The Outer Dark

"Humanity is a microbe colonising a grain of sand on a vast beach, which is itself just one beach amidst an uncountable number of beaches. We microbes cannot comprehend the scale of our ignorance, we live in the unenlightened darkness and we should be grateful for it. For beyond our blissful ignorance there is a deeper, darker, colder place, the outer dark. A darkness which falls on the soul when the veil of ignorance is pulled back and we catch sight of those incomprehensible creatures which walk, eat, play, fuck and die on the beach, oblivious to the sand beneath their feet." – From a stone tablet written approximately 70AD, found in Petra 1874 and translated by Sir Percival Moore, 1904.

In the mythology of the outer dark, the universe as humanity perceives it is just one tiny aspect of something much larger. Modern practitioners of the outer dark, perhaps with a nod towards astrophysics and its concepts of dark matter and dark energy, sometimes refer to it as dark space. They know it exists but have no idea what it is or even how to describe it. Yet even the most modern practitioner will still refer to the outer dark. More than a physical place, the outer dark is simultaneously a dimension, a concept, a source of power and a state of mind.

Ever since humanity became aware of itself and began to shape its own environment, there have been humans who gained awareness of the outer dark and the creatures who inhabit it. This knowledge exposes the power of the outer dark and often destroys those who discover it. Yet a few hardy souls have kept their minds long enough to pass on their knowledge, around which numerous religions, cults and secret societies have formed. Often these are short-lived with practitioners being consumed (literally and metaphorically) by the outer dark but a few have persisted for generations and even millennia.

Practitioners of the outer dark found that words were a poor way to encode its power. Words were too precise, too adept at infiltrating the mind's defences. Instead they developed pictograms which are able to channel the power of the outer dark with less, but not zero, risk to the user. Anyone is able to use the pictograms once their mind is open to the concept, though the unprepared mind is in serious danger. Practitioners have developed additional images and a primitive grammar to record knowledge, legends and stories about the outer dark.

The outer dark is boundless and contains an infinite number of creatures but humanity is only aware of a few. Though practitioners classify and catalogue them as gods, lesser gods and (more recently) alien races the truth is they have little idea of the creatures' status within the outer dark. Neither do practitioners have any real understanding of the entities' motivations or desires.

Cults

Only the strong and the careful can hold knowledge of the outer dark in their heads and still function in normal society. Those who cannot will develop serious mental health problems such as addiction, suicidal depression or schizophrenia. These lost souls either die, are incarcerated or simply roam the streets muttering to themselves.

The largest sources of lost souls are the cults dedicated to the worship of the gods of the outer dark. Generally they form around a person with a small amount of knowledge who uses it to impress the weak and vulnerable. Cults operate behind a facade such as mainstream religious beliefs or social clubs. The prospect of secret knowledge and power is used as a lure to draw people further into the cult. At their heart most of these cults do not believe their own teachings and to the cult leaders the power is just a trick. It is simply a means of attracting people who can be exploited and used. There are some cult leaders who truly believe in the gods they worship, but these are no less exploitative of their followers.

Cults are inevitably self-destructive. Their leaders are forced to use the magic of the outer dark to impress new recruits and control followers. Even if carefully managed this takes its toll and they lose their ability to work and interact with others. Mirroring the leader's mental collapse, the cult tears itself apart with the strongest cultists leaving to form their own cults. The teachings of one cult leader are copied and mutated by each new generation of cult leader, all of whom are stuck on the same, inevitable path to destruction. Around the world there are hundreds, if not thousands, of cults operating this way though most have just a handful of members.

Secret Societies

Those seeking knowledge of the outer dark and wishing for a longer life should join one of the numerous secret societies. Unlike the cults there is no pretence of worshipping gods, and the mantra of the societies is that knowledge is power. Members are focused on secular goals such as personal wealth or political power and have no desire to lose their minds. The magic of the outer dark is just a tool to be used but the societies are very aware of its dangers.

Membership of societies is by invitation only. Innocent social, religious and academic groups provide candidates for more exclusive but legitimate groups from which the best are recruited into the secret society. This process is slow, and suitable candidates are often identified by the society years ahead of time and carefully steered towards membership.

Once in a society, members have access to very little knowledge. This is for their own safety but also as a tool of control over the membership. The promise of more power keeps members interested and the revelation of a secret is the reward for loyalty. Societies are structured to prevent one person acquiring too much power and being overwhelmed. They often have cell-like structures built around particular areas of knowledge of the outer dark. Inevitably this leads to complex internal politics and rivalries.

The societies have many different motivations. Some are focused on increasing the wealth of their members or promoting a particular religious or political dogma. These societies tend to die out after a few generations when revolutions and other social changes disrupt them. The few societies which have lasted for thousands of years have more abstract aims such as the promotion of knowledge or preventing knowledge of the outer dark reaching public attention.

Lone Wolves

Lone wolves are individuals who have acquired knowledge of the outer dark but are unaffiliated to a cult or secret society. This most commonly happens when an individual is in a cult which collapses and is smart enough to see the inevitable outcome of creating their own cult. Sometimes a lone wolf will be a renegade from a secret society though this is rare because of the careful selection process. Others simply stumble on to the knowledge by chance through archeological research or even by inheriting the belongings of a relative who was involved with a cult.

The Dark Side of the Earth

Across the world there are less than 10,000 people with true knowledge of the outer dark. Most practitioners only know other practitioners in their own cult or their cell in the secret society, but there are some major practitioners who are aware of the bigger picture. Without exception these leading practitioners are all bitter rivals and will use their power, magical and secular, to disrupt the work of others. This attitude is driven by fear. They all owe their power to a secret knowledge they use to exploit others and live in constant terror that someone is exploiting them. This paranoia may be a side-effect of exposure to the outer dark or maybe they simply assume others are just as manipulative and exploitative as they are.

Magic of the Outer Dark

Using the power of the outer dark is not an exact science; its effects are unreliable and unpredictable. The human understanding and control of the power is analogous to 13th century alchemists. Through trial and error the alchemists discovered new substances or chemical properties but had no understanding of why the substances behaved as they did. Those humans who dabble in the outer dark are similarly ignorant. They can produce effects with magic but have no real understanding or control over it.

Awakening

The outer dark is beyond human understanding - we simply lack the biology and neurology to truly experience and understand it. Each human brain which encounters these forces must find a way to conceptualise the outer dark and put it in terms the conscious brain can understand. This makes the outer dark a very personal and subjective concept and one which is difficult to explain to another person. It can neither be taught like a science nor learnt from a "Dummy's Guide".

The only way for humans to learn the powers and concepts of the outer dark is by opening their mind and letting it flow in. This might be done through the study of the outer dark symbols in search of their meaning. Alternatively meditating or taking mind-affecting drugs in a place where magic has been used might be enough. Simply spending time being around other people who have already opened the door to the outer dark can also do it. Everyone's experience is different.

Awakening to the outer dark is shocking. It is not uncommon for people to collapse, become confused, fearful or even appear intoxicated when it happens. This experience is given names like opening the door, the revelation or the step into darkness but most commonly the awakening. Characters who make this step may now gain insight into the outer dark. However, they do not suddenly learn the secrets of the universe. Gaining an understanding of the outer dark and the symbols is a matter of study and learning. The experience of the awaking only reveals there is an outer dark to study and a source of power which can be used.

When a character awakens to the outer dark they must resist a 3d6+3 attack as the new knowledge changes them. Fail, and the character gains one of the following status effects: Detachment, Paranoia, Reckless or Timid. These effects will disappear without treatment if the character avoids contact with the outer dark for a week.

Symbols

There are twelve symbols of the outer dark used in this adventure but there is no limit to how many may exist.

For Game Leaders the magic of the outer dark is a tool they can use to add tension and horror to the game. For non-player characters, anything is possible and they need no game mechanics to explain how a particular magical effect is achieved. For players and their characters a little more thought is required about how magic can be used.

Symbols, Names and Concepts

Each symbol of the outer dark has various pieces of information associated with it which the characters can learn. The symbol's name is [Automatic]; that is, a character awoken to the outer dark only has to look at a symbol and instantly knows the name. Each symbol also has an [Easy] concept, a [Moderate] concept and a [Hard] concept. A concept is what the symbol can represent when it is used in magic. For example, the [Easy] concept for the One Beyond is protection so this symbol is useful in defensive magics.

Automatic
Scream
Easy
Punishment
Moderate
Taboo
Hard
Universal

A character needs to study a symbol to learn one or more of its concepts. This is time-consuming (at least a scene per symbol) and cannot be done under distracting circumstances. Exactly how they are studied is personal to the character. It may be done in an academic way using linguistic abilities or it can be a more intuitive process relying on periods of self-reflection and gut instincts. There is not a fixed resistance score which players have to beat to learn a concept. Instead, the Game Leader should use their judgement just as with a discovery action and reveal information based on the dice score, the player's role playing and the needs of the adventure. This avoids the situation where learning the symbols becomes a simple exercise in dice rolling which devalues the mystery of the outer dark.

For simplicity, when describing magic the concept being invoked is identified in square brackets after the symbol's name.

Easy
The One Beyond [Protection] uses The Outer Dark [Power] against Mot [Corruption] as a form of containment.

During the adventure the characters will find evidence of magic used by non-player characters. The symbols used in the magic are an [Automatic] discovery. With further study a character may discover the intent or purpose of the magic along with the concepts invoked. This is often the easiest way for a character to learn several symbols and concepts at once.

Using Magic

Within the rules of the 6d6 RPG each symbol is an equipment advantage which can be either mundane or character equipment. A symbol must have a physical form, either drawn, scratched or otherwise visible. The permanence of the symbol is important and situation bonuses may be awarded to the resistance if the symbol is ephemeral, e.g. drawn in the sand or displayed on an iPad's screen. For a symbol of power to become character equipment it must be tattooed or otherwise permanently placed on the body. The symbols are used in actions exactly as any other advantages, i.e. they must be appropriate and available, plus they require dynamic potential. Multiple symbols can be used in a single action and symbols may be combined with other advantages, especially those with the Soul or Mind keywords. The minimum time frame for an action using magic is a scene, and it should not be usable in combat or other sudden time-critical situations.

When a character wishes to use the magic of the outer dark they must explain what they are trying to achieve with it. They must also identify the symbols they are using and the concepts of each symbol they wish to invoke. Just as with any advantages in an action the character must explain how the symbols and concepts being used are appropriate for the stated aim. Game Leaders and groups are encouraged to have an inventive approach to magic, the symbols, their concepts and what can be achieved with them. As much as possible keep magic part of the narrative and avoid dice rolls where possible.

Costs of Magic Use

As with the alchemists of old, characters using magic are exposing themselves to unknown dangers. These accumulate over time and attack the character's body, mind and soul. The consequences of this are similar to regularly using a dangerous substance like lead, mercury or radiation without suitable protection, crossed with the risks of an addiction to hard drugs. Each character's experience with magic is unique and the consequences are different. Whereas one character may be afflicted only with physical problems, another may lose their grip on reality and a third might abandon all their principles and beliefs in order to feel the power of the outer dark once more.

Like drug or alcohol use, characters who are occasionally exposed to outer dark magics will experience nothing more serious than a hangover. In game terms, the character gains a status effect lasting only a session or at most a day. When a character is continually exposed to the outer dark they will gain effects with the Persistent keyword. The nature of the effect is something the Game Leader and players can discuss in order to tailor it to the character. The status effect is the cost of using the magic and it should be a hindrance to the character in game terms. However, Game Leaders should consider carefully when it is appropriate to apply the penalty from the status effect. The fun of playing The Road To Petra comes from investigation and discovery, and not from constantly failing actions due to status effects.

The Game Leader should note down each time characters use magic in a meaningful way. The day after the magic use the character is attacked by the Dark Siren with a dice value of 2d6+2 per use of magic during the previous day. This has a maximum attack of 6d6+6. Characters who fail gain a status effect with a CP equal to the degree of success. Suggested effects include Detachment, Paranoia, Reckless or Timid but a variety of new status effects have been included in this book. Game Leaders may use any of these or those found in the 6d6 Modern book. Groups should also make up their own to ensure their character has a distinct and unique combination of maladies.

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open/oneshots/petra/theouterdarkmythos.txt · Last modified: 2014/08/06 15:02 by darth_tigger
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