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Old 11-12-2021, 01:48 PM   #21
Ulzgoroth
 
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Default Re: Pre-Enlightenment Horror, Urban Fantasy, et cetra

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Originally Posted by The Colonel View Post
Concur - especially given the topic of Horror, we need to be thinking of the fact that if the Supernatural did exist (and the majority of our ancestors seem to have taken this for granted) then we, like our ancestors are right to be afraid of it. Recent fantasy - especially RPGs - have made us far too comfortable with the idea of magic, whilst for most of history it was viewed with great suspicion if not fear and hatred. Any given historical event might be mistaken identity, but "kill it with fire*" turns out to be a reasonable and rational response to the supernatural in most folklore.
The Dresden Files is unusual in that it actually probes the horrific consequences that magic might have even if used for the best of motives ... although it also shows some remarkably dark magic being used for benevolent purposes: discipline and control are a big thing in 'verse.

And friendly elves? Victorian bowdlerisation, polished off by Tolkien. Historically no-one in their right minds would mess with the fae - to add to the comments above, there was a historical rumour that the fae paid an annual farm of human souls to hell as a sort of "protection" racket.

*iron, salt, holy water ... whatever. Just kill it.
The supernatural has never been seen as purely a horror-show. For fae-adjacent matters, there's Brownies. I can't locate even a guess at when they entered folklore but apparently the name dates to the early 15th century, not a Victorian invention by any stretch. Most societies had gods that were at least potentially beneficent. Generally there's a lot of helpful tutelary spirits out there.
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Old 11-13-2021, 07:17 AM   #22
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Default Re: Pre-Enlightenment Horror, Urban Fantasy, et cetra

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Originally Posted by Ulzgoroth View Post
The supernatural has never been seen as purely a horror-show. For fae-adjacent matters, there's Brownies. I can't locate even a guess at when they entered folklore but apparently the name dates to the early 15th century, not a Victorian invention by any stretch. Most societies had gods that were at least potentially beneficent. Generally there's a lot of helpful tutelary spirits out there.
Ah, now gods are something else altogether - and I suspect Brownies/Dormovoi and their like to be a re-skinning of household/ancestor gods like the Romans lares and penates.
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Old 11-13-2021, 10:01 AM   #23
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Default Re: Pre-Enlightenment Horror, Urban Fantasy, et cetra

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Ah, now gods are something else altogether.
Are they, though? You can't always be sure. As I mentioned before, historians suspect a lot of the fairies etc. of Celtic legend to be descended from older Celtic myths about their gods. European legend has gone through a strange process of mangling and re-writing. For a lot of their history, the Christian church's policy was to preach that any supernatural forces that weren't theirs were demons and that was all there was to it. They saw any local belief in neutral or benevolent supernatural forces that weren't theirs as competition - and since those beliefs were partly about the old pagan religions that had gone before them, they were right in a way. So the legends about fairies having connections to Hell might themselves be a "bowdlerised" (or reverse-bowdlerised) version of whatever came even earlier.

Some of the myths survived by being adapted to Christianity. I mean, take St Bridget, who both is and is not St Bridget. There seems to have been a historical saint of that name, but a lot of her legends are suspected to not belong to her but to Brigid the Celtic goddess of spring and childbirth. Hence the legend of St Bridget having somehow been the midwife at the birth of Jesus.

People talk about how indigenous cultures in America and elsewhere have been distorted by the European settlers' attempts to teach their own culture and stamp the others out, leading to some old traditions surviving only as weird vaguely-Christianised hybrids - well, long before that, rather the same thing happened to Europe as far as religious beliefs go, and it may be impossible to "decolonise" them and identify what the originals were by now!

In a game, where being true to whatever the original beliefs might have been IRL needn't be necessary, it might be interesting to make all this an excuse for something to turn out to be nothing like how any version you're familiar with has ever portrayed it, and explain that "What you've always heard about these creatures is lies".

(Odd instance here, for instance, of a legend of benevolent werewolves! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thiess_of_Kaltenbrun )
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Old 11-13-2021, 12:46 PM   #24
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Default Re: Pre-Enlightenment Horror, Urban Fantasy, et cetra

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Ah, now gods are something else altogether - and I suspect Brownies/Dormovoi and their like to be a re-skinning of household/ancestor gods like the Romans lares and penates.
Like Varyon, I question that there's really any distinction there. It sounds like something you get when your scholars are hopelessly mired in the weird Christian conversion strategy of splitting the supernatural into disallowed 'demons' vs sufficiently-sycretized 'saints' or 'angels' on the side of 'god' and the resultant folklore, but are trying to invent comparative theology.
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Old 11-13-2021, 01:59 PM   #25
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Default Re: Pre-Enlightenment Horror, Urban Fantasy, et cetra

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Originally Posted by Ulzgoroth View Post
Like Varyon, I question that there's really any distinction there. It sounds like something you get when your scholars are hopelessly mired in the weird Christian conversion strategy of splitting the supernatural into disallowed 'demons' vs sufficiently-sycretized 'saints' or 'angels' on the side of 'god' and the resultant folklore, but are trying to invent comparative theology.
You could have a pretty fun campaign setting where the PCs are pagan spirits trying to get themselves canonized to survive the onslaught of Christianity.
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Old 11-14-2021, 04:12 PM   #26
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Default Re: Pre-Enlightenment Horror, Urban Fantasy, et cetra

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Originally Posted by The Colonel View Post
Concur - especially given the topic of Horror, we need to be thinking of the fact that if the Supernatural did exist (and the majority of our ancestors seem to have taken this for granted) then we, like our ancestors are right to be afraid of it. Recent fantasy - especially RPGs - have made us far too comfortable with the idea of magic, whilst for most of history it was viewed with great suspicion if not fear and hatred. Any given historical event might be mistaken identity, but "kill it with fire*" turns out to be a reasonable and rational response to the supernatural in most folklore.
...

And friendly elves? Victorian bowdlerisation, polished off by Tolkien. Historically no-one in their right minds would mess with the fae - to add to the comments above, there was a historical rumour that the fae paid an annual farm of human souls to hell as a sort of "protection" racket.

*iron, salt, holy water ... whatever. Just kill it.
Yes. This^^^. And it's remarkably consistent across different cultures, too. Sometimes the recommended response is 'kill it', sometimes it's 'hide from it', sometimes it's 'run from it', but the consensus is usually negative.

Which is entirely reasonable, looked at unsentimentally. If you're dealing with beings who are alien in mindset and nature, think in ways you don't and possibly can't entirely grasp, and are very powerful, then they are dangerous almost by definition.

One reason modern fantasy/games are so 'comfortable' with this is precisely post-Enlightenment lack of belief. It's safe to play/dream about Faerie because Faerie isn't real. But if it turns out Faerie is real, the equation is going to change very quickly, and fear is going to reappear in a hurry.

(Note that I share a rather similar view about human-extraterrestrial alien interaction, I strongly suspect that the 'positive' visions of it in SF are much less realistic/believable than the negative ones, and for somewhat similar reasons.)

Suppose a guy (or gal, it hardly matters) who has long played fantasy RPGs and loves to read fantasy novels discovers that Faerie is real, and further that real Elves are nasty, sociopathic, lustful, sadistic (at least from the human POV) and very, very powerful, and that you can end up in their clutches if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Will s/he still love fantasy novels and RPGs? Probably not so much. He might even start seeing them as bait or come ons for the bad guys...and in such a world, he might be right.

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Originally Posted by The Colonel View Post
The Dresden Files is unusual in that it actually probes the horrific consequences that magic might have even if used for the best of motives ... although it also shows some remarkably dark magic being used for benevolent purposes: discipline and control are a big thing in 'verse.
Yes again. Butcher is in some ways remarkably unsentimental about his world, and to the degree there's a trend it's going more that way.

Most of the DF stories are told from the first-person perspective of Wizard Harry Dresden, White Council member and major player. Now Harry gets into some harrowing situations, but he does have the advantage of wielding some pretty potent magic himself, and has access to extensive useful knowledge from his training by Justin, Ebenezar, and his allies.

But what does this same world look like from the POV of a mundane or a low-power magic practitioner? It's a terrifying place, if they're in the know. An example of what can happen to mundanes who get cross-ways with major magic is to be found in the early novel Fool Moon. Karrin Murphy tries to apply standard police procedures to a supernatural situation, effectively she pokes the supernatural hard...and it pokes back when a loup garou runs wild through the police station, and Harry battles it, blowing huge holes in brick walls in the process.

In the later books, Karrin would sometimes start to let her pride take her in that direction again, and Harry could usually sober her up just by reminding of the loup garou rampage that killed her partner Carmichael and tore up an entire police station.

And then there is what happened to Susan Rodriguez when she let her curiosity get the better of her common sense.

You can even make a good, solid case that Charity Carpenter is completely right in her attitude about magic, unless the potential practitioner is very very powerful. What does training and refining a minor talent get you in the DV? You can do a few useful tricks. You might be a shade healthier overall. That's about it.

The downsides: magic users are more tasty to many monsters, so now you're more visible as prey. Magic users tend to hang out in places where the monsters also go, so there's more opportunity to fall foul of a White Court vampire or worse. It's entirely possible, and not even rare, for a young magic user to violate one of the Seven Laws through ignorance, even with good intentions, and have the Council hunt them down and kill them for it. (The Council are the good guys, more or less, by the way.) Oh, and your electronics and mechanical gear will be less reliable.

Is it worth it? An honest judge would look at it and probably say 'only if you have a LOT of potential and a reliable trustworthy mentor too'.
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Old 11-14-2021, 04:21 PM   #27
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Default Re: Pre-Enlightenment Horror, Urban Fantasy, et cetra

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By 'Pre-Enlightenment,' I literally meant 'before the time-period that was called the Enlightenment, Age of Enlightenment, or Age of Reason.' I put a link in the OP so that people wouldn't need to ask that.
But you still have to ask it on another level, because you have to define what 'post-Enlightenment' people think/do/believe to understand what would be different before the Enlightenment.


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Possibly not quite as dark as that. In old-fashioned folklore, pre-Victorian, the fairies generally seem to play the role of a wild card. They're not necessarily bad, but they have the potential to be highly dangerous if they feel like it. What will happen depends very much on the circumstances and the fairy, and in a game you could reasonably have fairies as either (doubtful) allies or (possibly convinceable) enemies. (I'd be inclined to not stat their powers, in a game, at least not all of them. They're often cast in the role of "Does obviously OP thing to advance the plot and then disappears again".) The implication that they somehow exist to be nice, or at least educational, to humans doesn't exist in the pre-Victorian versions. They're independent, neutral beings with their own opinions and a wildly unpredictable amount of magic power, and some of them can do very good things for you or very bad things. And which it'll be is very unpredictable - in some stories, there's a reason for it, in others it's just for amusement, or because of some arcane fairy custom that the human didn't know about.

They're also often portrayed as heartless or as not really seeing humans as people - a spiteful fairy might well kill or permanently maim a human just for fun, as a mean little boy might do to a frog.

Generally, someone finding themselves in that kind of a story should stay well away from these people, unless desperate - the potential rewards are big, but they're too risky. (Good game adventure material.) If you have inside knowledge of their society and what they might want, or some kind of magic that gives you an edge (fairy ancestry of your own, say, or "second sight" that lets you see more about what's really going on), the odds are more generous, but there's still no guarantee that they won't turn you into a pickled onion.

There are theories that these stories are garbled survivals of stories about the Tuatha de Danann (the legendary race that supposedly lived in Ireland before its current inhabitants arrived), or the Celtic gods. They make more sense from that perspective. These are meant to be beings who were here before humans were, and they think the land still belongs to them, and there is a serious risk that the land may agree with them.

I've heard the tithe thing in Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer, but those had it as a tithe of fairy souls, one in every seven years - but there was cheating. Again, the fairies are described as seeing humans as expendable if it came down to it. Tam Lin is kidnapped and trained as one of the fairy knights, with the intention of using him as the sacrifice when the time came. Thomas the Rhymer makes friends with the fairy queen and is taken to live at her court, but she eventually smuggles him away because the time for the sacrifice is coming up and "I fear, Thomas, it will be yourself".
Which, from a practical human POV, makes them a pretty good candidate for being 'bad'. Yeah, their own motives may be different and complicated, but what matters from our POV is how that impacts us, and that unpredictability and alienness, combined with power, means they need to be looked at as a threat.

Which is what most pre-Enlightenment people did look at them as. The highly abstract, 'look at it from all sides' mindset is itself an instance of Enlightenment thinking. It wouldn't be the first impulse of a farmer or sailor or city merchant in 1500 or earlier.

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Originally Posted by Ulzgoroth View Post
The supernatural has never been seen as purely a horror-show. For fae-adjacent matters, there's Brownies. I can't locate even a guess at when they entered folklore but apparently the name dates to the early 15th century, not a Victorian invention by any stretch.
But they were most definitely affected by the same Victorian impulse that prettied up the other Fae-folk. The old stories make Brownies potentially a double-edged benefit. Yeah, they help you with your work. But there are all kinds of hidden trip-wires that can cause your 'friendly' Brownie to suddenly abandon you (if you're lucky) or turn dangerously hostile if you're not lucky. The trip wires don't necessarily make any kind of sense to a human, either, a very well-intentioned, even kind and sympathetic, gesture can drive a Brownie away or turn it into a boggart or worse.

Here again is a case where, once you strip away the Victorian/post-Enlightenment overlay, the stories of Brownies suddenly look a lot less reassuring. A good case can be made (even aside from issues that allowing the Fae in your home might imperil your soul) that purely practical considerations mean you're safer without a Brownie, and doing your own work.
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Old 11-14-2021, 04:36 PM   #28
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Default Re: Pre-Enlightenment Horror, Urban Fantasy, et cetra

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But they were most definitely affected by the same Victorian impulse that prettied up the other Fae-folk. The old stories make Brownies potentially a double-edged benefit. Yeah, they help you with your work. But there are all kinds of hidden trip-wires that can cause your 'friendly' Brownie to suddenly abandon you (if you're lucky) or turn dangerously hostile if you're not lucky. The trip wires don't necessarily make any kind of sense to a human, either, a very well-intentioned, even kind and sympathetic, gesture can drive a Brownie away or turn it into a boggart or worse.
Are you asserting that because it's possible to turn a Brownie hostile you should pick a fight with the currently non-hostile Brownie? That sounds like the kind of thing that invites becoming a cautionary tale...
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Originally Posted by Johnny1A.2 View Post
Here again is a case where, once you strip away the Victorian/post-Enlightenment overlay, the stories of Brownies suddenly look a lot less reassuring. A good case can be made (even aside from issues that allowing the Fae in your home might imperil your soul) that purely practical considerations mean you're safer without a Brownie, and doing your own work.
Sounds more like a 'with the church anti-folk-belief overlay added'.

Granted it's unclear from my research whether Brownies existed in recognizable form prior to the presence of that overlay, but the level of belief induced by priestly objections to tradition is obviously not reliable.
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Old 11-14-2021, 06:42 PM   #29
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Humans, with sufficient weaponry and ill-will, can be pretty darn dangerous to other humans too. That doesn't mean that it makes sense to summarise other humans as "bad guys".

But anyway - I notice that this thread may have wandered off the original topic. It wasn't actually supposed to be "horror and fantasy based on pre-Enlightenment legends", but "horror and fantasy set in pre-Enlightenment times, based on whatever". It could be both, but, for instance, it could be something like Vampire: the Masquerade Dark Ages Edition, which is very much modern-style "alpha-predator" vampire fiction but showing what they were doing in mediaeval times.

As for how to justify the "actual facts" in your game being different from what was generally believed at the time - why, for instance, if "elves" and "fairies" are separate and unrelated in your game, nobody at the time knew the difference between them - well, don't underestimate how inaccurate mediaeval ideas of natural history could be. I'm sure that in a world where elves were commonplace the bestiaries could manage to be at least as wrong about them as they were about weasels ("It conceives at the mouth and gives birth through the ear (though some say it is the other way around)").
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Old 11-15-2021, 08:05 PM   #30
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Default Re: Pre-Enlightenment Horror, Urban Fantasy, et cetra

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Humans, with sufficient weaponry and ill-will, can be pretty darn dangerous to other humans too. That doesn't mean that it makes sense to summarise other humans as "bad guys".

The salient difference is that humans usually behave in a way that's predictable or at least comprehensible to other humans of a similar cultural background.
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