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A Reluctant Pilgrimage?

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  • A Reluctant Pilgrimage?

    One of my favorite movies since childhood is The Last Unicorn, based on the book by Peter S. Beagle. Although I’ve been a huge fan for most of my life, I’ve only just recently had the chance to read the original book. And while I’m pleased to be seeing first hand just how faithful the film adaption was, I’m also finding a few details that just didn’t come through as effectively in the movie as they do in the text, which is leading me to appreciate the story in new ways.

    One of those ways is the creeping nature of the Unicorn’s transformation. To briefly summarize the bits that are relevant to this topic for those who are not familiar (spoilers if you have any interest in watching or reading it yourself, which I highly recommend,) in her quest to learn what became of the other unicorns, the eponymous last unicorn discovers that their disappearance is due to a supernatural creature or force known as the Red Bull (no relation to the energy drink, which hasn’t been invented at the time the story was written.) When she is found by the Red Bull, her wizard companion transforms her into a human in order to make the Bull lose interest, which works, but at a great cost. The once-immortal unicorn is now a fragile human, and the longer she spends in her human body, the more she begins to forget her life as a unicorn. This is presented as tragic at first, but as the unicorn grows more human, she learns to appreciate it, and by the end is reluctant to go back to being a unicorn. Even as she does so, she is changed by the experience, and is left the only unicorn to have experienced love and regret.

    In the movie, the moment that the unicorn changed into a human was abrupt, jarring, and the Unicorn’s initial distress at this turn came as a huge shock to young Willow’s child brain. In the book, it’s much more gradual. Long before Schmendrick’s magic turns her physically into a human in a moment of desperation, simply traveling with her human companions and being witness to their human struggles, their existential angst and emotional highs and lows has its impact on her. She begins the story completely innocent and naieve, and gradually becomes more mature, and more world-wary, a result of the experiences she shares with these humans. Taking a human shape is less of a shocking turn, and more of the final logical extreme of a transformation she had already begun from the moment she left her forest.

    This gradual slipping away from her alien, immortal perspective towards a more grounded human one reminded me very much of a vampire’s loss of humanity in Requiem, only in reverse. Which in turn made me think of Promethean. Except, in Promethean, humanity is a goal; an unquestionably desirable end, which Prometheans actively seek out. Whereas, one of the things I love about the Last Unicorn’s “Pilgrimage” is how bittersweet it is. In the beginning, she remarks on how being turned human is the worst fate that could befall a unicorn, and how she would rather learn that all the others had been killed than that they had been turned into humans. But by the end, she only reluctantly returns to being a unicorn, sacrificing her human form and the love she had found with it for the sake of her fellow unicorns.

    This got me wondering about the possibility of a Promethean story that treated humanity with similar ambivalence. Don’t get me wrong, I love the humanist bent of Promethean and agree with the New Dawn being a desirable goal. But I also see value in examining the negative aspects of humanity, and admitting that for many, it may seem a fate worse than death. I wonder if it would be appropriate to have a Promethean character follow the arc of the Last Unicorn, fearing the New Dawn, and only growing to appreciate the value in humanity and mortality near the end of a Pilgrimage reluctantly embarked on out of some desire other than becoming human. That humanity might at first seem a burden the Promethean accepts for the sake of a greater good, only learns to appreciate when the Pilgrimage is near completion.

    That’s... that’s pretty much it, I don’t really know if I have a point here, or a question, or what. That’s just been on my mind lately and I thought I would share, and see if any others would care to throw their 2 cents in. Apologies if it got a bit rambling.


    Onyx Path Forum Moderator

    My mod voice is red. I use it so you know when I'm speaking in an official capacity, not as an indication of tone.

    Going by Willow now, or Wil for short. She/Her/Hers.

  • #2
    Yeah; I have no interest in anti-Pilgrimages that are about avoiding Mortality as if being human was some sort of curse. But I could definitely get behind a more nuanced take on things, where both the good and bad are examined and the destination is both uncertain and involves some sort of trade-off whichever way it ends.

    That said, is be more inclined to do something like this through Changeling, specifically by using a Charlatan (assuming that's still a thing in 2e): an immortal, inhuman entity gets trapped in human (ish) form and finds herself experiencing something close enough to the human condition for our purposes. Changeling 2e has recast Clarity as a kind of mental damage track, so reconceptualizing it as a progression toward understanding and embracing humanity doesn't work so well; but I could see borrowing Promethean's Pilgrimage mechanics to represent a gradual and growing appreciation for being human. At the end, she'd have the choice of going back to being a True Fae, but one who can empathize with humans, or becoming a changeling.


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    • #3
      Originally posted by Dataweaver View Post
      Yeah; I have no interest in anti-Pilgrimages that are about avoiding Mortality as if being human was some sort of curse. But I could definitely get behind a more nuanced take on things, where both the good and bad are examined and the destination is both uncertain and involves some sort of trade-off whichever way it ends.

      That said, is be more inclined to do something like this through Changeling, specifically by using a Charlatan (assuming that's still a thing in 2e): an immortal, inhuman entity gets trapped in human (ish) form and finds herself experiencing something close enough to the human condition for our purposes. Changeling 2e has recast Clarity as a kind of mental damage track, so reconceptualizing it as a progression toward understanding and embracing humanity doesn't work so well; but I could see borrowing Promethean's Pilgrimage mechanics to represent a gradual and growing appreciation for being human. At the end, she'd have the choice of going back to being a True Fae, but one who can empathize with humans, or becoming a changeling.
      Yes, the parallels with Changeling did definitely come to mind as well. The movie especially comes across as a reverse-Changeling story, with a Fae entity who’s Durance takes the form of being turned into a human. Alternatively, she could be seen as a Fae-Touched, with the other Unicorns being the Changelings she promised to, Haggard being their Keeper, and the Bull being a Huntsman (at least in the Underhill presentation, I’ve tapped out from the most recent iteration). It was reading the book that made me re-examine the unicorn’s arc as a Pilgrimage rather than a Durance.


      Onyx Path Forum Moderator

      My mod voice is red. I use it so you know when I'm speaking in an official capacity, not as an indication of tone.

      Going by Willow now, or Wil for short. She/Her/Hers.

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      • #4
        I figure this would be an interesting way to play out a Pilgrimage. Aside from the well-known fact that being a Promethean is not pleasant, one can argue that years of interacting with mankind as one or observing it as an outsider would give someone plenty of reasons to believe than humans are flawed and that becoming one might be better than the alternative but not by that much. If people are the way they are, turning into one of them, with their issues and weaknesses, is something a Promethean might take some time to appreciate.

        Not to mention that the New Dawn is pretty much the greatest upheaval of existence the CoD has to offer (well, if you ask me), and that's saying something. I would be scared shitless at the idea, if I were a Created. Coming to terms with that mixture of fear and dislike of the negative side of mankind would be a huge step for a Pilgrimage.

        I see no issue with a character's arc going that way. I'd say it would not be a rare eventuality either. Also, I agree with the appreciation towards The Last Unicorn


        Cinder's Comprehensive Collection of Creations - Homebrew Hub

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        • #5
          You would need a reason to go on the pilgrimage despite not wanting to succeed. Centimani are those prometheans who have decided not to pursue their humanity. It is a bit different than your story. You are a creature so out of place that life hates you, the very ground hates you, even your body hates you. Sure you are ded 'ard and powerful, but the cost is great.

          Your idea would certainly make an interesting story, just don't forget how Disquiet, Wastelands, and Torment affect the promethean.


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          • #6
            Originally posted by HunterInTheNight View Post
            You would need a reason to go on the pilgrimage despite not wanting to succeed. Centimani are those prometheans who have decided not to pursue their humanity. It is a bit different than your story. You are a creature so out of place that life hates you, the very ground hates you, even your body hates you. Sure you are ded 'ard and powerful, but the cost is great.

            Your idea would certainly make an interesting story, just don't forget how Disquiet, Wastelands, and Torment affect the promethean.
            Well, if the Promethean heard of how the Pilgrimage offers release from those burdens (but not that the only way it does so is by becoming a "normal" human), they might pursue it. After they learn that it results in humanity, they still might, to see if they can "hack" it, and reap the benefits without going to that final step. Eventually, they might respect and appreciate humanity for itself (which is where this thread comes into play).


            Malkydel: "And the Machine dictated; let there be adequate illumination."
            Yossarian: "And lo, it was optimal."

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            • #7
              The main difficulty here, and the reason why I suggested the Charlatan idea, is that the premise here isn't that you're trying to become human; it's that you've already become human, against your will, and you're trying to come to grips with that — or else to find a way to go back to what you were before, with the catch that your time as a human will have a lasting effect on you even then.

              What's missing from a regular Pilgrimage is the prior inhuman state of existence that you want to go back to.


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              • #8
                Originally posted by Dataweaver View Post
                The main difficulty here, and the reason why I suggested the Charlatan idea, is that the premise here isn't that you're trying to become human; it's that you've already become human, against your will, and you're trying to come to grips with that — or else to find a way to go back to what you were before, with the catch that your time as a human will have a lasting effect on you even then.

                What's missing from a regular Pilgrimage is the prior inhuman state of existence that you want to go back to.
                Which you might also be able to pull off in Demon, what with both the Fall, and even just general Unchained existence, if that character in question was hit with an unwilling Going Native effect.


                Malkydel: "And the Machine dictated; let there be adequate illumination."
                Yossarian: "And lo, it was optimal."

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                • #9
                  In fact, isn't one of the Agendas “go back to what I was before”?


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                  • #10
                    One angle for a Promethean to be ambivalent about the Pilgrimmage might be the Principle. Rather than the power of her condition, what if she fears the loss of her intimate connection to a manifestly divine force?

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