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Old 02-20-2019, 01:06 PM   #141
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Default Re: [MH] Vile Vortices and Supernatural Threats

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Originally Posted by tshiggins View Post
Just about every culture has its "wee folk" of one sort or another. They're all over the place in American Indian folklore (and particularly nasty, in some cases).

That's why I created a third set of fey folk, for Facets. A lot of those "little people" stories do not fit the highly Euro-centric division into the "Seelie" and "Unseelie" courts, nor do they indicate any other sort of hierarchy.

Basically, they're nature spirits and do things people find incomprehensible. So, the notion of unaligned "Wild Fae" seemed to work best.
Perhaps it would be better to say that the local humans perceive the local fay according to the customs and ideas those local humans have. The fay have a mirrormask that reflects aspects of the person viewing the fay back at them. Thus each time someone sees a fay they've really only seen an aspect of themselves distorted out of shape.
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Old 02-20-2019, 01:52 PM   #142
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Default Re: [MH] Vile Vortices and Supernatural Threats

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I'm talking about the Castle Falkenstein campaign notes you have. Many, may years old.

Do you want me to ask there?

It was something about London gangs and murderous violence.

Edit: The campaign in question started as a One er... Two Shot about ten years ago. The second season mystery (which, on checking, might count as Season 3), to which I referred, was the criminal gang of the Blue Gate Dogs.

I didn't get any sense of what, exactly, they were, but I admit freely that lacking any background in Castle Falkenstein, I suppose I might have missed clues connecting them or really anyone else in the campaign to Faerie.

I gathered 'Steampunk Europe with Magic', but didn't notice Faerie or the fey in any kind of important role, which Wikipedia tells me is a feature of Castle Falkenstein.
Oh, okay.

That whole campaign got aborted before the players made it very far. The brief introductory campaign presented a high adventure story in Africa, which had a fairly straightforward set of things to do.

With the campaign, I planned to include a lot more of the setting's complexity, which includes a powerful race of "dragon-blooded," the absolutely lethal (but frequently quite polite and pleasant) Fae, and the positively cutthroat fashionable social scene in which "old school" European nobility had to interact with the nouveau-riche industrial class.

To that end, I felt it best to ease the group into it with some consulting detective adventures in London that illustrated some of the cultural stresses. Unfortunately, that differed in tone so significantly from the intro adventure the players felt blindsided, and the whole thing fell apart.

But, yeah. The faeries in CF are so appallingly dangerous that one player referred to them as the setting's "third rail"; as in, "Do NOT Touch!"
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Old 02-20-2019, 02:37 PM   #143
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Default Re: [MH] Vile Vortices and Supernatural Threats

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Perhaps it would be better to say that the local humans perceive the local fay according to the customs and ideas those local humans have. The fay have a mirrormask that reflects aspects of the person viewing the fay back at them. Thus each time someone sees a fay they've really only seen an aspect of themselves distorted out of shape.
Yeah, I imagine that the fae lack of imagination and hunger for human creativity results in them being more affected by humans than humans are by them.
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Old 02-20-2019, 06:55 PM   #144
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Default Re: [MH] Vile Vortices and Supernatural Threats

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Perhaps it would be better to say that the local humans perceive the local fay according to the customs and ideas those local humans have. The fay have a mirrormask that reflects aspects of the person viewing the fay back at them. Thus each time someone sees a fay they've really only seen an aspect of themselves distorted out of shape.
I don't know that it's a "better" way to say it, so much as it's a different way to create an in-game justification for making the Fae vary so widely from one set of stories to the next, while retaining them as, recognizably, fairies.

In point of fact, fairies are just a way to anthropomorphize -- and thus give the illusion of influence over -- nature and natural forces. I know you know that, but I'm building a case, here. :)

What we used to call the "human experience" consists largely of thoughts and emotions that human have in common, albeit filtered through widely variant environmental, social and cultural conditions. As such, the stories of nature spirits appear in all human cultures, but the behavior of those spirits differs a lot.

The humans who created the fairy stories we've inherited based them on their own experiences. Humans don't just create gods in our images, we also create fairies in the same way.

In the Desert Southwest of North America, lack of food and water posed the greatest threats to survival, as did violent sociopaths who damaged close-knit tribes whose members had to live and work together, in close proximity to one another. So, fairy stories included nature spirits such as nunnupi and zips (food and water); monsters who hurt and abused people -- including children (tsiants); or highly functional sociopaths capable of pretending to respect cultural traditions, but actually causing so much harm they damaged relations within and between entire tribes (skin-changers).

By comparison, the natural environment of most of Europe has always been far more benign than the Desert Southwest. So, while the nature fairies could be scary, the ones that truly terrified were the lords and ladies of the fae courts. They showed up out of nowhere and took away people's children for inscrutable reasons of their own and, while the young person might return as a fortunate prodigy, that was highly unlikely.

Far more frequently, the children simply disappeared forever, or returned horribly maimed in either body or mind (or both) from the violence and abuse inflicted on them. As a projection of human fears, this one is pretty clear -- many people who created European folklore considered royalty and nobility as the most dangerous of the powerful and fickle forces that required propitiation lest they do terrible and lasting harm.

So, for our purposes when we create campaign settings, one way to explain fairy behavior is to say the human minds around them mold their personalities. That works, and it makes fairies less "nature spirits" than they are "thought form spirits" such as Prince Charon chose to use for his "Five Earths" setting.

They don't reflect nature as it is but, rather, nature as humans perceive it. That actually has a solid foundation in how fairy stories actually started.

Alternatively, we can make fairies manifestations of natural forces that are fundamentally other than human, and therefore display behavior that humans find decidedly odd, and perhaps dangerous for incomprehensible reasons.

That's what I went with because I liked the challenge it posed, and that's why I have "Wild Fae" unaffiliated with either of the fae courts. Hops About and Twirls Thrice are fairies, but very much not even as human as fae lords and ladies. They do stuff that kinda weirds out the party, sometimes, because it's bizarre to see cute, human-shaped creatures doing things that animals do, for reasons that make sense to the conditions in which they live.

Rebecca, when she still played Sunmi Jones, found the whole thing with the ants particularly disturbing (lots of birds allow ants to crawl on them, as a way to clean their feathers -- but it creeps people out). Sam -- Doc Bascher's player -- freaks a bit when they display their appreciation for dead things (magpies are opportunistic scavengers, and Hops About and Twirls Thrice reflect that part of the natural cycle).

Part of the reason for that has everything to do with the acculturation of those two young women. They grew up watching Disney movies, which have no fairies who represent the reality that nature is red in tooth and claw, and life must feed on life to survive.

To drag this back to Icelander's setting, I'm not really sure how he defines fairies. However, some of his more horrific creatures are definitely informed by Lovecraft. who found most horrifying the notion of a universe of natural forces, roamed by predator gods inherently incapable of even understanding the notion of caring about anything other than their own needs and appetites.

The universe of the Lovecraftian Mythos reflected a view of modern scientific thought held by a man with considerable artistic gifts, but so physically weak and sickly the notion of Natural Selection filled him with existential horror. It's about as profound a rejection of modernity as one can possibly find.

To his credit, Icelander has backed it down a bit, because some of his forces, the Cold Ones, seem capable of grasping the notion of a mutually-beneficial business arrangement. That gives them at least some comprehensible motivations -- which makes the opposition to them (and their partner-patsies) more dramatically meaningful, and that's really good for an RPG setting.
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Old 02-20-2019, 07:40 PM   #145
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Default Re: [MH] Vile Vortices and Supernatural Threats

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I don't know that it's a "better" way to say it, so much as it's a different way to create an in-game justification for making the Fae vary so widely from one set of stories to the next, while retaining them as, recognizably, fairies.

In point of fact, faires are just a way to anthropomorphize -- and thus give the illusion of influence over -- nature and natural forces. Since what we used to call the "human experience" consists largely of thoughts and emotions that human have in common, albeit filtered through widely variant environmental, social and cultural conditions, the stories of nature spirits appear in all human cultures, but the behavior of those spirits differs a lot.

The humans who created the fairy stories we've inherited based them on their own experiences. Humans don't just create gods in our images, we also create fairies in the same way.

So, for our purposes, one way to explain fairy behaviour is to say the human minds around them mold their personalities. That works, but it makes fairies less "nature spirits" than they are "thought form spirits" such as Prince Charon chose to use for his "Five Earths" setting.

Alternatively, we can make fairies manifestations of natural forces that are fundamentally other than human, and therefore display behavior that humans find decidedly odd, and perhaps dangerous for incomprehensible reasons.

That's what I went with.
The Dresden Files fae superficially appear in line with human expectations, but fundamentally are something else.

But one thing I liked about Butcher's portrayal was that a mask doesn't just present a new face to the world. Masks change how we see ourselves. So how they appear to humanity also changes how the fae see themselves. The fae were completely inhuman forces, alien to humans to every way. Spend a few thousand years appearing to humans masked with glamour that matches human expectations, however, and that's no longer all they are.

Alien motivations are fine, but if something is too far removed from anything we recognize as a person, it's no longer a villain, foe, rival or any other kind of NPC. It's just a storm, flood, wildfire or some other kind of natural disaster. And what I can't stand about disaster movies is the lack of personality or motivation by the 'antagonist'.

The true challenge of portraying alien mindsets is making sure they walk that fine line between inhuman, but understandable. Otherwise you've just got a random mess wearing a glamour suit, pretending to be a character.
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Old 02-20-2019, 08:42 PM   #146
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Default Re: [MH] Vile Vortices and Supernatural Threats

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The Dresden Files fae superficially appear in line with human expectations, but fundamentally are something else.
I agree, wholeheartedly.

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But one thing I liked about Butcher's portrayal was that a mask doesn't just present a new face to the world. Masks change how we see ourselves. So how they appear to humanity also changes how the fae see themselves. The fae were completely inhuman forces, alien to humans to every way. Spend a few thousand years appearing to humans masked with glamour that matches human expectations, however, and that's no longer all they are.
That's one of the more compelling aspects of the fae in his setting, yes.

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Alien motivations are fine, but if something is too far removed from anything we recognize as a person, it's no longer a villain, foe, rival or any other kind of NPC. It's just a storm, flood, wildfire or some other kind of natural disaster. And what I can't stand about disaster movies is the lack of personality or motivation by the 'antagonist'.

The true challenge of portraying alien mindsets is making sure they walk that fine line between inhuman, but understandable. Otherwise you've just got a random mess wearing a glamour suit, pretending to be a character.
We also agree, here. Tim Burton provides an example of someone who definitely took it too far in the film, Mars Attacks!, and wound up with wholly unappealing aliens.

You've gotta back it down enough that, although the creatures seem strange -- even bizarre -- they give the audience (or the players) a way to maintain an emotional investment in the outcome of the story.

(And, wow, you're up late. What time is it, in Iceland?)
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Old 02-21-2019, 02:26 AM   #147
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I agree, wholeheartedly.

That's one of the more compelling aspects of the fae in his setting, yes.

We also agree, here. Tim Burton provides an example of someone who definitely took it too far in the film, Mars Attacks!, and wound up with wholly unappealing aliens.

You've gotta back it down enough that, although the creatures seem strange -- even bizarre -- they give the audience (or the players) a way to maintain an emotional investment in the outcome of the story.
Just so.

Thinking about it, I've not used inhuman entities a whole lot as onscreen villains in any campaign set in some version of this world.

In Boston Mystic, there were Sumerian spirits like Enmenluana and Pazuzu, but the PCs never really interacted with them 'in person'. They were a source of power and motivation for Dr. Mahmoud Ganoush, the blood magus whose magic was powered through sacrifice, with the response of the spirits enhanced the more pain, degradation and terror he managed to subject his victims to before they expired.

The PCs investigated a murder where Enmenluana, through spiritual possession, was the murder weapon, and they witnessed the acts of horror Dr. Ganoush committed to call up Pazuzu and forge with him a pact, but there was no doubt in their minds that the villains of the campaign were Dr. Ganoush and his cult of graduate students. The spirits and the power they could grant were merely what made them more dangerous than the ordinary deluded cultist worshiping imaginary demons.

In the same campaign, there was a fae mirror, which acted as a gateway between Faerie and Earth, but it didn't allow physical travel and the PCs never met a real-life fey creature, let alone fae with speaking parts. Instead, the mirror had a subtly corrupting influence that would eventually result in a person's mind becoming trapped inside the quasi-dimension of the mirror, halfway between Faerie and Earth, while releasing a fey spirit to possess their bodies, making them a twisted Changeling.

The mirror was an Unseelie artifact created during the war, designed to take over important human leaders, but after the Accords and the eventual Sealing Off of Faerie, it had lacked any conscious direction or control and passed through the hands of humans without much influence, like Jessie Pomeroy and Lizzie Borden. Without a noble fae sorcerer to control the Changeling for some strategic purpose, the mirror expressed its own personality, a puckish, warped sentience that had no goal beyond impersonating its owner and brutally murdering anyone the owner disliked, no matter how petty the reason.

The PCs never spoke with a fae and their 'conversations' with the Sumerian spirits of blood, degradation, disease, pain and terror were confined to trying to resist possession and escape to a place such beings could not as easily affect the physical world. I don't imagine the PCs distinguished between Enmeluana, Pazuzu and the many minor spirits used by Dr. Ganoush and his students. They certainly didn't learn much about the original creator of the mirror or its true purpose.

But almost ten years later, the players sure remember the man they kept referring to as 'Baba' Ganoush, and the way one of the PCs kidnapped, tortured and murdered a foolish young graduate student to gain information needed to fight him. And how that PC almost killed the rest of the PCs after finding the mirror and disagreeing with them on what to do with it, not because he was possessed (the PC was too strong-willed for any kind of mental domination through force by what amounted to a tool of the fae), but because the Changeling entity in the mirror could skilfully play on his guilt, the fact he had kept his act a secret from the other PCs and the need for reassurance and justification the PC felt.

Every time PCs in one of my modern secret magic campaigns have come across inhuman entities, it's been pretty much the same story. The demons, fae, loas or spirits have been McGuffin, motivation or murder weapon, but the true villains have always been human.

In 'Nightmare by a Rocking Cradle', a campaign set in Iraq at the end of US military efforts in 2011, the 'Men of Misfortune' or the Army of the Men of the Naqhbandi Order, were the villains, not the djinn they controlled to create a sandstorm that almost killed the PCs. Well, they, and behind the scenes, Dr. Ganoush, now a powerful player in Iraq's occult scene, as he used archaelogical digs in old Sumerian sites to obtain ever more powerful spirits in his service.

And in Götterdammerung on Walpurgisnacht, the Cold Ones were the impersonal menace behind the occult faction around Heinrich Himmler, but the villains were definitely such Black Knights as a reanimated Reinhard Heydrich and company, not to mention Oskar Dirlewanger, a man who appalled even the architects of the Final Solution.

Similarly, in Cold Night in Maine, the PCs never spoke with the chenoo, understood its motivations or even necessarily considered it interesting in itself. They were concerned with the human murderer, Victor Dufresne, whether he'd had accomplices and to what extent the murders were supernaturally motivated, and to what extent the chenoo had allowed a human serial killer or killers the power he wanted to be able to prey on other humans.

I'm not sure if I can have the PCs meet and talk to otherworldly horrors and avoid them becoming merely humans with different backgrounds.

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(And, wow, you're up late. What time is it, in Iceland?)
At the time of the post to which you refer 02:40. Now, it's half past nine.

I'm bad at sleeping nights. I was watching Community for most of the night.
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Old 02-21-2019, 03:18 AM   #148
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In the Desert Southwest of North America, lack of food and water posed the greatest threats to survival, as did violent sociopaths who damaged close-knit tribes whose members had to live and work together, in close proximity to one another. So, fairy stories included nature spirits such as nunnupi and zips (food and water); monsters who hurt and abused people -- including children (tsiants); or highly functional sociopaths capable of pretending to respect cultural traditions, but actually causing so much harm they damaged relations within and between entire tribes (skin-changers).
That's an interesting way to look at it.

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By comparison, the natural environment of most of Europe has always been far more benign than the Desert Southwest. So, while the nature fairies could be scary, the ones that truly terrified were the lords and ladies of the fae courts. They showed up out of nowhere and took away people's children for inscrutable reasons of their own and, while the young person might return as a fortunate prodigy, that was highly unlikely.

Far more frequently, the children simply disappeared forever, or returned horribly maimed in either body or mind (or both) from the violence and abuse inflicted on them. As a projection of human fears, this one is pretty clear -- many people who created European folklore considered royalty and nobility as the most dangerous of the powerful and fickle forces that required propitiation lest they do terrible and lasting harm.
Interesting.

Note that if this is so, the royalty and nobility informing the creation of faerie courts and Changeling stories has to be very early European nobility and royalty. Iceland was sparsely populated enough and poor enough so that social structure here was basically limited to those who worked on other people's farms, those who worked their own and those who could afford having hirelings on their larger farms. That's leaving out those who couldn't work at all, but I assure you that most of society at the time felt pretty comfortable forgetting about them too.

We simply didn't have the wealth to support a more complex social structure and entirely lacked any social class above the lowest level of 'gentry', which in any case were not people who'd ever bother taking away the children of those who owned less or no land, largely for the reason that 'extra' children, no matter what you intend them for, are a luxury and even the richest farmer here hardly had any assurance of always being able to feed his own family and hirelings during bad years.

Yet our Fair Folk seem to match European faeries pretty well, complete with noble courts that mirrored nothing that happened in Iceland, and Changelings. So if these are truly inspired by European nobility and royalty taking away children to foster them or for any other reason, they'd have to been fully formed when Iceland was settled. Which would mean having been based on 'Dark Ages' nobles, not High Medieval ones.

And the problem with that is that during the Viking Age, fosterage was a very common custom, but it was exclusively confined to the children of the rich, with rich families raising each other's children to strengthen mutual bonds of kinship and allegiance. There was little mystery about it, no power imbalance and no one would have been terribly interested in the children of anyone not among the richest farmers, as those couldn't foster your own children in exchange (or provide much benefit as allies) and thus, fostering their children was a pointless waste of scarce resources.

Actually, as far as I can tell from Icelandic Changeling stories, the horror has little to do with the child being taken away. That, after all, was what everyone expected to happen with children while they were young here, they were much more likely to die than survive to age five. No, the horror was that the fae left behind a Changeling that the parents had to care for, but who lacked human empathy or motivations and would never pay the parents back by caring for them in their old age.

From my perspective, the fae stories about them taking children and leaving their own Changelings weren't reflective of fears of people of higher status taking away children for their own inscrutable reasons, they were more likely a way to rationalize children born with various development disorders or conditions, autism, mental illnesses, etc. Or children who start exhibiting signs of such fairly young, so that to the parents they appear to be fundamentally changed from how they were before.

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To drag this back to Icelander's setting, I'm not really sure how he defines fairies.
That's an interesting point.

The world of Faerie might consist of mystical representations of nature in all forms, not merely human perceptions of it. The case would then simply be that humans mainly deal with the more anthropomorphic personifications of nature and the utterly inhuman forces are beyond our ken, existing deeper within Faerie, not adjacent to our human worlds.

If so, however, that's almost the equivalent of saying that the fae are personifications of human perceptions of nature, not nature itself. Because the theoretical existence of more inhuman fae is basically irrelevant if every fey creature that interacts with humans eventually comes to be influenced by humans to the point where its motivations make sense to humans, even if the humans don't share them.

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However, some of his more horrific creatures are definitely informed by Lovecraft. who found most horrifying the notion of a universe of natural forces, roamed by predator gods inherently incapable of even understanding the notion of caring about anything other than their own needs and appetites.
Indeed so. I've found that divine entities that are even hypothetically friendly to PCs are not as conductive to good horror as a campaign world where the only beings that possess enough power to be termed 'gods' are horrifyingly alien.

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The universe of the Lovecraftian Mythos reflected a view of modern scientific thought held by a man with considerable artistic gifts, but so physically weak and sickly the notion of Natural Selection filled him with existential horror. It's about as profound a rejection of modernity as one can possibly find.
I've always tried to comprehend how profound a shock to human sensibilities it must have been to realize that we weren't central to the universe must have been. Growing up in a post-modern culture where that's taken for granted, it's hard to visualize the mind-shattering impact of that, no matter who you were.

I suppose that it gives some idea to consider how many people today prefer to believe in some kind of purpose, plan and meaning, rather than simply accept their existence as accidental and, consequently, accept concepts like just rewards, morality, justice, achievements, goals and closure as human inventions, with no more meaning than we give them.

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To his credit, Icelander has backed it down a bit, because some of his forces, the Cold Ones, seem capable of grasping the notion of a mutually-beneficial business arrangement. That gives them at least some comprehensible motivations -- which makes the opposition to them (and their partner-patsies) more dramatically meaningful, and that's really good for an RPG setting.
I note that even in Lovecraft stories, Cthulhu had a cult of human worshipers and the Outer Gods had Nyarlathotep. Indeed, Cthulhu was not merely a powerful entity in his own right, he was the High Priest for the Outer Gods, more able to notice humans than they were.

It is debatable whether the Lords of the Last Waste themselves are capable of interacting with anything as puny as human minds, but in the many worlds that have fallen into the Outer Dark, there have been many beings of power and some of them have taken a long time to give up their individualities as they are slowly stripped of everything that makes them themselves.

Desperately searching for other sources of vitality, warmth and potentiality to distract the Cold Ones from finishing their consumption of their persons might motivate such beings to create and maintain cults, religions and even worldwide powers. So the Lords of the Last Waste might not notice the difference between an American or an Antarctic Space Nazi, a noble of the Fair Folk or an frost-rimmed sorcerer of the White Riders, an occultist of any cabal or a cultist of the Keepers of the Last Flame... but there are those who do notice and who can guide the tendrils of awareness reaching from the Outer Dark to focus on other sources of warmth.

The Ice Giants that Karl-Maria Wiligut and the other occultists of the Antarctic Space Nazis encountered when they first explored the World Tree or the presence that 'Gwen Delvano' called on with her ritual as the PCs broke into her sanctum might not be one of the Lords of the Last Waste themselves. They might instead represent some ancient and powerful entity taken over by the Cold Ones and acting in the capacity of an Opener of the Way for them, a dark John the Baptist, feeding them new worlds to stave off its own extinction.
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Old 02-21-2019, 04:16 PM   #149
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It occurs to me ... after 900 years of independence, Kafiristan became Nuristan in 1895/1896. That is close to your Pakistani vortex. What magic kept the locals from being conquered and converted by Moslem rulers, and after the conversion what did they forget which should not have been lost?

If elders are libraries, Afghanistan since the 1970s is black with the smoke of burning books.
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Old 02-21-2019, 04:40 PM   #150
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It occurs to me ... after 900 years of independence, Kafiristan became Nuristan in 1895/1896. That is close to your Pakistani vortex. What magic kept the locals from being conquered and converted by Moslem rulers, and after the conversion what did they forget which should not have been lost?
Oooh, that's an excellent point.

Plus, hidden valleys of blue- and green-eyed people with pre-Islamic beliefs in the Pamirs and Hindu Kush are prime adventure fodder. The Man Who Would be King ruled.
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Another crusade against idolatry was at length resolved on; and Mahmud led the seventh one against Nardain, the then boundary of India, or the eastern part of the Hindu Kush; separating, as Ferishta says, the countries of Hindustan and Turkistan and remarkable for its excellent fruit. The country into which the army of Ghazni marched appears to have been the same as that now called Kafirstan, where the inhabitants were and still are, idolaters and are named the Siah-Posh, or black-vested, by the Muslims of later times. In Nardain there was a temple, which the army of Ghazni destroyed; and brought from thence a stone covered with certain inscriptions, which were according to the Hindus, of great antiquity.
And that's clearly the opening of a Mythos story.
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If elders are libraries, Afghanistan since the 1970s is black with the smoke of burning books.
Sadly, yes.
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