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  • Deathlords with Agency

    I guess Deathlords aren't going to be quite as bound to the Neverborns in 3e as they were in 2e? Which is good, I never quite liked the fact that all Deathlords were railroaded into one goal: Destroy Creation (and everything else was a momentary distraction).

    But what if the Deathlords were something else? What if they were not bound to the Neverborn at all? What if they had true agency?

    Imagine a gathering of powerful, bitter ghosts in the Underworld. Some slain by the Usurpation, some having lingered even longer, fueled by remembrance of what they once had and petty/grand ambitions. They had lost the charms/innate magic they once wielded, but Sorcery/Necromancy was still theirs,as was the lesser tricks of the dead. But now they had gathered, Rivals all, for the Second Black Nadir Concordat. They knew that Necromancy, powerful as it was in the Underworld, had never reached the highs that Sorcery had, never quite fulfilled the promise that was hinted.

    MAD AMBITION AND HUBRIS HAPPENS!

    ...And so they broke into the tombs of the Neverborn, stealing, or CREATING, the Third Circle of Necromancy. The dead primordials may have howled in protest but the will and egos of these dead exalts where greater still.

    After this, those who had now become Deathlords went their separate ways. Part of a brother-/sisterhood, yet still rivals. Stealing secrets from each other as always. Each forging themselves through necromatic workings into a dark majesty. Each with plans of their own.

    So, yeah ... this would make Deathlords into Powers with agency of their own. With plans and goals of their own. And villains with hubristic levels of moxy. Which is probably how I will quietly re-write them in my head-canon at least.

    What of the abyssals then? Would they be created by the Deathlords or the Neverborn? While it could go either way, personally I like it better if they were created by the Neverborn. Created, but not controlled. (Who knows what mad, dead Creator-Gods think). It would also be a delicious dangling carrot to the Deathlords. Are the abyssals too dangerous to be trusted? But they could be such powerful tools. And what if their rival Deathlords starts using them? Can any Deathlord afford NOT to court them into their service?
    And why, uh... do their power seem to emulate the Deathlords themselves, not the Neverborn? Did something happen when they wrested the Third Circle of Necromancy from the dead primordials?

    Hey, the Time of Tumult isn't just for Creation.

  • #2
    That's a cool plot idea. I don't think that infusing "agency" is that important for the Deathlords as they aren't player characters, or of a splat that would make them serve as an example for player characters - but I do find the idea of Neverborn Exalting Abyssals in reaction to the Deathlords stealing their power and Deathlords trying to harness this resource, but being terrified of it, very interesting.


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    • #3
      Well, the Deathlords don't actually need agency. It's just that without it they aren't really the big bad, are they? Lets face it, they are the Starscreams of the Underworld, snivelling lieutenants toading up to their masters while waiting for them (and their rivals) to screw up so they can take over.

      NO!

      OWN IT! BE A MEGATRON! BUILD YOUR OWN THRONE OF DAMNATION!

      If they are their own masters it gives them more potential for stories too. Are they all evil? Perhaps some of them are merely ambitious. Perhaps your character don't have to oppose them (all).

      Also, while I'm jabbering about Deathlords, maybe add a few lunars and some other odd exalt in there. But lunars for sure, with their enhanced mastery of Necromancy surely there is a place for them up (?) there.
      And is it a closed club? Or something you can become when you are of sufficient dark puissance?
      Sorry, I'm kinda all over now.

      But in any way, shape or form ... Cooler Deathlords is what I want.
      Well, 3E looks good so far! ^_^

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Gammelbraxen View Post
        Well, the Deathlords don't actually need agency. It's just that without it they aren't really the big bad, are they? Lets face it, they are the Starscreams of the Underworld, snivelling lieutenants toading up to their masters while waiting for them (and their rivals) to screw up so they can take over.

        NO!

        OWN IT! BE A MEGATRON! BUILD YOUR OWN THRONE OF DAMNATION!
        Megatron often isn't the big bad.

        In the 1987 movie he's forced to make a pact with Unicron and become Galvatron.
        Beast Wars Megatron is a different Megatron who'd never even met Starscream.
        In the live action movie franchise the Fallen was the founder/leader of the Decepticon faction until he died in movie 2.
        In Transformers Prime he seeks out Unicron and attempts to become his Herald, ends up being used as Unicron's vessel twice.


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        • #5
          Originally posted by Gammelbraxen View Post
          Lets face it, they are the Starscreams of the Underworld
          That Starscream repeatedly fails doesn't mean that he lacks agency. Characters overall who, within the logic of their own narratives, are often under the power and authority of others doesn't mean that they lack for agency. Starcream has motives, and personality that drive his actions within the narrative, and thus leave an impression. The very act of chafing under Megatron's rule constitutes a form of agency, because it's an active perspective on things happening around him, that feeds back into what he does.

          The only version of Starscream of which I am aware that lacks agency is the one in the Michael Bay films. He just kind of... exists. They pay lip service to him as treacherous or cowardly or having often failed Megatron, but he never does anything with it, and it never matters. He's there to just be another doll flailing in the background, until such time as he flails into the path of the screaming idiot that somehow manages to kill him.

          Really, most characters in those films lack agency. Freaking Sam Witwicky is almost entirely lacking in agency; his presence in the films is barely ever about things that he does or has or wants, and mostly just stuff that happens incidentally around him. A lot of the time, Optimus Prime doesn't even have agency.

          Now, that being said, I agree with the general conclusion on Deathlords, although from a different starting premise and with some of the ultimate details changed. To me, that's not really a question on the Deathlords needing agency that they've previously lacked (honestly, I don't think any previous depiction showed them lacking agency; as agents of the Neverborn go, I think the best they've ever managed is "one or two of them is actually on board with the end of the world, and the rest are occasionally hammered into temporary compliance), and more that the Neverborn themselves shouldn't exactly be figures with agency. Even in a scenario in which the Deathlords are more thoroughly bound to the will of the Neverborn (which isn't really what I think they should be in Third Edition), I would find the ideal way to present that as one in which the Deathlords have the agency and the Neverborn do not. In that scenario, the Neverborn would really be more like a kind of curse or condition, and all of the focus would be on the Deathlords acting within the constraints of it.

          Originally posted by glamourweaver
          I don't think that infusing "agency" is that important for the Deathlords as they aren't player characters


          Agency isn't a matter of being the protagonists, and it's often a necessity for having compelling characters.

          If one takes Mnemon as she's written in the book, her personality and motives and relationships, and makes a story in which she's a supporting character or antagonist and those things about her matter and drive plots, then Mnemon has agency within the story. That doesn't mean she's the most important character.


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          • #6
            Originally posted by Lioness View Post
            Megatron often isn't the big bad.

            In the 1987 movie he's forced to make a pact with Unicron and become Galvatron.
            Beast Wars Megatron is a different Megatron who'd never even met Starscream.
            In the live action movie franchise the Fallen was the founder/leader of the Decepticon faction until he died in movie 2.
            In Transformers Prime he seeks out Unicron and attempts to become his Herald, ends up being used as Unicron's vessel twice.
            And don't forget the IDW comic run where it's revealed that Soundwave is actually the true puppet master.


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            • #7
              I kind of feel like this isn't too dissimilar to how Deathlords will be in 3e, except instead of stealing that power, its offered to them, with very broad reigns. They say "okay!" and then don't even really pay lip service to the destruction of Creation. I feel like the Neverborn expect them to destroy Creation even if they don't intend to, and also don't really have the capability to watch them and see what they're up to in order to check.

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              • #8
                Well, the Bishop is definitely all about destroying the world, even if his method for that is to kill everybody, eat their souls, and then jump into oblivion.

                Personally, I still think and want the Deathlords to collectively want everything to die; I've built up a whole thing in which they're an ultimate fantasy evil, but still realistically irrational evil, so they all have various kinds of grievances against life and different methods and desires to make it slowly suffer and end (while shifting all of the blame elsewhere).

                They descended into the tombs of their immobile, dreaming gods, and there found fonts of power that greatly resonated with their twisted desires. Doing so subjected them a bit to the whims of those corpses, but for the most part it's their own brand of darkness.


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                • #9
                  Some of them do and some of them don't, sure.

                  I don't think FaFL wants to destroy everything. I think he wants to conquer everything, his favourite video games are the Total War series and he paints 15mm musketeers in his spare time, the nerd.

                  The point is though like you say, it's them. The Deathlords are not just puppets for the Neverborn, though the Neverborn feel that in the main the Deathlords want what they want (kinda) and believe the Deathlords will on a long enough timescale bring them that . Or rather they would believe that if they could string a concept together.

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                  • #10
                    The problem with Deathlords (and Abyssals) isn't subserviance but the fact there's long been an undercurrent of it being this degrading prison bitch style slavery. I remember when talking about the Scroll of Exalts write-up Neph implying that Typhon wasn't bisexual so much as pragmatic and that this was probably the case for a lot of Abyssals.


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                    • #11
                      OP's suggestion is pretty cool for an Exalted shard, but as canon, I think it's not necessary. I actually don't feel that, thus far in Exalted, the Deathlords have necessarily had too little agency. They're significant figures and I get the sense that they have some sufficient push back on what their masters want.

                      I feel more that their agency has been focused on uninteresting, mad goals.

                      Some of this is a consequence of the tactics that the writers to prevent the Deathlords from dominating the setting, despite having above Solar superpower and Solar level abilities themselves being defined as ridiculously high to start with, and partly because writers are very focused on the goal to destroy the world, which is not that interesting (to me and I think probably to most).

                      By writers I mean Nephilpal of course, and his preferences to present a stark choice between darkness and depravity of the Abyssals and Deathlords and what they ultimately stand for, and his favoured tactic also seen in Infernals to balance vast cosmic power with tiny psychological living space.

                      There's also the related questions of how much the Abyssals and Deathlords should actually have power that is drawn from and lives in suffering and torture and destruction, against how much they should simply have powers that drawn on connections to dead things and evoke images of death and destruction. How much should they really be "bad" vs how much they should just be "drawn that way"? Again, Neph and previous writers have had a strong stance for the former!

                      I probably have given the impression from the above that I have a strong preference in the Deathlords and Abyssals *not* being forced to destroy the world. But I recognize this apocalyptic and nihilistic drive to oblivion as a very strong image and aesthetic, and to feel that Abyssals really "stand" for something different and that "dark power" should mean something. It wasn't simply wrong to include those evocative elements. Despite the fact that I don't actually think it's terribly interesting as a goal, or a defining aspect of a compelling character's personality. So I don't actually have a good solution to my musing, and I'm mostly glad that Robert Vance and Eric Minton have to make these choices and not me! I'd certainly go with less powerful, more rational, more cunning Deathlords who don't have a madness or addiction of a sort to be used as reasons why they don't achieve what they could, but other than that, I have no firm conclusions.

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                      • #12

                        Originally posted by Solar View Post
                        Some of them do and some of them don't, sure.

                        That's up in the air for the time being, but I'm saying that they all want to be about it in some manner or another.

                        There might be some distinctions from actually trying to destroy the world, but I think a lot of them (such as wanting all life to be subservient to the dead) are rather academic.

                        I'll be honest, having thought about it a lot, I find that the interpretation of the First and Forsaken Lion as just a guy who wants to run military exercises for eternity doesn't move me much, because I find it to be indistinguishable from any other ghost warlord. I feel as though if one has the title of Deathlord, with the metaphysical and narrative weight that implies (most distinctly in the relationship to Abyssal Exalted), one ought to have a drive that comes across as being a lord of Death.

                        I've got an image of him that I think is a bit more sophisticated than Mask of Winters 2.0 (I see Mask as having more of a mystical chill of grave, infestation, flesh eating kind of thing, where Lion is more militaristic reactionary rhetoric that tries to radicalise the dead into viewing the living as thieves and usurpers and unworthy heirs, and regiments the dead into institutions to enslave and eradicate the living, while specifically lacking the resources and general desire to just build superweapons), but it likely won't matter in the actual writing.

                        Originally posted by Ghosthead View Post
                        the goal to destroy the world, which is not that interesting (to me and I think probably to most).
                        It generally isn't to me either! For whatever reason, I feel strangely compelled to try and make it work for the Deathlords.

                        To that end, my conceptions mostly try to wrap them up in a lot of real life philosophies that are nihilistic and anti-natalist, with a bit of the exultation of death found in fascist ideologies, mixed in with a lot of reactionary and tribalistic radical world views in which the living assume the role of the Other.

                        That last one being an important distinction to me; focus them less on the substance of the world itself, and more on violent ideologies towards the living (and the abstract concept of life) themselves. Focus on the idea that there are important differences between the states of life and death (with the latter inferior to, or at least highly dependent on, the former), and let some of it flow from the setting conceit that certain forms of death tend to reflect themselves in the state of the world.

                        I think a lot of this is helped by the context of the Underworld existing, and the specifics of what it is in this setting.

                        That and some things that I extrapolate from a line dropped by the prior developers; of Deathlords rationalizing their own deaths by a fatalistic perspective that the Solar Exalted will inevitably destroy the world (thus passing the buck from their own actions that made other Exalted want to kill them).


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                        • #13
                          The deathlords want power. They want subjects. Their subjects are ghosts. The easiest way to get more subjects is to kill people.

                          They don't necessarily want all of creation to plunge into the underworld. Just a bit of it. Nice big shadowland to rule and get to and from Creation easily.

                          And as for the neverborn, I agree that they work best as offering their power to the deathlords on the assumption that no matter what they did with it their actions would destroy creation eventually. They're playing the long game. They don't demand obedience because they don't need it.

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                          • #14
                            For my part, I like the idea of the Deathlord/Neverborn relationship being one in which the Neverborn are more passive patrons and instead of continually emailing the Thirteen Ghosts of Scooby-Doo to dunk Creation into the toilet like a pack of shitty dead Scottie Pippens, they just sort of understand that the Deathlords' actions will bring the sunlit world under death's shadow in some way. In this, I believe I am in agreement with Elfive. It also gives more leeway for the Deathlords to all kind of branch out and do their things like the devs have indicated.

                            I also love OP's idea, because it's a bold take and adds interesting new flavor to the Neverborn/Deathlord/Abyssal dynamic, and rolls pretty easily into the DL/AB relationship going from "master/slave" to "master/apprentice". Deathlords don't just get to go "ay bb i own ur soul already lmao", they have to make a pitch. It is, of course, an often-strong pitch given they're ancient ghost-lords with oodles of artifacts, money, knowledge, tutelage (both personally and through their subjects; even if Deathlord Jimmy has two left feet, he has masterful ghost-dancers who can teach a deathknight to cut one hell of a rug), etc.


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                            • #15
                              I want Deathless to look a bit like the Bones of Creation from Thunderbolt Fantasy.

                              Powerful, evil, with strong Flair's for the dramatic and a desire to chew the scenery and a sense of the boredom that comes with massive amounts of power. I like them as villains who don't so much underestimate the heroes as enjoy seeing what the heroes are gonna do because they have all the time in the world.

                              I like the feel of them doing what they want and the Neverborn just trusting that that will eventually destroy the world. These are the people the Great Prophecy and the Usurpation we're about! Giving them power and then letting them pursue their own (often conflicting) agendas seems like a pretty good way to end Creation.


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