Open Development 10: Calling Fourth the Darkness (Conjurer: the Shattering)

We are nothing but puppets.

We are bound in strings, unable to see our master. Coincidence. Luck. Probability. Fate. All of those are nothing but the chains which bind us. Freedom of choice is a lie- or, more exactly, it is a clever deception. You are able to to choose- but when the odds are built against you and all paths are blocked, your choice is irrelevant. Everyone are guided, gently, without them even noticing the strings. Freedom is a lie. Choice is a lie. We are nothing but puppets, and we dance to the will of idiot gods which lurk in the shadows of the world.

But we don’t have to be.

No prison is perfect. No chain is unbreakable. Thousands of millions of different choices can be regulated- but there is always one, small, slim chance that a mistake would happen. That someone would make a choice they should have not made. That the puppet would realize it has a will of its own, and do something even the gods couldn’t predict. That they would mess up their fate so much, that everything that was, is and will be would be split, broken… shatter. The Shattering is always an option, and when it happens- all hell breaks loose.

And things from hell reach out to grasp you in your throat.

They call it a Toy- a being forged in the eternal darkness of the Void, formed from broken pieces of time and terror which can not be comprehended. At its core there is a knot, tying together the broken strings from which you escaped. It reaches out, aiming to erase your very existence, as a punishment for the sin you have committed against the world. You panic, trying to escape- but there is no way out. You are no longer a part of this world. You have descended into an abyss from which there is no escape- the Playground. Those who can’t get over their panic are doomed- eaten by their own Toy, they are erased, their choice is removed from the Playground, and they are left forgotten by all. Sometimes, other people take their places, people who have never existed before, in order to sooth the passage of time. On others, there is no need is such substitutions. They are simply gone, for all eternity.

You are not one of them.

You fight, grasping the strings which were meant to devour you. You pull them to submit the Toy to your will, grasping at the very reason for your existence, for why you turned against the world and made a choice which should not have been made. You cement your will upon fate itself, and pull yourself from the nether back into the world- a world which was changed forever because you made a choice, because you did the impossible.

And it hates you for that.

Someone has designed fate in that way for a reason. Someone worked really, really hard in order to make sure its wish will be fulfilled- and you ruined it. It hates you- personally, intimately. It knows everything about you- your loved ones, your weak spots, where it should hit in order to make you break. It has formed your Toy in order to remove you from the Playground- and once it didn’t worked, it decides to take a special interest in you. They call it the Toymaker, and it is not a distant, uncaring god, but one which has a very specific interest in your life- to make you regret you ever made the choice, to make you regret your very existence, and eventually, make you erase yourself from the world by your own hands.

While the Toymaker is always around, manipulating probabilities and twisting chances in order to cause you to suffer as much as possible, it is far from alone in its struggle. True to its name, it has created hordes of horrors to serve and exact it will upon the world. Some of those Toys are mass produced terrors, formed from the fabric of the Playground to serve as sacrificial pawns. Others have evolved beyond their lowly state, becoming unique creations which devour life and time as one. And among the armies of the abyss, lurks beings of elusive nature- Wild Toys, creatures which carry in them a shard of the true will of the Toymaker itself.

And there are other threats, beings which lurk beyond the Toymaker’s reach, or hide inside its shadow. Mysterious individuals known only as the “guardians” move freely between our world and the Playground, claiming to uphold an ancient, true order from a time which never was, before the Toymaker shattered time to fulfill its wish. Some conjurers shatter their own identity and Toy in exchange for becoming free from the constrains of the Toymaker. Some people are simply born cursed in the eyes of the Toymaker, and as such invoke bad luck upon everyone around them as they watch into the depths of the darkness. Mad conjurers who curse their own existence are driven into self destruction, and carry everyone else with them. The Monarchs which rule the Houses of the Shattered are unknown by the conjurers which serve them, and no one knows which agenda they wish to advance. And worse than all, the Toymaker has agents of its own, ones which can manipulate the Marionette Syndrome as easily as their master. The Toymaker’s headhunters sacrifice their freedom in exchange for power- and there are few limits for the power which the Toymaker can grant to its faithful.

And all of those are just external threats- the true threats come from within. From the whispers of your Toys in the middle of the night, the strange nostalgia which is awakened by the memories of the Time Not, the sense of guilt and responsibility in knowing that every time that something messes up and that your loved ones are harmed, it is your fault. You made a mistake, shattered time, and now you pay the price. And the only way to fix it is by breaking your own Heart, and be erased from existence.

Freedom has its price.

Make sure its worth it.


 

Lexicon

Accessories– items which have functions installed into them by conjurers. They are bound to their maker through the Marionette Syndrome, but ownership may be exchanged.

Auditions– another name for Deja Reve.

Chains– the strange manifestation which allows the guardians to manipulate and control their Toys, taking the image of heavy, shadowy bindings. They replace the regular strings the Shattered use.

Conjurer– any being which can summon Toys and call upon the powers of the Playground.

Curtain, the– the Twilight. The 2nd dimension.

Deja Reve– instances when the Toymaker manifest itself directly in order to communicate with one of the Shattered. Common especially in places where the Playground touches the world. Also known as Auditions.

Deja Vu– moments of strange clarity, happening when a conjurer makes contact with the Time Not.

Dimension– a certain level of reality, as defined by conjurers.

Dollhouse, the– a name given to the whole collective of all existence, as commanded directly by the Toymaker. Rumors about other Dollhouses are common, yet no one has seen proof for such existence.

Echoes– false human forms which certain conjurers can create. The most infamous ability of Outlaws. Some Echoes gain life of their own, becoming Replicas. Sometime, they are created naturally due to “knots” in the Marionette Syndrome.

Ensemble– a group of conjurers working together, bound through the Marionette Syndrome.

Fluctuations– the sorcery of the conjurers, which allows them to manipulate the Marionette Syndrome in order to recreate the past or shape the future through the use of arts. Each House is specialized in another form of Fluctuations.

Functions– general term which define what a Toy can do. They are divided into a number of wide categories, depending on the way the conjurer manifests the Toy’s abilities through their Heart.

Game Designers– godlike entities which exist in a partially awake state and which regulate the formation of Toys and the manipulation of the Marionette Syndrome. The 8th dimension.

Guardians– a mysterious group of conjurers which do not seem to be connected to the Marionette Syndrome, and which lacks an Heart. Instead, they are able to shape their Toys by will by using chains. They target the Toymaker and its creations as their enemies.

Headhunters– the soldiers of the Toymaker. They are conjurers born into the Toymaker’s service, gaining great power over the Marionette Syndrome in exchange for their freedom.

Heart– the core of a conjurer’s power, birthed as a physical object which symbolize the Shattering. There type of Heart determines the way the conjurer most easily manifest their powers.

Houses– the organizations of the Shattered, which claim a legacy since the Time Not. Each is ruled by a mysterious Monarch and is connected by the Marionette Syndrome.

Jamais Vu– moments of madness which take place when a conjurer lose their sense of self.

Marionette Syndrome, the– a phenomenon which binds the fate of each object upon the world and allows the Toymaker to manipulate them. To the eyes of conjurers, it manifests itself as a collection of strings, giving it its name. The 5th dimension.

Memoryscape–  a small piece of memory from the Time Not preserved in the current timeline. No one knows if that was done by mistake or by purpose. Such places are known to generate shards.

Monarch– the name given to the ruler of an House. No one knows their identities, true agendas, or if they actually exist- only that they object the Toymaker‘s tyrannic rule and offer a safe sanctuary for the Shattered.. for a price.

Netherland– the subspace which allows travel from the Theater to the Playground. The 6th dimension.

Nostalgia– the level of connection between the conjurer and the Time Not, and how well can they invoke that connection.

Outlaws– conjurers which has experienced a “second Shattering” by breaking their own Heart. Their most common ability seems to be the creation of Echoes.

Playground, the– the Void. The Darkness. the Abyss. The All and Nothing. The Heart of all existence, held by the Toymaker. According to conjurers, controlling the Playground controls the past, and as such the present and the future. The 10th dimension.

Presque Vu– a rumored state of complete freedom from the the powers of the Toymaker and its manipulations.

Puppet– a nickname used by conjurers for anyone who is still bound by the Marionette Syndrome.

Replicas– false humans formed from Echoes gaining life and awareness of their own. They exist on burrowed time, and require constant access to shards in order to prologue their existence. Once burned out, they are forgotten by all puppets.

Scraps– artificial Toys created by conjurers from a number of Functions bound together with strings. Devouring scraps allows a Toy to form the eaten Functions.

Script, the– the name given to the passage of timeline by conjurers. The 4th dimension.

Shard– a small piece of time which conjurers can convert into energy through the use of their Toy. The 0th dimension.

Shattered, the– a name given to those conjurers which has shattered time by making a choice against the Toymaker’s design, taking over a Toy by using the Marionette Syndrome.

Shattering, the– the name for the event which causes time to break free from the Marionette Syndrome through a single choice.

String– a collection of shards, which allow to manipulate the path of object through space or time. The 1st dimension.

Theater, the– the name given to the material world by the conjurers. The 3rd dimension.

Time Not– a name given to the world from before the Toymaker took over the Playground from its previous ruler.

Token– a crystallized form of shards generated by following the urges of a Toy. Can be used to power a very specific form of functions.

Toy– a nickname given to the denizens of the Playground. They exist to exact the will of the Toymaker and are controlled by the Marionette Syndrome. Each conjurer controls at least a single Toy.

Toy Factories– whole worlds formed in the Playground which birth Toys by following the commands of Game Designers. The 7th dimension.

Toymaker, the– a mysterious and ancient being which controls the Marionette Syndrome, which grants it power over time and fate. It actively works in order to fulfill an unknown cause, and to erase mistakes- such as the Shattered- from the world.

Trumps– people who have functions installed into them. Most commonly created by conjurers.

Void Watchers– sorcerers which are able to use Fluctuations in order to effect reality and manipulate the Marionette Syndrome. The Toymaker seems to be blind to their existence, and actively attempts to erase them from existence.

Wild Conjurers– Shattered which has fell victim to their own despair, and fed their Heart to their Toy and become its slaves. They are driven to erase their own existence by feeding everything they hold dear to their Toy to get a chance in changing the past.

Wild Toys– special Toys which contain a silver of the Toymaker’s true will. Unlike most Toys, they have a true personality of their own, including goals and agenda- which may even go against the explicit wished of the Toymaker.


 

 

So, those of you who have followed my work through the years may have noticed that every one and awhile, I start trying to work on my own homebrew gameline called Conjurer: the Shattering. Initially being inspired by the manga and anime Pandora Hearts, it has been going through a number of incarnations, moving from fantasy to sci-fi, attempting to incorporate elements of time travel and manipulation by using a magic like system. Every time I try to start the game, I discover how hard it is to make a gameline on my own, and let go of the subject-but the creative spark to complete that project keeps being lite up every one and awhile, as I try new methods for the project- such as going for a minor template, using horror rules or even as an hack for either Mage or Geist. The reason for the last awakening, however, is twofold- first, not so long ago, a reader of this blog has asked me about the state of this project, and my plans for Conjurer. While that was enough to make me look back at my notes and be reminded of how much I love the concept, the other catalyst was Geist’s Kickstarter- as both games deal with a strange bond between a person and an otherworldly spirit, and shared certain terminologies in Conjurer’s early incarnations (such as Keys). As such, I wanted to really establish Conjurer as something which has a right to exist, which meant for me to start working on it in order to develop it further from Geist’s themes and aesthetics (even though I believe the base itself is strong enough, as Toys share little in common with Geists, both in nature and behavior. Toys don’t actually want anything other than destroying their own conjurer- and even that I’m going to rework a bit to make them much more passive and an expression of their own Shattered’s nature).

Anyway, here is the first (in the hopefully, last and finale incarnation of the gamer) post for Conjurer’s Open Development. Feel free to ask any questions you want about the project, as well as my plans for it. You can look for the previously written material in my homebrew signature. If any of you feels inspired by reading this material, and wish to help in writing and developing, feel free to make contact- as I need all the help I could get! 😛

See you next time, and hope you’ll like it!

Chapter 30: Death’s White Mask (G:tSE vs Bleach)

So, for those of you who have followed my work in the forums, you may have noticed that I do have a tendency to adapt certain material from anime/manga into the CofD’s setting. I adapted D.Gray Man, Vanitas no Carte, Mahotsukai no Yome, Naruto, Natsume’s Book of Friends, Mahoka, Tokyo Raven, Tokyo Ghoul and Enen no Shouboutai, and I still have plans to adapt some other concepts from MnY, Claymore and Ao no Exorcist. As such, it should come as no surprise that when I think about an anime, one of the first things I think about “how could I adapt and use it for my benefit”.

Especially in the cases where it is just so damn appropriate that it’s painful.

Now, I’m not the first person to think about connecting Bleach to Geist- those two products simply so go so well together. Masked ghosts and psychopomps who work to help ghosts move on, and the focus of both worlds around saving the dead from the consuming hunger of the Underworld whioch slowly twist and devours them just makes so much damn sense. I mean, all you have to do is give a Bound a big ass sword, call it “zanpakuto” and send them fighting Reapers and other terrors of the Underworld while building a krewe which use a semi Spanish terminology, and you are done, right?

Not exactly.

I mean, it could work- at least on a very superficial  level- but as you start to look into the details, things seems to.. well, fall apart. Sure, the Reapers are mask bearing ghosts- but that’s the point. They bear masks, and only wear them for sudden boosts at power- in exchange for their humanity. And from where those masks come from? From geists, of course. Geists, which are ghosts that were so consumed by pain and sorrow that they forgot who they are, drinking deep from the tainted powers of the Underworld and becoming something… stranger, an inhuman spirit bound by mask. Also, the ones which has the ability to eat ghosts for power are the Bound- or more exactly, their geists (sure, they don’t want to, but Tyranny based Bound simply don’t ask questions, right?). Reapers, on the other hand, are beings which follow the Old Laws of the Bellow, and which work in order to move ghosts from the world of the living to their “rightful place”- and not just dissipate them, as do those Sin Eaters as they help the ghost to “move on” (hey, their get Plasm from it- sounds too much like ghost consumption, right?).

So yeah, once you give it a deeper look, things become evident- the fact that in Bleach the Shinigami are the good guys and the Hollows are the bad guys does not mean that it works the same way in Geist. When your Soul Society is the Deep Dominions of the Underworld, the good guys are the bad guys, and the bad guys are the good guys.

In Geist, you are on the side of the Hollows- working to stop the evil Shinigami (which is roughly translated into “reapers”, after all) from enslaving all ghosts to the works on the dread Soul Society.

Fun, doesn’t it?

(yeah, I am fully aware that you could style your Geist as your Zanpakuto’s spirit- but when you look at the details, geists just share much more in common with Hollows and Reapers fill the same thematic niche as Shinigami- so it is not a perfect analogy, but this is the one which I think work the best, and this is the one we are going to explore in this blog post. What can I say, I simply love evil twists. Like Aizen).

Anyway, if we were to look upon the analogies, considering that the Reapers are ghosts who found “hollow masks”, it would make them as good parallels to the Visored. If we are to treat the Geists as Hollows, from what I can gather, I think that the Bound’s closest parallel would be the Fullbringers (I’m not sure about the analogy, as I’ve stopped seeing Bleach after the Arrancar arc and with Aizen anticlimactic defeat), as they seems to have their powers gained through a certain merging with Hollow spiritual energy (not exactly the Bargain, but it seems to be the closest we have in Bleach). While we are yet to know anything substantial about the “Eaters of the Dead”, we do know that they are eating ghosts- which makes them sound like the Bount. And of course, regular ghosts would be the Pluses.

That’s five races- but what about the rest?

First would be the Shinigami- while Reapers cover the “hollowfied” version, we don’t seem to have a proper parallel for Soul Society’s protectors. Currently, I think about treating them as a form of ghosts which act as guardians of the River Cities or the Dominions of the Bellow. On the other hand, that concept may be used for my old Deathknight concept which I always wanted to write, for people (either living or dead) which submit themselves to the will of the Kerberoi and the Old Laws in order to bring order to the Underworld. May require some revision after we’ll see the full Reaper description, but it seems like a good start for our Shinigami like parallel.

Arrancars are a different issue- being described as those Hollows which shatter their own mask for power, in our parallel it should be geists who shatter their own “masks”- that is, the strange identities granted to them by the Rivers of the Underworld. That would mean turning against the corrupting forces of the Bellow and lock them inside a certain object (like the Arrancer’s sword)- perhaps a memento of some kind- and then be able to call upon them in order to achieve greater power in a similar way to how Reapers do with Deathmasks (still not ure if they should be “good guys” or “bad guys” in the CofD). The Menus themselves could be styled by either Chthonian (as giant dead things which roam the Underworld) or a terrible products of geist who start eating ghosts in order to survive and grow in power, losing more and more of their identity in search for power.

The Quincy would be interesting to explore as a breed of spiritually sensitive humans which can shape Plasm into weapons and spells for both attack and defense. As their attack against the dead would “purify them” and create a similar (if a bit more violent) effect for the ghost moving on (like how the Quincy destroyed Hollows in the anime), it would put them in odds witht he Reaper, as they deny the Underworld the dead it hungers for so much.

Modified Souls could be seen as a product of Thanathologist krewe which works to create artificial ghosts which are in then used to Claim their own corpses and be used as living (dead?) weapons. Blanks, as spirits which lost all of their memories, should be absorbed into the Underworld- but could be modeled as an outcome of strange events when parts of the Underworld get “revived”- that is, former ghosts which were absorbed start moving again, yet with no memory of who or what they are, acting under the twisted influence of the Underworld as they invade and overflood the world of the living. Could even be the outcome of when the Underworld grows closer to the world of the living and start draining ghosts which are not yet within its reach.

The Bakkoto could be styled as some sort of intelligent memento formed as an experiment in the River Cities in order to create controlled, Reaper level ghosts by shaping parts of the Underoworld itself (official, the truth would probably include having Geists being torn apart and used as raw material in order to produce those weapons). Of course, as they are Underworld tainted, those mementos would quickly drain and devour the dead who use them if they are not careful enough. Perhaps could even be used by the living instead (again, their origin story could easily be connected to that Thanathologist krewe). Finally, the Togabito from Hell should probably be a represented by a certain update of the Larvae from Inferno- ghosts which were either so wicked that Hell took over them before the Underworld’s Maw would manage to bite, or ghosts who were tempted by Inferno that they could find an escape from the Bellow if they were to follow the ways of sin and vice. It’s a trap, of course- but Hell does stand on its end of the bargain. It always does.

Well, that’s it for this week! Next week would probably be more of a creative writing kind of thing- either a new homebrew, an Open Development, cosmology or an interview. If you have preferences, feel free to say what you’ll like to see!