Do not read this if you think you might play in one of my games.
... In general, his days were happy; when he closed his eyes, he thought: Now I will be with my son. Or, more rarely: The son I have engendered is waiting for me and will not exist if I do not go to him.
Gradually, he began accustoming him to reality. Once he ordered him to place a flag on a faraway peak. The next day the flag was fluttering on the peak. He tried other analogous experiments, each time more audacious. With a certain bitterness, he understood that his son was ready to be born -- and perhaps impatient. That night he kissed him for the first time and sent him off to the other temple whose remains were turning white downstream, across many miles of inextricable jungle and marshes. Before doing this (and so that his son should never know that he was a phantom, so that he should think himself a man like any other) he destroyed in him all memory of his years of apprenticeship.
His victory and peace became blurred with boredom. In the twilight times of dusk and dawn, he would prostrate himself before the stone figure, perhaps imagining his unreal son carrying out identical rites in other circular ruins downstream; at night he no longer dreamed, or dreamed as any man does. His perceptions of the sounds and forms of the universe became somewhat pallid: his absent son was being nourished by these diminution[s] of his soul. The purpose of his life had been fulfilled; the man remained in a kind of ecstasy. After a certain time, which some chronicles prefer to compute in years and others in decades, two oarsmen awoke him at midnight; he could not see their faces, but they spoke to him of a charmed man in a temple of the North, capable of walking on fire without burning himself. The wizard suddenly remembered the words of the god. He remembered that of all the creatures that people the earth, Fire was the only one who knew his son to be a phantom. This memory, which at first calmed him, ended by tormenting him. He feared lest his son should meditate on this abnormal privilege and by some means find out he was a mere simulacrum. Not to be a man, to be a projection of another man's dreams -- what an incomparable humiliation, what madness! Any father is interested in the sons he has procreated (or permitted) out of the mere confusion of happiness; it was natural that the wizard should fear for the future of that son whom he had thought out entrail by entrail, feature by feature, in a thousand and one secret nights.
His misgivings ended abruptly, but not without certain forewarnings. First (after a long drought) a remote cloud, as light as a bird, appeared on a hill; then, toward the South, the sky took on the rose color of leopard's gums; then came clouds of smoke which rusted the metal of the nights; afterwards came the panic-stricken flight of wild animals. For what had happened many centuries before was repeating itself. The ruins of the sanctuary of the god of Fire was destroyed by fire. In a dawn without birds, the wizard saw the concentric fire licking the walls. For a moment, he thought of taking refuge in the water, but then he understood that death was coming to crown his old age and absolve him from his labors. He walked toward the sheets of flame. They did not bite his flesh, they caressed him and flooded him without heat or combustion. With relief, with humiliation, with terror, he understood that he also was an illusion, that someone else was dreaming him.
-- Jorge Luis Borges, "The Circular Ruins"
The "Exalted" Phantasmagoria
Long ago, when the Scarlet Empress had just chased the Fair from Creation and the world had paused to gather its breath, a single man from the Southern Lands wandered into the jungles in pain and grief. He was childless, and knew himself unable to sire; these things inspired in him a torment of pain and despair, but also brought out an iron determination. He swore to himself that he would have a child, to pass on his substance and heart -- no matter what it took.
From the exhausted sleep he came to at last, the man awoke with one determination. He had dreamed of a son; there must, he reasoned, be a way to bring a dream into reality. Knowing nothing of demons or any other such things, he decided that his will alone would have to be enough.
He rose and began to walk, inspired to find a place where he could rest and stay for the time which it would take to impose his will upon his dreams. After a time he came to a circular enclosure crowned with a stone tiger or horse, which sometimes was the color of flame and now was that of ashes. This circle was a temple which had been devoured by ancient fires, profaned by the miasmal jungle, and whose god no longer received the homage of men.
In fact it was a temple to one of the Fire Fair -- a great lord who had demanded worship of humanity even as he destroyed their world, and at last been cast out by the Scarlet Empress.
Feeling that this would be a place to create his son, the man lay down and slept.
The Fair Lord, though he had been driven to the edges of Creation, could not help noticing the mental power and despairing, agonized steadfastness of the invader of his ancient shrine. Intrigued, he observed the man's dreams from afar, and his interest increased. It occurred to him that he could use this man -- and better yet, others like him -- for his own ends.
The Lord bargained with the man and they came to this: the man would serve the Lord for the rest of his existence, and in exchange the Lord would help the man create his son.
This son was the first of the Phantasmagoria -- a race that eventually grew to accumulate thousands.
Those who are sterile and wish to have children, and whose desperation leads them to desperate measures, may hear of the circular ruins in the jungles of the Southeast. There, it is whispered, may be an answer, but it is said that the price is terrible. Some who find the ruins return, complaining that nothing at all happened; the rest never come back.
This is because they either fall to the same fate as the first man who found the ruins -- or they reject the offer (and their memory of the offer is destroyed, leaving only the knowledge that they failed) -- or they get to the ruins and are never given the offer, for the Lord has rejected them for reasons of his own. Among other things, the Lord never accepts Exalted, spirits, God-Blooded, or any other beings that are at all supernatural whatsoever -- he is more intelligent than any mortal creature could ever possibly be, and he takes no risks.
If someone is accepted, then they spend their time at the ruin, dreaming and dreaming. They live on the land around them and put most of their time into sleeping. When their child (known as a Phantasm) at last comes into existence, the dreamer is directed by the Fair Lord's dream-instructions back to his court, where they spend the rest of their days serving him. A dreamer's lot, however, is not that bad; if one is Ravaged, then their child is destroyed, and the Lord wishes that not at all. Most dreamers spend their lives in drudgery and abject worship, but it could be worse; and their lives are extended as far as Fair magic and Wyld energy can do it -- which is far indeed. When a dreamer dies, their Phantasm is instantly extinguished.
As for the Phantasm -- it comes into existence exactly as its parent dreams it, and appears as a human from that day forward, albeit a human with a classic case of amnesia. They cannot remember anything but the most basic things: speech, how to eat, et cetera. They particularly remember nothing of their origins.
The Phantasmagoria appear exactly as normal people. They generally are drawn to flame and sometimes start fire cults. This does not particularly bother the Lord as long as it draws no attention; furthermore, any worship to one of the Phantasmagoria is funneled directly to him. But if it begins to bring too much attention to the Phantasm, he will force them to stop.
For that is what he can do: the Lord has entire and complete control over every individual Phantasm. They don't know that -- they think that everything is their own decision. He can make them do whatever he wants, including kill or torture themselves or their loved ones. And when one of the dreamers who create the Phantasmagoria sleeps, they dream of their "child"; and they are hopelessly Beguiled and magicked into telling their Lord everything, so he knows (or can find out) everything a Phantasm does. If he hears that one has begun to act in such a way as to attract too much attention -- heroic deeds, for example; anything, really, which might cause the Exalted / gods / anything that could compromise his plans to look at a Phantasm seriously -- then he will make them stop, and if that doesn't work, he will force them to die.
No Phantasmagoria have ever been noticed by anything of particular note. Occasionally they make a name for themselves interpreting dreams, or doing jobs which require that they be able to sense Essence well -- there have been many Scavenger Lords among the Phantasmagoria, for example, and some have become rich off their skills.
But for now they are unimportant -- exactly as the Fair Lord likes it. He has an effective army of people who have no idea that they are working for him. If he ever needs them, they will make the ideal suicide commandos, innocuous agents, or whatever. And as he plots his campaign against Creation in the wake of the disappearance of the Empress, he is considering their use strongly indeed.
The Phantasmagoria are made exactly as normal people; since, for the most part, they are adopted by someone or at least find their way around society somehow, they tend to end up with the appropriate stats for a normal human of their adopted culture. There are a few differences:
- All Phantasmagoria have an effective Occult score of 5, but only for the purposes of Perception + Occult rolls. They are extremely good at sensing Essence, but to actually learn how to use it or what it does, they must be educated like everyone else.
- All Phantasmagoria have an effective Specialty in Dreams at +3 for every relevant Ability. They don't know where this comes from, however, so they tend to put it down to "instinct". As a result, many become dream-interpreters.
- All Phantasmagoria are lucid dreamers.
- All Phantasmagoria are fluent in their dreamer / parent's native language and Old Realm.
- All Phantasmagoria are entirely immune to fire, including magical fire. The only one who could conceivably get around this would be the God / Goddess of Fire, and s/he hasn't tried.
- No Phantasm may ever raise their Essence above 1. If a god attempts to do this using the Endowment Charm, the Charm will have no effect upon the Phantasm itself -- however, the power of the Charm will go straight to the dreamer of the Phantasm, with some of it leaching incidentally off to the Fair Lord. This has never happened.
- Phantasmagoria are particularly bad at Thaumaturgy, and take a +3 difficulty penalty to all attempts to use it.
- All Phantasmagoria are sterile. None have ever gone to the circular ruins to try and fix this; if they did, however, the Lord would probably try it just to see what would happen.
- Iron does not inflict aggravated damage upon a Phantasm; however, they are generally slightly uncomfortable around it. If a Phantasm carries iron or stays in an area with a lot of it for longer than a week, then his aging and healing rates will double and continue to rise exponentially every once in a while (read: at Storyteller discretion).
Phantasmagoria do not technically have their own souls -- their emotions, etc draw on their dreamers -- but they do feel pain and they can be killed. (If they are killed, then the dreamer sustains trauma -- sometimes it even kills the dreamer. They can, however, be dreamed back into existence, and it is easier after the dreamer has already done it once.) They do, in fact, die eventually of old age, although this only happens when they themselves have resigned themselves to it and believe it inevitable; if for some insane reason a Phantasm actually believes herself to be immortal, she will not die unless killed.
It is impossible to determine that one of the Phantasmagoria isn't real. Any who attempt to figure out what they are will simply see that they are a normal mortal. This is also true of All-Encompassing Sorcerer's Sight, Measure the Wind, etc. The Phantasmagoria are made of the greatest of glamour sorcery and are themselves convinced that they are real -- making their disguise essentially impenetrable. A being of Essence 10 might be able to pull it off, though. Beings of Essence 8+ are capable of scenting the glamour upon the Phantasmagoria, but still cannot fathom their nature; they simply know that a Phantasm has been touched by glamour. Fair Folk Lords of equivalent power to the Lord who made the Phantasmagoria (and these are few indeed) will automatically realize the nature of the Phantasmagoria upon contact, but will not interfere with them unless they wish to provoke their maker, as it would be an explicit act of war.
The only way that beings of Essence lower than 8 are ever going to have a clue about the nature of the Phantasmagoria is if a given Phantasm begins to herself doubt her own reality. If a Phantasm is slightly uncertain, then her own confusion undermines the glamour that has formed her only slightly; in that case, Essence 7+ beings may scent the glamour and Essence 9+ beings may see through it. The more uncertain the Phantasm gets, the more fragile she becomes. If she is ever convinced that she isn't real, then the cloaking and confusing protective magic falls apart and it is apparent to anyone who has the appropriate magics that she is, in fact, a construct of glamour.
Ess. 10 Awareness charm to pierce the phantasms, huh? How powerful is this fire god? On an aside, how do the Dreamers, the God, and the Phantasmagoria interact with Fair Folk? - Miedvied
- The general idea I'm working with here is that the fact that they're made of really powerful glamour sorcery -- and actually believe themselves that they're real, thereby reinforcing the glamour sorcery with their own impenetrable belief -- is enough to get around basically everything that could sense their true nature. I'm willing to say that if a Phantasm actually begins to question whether or not they're real, the glamour may start to malfunction and beings of lower Essence might start to notice. I'm also willing to grant beings of say, Essence 8+ the ability to scent glamour on a given Phantasm, but not to actually determine that they are glamour. My take on glamour is that the gods basically have no idea how it works -- the gods, in fact, are essentially the antithesis of Wyld energy, and I prefer to treat them as being basically defenseless and clueless against glamour, as are the vast majority of shaped beings. As for the Exalted, I limit them a bit more in my games. I suppose that a game which actually uses the general canon-"Exalted" idea of "the Exalted are the best things ever and basically nothing can stand against them when they get to 5+ Essence except more powerful Exalted" should probably allow them to sense it at lower levels.
I would like the Fair Lord here to be pretty powerful, and I'm hoping that the Fae book will back me up on the fact that really powerful Fair Lords can have Essences of like, 7-10 and pull off some really crazy stuff with glamour. If they can't, I'll be annoyed and houserule it. <smile>
Really, my main reason for making it so impenetrable is that I want any given game that involves the Phantasmagoria to involve a bit more than "I use All-Encompassing Sorcerer's Sight, or alternatively my 1 / 1 Compassion spirit Charm. Whoops, I solved your plot hook!"
As I noted a bit further up, the dreamers are brought to the Fair Lord / (their God)'s Court and kept there for the rest of their lives. It hadn't occurred to me to think about how the Phantasmagoria interact with other Fair; thanks for asking.
And thanks for the comments!
- Oh, and I realized I hadn't made something clear. The actual Essence requirements of the Charm that one would use to try to penetrate a Phantasm's glamour-ness doesn't matter; it's the user's Essence which matters, because they have to have high Essence not to be confused by the glamour even if their Charm lets them know something is weird. For example: you know that Fae power "Undetectable Lie" (it's in the back of the core rulebook under the Fair diplomat)? In general, I assume that even if a Solar Exalt has the Charm Judge's Ear Technique focused on a Fair Folk diplomat, the Solar will still believe an Undetectable Lie if the diplomat chooses to tell one -- regardless of the fact that their Charm will tell them it's a lie. The Fair Folk mental magic confuses the mind of the Solar, in other words, and makes them ignore the effects of their own Charm. Because even if a user of Undetectable Lie tells a target something that plainly isn't true or is impossible, the target will believe it anyway because the glamour overpowers their ability to perceive its falsity (as noted in the description). So, in other words, it's not that a 9 / 9 Charm wouldn't see the glamour in the Phantasmagoria -- it's that the mind of an Essence 9 being would be unable to register it because it's too weak.