Friday, May 27, 2011

Factions: Faberists

Approaching the Curia, the seat of the High Council, you see that the street is filled with protesters. They loudly declaim the government, demanding representation for the lower classes -- and a few shout things like "Smash the state!" and "Tear it all down!" You wonder however you will make it through this group of Faberists and into your place of employment... The Faberists are the City's revolutionaries. They believe that the City government is stagnant and corrupt, and should be removed from power. If only they could agree on what to replace it with...

Archetype: There aren't a lot of revolutionaries in fantasy fiction -- or in fiction in general, that I can think of. When they do exist, they are freedom fighters working against a tyrannical empire: The Rebel Alliance of Star Wars, the New Caprican rebels from Battlestar Galactica, the Tok'ra and Jaffa rebels from Stargate SG-1.  The Faberists are not these -- while the City has its problems, it's no Galactic Empire, and the Faberists are no "persecuted, plucky band of rebels." However, neither are they the flipside, the evil terrorists willing to sacrifice millions to destroy the heroic government (a la 24 or the Maquis as they appear in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). Hm. Perhaps there is no appropriate archetype to match the Faberists. Luckily, there are plenty of real-life examples...

Real-Life Inspiration: Obviously, the Faberists are based on historical revolutionary groups, most notably the Soviet and Chinese Communist revolutions and the French revolution. The biggest thing I take from historical studies of these groups (which, to be fair, I have only cursory knowledge of) is that they were all filled with radically different opinions on which direction to take the new government. One only needs to look at the contrast between the beliefs of Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky -- or between Mao and most of his contemporaries. In fact, all three of these revolutions, as well as the American Revolution, started out with one government, which then collapsed before stability could be achieved.

And thus, the Faberists' greatest weakness -- they cannot decide how far to take their revolution, or in which direction: some wish to burn it all down and start from scratch, while others merely want to perform relatively minor governmental rejiggering. Without a single influential leader, their infighting may doom them to never finding, let alone achieving, a singular goal.

Theme: The Faberists are about idealism and dissatisfaction. Though they are unable to agree on how the City should be changed, they all know it doesn't work the way it is. They are fundamentally incapable of just living their lives and letting the City go on in its flawed fashion, and those passions and ideals motivate them. Every Faberist believes that if things were just "run the right way," everything would work out, and the City could be paradise. Unsurprisingly, most Faberists come from the lower classes, who have the most to be dissatisfied about.

Twist: Unlike most revolutionaries in the real world, the Faberists are more concerned with theory and political protest than violent action. Terrorist actions are few and far between, and mostly represent splinter groups rather than the faction as a whole. Perhaps that's not a coincidence -- maybe there is a cabal of high-level Faberists who actually want to keep the City as it is, and guide their revolutionary-minded brethren into small-scale and ultimately futile gestures in an attempt to keep them quiet and too busy to actually smash the state. Hm. Not sure if I like that or not -- it kind of makes the whole society a lie -- but it is interesting. I shall ponder...

Next time, we examine the charitable Publicans! See you then!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Factions: Godless

On the street corner, you see a pair of preachers, each with a crowd of onlookers surrounding them. One speaks of the power of the Light, and Its benevolence. The other, oddly, asks their followers not to follow any god, but instead to think for themselves, to seek out knowledge and disdain all deities. As you look on, you realize this preacher is one of the Godless. These philosophers and scientists quest for information and think that the gods are pretenders at best, malevolent at worst...

Archetype: The Godless are questioners. they are eternally seeking new and unknown knowledge. I have images of the "academic" time of wizard that appear in Discworld, in The Name of the Wind, in Harry Potter. The "Tinker Gnomes" of Krynn. They're constantly inventing and coming up with new and strange theories of the world. Godless are intimately associated with knowledge: students, professors, scientists, and librarians.

Real-Life Inspiration: The Godless are based on two different types of people: scientists and philosophers. Both seek to understand the universe, but have different methods. This is not to say that all Godless are properly trained scientists or philosopher -- on the contrary, many if not most would be amateurs, the kind of young, inquisitive person who hangs around coffee shops debating the nature of God. This intense nature informs the Godless: They want to know, and nothing will stop them. And they have their own paths of knowledge, which will hold their attention above all else, though it may be abominably dull for everyone else -- like many a scientist in the real world.

One important facet of both scientist and Godless is their sense of wonder at the world. Despite -- or because of -- their disbelief in the divine, they see the world as filled with amazing feature and questions they itch to answer.

Theme: Part of the Godless theme is the old saw of "Things Man Was Not Meant To Know." The City of Lives is not Call of Cthulhu -- the Godless are not going to constantly go mad as they mount their investigations -- but it is dangerous work, both physically and mentally. What are the limits of the human mind? How much can we learn, how far can our mind twist around unnatural concepts before it snaps? These are the questions the Godless will explore.

Another theme to explore is the nature of atheism in a fantasy world. writes of the "Flat Earth Atheist," who disbelieves in deities despite the obvious fact that they exist in their fantasy world, slinging miracles around: TVtropes paints these characters as silly, their head in the sand, ignoring the obvious truth. This is not quite the case in City of Lives: The gods exist, and no sane Godless would deny their power and existence. What the question is, then, is the gods' nature and position: Are the gods different from mortals in substance, or only in degree? Do they deserve worship? How can their powers be explained within the laws of physics? These are the kind of questions the Godless ask, that defines them. Interestingly enough, TVtropes also has the "NayTheist" trope listed to describe this kind of belief.

Twist: Oddly enough, for a faction called "Godless," divinity actually holds a tremendously strong focus for the Godless. Other factions might be unconcerned with religion, paying lip service and living their lives in a purely mundane manner -- the the Godless are defined by negation, by the strength of their disbelief. Were there no gods whatsoever, they would have very little to band them together.

Next, we will examine the revolutionary Faberists!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Factions: Fallows

The flower-clad girl hands you a bouquet of pansies plucked from her own flesh, saying "Remember that there is still growth, even in the sterile City." You watch her go, pondering the words of the Fallow you've just encountered. The nature-obsessed Fallows try to return the City to the "simple" lives epitomized by the Rurals out on the Julian Plains.

Archetype: What comes to mind is the "urban shaman" that shows up in much urban fantasy (Shadowrun is a good example). The urban shaman finds a way to value the peculiar form of nature that lives in the city. They have a dog as their totem animal instead of a wolf, cat instead of lynx, rat or pigeon instead of eagle -- you get the point. Instead of power over weather, they might control the sewer system, or slime molds instead of trees. So this is a good model for the Fallows -- some Fallows are direct analogues, with supernatural powers, while others are just trying to care for the urban environment however they can.

Real-Life Inspiration: To me, Fallows are hippies and "green" people, doing their best to bring nature into the urban environment. Backyard gardens, animal shelters, recycling and mulching programs. Some are serene, separated from the stress of city life by their efforts; others are driven, intent on bringing the world back to its roots.

Theme: The Fallows are about harmony with nature, and what they both gain and give up by valuing nature over urban civilization. Fallows live with a certain serenity that comes from the knowledge that they are harmonious with nature. In the real world, "harmony with nature" is just a saying, describing a lifestyle at best. In City of Lives, however, a skilled farmer can increase their crop through the use of magic; a shepherd can sense if their flock's in danger or content; a slaughterhouse worker can gently put animals to sleep before they're slaughtered. "Harmony" would have specific, measurable, benefits. Being in tune with animals and plants naturally removes one from other people and civilized society. The Fallows will be crude, simple, and earnest.

Twist: The irony of the Fallows is, of course, that none of them are actually living the pure and simple life they want -- if they did, they wouldn't be in the City, they'd be out on the Plains. Their attempts to reconcile urban life with a desire for the simplicity of nature is the interesting thing about them, and that duality informs their every action. Some just like the romanticism of "natural living" but won't give up their creature comforts, while others would give anything to leave the City but can't because of responsibilities or finances.

Thanks for reading. Next time, we'll explore the society of scientists known as the Godless!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Factions: Egoists

You sit at a table in the local tavern, drinking peacefully, when abruptly a large man pushes his way through the doors, dressed in a trapper's leathers and covered in pockets. When you see that he is not even going to buy a drink, but simply sit in a corner and quaff from a hip flask, it hits you -- this man is an Egoist. This society of the purely self-sufficient holds their philosophy to be enlightenment, and don't much care if anyone else agrees... or has anything to do with them.

Archetype: The Egoists have two central conceits: self-sufficiency and self-interest. The archetypal character that fills both is the cynical woodsman. The wise, bitter hermit who has retreated from society is a classic archetypal character. Interesting enough, most of these characters in fiction re-enter society, at least helping out the community: from passing on knowledge to the heroes, to slaying a dragon, to saving the world. Though this "wise, retired hermit" is the core basis for the Egoists, the members of this faciton are not all world-weary and old. They range in all ages, and many pass on the principles of self-sufficiency to their children.

Real-Life Inspiration: There are two inspirations for the Egoists. First is the Taoist religion, as we discussed here. The Egoists believe in a natural path for each person, a true "way" they can follow to reach their true potential. The other inspiration are those people who believe in self-sufficiency: hunters who live in the Alaskan bush, hermits, etc. These people see the civilized world as full of parasites sucking on the teat of government or industry -- charity and handouts are anathema to them [anathema. good word. been using it a lot lately]. The purest Egoists in the real world are those who retreat fully from society, cutting themselves off from out civilization. Backwoods militias and cults on compounds are inspirations -- though those communities often focus on the "common good," just on a small scale, which is not very Egoist.

Theme: The theme her has something to do with self-sufficiency, selfishness, and isolationism. Egoists are strong, vital people, admirable in their ability. On the other hand, Egoists have no sense of compassion or honor. The goal of Kviian Taoism is to reach one's potential without interfering with others -- but if push comes to shove, the Egoist's needs come first, and others be damned. Hence, a true Egoists will be, according to the D&D alignment system, Lawful Evil -- uncaring and running life by their own rules.

I'm a big believer in relative morality: every culture decides what is and isn't "good" and "evil." So on the one hand, Egoists have their own morality and shouldn't be judge harshly for it. On the other hand, Egoists live within the greater society of the City -- which definitely condemns the Egoists' ruthless selfishness. So -- are the evil or not? I don't know. Perhaps it is up to each individual player to answer that question.

Twist: Like the Enders, the Egoists are not the kind of people to have a strong organization -- they believe too much in keeping separate and strong. They are unified only by their common philosophy -- but it is a strong philosophy. There are few believers as intense as a true Egoists, and their tenets are clear. In fact, perhaps they have an actual "religious text," based on but not identical to the texts of Kivian Taoism. This text, like Marx's Manifesto of the Communist Party, Hitler's Mein Kampf, or Mao's "Little Red Book," is non-religious but tremendously influential, and many Egoists take all their actions directly from the precepts laid out in the... I dunno, "Manual of the Self?"

That's what I've got on the Egoists for now. Join me next time for a discourse on the Fallows!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Factions: Epicureans

You step into the City of Lives' most impressive pleasure palace, a hotbed of iniquity at its finest, with Las Vegas showiness married to the classiness of the Metropolitan Opera House. Most of its patrons -- artists, lovers of finery, and compulsive gamblers alike -- belong to the City faction known as the Epicureans. The Epicureans are defined by two things: art and novelty. They create and consume art, find and create new and exciting experiences. Let's ARTT them out.

The image that comes to mind as the Archetypal Epicurean is Futurama's Hedonism Bot, obsessed with pleasure, variety, and novelty. The wealthy lover of fine things shows up in all sorts of fiction, usually finding new and unusual (often obscene or dangerous) ways to amuse themselves. The men behind The Most Dangerous Game and Dr Frank N. Furter are examples of extreme Epicureans. Of course, the archetype goes far, far back, to Dionysos of Greek mythology. The god of wine and revelry, Dionysos believed in celebrating anything and everything, to literally inhuman degrees.

Real-Life Inspiration: There are, of course, many artistic dilettantes in the real world -- but
another type of person comes to mind: the adrenalin junkies and daredevils, constantly seeking new and novel thrills. These, too, are Epicureans, and provide a model for the kind of person likely to become an adventurer or hero. Their motivation for adventuring is not money, glory, or altruism, but excitement. Add in a love of art and culture, and you find the quintessential Epicurean: adventurous, easily bored, and looking for new experiences, excitement, and art at every turn.

Theme: Being an Epicurean is about more. Not more money or power, but more experiences. They are never satisfied, always seeking out new -- pleasant is nice, but not requisite: an Epicurean would rather exult in the exquisite pain of torture than be bored.

Twist: Epicureans sound pretty harmless, do they not? Obsessed with their own pleasure and artistic triumph, you would think they have no time for the rest of the world. But there are two kinds of Epicureans who affect the greater world in important ways: first, the ethical hedonist, who takes Epicurean philosophy to the next level, trying to spread the joy they feel to the rest of the population, doing what they can -- philanthropy, grand artistic movements, perhaps even revolution -- to maximize happiness among the maximum number of people. Their flip side are those Epicureans who care only about their own happiness, and are willing to destroy anything that gets in their way -- gladiatorial games for their amusement, bathing in the blood of virgins, this is the realm of the dark Epicurean.

Perhaps the Epicureans seem a bit scattershot. I say, that is their whole point. All that keeps them together is a love of the world, however many different ways they may experience it. And on that note, let's leave the Epicureans for now -- next, we examine the Egoists!