Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Underground Railroad: Earthist Mystics

Earthist mystics, in my Underground Railroad setting, are kind of shamanic. Through various things I've been reading lately I've expanded my idea of how that might go.

My current thoughts are that there are, in these mystics' cosmology, at least three concentric worlds: from inner to outer, the body world, the soul world and the spirit world. Most people can only perceive the body world directly, accessing the other two through it, but the mystics' training gives them the ability to first perceive, then manipulate, and finally enter the soul world, and eventually the spirit world.

The soul world is perceived symbolically and works by relationship and analogy rather than by the rules of the body world. For example, distance in the soul world is not physical distance but relational or emotional distance. Your lover who is a thousand miles away in the body world is right next to you in the soul world. Even relatively inexperienced mystics can perceive these connections between people (though, since the people look nothing like they look in the body, if they don't know both their body and soul appearance they won't be able to connect the two). They can see if you're lying or afraid or angry, as well.

The worlds are closely linked in people, of course - that's more or less a definition of "people" to an Earthist mystic - so healers can see (and advanced healers can manipulate) the health and general state of the body through the soul world. I'm thinking of introducing a famous healer, Soul-Armed <whatever his name ends up being>, who lost part of his left arm in an accident but retained the soul version of it; he can put his missing hand into you and fix your internal organs. (I have in mind a section of famous people to use as both an enrichment of the setting and also, should you wish it, either main characters or supporting characters.)

Perception of the soul world differs between different people, because it's symbolic. However, inexperienced mystics tend to see it rather dimly and in terms of shadows, while experienced mystics see it much more clearly and in terms of light. Who you are looking at also makes a difference: an experienced mystic will seem much sharper and brighter, even to an inexperienced mystic, than an ordinary person.

The small spirits of place, which basically inhabit the spirit world but can descend into the soul world if they want, can meet the mystics there and communicate with them. The relationship with the astronomical gods of the Lunar-Asterists is a matter up for debate. I want to include a mysterious teacher who is synchretizing the two religions and starting to gain a following for what is effectively a new faith. I'm planning to scatter quotes from his philosophy around the book (or maybe it will be someone else's philosophy).

The spirit world is, for humans, uncommunicable and indescribable, since it transcends names and forms; it is a realm of pure being and identity. Mystics believe that by practicing their spiritual disciplines of concentration, renunciation and attention they can come to experience this aspect of reality, though of course they can't say anything about it because words are inapplicable.

When a person's body dies, their soul, no longer anchored in the body world, is drawn towards the spirit world. However, if there is something in the soul world that holds them, they may hang about until it is resolved. If they are very strong or determined, they can cause effects in the body world in pursuit of their resolution. (They're ghosts or unquiet spirits, in other words, and a mystic will generally be called upon to find out what they want so that they can move on.)

Earthist mystics regard elemental magic, which affects primarily the body world, as something of a distraction, and when they study magic it tends to be the soul-oriented kind - communication, domination and the like. However, advanced mystics, who have integrated body, soul and spirit, can often perform soul-body magic like shapeshifting and healing.

Mechanically, I've decided that this kind of thing (magic, psychic powers, superpowers and so forth) all falls under Special Effect: Unusual Powers. I suppose being a lightning calculator, having an eidetic memory or being a contortionist would too. Like any other Special Effect, you buy levels of it, each one more expensive than the last. This is independent of your rating in the related attribute, though. For example, if doing magic was going to be very important to your character's self-definition, but you saw her as a beginning mage, you might buy one level of Special Effect: Unusual Powers but put four or five dice into her Mage attribute. She would be able to reliably light fires or whatever - she'd be very good at it - but she couldn't shoot firebolts.

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