Saturday, 31 July 2010

Ordo Manus Nigrum

The Order of the Black Hand was founded by Arch Primarch Idamar II of the Temple of Man Supreme in the second century of Enlightenment to combat heresy, divine worship and witchcraft. In the centuries that has passed since then, all rivalling creeds and beliefs have been persecuted with ruthless and methodical efficiency by the Sensors of the order. Witches and warlocks have been driven out or killed, and thousands of dissidents have been convicted and their souls purified.

The turning point of the Manus Nigrum came in the early sixth century, when the infamous Cardinal Ambrosius was appointed High Sensor of the order. Under his administration the web of secrecy that now cover the Black Hand was woven. He also instated the Seven Doctrines that even to this day strikes fear in any who comes face to face with a Sensor.

Of the Seven Doctrines, only three are known by name: that of the Black Mark, that of the Purification of the Soul, and that of the Forfeiture of the Soul. When someone is marked with the Black Mark, anyone who has liaisons with him is considered Tainted. Further, it is the sacred duty of all Humanists to slay him if they can.

The Purification of the Soul is a complex ritual of torture employed to remove the Taint from a soul so that it doesn't corrupt Creation when it passes on. Those so purified dies a good death, or so the Perfecti claim.

The last of the known Doctrines, that of the Forfeiture of the Soul is the most feared instrument of the Hand; if a soul is too corrupted to purify, it will be stripped from its bearer and burned. Those unfortunates who are thus treated are then freed and left to wander, so that others are reminded to stay pure, until their lonesome, soulless body finally dies. Laying hand on the Forfeited is prohibited by law.

In the years following the instatement of the Seven Doctrines, the order grew too powerful for the Arch Primarch to control, and now its Sensors operate with impunity in the Humanist realms. In the past, Cardinals and Kings, as well as two Arch Primarchs have been apprehended and killed by the Black Hand. It is no wonder then, that the mere mentioning of the order will cause even the most pious and steadfast to cast a nervous glance over their shoulder.

Little is known .about the organisation of the Manus Nigrum, as all its members title themselves Sensor when addressing outsiders. Rumours have it that there are seven tiers of the order, and there are, according to whom you are speaking with, seven, five, or three Cardinals at the highest tier. Some even whisper that the ghost of Cardinal Ambrosius still controls the Black Hand of Man. The latter is, of course, an outlandish notion, mostly fit to scare idiots and little children.

Over the last generation, following the Sundering, all Erian realms have seen an upsurge in heresies, witches's covens, blasphemous worship, and a spreading of subversive rumours and ideas. In Southern Eria, the Manus Nigrum has reacted with remorseless and vigilant determination, culling insurgencies and rooting out occultists and idolators with vigour and conviction. Never before in the history of man has the book pyres and the Pogroms been more widespread, setting aside earthly laws and privileges alike.

[Picture source 1: Executed Today; 2: How Stuff Works]

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Word: Log

(As in Ship's Log)

Special bonus-word: Knot

Definition: In the early Age of Sail (very setting-relevant), navigation was still in its infancy. The most high-tech instrument on a ship was the compass, but that only gave the navigator the bearing. To find the longitude, the sailors would use a knotted rope attached to log -- at set intervals, the log would be lowered into the water, and the mariner would count the knots as the log drifted away from the ship (we still measure nautical speed in knots). This would be recorded meticulously in a journal (the ship's log). Using these data the navigator would find the longitude of his intended destination, then set a course by the compass.

Source: The Savage World of Solomon Kane, Pinnacle Entertainment Group; and Classic Encyclopedia 

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Another one bites the dust

Hardly breaking news anymore, but for those of you who haven't heard yet, White Wolf is apparently discontinuing Mage: the Awakening. The following quote is from the afterword of the Chronicler’s Guide for Mage: the Awakening, curtesy of Life and Times of a Phillipine Gamer:

And so, once more, we come to the end. A sort of well-deserved sleep after being Awake for a time, perchance to dream anew. As a certain fictional archmaster of Time said, “Nothing ever ends.” This Mage is ending, but your Mage can go on. That’s the wonder of roleplaying games – unfettered imagination to a degree unknown in traditional forms of storytelling.

Just so, I for one will keep the candle burning, and the Book of Worlds will keep its own particular brand of Awakening alive as long as there are stories to tell. Who knows, the next line from White Wolf may be just as big of an improvement as nWoD was when it first came out.

I'm also quite happy that I've bought a few hard-copies lately, because:

The books will still be here, even if in the years to come they’ll be primarily accessible to new players as PDF downloads — digital traces rather than ink on paper. In a sense, Mage is becoming more Supernal.

Now I have another excuse for spending my hard-earned on RPG-books...

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Historical References: Wings of Death

Did I mention I love history?

I do. I love history because it is full of people, events and phenomenons that surpasses everything fiction has to offer. Therefore I draw a lot, if not most, of my inspiration from the annals of our own past. As an example of this, I will devote this post to what may very well have been the most awesome attempt at attaining the Shock-and-Awe effect so many commanders have strived to accomplish.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...

The Winged Hussars of Poland

Imagine hundreds of steel-clad horsemen thundering towards you. Man and beast bound together in rage and hatered, all bent on destruction. You feel the very earth you stand on shake, and the din of hooves and steel makes it impossible for you to hear anything but your own cries. What could possibly be more terrifying?

What if they looked like the proverbial angels of death?

In the 16th and 17th century Europe, people were, as a rule, superstitious. Plagues, defeats in war, the still birth of a child, even physical disfugurations, were all blamed on the Will of God. And this is what the Poles took advantage of when they attached wings to the backs of their cavalry. The 'Golden Age' of the husaria began with the Battle of Lubiszew in 1577, and lasted til the Battle of Vienna in 1683. During these hundred years, the Winged Hussars fought countless actions against just about every army in Europe, and rarely lost a battle.

And they still look awesome.

In the world of Argos, the Ruhanian Hussars, devout Humanists and fiercely loyal to the Arch Primarch of the Temple of Man Supreme, use such wings, and inspire the same terror in the hearts of their enemies. The Angels of Death is one such unit. In 1020 YE it became famous for supressing the First Lazarian Uprising, crushing the peasant army, and massacring thousands in the aftermath.

[Picture source 1 dziarski @ VisualizeUs; 2 The Husaria]

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The Day of the Gremlins

Today was just such a day. I have been plagued by nasty, evil-spirited, vindictive, petty, little gremlins. First it was the recurring issues I've been having with Blogger. For some reason, whenever -- no, wait -- sometimes when I edit a published post, things go to shit. Tits up, if you will. The core of the problem seems to be something to do with the HTML coding.

What happens is that page-breaks are inserted liberally between paragraphs, and nothing except sifting through the entire god damn code of the post and weeding out the crap manually seems to work. This morning this happened again with the Metaphysical Topography post. After having tried fixing it, I decided to just repost the entire thing and delete the one that was all wonky. And that's how things got interesting.

All of a sudden only one post, the reposted version of the last one, were visible on the homepage. And when I started poking around, shit got even weirder. So I wrote a short post explaining why everything looked strange around here, and prepared to just leave it til this evening.

And then the rest of the Mogwais showed up. I decided to make a phone-call and noticed that my iPhone was acting strange. As in, the contents of my contact-list has gone, and the phone-software shuts down before even showing me the keypad. Long story short, I upgraded to the iOS 4.0 about a week ago, and things have been a little off since then. It now appears that barring black magic and virgin sacrifice, the contacts have been lost for eternity.

If you own an iPhone, and still haven't upgraded your iOS: DO NOT DO IT!!! 

In between cursing at my phone, I find a way of sorting the wonky post (copy/paste into Notepad, delete all the excess line-breaks, copy/paste back into Blogger). However, while this makes the normal ten posts show on my homepage, for some reason, the post I wrote while everything was malfunctioning ended up as a snack for the critters.

Now things seem to be working, but I'm getting close to migrating to WordPress.

I'm still missing all my contacts, though, and my provider basically told me to walk it off. Fucked by Google and Apple on the same day... It makes me feel a little special, I have to tell you.

I must admit I was feeling a little bit like this guy.

Metaphysical Topography

The fabric of the multiverse is made up of five different planes, the Prime Material, the three ethereal planes, the Astral, the Shadow and the Underworld, and the Abyss.  Each of these abide by its own laws, and denizens of one may not act without impunity in another, even if they may at places overlap. The barrier between the Prime Material and the Umbral planes is called the Gauntlet.

The entities that dwell in the ethereal planes are often referred to collectively as spirits, although anyone who have studied the matter will agree that this is a far too generic term. Still, most of the ethereal beings share a common trait -- they lack a permanent physical manifestation, something that hampers their abilities to interact with the Prime Material.

Ancient myth tells us that before the Fall all the planes existed in harmony; spirits, humans, ghosts of the dead, gods, avatars and elves, all existing side by side. If the oldest sources are to be believed, each knew their place in the metaphysical framework of Creation. While this didn't mean that all were equal, interactions between the realms were guided by the Compact.

The details of this Compact has been lost in the mists of time, and some claim that the existence of such a thing is nothing by retrospective romanticism. Still, the Batini believe that the Bans, Boons and Contracts that govern many ethereal denizens' interaction with the Prime Material Plane stems from this ancient Compact.

The topography of the ethereal planes are not easily quantifiable in terms understandable by man. Concepts like space, time and matter all adhere to different rules than in the Prime Material. There are also different realms within the planes, some being in a state of constant flux, others utterly unchangeable.

Most knowledge of the realms beyond the Gauntlet has been lost, or destroyed in the Great Purge following the Covenant, and much has never been known by anyone born by woman. There are also things so unfathomable that the knowledge of which will break the mind of those who learn it.

The Prime Material Plane
The physical world, or worlds, if you believe the words of certain Outsiders, are found on this plane of existence. The Prime Material plane is the home of all things living, and all things physical. It is the plane on which the world of Argos nestles, and the natural home of man, beasts, mountains and forests. The Wise argue that the Prime Material binds the three ethereal realms to existence, and that should the one cease to exist, the three would unravel. They say that this is where the Circle of Creation continuously unfolds, death following birth, and destruction following creation, over and over again; without this, the rest would be nothing.

The soul of man is bound to the Prime Material Plane at birth, and passes beyond at death. This, the Temple of Man Supreme argues, proves the blessed nature of man, for no other entity is part of all Creation in such a manner, and man is alone amongst all created in having both an eternal soul and a corruptible flesh.

The Ethereal Planes
The Shadowrealms
When someone passes through the Gauntlet from the Prime Material, they enter the Shadow. Everything native to the Shadowrealm is composed of ephemeral spirit, and here all spirits are alive. Of all the ethereal planes, this is the one that is closest to the to physical reality.

Closest to the Gauntlet the metaphysical landscape will resemble that on the other side, but places with a strong resonance will appear more physical, while those without might be missing all together.

As one travels deeper into the Shadowrealm, the surroundings will become more primordial, and man-made structures will become few and far between.

It is said that there are caves or dark passages in the Shadowrealms that leads down to the Underworld, or even to the Abyss.

The Underworld
Death comes to all who live, so goes the saying. This plane is anathema to life, and the living is not welcome here. The landscape may be made up of cavernous grottos, labyrinthine tunnels, or vast empty plains. What is constant is the feeling of absence. Absence of self, of hope, of colour. Absence.

Deep within the Underworld runs the River Styx, and many dead are put to their final rest with two coins to pay the Ferryman for passage to the Shores of Dìs. Now that the god of death has been slain, most of the dead never reach the Farthest Shore, instead becoming Lost, or worse, they are drawn into the cold river and swept out to the Deep.

Beneath the Underworld lies the Abyss, and now many of the foul beings from that blasphemous plane creep into the Land of the Dead.

The Astral Plane
This is the demesne of abstract concepts, of gods, and of beings so different from us that we cannot begin to understand them. Legends tell of great magicians who set out to explore these realms, only to become lost to the world for all time.

Amongst other things, this is where the gods make their home. Examples of divine realms are Ethelingagard and the Dreaming. Other such realms have drifted too deep in the Umbra to be reached, or abandoned to entropy and roaming spirits when the man killed his gods in the Second Age.

There are two major theories regarding the nature of the Astral Realms. The Humanists claim that it exists within the soul of man, that it is in fact the consciousness of the Enlightened mind. This theory states that by going deep enough, one may get to the very core of one's being, and thus to the core of Creation itself. The Hermetics hold this to be untrue, and instead see the Astral Realm as the sum of the consciousness of all of Creation.

The Abyss
With the Fall of the Exarch, the Tapestry was torn, and the balance was forever upset. The Speakers of Mÿn believe that before the Fall, there was no Abyss. They claim that the Things That Must Not Be comes from outside of Creation, and that such was the havoc wrought by their coming that everything was forever thrown into madness and chaos.

From the Abyss, dark things crawl forth, and foul things seep into the fabric of everything that comes into contact with it. Deep in its darkest depths the Lord of the Locust, Great Cthulhu, lies stirring, dreaming vile things into Creation.

Of all the Umbral Planes, the Abyss is the easiest to access from the Prime Material.

The Abyss and Paradox
There are ancient scrolls that speak of the Dawn of Man, when Hermes stole the fire of the gods. In these early days all things were in Harmony, and Paradox did not exist. Then came the Fall, and the Fabric of Creation was forever corrupted. Regardless of the truth in this, the insanity that often claim those magicians who disregard the dangers of vulgar magic lends weight to the argument.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Word: Mythocracy

Definition 1: "[...] an exceptionally internally unified type of consciousness [giving] the mind no chance to grasp onto reality; instead, it replaces reality with names and a self-fulfilling repetition of shamanistic incantations. [...] The existence of such a mythological consciousness presupposes the functioning of an alter ego in the form of an administrative system solely capable of expropriating and disposing of all that it does not itself produce."

My definition: A society ruled by an organization of supernatural creatures, e.g. the Wolf Lords of Draccia or the Order State of the Ordo Hermetica. In such a society, political power is derived from metaphysical capability, rather than merit or family ties.

Source for Definition 1: Ellen E. Berry & Anesa Miller-Pogacar, Re-entering the sign: articulating new Russian culture, Google Books