George?

The title has nothing to do with this posting. A co-worker named George just happened to walk by as I was trying to think of a title for this. In actuality, this is a continuation of the last post.

I had this concept of a great curse germinating in my brain. Something to do with a silver wand, and something that would make one of the witches appear as a fiend that comes from hell.

My line of thinking went something like: at some point, the two witches were in conflict and Allison got the better of the other by casting some sort of curse. Later, through the love of King Henry, the witch was able to break the curse.

While I was trying to put this stuff together, my players were working on their character concepts. Of course, one has to be a cleric, because no self-respecting D&D adventure party can exist without a cleric. And when there’s a cleric, there must be a god. And when there’s a god, there has to be a pantheon. One of the other players in the group is what I jokingly refer to as a “devout atheist,” meaning that he sometimes wears his anti-beliefs on his sleeve, professing his arguments in a manner similar to a newly converted born-again Christian.

From this, I thought, why have gods at all? Wouldn’t it be interesting for there to be a fantasy setting that truly had no gods? In this case, clerics, who believed their powers to be drawn from and gifts from their gods were actually no different than sorcerers. The power came from where-ever magic came from, be it their own wellspring of mana, the air, the earth, or whatever. The only difference is that they believe their power to be god-sourced.

So why aren’t their gods? Many years ago I toyed with the idea of building a setting around a Christian faith. Not the regimented, institutionalized, bureaucratic vision of early Catholicism that is found in some novels (Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series comes to mind), but something more in line with modern semi-fundamentalist Baptist faith. After running this idea by a few gamers, this idea was put on the shelf and mostly forgotten. How about this: at some point in the setting’s history, there were gods. Lots of them. All the gods briefly described in the Players Handbook, as well as a few others. It’s just that they are gone now. At some point, the gods became no more but their churches and faiths lived on, in the form of temples, churches, monasteries, and so on. These somewhat institutionalized belief systems are the framework for the cleric and other faith-based character classes, so the game isn’t broken.

When there’s are multiple pantheons, you open the door to apotheosis. A few years ago I published an article about this in a short-lived Tunnels & Trolls fanzine, called On Becoming. In it, I detailed (from a non-system-specific perspective) how a player-character might take the steps necessary to become a god. Applying this logic to this new setting I’m building, I decided that at some point in this world’s history, a group of powerful adventurers had decided to take those steps and join the ranks of the immortals. The existing gods, having gone through the same process themselves, decided that there were already too many gods and the “faith pool” was already spread too thin for there to be more in their ranks. They allied together, which in a lot of cases meant some completely unholy and unlikely alliances, rallied their faithful, and fought against the upstarts. This became a great war that touched every part of the known world, involving every thinking creature. Just imagine – elves standing shoulder-to-shoulder with orcs, fighting as allies. Of course some of these alliances didn’t work out so well because some backstabbing gods took advantage of the situation to further their own ends.

But it all came to a screeching halt. In the middle of a war-torn city. Buildings are burning. Siege engines are lobbing pitch-filled projectiles at one-another. The streets are rivers of blood. A little girl ran crying from her family home, her parents had just been killed from collateral damage. In the middle of the street, near the middle of the city, near the middle of this great war, holding a toy wand made of painted wood and cheep green glass, she asked the kind of question only someone truly innocent could ask. “What if there were no gods?”

And thus, the Great Curse was born. This question, from the power of innocence, somehow sucked all that it was to be a god into the wand. More powerful than all the gods combined. More powerful than the 9th level Wish spell. Instantly, those that were gods had lost their godly powers. No longer were they immortal. No longer could they travel at will to their alternate planes of existence. No longer could they wield great energies, bend reality to their will, and command the forces that would only follow them because of who they were. With their power gone, they no longer had anything to defend. In addition, those seeking this power were no longer able to attain it, and as such, had no motivation to continue.

The girl was killed moments later when a nearby building collapsed, burying her. It took months for the fighting to subside. Years for the animosities to quell. Generations for civilization to rebuild.

I now had the origination of the curse, and the magic item/artifact that embodies it. I needed next to identify the exact nature of the curse. The answer is relatively simple: You are forever denied what you most truly desire.

In the next post, I’ll revisit the twelve witches and figure out how the curse applies to each of them. And with that, you’ll see how I’ve already screwed up something which I had to retro-fix.

A Paradox of Desire

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