gods. So the answer is that the main thing a GM should try to do with Chaos-cults is not make any two look too similar to one another; this is of course a great detail if you choose to focus on a game of chaos-hunters (for example, of a party being sponsored by the Clerical order). Even so, there's a good list of references from the details in the gazetteer and chronology as to provide a GM with ideas of what Chaos cults can look like.

With demons, the whole system for demon-summoning, and the details thereof are explicit in the game.  The system is based on the actual medieval ideas on demon-summoning, from grimoires like the Goetia.  Demons come in different ranks (corresponding to their level of power), that human beings have labelled as though they were mortal titles: knights, counts, dukes, princes, etc.
The medieval magicians did not believe that summoning demons was necessarily an evil act; if you could control and bind them in the name of divine forces (in this case, the Unconquered Sun), then evil could be used for good purposes (naturally, non-magicians would have a hard time being able to tell if that was the case and would be highly paranoid about the whole business regardless).  Suitably bound, they could then be obliged to offer a service or deal with a problem in exchange for being released back from whence they came.  But it is also possible to end up making a pact with a demon, if one was inclined to the service of Chaos, where the demon would provide certain gifts in exchange for the magician's loyalty.  I did write a little about the kind of gifts Demons can offer: the permanent use of any of that demon's special powers, magic items, access to spell knowledge for magic-users, etc. But again, I didn't want to get too specific here so as not to be restrictive. In short, what is offered will be defined by what the magician wants, and what the demon has the power to give (and yes, there are clear guidelines as to what any given demon is capable of doing).' You can read the whole thing right over HERE And that's part of the very issue of using witches from Dark Albion, magick in the setting can and could be tied into demon summoning along with its attendant issues. Tim also talks about, 'I can take the occultist class and make it into a passable Occult Poet.' Why not simply use the bard class from AS&SH as a compliment as well?
This brings up the role of Chaos, & the Witch in AS&SH. The witch is a class in the game that can serve a very wide variety of purposes and roles in the game. Though tied to the world of Hyperborea by the class's very nature, the witch is perhaps in my mind tied to and linked with adventurers in a way that beckons adventurers into the very fabric of AS&SH. They can be and should be used as the glue that ties both cults and covens in the setting together. Chaos is in the mix for AS&SH but its the Chaos of classic mythology and otherworldly Lovecraftian horror and not so much of the Infernal or is it? Well its actually both. There are the classic demons of AD&D and OGL fare but also the rolling sanity wrenching weirdness of the Lovecraftian multidimensional murderverse laying in wait for the witch or wizard of AS&SH.

By using the three of these products together one gets the best strengths of all three as long as the DM remembers the conceil that these are Gothic/Pulp games at their heart and are  more then the sum of their parts. Tim's idea is killer with some real teeth to it:
'One thing I always wanted to do was run a dark age WitchCraft RPG game.  Set in the 1600s it would deal with rival factions of the Gifted fighting each other while Europe descends into the Burning Times.  It struck me how close that idea was some things I was also planning in my War of the Witch Queens adventures.'
In point of fact what I actually think could be run using Dark Albion and its Hellish powers as its base is in point of fact a Solomon Kane style campaign with bits and pieces borrowed from AS&SH and Fantastic Heroes and Witchery but the balance is very tricky.

At its heart and soul here in this style of campaign are the pulp sword and sorcery forces of the party and the forces of Hell and the demons all waiting to tear a ragged straight razor across the throat of the party. Does Tim have a fantastic idea? Absolutely but these rpg systems can be very tricky to use together. The key is balance and planning when working with these forces.

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