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Old 01-17-2019, 04:33 AM   #111
a humble lich
 
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Default Re: [MH] Vile Vortices and Supernatural Threats

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Originally Posted by Icelander View Post
Excellent.

Now, from what I can tell, the Peace Corps often operates within societies where belief in the supernatural as an active force in daily life is common. For example, in many sub-Saharan countries, over half the population believes in witchcraft and in countries like Angola, DRC, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and many others, accusations of witchcraft may lead to legal trials or extrajudicial punishment. As far as I know, this has even been a problem in Ghana, so you might have more information than I can find in United Nations reports. More benignly, daily rituals or the carrying of talismans may be intended to protect from hostile witchcraft or other supernatural forces.
Very true. Witchcraft is a powerful force*, and belief in witches is widespread. I saw a government printed pamphlet about AIDS prevention that had a question and answer section in the back. One question was, "Question: Is AIDS caused by witches? Answer: There is no evidence that witches cause AIDS." I had a friend who ran a women's group who had two posters up in house/office saying that killing witches was illegal. At one point I got in a long discussion with my class (I taught high school physics) as to whether lightning was caused by witches and whether holding a mirror during a storm would attract lightning.

Various traditional remedies were also common. There was a man in my village who sold traditional medicines who would walk around with scorpions crawling on his face. Unsurprisingly, one of the cures he sold was a remedy for scorpion stings. He also sold a length of string which if tied around the waist kept you from becoming pregnant.

In Ghana there were at least two witch villages, people from other villages accused of witchcraft could move there.

My feeling was a lot of traditions of witchcraft were remnants of older traditional religions. Nearly everyone would say that they were Muslim or Christian, but that didn't necessarily mean that they didn't also believe in various older beliefs. And if things were really important you might visit the Ju-ju man for help, or to curse an enemy. I think to a large part that is true in much of the world, a lot of European witchcraft was probably remnants of pre-Christian beliefs


* Disclaimer: Specifically, my personal experience concerning witchcraft is specific to rural northern Ghana 10 years ago. Although my personal experience is limited, my understanding that most of the following is true in other parts of Africa as well, but I'm sure there are some significant differences.

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How open-minded are Peace Corps volunteers when it comes to local beliefs in witchcraft or other supernatural causes for misfortune or apparently accidental deaths? Would many of them accept witchcraft or a local legend of some monster as the explanation for the disappearance or death of someone?
Honestly, not very**. Generally, most volunteers I know tend to be fairly secular. However, that could change if there was fairly clear evidence, or there were stories that people discussed often and fearfully, or there were stories told by other volunteers.

** Disclaimer #2: I don't believe in witchcraft, although I try to be as respectful as I can when it comes to others religious beliefs.

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Obscure languages are, indeed, one of the prerequisites for being able to work magic.
If I had known that 10 years ago, maybe I would have put more effort into learning Dagaare.

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I imagine that volunteers who witnessed what they were convinced was actual incontrovertible evidence of the supernatural, and managed to resist the (weaker) Facade where they were, would indeed look for other volunteers with similar experiences and look for validation of their experience and advice on what to do. And that the international media or scientific community was not inclined to place much credence in a report of witchcraft in a small African community, for example, when no evidence that can be collected afterward proves anything but that the local people believe in it.
I agree. Since it is a tight-knit group, people tell a lot of stories. Once a couple people who are otherwise credible had experience with the supernatural, the story will quickly spread to other volunteers. That then makes the other volunteers more likely to believe other supernatural stories.

Finally, I meant to say that there are other similar organizations to Peace Corps. In my (limited) experience, these groups are typically smaller, tend to live in less rural locations, don't stay in country as long, and don't have as much language training as Peace Corps***. But they take non-Americans, and those volunteers could easily become part of the Peace Corps network.

*** Not intended to slight those other organizations at all, and they have a lot of other advantages in the real world, but they are maybe not as interesting from a hidden magic perspective.
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Old 01-17-2019, 05:19 AM   #112
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Default Peace Corps and the Supernatural

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Originally Posted by a humble lich View Post
My feeling was a lot of traditions of witchcraft were remnants of older traditional religions. Nearly everyone would say that they were Muslim or Christian, but that didn't necessarily mean that they didn't also believe in various older beliefs. And if things were really important you might visit the Ju-ju man for help, or to curse an enemy.
Yes, indeed. Fortunately for my world-building, this describes the worldview of a great number of people who live in or near the Vile Vortices in the setting.

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Originally Posted by a humble lich View Post
I think to a large part that is true in much of the world, a lot of European witchcraft was probably remnants of pre-Christian beliefs.
In the early Christian era in many European countries, I agree that there were plenty of pre-Christian beliefs that were persecuted as heresy or witchcraft. However, how long these beliefs endured and to what extent witch hunts in later eras represented the same social factors as lead to modern Satanic panics or false allegations of child abuse, are questions that have bedeviled many researchers.

Suffice it to say that I regard any theories of the survival of any kind of organised witchcraft in Europe from pre-Christian times until the founding of Gardnerian Wicca as a religious belief without convincing evidence. Anthropologists proposing it are generally not practicing a science or doing scholarly research, they are expounding a personal belief and cherry-picking examples in an unscientific manner to support it.

Ironically, my setting features supernatural phenomena and magic, but is extremely skeptical about anthropological and sociological phenomena which seem to fly in the face of observed evidence, where allegedly ancient traditions are often more or less invented out of whole cloth by one or more people for nationalistic, political or religious purposes.

There will be plenty of magical traditions in my setting which work and which are based on rituals and lore from people who lived while magic was apparently active in the world before, so in the 19th century and earlier. However, a lot of these traditions will either be fairly recent inventions and syncretizations, in that they date to founders in the historical records, or they will be modern reconstructions from ancient sources, not something which has survived uninterrupted at all.

The important exceptions are real-world religions which include mystical traditions and ritual magic as part of its teachings and demonstrably have been passed on in recognizable form from a time when magic appeared to work and are still practiced in that way in the modern world.

Even then, many traditions will have seen changes and apparently minor alterations to languages or ceremonies from those current centuries ago to those used today, so even once magic started working in the 1980s, magical practitioners in these traditions may have had to work at reconstructing working rituals from altered forms that evolved during the 20th century.

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Honestly, not very**. Generally, most volunteers I know tend to be fairly secular. However, that could change if there was fairly clear evidence, or there were stories that people discussed often and fearfully, or there were stories told by other volunteers.
Before 2000, the evidence would be mostly what anyone interested in the occult in our world can find today. By 2005, anyone working in a Vile Vortex would hear about plenty of 'evidence', in the form of local people who had witnessed supernatural phenomena and absolutely believed that they were a major threat to their health and safety. The belief might be even stronger than in our world and there would be any number of unexplained deaths and disappearance, but as for actual evidence, little enough that doesn't exist in our world. By 2010, most people who had worked alongside locals anywhere near such Vile Vortices would have heard the same stories.

In the year 2018, when my game is set, the Vile Vortices, their environs and many smaller hot spots around the world are so dangerous to humans that it doesn't seem possible that the supernatural is still secret. But, with the existence of the Facade, the overwhelming majority of secular, materialistic people can manage to find a 'mundane' explanation for any statistical anomaly and mostly do not regard the testimony of people from developing countries as any kind of evidence of witchcraft or supernatural phenomena.

Even other Westerners who've lived in such areas are regarded as suspect witnesses, unless they have physical evidence to back up their claims, which they inevitably never do. It seems that the supernatural itself and/or the mysterious effect of the Facade somehow resists scientific analysis and incontrovertible evidence.

Video and photos have technical issues and are invariably ruled fakes by experts (influenced by the Facade) when someone manages to get any footage at all. Remains of monsters and humans with supernatural abilities are ruled animal carcasses (with various diseases as appropriate) and normal human bodies. Magical effects either do not happen in the presence of skeptics with technological measuring devices or they interfere with the devices if they do.

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I agree. Since it is a tight-knit group, people tell a lot of stories. Once a couple people who are otherwise credible had experience with the supernatural, the story will quickly spread to other volunteers. That then makes the other volunteers more likely to believe other supernatural stories.
Do the former volunteer remain tight-knit for many years after their stints?

Are you active in any formal or informal way with the Peace Corps or with groups of people who have reunions or other social events, now that it's a decade since you volunteered?

Are many other people?

I'm looking for how much people stay in touch and remain close to other Peace Corps volunteers once they've finished their volunteer service and started a life where they probably have careers and families that may not connect to their experiences with the Peace Corps.

If there are some form of alumni social groups and networks, proposing that former Peace Corps volunteers can be classed as a cohesive, if informal, group of occult-aware people becomes much more plausible.

Otherwise, former Peace Corps volunteers who've seen something that convinced them of the reality of the paranormal might be equally or more likely to turn to family, friends, their local priest, mental health professionals or any of the sources of support and advice that an ordinary person who experienced the same thing (albeit possibly at home, rather than abroad) might speak with about it.

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Finally, I meant to say that there are other similar organizations to Peace Corps. In my (limited) experience, these groups are typically smaller, tend to live in less rural locations, don't stay in country as long, and don't have as much language training as Peace Corps***. But they take non-Americans, and those volunteers could easily become part of the Peace Corps network.

*** Not intended to slight those other organizations at all, and they have a lot of other advantages in the real world, but they are maybe not as interesting from a hidden magic perspective.
One of my players spent part of his childhood in Tanzania, while his parents were there in some similar capacity. I do not actually recall which organisation they were with, but I know that his father was an engineer who was there building infrastructure, digging wells, etc.
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Old 01-17-2019, 06:06 AM   #113
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Default Re: [MH] Vile Vortices and Supernatural Threats

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Originally Posted by Icelander View Post

In the early Christian era in many European countries, I agree that there were plenty of pre-Christian beliefs that were persecuted as heresy or witchcraft. However, how long these beliefs endured and to what extent witch hunts in later eras represented the same social factors as lead to modern Satanic panics or false allegations of child abuse, are questions that have bedeviled many researchers.

Suffice it to say that I regard any theories of the survival of any kind of organised witchcraft in Europe from pre-Christian times until the founding of Gardnerian Wicca as a religious belief without convincing evidence. Anthropologists proposing it are generally not practicing a science or doing scholarly research, they are expounding a personal belief and cherry-picking examples in an unscientific manner to support it.
I am in no way claiming any sort of organized belief surviving through the middle ages, but rather the lines between things seen at witchcraft compared to religion, superstition, and folk traditions can be blurry, and elements of pre-Christian religions can survive as folk traditions.


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Do the former volunteer remain tight-knit for many years after their stints?

Are you active in any formal or informal way with the Peace Corps or with groups of people who have reunions or other social events, now that it's a decade since you volunteered?

Are many other people?

I'm looking for how much people stay in touch and remain close to other Peace Corps volunteers once they've finished their volunteer service and started a life where they probably have careers and families that may not connect to their experiences with the Peace Corps.

If there are some form of alumni social groups and networks, proposing that former Peace Corps volunteers can be classed as a cohesive, if informal, group of occult-aware people becomes much more plausible.

Otherwise, former Peace Corps volunteers who've seen something that convinced them of the reality of the paranormal might be equally or more likely to turn to family, friends, their local priest, mental health professionals or any of the sources of support and advice that an ordinary person who experienced the same thing (albeit possibly at home, rather than abroad) might speak with about it.
Yes. I have stayed close with many Peace Corps friends, and if I used Facebook more I'd probably be in touch with even more. The group of volunteers near me has had three reunions in the last decade, and we are planning another one soon. And I don't think this is unusual, and people whom I'm not in contact with I'll still hear about from people who are still in contact with them.

There also exists a national returned Peace Corps volunteer organization and many places have a local organization as well. My local group organizes volunteer activities, occasional light political action, a Christmas party, sells calendars, etc. I've also worked with Peace Corps itself a couple times to talk to school groups.

In the real world, there is significant culture shock when returning back to the US, and many people have problems reintegrating into the US. Returned volunteers often turn to each other for support. If there are also issues of dealing with seeing hostile supernatural forces that nobody else believes, then I would think there would be even stronger forces pushing groups returned volunteers together for support.
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Old 01-17-2019, 07:25 AM   #114
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Yes. I have stayed close with many Peace Corps friends, and if I used Facebook more I'd probably be in touch with even more. The group of volunteers near me has had three reunions in the last decade, and we are planning another one soon. And I don't think this is unusual, and people whom I'm not in contact with I'll still hear about from people who are still in contact with them.

There also exists a national returned Peace Corps volunteer organization and many places have a local organization as well. My local group organizes volunteer activities, occasional light political action, a Christmas party, sells calendars, etc. I've also worked with Peace Corps itself a couple times to talk to school groups.

In the real world, there is significant culture shock when returning back to the US, and many people have problems reintegrating into the US. Returned volunteers often turn to each other for support. If there are also issues of dealing with seeing hostile supernatural forces that nobody else believes, then I would think there would be even stronger forces pushing groups returned volunteers together for support.
Ah, very good.

That sounds like either the national organisation of returned Peace Corps volunteers (which I discover is named the National Peace Corps Association) or any number of the local ones could be the nucleus of people who have became aware of the supernatural.
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Old 01-17-2019, 10:12 AM   #115
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Default Re: [MH] Vile Vortices and Supernatural Threats

I like the idea of the Peace Corps as a source of mostly well-meaning, defensive-minded actors.

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Wow, that was a really good read. The Atlantic article, that is.

There is actually a fringe theory in occult circles in my setting about the Nazis (and a lot of other things). It goes that there wasn't really a period in the 20th century where no magic worked. That's just how it looks in the aftermath of what happened, which was some sort of world-shattering manaclysm at the end of WWII. The world that now exist is an alternate universe that came into exist as the 'real' one ended, with the area of history around the manaclysm being hollow history, lacking the reality of mana which pervades the entire world.

Which would make this the same setting as my Weird War II campaign of Götterdämmerung on Walpurgisnacht was set in, albeit one set after the Götterdämmerung.

I said it was a fringe theory.
Neo-Nazis also serve a useful plot purpose: you can place them anywhere in Europe and the Americas, they are often armed and prone to violence, and its hard to get too upset when a Shoggoth eats them. So you could use most Neo-Nazi movements as a source of clueless guys with guns and cranks whose rituals and tree-lore just get them into trouble, and add a few excellent scholars (inspired by real figures like Junge who signed his articles "from the western front, ...", Heidegger, or von Soden) who are not so sure that the spells they study are nonsense and a few slippery characters who make the right noises about Jews and Roma but really want to talk about holding the next gathering at this mass grave not that one, adding these three lines in Gothic to the leader's speech, and embroidering those runes into the banners.

So you avoid the tackiness of suggesting that the Holocaust was anything but senseless, and you create a break in the tension when after a failed ritual the Outsiders devour a bunch of street thugs and their backers in suits instead of a well-meaning church choir-cum-Austin chapter, Texas Syriac Club.
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Old 01-18-2019, 05:46 AM   #116
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Default Re: [MH] Vile Vortices and Supernatural Threats

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Neo-Nazis also serve a useful plot purpose: you can place them anywhere in Europe and the Americas, they are often armed and prone to violence, and its hard to get too upset when a Shoggoth eats them. So you could use most Neo-Nazi movements as a source of clueless guys with guns and cranks whose rituals and tree-lore just get them into trouble, and add a few excellent scholars (inspired by real figures like Junge who signed his articles "from the western front, ...", Heidegger, or von Soden) who are not so sure that the spells they study are nonsense and a few slippery characters who make the right noises about Jews and Roma but really want to talk about holding the next gathering at this mass grave not that one, adding these three lines in Gothic to the leader's speech, and embroidering those runes into the banners.

So you avoid the tackiness of suggesting that the Holocaust was anything but senseless, and you create a break in the tension when after a failed ritual the Outsiders devour a bunch of street thugs and their backers in suits instead of a well-meaning church choir-cum-Austin chapter, Texas Syriac Club.
There is also canonical support for the position of using Nazis as preferential villains in any and all campaigns, in the great Ken Hite's 'A Dish Best Served Cold: The Antarctic Space Nazis' Suppressed Transmission 1 p. 77-80.

The fact that my players became highly excited upon learning that 'Janus Eremus', the Man With the Unfortunate Look who kidnapped Alice Talbot (PC), apparently for the purposes of ritual sacrifice, had been present at Vostok Station in Antarctica during the first time any humans reached Lake Vostok, which had been sealed in ice for as much as 25 million years, is surely a coincidence. Surely.

It's not as if the PCs are going on some kind of Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath at the Mountains of Madness, just because they are going on a vision quest / dream projection into the mind of a sorceress who apparently opened a gate to Something terrible, cold and inexorable into her very being.

I guess the players might worry more if they'd found out that the sorceress using the name Gwen Delvano was born Gisella Ester Cortés Rojas... in Antarctica.
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Old 01-18-2019, 03:19 PM   #117
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The fact that my players became highly excited upon learning that 'Janus Eremus' … had been present at Vostok Station in Antarctica …
Are any of your players veterans of the Jade Serenity campaign? We've got to know some of those characters quite well.
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Old 01-18-2019, 04:37 PM   #118
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Are any of your players veterans of the Jade Serenity campaign? We've got to know some of those characters quite well.
Yeah, Alice Talbot is played by the GM of Jade Serenity, Lucien Lacoste is O'Toole's player and the player who was Dr. Anderson in Jade Serenity is Edward Alvin Smith.

Very different PCs, though I guess you could say O'Toole's player is still playing a deeply flawed and messed up person whom the other PCs should ditch at the first opportunity. This time, though, it's not because he's a selfish, spineless paper pusher with no capacity for loyalty or friendship. It's just because he's Impulsive, Overconfident and On the Edge.

The plan was originally for 'Nonc' Morel to induce a dream state in himself and learn where the minor cold daemon was from and/or maybe take a careful peek into the dreams of the Girl With the Kaleidoscope Eyes. In themselves, still risky endeavours, as they were aware that her mind had touched Something truly horrible, but something that Morel genuinely (and probably accurately) felt he could handle without risking anyobe else.

The mission creep of using all the 34 cursed diamonds of Awful Nasty Badness to power an untested, poorly understood ritual that would allow the PCs to fight whatever possessed the incautious sorceress, as well as making use of at least one potential Chosen One / Omen / Destiny Magnet and the demonic-looking artifact athame she'd locked in a warded vault with three separate locks (none openable by the same person), well, that came after Lacoste found out that there was a theoretical way to do more than just gather some information.

The thought of righteously beating up some analogue of Cthulhu in a Dreamland version of Lake Vostok, no doubt located on the frozen plateu of Leng, was just too tempting to pass up. So, he became the loud and assertive champion of Plan Ragnarök (We'll Totally Stop It).

Morel eventually agreed because it's the only chance, however slim, of saving the mortal girl 'Gwen Delvano' must have been at one point. Teddy Smith apparently agreed because he suspects that this is finally it, the time when the Outsiders come for Earth too and he'd do anything to close the gates before the Earth becomes their playground. Also, if the other PCs were going to do such a spectacularly stupid thing anyway, he probably had a greater chance of survival with them, where he could try to contribute (most likely in vain), than waiting at ground zero, helpless to prevent the apocalypse. Alice Talbot seems to be operating with some kind of Prophecy /Destiny logic, though she hasn't been able to tell anyone else why she believes that.

Somehow, inexorably, the iron certainty of the absolutely mad won everyone over... or at least made them give up arguing. It may have helped that Lacoste had already started the ritual and drunk the hallicinogenic mushroom brew before telling them his plans for a slightly more ambitious 'look-see'. Stopping without inviting some sort of magical catastrophe didn't seem like an option any more. Granted, a much smaller disaster than going through with his Captain Crazypants stunt and failing, but it's amazing how little difference the size of the 'blast radius' makes to people standing at ground zero.

So I guess now they're hunting Cthulhu. Or whatever frozen cousin of his lives in a dreamscape version of the Antarctic, deep within a fantastic analogue of Lake Vostok.
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Old 01-19-2019, 03:44 AM   #119
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Yeah, Alice Talbot is played by the GM of Jade Serenity, Lucien Lacoste is O'Toole's player and the player who was Dr. Anderson in Jade Serenity is Edward Alvin Smith.

Very different PCs, though I guess you could say O'Toole's player is still playing a deeply flawed and messed up person ... because he's Impulsive, Overconfident and On the Edge.

The mission creep ... came after Lacoste found out that there was a theoretical way to do more than just gather some information.

The thought of righteously beating up some analogue of Cthulhu in a Dreamland version of Lake Vostok, no doubt located on the frozen plateu of Leng, was just too tempting to pass up. So, he became the loud and assertive champion of Plan Ragnarök (We'll Totally Stop It).

So I guess now they're hunting Cthulhu. Or whatever frozen cousin of his lives in a dreamscape version of the Antarctic, deep within a fantastic analogue of Lake Vostok.
I decided to go to sleep last night and hope this wouldn't still be here in the morning. Oh, dear. I hope you can save some of the PCs.
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Old 01-19-2019, 04:14 AM   #120
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I decided to go to sleep last night and hope this wouldn't still be here in the morning. Oh, dear. I hope you can save some of the PCs.
Yeah, in a game ostensibly about sailing the Caribbean in a yacht while solving occult mysteries and hunting monsters, it would be a real shame to get killed before the yacht even weighs anchor for an exotic destination.

Working in the PCs favour is the fact that Alice Talbot, who acted as the lead caster, has Ridiculous Luck and Serendipity.* And the PCs might have other, unknown allies, as Something must have informed Ms. Talbot (who was sleeping when the other PCs started to prepare their ritual) of the intention to visit the dreamscape of 'Gwen Delvano'. For that matter, for someone who just yesterday knew nothing at all about Ms. Delvano and her fellow cultist/kidnapper, 'Janus Eremus', the Man With the Unfortunate Look, Ms. Talbot suddenly has a lot of unexplained information about the Lords of the Last Waste.

At the bare minimum, Ms. Talbot must have prophetic dreams or receive visions of some sort. Which means that the unwise ritual and their extremely hazardous journey might be somehow Meant.

Which is no doubt a source of great comfort to the other three PCs, all of whom are somewhat subject to a sense of Destiny, being, after all, Heroes of (soon to be) legendary proportions.

The fact that Ms. Talbot initially tried to stop the ritual and was only reluctantly convinced that it was too late, whereupon she suddenly agreed to participate, is less comforting. As is the fact that she does not project the serene calm of the Prophet or Chosen One secure in the woven patterns of Wyrd. She seems terrified, in fact.

*Why, yes, she is in fact suspected of some portentous origin and probably is the subject of any number of prophecies. Not that the PCs have had time to check and she has been very unforthcoming about reasons why anyone would think she is special, but the players recognise the signs, not the least of which is that the other players are happy to show each other their character sheets, but Ms. Talbot's player is keeping his GCA sheet a dark secret. Mousy, Hollywood-homely assistant librarian is sought for unclear reasons by more than one cult? It's either a Chosen One situation or an Omen one. The Girl Who Lived or the Antichrist. In either case, we're talking Destiny.
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