The Feral Gods of Apsada
(January 11, 2021)

Many people maintain that the gods depend on their worshippers for sustenance, and that a god whose cult dies out dies with it. This is a comforting fiction. It allows mortals to believe that they are, at least in aggregate, indispensable.

In truth, the gods endure regardless of whether they are worshipped or not. However, worship civilizes a god. The gods like to be worshipped; it flatters them, and the flavor of sacrifice is savory. In observing the antics of its followers, and in hearing their entreaties (whether or not it chooses to act on them), a god comes to have some empathy for mortal life, and thus typically acts in a fashion which is, if not beneficial to mortals, at least comprehensible.

A god whose cult has died, however, or who has never had worshippers at all, has no such empathy. Fortunately for mortal civilization, gods without followers frequently embark on pursuits beyond mortal understanding and beyond mortal perception; for this reason, a god whose followers have died out may be forgotten and believed to be dead. When a feral god pursues its ineffable ends on the mortal plane, however, it may unleash titanic chaos without even being aware of the consequences. The worshipped gods may be able to contain a feral god’s rampage, but such is not a trivial undertaking even for the gods; many gods will not intercede to protect their worshippers from a feral god’s wrath.

Thus, the sanctuary of Apsada was built. Apsada lies on a remote island far from civilized lands, but all civilized lands send it tribute. Its priests daily offer bountiful sacrifices to … no god in particular. Apsada is, in effect, a lure. The hope is that feral gods will be drawn to the offerings of Apsada, and that the priests there will be able to comprehend them and to worship them. In time, the priests who have built a relationship with a once-feral god will relocate to the mainland, evangelizing and growing the god’s cult.

It is a hard fate to be a priest of Apsada. One may spend one’s life pleading with gods one cannot comprehend or that may not even be listening. One may find oneself consecrated as high priest to a god of murder. From time to time, feral gods fight over the offerings, and Apsada has been obliterated on several occasions by the forces unleashed. Nonetheless, every generation offers up sufficient volunteers, who devote themselves to the task of Apsada so that their homelands may be kept safe from the threat of wild gods.

More Birthright

Something that irked me about Birthright, to the point that I had edited it out of my memory until I reread it last night, is the way they handled their gods. The big event that establishes the setting’s status quo is a legendary battle in which all the gods die and their divine essence flows out and into the mortals present at their demise. This is a pretty cool premise.

However, the lion’s share of said divine essence flowed directly into each god’s most favored lieutenant, turning them into gods. And basically the same gods. This is kinda lame.

It would be niftier, to my tastes, had they done something Unknown Armies-style, wherein a regent who enhances his or her bloodline sufficiently could ascend to divine status, possibly displacing the current holder of that status. (Among other things, it would add some depth to the quest to enhance one’s bloodline.)

Alternately, they could have gone totally hardcore and had no gods remaining, with clerics worshipping the most powerful regents and deriving their powers from them.

Then it occurred to me that Dark Sun was set up a little like that, with its templars who draw magic power from the sorceror-kings. Somewhere out there, someone has run a Birthright/Dark Sun crossover. I bet it was awesome.

Originally published on LiveJournal

Book Review: Out of the Silent Planet

Recently, I read Out of the Silent Planet, which is the last book of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy that I hadn’t read (though it’s actually the first book). It’s a good book, and I recommend it (primarily for its worldbuilding), but this is going to be one of my reviews wherein I talk relatively little about the book itself.

A lot of people I have known feel somehow betrayed by C.S. Lewis, mostly because of the role of Christian allegory in the Chronicles of Narnia. You’re reading along in a perfectly nice fantasy adventure series, and then one day — maybe years after reading the books — you find out, holy crap! Aslan was Jesus! (I’m sorry if that was a spoiler for anyone. Rosebud was a sled, too.)

I’m not sure if it works the same way in other countries, but I think Christian children’s fiction has really shot itself in the foot in the United States. So many extremely earnest people work so hard to make sure that kids get their regular dose of Jesus that Christian allegory has become the green vegetable of kids’ narrative. Finding out there was spinach in the chocolate cake is … well, disappointing. As if the Establishment put one over on you, the bastards. Hiding Jesus in a fairy tale; it just ain’t right.

I begin to think that this is unfair to Lewis. Reading the Space Trilogy, I realize that Lewis doesn’t write allegory at all. Rather, he writes fantastic stories in settings which include our own world, a world which for him is framed by the existence of the divine. Aslan and Maleldil don’t symbolize Christ; they *are* Christ. And yet, on some level, it doesn’t matter. The books aren’t parables; the stories are meaningful on their own terms. Perelandra isn’t Eden; neither is Narnia. They’re just places which went through similar histories after arising from similar origins.

It’s interesting, in passing, to contrast many modern comic books which rely heavily on Christian mythology, but in which God is a vague and distant presence and Jesus barely figures at all. It’s sort of the Apocalypse Now of the War in Heaven: angels and demons beating the crap out of each other with minimal supervision. It always seemed like sort of a dodge to me to tap the geekish glory of angelological hierarchy while avoiding the cosmology of which that hierarchy is a part. I would totally buy a comic about superheroes in the intertestamental period. (Yeah, I’d probably be the only one, but still, an apostle superteam would so totally kick ass.)

Originally published on LiveJournal

Sacrificed Chine of Beef
with Nectar Reduction
Pan Sauce
(Sept. 9, 2004)


1 sacrificed chine of beef, about four pounds 
2 tbsp butter 
1 cup nectar
2 shallots
1 cup tears of the damned
Chopped parsley to garnish

Selecting a good beef chine is essential to this recipe. We recommend a chine from the rib or loin, which are more suited to dry cooking methods. Chuck and round chines are better
for braises and other moist cooking methods. If your worshippers can’t be relied upon to secure a high-quality rib or loin chine, or to sacrifice it appropriately, smite them and build your cult from scratch. This recipe demands a high-quality chine, properly sacrificed to add that smoky altar tang.

Season the chine well with salt while melting a tablespoon of butter in a roasting pan over high heat. Once the butter stops foaming, sear the chine about 2 minutes on each side.
After searing, place the chine on a roasting rack, fat side up, and place in a 350-degree
oven for about two hours, until omniscience suggests the roast is medium-rare.

Meanwhile, begin reducing a cup of nectar in a saucepan over medium heat (for a subcontinental twist, you can substitute an equal amount of soma or amrita for the nectar). It should take about half an hour for the nectar to reduce down to a quarter cup.

When the roast is done, move it to a plate and tent with foil. Remove any fat from the pan juices, and then place the roasting pan back on the stovetop over medium heat. Add two diced shallots and saute until golden. Deglaze with one cup of the tears of the damned, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Once the pan is deglazed, add the nectar reduction and stir to combine. Wait for the foam to subside, then reduce the heat
to low and let the flavors meld.

When the chine has rested about ten minutes, remove the foil and carve. Add any juices from the resting plate back to the sauce, and whisk in a tablespoon of butter and a splash of fresh nectar. Ladle about two tablespoons of the sauce over each portion of meat and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with a small salad of ambrosia and endive.

Gods as Beings Outside Their Sphere of Influence

Love, Death, and My Buddy Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard observes in Either/Or that Eros, the god of love, is not himself in love (with the exception of the whole Psyche incident, but we’ll let that go); he causes love in others but is himself unaffected by it.

I forget the point that Kierkegaard was trying to make, but it got me to thinking that it could be interesting to enlarge this concept when designing a pantheon. Each deity is completely outside their own sphere of influence, and in some ways the antithesis of it. The deity of wisdom would be completely foolish, the deity of war would be completely unaggressive (or completely cowardly, or completely defenseless…it gets you to thinking about what precisely you mean by deity of war), the deity of agriculture and growth would be barren, and so on.