I've found a post on the Berklist that it seemed to me as worthy of an adequate response, if nothing else because it continues a discussion the OP and me have had on the issue, but for whatever reason (no doubt linked to recurring bad troubles with sending posts at the address I unwisely and absentmindedly chose for subscribing, or my poor understanding of the technical facts of posting at a mailing list), my message can't seem to get uploaded . So I'm forced to bring it to the forum instead and stay a list lurker. Profuse apologies to the poster (Caribet) and all the list subscribers and forumites (which however, it is my impression generally are one and the same). Can one change the e-mail address used to subscribe to the Berklist ??
Date: Fri, 18 Aug 2006 08:32:31 +0100
From: Saxum Caribetum
Subject: Re: [ARS] Re: A New Mystery Cult
One of the bits I hoped to get across in TMRE, and which has either
failed to get across, or hit jangling crossed-nerves on the AG Forum, is
precise the non-Bargaining aspect.
Neil, your point has gotten across clearly and nicely. It's the interpretation that you advocate that is contentious and disliked, because it comes across as harmful to some playing styles, and contradictory to a reasonable interpretation of the Hermetic setting. It's the same kind of reaction that the changes to House Criamon has caused. The book is very good in so many aspects, up and including its heavily customizable "toolkit" approach (or so it comes across). Wouldn't it better to leave each individual group to decide how to deal with this aspect in individual sagas and not to press the issue ?
I never saw (most) Cults as susceptible to "negotiation" as to the
Virtues you get, nor the Flaws/Ordeals. They aren't for the convenience
of the Initiate, but for the Path of the Cult.
Besides the fact this heavily conflicts with some playing styles, there's the fact that this doesn't really makes sense, given the mindset of the typical Hermetic magus. It makes no sense for the average magus, proud, jealous of independence, and caring his own magical power as the only thing above life itself, to meekly go into Initiation unless having being an accurate and detailed account of the process, including Virtues, Quests, sacrifices, and Ordeals and giving full and free assent. It would make far less sense than for a modern person to submit to a surgical operation in the blind, without being given adequate information. And a careless mystagogue that would cripple an adept's magical power without complete, informed assent, risks far worse consequences than a suit for malpractice: it would be a very good case for seriously "depriving a mage of magical power", and the mystagogue would seriously risk being Marched !
A mage would want to know how the process would affect his gift and magical practice first and foremost, and in the case the price is seen as too high, would likely walk away. The adept is a full hermetic magus in most cases, not a lowly apprentice, so it sees the mystagogue eye-to-eye. if the deal does not convince him, he's free to walk away and renounce membership in the cult. So it is in the Mystagogue's interest, too being reasonable and seeking a sensible compromise with the initiate. This doesn't mean catering to the spoiled tantrums of sniveling initiates that want to "cheat" the process and dodge making a real sacrifice (which would invalidate the process), but being open to sensible and reasonable requests for picking an alternate script or trying an impromptu variation when the specific ordeal would cripple the initiate without any reasonable proportion to the benefit gained and it is not indispensable and insostituible to fulfill the ideals of the cult in a meaningful way.
In some cases (e.g. swearing a Vow or accepting a Prohibition or Dutybound or a personality Flaw that would fulfill the cult's ideals) is clearly indispensable and not open to negotiations and if the initiate does not want it, the only recourse is a different cult, self-initiation, or experimentation.
In many cases, the specific Ordeal may look like it's only peripherally related to the cult's ideals and was picked because it was the first thing that the mystagogue that experimented it came up with a decent sympathy to the initiation and can be in all likelihood substituted with equally sympathetic variant flaws of equal value. E.g. in all likelihood, a specific Deficiency to Fire is only peripherally related to the Initiation in a cult that focuses on Nature, and could likely be substituted with several other ordeals without making the process devoid of value (e.g. a Deleterious Circumstances of being in a City, a Social Handicap, a Deficiency with Mentem, and so many others). What irks in your standing is that you sound like you expect the average Mystagogue to be absolutely unwilling and uncaring even in the latter case, and rigidly willing to go along with the specific procedure no matter the consequences, just for the sake of sadistic conformity. It does not seem IC reasonable for the mystagogue to act so, nor for the adept to accept being treated this way.
Frankly, if your aims contradict the sacrifices established in a cult, you're in the wrong cult.
This is plain and good. It would be a case of mistaken expectations, and then the likely outcome would be of the initiate balking away at the Initiation, and respectfully decline admittance and walking away.
I you are in a Water oriented Cult, and are a Fire Wizard, you
personally may resent the suggestion of giving up your Fire powers -
indeed it may "cripple" your magic - but it's what the Cult sees as
well, in a clear-cut and extreme situation like this, and the group's magical focus is directly and radically antithetic to the adept's magical specialization, it would be the case above (misunderstanding about the cult's nature) and the would-be adept would realize the error and walk away well before initiation. The mage approached the wrong cult. The contention is not about this. It is when the group's focus and ideals would be compatible with the adept's specialization, and it's only that specific Ordeal that would cripple him, out of reason and proportion, and it could be substituted with another of equal sympathetic value. Apart from the fact that a Water cult is likely not a fitting place for a Fire specialist, why is the Cult asking for crippling the power of Fire ? Is is why it is a central tenet of the cult that they see Fire as dangerous and unbalance and in need of being restricted ? then it's indispensable. Or is it why the Ordeal must be about improving "water-ness" in a general sympathetic sense, and reducing fire, because it's the opposite element, fits ? If so, there's so many different possible variants that might be used to uphold the "water" ideal, from a deficiency in Terram to a prohibition to use Perdo Water to a Vow to always live in a day's travel from a body of water you can't jump across or whatever. The body of contention is that you seem to suggest that even in the latter case, the Mystagogue should be expected to stonewall and refuse any substitution, no matter how reasonable, and insist to go with the letter of the script, for no reason except mindless conformity. Given that a Mystagogue and the adept are Hermetic magi, ie. magical scholar/scientists that typically value freedom and magic above life itself and have sworn an oath under penalty of death to do the same in their fellows, it does not appear why the mystagogue should be expected to behave so, or the adept to go along with it.
On the other hand, if the Cult sees the sacrifice as "accept a
deficiency in a Form to gain a XXX", they may not be fussed about the
Form. By 1220 they probably have a box of scripts for this Ordeal, and
are prepared to Vary the script if they don't have the "right" one for
Exactly here, it is the core of the dissension. You sound like this should be seen as the absolute, almost unheard of, exception, and pleads to do this should be expected to be stubbornly refused by the Mystagogue, for no good reason except to enforce absolute dogmatic conformity among the group. When "bargaining" and "pre-initiation counsel sessions" are advocated, it's just about the initiate being explained the nature and features of the initiation beforehand, and the mystagogue being open-minded to sensible substitution requests like this. You seem to have in mind the case of the weak-willed, submissive, ignorant, or naive loser victims of historical cults that sheepishly accepted whatever arbitrary, bizarre, and abusive practice from cult leaders just because of leader's charisma, or a desperate need to belong, or in the hope of being given any flimsy chance at empowerment or a better life. An hermetic magus is nowhere like this. Quite the opposite. A mystagogue that wanted to pull a Jim Jones or David Koresh would be seen like a dangerous madman, the equivalent a modern surgeon asking the patient to blindly trust him without informed consent and go along with specific procedure just because "it's the book", or "it's always been done this way" regardless of the patient's wishes or the actual harm-benefit ratio, and the average magus would have an even more hostile reaction than a litigation-happy patient.
The average magus is exceedingly unlikely to have the victim mentality of the "cult adept" in the pejorative sense, quite the opposite, and no real reasons to develop one, except for personal psychological fragility (which would make quite unlikely to survive apprenticeship). They go into a cult because it seems like a nice and interesting place to meet like-minded peers, develop one's magic capabilities, and follow an appealing cause or ideal. They bring and keep their common sense and self-interest with them. They are pragmatic, proud, fiercely independent, driven, massively empowered persons. They do not need leaders or feel like they belong. The vast majority of the Children of Hermes go and stay because the cult leader seems like a good chance at Bonisagus II, not because of his charisma. They sometimes go diabolist because infernal magi gain proven massive power and it seems a good bargain, not because they need Satan to give meaning or hope to their lives. They have overabundance already. No amount of an author's sympathy with historical cults can change these basic facts of the setting.
The initiate (character) is not in a strong position - the Cult,
represented by the Mystagogue should be the one to dictate terms.
Untrue. The magus is not under any obligation to join or remain in the group, unless they are willing to go all the way to Wizard's War to silence the magus, and it is quite unlikely that the Order would tolerate this except in the case of a rogue that blatantly sells the cult's secrets to the highest bidder. A cult that routinely targets simple dissidents would be quickly seen as too dangerous to exist and exterminated. The Bjornaer try to pull this stunt, having the huge clout of a whole House, and are putting themselves in the position of the Diedne because of their paranoid secretiveness. Go figure how a single cult would fare. So the Mystagogue has no real bargaining chip except to withhold the benefits of the initiation, which puts initiate and mystagogue on a level field. Initiate loses the boon, and has to seek another cult, unearth a script, and self-initiate a variant, or experiment. The mystagogue loses an adept, ie manpower, influence, membership dues, and a fresh perspective. The Orders numbers are not huge, and so the ranks of the average cults, so any mage counts. Be too extreme at this, and the cult dies out. So the likely outcome is a reasonable reciprocal compromise. The average Mystagogue likely wonâ€™t be Mother Theresa, but isnâ€™t in the position to be Charles Manson, either.
Some of the Forum discussions do, I think, confuse the player choice and
character choice here...
Not true. This post is all about explaining because in this case, the OOC concerns of the player closely mirror the IC ones of the typical Hermetic magus.
Come on, this is a beautiful book, can't you see it can work quite fine even without the Masonic trappings and the fascist Mystagogues ? Mysteries can stand and thrive even if they don't use hoods and leaders can't go tyrannical.