To the Otherworld and Back Again

It seems fitting to write a blog detailing the relationship between the mundane realm and the Otherworld of Faerie Tales & Folklore as I prepare to release the game itself into the “real” world. The project has consumed nearly two years of my life and in the end, it has shown me as much about myself as it has about my tastes for roleplaying in general. One of the main objectives I sought to achieve in the creation of this tome was to resolve the differences between the world we know and the mythology we find so fascinating. Historical fantasy has long been a favored genre of mine, but it only shines when the suspension of disbelief is upheld through logic, reason and a careful consideration of believability. The interaction between the mundane and the otherworldly in Faerie Tales & Folklore is an area in which I invested a great deal of time and thought, in hopes of achieving this very end.

What is the Otherworld, and why is it important? This is a fundamental question of no small importance within the mythological Earth. In short, the Otherworld is the source of all things supernatural. The longer answer is a bit more complicated, but the answers to that question are hopefully illuminating to the setting I have provided. To reach greater understanding of this topic, we first need a little background for reference. As a student in college, I studied with a cultural anthropologist by the name of Hank Wesselman. He was deeply intrigued with the world’s shamanic traditions and had penned several books on the topic. Hank would speak in great length about the higher and lower worlds and how neither should be seen is inherently positive or negative, they were simply different in intent and purpose. This single concept was the foundation of the game’s cosmology. It was from this basic understanding that I began to see an interesting conflict brewing and a believable resolution to one of the primary discrepancies of fantasy versus reality.

In the cosmology presented by Professor Wesselman, the two realms could be defined thus: the lower realm was one of adventure, challenge, and danger; while the higher was one of thought, creation, and consciousness. These two worlds are neither good nor evil in and of themselves and can be envisioned in myriad of ways. Most commonly, it was culture which defined how each would be viewed by the multitudes. The lower realm could easily be seen as both Hell to the fearful, or Valhalla to the brave. It could be both glorious and terrifying in equal measure. The higher realm could be Heaven to the those who sought peace, or as the Astral to those who sought to create. It could be both a place of unflinching law, and shifting chaos. It is important to understand that the higher and lower realms are the final destination of the spirits of all men. In that sense, they truly are the locations of one’s final judgement. In the end, these two realms alone did not provide all that was necessary for a complete fantasy cosmology however, for they could not explain the nature of the supernatural within our own realm. For this reason, I added the border realm to that model.

The border realms are the veil that divides the mortal world from the true Otherworld. It is here that most of what we might consider the fantastic will transpire. This realm is the very flux that allows facets of the Otherworld to shape our own. It is through this realm that thought can manipulate reality by way of what one would consider magic. Unlike the Otherworld proper, any creature may visit the border realm, but travel beyond its hazy confines is a death sentence for all creatures considered mundane or mortal. The border realms are a common place to which many travel in literature, and it is known by many names: Sidhe, Faerie, Neverland, Wonderland, etc. It is in this realm that common men are the anathema. The very existence of common men forces a division between the realms that grows ever deeper as more are born, or cluster in an area. As mentioned in the rules, when at least a million common men gather in a larger area (such as a city) a phenomenon known as The Black takes hold, destroying all spirit within its confines. The Black is the manifestation of the power common men possess to destroy belief and all things mythic. It is the destiny of common men to end the connection between the mythic and the real. It is this dynamic that shapes nearly every aspect of the setting presented in Faerie Tales & Folklore and it is the inevitable outcome of this conflict that allows the setting to resolve itself with the world we currently understand.

Being perhaps the only known thing not to be mirrored in the border realms, common men fill a unique role in the realms as a whole. Even the mundane animals, as well as the very plants themselves are mirrored within the border realms. This fact has led the common man to deep feelings of both loneliness and superiority within the game’s cosmology. Due to this natural separation from the Otherworld, it can be more difficult to draw common men across the veil and into the border realm. Spirits and high men are able to, but only if they outnumber common men in total. Common men are able to pull high men across the veil, but only if a high man is outnumbered by the familiar 100 to 1 ratio. Because of the fact that high men are able to choose which realm, mundane or border, they are in at a given time, they can move among common men they outnumber while remaining undetected. Though this can be thought of as a form of invisibility, that is not exactly the truth. If it is the destiny of common men to destroy the connection to the mythic, it is the destiny of high men to guard that connection. Though common men are those who stand against the fantastic, they do however dream, as all sentient beings do. It is in this last fact that even they are not truly divided from the Otherworld. (Continue below)

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This all leads us full circle, to the back door of the Otherworld proper, the realms of dreams. It is these strange individual shards of a greater realm which can never be taken from the dreamer or those who imagine. It is these places which always tie the mundane to the Otherworld. It is precisely the fact that each shard of the dreaming realm is a place only its dreamer can truly enter that keeps it protected from the ravages of common men and their desire to strip the multiverse of wonder. In fact, it is in this realm that even common men find solace in the mythic nature of the Otherworld. It is supposed by some that the realms of dreaming are the source of all things, real or imagined, and it is here that Faerie Tales & Folklore “breaks the fourth wall” and becomes aware of itself. Though not directly said within the rules, it is here in the realms of dreams, that the game’s various creatures and characters would find that they are the dreamed, the fantastic creations of the player’s imagination. Thus, it is here that dreaming realms have kept the mythology of our people alive and thriving. It is for this reason that none may truly enter the realm of another’s dreams. Though we may view them through our collective imagining, and character’s may experience them through magic, all but the dreamer is a voyeur in another’s shard of the dreaming.

This layered cosmology sets up a myriad of possible realities for an intrepid group of adventurers to explore. It defines a central conflict within the implied setting, and it offers a clean resolution to the differences between mythology and reality. Additionally, it provides a way to view the wide range of otherworldly locations common in the mythic tales of our many cultures without having to detail each. Each realm offers some of itself to the border realm to shape the formation of the fantastic. From the magic of creation through thought brought by the higher realms, to the eternal immortal agelessness of the spirits allowed by the lower realms. Even the mundane offers its mantle of absolute form, just as the dreaming lends its ever changing mutability. All of this is tied together by the mists of the border realms, and threatened by the great insurmountable wall of The Black. These are the five realms of Faerie Tales & Folklore, inseparable and bound by imagination.

In later blogs I will write more on topics such as the difference between a monstrous being and a spirit, as well as how the Otherworld shaped both. That however is not the intent of this article. Here I hoped to offer some bit of illumination into the complex interplay between the various realms of the game and how these realms were to shape the game itself. Cosmology as presented in many game systems often seems more of an afterthought, a mere way to create additional types of adventure, or offer a more broad range of settings. Seldom is it treated as a fundamental aspect of the game itself and the greater narrative it hopes to uphold. In Faerie Tales & Folklore, this was the very intent of the cosmology that was introduced. The Otherworld cannot truly be omitted from the rules I devised, nor should the attempt be made. Instead, the players and referees should try to embrace the greater cosmology and the nature of the game’s conflict. I would hope the relationship between the realms can be seen for its ability to resolve the mythic and the real, as well as provide reason behind the reality of meta-gaming within the construct of structured roleplaying.

Enjoy your time at the game table friends, and remember to set your imagination free from time to time… It can create whole universes! Peace friends…

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