The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, January 01, 2017

The messiahs who fail

Monte Cook, you may be aware if you ever picked up Hellbound, has a dark side. So do certain of his disciples over at Paizo Press. In that spirit, let's talk Diamond Throne and Pathfinder, respectively.

These worlds Terrakal and Golarion are not so young as Narnia or Middle-Earth (or as Praemal or Dawnforge or...) - as far as we know. But their humans are - like on Earth - new to civilisation. For more-ancient civilisations we should look to alien kingdoms of lizards or birds; some of such civilisations' ruins might even survive in this or that jungle (as Dawnforge). Terrakal and Golarion share a lack of a central sacrificial myth, but that much they share with pretty much every vanilla fantasy setting - or, for that matter, with an Islamic setting (al-Qadim) or a Mormon setting (Ansalon in Krynn).

I picked out Terrakal and Golarion because they could have had the sacrificial myth. They are Christian settings whose messiah(s) failed. (In Praemal, like Terrakal a Cook imprint, the Ptolus setting offered Lothian, a messiah who sort-of succeeded, like here on Earth.)

Terrakal actually has two failed messiahs, or if you like messiah-sets. First was the Rune Messiah, a litorian (lion-woman) associated with the human city Jerad. She seems to have been killed by assassins sent east by the dramojh. A century later came the Hanavere Trinity (note the shout-out...), this time human. They became demigods, perhaps in reaction to what they'd learnt of the Rune Messiah's fate. Either way the Hanaveres chose to take the initiative this time. That seemed a mistake; the Trinity lost, too. Eventually it took an invasion of Stephen Donaldson's giants to clear the monsters off the face of the planet. Today there survive cults around both messiahs. But they do not hold the attention of the world at large, which is in any case no longer the humans' world any more than it is the litorians'.

Golarion has a wider base of material, but a simpler (sad) story of failed redemption. Here the demigod was one Aroden, survivor of Azlant (heh). Aroden did everything right, one would think; like Mani he even took the time to write his own scripture, The History and Future of Humanity. His followers (he has no clerics) say that much wisdom is found there, but one bit of wisdom is not: how Aroden's grace would be cut off from his church and how his passing would open up the Worldwound.

I am unsure that Diamond Throne, with its moral ambiguities, ever worked as a setting. The best campaign developed for it was incomplete at best. And even that campaign can only be one of protecting the status quo - a state in which human destiny is already fulfilled, to serve Stephen Donaldson's giants. Terrakal is a land of the End Of History, at least for humans (and litorians). Perhaps this is why some followers of the Rune Messiah are now looking to racist solutions. Anyway I haven't read much about the setting in the past ten years.

Golarion by contrast does work philosophically - it's the world of the Necronomicon. Aroden was setting himself up to be this world's Lothian or Christ, to defeat chaos. But, unlike those two messiahs, Aroden was conscious of what he was trying to do. The God of the Christians might be able to do that, but not a small-g god who is, at base, just a powerful human. René Girard would further point out that Aroden was not an innocent.

The good news (as it were) about Golarion: adventurers can pick up where Aroden left off. The bad news: they won't be innocents either. They'll have to find one. I'm not sure how to work this into a campaign. I'm not sure I want to.

posted by Zimri on 18:33 | link | 0 comments

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