Razors Through Flesh proudly presents another guest article by Auburney! He has already explained his thoughts regarding the Archon Yesod and now he is back with an in depth metaphor on how we might think about Awakening and how it means to be Awakened in KULT: Divinity Lost.
The Awakening is one of the central concepts in the Kult mythos. But it is also one of the things that are described in the least detail.
Over and over again, I have read or heard people asking about it, on various forums, social networks, and in real life. And admittedly, it is a hard to grasp concept.
What does a character actually have to do to become Awakened?
What are the Awakened like? What can they do?
What does it feel like to be Awakened?
And, last but not least, Will there be rules for playing them as PCs in the game?
These are all good and entirely valid questions – and I myself have also spent a lot of time thinking about them…
Okay, so the Awakened have shed the bonds of the Illusions and can see the Truth. Good for them, I guess… But how can we imagine that?
Okay, so Time is meaningless to them, because they see it for the Lie it is…
Space is under their complete command, because they wander across and between it at their every whim…
Death to them is a non-occurrence, or at most a passing diversion perhaps…
Dreams, Madness, and Passions do no longer scare them, because they see through these things, and realize they are no longer greater than themselves, and it’s all just a game to them…
So, we are effectively talking about teleporting, time-travelling, immortal wishmasters, here.
And then, while thinking about this, it hit me:
It’s all just a game to them.
Like… a roleplaying game.
So yeah, Kult is a roleplaying game, obviously. But that’s not what I’m getting at. I’m thinking about RPGs in general. This is the epiphany that I had:
An Awakened Person would be as far above and beyond a Sleeper, as a player in an RPG is above and beyond their character – as much more complex and insightful and powerful and complete, as you yourself are compared to any given PC you’ve ever played in an RPG.
And I realized that, in the light of that:
Of course sex, gender, ethnicity, class etc. are meaningless and interchangeable Illusions to them, and can vary freely between incarnations – because don’t we ourselves choose all of those things for our PCs at a mere whim, sometimes sticking with the same things we chose last time, sometimes going for something completely different this time around?
Of course they can hop back and forth through Time and Space as they wish, and even visit other worlds just by wishing themselves there – just like we sometimes have these discussions like:
“So guys, what would you like to do for our next game, then?”
“Ooh, can we be, like, occult investigators in Chicago in the 1930ies?!”
“Early 20th Century is fine with me, but I’d like to do something Asia-based actually, perhaps exploring the jungles of India?”
“I was hoping we could maybe do this Ancient Rome family drama thing already that we’ve been talking about for ages!”
“I don’t know, I just really wanna play some Mechwarrior… anyone up for that!?”
I imagine it would be something like that when a group of Awakened Souls choose their next incarnations in the Illusion.
Also, regarding Time:
At many, if not most, RPG tables out there, in-game time is frequently messed with during the game sessions themselves. Events, and the order of events, are getting invented, retconned, abolished, changed around.
“Boring” passages of time (train rides, waiting at the dentist, going to school/work) are regularly skipped entirely, in order to “get to the good parts” that much sooner. Flashback scenes may be played, and past events and experiences of characters get discussed (and, in doing so, invented on the spot).
Even entire scenes may be re-played, if a group decides they’re unhappy with them and wanna give them a do-over.
Space is highly relative in RPGs, as well:
It’s very often a case of the GM handwaving things in the style of “yeah, yeah… you can get there in time for that, no problem…” if it’s not a particularly gripping issue. Oftentimes, when spatial distances and relations do matter in RPGs, it’s because of dramatic reasons much more than for considerations of real geography or actual city layouts.
(Although you could, in theory, of course use Google Maps or some other such app to determine actual distances and travelling times when playing, say, a New York City based campaign – but I have yet to hear of the GM who actually does this. It seems “The Awakened” mostly just don’t really care enough about those details – it’s just us “Sleepers” who are subjects to the strict laws that govern those. )
So, we as roleplayers (and especially as GMs) do regularly bend, break, and twist the rules of Time and Space freely enough indeed.
But also Death (the death of our characters, that is) holds little to no fear factor to us.
After all, we’ll just quickly write up a new character, and jump right back into the game if we want to. Or maybe we take a little break from it, go back to read the rulebook some more, figure out what we wanna play next. Or we find some other game to play, because this one’s really not all that fun after all…?
Some players keep making the (virtually) same characters over and over again. I believe everybody knows that guy or girl who always wants to be a dwarven cleric, say, or has to play an orc street-samurai, every time… right?
Other players vary it up more, pride themselves on being “able to play anything”, or are at least curious to try out different character classes, archetypes, clans, or what have you in any given game they join.
And both are perfectly fine – they are just style choices to us, after all!
It is the same with Dreams, Madness, and Passions: They don’t scare us, as concerning our characters having them. On the contrary, they are highly entertaining in fact!
Nightmare creatures that pursue me back into the waking world? Unsettling visions of hidden Truths glimpsed in my sleep / amidst the throes of my mental and emotional distress? An insane longing or depraved fixation on desires not approved as wholesome by my social and cultural environment? Yes please!
All of those sound like intriguing and entertaining angles when I’m contemplating them for use in a character concept!
This is how it must feel like to be Awakened.
And that is also why I couldn’t see it making any sense to have rules to cover them in the game.
They transcend the limits of their own illusory reality, which means they would transcend the game.
And that is intrinsically impossible to represent with the rules of the game.
I mean, how on earth would you model a character 1.) becoming aware of itself being a mere character, 2.) that character slowly ascending to become a player in their own right, and 3.) attain full, Awakened, agency – such as possibly wandering off to do whatever… (like, perhaps find its own group of players to GM its own kinds of games for) ?
Now, playing in a roleplaying game is in one fundamental way different from imprisonment in the Illusion in Kult, in that is is a voluntary activity, of course. This is where this metaphor is weak, I realize. But just imagine it like this for a minute, if you will:
Canon Lore doesn’t specify exactly how the Demiurge got Mankind to be trapped in the Illusion – but sometimes hints at the possibility that we may have been tricked by Him. If this is indeed what happened, it just may have gone something like this:
Demiurgos, who was known far and wide amongst His Divine Peers as one of the Greatest Game Makers of all Time and Space, had announced His newest Game not too long ago, and Humans interested in participating were already flocking to the Azghouls in charge of registrations for it in huge numbers.
Nobody knew as of yet what the new Game would entail, or even what it would be about, but an incredible hype was already starting to build around it. His last couple of Games had all been huge successes, providing welcome distractions, thrills, and entertainments for the jaded and bored divine crowd that attended them.
When Demiurgos released his next announcement via his dutiful messenger-servants, the hype attained an even greater momentum – for it was revealed that this time, everyone could participate, no limit on the number of players. In fact, the more the merrier. Or so went the promise which the messengers conveyed, anyways.
This may have been a carefully calculated move by Demiurgos, who may have known full well that, through a combination of the sheer jaded curiosity, peer pressure and universal boredom, which were all so widespread amongst His peers, everybody would indeed ultimately sign up for the Game…
… and so it came to pass.
It was to be a Game in which people assumed fictional roles in an artificially constructed world. This was not new to many of his Players, as his previous Games had entailed similar concepts before.
It was also a Game in which the players would have to struggle with powerlessness, imperfect knowledge, and where, ultimately, the entire game world posed a huge riddle for them to be solved, in order to win the Game.
His Players thought this was a most exciting concept! They eagerly agreed to all of His terms… even the ones that included a temporary erasure of their own memories and knowledge. For of course, such measures were simply recognized to be necessary for the “immersive” experience that the jaded, bored Gods had been carefully led to crave so much.
And then, something went terribly wrong…
Or perhaps, it went exactly according to plan…?
In this thought experiment, we may imagine the Demiurge as the GM of the Greatest LARP of All Time… a combination of an “Escape the Room” premis, an aim for perfect immersion by imposing temporary amnesia upon all participating players, and an emphasis on playful submission to powerlessness (not unlike it can be found in (responsible) BDSM for example, or actual Escape the Room games – or even Tabletop Roleplaying Games, in fact).
Perhaps eventually, when we ultimately all manage to Awaken, we will all get together at some great feast, or wild orgy, or both… and share a big laugh about it all in hindsight?