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Putting Context to the Ahl-i-Batin

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  • Putting Context to the Ahl-i-Batin

    The TLDR on this is that there is a great concept behind the Ahl-i-Batin that perhaps assumed more background knowledge of Islamic thought and philosophical discourse needed to contextualize the different aspects of this Tradition. This is an attempt to provide some of that context so that these characters or NPCs can be portrayed as more than two dimensional "mysterious assassins."

    I liked the Ahl-i-Batin since they were introduced, but I never really got them or felt I knew how to play them. I could not understand what they were trying to build or what their motives and goals were.

    Specifically my questions were:
    • Ahl-i-Batin: What is the name?
    • What is the doctrine of Unity?
    • What is the Web of Faith?
    • Why the emphasis on Arcane?
    • Why the omission of Entropy?
    • What are they trying to do other than be mysterious assassins?
    Or rather, what is the actual connection of all of these, and the motivation behind their actions?

    Some disclaimers:
    The ideas are typically from non-mainstream, non-orthodox Islamic teachings.
    I am not an expert or even well versed. This is based on a weekend with Google and YouTube.
    If you feel i am misinterpreting or just wrong about any of the philosophies please feel free to correct me.
    This exercise was meant to try to understand what I think the authors had in mind for this group of mages from their inception. It is not meant to be a re-write of the Ahl-i-Batin​.
    There is a bit of Homebrew at the end for fun as well on how I think a group of mages would handle this paradigm over the centuries.

    Historical Context
    The Doctrine of Unity refers to Muslim belief that there is one God and God is one. This is known as tawhid, and seems simple, but is a direct refutation of ideas such as the Catholic Trinity, the existence of a Gnostic Demiurge, or dualism found in Zoroastrianism. The Doctrine of Unity also refers to the idea that God is all of creation and that creation is both infinite and eternal. This is also referenced in the "Eternal moment of Creation" discussion as to whether God, as a perfect being, enacted an imperfect creation, since we all experience change and evolution. It answers that Creation is a single moment, but one so vast that we can only comprehend it in parts. "Change" is just a product of our own limited ability to experience the moment in its entirety.

    Al Batin means "the hidden." This comes from the belief held by the Isma'ili (and some others) that the Qu'ran was not dictated directly to Mohammad in Arabic, as is current mainstream or Orthodox belief, but rather was given in a pure form (often light). Only a pure being, such as the Prophet, could comprehend this message. Mohammad, according to this belief, attempted to convey the pure ideas in the text we know as the Qu'ran. However, aside from the external text and its meaning, there are hidden or esoteric meanings - batin meanings - that can only be perceived and understood by a pure being, typically an Imam. For this reason the Isma'ili were often called the Batiniyya, or "people of batin."

    Skip forward to Sufism, in 922 CE a Sufi named Mansur al-Hallj ran through town crying "I am truth!" Which was associated with one of the 99 names of God. He was killed for claiming to be God in mad hubris. However, some Sufis argue that the man had actually succeeded in removing his sense of self, which was separating him from God, in an act of enlightenment and humility. By removing his identity, he had conquered the jihad al nafs - the battle against the self. The Sufis claim that the nafs is a veil that separates us from God. So, in defeating the self, the nafs, he had removed this veil (fana) and by not being, was able to see what was hidden - batin - and become one with God. Fana, or annihilation of the veil, is typically achieved through achieving a state in remembrance of God by forgetting the self, either through long repetitions dance or prayer. Or meditations walking a labyrinth.

    Ahl-i-Batin in the Game
    Aside from explaining some of the terms and ideas used, it gives us motives and purpose for this group of mages. In my head canon, the WoD is not completely Post-Modern. Mages can and do change and define Reality, but they did not invent it and the Tellurian existed for a long time before humanity, let alone mages. A mage cannot invent a Celestial, but can, over time, impact profoundly how humanity and a Celestine relate to each other mundanely and metaphysically in the Tellurian. So, when asked, "Can you roll more successes than God?" mages often respond, "No, but I do think I can roll more successes than those people throwing his name carelessly about. Hold my beer."

    This is precisely what I think the Ahl-i-Batin seek to do.

    The Doctrine of Unity means that the Tellurian is one creation, whole and eternal. It is not the fragmented One that the Celestials claim it to be. Nor can it be spiraling to destruction as the Nephandi claim. Nor any of the other claims to reality. These ideas are impossible. Knowing this, the Batini seek to create and expand the Web of Faith. This is not just a convenience for travel or sharing Quintessence. It is a way to show Sleepers the truth about the universe - that we are all part of the whole. To think that there is separation or decay in Creation is to have the misconception that Creation is imperfect. For a Batini, Creation is complete and completed and Eternal. To that end, Entropy is not real, it is an illusion based on our limited perceptions. The Sphere of Correspondence and the Web of Faith are part of bringing this to the awareness of humanity.

    Further, for a Batini to truly see Creation he must remove the veil of nafs by removing himself. This is represented by the extreme Arcane ratings, where the Batini seeks to remove himself from reality so that he can see it clearly. In this way, he can guide reality to truths that he understands as others cannot.
    Perhaps, the Batini use their Arcane to manipulate events more than we think.
    Perhaps, having been defeated by the Virtual Adepts, the Batini guided and followed their learning of Mount Qaf, so that they would change their focus from communication to connection to data.
    Perhaps they guided them away from the Technocracy, so they would form a connection between the physical world and the unseen through their "Virtual Reality," bringing others closer to the fana that removes the nafs. The anonymity of the Internet experience may be an effect of this.
    Perhaps, having brought the Traditions together, they left, only to seek out more disparate mages to form new alliances of Unity.
    Perhaps similar stories are true for all the mage organizations and chantries.
    Even if someone discovered this, would they remember? How much of our history is actually Ahl-i-Batin history?

    Possible Game Applications
    Dealing with Entropy
    Without Entropy, it would seem that a Batini would not be able to predict events or prevent or cause the decay or deterioration of things or concepts. How, then, can they impact this part of the human experience?

    Most mages use and manipulate Entropic forces to bolster, deteriorate, or predict reality. The Batini paradigm and Doctrine of Unity assert that it is impossible to change reality. Reality is an Eternal Creation that is complete and completed. This precludes Entropy as anything other than a misconception. However, they also understand that our ability to experience that Creation is limited and therefore the experience can be altered for an individual, group or even society using Correspondence. To do this, the mage must have a higher understanding of reality. Using higher level insights to Creation and God’s plan, a mage is able to change the relationship, or Correspondence between things in a way that would seem Entropic. This insight is dependent on the Batini’s removal of their nafs to see creation properly, though. For every two dots of Arcane rounded down, they are able to duplicate a dot effect of Entropy, up to their level of Correspondence.

    Example: a Batini with Arete 5, Correspondence 4 with Arcane 3 could use Correspondence to produce what would seem like a one dot Entropy Effect. If the character’s Arcane were raised to 6, they would be able to duplicate Effects up to 3 dots of Entropy. With an Arcane of 10, they would still be limited to 4 dots, because their Correspondence rating is 4.

    Manipulate Arcane
    Batini with Prime can link Effects to the world, even at high levels of Arcane. For each dot of Prime, the mage can temporarily mitigate a dot of Arcane for one scene. This Effect is vulgar, with or without witnesses. Difficulty is Arcane rating minus Prime rating. Increased successes extend the length of the mitigation or lasting impact the mage can have. Botch can cause a temporary increase in Arcane’s negative qualities, or even a temporary decrease in Arcane (where the mage is suddenly noticed, sets off alarms, etc.) at Storyteller’s discretion.

    At Storyteller’s discretion, this could also be used to lower the Arcane rating of others or to lower occlusion barriers set on a place or object. Prior study of such would be needed (no guessing or phishing). Initial role would be Occult or Investigation with a difficulty of 6 plus target’s Arcane with successes equal to target’s Arcane to lower it one point.

    Paradox Effects
    A Batini mage with Arcane 6 or higher may incorporate Correspondence 3, Prime 2 into their rotes to perform successful Effects at one Paradox level lower. Vulgar with Witness becomes Vulgar without Witness and Vulgar without Witness becomes Coincidental. Successful rolls thus incur Paradox at one level lower than normal. However, botched rolls incur Paradox as usual and failed rolls always incur 1 point of Paradox, as the Batini mage finds she has misjudged her understanding of Creation.

  • #2
    This does seem a lot like a retread of the Lost Paths book. How would you contrast these ideas with that?


    What doesn't kill you, makes you... stranger.

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    • #3
      It's an interesting idea; but I don't buy that Batini can perform the equivalent of Entropy Effects using just Correspondence and Arcane; it makes it too easy for one Sphere to do the work of two. I could see them using Correspondence in conjunction with, say, Time to produce Entropy-like Effects; though even there, I feel like there should be some restrictions on what kinds of Entropy Effects they can duplicate.
      ​​​


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      • #4
        Originally posted by Asmodai View Post
        This does seem a lot like a retread of the Lost Paths book. How would you contrast these ideas with that?
        This was actually the idea. The write up in Lost Paths was interesting, but threw around a lot of terms that it did not explain. What is the Doctrine of Unity? It was talked about, but not really explained in the text. Having High Arcane and no Entropy seemed like add-on abilities that had no relation to each other and nothing to do with the paradigm. I could not wrap my head around it. However, I know that WoD writers do better research than that, so I did some digging to figure out what they were not telling us. I found it very helpful and through others might as well. This is not a new version, this is what I think was being hinted at but not explained directly. I found this information helpful in playing Batini characters and thought others might as well.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Dataweaver View Post
          It's an interesting idea; but I don't buy that Batini can perform the equivalent of Entropy Effects using just Correspondence and Arcane; it makes it too easy for one Sphere to do the work of two. I could see them using Correspondence in conjunction with, say, Time to produce Entropy-like Effects; though even there, I feel like there should be some restrictions on what kinds of Entropy Effects they can duplicate.
          ​​​
          No arguments there. I generally dislike making character types that are unique because they cannot do something that everyone else can. I find it difficult to believe that a faction of mages would be running around for hundreds of years with the inability to impact a fundamental aspect of reality and do nothing about it. Canon text just says, "yeah, they are troubled by this." I wanted something a bit better.
          My thinking was to put a double cap on it with Arcane and Correspondence rating. This also makes the effect unique to the Batini and their paradigm. However, I see your point. Perhaps a further limit might be that this technique could be used to counter Entropy effects and provide some protection from Entropy (like "happening" to run into a Batini mage when you want to or predicting their next move. these would be more difficult)

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          • #6
            I wouldn't make it unique to the Batini; it's just that they're in the unique position of not being able to use Entropy directly, so it's worthwhile for them to use this workaround; whereas other mages find it easier to just study Entropy. To that end, perhaps go with Correspondence and Time conjunctional Effects, with the added requirement of Arcane (though I'd only require dots of Arcane equal to the Effect ranking, rather than twice it).

            As a more general rule of thumb, I'm not against any Sphere's Effects being reproducible using other Spheres, as long as it's harder to do (e.g., requires communication use of several Spheres instead of just one Sphere, or requiring more successes to achieve the same result).

            Also, the original write-up for the Batini excluded Entropy as a sort of balance for the fact that they had two Affinity Spheres: Correspondence and Mind. It also (poorly) explained that the reason for the ban is that Entropy is Bad; something that early Mage books tended to take as a given. (There's a reason the original Book of Madness only had one Qlippothic Sphere, Qlippothic Entropy.) As well, I seem to recall something from much later (in the Revised era?) to the effect that the Entropy Sphere itself has some sort of curse or corruption on it.

            I think something like this could be used to explain why the Batini lost their access to Entropy, while also suggesting some restrictions on what sorts of Entropy-like Effects they can produce: for instance, if the Effect would benefit from the Decay or Necromancy Sphere Specialties, the Batini can't do it at all, even using the Correspondence/Time workaround.


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            • #7
              Originally posted by Dataweaver View Post
              I wouldn't make it unique to the Batini; it's just that they're in the unique position of not being able to use Entropy directly, so it's worthwhile for them to use this workaround; whereas other mages find it easier to just study Entropy.
              You and I look at this very differently. I see this as a limitation unique to the paradigm. Having a workaround unique to the paradigm as well makes sense to me.
              Originally posted by Dataweaver View Post
              To that end, perhaps go with Correspondence and Time conjunctional Effects, with the added requirement of Arcane (though I'd only require dots of Arcane equal to the Effect ranking, rather than twice it).
              My thinking on twice the Arcane rating is that Batini Arcane goes to 10, at which point they have experienced the fana, allowing them to deal with what others understand as Entropic effects as part of Eternal Creation. I also saw this as a powerful power-creep cap. Same reason I think you are proposing conjunctinal magic requirements. (at least in part. I think we also have differing rules interpretations as well.). I think play testing would see which way worked better. I don't have a group to do that with, so maybe someone else could try it out and post results.
              Originally posted by Dataweaver View Post
              It also (poorly) explained that the reason for the ban is that Entropy is Bad
              Yeah, that what prompted this post in the first place. I felt the writer had a really cool idea that was not quite shared with us. The more research I did, the more I realized I was right and the writer had a really cool vision for this group. I just wanted to fill in the gaps between the provided information to make this Batini something more than sneaky assassins whose super power was to be forgotten. Having a grip on a world view makes them more playable. I posted because I thought others might benefit as well.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Dataweaver View Post

                I think something like this could be used to explain why the Batini lost their access to Entropy, while also suggesting some restrictions on what sorts of Entropy-like Effects they can produce: for instance, if the Effect would benefit from the Decay or Necromancy Sphere Specialties, the Batini can't do it at all, even using the Correspondence/Time workaround.
                There is nothing wrong with a basically religious group like the Batini simply forbidding certain actions. When the Book of Crafts came out, it had two groups other than the Batini (both dominated by demons) which had serious sphere restrictions.

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                • #9
                  The Batini didn't appear in the Book of Crafts. If I recall correctly, their first appearance was in the Book of Shadows, as the lost tenth Tradition.


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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Dataweaver View Post
                    The Batini didn't appear in the Book of Crafts. If I recall correctly, their first appearance was in the Book of Shadows, as the lost tenth Tradition.
                    True enough. But I didn't say the Batini appeared in The Book of Crafts. I was speaking of two other groups. The first was a group of Egyptian assassins out of 1930s horror movie or a Victorian penny dreadful. The second was a Chinese group and opponents of the Wu-Lung. Each of these two groups had sphere restrictions based on religious values.

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                    • #11
                      Wu Keng seemed to more be about being horribly manipulated by their cult into now knowing what they are actually serving and how they can fight it. I love how in the Dragons of the East they introduced a generation of Wu Keng that was hidden from their demon husbands and taught Spirit...


                      What doesn't kill you, makes you... stranger.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Heilong View Post

                        This was actually the idea. The write up in Lost Paths was interesting, but threw around a lot of terms that it did not explain. What is the Doctrine of Unity? It was talked about, but not really explained in the text. Having High Arcane and no Entropy seemed like add-on abilities that had no relation to each other and nothing to do with the paradigm. I could not wrap my head around it. However, I know that WoD writers do better research than that, so I did some digging to figure out what they were not telling us. I found it very helpful and through others might as well. This is not a new version, this is what I think was being hinted at but not explained directly. I found this information helpful in playing Batini characters and thought others might as well.
                        I always found it frustrating that, despite having books dedicated to certain factions, they are often vague or silent on the metaphysical ideas underpinning them. They talked a lot about their organization, history, and goals, but were more inconsistent about what the philosophy or procedure was. You were just kind of meant to get the vibe, and intuit how they operated.

                        Obviously, this is probably a result of not everyone needing a philosophy textbook in the middle of their game manual. But it meant you kind of just needed to accept the conclusions the writers gave you, without knowing why.

                        It's one thing I like a lot about M20. The formalization of the trinity of Paradigm, Practice, and Instruments - with lengthy examples for each - really went a long way towards helping players get into the heads of the Mages they would be piloting.

                        ---

                        I rather like this thread, because it elucidates the philosophical underpinnings of the Ahl-i-Batin. Their motives, actions, and limitations seem like organic products of their belief system, rather than arbitrary details.


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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Wikipedia
                          Bāṭin or baten (Arabic: باطن) literally means "inner", "inward", "hidden", etc. The Quran, for instance, has a hidden meaning in contrast to its exterior or apparent meaning, the zahir (zaher). Sufis believe that every individual has a batin in the world of souls. It is the inward self of the individual; when cleansed with the light of one's spiritual guide, it elevates a person spiritually.[1][2] This notion is connected to Allah's attribute of the Hidden One, who cannot be seen but exists in every realm.

                          Many Ismaili Muslim thinkers have stressed the importance of the balance between the exoteric (zahir) and the esoteric (batin) in the understanding of faith, and have explained that spiritual interpretation (ta’wil) entails elucidating the esoteric meaning (bātin) from the exoteric form (zahir).[3]

                          Muslim groups believe that batin[4] can be fully understood only by a figure with esoteric knowledge. For Shia Muslims, that is the Imam of Time.

                          In a wider sense, batin is the inner meaning or reality behind all existence, the zahir being the world of form and the apparent meaning.[4]

                          A grounding feature of Ismailism is the co-existence of the physical and the spiritual, the zahir (exoteric) form and the batin (esoteric) essence. The esoteric is the source of the exoteric, and the exoteric is the manifestation of the esoteric. This concept is highlighted in the “Epistle of the Right Path”, a Persian Ismaili prose text from the post-Mongol period of Ismaili history, by an anonymous author. [5]
                          Ahl I literally translates as "The people of"

                          Therefore, Ahl-I-Batin would be something like "The People of The Occult (or Inner) Knownledge", or the ones that see the "hidden world". It clearly implies a concept that bears ressemblence to the traditions ideas of "Avatars" and "Ascension"

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                          • #14
                            I mean, the "Batin" in islamic doctrine is perhaps the closest thing that we have in real life to the game's concepts of "Avatars", since the "Batin" would be the "hidden inner self" of each individual (could any of you come to a more "Avatar-ish" idea than that?)

                            To the point that I think that the "hidden ones" had more saying in the "traditionalist padronization" process than the Order of Hermes itself.

                            Edit: why the hell do my previous post shows as "Unapproved"? what is the mean of this?

                            This post here doesnt make much sense without the previous one, could any ADM please explain to me why did that happened?
                            Last edited by Kakost; 01-26-2023, 04:43 PM.

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                            • #15
                              It's probably for the best that the early writeups did not go too in depth with the Batini. Given how often mages end up being the ones who know the true meaning of Christianity/Buddhism/etc, they probably would have been quite offensive. As it is, despite being one of the main Islamic factions they predate Islam.


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

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