gullebrand
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Why Vaesen exist, a bit simple?

Thu 26 Mar 2020, 14:35

I've been thinking about the idea that Vaesen only exist as a product of human beliefs, and I'm not too fond of it. It's a classic fairy tale trope, but the problem I have with it is that I think it diminishes the power of these creatures. And it's too easy an explanation. Why can't they exist on their on merit? If you weave it into the plot and the RPs find out about it, the logical thing to do if you really want to get rid of them is to just leave them be. Or start evangelizing about the Christian God or something.
It also raises questions about the power of belief and how that works in this world. If you can imagine forth a vaesen, how does that apply to other situations? How many people must believe in them for it to have an effect? Don't they exist at all in areas not populated by humans? 
The notion that they've "always been there" the moment you think about them is a profound statement that I think needs to be further explored if it's going to be part of the lore. 
Thoughts?
 
fmitchell
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Re: Why Vaesen exist, a bit simple?

Fri 27 Mar 2020, 12:54

In our world, Vaesen are a reflection of human beliefs, because they don't exist. In the original folklore Christian symbols repelled or destroyed them because Christianized people thought that their new god had power over the (possibly demonic) spirits of the old religion. Same with vampires and other folkloric creatures. Within the fiction of Vaesen, we have to rationalize these peculiarities somehow.

The simplest explanation is that Christianity really is the One True Religion, but that's not terribly satisfying for us non-Christian players. Alternatively, in Viking times Christian missionaries may have hurt or bound the vaesen; certain symbols like crucifixes and bells reawaken those traumatic memories. (So giants have PTSD.) Or "True Faith" affects a vaesen whether or not Christianity is "true", so crucifixes and bells work as long as a Christian truly believes in his god. (Which means agnostic PCs are screwed.) Or bells scare giants simply because loud noises make their giant ears hurt, and crucifixes and holy water work because something something. (A quasi-scientific vampire novel posited that two bars at right angles somehow screwed with vampire brains, which also explained the crossroads thing and blah blah blah.) Or maybe Christian rituals are just another form of protective magic, just like a witch's incantations. (Tell that to your local priest.)

Even if we assume vaesen draw power from human belief, they may have an independent existence. In Terry Pratchett's Small Gods gods start as tiny, barely conscious entities -- "small gods" -- that gain power when people believe in them. That belief, in turn, shapes their personalities and channels their powers. If enough people pray at the same spot over a long enough period, a small god becomes a sea god who can grant those prayers. When nobody prays to the sea god, it dwindles to a powerless "small god" again. One can posit vaesen are something like Pratchett's "small gods" near the end of their life cycle, but that brings us back to the True Faith hypothesis plus the question of why there's no vaesen for Santa Claus.

Each of these theories gets weird when you think about them. Can The Neck overcome his fear of crosses through psychotherapy? Can a devout Muslim reciting the Quran repel a troll? Could a giant with appropriately sized earmuffs ignore church bells? Can a witch banish revenants? Will fairies disappear if we stop clapping?

A GM may, of course, may adopt any, all, or none of these theories. They may simply say Christian symbols and rituals work Because They Say So.
Last edited by fmitchell on Fri 27 Mar 2020, 13:00, edited 1 time in total.
Frank Mitchell

HILDA: This isn't much of a pep talk. Can't you say, 'you can do it!'
ALFUR: Sure! You can do it! (Statement for encouragement purposes only. You may not actually be able to do it.)
-- Hilda ep. 9 (Netflix, 2018)
 
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Daïna
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Re: Why Vaesen exist, a bit simple?

Fri 27 Mar 2020, 12:56

I like to think of them a bit like the Small Gods in Terry Pratchet’s universe Disk World: one single person believing in them is enough to make them real, and the more people who believe in them, the more real they become. Only, I think I would make them stay real once they have been summoned out of the nothingness: people can stop believing, that won’t make them go away, it’s too late. Anyone sharing this view?  :?:

EDIT: Aha, I see I’m not alone in this.  ;)
 
gullebrand
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Re: Why Vaesen exist, a bit simple?

Sat 28 Mar 2020, 00:09

Yes, I also had "Small Gods" in mind, I remember really liking that premise when I read it. Still do. Also "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman spring to mind in this context. The old gods against the new, getting more and more marginalized in an evolving society. 
I guess what got me thinking about the existential angle of Vaesen was that I got stuck writing down campaign ideas. I mean, I quickly had like a dozen seeds for one-shots or short arcs written down - the setting lends itself brilliantly to that. Send the PC's out to unravel a mystery and confront a Vaesen, rinse and repeat. When I started thinking about bigger plot lines, however, I noticed they often tended to drift away from the Vaesen themselves. The core conflict turned from being human vs. vaesen to being human vs. human. 

For example:
A railroad baroness is blasting her way through the untouched wilderness in northern Sweden, upsetting both locals and vaesen alike. The railroad is financed by the Swedish Crown, and supported by several emerging industrial leaders out to make money from mining and trade. The locals and other conservative powers unite to combat this development. The Vaesen are caught in the middle, causing random mayhem among the settlements along the railroad line. The PCs are contacted for help by one of the human factions or both. 

Now, this is all fine. But when I try to give the Vaesen a more proactive role in this drama, I come up short. The reason is, of course, that they are supposed to be a mystery. They are supposed to be fickle and unpredictable and scary because of that. And I'm hard pressed to see them scramble to form a Union to fight for their rights. And once the PCs defeat the trolls that are throwing rocks at the railroad workers or whatever, that's that. The conflict is back to being human vs. human. Because that's where I can easily build stuff since I know what drives and motivates humans. 
What I'm getting at is that I feel like I WANT the Vaesen to be a power or a faction that have a more far reaching agenda, but I can't make it work. And part of the problem for me, is that they are so mysterious and we know nothing about them. They are individual mysteries pitched against the collective human race. And they are a product of human belief, which make them intrinsically less powerful than humans, as a faction. 

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE that they ARE mysterious and unpredictable et c. I really like the premise and the theme of the game. I also think there are ways to work around this problem of mine, and I probably will. But this is, I think, what prompted my question in the first place. 
If I keep running this game, I will almost certainly create a human faction dedicated to helping Vaesen out. And on a less serious note, it would be awesome to have them donate giant earmuffs to marginalized Giants and offer social counseling to distraught Necks. :)

In the alpha pdf there's a really good section on creating "mysteries", which is one of the best I have seen in an RPG from a technical/narrative point of view. The "campaign" section, though, is woefully short... How would YOU create an epic campaign with a coherent narrative that involves human society and with vaesen as a driving force?
I'd love to hear any ideas you have!
 
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Daïna
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Re: Why Vaesen exist, a bit simple?

Sat 28 Mar 2020, 08:51

I think all Vaesen don’t have to be isolated creatures. What if there is an elf queen or a troll king or a major Vaesen of some sorts that makes them work together? Not like a union, but more like a strong ruler that other Vaesen fear, like David Bowie in the Labyrinth movie? Someone like that could have bigger goals, and maybe the “random” Vaesen the players were fighting are not so random after all? Maybe what seemed to be separate cases are in fact bits of the same big plot? That’s how I intend to do it. 
 
gullebrand
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Re: Why Vaesen exist, a bit simple?

Sat 28 Mar 2020, 21:53

I think all Vaesen don’t have to be isolated creatures. What if there is an elf queen or a troll king or a major Vaesen of some sorts that makes them work together? Not like a union, but more like a strong ruler that other Vaesen fear, like David Bowie in the Labyrinth movie? Someone like that could have bigger goals, and maybe the “random” Vaesen the players were fighting are not so random after all? Maybe what seemed to be separate cases are in fact bits of the same big plot? That’s how I intend to do it. 
I like that idea, it's definitely a route I'll explore as well. This could tie in well with the premise of their existence as well. Maybe the shadowy ruler is the only vaesen aware of the fact that human belief is instrumental in keeping their kind strong. That entity could be trying to free the Vaesen from that dependence or something. There are several interesting possibilities now that I think about it! Thanks for that little shove, I feel like I'm back on track now. :)
I still find the discussion of why and how belief works in this world interesting, though, as belief is a currency that surely fuels a lot of what's going on. 
I also started thinking about what specifically sets this game apart from other horror games except for the thematic setting. But that's probably a topic for another thread. :)
Thanks for all the input so far!
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