It’s time for another blog about The World Below!
Last week we covered the nature of spirits in The World Below, ranging from dream, to dead, to nature, and the roles they might play in your sessions of this game.
This time we’re discussing something that has shown up repeatedly in our teasers, but is now receiving dedicated coverage: Kaos. The fuel of life, magic, and uncertainty in the World Below, Kaos is everything its name implies. It has the power to create, to change, and to destroy.
Kaos has always been present in the World Below, even before the Great Exodus resulted in the underground world’s mass inhabitation. It’s the bloodflow of the Vast Underneath, the crystallized gems of unpredictable power littering or bejewelling caves, and it’s the air you breathe in and breathe out of your lungs. It’s everywhere, and it’s what makes the World Below livable. It’s also everywhere, and what makes the World Below so damn dangerous.
Due to Kaos’s promise of power, there are a huge number of individuals who wish to harness it, master it, and use it as a way to improve their lives, as a tool, or as a weapon. But as the name indicates, Kaos is an unpredictable element. Though the Sorceries are fuelled by Kaos, there’s much that remains unexplained of Kaos’s nature.
Supposedly, the closer one gets to the Well – at one of the World Below’s lowest strata – the more potent Kaos becomes in the hands of its wielder, as well as to the wielder’s mind, spirit, and body. The Well Liches protect the power source hungrily, believing they’re the only beings worthy of taking the cream from the Well top. Yes, Kaos might flow throughout the rest of the World Below, but the Well Liches get the best of it and may even have the power to deprive other people, cutting off Kaos at its source should they wish to do so.
Here’s how Kaos is presented in the upcoming core book:
Channeled or Tethered Kaos
Despite the name, elements of Kaos can be manipulated and channeled in largely predictable ways. Various Callings have grown and structured themselves around aspects of stability and rote that appeal to their interests. Many communities in the World Below owe their safety to Farsighters reading Kaotic threads to glimpse into the future, or Alchemists safely diverting toxic flows away from settlements. Similarly other settlements benefit from reduced monster predation thanks to Hunters interpreting the Kaos traces beasts can’t help but leave in their wake, or the sudden influx of riches when Silhouettes find rare and precious treasures among the debris of previous generations. Holies may believe their Sorceries come from elsewhere, but whatever the truth, they manipulate powers as effectively as the other Callings.
However, the nature of Kaos is also to be unpredictable, and others seek greater power by choosing to embrace the uncertainty. Kaosists tap into power that none save the Well Liches can hope to control with certainty. Even those explorers more interested in treading established paths can draw on the semi-structured aspects of Kaos, though at greater cost and even less control than Kaosists. Indeed, every dweller in the World Below can attempt to tether the raw Kaos of their surroundings to manifest a beneficial outcome, but doing so carries not just great opportunity, but also tremendous potential cost.
The practices of Kaos-wielding are divided into Wisdoms, which bring order and structure to the Kaos from which they draw. Practitioners of these Wisdoms can purchase powers for which that they possess sufficient indoctrination into the mysteries of their profession. These powers are often utilitarian where prerequisites are low, allowing characters with that Wisdom to perform the duties expected of them. They become more remarkable and dramatic at higher ratings, and where requirements are stricter.
Each Sorcery belongs to a single Wisdom, but members of multiple Callings can access them at different times. This reflects the sharing of knowledge and Wisdoms among the peoples of the World Below. During character creation and with EXP, characters may purchase Sorceries for which they meet the prerequisites. During the Kalm phase, where characters are focused on the development of their Calling alone, they can only take a new Sorcery from within their Calling’s Wisdom.
Devout and faithful believers rely on Boh to enforce their beliefs and edicts through the power of Kaos. The Holy draw on Kaos to pass judgment, enforce edicts, and relieve suffering. Kaos channeled through Boh can elevate the downtrodden and strike down the mighty as the believer funnels Kaos through their faith to work an array of miracles. Healing and purification of the mind, body, even the environment is possible through Boh. However, this faith can also be utilized to punish or rebuke the wicked, driving the unholy away from the pious and inflicting grave and lasting harm to the enemies of the faithful.
Heliogy taps into Kaos’ ubiquity to sense beyond what is plainly seen, heard, tasted, touched, or smelled. Farsighters draw on Kaos to delve into the past or future, to look through darkness and impenetrable rock, or to hear whispered conversations as if they were plainly spoken. Kaos channeled through Heliogy goes beyond physical senses and enters the realm of the mind, allowing the Farsighter to communicate with strange animals that thrive in the caverns, to understand the needs and wants of others, and to build communities around themselves through this understanding.
Hunters who study and practice Shykar learn to read the traces of Kaos left in the wake of almost all creatures in the World Below. Even the most light-footed creature barely touching the hardest stone leaves a fragment of their spoor for Hunters to follow. Similarly, the mix of Kaos with life’s energies trace understandable paths within the bodies of the Hunters’ prey, pooling and revealing a beast’s weaknesses even through the toughest of armor. The interactions of Kaos mingled with life and unliving stone weave tapestries across locations, revealing what creatures dwell within caverns, and differentiates patterns of movement and who preys on whom.
Transmutation empowers Alchemists with command over the inanimate. Through channeling Kaos, Alchemists can safely grasp and manipulate materials that would strip the flesh from other characters, and animate the inanimate into something close to living. They understand the elemental makeup of the world around them, the interactions of material, energy, and Kaos that combine to make the stone all around, the air needed to breathe, water to drink, and materials far rarer and with other valuable properties. The Alchemist’s workings can combine these materials in ways impossible for others to achieve, bringing malleability to the immovable, resistance to the immaterial, and combing the properties of different components.
The Umbral Sorceries worked by Silhouettes deliver intimate control of the Kaos infusing their own bodies. Silhouettes channel Kaos to twist and contort their bodies into unnatural shapes and proportions, some believing Umbral Sorceries owe more to the Dark and the Abyss than they do Kaos from the Well. They can jellify their bones to fit through impossible gaps, stretch limbs to grasp at far objects, or dissipate the force of falling from high ledges. Silhouettes intimately understand the effects of poison on the body, allowing themselves a measure of immunity but also knowledge of how to concoct potions that interfere with biochemical functions in ways desired by the Silhouette, either to paralyze or murder, or perhaps simply interfere with the victim’s sight or hearing for a time. Silhouettes can manipulate shadows, drawing them in and cloaking themselves in the absence of light to hide from detection, or even travel through shadows at higher levels of mastery.
Kaosists wield Kaos in as close to its wild form as they can while still bringing an element of predictability and repeatability. These Kaos powers straddle the line between Structured and Wild Kaos and bring greater inherent risk and uncertainty than those channeled by other Paths. However, the tradeoff that Kaosists happily accept is the potential to create and control even more powerful effects than followers of other Paths — assuming they don’t lose control and the Kaos doesn’t turn and retaliate against the caster.
Free of being filtered through aspects controlled by other practitioners, Kaos commands power over life and death, including in its purview the ability to heal and harm. Kaosists can also gain the ability to safely hold greater stores of the unpredictable energies within themselves, to channel these to craft powerful Kaos artifacts, open gates to connect far-flung locations, either for travel or to pass elemental energies through the passageways. The Kaosist’s connection to Kaos also allows them to detect and follow Kaos energies in the world, including an unerring sense of direction, as they always know where they are in relation to the Well.
Although Kaosists have the greatest control and command over this border between channeled and tethered, they don’t play in this space alone. Kaos’ nature allows other Paths to access and learn Kaos powers, though needing increased effort and cost, and at greater risk of backlash and calamity.
Kaosists risk destruction of mind, body, and soul through their tampering with barely restrained energies, and the risk is so much greater for other Paths attempting to follow their example.
Kaos or Chaos?
Something may be wild, unpredictable, or temperamental and be chaotic, but if it contains the raw stuff of Kaos, it’s Kaotic. It’s a simple delineation that separates the two terms. Dialects throughout the World Below vary in the pronunciation of chaos and Kaos, with some making the words identical, and others making the “ao” of “Kaos” an “ow” sound, an “ore” sound, or another similar variation. Therefore, it’s not uncommon to hear about “the chaotic effects of some ‘Kawesist’ on a power trip.”
Beyond the relatively calm central facets of channeling Kaos, Wild Kaos roils throughout the World Below. All locations have a measure of this Kaos either trapped within their boundaries or flowing free in constantly deleted and replenished currents. Largely unseen, unheard, untouched, and untasted, all denizens of the World Below nonetheless feel its ubiquity. Inhabitants breathe a measure of Kaos with every breath and consume at least trace amounts in whatever food they eat. On an unconscious level, everyone knows its presence as a shiver of cold or fear in entering a new area, the rush of thrill and life at the thought of adventure, or the looming dread of inevitable loss of whatever safety and comfort they find. Foolhardy or desperate adventurers can even try to draw on this Wild Kaos to manifest effects outside the dependable and repeatable powers they’ve studied and perfected.
Like moisture slowly dripping through rock, condensing, and accumulating over time, Kaos can condense into physical forms. It can manifest as solid rock suffused with potential. Pools of liquid Kaos collect as a glowing ultraviolet liquid that may heal or harm, but individuals rarely know which until they touch or imbibe the liquid, and the effect may even change between draughts. In these coalesced states, Kaos is relatively safe to harvest and transport, and is valued by Kaos wielders as vital components to their magical or technological workings, or as a convenient source of emergency power when facing unexpected or dangerous events.
Characters in possession of a reasonable amount of Kaos in physical form — a generous cupful of liquid or large handful of Kaos rock — can sacrifice this treasure to boost their powers. Doing so gives the character +2 Enhancement to the roll, but the precipitated Kaos is consumed even if the character gains no hits and can’t benefit from the Enhancement. Such is the unpredictable nature of working with Kaos.
Of course, there’s a lot more in the book, including rules for wielding Kaos, Kaotic Retaliations, the entire slew of Sorceries, and more besides. This isn’t a game that lacks for powers, and Kaos plays a large part in them.
What will we cover in next week’s blog? It’s likely next Thursday will be a They Came From blog post, but we’ll be back with more of The World Below soon! Continue to request what you want to see and I’ll keep updating my notes with your requests.
Please continue to share these blogs. Post about them, message them to your roleplayer friends, and discuss what you want to do with this game!