Ancients, Daggers and Demons

Synchronicity. I started the year formulating some very specific ideas about Sword and Sorcery whilst reading John Higgs’ book on the KLF. 3/4 of the way through, having read the first part entitled “rabbit ears” including the discordian overtones and the spectral image of a rabbit figure called Echo leering out at Bill Drummond from the cover of Echo and the Bunnymen’s first album Crocodiles, I realized that this year, the 23rd year of this century, is also the Year of the Rabbit.

Higgs notes that we use models to identify synchronicities and exclude the things that don’t fit the models. That outlines the position of the magical thinker, and the counterpoint of the skeptic. I think it ignores the third possibility, that engagement with the magical process awakens unexpected pathways; Higgs kind of confused actual magical thinking with conspiracist dogma and obsession. So here’s my counterpoint. I didn’t set out to read The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds as a Sword and Sorcery text, but it awakened a very important idea about S&S, which is the hidden third actor in the triumvirate, that of the Ancients, the Society, the Cusp. Let me explain:

The Daggers

This is the “Sword” of Sword and Sorcery. I have a longer discussion planned on why this is specifically a dagger (or other short blade) as opposed to a sword, but the TL;DR version is this: we fetishise the sword. This goes for role-players, western martial artists, and fantasy fiction readers.

(Swords aren’t even that good. Read George Silver’s Paradoxes of Defense)

So I’m using Dagger as more than a cute synonym for Sword. S&S attracts notions of a particular kind of violence and the more I think about it, the less the ideaspace concepts of sword fit with Sword and Sorcery. I’ll discuss this further as The Short Blade Aesthetic. BUT for now, just equate Dagger with violence and physical contests.

The Demons

Obviously synonymous with the Sorcery component. This is the part I think I’ve expressed the most completely in StormHack, which is (TL;DR)

  • protagonists evoke Demons which are expressions of their exceptionalism and are, as far as human society goes, “magic”, “witchcraft”, etc.
  • Demons grow with use, and their growth unlocks powers but also impinges on the PC’s connection with society; consider this “corruption”
  • It’s totally the PC’s choice how much they draw on their demons, and therefore how corrupt they become.

The Ancients

Ancients are the protagonists, but also the society in the setting. They are the people from a time before history:

  • separate from any notions of or connections with our world
  • part of a wholly separate cycle in the life of our continent or planet
  • without baggage that would encumber the player or reader to imagine this age as either responsible for ours, or arising from an earlier civilisation and therefore needing specialised knowledge about that civilisation

On this final point: there certainly has been a previous civilisation, but that civilisation is gone and only exists within plundered tombs, on hoarded scrolls, and (unreliably) as the dogma of cults. There is no influence of this failed civilisation, apart from the void it left behind. There certainly aren’t any preternatural backstories for characters.

There is nothing of this world which could be identified in our own later history. Players are playing in the Now, and now is explicitly a Cusp where several alternative worlds might emerge.

Personal bias: it’s this way because I don’t want players to be distracted by any world other than the Now. It’s not a world to be put into a chronology other than the recent events that lead to this point. It is not part of a manufactured history or fandom to be curated.

(more to come)

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