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What if Stygia's leaders had undergone the Ritual of Severance?

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  • What if Stygia's leaders had undergone the Ritual of Severance?

    As we know from Ends of Empire, Charon had close ties with the Ferrymen before Stygia's foundation and in the early period of its existence, but cut them more or less in the period the Ferrymen invented the Ritual of Severance. Charon thought creation of a centralized kingdom of the Western dead would better protect wraiths from Oblivion, the other elder Ferrymen disagreed and so the newborn Hierarchy and the Boatmen's Society took different paths. What if Charon and the First had been able to find a compromise and as a result Charon, his Deathlords, and other Stygian luminaries (such as the Guildmasters) had underwent the Ritual of Severance?

    It goes w/o question Stygia accumulated a great deal of corruption and screw-ups in the last two millennia (although not so much as the other two Underworld empires that came to be ruled by Malfeans in disguise) and in all likelihood at least a sizable portion of it came from the influence of its leaders' Shadows. On the other hand, the Ritual no doubt helped the Ferrymen remain considerably free from corruption and a powerful force for good in the Underworld. It also allowed those Far Shores whose leaders underwent it stay true to their original purpose of helping Transcendence. This might have allowed Stygia to avoid many of its mistakes and become a much better place. Continued cooperation between the Ferrymen and a less corrupt and tyrannical Hierarchy might have ensued, and tragedies such as the betrayal of the Fishers, the clash with the Guilds, and the Dictum Mortuum might have been avoided.

    On the other hand, it would have freed several very powerful Pasiphae to wreak calculated mayhem in the Underworld for Oblivion for centuries. If Charon's Pasiphae had chosen to follow the same course it did in the original metaplot, Gorool's attack on Stygia might have occurred much earlier.
    Last edited by Irioth; 07-12-2017, 11:06 AM.

  • #2
    I think the situation would have been different, yes, but I don't think it would be less dark. Angst has many ways of worming it's way in. Even Harrowings ended up corrupted.

    While it is easy to blame the major bad decisions of the Deathlords and Charon, consider just how much of the Hierarchy's malaise comes from the corruption of it's middle echelons. Look at all the judges, bureaucrats, governors, and legionnaires it takes to run the empire, all of whom have to grapple with their shadows just as much as the Deathlords. So while specific named disasters might disappear, I think the overall trend of Stygia crumbling towards collapse would continue.

    I also think there's be some major changes to spectral strategy as well. If corruption proved less effective, the factions that focused on infiltration, sabotage, and outright combat would rise to prominence. And while the Pasiphae of loners like the Ferrymen tend towards independent action, it is quite possible that the Pasiphae of leaders would become organizers and generals.

    One thing I'm not actually sure of, though, is that Charon's Pasiphae could follow the course his Shadow did. What happened to him was accidental or experimental and quite possibly unique. I haven't heard of other Pasiphae suffering the same fate, and it's possible that those created through the full ritual are not so easily consumed.

    Mage: The Ice-ension: An Epic Game of Reality on the Rink


    • #3
      Yes, corruption has its way of worming its way in almost all things in the Underworld, but even this has limits. The Ferrymen have remained remarkably free from it, the only remarkable screw-up of theirs we know of, the creation of the Mourners, did not involve any malice on their part. So I expect if Stygia had got access to the Ritual of Severance for its leaders and most worthy citizens, its slide towards collapse, if not stopped, would have been considerably slowed. E.g. in the end they might still face a fall due to the combined assault of Yu Huang (perhaps Swar too) and (more organized) Labyrinth's forces but they would not have to deal with treason and infighting in its elites. Destructive events such as the Dictum Mortuum, the conflict with the Fishers, the civil war with the Guilds, and the repeated disloyalty of certain Deathlords could have been avoided or at least lessened in scope and severity.

      Yes, corruption in the middle ranks would have remained a major problem for Stygia. I suppose the leaders might have tried to counter it by seeking a middle ground between sharing the Ritual of Severance with as many worthy candidates as possible and avoiding its power does not fall in the hands of unsuitable wraiths. Even if the Stygian Ferrymen keep their requirements for membership more or less as exacting as their independent counterparts, I suppose having all the resources of the Hierarchy and the Guilds available to support the scrutiny process would allow to multiply the ranks of the Ferrymen at least to a few thousands during Stygia's history. This would not eliminate the problem of Shadow-fostered corruption in the middle ranks, but it would help somewhat. Moreover, it is likely the Ferrymen leaders would attempt to try and deal with the corruption problem by doing more or less what Charon did during the Fourth Great Maelstrom but on a regular basis, take wandering for a while to check on the situation from the common wraith's perspective.

      So I'd agree with you the main response of the Neverborn to a less corruptible Stygia would be less reliance on corruption as a strategy and a greater focus on infiltration, sabotage, and outright military aggression. It is indeed quite possible and probably even likely the Pasiphae of leaders would become organizers and generals for Oblivion's forces, something much like the Generals of Oblivion but even more effective and on a much bigger scale thanks to bigger numbers and the increased power and unity of intent of the Pasiphae. It would be a whole new non-denominational faction in the Labyrinth, an integrated, coesive, well-organized military force that trascends the myriad petty sectarian struggles between different Onceborn cults and stands as a peer to them, so a much bigger external threat for Stygia. Much the same way, the Malpheans in disguise that rule the Yellow Springs and Swar might be driven to take a more aggressive stance against Stygia (as much as it would allow them to keep their ruse) earlier in the Underworld's history. I suppose the Asian empires' Malpheans could exploit resentment of Chinese and Indian wraiths for Western colonialism to fuel a more aggressive stance against Stygia.

      By the way, I have serious doubts on the justification for the Pasiphae being eyeless and voiceless, since they are otherwise supposed to be the full equivalent of the Ferrymen in everything. Although they can no doubt compensate to a degree with Arcanoi, the lack of eyes and voices would still make them less effective, especially if they have to take a more active role in Spectral society, and utterly unable of using Keening, which is a considerable handicap. I'm seriously thinking of houseruling them to have normal appearances, even if they do not usually communicate with wraiths.

      Yes, it is entirely possible and probably even likely what happened to Charon's Shadow was an unique event (kinda like the creation of the Mourners) and so his Pasiphae would never merge with a Neverborn. It is rather more likely it would become the greatest General of Oblivion. The Pasiphae Generals that are the counterparts of the Stygian leaders would in all likelihood become the equivalent of most Onceborn. Stygia would face sizable, well-organized armies of Spectres on a recurrent basis that are led by powerful Pasiphae and use Hekatonkhire as war engines. In addition to increased conflict with the Yellow Springs and Swar, and the persistent threat of Doppelganger infiltration and sabotage, this would make Stygia face a persistent and most serious existential threat even if Shadow-wrought corruption in its leadership or to a lesser degree its middle ranks is eliminated or lessened. On the other hand, Charon would never disappear for many decades if there is no rise of Gorool and Stygian leaders and elite agents would tap the power of Ferrymen. Wraith lore occasionally hints Charon, the Deathlords, and Guildmasters might know advanced uses of Arcanoi that are unknown to common wraiths, similar to the way vampire elders and archmages have trascendental powers their lesser counterparts cannot tap, but we never got any hard rule about that. The only rules we ever got for 'super-wraiths' are the ones for Ferrymen.

      By the way, I read conflicting interpretations of what happened to Charon's Shadow and Gorool. A few argue his Shadow took control of a sleeping Neverborn and rode it more or less the way a Puppeteer rides a Consort to take revenge against the legacy of his Psyche, others think Gorool absorbed Charon's Shadow's knowledge and this roused it to exceptional action. Everyone more or less agrees Gorool's actions were unique for a Neverborn (at least until the return of Grand-Maw changes the picture, but that's a wholly different setting I'm not so interested with) and probably not repeatable w/o that specific event sequence. Even the most active Neverborn usually make themselves content with subtly influencing the broad trends of the Hive-Mind as a whole, sponsoring the Generals of Oblivion, and/or getting their own Labyrinth cults. So in this version of the setting, Charon the Ferryman would remaining available to lead and fight for Stygia till its very end.
      Last edited by Irioth; 07-12-2017, 04:30 PM.


      • #4
        i always wondered why the Ferrymen didn't just use the Pathos bottles that the Order of the Thorns used to seal up other Spectres and seal away their Pasiphae, that way they wouldn't be able to run amok???

        If the Deathlords did use the ritual to separate their Shadows, they would have to take measures to make sure that these very powerful Shadows didn't destroy the Underworld.


        • #5
          I don't know if it is specifically stated, but one of the impressions I got from the Ferryman book is that one of the criteria they look for in potential recruits is a Psyche/Shadow that won't immediately try to destroy each other when they are separated. I'll have to look through the book again, but that might be the reason.

          It is also possible that the Shadow has to actually agree to the ritual, which would be unlikely if it knew a jar was waiting for it.

          Mage: The Ice-ension: An Epic Game of Reality on the Rink


          • #6
            There's another possible reason: would the Ferrymen share this secret of theirs with the Deathlords if they were so ideologically opposed? Maybe not.

            And the flip of that is: would the Deathlords take the opportunity? The Ritual of Severance, IIRC, is permanent and prevents you from ever Transcending.

            Perhaps even the most jaded Deathlord holds out hope that, if they want to relinquish their power at last, they may one day Transcend or pass on from the Underworld.

            Even if they were never realistically going to give up their power or develop the self-awareness required to Transcend, it's a crutch to hold onto that you can change directions and try, at least, if it all gets too much.

            But splitting your soul like that is a pretty permanent thing. You deny yourself that possibility (no matter how remote) perhaps forever.

            Take Charon as an example. He Transcends in Ends of Empire once he's finished his Great Work, and that's it. He's onto bigger and better things. And it seems like he was always able to do that, if he wanted to, but that he was staying to help Stygia. If he'd properly undergone the Ritual of Severance, would that still have been possible?

            Then there's the Lady of Fate (Eve). Did she have a plan, or at least a vision, all along? Was the mess of Stygia ultimately necessary to prevent something worse from taking hold? Would she talk the others (or at least Charon) into staying, and staying as unified beings of Psyche and Shadow, so that they could at least try to control their darker sides?

            The thing with politics is that it comes with some seriously hard decisions. Especially when you consider Underworld politics. A Pasiphae feeding on the Angst experienced by a Deathlord, but free of that Deathlord and able to wander untethered, would be incredibly powerful. At least as a whole being, a Deathlord could watch and monitor his darker half, and put safeguards in place. He could also Castigate himself (or have others do it), when the Angst got too much. A Pasiphae would just keep cashing that Angst in, until it was as powerful as a Onceborn in its own right.

            It's certainly a great 'what if' scenario for an alternate universe (precisely because of the pitfalls I mention above), but I can see the reasons why it wasn't done, in-game (also, it might have made for a far more utopian setting, which wasn't what the designers wanted).
            Last edited by adambeyoncelowe; 01-06-2019, 07:31 AM.