Thursday, 17 December 2020

Dusk Realm: Adventures in Entheogeneering

This was written at a point in time prior to my mastery of chronomancy. It may refer to things that have not yet happened that I had not yet realised had not yet happened. In any case, this is written as the 17th entry of the self-imposed advent challenge.

In Pariah, Volume 1 seven different realms are described — very briefly — as both a home to non-human intelligence and as a source of magic. One of these seven realms is the Dusk, a world described as "the vespers of knowledge" but also "the twilight of civilisation". It exists in parallel to that of the Here and Now yet beyond the limits of ordinary perception. Ritual, magic and—most importantly—drugs enable pariahs to alter their perception and explore this world.

The entheogen most commonly associated with Dusk is obtained from cactus buttons.

Cactus Buttons by Abigail Lingford

Dusk exist (predictably) as a counterpoint to dawn: in crude terms, it is the  law to the chaos. It aligns with previous work written on the labyrinth of Hod .

Hahah "work..."

The Labyrinth

The inspiration for this realm arrived from accounts of experiments with intravenous DMT, and elaborate the concept of insects and reptiles being a more ancient form of life than mammals and birds.

Conversely, the notion of rational though vs. intuition as a gameable dichotomy combined with juvenile alignment analysis inspired the notion of a hyper-social, technologically advanced (whatever that means) anti-human intelligence that can influence human culture. Also that episode of the Simpsons where Homer ingests a really spicy chilli.

Subjectively, everything I have experienced under the influence of psychedelics has been on the intuitive side. It's been about me dealing with my own psychological and emotional shortcomings rather than anything broader. I have never been able to "reason" myself out of any psychedelic experience other than bringing myself down to a dissatisfying and uncomfortable (i.e. "boring" place). However, I'm really drawn to the idea of entheogens unlocking those "left-brain" aspects less commonly associated with hallucinogens...

I say less commonly associated but I know for a FACT (disclaimer: am unable to prove any of these claims) that a lot of LSD was sold in Geneva in the 80s, about the same time that Tim Berners Leigh was at CERN...

This realm of Dusk is a labyrinth, unfolding as its puzzles are solved. Within lies knowledge of civilisations otherwise unimaginable to the pariahs, but in the words of Jung: beware of wisdom unearned.

Generative Text

This was a cool phrase I picked up while teaching English part-time: the notion of a generative text. Within the context I encountered it, the generative text was a piece of writing from which a series of questions could be generated: essentially, from a small seed a whole lesson could be grown. For lesson substitute  conversation.

As is documented, a tabletop RPG session is a conversation. Perhaps the "system", the "adventure" and the "prep" are the generative texts.

In the previous post about There: the Realm of the Dead references were made toward The Stygian Library and Gardens of Ynn as "procedural generators": a limited number of elements are combined using a system that responds to player choices. I'm not describing this well, go and read what someone more intelligent than I has to say on such matters:

For dusk I'm working on a table: part inspired by childhood arithmetic exercises, part inspired by the resemblance of my avatar logo to a QR code... and part inspired by the beauty that is the D12.

Generating the Maze

I started off with this in my head:

Conceptualised thus:

I googled "QR CODE" I am not responsible for where this takes you.

Finally arriving at this:

Right, so this is pretty nonsensical... but think of it this way.
  • We have 144 separate locations.
  • They're keyed on a 12x12 grid.
  • We can randomly generate a location by rolling 2D12.
(aside: this checkerboard pattern is making me think of This is England)

  • Square 1 x 1 (first square) is the least challenging location.
  • Square 12 x 12 (144th square) is the most challenging location/scenario.
Each square has an equal chance of being encountered if players begin by just rolling 2D12s...

Therefore we can use die size to emulate depth.

  • Players start with a pair of six-sided dice: they have the chance to visit 36 different locations.
  • As these locations are explored, they can increase the size of either die, thus increasing the variety and complexity of locations available to them.
  • Locations should form semi-permanent connections, such that players may build a map of the territory different to the above grid.
Currently working to the idea that one die can represent "depth" and the other represent... power? Perhaps the skill die corresponding to a shaman's entheogenic skill?

In any case I have a sense that there is a die that is earned within this realm, that is temporary, and a die that is more permanent and comes from outside this realm..

The Doors... of Perception?

Finally, I have alluded to the notion that these various sites exist as discrete locations yet are inter-connected: the beauty of an extra-planar realm is that these connections do not need to make sense: thus you can arrive back at "A" after leaving "A" to travel through "B" and "C" without moving through a circle...

Each location presents a challenge or puzzle: this can be resolved to varying degrees, revealing a variety of hitherto unseen doors. Each door represents another randomly generated location in accordance to the dice possessed by the players.

The number of additional detectable doors (apart from the door through which the room was entered) is as follows:

  • Locales 1-12:             2d2+1
  • Locales 13-132          2d3-1
  • Locales 133-144        1d4+1
There can never be more than five visible doors in a room. There can never be more than one doorway in one surface of a room (i.e. rooms are cubes and only one door can occupy one face of that cube).

The comet moth: a pretty cool insect.

Two things occur to me right now:
  • Do I really want to write 144 locations?
  • Are 144 locations sufficiently varied?


  1. I don't think I have anything substantive to say, but I find this interesting.

    When I interviewed Semiurge, he was the one who brought your work to my attention, ever since, I've been intrigued by this setting and your thinking (admittedly I have not had the time to read into it as thoroughly as I intend to). When I do fantasy at all, I tend to focus on post-post-apocalypse; I find this whole pre-/proto-civilization setting really interesting, but I struggle with how to work within those limitations in ways that are uniquely interesting.

    Even though this post is nominally about a generation system, all the stuff leading into that part, I think, gives me some kind of sense of the flavor of the genre that I can't quite describe. It's psychedelic, but not in the cliche / traditional sense, but also not a 1-to-1 take on shamanic cultures either. In that regard, it makes me think of what I'm doing with Buddhist ideas in my current setting, so trying to understand your setting feels like a good exercise in what others must have to do to understand mine lol.

    Again, not sure I'm making an actual point, just jotting down some thoughts.

    1. I appreciate you stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

      There's many parallels between post apocalypse and pre-civilisation, and indeed a PARIAH game could be run in a post-apocalyptic environment (imagine 500 years on: the natural world is starting to recover, and humans culture has moved from scavenging the remains of what went before to once again foraging... maybe new settlements and agricultural practices are emerging...just some thoughts).

      For me what is interesting in history or those periods of transition: from Palaeolithic to Neolithic, from agricultural to industrial, from colonial subject to independent nation. At the same time, I'm not really interested in recreating a historically accurate setting: I'm more interested in something fantastical on a world a lot like earth but most definitely NOT earth.

      For this reason I've not really attempted to create a real-world shamanic or animist culture, though of course there exist elements inspired from cultures around the world, especially my wife's home country of Vietnam, which was also my home up until recently. Like many southeast Asian countries Vietnamese folk religion is syncretic, and contains elements of animism alongside taoism and Confucianism within a Buddhist framework.

      However, the ancestor veneration (and accompanying journey through the realms of the dead) is an attempt to embrace a) the ancestor veneration common to many pre-agricultural cultures and b) the funerary rites of agricultural (i.e. Neolithic) cultures which seemed to formalise a lot of this veneration. Clearly all human cultures have beliefs about what happens when one dies, and I thin this is a subject that can be explore through the medium of RPGs.

      However, I was inspired recently by watching the 1990 film Jacob's Ladder, which mixes Judaeo-Christian presumptions about the afterlife with a superficial reading of the Tibetan book of the dead... to go back and read that again! So some of that imagery might be creeping in at some point.

      Hmm I also appear to be jotting down thoughts instead of making a point!

    2. I remember reading this blog post from another blog that I won't name because I'm about to shit talk but I generally have nothing against them, but they were talking about elements, and they basically said they thought the Taoist elements were dumb. I don't remember their specific point, but just coming away from it thinking, ya, but so are the western alchemical elements. Like, they both are based on analogical fallacies that have no bearing on actual science. However, both make reasonable sense given the premises they make, which are wrong scientifically, but still have a reasonable internal logic and consistency to them. You just have to be able to get over your own preconceived notions and take on a different worldview. To some extent it's almost tautological; the Taoist elements were a product of their worldview, so by extension it must make reasonable sense within that worldview.

      In any case, I think that's one of the things that intrigues me about the idea of a pre-history setting, although as you say, it could also apply to a post apocalypse setting too. These civilizations that lack almost any of the context that we have today, these people would have completely different conceptions of the world, and without getting into a whole epistemology thing, one could imagine they experience the world in a totally different way. I think that's also where the psychedelia comes into play.

      The reason I haven't delved too far into developing a pre-history setting of my own, is that I lack restraint and want to throw ancient advanced civilizations and aliens and weird stuff like that into everything I do lol, but I think that would take away from the ideas I'd want to explore in such a setting.

      I would really like to take almost a speculative fiction approach to it. Again mentioning Semiurge, he's been interested in speculative evolution recently, something I've had a casual interest in as well (only partially related but I've started reading into genetic algorithms and want to try doing something with that), but this would almost be more like speculative anthropology. What would be the worldview of a pre-historic civilization on a slightly different world or context?

      To some extent I tried to explore that with my elements generator, but I think the fantasticalness of the elements again overwhelms the more psychedelic / experiential part that I'd want to explore.

      The way this post does things like map patterns in nature to mazes to QR codes, discussing the linguistic concept of generativity, and blurring the line between physical spaces and metaphysical spaces, like how many ancient civilizations imagined the underworld as a literal, accessible place, I think is what attracted me, and what I'd want to explore.