Sunday, 22 November 2020

PARIAH DISCORD SESSION 17: THE REALM OF THE DEAD

A summary of the SEVENTEENTH session of the discord live voice-chat game of PARIAH. This is a continuation of events in the SIXTEENTH session.

To find out more about PARIAH please read this post:

https://aloneinthelabyrinth.blogspot.com/p/pariah-proto-neolithc-psychedelic.html

...or trawl through the many, many posts tagged pariah at this link:

https://aloneinthelabyrinth.blogspot.com/search/label/Pariah.


Little-is-the-Gazelle had been given a vision of how to conjure a spirit, and also of the proper way to perform the sorcerers' sage rite... 

SESSION 17: DAY 19
(CROW MOON WANING)
(This session took place on Saturday 17th October, real world)

- Alex (thezanderd) playing as Little-is-the-Gazelle
- Oisín https://twitter.com/OisinoftheHill
 playing as Little-is-the-Gazelle
- Semiurge http://archonsmarchon.blogspot.com/
 playing as Mortally-Garnished-of-the-Fallen and Witheringly-Footed-in-the-Point

This session is quite hard to summarise as we tried out a half-written procedural adventure partly inspired by Emmy Allen's Stygian Library (in terms of structure, if not aesthetic... although the library does possess parallels with the land of the dead... and of course "Stygian" is the adjective of "Styx"!)

So here goes.

Two Rituals

Gazelle had been granted two rituals by the Hidden Elder of the settlement-by-the-shore, both of which manifested in a dream:
  • The ritual of conjuration.
  • The ritual of the sorcerers' sage.
With the help of Garnish Gazelle attempted to conjure forth a Spirit of the Dead to inquire about the nature of The Hunger, the disease from which Maggot suffered and perhaps Wither and Gazelle might be afflicted.

The ritual went wrong and a spirit of the beyond manifested who, somewhat displeased, inflicted a bane upon Gazelle preventing him from setting his feet upon the ground and causing him to levitate.

(this was the same affliction suffered by Quiet One shortly before his accidental suicide)

Gazelle did his best to conceal the bizarre curse by crawling along the ground, much to the confusion of his comrades.

Hotboxing the Shaman's Tent

Equipped with about eight dried plants, plenty of fire and two willing assistants, Gazelle was able to perform the ritual of  sorcerers sage. The tent filled with a heavy, savoury-smelling smoke, causing everyone to feel a sudden light-headedness and sense of disassociation.

Gazelle's spirit — and the spirits of of Wither and
Earnestly Wooded — were able to travel to the Realm of the Dead.

Initially they perceived the land as though it was their own, albeit one desaturated of colour and shrouded in a faint mist. They perceived the figures of the other pariahs and settled peoples as wraith-like ghosts surrounded by a shimmering light.

Looking to one another, they appeared to suffer no such dulling in appearance, though Gazelle appeared to have a small bird flying around him at all times, occasionally transforming into a bat or occasionally a moth. He refused to acknowledge it, much to the curiosity of the others.

The pariahs spied 
Grove-over-the-Dell looking confusedly at his own body. The wounded pariah was obviously on the verge of death, and they invited him to join them on the quest.

Mechanics

Okay so I'm going to snap out of storyteller mode.

The basic principal that governs entheogens in PARIAH is the
dose.   A low dose will provide a mild narcotic effect with a low risk whereas a powerful dose will provide a more tangible effect (re: mechanically advantageous or otherwise "gameable") with a slightly higher risk. The powerful dose will also provide a glimpse into the realm of the spirits that abuts that of the Here & Now.

The heroic and ridiculous doses enable the pariahs' spirits to travel to those realms, to explore and them and to question those beings that reside there. However, with this greater reward comes a greater risk: experienced, trained pariahs - particularly those with a hearty WIS or CON score - are less at risk from their trip going awry. Inexperienced, foolish or unhealthy pariahs may pay dearly for meddling in the realm.

Finally, there are rituals which enable an experienced shaman to guide a group into the spirit realm at a lower risk and without using large quantities of entheogens, thus mitigating some of the risk.

Already, as I write that out, I'm considering completely re-writing the rules. But that's for another time.


Procedural Generation

What I'm developing at the moment is a variety of procedurally generated adventures to correspond to the different realms. I quite liked the notion of different methods (Hex Flower, depth crawl, point crawl etc.) corresponding to the different realm. The aforementioned Stygian library has a simple progress mechanic happened to the exploration procedure: certain environments will improve the characters progress score, giving the party a notion of how close they are to achieving their goal... or it can be hidden from them, but still providing a definite point when they find what they're looking for.

People go to the Stygian Library to find books (among many other things)... why do pariahs go to the Realm of the Dead?

They go there to seek out ancestors and to uncover lost knowledge: 
to ask questions answerable only by dead souls. The rarer the knowledge the older the knowledge: the older the soul, the deeper into the land of the dead they must be situated. The deeper into the land of the dead, the more dangerous and chaotic the environment becomes.

Instead of locations I came up with a series of scenes or vignettes representative of the soul's transition from one life to the next and placed them in a table. The table would be rolled on with 1d6, modified by the "depth" (the first scene is the "half world", depth 0, first entry on the table... the second scene is depth 1, so 1d6+1 etc.). I had a very vague "flavour" table that randomised vignettes a little more, much like the "features" element in Stygian and Ynn.

I also tried to remember to roll up two further entries whenever the party happened upon a new scene, so that these could be hinted at the distance and provide them with options as to where to go (instead of just forward and back).

Character Manifestation

I also wanted travel to the realm of the dead to feel different not just to look different.

Taking a way a character sheet is a good way to put a player into a different headspace. 

I play exclusively online nowadays. I have no idea if my players have character sheets...

In the Realm of the dead, the pariahs only really have two stats: their hit die and their life force (I guess the third is their true name). They have no equipment other than that which they find or expend life force creating.

Their life force is equal to their CON + CHA (or CON + PSYCHE for spirit-touched).

They can spend points of their life force to manifest things in the spirit realm (like tools or useful items) or to otherwise expend great effort (i.e. make an attack). 

At 0 life force the pariah's sense of self evaporates. They voluntarily surrender their true name to the Lord of the Dead and they awaken in the Here & Now as a Nameless One (possibly to be NPCed by the GM).

Life Force can also be spent on extending the trip.

Time

Time is an important factor: the pariahs are only able to visit the realm of the dead due to the ritualistic effects of entheogens: when the effect wears off, they return to their bodies in the Here & Now.

Sorcerer's Sage only lasts for ten minutes- however, due to relative time dilation, the pariahs will experience a trip to the Realm of the Dead of 12 turns (2 hours).

They can stretch time by expending Life Force, to the equivalent of 10 pts per turn. Though this cost can be shared, it might be necessary for an individual Pariah to sacrifice their soul in order to achieve the ultimate goal of the band.

Back to the Story

I described the design goals of the adventure parallel to the narrated events of the actual game, which is jarring for me so must be discombobulating for you to say the least. The reason, in case you haven't guessed, is because the actual flesh on the skeleton of my golem is yet to be applied... the pariahs found themselves exploring a parallel world which was only partially realised.

Naturally, with the passage of time of more than a moth I'm also struggling to create real memories from my somewhat shambolic notes from the session.

Stand out scenes:
  • Joined by Grove they travelled down to a river, where a cloaked figure named Lightbringer  invited them on a boat.
  • They swapped stories and songs for passage, and asked the figure questions. Gazelle manifested a flute so that he could paly, though he was still salty about the Turtle stealing his song.
  • Earnestly Wooded told a story from the steppe of a lion losing his mane.
  • The pariahs beheld a field of tirelessly working labourers, though when the subject of food came up they were overwhelmed by hunger and threatened to mob the barge. Lightbringer took them away.
  • They bid Lightbringer farewell when they were brought to another shore.
  • Wither was re-acquainted with his uncle, who appeared as a disembodied head on a stick, flanked by two strangers. Uncle persuaded the pariahs to take him with them: he wasn't sure he was dead, but at least apologised to Wither for causing his exile.
  • They passed tribe of hunter gatherers pursuing an enormous Demon Boar.
  • Their journey was interrupted by a great abyss: Earnestly-Wooded considered throwing himself in, but Gazelle and Wither persuaded him that they wanted to build a bridge from tall trees.
  • The other side of the abyss loomed a set of steps proceeding up the side of a great mountain.
  • What first appeared to be Lightbringer and their friends turned out to be a group of Spirits called the Charcoal Burners. they refused to allow the pariahs to cut down the tress, burning them with fire and chasing them out of that part of the forest.
  • They happened upon the hunt again and, following it, came upon a great feast, the boar having already been skinned and roasted.
  • Grove felt very hungry from the food, but the others persuaded him not to eat, lest he be trapped in the land of the dead forever.
  • They learned from the chief of the hunt that to cure the hunger they must kill the Many-Mouthed King.
The world around them began to fade: slowly, Grove began to recede from view: last they saw him he stood over his body in Wolfskin's hut... then the real world began to solidify around them, and they were sat in Gazelle's hut, the air thick with acrid smoke. Wither and Gazelle both vomited: Wither was still clutching his uncle's head-spike, though the head remained in the spirit realm.

The pariahs returned to Wolfskin to check on Grove, tended to by Antelope: apparently, he was doing just fine: down one foot, but otherwise just fine.

* * *

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