East, to the Holy Mountain

Fair warning: this post is very rambling, going in every which direction. This is because I’m coming up with ideas while talking about my inspirations as I write. Hopefully it’s not too weird.

I like to consider myself a writer, however amateurish I might be. I write a lot of stuff that never sees the light of day, I participate yearly in “NaNoWriMo“, and I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the basics of cultivating creativity. What I need to work is the back-end stuff. The finishing, the editing, the taking that creativity and turning it into something worthwhile.

One of the biggest fonts for creativity for me is music. We are all affected by music emotionally, and that definitely feeds into my creativity. When I am writing, I am almost always doing so with music playing. Usually this music is Metal, Rock, or some variation of Folk music, which I think provides such a wide range of ideas and emotions.

Another source of inspiration that I draw from frequently is mythology, folklore, and spirituality. I’m sure this has been pretty evident from anyone that has read this blog for a while.

Anyway, the reason why I’m talking about this is because recently I’ve been fomenting different things in my brain pan in order to come up with an adventure I’d like to write that would be a little bit different from other things I’ve done. At its core would be the Holy Mountain, a symbolic stand in for the sacred places, paths, and goals of mysticism, esoteric philosophies, and religions all over the world. Much of the inspiration and the blueprint will be based on pilgrimages and sacred journeys. I want to couple this with the symbolic ideas behind a lot of metal and other music that I enjoy. I’d like to write an adventure that draws its ideas out of both mysticism and that emotional rush and adrenaline that I get from heavier music.

This post will essentially be me talking about this adventure I’d like to write. Feel free to take the ideas and run with them. Hopefully I will have the actual adventure written sometime this year. I’m actually going to be using NaNoWriMo as a “rebel” this november, spending the 50,000 word count exclusively on my blog. I’m hoping a good chunk of that will be on this adventure.

 

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East to the Holy Mountain

An Adventure Idea

 As I mentioned before, the heart of this adventure will involve the journey eastward, toward a sacred place. The beginning of the adventure will involve the characters joining a caravan of other meandering souls making the sacred pilgrimage toward the Holy Mountain. The entirety of this adventure “path” will be this journey, ever onward, through strange new lands and states of consciousness.

Cosmology

One thing that I want to play with is the cosmology of a role-playing game.

Within traditional Dungeons and Dragons, there is a pretty solid planar model and the deities are directly understandable as actors akin to other characters; immortal but simply behaving as very powerful ‘people’ in of themselves. Planar travel is very physical and literal, there’s not a lot of abstraction. This is not meant to be disparaging. This works for D&D very well for the heroic sword and sorcery that it wants to convey. Eventually the PCs themselves will be acting upon the same level as the Gods and other powerful extra-planar entities.

I’d like to present the cosmology much more abstractly. I’d like to convey a sense of mystery about the spirituality of the world as the characters travel eastward, a sense of an otherworld veiled by the material. As they travel, and experience more of the esoteric mysteries of the world, the veil is lifted more and more.

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To The Holy Mountain

In the adventure path, the Holy Mountain is a sacred place; and one that has many interpretations. Some say it is a high mountain that leads to heaven, others that it is not a literal place but a state of mind achieved through enlightened transcendence. Either way, those that seek out the Holy Mountain either return as failures, or do not return at all. Generally those that do seek it out understand that in a way, it’s almost a willful suicide.

Thus the people in the caravan taking the pilgrimage, including the PCs, will have to have a reason to leave behind the world they know. Depression, running from a crime or other mistake, religious fanaticism; almost always those who take the path are colored with a shade of fatalism.

The Caravan

The caravan itself, as the journey begins, is not going eastward to seek the Holy Mountain. It is a means to trade with the eastward regions, and fully intends to turn back before entering unknown territories. Caravans that trade eastward often take on pilgrims for mutual protection as they go east seeking the mountain. As it travels some NPCs will leave, and still others join, pilgrims and otherwise.

Much of the adventure at the beginning will have to do with protecting the caravan, interacting with it’s people, and settling into the nomadic lifestyle.

The Lands and Kingdoms

As the caravan travels, it will cross into eastern regions. At first these will be known regions, bustling trade centers along the path, small villages in forest, steppe, and desert. The farther east gone, the less and less civilization will be seen, until unknown lands are reached. In these lands there are civilizations, creatures, and wonders to behold. Through these the caravan will continue, despite their indication that they were not going to go this far east.

This is a perfect opportunity to go beyond the Western Europe Dark Ages setting that much of D&D is based on. I think drawing inspiration from the huge multitude of Asian cultures, while leaving behind the knights and castles, will really give meat to the journey. The folklore of Russia, the Middle East, Turkey, and into the far east are ripe with mythological fruit. Doing so in such a way as to not let it become a caricature, a weird amalgamation of what Westerners see as “asian”, would be a challenge, I think.

Adventuring along the Path

The adventures of this adventure path will take place in the locales visited along the eastward path. At first these adventures will be entirely mundane, general Sword and Sorcery fare. I’d like to draw from a variety of real world sources for these places, using the Silk Road as a huge basis for the path eastward toward the mountain. It will seem this way at first, however.

Essentially, the farther east the PCs go, the more psychedelic the adventure will get. At that point I’ll be drawing inspiration from Weird Fiction and Surrealism. Artists like Nicholas Roerich, Jacek Yerka, and Mati Klarwein inspire some of what I’d like the landscape to become. Monolithic mountains, some with strange edifices built onto them by some unknown ancient people (or things). Rivers that wind, and even loop. Clouds the broil across the sky of a variety of colors, purple and yellow and red, even during the nighttime. Waterfalls that spill into pits of misty fog.

The people, and things, encountered as they go further eastward will also get stranger, and more symbolic as they go. Eventually the road will lead through crystal cities that fill moonlit valleys, and across bridges that cross starlit voids into sky islands. The players at this point should start becoming aware that maybe they’re not even traveling on the world in which they started in. The stars aren’t right, the physics don’t exactly work the same, that sort of thing.

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The Holy Mountain

What the holy mountain actually is, or what it means or represents, I think would be fun to leave vague and up to both the interpretation of the PCs and GM. It could literally be a weird extra-planar place where the gods dance on mountain slopes under the watchful eye of some unknown thing of the void. It could be a pathway to a transcendent place. The caravan and PCs may simply turn back, realizing that what they were running from, or were looking for, isn’t worth the unveiling of what might be a terrible universal truth.

The caravan itself, as it gets closer and closer, will be revealed to be almost an entity unto itself. The people and animals, carts and wagons, of the caravan will give way to a cosmic conveyor as the veil lifts, the boat that Charon steers across the river of souls and stars. All along, powered by the will of the PCs to seek out the Holy Mountain.

The entire point, however, is that the closer they get to the place, the more reality breaks down, the stranger and in some cases the more terrifying things become. Inspiration for this can come from real world mysticism and myth, as well as more modern fictional places like the Dark Tower of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, as well as HP Lovecraft’s Dreamlands.

What happens when they reach it? Is a great mountain, whose peak is so high that you cannot see it for the clouds or even the stars that block the view?

What in the Hell are you On?

Okay, I admit, this is really off the wall stuff. But I LOVE off the wall stuff. My favorite films are psychedelic in nature, and mysticism interests me greatly.

I think, done right, something like this could turn into a really fun adventure. It’s more than saving the kingdom or the wayward member of royalty, or stopping the monster threat. It’s about a mystical journey of transcendence for the character, one with an ambiguous ending. If characters die, they could even return as NPCs, strangely revived… and changed in some manner.

Now, I think might be good to simply list a bunch of music that inspires me. Maybe you’ll find inspiration too? Some of the artists listed below are pretty well-known, but others might be new to you.

Sources of Inspiration

Your Contribution

Do you have any ideas that might make a good fit to this (admittedly very rough) adventure idea? Did anything here inspire you? Let me hear your thoughts!

One thought on “East, to the Holy Mountain

  1. I think this is a great concept. It lends itself for a more ‘serious’ game with a spiritual theme. The gentle transition into a (more) magical and mystical realm would be a great device for some strange stories and horror stories as the players slowly become aware of the supernatural qualities of the world around them.

    It could be that this adventure can become too much of a railroaded plot for some players. A way to counter this could be to come up with a plot that would allow your players to control the Caravan. Maybe they are the (spiritual and/or military) leaders of a band of refugees (the Caravan), driven from their homes by a hostile horde. The Caravan would then follow them around as they try to find a place for their people. Or the players could simply be a wealthy merchant and his retinue, who have a major interest in the Caravan and a say in where the Caravan goes. This would give players the opportunity to redirect the Caravan, change its course, or leave it at a town or caravanserai for a while as they go on a side quest.

    The theme kind of reminds me of (a part of) the novel Baudolino by Umberto Eco (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baudolino) where the main character (a liar and a fraud, but an amusing one) travels east to find the rumoured realm of Prester John.

    Some loose comments:

    “Either way, those that seek out the Holy Mountain either return as failures, or do not return at all”

    It would be very human-like if many (if not all) of those who returned as failures would not admit this, and pretend and boast to have found the Holy Mountain (giving rise to more different interpretations of what the Holy Mountain is).

    “Depression, running from a crime or other mistake, religious fanaticism; almost always those who take the path are colored with a shade of fatalism.”

    Additionally, you could use classic reasons like exile or redemption.

    Love the idea and I’d like to hear more about it!

    Like

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