Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wave Theory of History: A Fantasy Cosmology

In prep for the upcoming Third Continent Sunday game, I've been going through the material from the last campaign (something like six or seven years ago). I ran three multi-year campaigns in that setting, and Sherri ran one. In my head I've always had a division of the three continents into Will (the first continent), Material World (second continent) and Faith (third continent). The continents themselves, as some players know, have been divided from one another by barriers. However over history those barriers have been stronger or weaker, with persons and peoples crossing from one to another. For the example, the rise of the Lythic pantheon on the Second Continent came directly from prophets from the Third Continent.

In any case, the Third Continent has an arcane, byzantine, deliberately contradictory and difficult history. Part of that comes from my heavy adaptation of material from the Glorantha setting into this one. By now things are several generations of copying away from the original material-- but ideas and concepts heavily inform it.

The next campaign takes places about a century after the end of the last one. Significant events have changed the world. So now I have the problem of most of my material, written before the last campaign, being outmoded significantly. So I'm pulling the stuff together and then hope to write a piece which bridges that gap.

One of the other problems I have is that a good deal of the most interesting material I have I wrote from a singular cultural perspective-- below I present a view of historical theory, but one from a very specific religious context. The general events and ideas here are useful, but watch out for the value judgments.

The following is a document by the noted S’ave Knoran Praeceptor Herandiak. It represnts an outline used as the model for students writing general histories within his order. Many of Herandiak’s biases and near-heresies can be seen within the document. Written after his powers of reason had somewhat declined, it shows some of the tensions among the church. Notable are the subtle and not so subtle jabs at the hagiographic school of history. However, in general, it presents a coherent outline of the accepted historical model.

Wave Theory of History

History exists in steps or “Waves.” These waves are times of great changes; changes which have affected everyone, everywhere. The prediction of these waves is of constant importance. Powerful figures are always alert for what will be the next great shift. However, usually the movement of Waves is better seen in retrospect. Such hindsight is a must for soothsayers. There are several common features to the changes of the waves: they involve vast changes to the social and political order, they usually involve great strife, artifacts of great power usually arise and fall into the hands of heroes during these times, and they may take a long time to resolve.

The definition of what the waves were and are is no small matter. It can be used to support or negate ideologies and positions. The most commonly accepted version is the one I shall concentrate upon. Of course the greatest amount of debate is that related to the most recent wave and there are many who believe that the continent is still in the grip of changes.

Jaela-Kur: Mythic Time
The story begins with “Mythic Time.” In this time before time, the Gods, Powers, and a variety of other beings existed and walked the land. There was no such concept as time and so there could be no sense of a linear reading of time. Either all things happened concurrently or else they just were. Debate on this point is futile. What is know is that there came Darkness, as Morgoth left the fold and Chaos was seen for the first time. There was a war in heaven, and many tales are told of this involved: the death of Yelm, the Striking or the Forge, the Shattering of the Spike, the Breaking of the World Machine, or a hundred other versions of the tale. The mythic element of a sundering and loss is universal. Nearly as universal is the sense of recovery through a compact, an agreement as to how the world would be from then on: Wheel Worshippers read this as the finalization of the Concordat, Lightbringers as the Web of Arachae Solara, but there are other versions. What is clear is that time began then.

Chadra-Kur: Age of Rebirth
In the time of the First Wave or Chadra-Kur (Rebirth Wave), some of the Gods and their children lived upon the world. Great figures strode then. It was not the perfection which had gone before because now entropy and death had entered the world and Morgoth was still broken. All history which has followed has been a descent. Some say that the Gods ascended from this plane to move to the next and the next and so on. The shifting of the Waves occurs at these passings. What is known is that the passing of this wave had a definite point, but as to why that point happened is questionable.

The World Council of Friends
The World Council of Friends represented an attempt to gather together the scattered peoples of the World into a sense of harmony. The trolls (represented by the Only Old One), the Dragonewts, the Mostali, the Aldraymi, the various human peoples and dozens of other peoples whose names are gone now from memory came together. They throught to repair the damage to the world. Some say that this damage was death, some chaos, some Morgoth’s vision. As with any such tale, the reasons given are unsure and in the long run, unimportant. What is known is that they decided to make a God to repair these problems. The result was Nysalor, also called Gbaji.

The Council split eventually and some saw Nysalor as savior, others saw him as Gbaji or the false one. The modern heresy of Illumination draws its philosophy from the teachings of Nysalor. It is said that when the Red Goddess traveled through the Underworld to reach her godhead, she met and was tutored by Nysalor. The tales fly back and forth, a cries of Chaos erupt. I am too old to wade into the turbulence of that debate. Suffice as to say, there was Nysalor/Gbaji and there came his nemesis, Arkat the Liberator/Destroyer. They fought, they died, they were reborn, they fought anon, and all that had been built was trampled underfoot. Eventually they destroyed each other (although that is an open question as well). And when the days were darkest, the Sidhe came.

Sidhe-Kur: Age of Dread
The Sidhe came, bringing dread with them. Those Gods who remained struggled with them, fighting and falling and traveling into myth or the Underworld. The Sidhe brought with them a power previous unknown, that of Sorcery. They were immortal, unfeeling and powerful. Their servants were Elves, like them but not, in some ways a mockery of the forms of the Aldrymi. The Sidhe came and ruled the land, settling in such places as they wished, bending all within their demense to their will and doing whatever their unnatural passions demanded.

Yet the Sidhe were jaded even before they had come here. They were a bane to the world and had perhaps taken a pleasure in the pain they cause with each foot tread upon the soil. However, they soon fell into the same lethargy which had always followed them. They killed their young to keep them from being rivals and used servants as pawns in great games. But, in order to do this they had to equip their pawns well as this was their downfall. From among those who they trained in High Magic and gifted with items of power there arose a force which could undo the Sidhe. This force knew it, bided their time, built slowly and eventually made their moves. Thus was one tyrant, the Sidhe, undone by another, the Sorcerer Kings.

Arba-Kur: Age of Tyranny
Those who had mastered magic undid the Sidhe, but raised themselves up in their place. In the beginning there were many powerful wizards, drawn from Humans and Elves alike. However, warfare and self-destruction took their toll. This Wave is in many ways as much an enigma as the Jaela-Kur. Many records were destroyed, testimony is unreliable and the widespread use of magic itself undid the natural order of things. However, we can identify a number of events which shaped the future.

We know that there was originally a sense of cooperation among the Sorcerer Kings. However, tensions between the Elves and humans, especially a deep suspicion of the Sky Elves, resulted in some factionalism. Warfare between the Elves of the Sea and Sky meant that they never established the kind of tyrannical civilizations which the human Sorcerors did. Instead, the Sea Elves built their ocean cities and headed south and the Sky Elves built their air cities and moved from place to place.

Rule of the Kings
Human Sorcerers began building their empires in a variety of scattered places. Originally these were small kingdoms we believe, but as these magi grew in power, they began to consolidate. There was some cooperation, as evidenced by the building of the Great Bridges. However, there was as much tyranny as the Sidhe. Priests were outlawed or killed in many places because of the potential threat to magic they represented. Forced underground in many places, some worship died out entirely. Those who would become the great Sorcerer Kings built great cities which became the basis for expanding empires of conquest. Out of two hundred or so powerful Magi, a dozen arose to dominate. These included Sheng Seleris, Sniadosc, Mhari Ridaen, and Zzabur.

The Red Goddess
It was during this wave that the goddess known as Rufelza, the Red Goddess arose. Little is known about this figure who some say heralds the end of time. What is known is that she was a goddess born within time, who claims to be here to heal the world. Her ascension was guided by a set of figures known as the Seven Mothers, who some claim are bastardizations of the Lightbringers. Her rise was contested by many, and the Gods themselves set tests for her. After her victory at Castle Blue, both Agrik and Latnamele gave her their blessing, and thus was the Lunar faith born. However, it would not have an easy time. Sheng Seleris, who had already trampled the Empire of the Wyrm’s Friends underfoot, began a series of campaigns which never destroyed this people.

Empire of the Wyrm’s Friends
The Empire of the Wyrm’s Friends, or EWF, was a civilization which sought to bring together the peoples of various regions. Many prophesied it fall, claiming that it enacted the Broken Council once more. However, the goals of this civilization were different. It had been founded by one who had learned to understand the speech and ways of the Dragonewts and their harmony. The began to develop a culture based around these principles. Some claim that they wished to create a great “dragonmind,” but that is uncertain. The Only Old One and others helped to lead this unifying force of culture. However, this was a collective effort. Pavis, the great hero, founded his city in Prax as a center of the EWF. However, Pavis had many allies who allowed him to do so. Yet, the Empire was undone by two forces, the first being a schism within its council which led to the Dragonkill War and the Second being continued assaults by Sheng Seleris. Most of the records of the EWF were destroyed, but evidence of their architecture and works remains.

The Godlearners
An even more uncertain situation arose with the people who are now called the Godlearners. They were apparently Magi who had studied the ways of Heroquesting. They sought power through this, without an understanding of what they did. Instead, the bastardized myths and twisted the force of faith. For a time, their sterile god, the Clanking City, roamed the seas, stealing peoples. The Godlearners fashioned a great Empire, devoted to spreading their beliefs. They fought with and destroyed the Waertagi, a great seafaring people who combined the blood of the mer with that of humanity. Eventually, the Godlearners broke the compact of what was allowed and they were struck down by the gods. However, many Magi today still follow the paths of these Godlearners with their false prophet, Malkion.

The Closing
Another event which had some impact on the period was the Closing. It is said that the Sorceror King, Zzabur grew jealous of the other magi who threatened his realm. To prevent them from taking anything of his he cast a great spell which closed the oceans with a dense fog. Where it lay, none could go. Coastal cities dried up, ships vanished and many cultures were isolated from one another. We are uncertain today when the Closing happened or how long it lasted, but it is generally placed towards the middle of the wave and lasting about eighty years. It is said that Dormal the Seafarer uncovered the rituals necessary to allow ships to venture forth again. But, this work is likely the result of more than one person. Even this was just a way around the spell, and it is said that the Spell remains, hidden but present.

The Createds
The various Created peoples also came into being in this time: Aperkitas, Aslani, Chemtra, Vagyr and so on. They were fashioned by the Sorceror Kings to serve their bidding efficiently. In some places these Createds rebelled and were destroyed, in others they escaped, and some simply outlasted their creators. The Createds became a troublesome issue for many people. Their mixed history shows the uncertainty which they have generated. Are they tools of Sorcery? Do they have souls? It is uncertain. The Sorceror Kings were not able to break the laws of creation, that which Ilvir strives for, but instead circumvented them by taking existing creatures and giving them new forms. In many cases, the results were not what was hoped for by their Overlords. The sunny and peaceful dispositions of the Aparkitas and Riversent, the docility of the Chemtra and the playfulness of the Vagyr all attest to this.

Fall of the Sorceror Kings
Tensions had grown within this wave, and the seeds for their own destruction had been sown. Many great artifacts and items of power had been spread throughout the land. Sheng Seleris had destroyed several of his rivals and had in turn been destroyed by the Lunars. Several of the Sorceror Kings had undone themselves, so that only a handful remained to defend their power. In many places independent empires had grown, outside of their dominion. Soon began the collective campaigns which would finish the last of them off.

Thulth-Kur: Age of Revolt
There is little to commend this era to the historian. The various peoples of this time had managed, a great cost, to throw off the shackles of their overlords. Yet, what resulted was a gap and a series of dark ages. The Thulth-Kur was a time of barbarism and war, punctuated by brief pauses due to the Storm Plague.

Fallen Empires
Several Empires tried to bring together peoples within this time. Notable were the efforts of the Vedang in the north, the Kraltoraens in the South and Pamaltera in the West. The only traces of theVedang today come in the form of the heirarchy of Arachae, where their Malkion-based caste system still holds sway. The glorious Kraltoraen system collapsed under its own weight as various rival sea power emerged. The alliance of Caranus and the Sky Elves finished it off, leaving the hollow shell that is the Chadra Empire today. Pamaltera left the most lasting results. Their governing systems and use of fief organized most of the lands now occupied by the Laranian Theocracy. The end of this empire left a number of stable nations, rivals to each other which eventually led to the Merchant Kingdoms.

Magic Undone
Magic was prosecuted throughout the land. Those found practicing such dark arts were killed. Little tolerance was shown. Only in Virocana, where the Lunars held sway was any tolerance shown, and even that eventually led to their downfall. However, ignorance, as always, was king and the same reaction to Mages often caught up Clerics and true followers of faith. Rituals were closely monitored, high channellers were looked upon with suspicion, even those who brought bounty and enlightenment. Those of faith and will kept their own council and tried to preserve the knowledge of the past. This farsight allowed the rapid advancement of society in the next era.

Shifting Times
Several factors changed the nature of society in the later part of the wave. The first was the variety of changes in government which allowed more far-ranging control. The codes of fiefs and loyalty created a relationship which began to establish concrete identities among these nations. Older empires had been brought down, including the killing of the Only Old One by the Pharaoh which allowed for progress. New lines of rulership emerged and the proper kings began to command their people. The second was the development of better, faster ships which followed the designs of those from the first age. This increased contact, knowledge and trade. It also resulted in the third change, the expansion of regular and constant warfare. It was during this era that mercenary companies first developed, including that of the eventual merchant house, Leontos.

Gild-Kur: Age of Commerce
The rise of the Merchant Lords came about from the general dispersal of strength among the Lords of Humanity. Many of these families began as mercantile class peoples. As they developed, many became more powerful through money lending and land acquisition. For many Human Lords the lure of a well financed war was just too appealing. Others had a particular trade, such as the skilled mercenaries of Leontos. Some, notably Houses Armado and Lycosa, came from noble lines who had the foresight to keep strong control over the merchant activities within their realm. Family Sphyrna is also unusual in that this family appears to have arisen out of a collective decision to have a representative family to lead the people. Rumor has it that this family was chosen by drawn lots. The Merchant Kings rose through times of conflict, and at times the Human Kings bit the hand which fed them.

Reasons for Success
There are several reasons why the Merchant Kings were so successful in their rise. First, there already existed dissension within most of the Human Kingdoms. Years of expansion and development had made their borders close, in spite of the seas. When wars failed or succeeded the Merchant Lords were there to support or rebuild (with their changes) shattered economies.

Second, there was little ideologically to hold together the societies of the Human Kingdoms. Tradition and Obligation were the driving force behind them, yet these did not have an extensive history. The authority of the various Churches had been reduced. Paganistic Wheel worship was emphasized and those churches permitted were those which served local interest such as Peoni, Agrik, Sarajin, and Larani. The Merchant Lords provided funding to the Churches emphasizing Naveh, Halea and S’ave Knor. They also had a policy of tolerance which allow the flourishing of a number of cults. Originally they used this to establish some legitimacy within the kingdoms. In most established areas they encouraged Wheel worship publicly and Halea privately.
Third, the Merchant Lords had the ability to literally capitalize on the changes in the economies which they had generated. A mercantile economy began to replace the previous Feudal economy. The Merchants accumulated capital and used it efficiently. The Feudal system of the Human Lords used labor ineffectively where the mercantile system was workable.

The Gild-Kur, of the Age of Merchants, was an important period. Contacts were more strongly developed between the various kingdoms. Trade routes were established. Coastal cities became thriving trade points and centers for art and learning. Formal knowledge carried by trained merchants began to make the world a little smaller. Art and literature were sponsored by the Merchants creating an aesthetic standard. In many places non-humans and Createds were given acknowledgment and were brought into the economy.

On the other hand, the Merchant Families began to take the place of the old Feudal Human Lords. Battles between the nine families began with small trade disputes and escalated into assassinations and warfare. In many places the shift in legitimacy was from a group which provided services and skills to one which believed that it possessed authority in and of itself. This time was, however, measured in generations.

Comta-Kur: Era of Faith
The present wave is typically represented by the rise of the Laranian Theocracy, and many of their philosophers would have you read the present as evidence of a wave devoted solely to her. However, the long view gives us a clearer path. Religious faith, permitted by the Merchant Kingdoms began to spread as people renewed their ties to those who gave them life.

Fall of the Merchants
The Laranian rise can, however, be taken as a clear example of the kinds of changes which destroyed the merchants. In part, the downfall of the Merchant Lords was due to the same circumstances which had hurt their predecessors. Their own divisions and lack of central ideology gave the Laranians an opportunity. The Theocracy’s strength was a strong ideological cohesion. They presented the populace with a positive ideal, a return to mythical “better days” and a response to the exploitation of the Merchants. It was this strength which allowed them to impose a more primitive economy.

The Laranian Theocracy capitalized on some of the changes which the merchants had created. First, they institutionalized and took over the system of money-lending and usury. Church controlled systems of money lending became lucrative concessions for favored members of the Church and pious outsiders. The concept of money as a sterile thing was vital in this. Many had seen the disparity which had been brought by increased wealth. In many places where the Merchant families capitulated to Laranian authorities they were given these positions to maintain their expertise.

A second factor which the Laranians assumed control of was the spread of literacy. The rise of the Merchants had been accompanied by a movement of literacy out of the hands of the few and into the hands of a larger portion of the populace. Laranians began to use written propaganda to reach the people. Once they had assumed authority they began to control the kinds of materials accessible to the “common man.” The merchants had encouraged writing in the local languages as opposed to noble, pure Parchment. Stories and tales of the Blessed Lady and Morality plays spread widely in the vernacular. However, for the most part, these were bastardized, used for the moment. The failures here illustrate precisely the need for strong, central control over education and literacy.