14 June 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Horror 01 - The Mother

This is the first Anatomy of a Horror in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

If you happen to be a player in this game, please do not read this series. There will be spoilers and some of this information is subject to change.

Almost exactly nine months ago (as an aside, it's hard to believe that I've been writing about Earthdawn like this for almost a year already), I did a post about Horrors that gave an overview of them from the perspective of both the PCs and the GM with the vague promise of revisiting the topic. This is officially revisiting the topic.

My goal here is to go through the process that I used to create this Horror, while not delving too much into the context of the campaign it has come from. One reason for that limitation is the amount of effort to relate and absorb that level of detail isn't likely to have enough payoff. That said, if you have questions, always feel free to let me know. Another reason is that without the direct elements that tie into my own game, it should be easier to borrow pieces or the whole thing for your own purposes, if you would like.

The initial questions for creating a Horror that I proposed were: What is the Horror supposed to do? What kind of story do you want to tell with the Horror? What powers does the Horror possess? How do the basic assumptions of the setting work? That was the order I posed them in, but won't necessarily be the order I address them.

How do the basic assumptions of the setting work? This is specifically related to the fallibility of the Greeting Ritual. This is a high-level, campaign-based decision that should really be made before it becomes a plot point. Failing that, when you decide, don't go back on it. Ever. This campaign is using the default assumption: The Ritual of Greeting is a custom based on superstition, but there is no power behind it.

What kind of story do you want to tell with the Horror? I wanted this Horror to tell a story of juxtaposition. While within my game it exists in contrast to another Horror, that isn't strictly necessary. It is meant to ask some difficult questions, about what it means to be loved and accepted. It exists in contrast with other Horrors, and in a strange way can provide hope and terror in equal measure, depending on how you look at it.

What is the Horror supposed to do? Building on the kind of story I want to tell, this Horror is obsessed with beauty and pain, seeing them as the essential parts of life. It is fascinated with life, flesh and spirit, having little use for inorganic things. It doesn't feed from the pain it inflicts on others, but from the pain they inflict on themselves. While it doesn't truly have a gender, it clearly identifies as a female and prefers to be addressed as such.

What powers does the Horror possess? Everything she can do is an extension of her concept for now. Flesh and bone crafting are certain. Her form is one of beauty and perfection (in her eyes), and it should be malleable, able to adapt to her needs and whims. Most of her powers are less about immediate gratification and more about the long term. She invests. Her Mark is subtle and different - instead of just feeding on the pain, she can take it and the memory of it. She can help those with her Mark work through their pain, driving them on, giving them the endurance they need to accomplish their goals no matter what. In her presence, she is beautiful in the way that everyone's mother is to them. She is calm, serene, eternally patient and wise, but above all, she is to be obeyed.

These are all of the pieces that I worked through to create this Horror. Most of the details are laid out above, but I will collect them here into something more coherent to convey the final product. What I'm not going to do are give stats here - they are arguably the easiest part and should be tailored to the game. For me, the concept is the most important element, and the most difficult to flesh out.

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She prefers to be called The Mother, but that is not her Name. When it suits her, she may go by other monikers, but she guards her Name jealously. It is her view that her Name is what separates her from the rest of her kind, who she views with anything from disgust and pity, to and almost scientific curiosity. While she is certainly a Horror, she is unlike most other Horrors. 

She feeds from pain, but takes no pleasure in causing it. It is a contradiction for her kind, but the fragment of a story tells of a Horror that Marked a pregnant woman and through that link, came to understand a perfectly exquisite truth about Namegivers: they are more than willing to inflict pain on themselves. That pain was sweet and succulent, joined with the miracle of birth, of flesh and blood. Witnessing the act of giving a Name, perhaps inadvertently she was given one as well. It is as good a clue as any to what drives this Horror.

She is an artist. A seeker of beauty, but not necessarily in a conventional way. In all things, she sees an inner beauty of what can be, of how the flesh, blood, bone and spirit can be molded and sculpted into perfection. Many within Barsaive have been influenced by her works, directly or indirectly, as her knowledge of blood magic is incomparable. It is not uncommon for her to collaborate with an alchemist or Nethermancer treading new and dangerous territory in that field, acting as their inspiration and muse as the seek enlightenment. 

She protects the lost. There are many who have nowhere to go, perhaps that ravages of Horrors or other Namegivers have taken everything from them. It is not uncommon for these lost souls to find their way to her. With her they find comfort without judgment, and love without question. They find the serenity they have dreamed of and beauty they never knew existed, but not only that - they find that they too are beautiful on the inside. The Mother shapes their form until their external beauty matches their internal beauty. All of their pain, all of the fear - she takes them and guards her family. She is their mother.

She wants to be a creator. Just as she surrounds herself with the beauty of her creations, with those that have chosen to follow her, there is the understanding that they are not truly hers. They are the remnants that she has adopted and made her own. There is that sense of emptiness that while she can create creatures and constructs, she cannot create as a Namegiver does. The true gift of life and the ability to give Names eludes her. Above all, she wants to have a child.

While the Mother protects her own, she is not adverse to taking one of their lives if that will serve her ends of beauty and life. Her followers are more than willing to give themselves in her pursuit of beauty - she would never hurt them. There is no remorse as they are sacrificed, only the purity of the experience, of the blood, flesh, bone and spirit as a life comes to its inevitable conclusion. Better to have it end in an act of singular artistry, to have the blood well and splatter in pleasing ways, than to die withered and struggling as the bony claws of age wrench your spirit away.

Because of this, the Mother can not only feed from a blood elf, but is fascinated with them. Their constant self-inflicted pain that is so uninteresting to nearly all other Horrors is a sumptuous feast to her. It is a quiet theory, but not one without merit, that the unthinkable act the elves of Wyrm Wood engaged in was a quiet suggestion from her. There certainly are more than passing similarities between the ends they went to and much of her own work. Then again, it could simply be independent work that went in the same direction, or she could simply been inspired by their acts.

There is no one form that the Mother takes, her nature means that she can alter it nearly at will to suit her whims or needs. However, she does have some preferences and a distinct favorite. Tall, though an exact height is impossible to say, just that her height makes observers feel like a child in her presence. Her form is raw muscle, covered in parts with smooth, white bone, particularly her face. Emerging from the flesh of her torso are four arms, the lower set smaller than the upper. Both sets of arms have hands with seven digits - two thumbs and five fingers. On the occasions she adorns herself, it is always with simple, but elegant red and white silks.

Being in her presence is a calming experience. A sense of peace surrounds her and whenever she speaks, it sounds exactly like the listener's mother. Despite her appearance, which may be considered terrifying, there is something beautiful and compelling about it. It is the same kind of beauty that is associated with the viewers' mother - that there is more to the beauty than just the form. There is one exception to all of this: obsidimen. At the best of times, she has no use for them and at the worst of times, she has uses for them.

Beyond her tremendous talent with blood magic and manipulating living objects and spirits, she has some peculiar gifts to offer those that bear her Mark. It is her desire not to drive them insane, or to cause wanton fear and destruction through her suggestion. Instead, she drives them to their goals, pushing them to their limits. Giving them strength to go harder and longer, taking their pain and fear. It is that pain and fear that she feeds on - that which is inflicted willingly on the Namegiver. While she can certainly feed from what she causes, that feels very "base" to her; she is above such things.

Those under her influence are more inclined, in general, to employ blood charms. After a time, even undergoing extensive body modification. It could be simply that she is drawn to those who already engage in such activities. They are often very driven and prone to taking risks, going far beyond the point others would give up. As well, they tend to become fascinated with art, their tastes slowly changing and becoming stranger. An adept that practices embroidery may start making strange asymmetrical designs that, while attractive, are somewhat unnerving, or a dancer's motions may start incorporating awkward motions that give the performance a somewhat alien quality, or moves that would be excruciatingly painful and pushing well beyond their endurance.