Holden On Samsara

Samsara is not an intelligence. It is explicitly unintelligent. It's like intelligent design, except there's no intelligence. It has all the intent and purpose of a magic 8-ball or game of Mad Libs.

Samsara is basically, from a human perspective, completely unimportant. It controls nothing, it has no mind with which to want anything, and no power with which to try to achieve those nonexistent desires. It's just a script being procedurally generated in a closed room somewhere.

There are only two reasons to care about it at all.

One: If you can get a peek at the script and understand it, there's some power to be gained thereby. For everyone who isn't the Maidens, that mostly means you'll gain universal insight necessary to design a Sidereal Martial Arts style.

Two: If you are the Maidens, there's much more power to be had. The Maidens have the power to look at bits of the script, which is a voluntary thing for them. They don't have to do it. But if they do, their Charms become much stronger! But they have to follow what the script says to the best of their ability, once they know what that is.

If the Maidens never consulted samsara again, daily life in Creation would not be appreciably different.


For everyone who isn't a Maiden, samsara is kind of a tree falls in the forest thing: If there's a Truth to the universe somewhere, but nobody can know it, who cares?

Samsara is unintelligent and completely impotent. It's not a being, it's a descriptor for a phenomenon.

It's the shinmaic equivalent of quantum foam, the interaction of the emanations of the various shinma which influence Creation. When you get down to the subatomic level, what looked stable from a macro level suddenly becomes very turbulent. Samsara is that instability. The Maidens can reach down and blind-read bits of it, like braille.

There's no mind guiding it. It's just procedurally generated information naturally arising out of the rule of cool. It's a random script generator, designed by nobody, with a native bias toward dramatic events. It is, in all seriousness, a magic eight-ball with ten quintillion answer-surfaces rather than a dozen.

That's it.

And it is powerless if left alone.

What are we missing, Holden?

The fact that the only beings that can know samsara, that we're aware of, are the Maidens. And every time they collapse the wave-form, they lock themselves into that course.

They could do anything, unless they ask what it is they're going to do and get an answer, and then they can only do that, whether they like it or not.

And the Maidens are lucky—they can only get incomplete information out of the quantum foam, and sometimes the waveform refuses to collapse despite being prodded. If they could see more, they'd be stuck in the same boat as Dr. Manhattan.

Now, it would matter very much if the setting contained samsaramancers who could wield causality to play your character against your will, but it doesn't. Real precognition only exists in a very limited manner, and is only available on that limited basis to five NPCs, and is immune to tampering.

And the one whose purview gives her access to the most broad and sensitive information also has a pathological need not to tell anybody what she sees.

It's also important to recognize that this is a bad power to have. Sensible people would not want this power. The Maidens have no control over what they see. Their only control is the freedom not to ask samsara questions. They can't change the script—it only tells them what was going to happen anyway as a result of the decisions of the players and GM at the table.

So, the setting has only five oracles, they don't generally tell anyone what they see, and if they ask a question the Storyteller doesn't want to nail down an answer to they're likely to get "cosmos cloudy, try again later."

Since the Maidens can't exert any control over samsara, they can't use it to force your character into some undesirable future—but they can look into samsara and discover that your characters are going to win the fight you're currently having with them. And if they see that, there's nothing they can do about it. Their Charms will even rebel against them as they try to fight out of that doom, hastening the end.

It's a bad power to have, no intelligent person should want it.

The Maidens have never seen samsara be wrong.

Which is not the same as saying that samsara can't be wrong.

This is entirely wrong.

Examine the Maidens' stat block.

You see the Charm that lets them enforce their visions on Creation as a perfect effect?

No, you don't, because it isn't in there.

Glories: Maidens outlines the mechanical repercussions of samsara. To wit, consulting it imposes an irresistable compulsion on the Maidens to act in accordance with it and powers their Charms up while they're doing so.

That's it.

If Venus consults samsara and it says "you should fuck PC X," she's going to try to fuck PC X and will be able to bend the full power of her Charms toward shagging him. Note that this is an open-ended goal, so she can pursue it pretty much indefinitely at full power.

If Venus consults samsara and it says "PC X is going to whip his dick out in front of you right now," and she says "ha, you're going to whip your dick out in front of me" to the PC…

…well, nothing.

There's no Total Control effect exerted.

No Shaping occurs.

Nothing happens.

PC X's player, Bob, is free to declare that Bob gives Venus a very odd look and leaves. And his character will do that.

And Venus's mind will be totally blown because that's never happened before.

Samsara doesn't enforce a vision on the world. To the extent that it is so damned accurate when it predicts thing, it is because it kicks ass at crunching variables and telling the Maidens what's going to happen as the result of things people do. NPCs existing under the aegis of storyteller need the way they do, the handful of times in the past that one of the Maidens has decided to just toss prophecy right into someone's face, they've always gotten a Laurie-on-Mars response. "We're going to go upstairs and you're going to ask me to save the world." And Laurie follows him up the stairs while shouting "well what if I don't go upstairs, huh? Hey, answer me!"

PCs are under no obligation to do so.

But more to the point, Storytellers who want samsara to be a useful element of their game are under an obligation not to give the Maidens silly and unlikely visions regarding PCs.

If Venus tells him something, it's going to be more likely to be "we're going to talk for a bit, and you're going to convince me to help you deal with the Mask of Winters." (Assuming that the PCs came to Heaven to ask the Incarnae to help them deal with the Mask of Winters)

This is the better samsara revelation, because it sets up that nice moment where the PC goes "oh! So you'll help us, then? That's great!" and Venus looks puzzled and a bit annoyed, and says "I agreed to no such thing." And then they argue and she's eventually won over and the weirdness and majesty of the Maidens is preserved.

This, by the way, is why I was extremely nervous about Neph's little teaser-line linking samsara and Sacheverell, even presented as an unproven conjecture. Sacheverell's brand of predestination is (intentionally) very much of the game-ruining "bad end" variety.

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