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  • The Makara and The Plain

    So, we have questions on this subject, the other two have proven to be interesting conversation pieces, the Makara is a great case of where the physical and the metaphorical intertwine, and it's the last one I have fully written up. This one gets rambly, and those of you were around here in July 2019 might be able to notice a certain conversation on my mind, but with that said, let's look at the Makara and the Plain.
    The Makara, Nightmares of the Depths
    It’s the drowning that gets you, right? That’s always what you think about when it comes to the dangers of water-the desperate attempt to cage the air in your lungs and it’s just as panicked and inevitable flight from your body if you’re left under for too long.

    The water’s more of a threat than that though-it’s inherent, you can feel it when you start to surround yourself with it. You aren’t built for it. Your limbs don’t work for it, and the way you orient yourself is so easily lost when motion becomes a three dimensional affair. There’s always that panic, that you don’t know which way is up, the moment when you stop moving, and your only hope is that when you look up, you see light and not the darkness. You dive in and move in this world, and you learn that you don’t belong there. You also know it when you meet any of the inhabitants of the water, because it’s so easy for them, to move around, to breathe, to keep purchase and cool, to just go at you, because this is their world-they know it like the back of their fins and tentacles, like a familiar itch in their teeth. We know more about the reaches of space and bacteria on moons than we do our own oceans

    There’s an alien world that we can barely comprehend under that surface of stuff we just drink for survival.

    That’s the other physical catch-we know there’s dangers plenty, both on and in the water. Rivers and lakes and oceans are all hungry, and we shouldn’t dare to deal with them, but we need to drink water to survive, need to cross it to travel, need to plumb the depths for food and resources. We can’t escape those dangers because there’s too much that calls to us.

    Mermaids are a great transition from the physical to the abstract. Our physical fears all stem from the real, but the allure is all sex and sexuality, of companionship for pride or for lonelieness, for something more. It’s our fear of that sex and sexuality, of our carnal desires, that makes the mermaid a leviathan in her own right.


    And so it goes. The world is filled with surfaces, and complex, strange worlds beneath them-hell, we may not even fully comprehend our own selves, questioning our sex, our gender, our profession, our friendships, our choices, our identities. People don’t dive into politics or religion because a little bit of swimming reveals deep worlds with more complexity than we thought to them. There’s always some kind of thing going on that has more people and activity going on with it than you realize, and sometimes you just need to pull back to that placid surface because it makes sense. We don’t look too closely at a lot of things, from the leather whip in our grandma’s room to the racism going on in our nations to our own hearts desire, because diving in deep reveals how complex and hard a lot of what we thought we knew really was.

    At the heart of it, the fear of the depths is to confront our own inability to handle complexity and unknown factors, our likelihood at failing to adapt to a world more nuanced and alien than we ever thought. It’s that fear we’ll never really get it all.

    And that’s all right.

    Truth be told, there’s too much in the world to ever be free from our own ignorance and failure to comprehend. There’s going to be times we end up in over our heads, and that’ll cost us, and being aware of that failing is going to get us a lot further along in the problem than trying to pretend it won’t happen. It’s okay to be afraid that things are going to be more complicated than we can understand. It’s okay to admit that we’re going to get it wrong going forward. We’ll lose our way, we’ll get hurt, and we may even drown.

    It’s also important to understand the fear of wanting things we don’t fully comprehend, because sometimes that means we have things about ourselves we need to come to terms. If our sense of want and need lead to harm or self-destruction, then it’s important to learn to respect that comes from somewhere, that we sort out what is merely other fears tying into the desire, and which belies problems and issues that we need to sort out and pay attention to.

    It’s important, then, in this sense, to hold our breath in these matters, a metaphor that means a whole lot. On the physical level, we learn to survive in the water by carrying more and more air with us, by learning how to regulate our pressure, to keep as much as possible and use as little as possible. In the abstract, it means learning to talk and assert less, and to listen more, to pay attention more, to take in whatever we’re coming at.

    This stillness and calm relays into the needs of orientation and learning to go with the flow as well. When you find yourself disoriented and deep underwater, letting one’s self float will tend to orient your legs downward, as the lower part of your body tends to be heavier than your upper half, thus telling you where the surface is. Floating in social situations where you don’t know what’s going on, going with the flow of things, will lead you at least get the form of how things are done, if not reveal the environmental reasons they are done with time. Learning to go in and take your cues from others and the world around you begins to reveal more information from that.

    Finally, you develop a careful but sinuous power to pushing through the environment, learn that it’s just applying your strength but twisting your form through the thicker medium. In society, you learn how to carefully apply power and push against it as well as slip into it, learning where audacity and discretion come into play in kind. You learn to carefully touch the edges of things so as to not be ripped away or stung, and then to reach out and grab onto those things that are of benefit to you, be it the food of the day, or the heart of a coworker or the praise of a general. You can push against the system and emerge more powerful for it, because you have read the currents and know how to play them to your strengths. You’ll meet with others when you breach the surface and confound them with your strange, new alien knowledge and strength, as alluring in your power and confidence as you are confounding in your new complexities.

    Forsworn of the Depths, the Plain

    Stop me if you’ve heard this one: “You’re overthinking it.”

    The Plain don’t need to fear complexity because things aren’t really that complex. There’s no hidden nuances to society, there’s just people who want to get more out of the program than not. There’s no subtleties in human behavior-if you dress like that, it’s because you’re asking for it, admit it or not. Politics? Not that hard, people just can’t handle democracy. Religion? What to it, Jesus saves. What’s all this stuff about the Jews, my friend was a Jew and he never had these problems. You get the idea.

    The Plain reduce the world to operating on a handful of simple principles, often ones that are affirmed by their own life experiences-and so tend to reinforce their own lifestyles and experiences while devaluing others. Other people just want to make it complicated because they don’t have any common sense, just aren’t able to read the room, because they can’t handle the simple facts. People are going for an angle. They don’t need nuance and an ability to read the room and parsing out what’s true or not when they’ve got the facts all ready inside themselves-knowing the facts beats getting to know the circumstances and details any day of the week. The Plain see things as they are, and suffocate everyone else in the shallow end for disagreeing.

    To their credit, the Plain do tend to play towards practical simplicities rather than nonsensical ones-if it doesn’t bear the plausibility of truth, then it’s not a plain and simple truth. They’re very matter of fact and their principles do tend to work in their sphere-but their rejection of other’s points of views that complicate affairs and insistence that they already know the answer to situations can cause them problems when they’re thrown in the deep end. When that happens, the simple principles are played to their extreme-if killing it won’t do, overkill will, and you use booms when bangs are falling short. The backfire effect ignites when contradictions come into contact with the core beliefs of the Plain, and so long as their beliefs can be validated in some kind of way. Messier victories as a result of that don’t cause the Plain to question it, as it still proves they knew how things were all along.

    Far more complicated with the Plain is that their tendency to reduce and simplify don’t stop them from adding in new principles, and so attempts to show them how things really are and conveying a sense of nuance can seem like it’s going swimmingly until the Plain reveal an insultingly truncated form of the lessons taught. It takes nuance and care to guide the Plain into a situation where newer conceptions of reality force them to really ask questions about their core beliefs about how things work and admit that something might be more than they can comprehend right now, and embrace that simplest and ultimate truth before they can really heal and learn from their fear. Still, because of this, the Plain can be the friendliest of the Forsworn, and seemingly the most likely to renounce their heroic journey, since their rejection still leads to building new outlooks. The corpses of thousands of hopeful Leviathans build the ziggurat of ignorance the Plain exist in, of course.


    Sean K.I.W./Kelly R.A. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Sean, Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
    The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
    Feminine pronouns, please.

  • #2
    BTW, if you want a great read for the Makara based on this, check out the chapter from Gunnerkrigg Court, She Gave Us An Ocean. Even if yer not familiar with the story so far, it'll make sense enough on it's own.


    Sean K.I.W./Kelly R.A. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Sean, Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
    The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
    Feminine pronouns, please.

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    • #3
      This is me, 100% not surprised by a Gunnerkrigg recommendation XD


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      • #4
        Um. Well.

        It's a powerful piece of writing, but ... after reading it, and your version of Eshmaki, I still find it hard to see the line between them. It looks as if, to decide whether a Beast is an Eshmaki or a Makara, the only thing to go on is "is this a land-based monster or a sea-based one?" The basic fear in both cases is of ignorance and inscrutability. It's just that the Makara are a fear of ignorance of things you've already met, while Eshmaki are less specific.

        The Bright and the Plain are just as hard to distinguish - both are obsessed with defining, categorizing, and limiting, the Plain are just ... less inclined to test their theories when they think they've found the answer? Or are the Bright the arrogant scientist brandishing his credentials, while the Plain is the man on the street, sheltering in conventional wisdom?

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        • #5
          The Bright is obsessed with always knowing more because he thinks knowing things will make him feel secure, the Plain thinks there's nothing more to know, so he'll lump everything together into pre-defined concepts.

          The Bright is on a quest that he himself knows will never end, the more he knows the more there is to know, he is definitely the mad scientist type.
          How can he be a villain? One word: dissection.
          There's an inherent destruction in the process of knowing, specially when that applies to humans, thinking as them as nothing more than a machine that can be understood by analyzing their physical processes is basically dehumanizing them. Things can be more than the sum of its parts. You can definitely know LESS about something the more you study it, the Eshmaki will make you remember that.

          The Plain is much simpler, he looks at the Bright and calls him a deluded fool, he is right, but he answers that not by acknowledging that he just can't know everything, he answers that by saying "you already know everything there is to know, you are just overthinking". But you don't really know everything, and sometimes the unknown has teeth, the Makara will remind you of that.

          Both can't deal with the fact there will always be unknowns, but they answer it in very different ways.

          By the way, the overlap is in Eshmaki and Makaras, it's already there in the original, not in the Forsworn. This is so good exactly because it makes them differ more by having them inverted in different ways.
          Last edited by DreadQueen; 06-14-2021, 06:10 PM.

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          • #6
            The Plain takes the Fear of the Depths and says "there's no abyss to be afraid of, no horror lurking beneath us, no unknown secret minds cannot bear to know. What exists is what you can see. Here, in the open, clear and plain, without any room for nuance or deviancy."


            Cinder's Comprehensive Collection of Creations - Homebrew Hub

            I write about Beast: The Primordial a lot

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            • #7
              For me, what the Makara are was really solidified by a great video essay by Jacob Geller, all about humanity's fear of, well, the depths. It focused more on caves than the ocean, but those are a Makara thing, too. If I can figure out how to embed a video, maybe I'll post it later.

              Anyway, the video's main idea is the scariest bit about the depths isn't so much that we don't know what's down there, or even that we don't belong there; it is the fascination. People always come back to deep, dark places. We cannot resist the alien allure of a cave, a lake, or the sea. I think Arc's write-up here gets at the same idea, or at least close to it, albeit in a round-about, rambley way.

              So, to me, the Makara are the fear of getting lost, or losing yourself, in an alien environment. And the scariest part is, you are only there because you took that risk. You went into the cave, you got on the boat, you went out of your depth. You chose to put yourself near or across a boundary. And the other world was not meant for you. If you survive... you'll probably do it again, whether for the thrill or the rewards. The Makara are alluring sirens and hypnotic angler fish just as much as they are hulking krakens and miles-long sea serpents.

              If you want to simplify it even more, you might say that the Makara are a fear of risk. That they are the anxiety of putting yourself in danger, expressed through the lens of inappropriate environments [their Lairs are the most likely to be hostile to humanity], but I think that ends up confusing them more. Regardless, I think this interpretation is more adjacent to the Eshmaki's unknown, rather than truly overlapping with it. Like two ships passing in the dark of night, or two people sharing a bed. Close, maybe even related, but distinct.

              Just my two cents on the subject. I think the Makara have always been a weird one to plainly ascribe a "fear" to [even if the book has no trouble leaving it at "the depths"]. Like, it's easy to sorta understand that, but without being able to really put it in words, y'know?


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              • #8
                Could it be simplified to Eshmaki = "Fear of not knowing" and Makara = "Fear of knowing" then?

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                • #9
                  So, a Makara is a monster you have to make a special effort to meet, and the fear that, by making that effort, you won't be able to get back. While an Eshmaki is a monster that might decide to hunt you down, and the fear of being surprised, suddenly in danger. Which is why Makara have Alien Allure, and Eshmaki have From the Shadows.

                  And the Bright reject the idea that they can be caught by surprise, being sure that they can learn enough about anything to predict its actions. While the Plain refuse to go beyond what they know, or to admit any attraction or value to the mysterious.

                  OK, I can see that as a viable distinction. You'd need to revise both writeups to bring it out properly, though.

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                  • #10
                    I got to this too late in the day to address a lot of points, but I did have a thought from earlier about a way to think about the Plain (and the implied contrast to, say, the Enlightened).

                    On the one hand, Jim from Blazing Saddles once said of the Plain "You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know... morons."

                    On the other hand, Alexander the Pretty Alright was channeling some pretty strong Plain energy when he decided he was gonna ruin an oracles day by solving that knot problem.

                    Sometimes the simplest solution is the best one. Othertimes, it's treating every problem like a nail, because why would you use anything but a hammer.


                    Sean K.I.W./Kelly R.A. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Sean, Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
                    The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
                    Feminine pronouns, please.

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                    • #11
                      So I've just emerged from my Exalted phase in order to say that all of those articles are very, very cool. While I get why 2e have generally turned the antagonists into more simplified in terms of system and narrative, I really like seeing it, and modeling the narrative for different forms of Heroism as dark mirrors to the Families is a very cool concept.

                      *quietly returning to my Exalted projects*


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                      "And all our knowledge is, Ourselves to know"- An Essay on Man

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                      • #12
                        Just popping in to say that I am thoroughly enjoying these write ups. You do a great job of exploring problematic worldviews without casting them as irredeemable. I am quite interested in what your takes on the Ugallu and Inguma would look like.

                        I can’t say I’m 100% in love with the model of Heroes as essentially failed Beasts (I prefer a model where they are separate, equally dysfunctional aspects of the human psycho-immune system), but I do concede that the parallels it lets you draw between the Families and their Heroic counterparts are an excellent basis of reframing the problematic elements of the game. I particularly like the vibe that Hunger isn’t completely parasitic, and is more about the Beast wanting to share this catharsis they went through.


                        The longer I study science the more I am convinced that it is functionally indistinguishable from what our ancestors would refer to as sorcery. And I would know, being both scientist and sorcerer.

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                        • #13
                          This is really good.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Scriptorian View Post
                            Just popping in to say that I am thoroughly enjoying these write ups. You do a great job of exploring problematic worldviews without casting them as irredeemable. I am quite interested in what your takes on the Ugallu and Inguma would look like.

                            I can’t say I’m 100% in love with the model of Heroes as essentially failed Beasts (I prefer a model where they are separate, equally dysfunctional aspects of the human psycho-immune system), but I do concede that the parallels it lets you draw between the Families and their Heroic counterparts are an excellent basis of reframing the problematic elements of the game. I particularly like the vibe that Hunger isn’t completely parasitic, and is more about the Beast wanting to share this catharsis they went through.
                            I don't think the end model is going to be directly Heroes as failed Beasts-I don't think of it like that, in fact in a move I would never slip in as anything other than a rumor or legend to play with, I tend to make them the first "response"* to the Insatiable-so much as I think they are just one of the three main lines of Children the Dark Mother had, alongside the Insatiable and Beasts. They just happen to have more particular relationship with how one of these other Children comes about versus that other one that completely skips past the normal process.

                            As for Hunger.....well, on the one hand, I did really want to explore how the elements of Beast could be positive, and they are all interconnected. On the other hand....Hunger is it's own show.

                            *in as much as I want to emphasize the Dark Mother having Children for reasons, which I don't know how much I want to think like that.


                            Sean K.I.W./Kelly R.A. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Sean, Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
                            The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
                            Feminine pronouns, please.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by ArcaneArts View Post
                              I don't think the end model is going to be directly Heroes as failed Beasts-I don't think of it like that, in fact in a move I would never slip in as anything other than a rumor or legend to play with, I tend to make them the first "response"* to the Insatiable-so much as I think they are just one of the three main lines of Children the Dark Mother had, alongside the Insatiable and Beasts. They just happen to have more particular relationship with how one of these other Children comes about versus that other one that completely skips past the normal process.
                              Ooh, that works. That makes Heroes the Children closest to humanity, with Insatiables being that farthest, and Beasts being in the middle. All related, but distinct by where they stand in relation to the Tenemos.

                              To over extend the metaphor: Insatiables are the angsty older sibling who complains that no ones understands them. Heroes are the spoiled youngest who demands everything revolves around them. And Beasts are the besieged middle child who wishes everyone would stop killing each other.


                              The longer I study science the more I am convinced that it is functionally indistinguishable from what our ancestors would refer to as sorcery. And I would know, being both scientist and sorcerer.

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