Thursday, 28 July 2011

Commoner Cults of Jonatela

So, in my last post I discussed the reasoning behind the rule mechanics I used for Jonating commoner caste magic in the recent piece at my home page. As I said then, I can think of two other questions the piece might have raised in the minds of readers, and I'll discuss them now.

To begin with, if the Elmoi are supposed to represent a denuded form of Ernalda worship, and they really are theistic, which gods are we talking about here? I see no reason to stay being mysterious about that, and people might wonder, so that's something I can quickly deal with. It should be said, though, that I think it's more important that the cults are distinct, than whether or not the beings behind them are, so I don't think it really matters much. Which means that anyone else's interpretation is as good as mine - if I thought it was important, and made a meaningful difference, I'd have put it in the article, not here.

At any rate, Frona is, I think, fairly clearly some sort of aspect of Ernalda the Great Goddess. She's mentioned as a grain goddess in RQ3, and Thunder Rebels reinforces that the grain goddess cults are different ways of worshipping the great earth mother. Frona, clearly, is the mother goddess and land goddess for Fronela as a whole, and will have her own, regular, theistic cult elsewhere.

Uryana and Vilecha are also aspects of Ernalda, and remember, we're told in Genertela: CotHW that the Jonating commoners worship Ernalda as their main goddess, so it makes sense that she gets the key roles. I don't think of Vilecha as a Chalana Arroy, incidentally, because she's just not powerful enough.

By definition, the Jonating commoners won't have a counterpart of Orlanth Rex, and Orlanth Thunderous doesn't really fit either. The closest you'll get to Orlanth here, then, is Vereled the hunter, and Tak may well be Orlanth Allfather. Isyedik might be as well, what with having the change/motion rune, but he's more likely Issaries, removed from the trade role taken by the nobility - and obviously, a heck of a lot weaker for it. Note that all of these are pretty minor, compared with the "Ernaldan" cults.

Of the remaining four, I think Inoria's pretty obvious to anyone who follows Gloranthan mythology! The others are probably unknown to the Heortlings, at least as anything of importance. Why should the Fronelan Orlanthi from whom the Jonating commoners evolved have had exactly the same list of deities as the Sartarites? I don't see why there can't be some local differences. Thus, Ishkaya might look superficially like Minlister, but he's a god of vodka, not beer, and his story is quite different. Svetara certainly isn't Elmal, or Yelmalio, because she's a she, although there's probably some forgotten mythic connection in there somewhere.

Kagshei is intentionally more ambiguous. He doesn't live in the Elmoi realm on the Other Side, and his origin story is different from everyone else's. He's manifestly not Humakt, even if he does share one role in common with him, and he isn't Ty Kora Tek, either, although that resemblance is probably closer. Is he, perhaps, an intruder from another pantheon, now gone from the world? Is he actually an essence being, receiving misapplied worship? He could be either, or neither; I have no particularly strong opinion.

The final question is one that arguably matters a little more. Namely, why bother? I don't mean 'why bother writing the Jonating material?', although that's perhaps also a question worthy of examination. But why bother describing and writing up the Elmoi cults?

The official publication Under the Red Moon has come under criticism from some quarters for devoting an entire half page to the cult of Asyrex, the benign Lunar Immortal of home-making husbands. Specifically, therefore, a god of the kind of people that don't become adventurers and aren't likely to be player characters. I'm not sure why he gets picked on specifically, because he isn't alone in that respect (Felkanna being the most obvious instance, I'd have thought). Nonetheless, some people have complained that even half a page is too much paper to waste on him.

The Elmoi cults are pretty similar. Few, if any of them, are going to be of much use to player characters in typical games. Their magic is deliberately crap at a mechanical level, and the range of things they can do with it is almost almost entirely restricted to everyday life. When they do have useful abilities, they're too specialised to be able to do much else. An Inorian can survive the winter, which is useful, but survive it to do what? From the perspective of most PCs, not a lot.

So, if they're not useful for PCs, if, in fact, they're intentionally not useful for most PCs, why include them in game writings? One answer is that, since this isn't a hardcopy book, I don't have to worry about page count. I'm not cutting something else to squeeze this in, so at worst it means that anyone following this project as I write it has to wait another couple of months before they can read what I have to say about the magic of Jonating wizards (I've already done the warriors and nobles, of course). Anyone coming to it later doesn't even have that problem; they can ignore the entire section if they want to, and don't lose anything because of it.

But I could use that as a reason to include anything at all; it explains why I could add it, not why I did. There's at least two answers to that, and they may give some insight into my writing.

Firstly, there's the fact that I find it just plain interesting. What sort of magic do the commoners have? That's just an interesting question in its own right, and its fun to explore that. Of course, I could do that through flavour text alone, but the actual quantification of that magic, the process of writing a cult, puts that into perspective for me, allows me to work out how it all fits into a framework. Writing up commoner magic caste in the form of cults is as interesting as writing the cults for more player-suitable character types, a fun exercise even if the end result receives little use.

But there's a deeper reason than that. In short, I don't have a problem with Asyrex. The world is not inhabited solely by PCs, and PCs are going to have to interact with a whole range of different people. Some of those are going to be regular, everyday people, the kind that follow Durev among the Heortlings, Asyrex and Felkanna among the Lunars, and the Elmoi among the Jonatings. These NPCs may, in some respects, not be as important as the ones you're fighting, but that doesn't mean they don't matter.

I want to know what the magic of the regular people is, what the "norm" of society represents that the PCs are differing from. We all know how difficult it is to predict what players are going to do, so I never know when I might need the stats for a minor NPC, to know exactly what it is he's capable of. For that, I need to know how his magic works, what he can and can't do with his spells. You never know when it might be relevant. As a GM, I both want and need the complete picture.

Yes, I could make it up on the fly, and sometimes I have to, but I'd rather not, and, anyway, it's easier if the background info - including the quantification into cults - is there to serve as a guideline. So I like Asyrex, because a lot of NPCs are going to follow him, even if the PCs don't (to be honest, he's actually less bland than some of the more active cults in the book). It's only half a page; that's not too much.

For the same reason, I include the Elmoi cults here. They're useful as background, as an illustration of how your wizard and warrior PCs outclass the plebs, as a fall-back in case I do need to know what the commoners are capable of, or of what sort of threats they'd find particularly worrying. You could argue it's just completism on my part, and there's some truth in that, but I do think it's actually useful, even if it's not always obviously so.

When I write the Jonating material, as when I wrote Book of Glorious Joy, Kingdom of the Flamesword, and Heroes of Malkion, I try to put in what I think is useful in a game; the kinds of things that I'd want to see in a book. Perhaps the people who don't like Asyrex aren't going to read the Elmoi stuff anyway, or perhaps they won't care because it's a free web publication, or perhaps they will think there's some important difference between the two that I'm missing. Perhaps, therefore, I don't need to justify this at all.

But it's at least possible somebody will have wondered, and the answer may give some insight into why I write what I write.

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