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Running an Occult Game

Source Occult Adventures pg. 218
The word “occult” refers to that which is hidden or occluded, and it encompasses a wide range of strange disciplines known to only a few. Ancient though they may be, the mysteries of the occult remain obscure, protected by hermetic orders or locked within esoteric repositories of knowledge.

In an occult adventure, the characters uncover clues as they search for the meaning behind perplexing events and supernatural phenomena. The tone is usually ominous and laden with secrecy and veiled threats as the characters untangle each portentous thread of occult mystery. Ordinary folk seldom recognize the patterns beneath events; only the truly initiated, undaunted by the risks to mind, body, and soul, dare plumb the depths of the occult in order to protect their world from unseen dangers.

Incorporating the Occult

Source Occult Adventures pg. 218
Incorporating occult themes into games where magic is commonplace requires careful consideration. Think of the occult like layers of an onion. By peeling back these layers one at a time, PCs can be at first perplexed by, then increasingly familiar with, the strange rules that govern this parallel world. But once PCs become comfortable with one occult reality, they discover a new deeper, darker layer.

In occult adventures, each new piece of the puzzle opens up more questions than it answers, and the mysteries of the story and plot are carefully nested like so many matryoshka dolls. In such games, haunts do not hesitate to reveal the causes for their spiritual contamination, and ritually marked corpses are far more than atmospheric window dressing. The very locations adventurers investigate may themselves be intrinsically linked by mysterious ley lines to other locations with similarly disturbing histories.

Occult Elements

Source Occult Adventures pg. 218
As characters in an occult campaign start to discover the hidden strands that connect seemingly unrelated events, they begin to interact with the bizarre, esoteric trappings of occult stories, including the following elements.

Occult Themes

Source Occult Adventures pg. 220
The following campaign themes combine the elements of occult adventures in different ways, and are meant to serve as packages to help GMs open the door of the occult in their campaign worlds.

Occult Adventure Seeds

Source Occult Adventures pg. 222
The following adventure seeds play on the elements and themes integral to occult adventures.

Occult Locations

Source Occult Adventures pg. 226
When it comes to occult adventures, locations themselves can be living things, serving as active participants in paranormal stories.

Esoteric Planes

Source Occult Adventures pg. 238
The planes of the Great Beyond encompass all of existence, from the simple and sublime wonders of the material world to the impossibilities of heavens, hells, and everything in between. Arcane tradition conceptualizes this multiverse of planes as a series of nesting spheres, with each layer and the spaces between representing different vistas of reality. At the center of it all, suspended within the silvery seas of the Astral Plane, lies the Inner Sphere of the Elemental and Material Planes. The Elemental Planes are the raw building blocks of the multiverse, while the planes aligned with positive and negative energy govern the forces of life and death, creation and destruction. The invisible mists and eddies of the Ethereal Plane connect and interpenetrate the worlds of the Inner Sphere, just as the Astral Plane connects these worlds in turn to the infinite realms of the Outer Sphere, the domains of gods and the final destination for the souls of the multiverse.

The esoteric tradition, sometimes referred to as the “ancient wisdom,” acknowledges the many planes, demiplanes, and corners of the Inner and Outer Spheres, but tends to focus more on the Inner Sphere than the realms of the deities. Scholars of occultism believe that their investigations reveal a hidden truth behind the multiverse, and that mastering the implications of this secret can give an adept power over not just her mortal life, but also her life after death. She can then enter a cycle of reincarnation that allows, over successive cycles of existence and reflection, the complete mastery of body, mind, and soul, opening up new vistas of consciousness and immortality.

Consequently, the adept does not concern herself with the courts of petitioners enjoying their final reward or laboring eternally under fiendish masters, nor with the raw building blocks of the material world such as air, earth, fire, and water. Her final personal journey into a more evolved existence is loftier than the base elements, and more self-determined than the proscribed fate of the pious petitioner.

The orthodox view of the planes sees two opposing forces underlying existence in the multiverse: positive and negative energy. Each of these primal forces commands a vast plane of its own at the core of the Inner Sphere. The Positive Energy Plane is the source of life, and the Negative Energy Plane is the source of death; each exists as antithesis to the other. The great secret of occultism holds that rather than positive and negative energy being conflicting forces, they are in fact two halves of a single whole. Their polarity is not a sign of opposition, but rather two integral aspects of a single dualistic cycle. The positive aspect of this duality is the Cosmic Fire, the breath of life that grants vital force to living creatures. The Negative Energy Plane is the intake of that same breath, a return to dust, the recycling of component parts to pave the way for that which comes next.

Delving deeper into the ancient wisdom reveals even more enticing secrets regarding the nature of existence. Among the oldest creatures in the Great Beyond are the enigmatic outsiders known as aeons, who are said to be the caretakers of reality and the original architects and crafters of the multiverse itself. Befitting the esoteric view of the planes, these primordial beings always manifest a powerful dichotomy sustained in equilibrium: Birth and death. Fate and freedom. Creation and destruction.

The aeons believe they are bound in a supreme oneness with the multiverse known as the “monad,” or the “condition of all,” the transcendental undersoul of all living creatures. They equate this oneness with both the life-giving Cosmic Fire of the Positive Energy Plane and the destructive void of the Negative Energy Plane. Furthermore, they do not limit this cosmic oneness to themselves, but rather include all of the multiverse’s creatures within their concept of the monad. A human and a pleroma aeon are both emanations of the cosmic flame—the aeon is simply much closer to the source and believes itself to be in communication with it, whereas the monadic soul of a human is esoterically distant from the Fire, being focused primarily on the mortal affairs of the base Material Plane.

Imagine a blazing sphere of brilliant energy blocked by a thick screen. This sphere represents the Cosmic Fire. Now imagine multitudes of tiny holes in the screen, each allowing some of the light to shine through. From the exoteric viewpoint of the uninitiated, each pinpoint of light appears distinct and unique. The esoteric perspective looks behind the screen and understands that all of the individual lights are but rays from a single source. A creature’s soul is like one glimmering light in that screen’s field of stars, and when mortal scholars speak of “a monad,” they’re usually referring to this individual-seeming expression of the universal undersoul, at once a unique entity and part of the common soul of the multiverse. The greater an adept understands her place in this scheme, the more power she holds over her eternal destiny.

The short summaries below offer an occult viewpoint on the realms generally referred to as the Esoteric Planes. Many prominent planes in the orthodox scheme, such as the Shadow Plane and Elemental Planes, do not feature prominently in the cosmology of the adept concerned with multiversal truths and the journey of the mortal soul. Occultism freely acknowledges the existence of these planes, but does not dwell on them, an approach likewise observed here. For more information on these planes, including their planar traits, see the GameMastery Guide.