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[SETTING] An Animate Universe

May 22, 2010

But what is it thinking?

An artfully made bright crenellation rising out from the abzu was erected for Lord Nudimmud. He built the temple from precious metal, decorated it with lapis lazuli, and covered it abundantly with gold. In Eridu, he built the house on the bank. Its brickwork makes utterances and gives advice. Its eaves roar like a bull; the temple of Enki bellows. During the night the temple praises its lord and offers its best for him.

Before Lord Enki, Isimud the minister praises the temple; he goes to the temple and speaks to it. He goes to the brick building and addresses it: “Temple, built from precious metal and lapis lazuli; whose foundation pegs are driven into the abzu; which has been cared for by the prince in the abzu! Like the Tigris and the Euphrates, it is mighty and awe-inspiring. Joy has been brought into Enki’s abzu.”

“Your lock has no rival. Your bolt is a fearsome lion. Your roof beams are the bull of heaven… Your vault is a wild bull raising its horns. Your door is a lion who seizes a man. Your stairway is a lion coming down on a man.”

Enki’s Journey to Nibru, ETCSL translation t.1.1.4

The temple of Enki at Eridu is alive. Its brickwork makes utterances; its door bolt is a fearsome lion.  Like much else in the universe – perhaps everything – it is animate, filled with beliefs and desires and wishes: wishes to do you harm or render aid or be left alone.  The Mesopotamians maintained an “I-Thou” relationship with the world and objects around them; things need be negotiated with, not manipulated.

In ERIDU, then, the trap-filled dungeon may itself be dimly aware of the tomb-robbers crawling around inside it.  The ziggurat hates you, and its door bolts are rampaging lions.  Arrogant adventurers will find more traps are sprung, more ceilings collapse, more locks possessed of a savage bite.  But the dungeon or temple may be propitiated, too, flattered as to its awesome beauty, bribed with treasures to decorate its walls and avert its wrath…

Some of these structures may indeed be subterranean technological relics, bunkers humming with a morbid and paranoid AI; but many more simply have the sentience of complex things.

Thus: reaction rolls applied to entire levels of the dungeon.  An “enthusiastically friendly” dungeon may be as disconcerting to PCs as an “immediately hostile” one, but it would certainly make a difference to their traversing of the level. Negative reactions result in increased chances for pits and traps to be triggered; effects of traps more virulent (+1 to damage or –1 to saves); secret doors more secretive (1 in 8 or 10 chances if 1 in 6 normally); wandering monsters checks more frequent or more likely to result in an encounter; denizens more aggressive, recalcitrant, or sneaky (their own reaction rolls –10% or more).  Positive reactions would do the reverse. DMs may of course judge reactions through roleplay and the actions of the PCs, though random reaction rolls give a flavour of an alien intelligence.  While abandoned tombs in the desert wastes may be slumbering or senile or filled with savage ancient hallucinatory dreams, the temple attended by throngs at the centre of its city is taut with quickened perception. To the normal dungeoneering paranoia then must be added diplomatic prudence and wheedling of the world around them. Charisma is not a dump stat indeed!

Magic items, likewise, will often have an awareness in addition to a mere set of functions.  Some may be psionic. A bolshy ring of protection +1 might soon become wearisome in play, but more powerful magic items should certainly be self-willed, alert, watching.

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