The Three Prophets

At first dawn I see the Prophet call for new followers

Bellow the simple prophecy and a complex truth

That convinced builders and strong warriors,

That guarded the construction of a holy booth

Where more can sit, and soak in the words

And gaze at the mantle and the wonder

 

At second dawn, the Usurper comes, abstract

In the teachings that attracts iconoclasts

Hungry for new excuses of relic blasts

And orators, their false words backed

With glorious purpose that move the herds

To spread their faith with great ardor

 

At third dawn, appeared a sacred Diviner

Spouting what he found in texts olden

That attracted scholars, always beholden

To the sacred words of past reminders

Of the World Before – the prophet’s records

Grows, but will it one day be put asunder?

Playtest Story – The Bloom of the Beasts

It’s the way of the fool  to marginalize any living thing. Even the smallest, most chaotic ones can surprise you with their victory.

The legend said that there was a certain breed of survivors of the Darkness that did not hide from the terror of that time. In fact, they fed from it until their bodies were strong enough to set out and claim what was left of the world. They were small bands living from meager supplies, with stories told of mythic fire-weapons from the world before. To their disappointment they could find no traces of any in their hunts. They decided then that it was time to make their own weapons from what was left with no regard to the quality of the construction. Those that did find strong materials made deadly arms, such as the Red Crescent – a giant, oddly angled disc cut into the shape of the first sign of the moon.

One of the most dangerous threats to the Beasts was a time called the Prophets’ Culling. Many so-called seers of the future proclaimed of some good, but mostly horrible tidings. As a consequence, fear invaded the minds and hearts of the people. The Beasts became the scapegoats for the doom that fell out of the prophets’ mouths.

The iconoclasts from the Hammers of Light, in their mission to break down anything from the blighted past,  smashed icons considered holy to the Beasts. The Water Runners casted out the rugged warriors into the raging seas when they encountered them on the coastline. The Beasts, however, were born from the calamity of an apocalypse – these new attacks were merely a scratch. Their numbers never faltered, and even in the most trying of moments found manners of survival.

In retaliation, the tribes of the Beasts joined together, and their sole prophet made a declaration:

The moon will bring us her strength in the form of a red bloom. We will harvest it, and from it will come the weapons of victory.

At first, many scoffed at the threat, but as the revolutions of the sun progressed and people became more complacent, the Beasts gathered their small army, each holding Red Crescents, and attacked. Shrines were cut down like chaff in wheat fields, icons were turned against their owners, and the Beasts bestowed on their opponents the mercy they had inflicted onto them. The Prophets’ Culling turned into the Bloom of the Beast. The Beasts made semi-permanent camps after that, knowing full well no one would have the nerve to attack them, and  even to this day when one sees the moon turn red, they look off to the horizon hoping that they do not see the crescents coming their way.

The Undertow – A Playtest Story

Every time I take part in a play test, my mind isn’t always on winning. I’ve tried to weave little vignettes to give myself more of an idea of the cultures we’ve made cards for. I’ve toyed around with the notes I write down during games, but after seeing that a Kickstarter-backed PC game (Torment: Tides of Numenera) dropping a free novella for their backers to read, I don’t really have an excuse to put down the stories. Here is my first stab at one from a couple of playtests ago.

culture_the-undertow

I recall one movement, perhaps a few turns of the moon ago, of a clever fisher of followers. That leader came from a dock owned by the Water Runners, men and women who saw the unforgiving ocean as their friendly pond, born fearless of the void past the horizon. That fisher told them that only the true believers, not the mediocre seafarers, had the inner faith to risk and survive the crashing waves.

To the fisher’s surprise, the sermons worked. The wonders and preaching dissolved all fears of the converted. But it was not enough  – total dominance of the waters was the goal, and as such all influence must come to the fisher’s control. A group was created, the Order of the Radiant Net,  but others called them by the denigrating nickname of Water Rats . Initiates in the order were  fervently cast off into the sea to find new followers, but their leader made sure to send a select few in each boat that were the true rats.

They were saboteurs and thieves loyal to their ocean master. Every pier they docked in, while the missionaries began their work in a port town, the others crept into shrines, stealing relics or eavesdropping on the leaders of other cults. They would take the spoils back to their leader, who would then re-purpose them as “divine knowledge” the leader gathered from the ocean.

The coastal empire of the order grew with each stolen follower and relic. Soon those that still saw the order as a threat gave them a new name – The Undertow. It was befitting, as while a member anointed a new follower on the beach, with a mix of sea water and other liquids, the tide hidden underneath would force them to prostate. And in the end, their leader had many kneeling on the sand.

Research Bookmarks 1

I figured it would be a good idea to get behind the little things I’ve been picking off the internet to help me get a better image of the game’s world. Disclaimer: while I might grab some stuff from them, there is no real way of knowing what will or won’t make it, so don’t take them all as primary sources from what I will eventually put into writing.

Under Tomorrow’s Sky

Description: Under Tomorrow’s Sky is a “fictional, future city…assembled by a think tank of scientists, technologists, futurists, illustrators, science fiction authors and special effects artists to collectively develop this imaginary place, the landscapes that surround it and the stories it contains.”

Why I’m Stealing It: The photo above is a pretty cool concept of a supposed future city. Honestly, though, does the place look…advanced? There’s a goat sitting down in the bottom right corner, and the irregular, raw-cut openings have cloths of many colors draped on them. It’s a rocky mess. But a cool one.

Prophetic News

Description: Oh boy. A little backstory – I run into quite a bit of end-times sites when I sift through lists of links for my day job. This one is the latest of the batch. To give you an idea of the crazy in this one, there is a post where, using completely insane “research”, the ethnicity of the future Antichrist is revealed. It even has end notes.

Why I’m Stealing It: It’s a treasure trove of insane ramblings. The important part of the game is that there needs to be a need of an impending doom, of prophecies and leaders doing what they can to make them real. While I don’t think the blog creator is trying to bring  people to a hidden compound out in Middle-of-Nowhere, USA, the amount of effort made into it shows that even the most irrational things have a solid base of sorts.

Random Cool Church Photo

Description: It’s a weird fish-eye lens take on a church.

Why I’m Stealing It: It just looked cool.

Seven Abandoned Wonders of Institutional Architecture

Description: While I’m still on structures, I found this photo set of broken-down areas in the US, Spain, Scotland, and other places.

Why I’m Stealing It: The world of the card game is strewn with crumbling buildings that house makeshift shrines. These structures are going to be good source.

The End of Reason, Pt. 1

The death came in two parts. The first was the physical one that came in the form of my master’s slow decline into the other world. It was sad, in a profound way to him – his family’s whole existence was devoted to protecting an inner light, one in the…what’s that word he used? Ah, yes – “mind”. In his rare moments of pride he would proclaim that it was that invisible object known as the mind that resided in the head of his family and in that of all people. None of us could ever find a visible example of this object – and trust me, there were some who risked opening their heads to do so. It was the inner mind of my master that allowed his control the of the glowing eyes and veins of the snake. I was taught how to control the heart of the snake, so in a sense perhaps I too have a “mind”.

The stories master would tell the rest of the clan were wondrous at first. He told of the World Before, when light filled the dead glass monoliths and the infinite blue canopy above the world housed silver birds the size of houses. A time where all of those with a mind could talk over long distances, much further than the tunnels we lived in. Of how we had the power to fight the fearsome ravages that plague our bodies.

Then he would tell us about how we as a mighty race still did not have the foresight to see the cliff, and how we did not have enough knowledge to understand the depth of our civilization’s fall. The Darkness, he would call it, a disappearance of light, in all forms, mind, body, and spirit.

“Disorder covered all,” the master would say in hushed and defeated tones. “Entropy of the mind, of the body…all of us almost fell into the Darkness.” He then said that we, the Clan of the Metal Snake, were descendants of those who left the chaos. Our ancestors braved that first descent into the shadows of the tunnels in order to survive the Darkness above.

“We ran because we thought,” was the first line of the tale. “We represented not just a threat – a false one, at that – but as an excuse, to inflict the pain so many had felt when the lights went out.”

He would never tell us the true cause of the Darkness, just as his father could not nor could his grandfather  or the rest of his lineage. His answer was always the same: “I am still investigating it.”  Lamentably, his  search could not stop his coughs, growing stronger every day, or his inability to hold  the controls of the snake. His reliance on my strength increased with his age. That is how the second death started.

Card Inspirations – Vows of Silence

I mentioned that I went to a Catholic school in my first post. Well, it appears that my alma mater has provided me with some new inspiration: the school made a no-cursing pledge – for girls only.

This is not surprising to me. There was a previous moment of cognitive and departmental dissonance at that school when the theater group chose Cabaret for the spring musical one year. The church boycotted  the show. You can’t call it taking from Peter to give to Paul anymore – it’s more like slamming one hand with a hammer held by the other. It’s a worthless endeavor that harms both, and an incredibly stupid decision that marred my thoughts on the school. Up until that time the rules were, at least to me, just and lenient. I had my own “sins” to account for – ironically it’s my propensity for swearing that almost always got me in trouble. But the sexism inherent in this new edict is very disappointing, to put it lightly.

Now, as to why I’m putting this in the Cram Games blog and not in my personal one. As I was semi-frothing from the mouth I realized something – why not use it to fuel new card ideas? The first that came to mind was simple – the idea of sacrificing your voice as a way to show reverence to a deity. There are good uses for it of course – extending awareness, purifying oneself from distractions. enhancing meditation, etc. At the moment I’m trying to develop the concept as flavor for an existing Idea card, but I believe the potential for a whole new cards is a stronger one. Imagine the card affecting the followers a player has, when it makes a trade-off from one ability to upgrade/power up another.

It’s an interesting concept that I’m toying around with in my head. For the time being, I’m just going to think up of more ideas related to silence. It’d be a more productive use of my time than sending the school an expletive-laden letter.

The Writer, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Relic

Hi, I’m Jesus, writer of the Cult Leader game. First off, I’d like to apologize for not coming up with a better name for the game yet, but there are still many things up that are amorphous in the world-building. I joined Cindy and Phil much later into the project – they started about a year before I approached Phil. The three of us have been involved in Cram Magazine, which was Cindy’s idea until I came in and helped her build the publication’s mission. I tend to do that – jump into people’s projects and mess around in it like some crazed lunatic.

Anyway.

What attracted me to the game was that , like the cult leaders we want the players to become in a game session, I wanted to create a world in which its inhabitants were converts waiting to happen. Coming from a Catholic school background, I’ve seen my fair share of zealotry and hypocrisy in its leaders and followers. My senior year English teacher had us read the Bible, actually, but not from a religious point-of-view. We read the Book of Genesis, which I had done in the past, but this time I read it with great scrutiny. It interested me so much I chose The Book of Genesis as the topic of my semester paper. I compared the Judeo-Christian creation myth with one of its roots, the Babylonian creation myth known as the  Enûma Eliš. There were similarities (the dragon Tiamat/ the Snake of Eden, the void that existed before creation, etc.) that expanded my thought on the synthesis that occur between religions. Another combination, this time a directly forced one, was how Mormons attempted to co-opt the Mayan snake god Quetzalcoatl and make it a version of Jesus Christ. Crazy, right?

The setting I proposed in my commentary after that first play-test came a came from a list of potential future developments in genre fiction made by fantasy author China Mieville. He mentioned the idea of “garbagepunk”, a subset of the oft-mentioned steampunk genre. The idea is to move the world past the clockwork gears and even the VR machines of another genre, cyberpunk, and see what happens with the materials in the post apocalypse. This of course bring images of a men wearing leather jackets traversing through the Australian desert, but what he meant was a true hard reset. The survivors of whatever catastrophe would have no recollection of the civilization before them, nor have a goddamn clue as to the purpose of the remnants left behind.

That is where the idea of Relics came in. I have been at enough museums in my life and seen how outdated some ideas become (see dinosaur fossils). Imagine that you were in the world of the game. You are generations removed from civilization  and one day you stumble onto a fossilized McDonalds french fry container. What is the meaning of those golden arches? Do you even have an alphabet at that point to realize that it stands for an “M”?

I’ll continue on in future posts, but the next time you go for a fast food run, consider that what you are eating out of could become the next Dead Sea Scroll.