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The Spell of Remembrance: Recursive history

by Sharon Dornhoff

Ever since it was laid, the Hollow World's Spell of Preservation has been both its blessing and its curse. On a positive note, it's kept cultures and societies that would otherwise have been subjugated or annihilated by their neighbours from dying out, just as it's preserved HW races from the corrupting influence of the Burrowers. On the down side, it's left millions of people in the setting's most oppressive, hardship-ridden, and/or brutal cultures powerless to change their status or improve their way of life. Hollow World civilisations are shielded and nurtured for all time, like hothouse flowers or insects in amber ... but they're also stuck in one place, like so many rodents in a hamster-wheel. Even mighty empires like Nithia or Milenia, though they conquer much, actually ACHIEVE very little. Hollow World cultures are every bit as timeless and unchanging and static as their eternal, blazing, and -- let's face it -- boring sun.

Matera's not like that. In the Hollow Moon, time doesn't stand still; the rising and setting of the sun, shining dimly through the Firmament, and the regularity and catastrophic impact of the Storm Cycle, ensure that Materans are every bit as aware of time's passage as outer-world Mystarans. And HM history doesn't stand still, either; like the phases of the moon itself, it continually cycles, each civilisation waxing and waning in turn. This is a direct result of Ordana's and Seshay-Selene's having out-voted Ka, when the HM Immortals set out to lay an SoP-style protective magic over Matera's interior -- having TWO representatives of the Sphere of Time on the HM team made a BIG difference! :-) -- and it opens up the possibility for PCs to actually improve things, in the HM setting ... at least, until the next cycle comes round.

In fact, the distinction between the SoPs and the SoRs effects upon cultures is quite subtle. It's that the Spell of Remembrance, which prevails in the Hollow Moon, was designed to preserve and foster cultural knowledge, NOT cultural practice. Rather than requiring that every people in the Hollow Moon perpetually engage in exactly the same activities which their Mystaran antecedents did, the SoR ensures only that they will never entirely renounce or forget the skills, knowledge or habits of their predecessors*. Ancestral traditions may be set aside by the people, in favour of new ones, but those traditions will be preserved in the form of oral folklore, archaic backwoods "handicrafts", ritualised sports and dances, or even children's nursery rhymes. Furthermore, the Spell ensures that when left to their own devices -- e.g. when "foreign" influences aren't actively enforcing other patterns of development -- cultures tend to revert to their historical customs and practices, "miraculously" re-discovering and rebuilding ways of life they may not have engaged in, for generations.

[* - Hence, its name. "Remembrance" is the SoRs operating mechanism: cultures can change from generation to generation, but the "core knowledge" which they bring with them to the Hollow Moon, at the time of their introduction, is always retained and passed down from one generation to the next ... even if it's not being used by anyone.]

For example, the vesper elves of Matera are descended from shadow elves, for whom the dietary mainstay was a fungus-derived food called trania. Arriving in the Hollow Moon, they discovered new foodstuffs that were more appealing and convenient to prepare than trania, so ceased to rely upon it as their primary form of sustenance. However, they never lost the knowledge of how trania is prepared, and -- more importantly -- they NEVER WILL lose that knowledge, no matter how long they continue to subsist on other types of foods. Even if another race should conquer the vesper elves, and compel them to live in a fashion that utterly precludes the preparation of trania, a few individuals in every generation will continue to recall its recipe (even if they don't remember what the recipe makes! ;-D) and to pass that information on to younger elves.

From a PCs point of view, this large-scale cultural effect -- one that makes the HM dynamic, not static -- ensures that, wonder of wonders, player characters really CAN change things for the better, in the twilight museum-setting! The many wrongs which the SoP makes perpetual, which were thrown into sharp relief in Alan Varney's module "Nightrage" (and which he never DID give the PCs a chance to correct, in "Nightstorm" :-(), are changeable and correctable, on Matera. If the SoP worked like the SoR does, PCs could depose the Pharaoh in favour of a more benign system of government, grant equal rights to Milenia's women, or teach the Neathar tribes to forge iron. They couldn't kill off every last Schattenalf -- wholesale extermination of cultures is still forbidden, and would be interfered with by the SoR as surely as by the SoP -- but they could certainly discredit Atzanteotl in their eyes and put an end to their warmongering! Conversely, of course, villains under the SoRs influence have a LOT more freedom to subvert or impose upon HM cultures, than do those in the SoP-controlled HW; indeed, that's why powers like the kopru Dominarchy pose a genuine, all-or-nothing threat to their neighbours, rather than just being locked into unending stalemates with them. So long as player characters' or villains' actions don't threaten to eliminate the latent "core knowledge" of a Materan population, Hollow Moon peoples are quite flexible, and can adapt to circumstances imposed upon them. Indeed, thanks to the geological instability of Matera, many civilisations in the HM setting have collapsed in the face of environmental catastrophes, only to rebuild themselves from the ground (or the Stone Age) up!

This flexibility doesn't mean that HM cultures can change in any direction whatsoever, no matter what. Instead, advanced HM cultures always tend to change in ways that mirror their own historical development as a people -- ascending from a primitive state, to their heyday, to that of a civilisation in decline -- and passing through roughly the same intermediate stages as their Mystaran antecedents went through, in their own day. The initial emergence of the culture in question, as distinct from other cultures, is the farthest back such "recursive" history tends to run; for example, the albarendi fluctuate back and forth between fisher/gatherer and plantation-farming lifestyles, but never revert back to their days as servitors of the Taymoran Necromancer-Kings. If a society did NOT evolve its civilisation independently, in the first place, but learned advanced ways of life through assimilation or conquest by some other culture (as the Traldar/Toroldorskis did, from the Hutaakans), then it WON'T regain its previous level of civilisation, once lost, until some outside agency -- PCs, foreign traders, invaders -- spurs it to develop! The particular customs and habits such a society adopts will be its own, not those of the outsiders who influenced it. Conversely, if a HM race which was never civilised on Mystara -- e.g. the aardovai, the Ur-Carnifex -- has civilisation imposed upon it, then that race will abandon settled ways at the first opportunity (e.g. after a natural disaster), and won't retain any knowledge of those ways beyond their first generation of freedom.

Because of this fluctuation -- which isn't synchronous, from one society to the next -- not all of the native cultures PCs discover, upon visiting the Hollow Moon, will necessarily be at their height. Some are in decline; some are just starting their long climb back to civilisation, after suffering major setbacks and reverting to barbarism; some are thriving and expanding. To take this recursive process into account, my descriptions of HM societies will include remarks on how far back (or forward) the culture may "flux", in re-tracing its own historical development. The farthest a given society may descend into barbarism/primitivism, is its state at the time it first emerged as an unique culture (thus some HM nations -- Cacklogallinia, for one -- will never decline so far as to cease practising agriculture, making iron, etc). No HM civilisation can advance very far beyond the level of technology which it had, at the time it first arrived in the Hollow Moon, without outside assistance; there are Materan inventors, but their creations do not become a part of their cultures' "core knowledge", and so are lost with the first substantial setback or upheaval which their respective civilisations suffer.

Hybrid Societies: Culture "sinks" of Matera

Besides the original societies brought to the HM by various Immortals, there are a number of "blending zones" on Matera -- some geographic, some social -- where different cultures have intergraded with one another. These hybrid societies aren't a phenomenon unique to the Hollow Moon; rather, they've got precedents in the Hollow World boxed set and other HW products. In effect, they're societies which act like "sinks" or vacuums for culture, pulling members of other societies into their own circle of influence. I'll mention them here, because they're a nice opportunity to watch the SoR in action.

The first, and most politically-significant, hybrid society on Matera is that of the trade-cities. Originally founded by bird-like entrepreneurs from the erstwhile Savage Coast nation of Cacklogallinia, these mercantile outposts soon sought independence from their motherland and threw their doors open to all comers, so long as "all comers" were willing to trade (and, in all probability, get cheated out of their breeches). Intrigued by this development -- and long frustrated in his quest to promote thievery and trade in the Hollow World -- the Immortal Asterius petitioned his old sponsor, Korotiku, to allow him to "open up" the independent trade-cities' culture, so as to encompass mercantile enterprise and profiteering in any form ... not just that of the Cacklogallinians. Having already done much the same thing with the Hollow World's Merry Pirates, the Spider leapt at the chance to create another polyglot society for the other museum-setting; working together, they altered the SoRs effects upon the cities, so that -- while Cacklogallinian customs were no longer preserved in residents' memories -- no trick, ploy, financial innovation or business technique that arose there would ever be forgotten. Not surprisingly, the trade-cities rapidly became the heart and soul of mercantile enterprise for the eastern and central Nearside ... not to mention the con-artist capital of the known universe! (Korotiku and Asterius are still patting each other on the back and chuckling, over this one.) :-D

The second hybrid culture of note -- albeit one that probably won't be a culture "sink", much longer; the nation's almost self-sustaining, by now -- is Toroldorsk, the embattled "High Traladaran" kingdom which recently emerged in the forest-and-plains lowlands of Deslandres. Over three hundred years ago, a small band of Traladaran explorers and scholars accidentally transported themselves to the Hollow Moon through injudicious tampering with an artifact. For generations, their descendants diligently preserved their culture in the alien lunar environment, yet their numbers were far too small to establish a nation ... until 900 AC, when Thyatis suddenly invaded and conquered Traladara! Hoping to preserve a fragment of their followers' culture from Thyatian domination and decadence, the Immortals Halav, Petra and Zirchev initially considered sending the city of Marilenev to the Hollow World; but they soon realised that placing Traladarans under the SoPs influence would freeze their culture at its current level, and forever deprive their worshippers of the "Golden Age" they'd longed to achieve. Instead, they made a few discreet additions to the population of the existing HM colony of Traladarans -- who called themselves "Toroldorskis", a colloquial term (like "Yankees" for Americans) that'd been common 200 years before -- including a few werewolves and a nosferatu, as mentioned in the previous "Lycanthropy" post.

Then, with the HM Immortals' permission, they altered the SoR over the Deslandres region, in a similar manner to that which Rathanos had used, to populate the HW city of Hapta with "Nithianised" Tanagoro. For the next hundred-odd years, until Toroldorsk attained a self-sufficient population capable of holding its own*, members of other cultures who moved into the region would routinely lose their original "core knowledge" in favour of that of the Toroldorskis. This had the intended effect of boosting Toroldorsk's population, and of letting the Traladaran immigrants interbreed with Materan humans -- some albarendi, some Cynidicean -- thus bestowing night and/or infravision on their descendants. Unexpectedly, it also had a weak effect on Toroldorski werewolves -- accounting for their far greater level of organisation and sociability than they'd exhibited, as solitary hunters in the forests and moors of Traladara -- and a strong one on several nearby goblin tribes, who now faithfully follow "High Traladaran" ways ... and are loyal to King Kasimir of Toroldorsk!

[* - Not easy, given that it's caught directly in the crossfire between the Dominarchy and HM Cynidicea -- two of the most aggressive, expansionistic, and mutually-hostile nations in the Hollow Moon! :-)]

The last of the notable culture "sinks" on Matera is by far the most widespread, yet it's also the one most likely to be overlooked. It's less a culture, than a cultural "blind spot" which has emerged independently in a great number of HM societies ... namely, a grudging tolerance -- though never a liking -- for the diffident, eerie scavenger-race of pisachas. Although there are exceptions -- the margasta are every bit as fanatical about mummifying their deceased as Nithians are, and the bhuts of Vedal don't tolerate the competition -- most HM natives have given up on their ancestral burial-customs or cremation practices, in favour of leaving the dead "to lie in state" in some isolated locale, and turning a blind eye to pisachas' comings and goings. It's not that they're being callous -- indeed, many bereaved Materans will reclaim and inter the bones of their dead (which the pisachas considerately return, well polished :-D) later on, or act out funerals with effigies -- but rather that death isn't a subject around which HM societies revolve; so the pisachas' direct physical and psychological need to scavenge outweighs the other races' cultural mandates to bury/burn their dead, in the SoRs scale of priorities. Pisacha society is thinly spread all over the Hollow Moon, existing on the fringes of other cultures, and the "bone people" maintain a network of contact between themselves across other races' geographic boundaries ... much as beggars of the HWA series of modules recognise the same tokens as signifying 'beggar-friends', irrespective of whether they're Azcan, Shahjapuri, or whatever. (Being a social pariah, like a HW beggar or HM pisacha, makes you FAR more a part of the "culture" of fellow-pariahs, than of the people who look down on you. ;-D)