Monday, May 20, 2013

O is for Outsiders

I was looking at my list of A TO Z topics and realized that the topic I had in mind for S is one that I've already written about.  Rather than change the topic and create more work for myself, I relabled the post I already had.  Of course, this meant that I now have S done, almost immediately on the heels of N, and clearly out of order.  While this isn't exactly a problem per se, it is motivating me to get caught up to S more quickly because I don't love that situation.  So, hot on the heels of writting N and changing an existing post to be S, I figured I better throw out O, which is for Outsiders.

One of the things that I like about D&D is the presence of a wide assortment of interesting Outsiders.  Many of them are esoteric, but for the most part, they draw on the rich cultural heritage of Europe and the middle-east--demons, angels, genies and more.  And D&D itself has done some really interesting things with a lot of them; even when they're taking names from mythology or esoteric eschatology.  How can you not love the D&D lore around iconic demon lords like Orcus or Demogorgon, neither of whom is a D&D creation, but both of whom are known almost exclusively from their D&D lore rather than from the paucity of actual information from mythology or literature.

In D&D itself, the nature of Outsiders is strongly informed by their concept of alignment.  This is even further detailed in the 3.5 version of the rules, which split out Celestials into three types--each corresponding to one of the varieties of "good" that D&D allows.  But what happened in 3.5 was a minor shift towards furthering what was already part of the way things worked in D&D.  It was just more obvious with the "evil" outsiders previously--indeed, from the early monster manuals.

So, although I quite like the idea of Outsiders, and want to have them in the DARK•HERITAGE setting, some thought needs to be given to how they work in a setting that doesn't have alignment, and doesn't really have a regular pantheon, including friendly or helpful gods at all.  In fact, I've said before (somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but somewhat not) that in DARK•HERITAGE the only real difference between angels and demons is that angels are better looking and have better PR.  My vision of Outsiders heavily favors some D&D paradigms, but also equally favors a Lovecraftian intepretation of outsiders, particularly demons and other nasties--who, in true Lovecraftian fashion might actually be Insiders, at least in the sense that while they aren't "native", they could be stuck here, sleeping in sunken cities on the sea-floor a la Cthulhu or Dagon, or something.  Add to that borrowings from implications in The Black Company of gods all being insanely powerful and paranoid (and just insane) sorcerers who managed to claw their way up the divinity ladder, and from The Deepgate Codex of Heaven being shut and all gods, angels and anything else being at best Fallen angels or whatever, and you've got a general idea of where Outsiders fit into DARK•HERITAGE, and it's--well, unsurprisingly, it's a dark kinda paradigm. calls that paradigm a "crapsack world" and it applies a fair bit, given that I consider DARK•HERITAGE a Lovecraftian fantasy, and use the subgenre tag coined by Shane Magnus--SWORD & SANITY--to describe it.

How is that consistent and how does that all make sense, you may ask?  How can Outsiders be a combination of D&D (which is largely esoteric Judeo-Christian Apocrypha in its roots), Lovecraftian, the Ten Who Were Taken, and Fallen angels all at once?  Well, you're right.  It doesn't necessarily make sense.  The setting doesn't, because like the real world, it's too complex to be understood by any given mind.  It's too complex to be understood by humanity in general--the famous quote by Lovecraft from "The Call of Cthulhu" about man not being able to comprehend reality as it really is and maintain his sanity applies to DARK•HERITAGE quite well.  As with Yog-Sothothery, a lot of these elements are also better viewed as plot devices rather than a systemic description of cosmology anyway.

But this may help.  A metaphysical conceit of the setting, which I've never really described on this blog before, but which underwrites a lot of it, is that it's really more science fiction in a way than fantasy (believe it or not.)  The presence of magic and monsters and whatnot is attributable to elements of brane cosmology, which is an esoteric theory (really not even developed far enough to be considered more than a hypothesis or mathematical model) from particle physics.  How does it apply to DARK•HERITAGE?  Simply that the setting is on a brane (as is the observable universe we live in) and sorcery comes from outside the brane--either from another brane, or the environment of the bulk itself (read the wiki article for more details.  Brane is short for "membrane" which is a simplified representation of the entire universe being a sheet, or membrane, suspended in a "bulk", stacked possibly next to other branes.  Occasionally the branes brush against each other, causing things like the Big Bang and whatnot to happen.  They also can be "leaks" for power--explaining why gravity is so much weaker than the Strong force or the Weak force in particle physics, for instance.  Or, according to some models, dark energy has as its source motions and actions taken outside the brane.  The tentative "discovery" of the Higgs-boson particle may make all this more unlikely, in which case I'm either at odds with current science, or I revert to this being more exactly fantasy and don't care.)

If "magic" is really the manipulation of dark energy, which comes from Outside the known universe; either from another universe "adjacent" to this one, or from the spaces between the universes (a very Lovecraftian notion if ever there was one) then Outsiders can be inhabitants of other universes.  Or they can be inhabitants of our universe corrupted by forces from outside the universe.  Or, then can be strange and inexplicable beings or sentiences that float in the spaces between universes.  Or, they could be all of them, depending on the specific Outsider in question.

And that approach, without bothering to necessarily claim for each individual what it is, gives me room to wiggle and slip anything I want or need into the setting, while maintaining its essential SWORD & SANITY nature quite well, thankyouverymuch.

No comments: