Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Adopted by Bast (or a furry, four footed fascimilie)

Okay, I'm actually going to get a little bit into pagan theology here, for a second, so forgive me if this sounds strange. I'm about the worst pagan ever. I hardly go to sabats, don't cast 'spells', and don't perform seasonal rituals. I consider myself pagan in my beliefs, in the art I create, and most importantly of all, in my politics. However, the superstitious, magical (or magikal) side of things, I've never really given a lot of credence to.

However, ever since I started working on Coven of Bast, and building up this fictional Bast-cult and its culture, I've been experiencing alot of magical synchronicity. What I'm talking about is a concept that some pagans I genuinely respect, both as pagan theologians, and more importantly as artists: Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, talk alot about in their writings. Basically, every time they perform a magical ritual, cast a spell, whatever, their lives get quietly strange. Coincidences, chance meetings, weird hallucinations glimpsed out of the corner of the eye, cool stuff like that begins happening. Even, depending on what you did, some not so cool stuff begins happening.

Anyway, I've been experiencing a mild form of that ever since I started on page one of the manuscript. Some of it may simply because I'm thinking more and more about a cat-goddess, I start noticing cat symbolism more in my life. That's the mundane explanation, and it's probably accounts for 99% of everything that's been on my mind. But the first day I started the project, more than a dozen girls all came into the restaurant I work at wearing cat-themed or animal print shirts. Again, some of it isn't too surprising, since I live and work down the street from Carrol High School, whose mascot is a tiger. But when a girl in a Carrol Tigers t-shirt walks in, and when you read the message on the back, it first says "Best of the BAST" and than, when you look again, reads "Best of the Best".... it sorta brings a smile to your polytheistic face. At least it did to mine.

So for the last couple of months, I've had dozens, dozens of stray cats come up and want to be petted, when the strays are normally pretty feral around here. Cool. When I turn on the TV to a random channel and it's a documentary about cats, or something about Bast, or even (shudder) Catwoman... again, I'm smiling a bit.

Anyway, last night, right as I finished laying out the sourcebook and prepared it for sale, I got adopted by the most adorable little kitten in my apartment complex. She comes up, hangs around my balcony all night. I give her some food, water the next morning, and open up the balcony door, if she wants to come in. She does- this cat is very socialized. I'm wondering if it's someone's pet running loose, or if somebody abandoned her. Anyway, it's been rainy, so I let her stay in last night, and it turns out she's potty trained too. She crawled up into my bed and stood on my head at about 4 am last night to let me she know she wanted out.

Anyway, the cat is absolutely adorable- she looks like she may be 7-8 months old, not too skinny, so she's been eating decently. Jet black, glossy fur and bright green eyes. I went out this afternoon and got some Purina and Frontline for her, and in the spring, when I can afford it and if she chooses to stick around that long, I'll find a vet that does cheap vaccinations and neutering, get her taken care of and formally registered with the city. Anyway, what did I call my new cat: Bast, of course. (Now, if I hadn't just finished up the sourcebook, I probably would of gone with Wakanda- the name of the Black Panther's fictional nation in Marvel Comics, a name perfectly suited for an all black feline.)

So, even if Coven of Bast doesn't sell one copy, I consider it a success. It brought me a cat.

What am I talking about? Something I read while doing preliminary research for CoB.... a modern Bast cult website mentioned that Bast is a fickle goddess. Sacrifice to her and be rewarded. Now, as mentioned, I really don't go in for that, both because the superstitious nature of it, and the idea that doing a magical ritual purely for some kind of gain seems selfish to me. Still, Coven of Bast is a sacrifice in a way... of money (to pay Amanda for the art) of time (about 3 months) and of effort (lots and lots), and it certainly presents this old goddess to a new audience. Hey, maybe somebody reads CoB and is intrigued enough to research Bast, and chooses Her as a patron Goddess. In my own way, I certainly have, and I can't help but think that makes Bast a bit happy.

So for my service, for my unwitting but freely given sacrifice, I get a cat.

You don't know how happy that makes me.

Blessed Be,

(Oh, I'll try to get some pics of the fur ball up here soon)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Rob Zombie and the Myth of the Burning Times....

Okay, one of the minor subplots in the Coven of Bast sourcebook is how the Covenant, and especially the Bastian factions feel about the Salem Witch Trials. In addition to talking about future history, I want to say something about how the Salem Witch Trials are viewed in contemporary pop culture, and how modern neo-pagans have appropriated the witch trials and "Burning Times" meme for their own end... basically I think we do (and should) use the Witch Trials as political capital.

Every time a pagan political figure is debating a Christian politician, he or she should force the opponent to either defend or apologize for the old crimes, and while I can't realistically buy into the huge numbers of millions of slaughtered pagans of some adherents of the Burning Times idea, that's something I would never, ever say in a debate. Of course, that means that neo-pagans as a people need to get more commentators, debaters and ideologues (especially well educated, articulate and damn angry ones) out into the media to counter and debate with douche-nozzles like Glenn Beck and his kind, but that's another issue, for another day and an

It's a myth, sure, but it's a good myth. It makes neo-pagans the oppressed heroes of a history specifically written to screw 'em over. It makes us the last hope of a destroyed culture. Instead of being moody goth kids reading crap like Silver Ravenwolf (seriously, how the fuck can you take seriously a ideologue/theologian who basically named herself after a D&D character?) we're the Last Starfighter, but instead of weird space-lizards wanting to kill us for our beliefs, we're up against modern Christian America. Plus, bringing up things like Salem and the Burning Times supports the argument that Christianity is a hate-filled, dangerous religion.

So it's a good meme, and a better cultural myth. And it's something I really want to explore in a more articulate way through the game. Anyway, I've always been a horror movie fan, so the trope of the pagan avenger, risen from the ground of Salem to kick a little monothiestic ass is a good one. I wrote the Neo-Witch Avenger advanced class (for the Skortched Urf Studios "Advanced Class Update" line) after watching Silent Hill and Blair Witch II: Book of Shadows back to back. Anyway, I'm always rooting for the risen pagan revenant in those movies, no matter how horrific her vengeance is. It's cathartic for me, I guess in both a political and purely personal sense.

That said, I found a couple of absolutely kick ass videos on YouTube. Hopefully, I can figure out how to embed the little fuckers here, or at least you can follow the link and get a nice, viscerally visual explanation of the whole concept of grim, pagan vengeance, that whole feel of "I will have justice, and I don't care if the entire world has to burn for it." Anyway, very cool.

Talk to you later,

Friday, October 9, 2009

Coven of Bast, Amanda Webb Art Preview

I can't afford to commission nearly as much art as I want to for these projects, so when I do pay for art, it's something special, and it has to be high quality. I just checked my email, and saw some amazing rough pencil sketches of some of the work Amanda Webb will be doing for Coven of Bast.

To the right, is her take on the Bastian Metaform. She kept the topless design I used, but everything else is so much better, more detailed than anything I came up with. I can't wait to see the inks. I have a feeling this image will become the cover art for Coven of Bast....

Below you get a look at the first image of the new Combat Ubasti player species. These guys are genetically engineered lions who work along side Bastian combat units, and are revered as the ultimate symbol of loyalty and courage in Choicer culture. They're nonhumanoid, but are smart enough to be suitable as a player race.

Anyway, Amanda Webb's art makes anything better, and if any of you want to hire her for your own projects, her contact link is over to the right side of the screen.

Talk to you later,

Friday, October 2, 2009

A quick art preview of Coven Of Bast...

As promised, I'm going to preview some concepts and images from the upcoming Coven of Bast sourcebook. When all is said and done, the Coven of Bast splat will probably clock in at around 96 pages, and will go very, very deep into a specific faction of the Choicer's Covenant. The Bastians are an Egyptian-flavored, very militaristic Choicer sub-culture, and making them look different from the mainstream choicers but still recognizable enough you can tell they're from the same army is a difficult balancing act.

I've been playing around with darker colors, lots of brown, bloody red, burnished gold, and much less orange and yellow than in traditional Choicer designs. I've also decided that alot of the elite troopers of the faction can learn a feat- Bastian Metaform- that allows them to shapeshift into a jaguar-headed war form. If you ever played Werewolf: the Apocalypse, and know what a Crinos form is, you're halfway there.....

I'm getting alot more confident in my art, and at the same time, having a year of working and detailing the Otherverse has given me a better concept of how everything works and fits together. While I'm working on the Bastians my ideas of what the Chociers as a whole should look like are getting clarified.

Everything's going to be a bit tighter, better laid out, and more interesting than in the core book, which means that sooner or later I'm going to go back, and improve the Otherverse America core book. That'll probally wait until I have the money to comission more and better art, but it's something I want to do.

Over on the right is an image of a Bastian veneficia, a ritual executioner.... Here's an excerpt from the manuscript describing Neken, the Choicer's death row.....
Death Row Sacramento

Sacramento, CA is home to the single Choicer death row, (codenamed “Nekhen” after the original Egyptian city of the dead) and has been since the mid 2070s. This small facility is several miles outside Sacramento, deep in the reborn redwood groves planted after the treaty’s ratification. Per the treaty of Boston, any Choicer convicted of capital crimes has the right to have his or her sentence carried out by a Bastian veneficia (executioner) in a prescribed ritual manner rather than at a Fed-Gov death row.

Executions are usually performed via nano-toxins, but depending upon the condemned’s sect (and metahuman defenses, if any), ancient forms of execution, such as ritual decapitation, exsanguination, drowning or hanging may be used. Dreamborn Mau are often subtly pressured into becoming veneficias, because a common Bastian superstition holds that those executed by these Goddess-touched psions are reincarnated quickly and mercifully, so they may more quickly atone for misdeeds in this life in their next.

The Nekhen facility is not equipped for long term housing of prisoners, and is rarely staffed year round. Instead, a small custodial staff and a troupe of janitorial robots maintain the facility until it is needed. Specially appointed Bastian death-priests and guards travel to the facility only when a Choicer prisoner requests their services, which only happens once or twice every few years. Only the fact of the facility’s obscurity and miniscule cost has prevented the Woven Council from writing it off as a budget expense.

Prisoners usually remain at Nekhen for only a few days before their sentence is carried out. Cyber-enhanced and Powered guards are supplemented by known and trusted combat volunteers, though security at the facility is never as comprehensive as at a true Super-max.

Sanctioned Veneficia (General)
Bastians account for a large percentage of all Covenant hospice and terminal care workers, second only to priestesses of Grieving Demeter. Euthanasia is legal and accepted in Covenant territory, and while suicide is still seen as a mental disorder, voluntary martyrdom and ceremonial suicide are (very gradually) emerging as ritual practices among some sects. Unlike other Covenant citizens, critically injured Bastians usually choose euthanasia and retention of their essential humanity rather than full cyborgization.

The veneficia (poison witch) is a specially trained cleric and physician who assists both dying patients and their families. Part hospice worker, part nano-chemist, part funeral priestess, the veneficia is expected aid both in a painless death and in the soul’s rebirth. In recent years, and a handful of Bastian veneficia have aided Strega’s Path ritual martyrs in their sacrifice. By longstanding Covenant tradition, the executioners assigned to duty at “Nekhen” are all civilian veneficia, not law enforcement personnel.

While veneficia are well regarded in Covenant society, they are almost as despised as abortion providers are in Lifer society. Suicide is the one unbreakable Lifer taboo and to them, is the ultimate surrender. “Bowing Down”, either by suicide or by acquiescence to governmental authority are both seen as cowardice. Terminally ill Lifers often reject a veneficia’s services as much out of sheer stubbornness as fear of death or a last hope for some medical treatment.

Prerequisites: Anointed Cleric, Craft (chemistry) 4 ranks, Knowledge (behavioral sciences) 2 ranks, Treat Injury 2 ranks
Benefit: You are especially good at dealing emotionally with the dying and their survivors. You receive a +4 competence bonus on Diplomacy checks made concerning death and dying, or made against a patient with a terminal illness, a condemned prisioner, ritual sacrifice or the like. You are legally sanctioned to euthanize patients, at their request, or execute condemned prisoners.

Your knowledge of nano-chemistry allows you to tailor nanotoxins specifically for a specific creature, vastly increasing their toxicity at the same time reducing their onset time and making the death easier. If you have a blood sample from the intended target of a poison, you can tailor the toxins specifically to that character’s DNA. The save DC associated with the poison is increased by a number equal to your WIS modifier (minimum +1), and unconsciousness 1d4 hours is added to the initial effect. These additional effects do not apply if the toxin is used against anyone other than the intended target.

Now, if you can't think of some plot hooks after reading that, give your GM screen to a neighbor and pawn your dice bag. But if you're dreaming of Choicer versions of The Dirty Dozen/The Suicide Squad, black ops agents recruited from death row, missions to recapture deadly criminals and the like, well than, you're my kind of gamer.

Anyway, look to see more in the coming days,