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Alhambra

Page history last edited by Huitzil 10 years ago

This is a forum post about Alhambra, which is not in proper book-ready form.

 

Alhambra, just as a refresher, is the home base of the Queen of Tears and her followers. It is the only literal survivor of the Cataclysm, the Final City that was actually able to persist from the fall of the Kingdom. But it is not a bastion of light and hope: it is engulfed on all sides by pure elemental Darkness that will obliterate the city if it closes in, and the only way to keep it at bay is to keep special lamps lit all over the city, lamps fueled by hope and joy stolen from our world. The Queen of Tears is the only living Queen and the only survivor of the Cataclysm, and she hasn't spoken a single word for as long as this world has existed. She never stops crying, and it never stops raining in Alhambra. There's no day or night, just eternally bleakly overcast. The city itself is huge, looming, the buildings and streets huge, making everyone look small and insignificant. It has become a city of despair and life there is one of great sadness (basically, everyone who lives there is clinically depressed). Still, Princesses of Tears will defend it, and spread misery in our world to keep its lanterns lit, because they are so bereft of hope they believe the world cannot be saved, and all they can do is keep their little area around and prevent it from getting any worse.

Alhambra, and the Queen and Princesses of Tears that come from it, are obviously representative of despair, and what happens when you give in to despair (Storms is what happens when you give in to rage). The most important trait our Dark Magical Girl antagonists can have is the ability to be empathized with, so even if the focus isn't on "oh these people are horrifying because I could easily become one", you need to be able to understand what they feel and experience. To that end, and for a couple other reasons not the least of which is the place is, I think, very evocative and it would be a shame to not be able to see it, players should be able to go to Alhambra. And the defense of Alhambra needs to make a certain kind of sense, or else nobody would become a Princess of Tears and it would be hard to empathize with them if they did. It's hard to empathize with the feeling that "my place is better because it was here first and everyone deserves to suffer to keep me around", but easier to understand "Life is hopeless, the world is made of unremitting misery, the suffering I cause is just a drop in the bucket compared to the unceasing horror of the world, and Alhambra is an island of being less-miserable in a sea of black nihilism, and I am obligated to do the best I can to keep it that way." So there has to be a reason someone, who already accepts the premise that the world is hopeless, would choose to serve Alhambra.

To serve the aim of making Tears Princesses easy to empathize with, and to highlight more strongly the theme of despair to contrast the theme of hope, Alhambra can't be a far-off unassailable stronghold like Arcadia, players need to be able to go there and have reason to do so. I suggested earlier that teleportation be able to take you quickly and easily to Alhambra, and there can also be more static ways of entry, in the Dreamlands (if we have them) or in the real world. Players can't go to Alhambra to go to war with it and attack it, for reasons I am about to get into, so there need to be other things to do there. Alhambra has been around for basically forever, so there could be bits of lost knowledge to delve for; it takes in refugees from the normal world sometimes (usually people that Princesses of Tears have come to care about) so there could be people to track down; there could be powerful Bequests sitting around unused that need liberating or prisoners that need freeing. You might sneak in to perform recon on specific dark Princesses you're up against, or try to get dirt on some of Alhambra's plans. And even though if the City Guard finds out that you're one of the Radiant Princesses they will have a problem with it, you're most likely there to do something that disagrees with Alhambra's goals, it is possible to meet with your enemies in Alhambra for those "Having dinner with the villain" moments, they tend to honor requests to meet with them even from enemies. In fact, the Queen of Tears will honor any request to hold an audience with her (this is not used often because being in her presence is even more depressing than living in Alhambra). And we could use areas claimed by the Darkness on the outskirts of the city for other purposes, a bad guy could illuminate his own little island int he darkness and use it for his evil HQ without us having to make up a nether-dimension for evil HQs to be situated in, and hell, you could take a light to a long-abandoned building that held something important and have a good old-fashioned dungeon crawl through all the Darklings to get it.

So there are reasons to go to Alhambra, but why do its inhabitants stay? It's a bleak place, and if it's just as bad as the world outside, why bother with going to the trouble of stealing happiness to keep the torches lit? There needs to be an advantage to Alhambra, that would make people want to keep it around, without diluting its theme of despair and depression. To this end, I think, Alhambra needs to be safe, the safest place in the cosmology. Paradoxically, and I speak from experience, one of the reasons to stay in a horrible depressive rut is that it's safe. It's bad, it's miserable, but you know exactly how bad it will be and it won't get worse. If you try something else, it will fail, and it will hurt worse because you put yourself out there and were let down again. So I think Alhambra being safe can fit into the theme nicely. So, all the horrible things that happen to people in the World of Darkness, they can't happen in Alhambra. Bad things are kept out, and when they get in, they don't work. Every supernatural effect that makes you go "that's bullshit, what am I supposed to do about that", everything that kills or maims or traumatizes unnamed people in the background to drive home how evil and serious it is, every soul-sucker, every mind-controller, every skin-wearer, every essence-contaminator, every body-horror-er, utterly fails to function. Drugs aren't addictive, diseases are inert, torture doesn't hurt. The only way to really mess with someone is by causing direct physical damage, and even that won't kill them; people in Alhambra still heal at a normal rate even when they're dead, so that fatal aggravated damage will go away and they will eventually get back up. The only ways to die are natural causes and suicide. Yes, there are ravenous Darklings at the edges of the illuminated areas trying to erode the city away, but they are entirely predictable, the guard is able to handle them perfectly. They can't pull any of the bullshit tricks Darkness can do to people in the normal world. MOST Princess magic works normally there, because they tend to improve the caster rather than inhibit others (Radiant Princesses can't mind control people, their magic makes themselves more persuasive rather than inhibiting others' ability to resist their arguments), but even then some of it doesn't work, like Balm's memory alteration against an unwilling target, or Vuoto's ability to control people by sapping their will to live. This trait is probably absent in areas that have been lost to darkness for a long time, like carved-out evil hideouts or darkling dungeons, since those are areas you are fighting in. But this would prevent you from feeling like you had to attack Alhambra because it was evil; that won't work and you have to find another way.

The reason none of that shit works is actually a minor point of debate among the Radiant Princesses. Some people think that it works that way because Alhambra is, as fallen as it is, the last remnant of the Kingdom, and the only place that hasn't been blanketed by darkness: that is, in fact, how the world is supposed to work, it's an aberration that all that bad shit is even possible in our world, and hopefully one that can be corrected. Others think it's the direct doing of the Queen of Tears herself, as part of the magic she uses to keep the city in existence. This sort of leads into a larger debate on the the Queen of Tears: there is a non-zero chance that being the last survivor of the Kingdom and being alive for as long as this world has been around makes her the most magically powerful being in existence who is restrained in action only because she is mired in absolute despair; then again, she might just be a particularly powerful Princess with no earth-shaking capabilities doing the most she is capable of to fuck with the world. It's hard to tell and she's not answering that question. The two options there are basically to allow STs to go one of two ways with her: if she's Queen Beryl, and you want the players to fight and vanquish her, she's a powerful but beatable Princess. If she's a cosmic force, then the focus of a campaign could be to redeem her or do something so amazing it stirs her heart from its bleak despair, and then she would be motivated to destroy some cosmic horror element of the setting, one that the player characters couldn't deal with, as an act of redemption. It depends on where you want to go with it, and both choices are valid.

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