Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Despite having nearly been a Religion major (our department was nuts in a good way—you got handed Eliade, Freud, Durkheim, Lévi-Strauss, Geertz, and Tillich in the first six weeks alone), I don’t know if I have the chops to take on the Greek concept of the pleroma, or its Gnostic spinout (where the Monad and bythos comes from also).

Here’s what I do know: The pleroma is your chance to go Steve Ditko(/Kirby/Byrne) on your players.

There’s a reason the pleroma kind of looks like this guy.  Aeons are guardians of the totality of the universe itself.  They get invoked when then machinery of existence breaks down.  And pleromas are the most powerful of the lot—creating and destroying as necessary to preserve the balance and thwart apocalypse.

Players, of course, are likely going to think in terms of friends and enemies, good guys and bad.  The pleroma is a chance to come at them sideways.  They kill a demon lord, only to have a pleroma restore it to life…and lecture them on its importance in the grand scheme.  They lose to a fell demigod, only to have a pleroma give them a chance to even the odds…or maybe even temporarily invest them with the god’s portfolio and power.

Or an encounter with a pleroma can take PCs out of existence as they know it to witness/affect events on a galactic…or molecular…scale.  If your standard adventure is an issue of X-Men, an adventure with a pleroma should feel like Dr. Strange—strange blank limbo landscapes, vistas that peer into nothingness and everythingness, and epic-powered characters who are more concepts than people.

Down to practical stuff: PCs should hopefully want to talk to a pleroma, not fight it (at least not without cause).  It holds the powers of creation and oblivion in its hands.  You want weapons?  It throws spheres of annihilation.  Oh, and its touch does 20d8 damage.  Not to mention it wields a list of spells as long as your arm, especially those focused on creation, destruction, and contending with all the cardinal points on the alignment compass.  Have the online Reference Document up, because you’re going to want to consult it on the fly.  The pleroma is an epic-level encounter for parties who want to ask—or fight—the universe’s Big Questions.

The millennia-rusted wheels of the Annihilation Machine become unstuck.  Souls begin to be sucked out of the mortal world, turning it lifeless.  The daemonic Horsemen of the Apocalypse threaten to ride.  When a pleroma manifests to observe, an adventuring party has the chance to sway it to action…or risks being obliterated for interfering.

A party of adventurers teams up with the son of a demigod to kill a nascent demon lord.  After the slaying, a pleroma arrives to unmake the son’s life to preserve the balance.  If the party objects, the pleroma will attack disdainfully; otherwise their ally submits.  But after his destruction, the nascent demon lord reappears, courtesy of some powerful contingency magic…but will this affect the pleroma’s earlier sentence?

To fulfill the strictures of a prophecy, a party must travel outside time and space to create a landscape that has never existed before.  To do this, they must trick a titan, befriend (as much as is possible) a bythos, submit to judgment in a court of demodands, and finally appeal for help to a pleroma.

—Pathfinder Bestiary 2 12–13

Why didn’t I finish the Religion major?  I missed a crucial Hermeneutics course with Mark Taylor, and then got distracted studying poetry, fiction, and running concerts.  I regret missing the courses; I don’t regret what came after

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