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!
 
Byrax
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Re: Why Vaesen exist, a bit simple?

Wed 15 Apr 2020, 14:23

These ideas should be incorporated into the rules.

I have asked for some added background explanations about the vaesens existance. Since only those with the Sight can see them, there needs to be some rationale behind it IMO = how and why does it work in the setting? Also a set of reasons and internal logic regarding the different species and their workings is needed.

Take the Näck for instance - a unique water spirit species who plays enchanted songs or is it just one possible manifestation of a shapeshifting water spirit - with brock horses, nixes etc as possible version depending on the area, beliefs of folks living there? Then a description/rules of the "shapeshifting water spirit" is needed as well. Why does it try to drown humans -  gaining "power" and/or sustenance? Rules for that is needed in that case. 

I would like the rules to delve a bit further into the myths and both provide twists and the basis behind the vaesens, not just take the folk tales as facts and give them stats like ADD monsters. An overall take on the vaesens as such, that is unique for the game and can slowly be understood by the players. 

PS the depiction of the "real" Näck in the (Swedish only) book "Vackra Svenska Kyrkor jag besökt och de fruktansvärda väsen jag där mött" has a twist/explanation that is really good and something similar should be possible to achieve in Vaesen.
 
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Vader
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Re: Why Vaesen exist, a bit simple?

Tue 28 Apr 2020, 17:36

Vaesen, religion, and other "supernatural" phenomena merely being manifestations of human beliefs is rather problematic, in many ways...

The term "supernatural" merely means "beyond nature", i.e., "a manifestation or event beyond scientific understanding of the laws of nature" - which is to say, something that is equally much a part of objective reality as something we would consider natural, but beyond our current understanding of how that reality works.
This changes as our understanding evolves - consider e.g. that once upon a time, phenomena like lightning, earthquakes, and rain - even the sun himself - were considered supernatural.

Thus, if the supernatural component of reality is nothing but manifestation of human belief ... then by extension, that must inevitably apply to all of reality.
If not ... where should the line be drawn? How can it be defined in a way that is logically consistent?

And if entities gain power from belief ... how come some entities are more powerful than others, even if they have more or less equal numbers of "believers"?
Or assume a local singular entity, like Stora Sjöodjuret, which should have significantly fewer believers overall than, say, Julbocken, a singular entity with believers all over the land ... and yet, I suspect Sjöodjuret could easily eat Julbocken for breakfast, were he thus inclined.


So, nah ... I'd rather go with the concept that Vaesen are old as the land itself; they were there long before humans ever came.
And as for religious symbols having power over them ... do they really? Or are the symbols channelling powers intrinsic to those who wield them, but are themselves unaware of possessing them?

My preference would be for the game to deliberately leave these things somewhat ambiguous, and let the GM decide what is true in his or her Mythic North.
- They're a bit like Facehuggers, aren't they?
- Face ... huggers?
- Yeah, you know. Alien.
- ...?
- The horror movie, Alien.
- There's a horror movie called Alien?? That's really offensive! No wonder everyone keeps invading you.
 
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Vader
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Re: Why Vaesen exist, a bit simple?

Tue 26 May 2020, 15:15

Ruminated a bit further on this issue...

On the whole, it's probably a good idea to keep the metaphysical inner workings of the whole Vaesen phenomenon as ambiguous as possible. The rules already do this to a fair degree, but I would see it as beneficial to crank it up another notch or two.

I mean, by all means, all the "this is fantasy; the Mythic North is not the real North; the world of Vaesen is not the real world" statements are all well and good, but you can't get away from the fact that the world of the Mythic North still lies very close to our "real" world.
This is not a Symbaroum, or even a Discworld; this is a world that closely touches upon ours - with a map that looks much like the real world's, names of places are the same, phenomena and events in society and history are largely identical.

This also means the game's metaphysical underpinnings will touch upon real-world belief systems.

Having a fantasy world where invoking a religion called "Christianity" ... by sheer coincidence very similar to a real-world religion with the same name ... notwithstanding the question of whether its deities are "real" in this world or not - invoking that specific belief system through its symbols, scriptures, spoken phrases, or whatnot, will through their intrinsic nature grant the invoker powers, one way or another, over many of the world's supernatural creatures.

More to the point, Christianity is thus given pre-eminence over all other belief systems ... most particularly, over e.g. such animistic and shamanistic traditions and various folk religions that would ascribe the spirits, beings, and various entities of the natural world (many of which we would - and do - call "Vaesen" in the context of the game) greater relevance as objects of reverence than the deities of Man.

Therefore, muddying the issue of whether it is an intrinsic property of the cross or bible itself or an intrinsic property of its wielder that e.g. tames the Nightraven, a bit further might be beneficial.
Likewise one might say e.g. that you can't bring any religious symbols that its creator deeply believed in into a Troll's dwelling - thus making it the power of the maker, not the shape of the item, that imbues the item with its power. Unless, of course, you simply state that all religious symbols have power over Vaesen in certain circumstances ... if they're made from silver or iron.

Also, I feel that it important to allow that "intrinsic property of the wielder" to be a bit more than mere belief - thereby explicitly granting that, although perhaps in some cases affected by it to some degree, Vaesen have an existence independent of humans' belief in them, or lack thereof, and thus making them part of the world's objective reality, instead of merely a subjective reflection of humanity's whims.

Say e.g. that belief increases a "social compatibility" as it were between humans and Vaesen; that some Vaesen are more comfortable in the vicinity of communities with strong acceptance of (i.e. "belief in") their existence; around more "rational" communities, where people do not believe in them as much, such Vaesen do not feel as comfortable, and will tend to shun the area.

A special case is of course Vaesen like the Kyrkogrim that are specifically created into existence through an act of faith, to guard a place of worship. But even here, this could be made a bit hazy around the edges.
What says that a Kyrkogrim specifically must - its name notwithstanding - guard a church? You might also find one guarding e.g. the ruins of an ancient temple to the Old Norse gods, or a burial ground, or any other kind of erection of religious or spiritual significance. And thus what would provoke it would depend on what those that created it would hold sacred.
Thereby, the phenomenon and the power that may affect it would be disconnected from any specific belief system.


In the end, it must of course be up to every GM to define the truth of each game's Mythic North ... but I feel that where it comes to the metaphysical part of this truth, the less the rule book can set in stone - or at least, in writing - from the outset, the better; the less a GM will need to expressly modify or change to make it fit his or her vision or world view.
If the rules can keep this part deliberately vague, the GM will have more freedom to decide what is true in that game.
- They're a bit like Facehuggers, aren't they?
- Face ... huggers?
- Yeah, you know. Alien.
- ...?
- The horror movie, Alien.
- There's a horror movie called Alien?? That's really offensive! No wonder everyone keeps invading you.

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