Friday, 8 February 2008

An... idea?

Further discussion with a column of extremely well-formed and precisely applied Evil produced the following ideas for the game's theme and introduction. I've bent and warped them further from the initial premise we batted around, and I've no doubt they'll be further distorted under my clumsy hands in the future.

Basic premise

The player is an emissary, a servitor to a deity. The gods of the world do not intervene in the lives of mortals directly, either by choice, tacit agreement or mandate from an even higher agency. Servitors are their main method of influencing the world, and they vary greatly. Each such servitor is also an independent entity, and although generally loyal to their patron they are capable of traitorous acts, switching sides or 'going native' on the material plane.

Emissaries are incorporeal, and will further their plans in a couple of ways. The weakest or most subtle will manipulate mortal creatures, goading them with imperceptible suggestions, hunches, urges and inklings. The stronger of this group are capable of planting fabricated thoughts or the seeds of plans into the minds of sentient targets, often disguised as dreams, inspirations or flashes of insight. Given time, they can warp the memories and perception of mortals completely. The consequences for the mental health of these pawns, especially should they attract servitors of multiple gods with conflicting motives, is frequently dire. For this reason alone, potentates in most cultures spend significant scientific or magical resources trying to ward themselves against the predations of the unseen host.

The second way servitors commonly act is through possession. By binding and then consuming the soul of a host sentient, the servitor obtains a material body and a vast array of accumulated knowledge drawn from the memory of the erstwhile occupier. Unfortunately they tend to acquire a few quirks as well, as they assimilate a lifetime of memories and alien modes of thought. This is the situation the player character is in, and there's a hitch; in actual fact, the host soul isn't completely consumed. It's badly damaged, but left as a kind of anchor for the servitor. If the host body is killed outright, beyond the servitor's (often prodigious) ability to repair it, then both the servitor and withered stump of the original soul are ejected. The servitor returns to the domain of the gods and quite likely punishment for failure, and the host generally remains as an undead aberration.

The story begins

The PC finds itself dispatched from the domain of their patron god (selected carefully; each patron provides a variety of unique abilities, flaws and merits, and each will allow the selection from only a subset of the servitor types, which represent classes within the game world) and into a time of crisis; a war, cataclysmic event, plague or other emergency. The player has the opportunity to sample controlling members of various races, each of which will have a different background. These will equate to different sets of physical stats and skill packages. After making a final choice, the servitor possesses the unfortunate host and the game proper begins, probably making the catastrophe far worse as the barrier between the realms is pierced.

Gods, spirits and the breeds of mortals

There will be a pantheon of somewhere between three and a dozen gods available to select as patron, plus more which are too minor or alien to select at the start. Your patron god grants some starting powers or bonuses, and a few flaws as well. The gods will vie for power with each other, and some mortal races have aligned themselves with specific gods such that these eternal struggles spill over into the material plane. The choice of god may have far reaching implications for quest availability, the moral or ethical choices you may have to make, duties your patron will expect you to perform and your relationship with in-game factions and races. All gods are a different class of being to mortals and although their general attitude towards the little people varies, none could be said to be truly benevolent or caring, especially when concerned with the fate of individuals rather than entire cultures. Others are bent to the destruction of some or all sentient material beings. Still others are coldly uncaring.

Each god makes use of different 'races' of servitor (although there is quite a lot of overlap, particularly between gods of similar outlook). Your servitor race is essentially a class; it allows access to a few additional perks, but mostly defines the base cost of learning skills and provides a few starting ranks in core skills. It also determines your mental attributes. All servitors are intrinsically beings of magic and tap into the same sources of power as the gods themselves, although to a lesser degree.

Mortals come in a variety of species, nations and tribes, and run the gamut of experience in all fields. Your mortal host determines physical attributes and provides some skills, although generally only a fragment of those they could have brought to bear before an alien entity absorbed their mind and drank their soul. The longer a servitor wears a host body, and the more they accomplish with it, the more used they become to its nuances and the better they are able to exert their otherworldly energies to its betterment - essentially as the PC levels up they will become faster, stronger, harder to kill and altogether more unsettling.


Mortals can use magic. Sorcerors, witches and wizards can arise with minimal contact from servitors, or even none at all. Unfortunately magic exposes truths beyond the ken of sane minds, and channeling such power is a madness that feeds on itself. Puissant spellweavers are batshit insane, very powerful, incredibly unreliable and very often short-lived. The power that such individuals can bring a group makes them more frequent than might be thought, however, especially among the more warlike cultures.

Magic can be used to heal as well as to harm, of course, but its use does not change its nature and those that choose to help the damaged and needy through magic eventually succumb to it. Healers do still offer their sanity as a sacrifice to their communities, and by dint of only using magic in the most pressing circumstances (when herbal lore, common sense and careful nursing have failed, and death is likely) and the most careful way they might continue with minds mostly intact for decades.

It's also worth noting that the madness that mages court is not explicitly self-destructive. The world is not kind to those that cannot differentiate between a carrot and a dagger, however, especially not when the same individuals occasionally set fire to villages when fighting giant purple betentacled rabbits.


There are a few opportunities for enemies, in additional to the standard clutch. Factions aligned with gods that are opposed to your patron will be hostile, especially if there is an emissary among their ranks. Weaker emissaries may act on nonsentient creatures, generally driving them mad with pain and concepts beyond their ability to comprehend. Some servitors have inhabited members of a species long enough that their constant warping of flesh and mind has become a new set of traits that breed true: from such events are monsters born.


So, that's the idea so far. Partly it evolved out of the properties of prototype code, partly out of a desire to do something a little bit different from the usual "young adventurer in search of fame, glory, money and not a little physical gratification", and partly just randomness.

Themes of free will, sanity and moral ambiguity must be key to the narrative, methinks, but given my general ham-handedness at such things this is a distant goal right now. First things first, a metric fuckload of code must be written and rough content devised, but at least it has a direction now.

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