Symbols, Language Games, and Alchemy

To revisit the prior posted ideas in regards to the Alchemy system.  Of a system based upon the interpretation of symbols, and the application of derived meanings in that context.  I’ve been thinking quite heavily upon the notions of “postmodernism”, and the idea of a self-created “world”.  As a hobbyist game designer, putting effort into fictional worlds, and trying to create a believable atmosphere for players is interesting if viewed from this light.

The light is the notion that all symbols, all meanings, and everything in the world we take for granted is a construct.  A tool that has been created via another person’s effort in an attempt to find, and create meaning for themselves.  A language is conditioned, and taught into a child during their youth.  And if they’re lucky they may know more than one tongue.  Regardless of how many languages they learn, and some languages may not be even considered “normal languages” (think Math, Chemistry, Physics, Philosophical…etc notations) where to be fluent in said language opens up a new world of thoughts.

In that context, it is easy to recognize that by adopting tongues that are different from one’s standard fare.  One may realize that Reality isn’t quite as concrete as it is generally understood as.  For instance, consider a carpenter (or any craftworker) building an object.  Generally it is taken as an article of faith that the arithmetic and geometry one knows is sufficient to build the object.  And yet think of the rule of thumb, “Measure twice, cut once”.  This could imply that the world in which we are cognizant of is only a mental model.  A sort of, if my mind’s model was complete, and 100% accurate.  I would only need to measure once, and cut once.  For the communications between the realms of mind, and body would be 1:1.  There wouldn’t be a need to re-correlate information between the two.

Now we get into the point of the mind’s limitations.  Can it ever be fully aware of Reality?  To be omniscient?  I would say no, or at least not at all times.  For the status of omniscience would imply that all events are known, and how could an active agent still be active if the actions they were going to take is already known?  They wouldn’t be, such knowledge of what they’ve done via what they’re going to do would imply that said action has already happened.  As in its history.

Thus we are restricted to mental models that are always incomplete at some level, but the joy comes in when one knows this.  That they can invest energy in learning a new language to get a different perspective upon the world.  To change, and update their mental model.  Leading once again into the Alchemy game design.  If one is presented with an option that whatever they interpret the symbol as.  It leads to an ability to create “magic”.

How does one react?  That some little squiggle on a piece of paper is the symbol for “fire”, and by reflecting upon said symbol I can create “fire”?  How is this any different from the symbols above?  Squiggles that are construed as English, but if read and thought upon generate something “different”.  Ex;  Cookbooks, they follow an “esoteric” formula to make a product.  To those who aren’t kitchen literate it is complete gibberish, but to the those in the “know”, it’s not.

Detailing A World

For the past couple of months I’ve been playing a play by email version of the Alchemy rule set with my brothers, and as a result I’ve been able to slowly accumulate details on the Alchemy world.  Considering one of my brothers is playing as a Winnower (more details soon), I’ve been busy coming up with descriptions for the religion of Keulit.

To describe in more detail the faith of Keulit, I’ll start by stating the two major factions that make up the church.  The predominate faction is commonly called Keulit’s Shroud by church members.  This faction believes in the old dogmas, and is actively opposing the new rival faction (Keulit’s Vision).  The doctrines (domains/dogma) of Keulit is Humility, Faithfulness, Order, Loyalty, Duty, Honor, and Tradition.  To put it simply, Keulit’s Shroud is the conservative branch that is opposed to all the change that is happening in the world (printing press type “events” essentially), and is seeking to retain their hold over knowledge/magic.  This is the branch that the generally utilizes the Winnowers.  A Winnower is the equivalent of an Inquisitor from the Spanish Inquisition.

Their opposing faction, Keulit’s Vision, is more liberal and is trying to foster, and cultivate these new inventions/innovations.  This branch is more dynamic, and believes that the Church should change to serve the people…etc.  In order to enact their opinions they have been secretly establishing/dispersing knowledge in the form of universal schooling (free access to texts/magic, and the like).

The entire faith of Keulit is based off of the Catholic Church (with its schisms), and one of the Egyptian mythic deities (namely Anubis).  These reference sources are leading to interesting turns.  For example; Mummies, which are considered a sacred icon to the followers of Keulit are postulated as being clerics (or lay spiritualists) who have lived past their body’s death through shear willpower.  The mummies tend to congregate within one specific city (Modrey) in the world which is considered a Mecca for the faith.  Unlike a normal portrayal of a mummy, these mummies are benevolent, and in order to resurrect a character/person in the lore.  One must regale a mummy with the story of the deceased, and if the mummy sheds tears during the telling.  The one telling the story may collect said tears (Mummy’s tears are a reagent for a resurrection spell).

As a result of this position of “benevolent undead”, there is going to be a restriction of undead monsters.  Namely there aren’t going to be any, or if there is they are going to be very few (namely the mummies, and maybe evil spirits).  In other words no skeleton/zombie armies…etc.


Brewing a System

Well, after an initial playtest over spring break.  I’ve realized that the spell/potion system may be a little too vague, but overall the impression from the playtesters was a positive one.  One instance of feedback I’ve received was to develop a set of guidelines for spell/potion use, so the GM doesn’t have to resort to “Hand of God” tactics in order to manage their player’s creations.  This may take some effort considering there is 64 different symbols, and symbols may be chained up to a length of five to create spells/potion effects (In total 64 * 64 * 64 * 64 * 64 = 1,073,741,824 base combinations, and not counting the different effects one may come with for the same symbol….).

As a result I’m thinking I may go with some form of creative commons license as I get further along with the progression of the system.  That way players may create their own homebrew spells/potions, and share them equally.

Some of the symbol use guidelines;

Damage – lethality is equal to the intelligence of the casting/creating character + their esoteric lore/alchemy skill. Wound inflicted is a light wound for skill up to apprentice level, major wound for journeyman, and grievous wound for master.

Healing – heals one check box per esoteric lore/alchemy skill.

Active Duration Effects – lasts 5 minutes per skill level.

Passive Duration Effects – lasts 1 hour per skill level.

And a sample spell;

Necrotic Orb (Symbols used; Dark, Body) – Temporary weakens the target character upon being hit/touched by the orb (marksmanship or pugilism skill check required). Reduces Fortitude by points equal to the caster’s Esoteric Lore skill, and the duration is equal in minutes to the Esoteric Lore skill. Hits from multiple orbs may kill a target if their fortitude hits 0 or lower. Stat Check of Fortitude is allowed to prevent effect. Lethality is equal to Intellect + Esoteric Lore of the caster. (Reagents Required – A glass orb at least 1 inch (2 cm) in diameter, Human Ashes, and Decayed Flesh). Number of orbs that can made from one casting is equal to Esoteric Lore skill +1. Morality Effect; -1 for every orb created.