Sunday, 25 September 2016

The House of the Unfolding Law

The House of the Unfolding Law is a monastery (of sorts) two days' travel from the nearest major city. Perhaps it is in a minimalist O'Keeffe desert: perhaps it is in the middle of endless rows of snowbound pines: perhaps it is on a scrap of an island, one of the sharp limestone outcrops bleeding out from the long limestone coast. Wherever it is, the handful of locals will not remember it not having been there. It is impossible to see all at once: it appears through the treeline at first as a single white arcade, or arches begin to rise in careful succession out of the water before your boat grinds up on the rocky beach.

It is a seemingly endless series of arches and pillars and their resultant higher expressions: arcades, colonnades, courtyards. There are sudden high towers of arches and deep wells wrapped around with openings: there are elegant stepped pyramids and long covered walkways. In places a third element appears – minimal stepped stairs, without rails. It is always, at first, disorienting to visitors: they may think it is endless, and they may think that it is repetitive. The monks will smile quietly and observe that these things are not so, not on the scale the visitor imagines. The monks – who wear robes of the same murky cream as the walls – will claim that there are no two spaces the same in the House. They will point out that the arcades are all imperfect: they have blind arches and half-arches and other arches inset within them, rising floors that ensure the rhythms of the pillars are broken, angles that are not quite true, partial staircases rising and falling to nothing. The monks will say that this is the truth of the House: that there is no true order in the world, but that we perceive it to be otherwise. They will not discuss how the House came to be.

The monks are happy enough to have visitors: certainly, they have the space. They will let anybody stay, offering thin bedrolls laid out more or less at random in the House and simple food from a communal pot: this is how the monks themselves live. They will not ask for contributions, but after a few days they will ask that visitors move on: the monks are not much interested in proselytising or offering spiritual teachings. It is far from clear who they worship or if they have a god at all. There are perhaps two dozen of them – of all races and genders – in the House, though you will never see them all assembled. They do little to maintain the House: the more open parts of it are full of birds' nests and drifts of leaf litter, though the structure of the House itself is always sound. Away from the edges of the House, into its middle – though it is so irregular that trying to travel 'inwards' is often confounding. Deep in the heart of the House there are still sudden clumps of forest and naked earth, silent courtyards surrounded by the silent arcades.

The monks will not like it if you try to get deep into the House. They will offer, at first, to guide you back to where your things are: they have an infallible knowledge of the layout of the House. After a time they will tell you the deeper parts are not safe. Eventually they will intervene to prevent you. The monks are moderately well-trained in unarmed combat and extraordinarily resistant to pain and to psychic intrusion, but above all they will use the structure of the House as a weapon, forcing people off high platforms, ducking through arches, drawing the party off in different directions. Other monks will arrive to help. If they feel truly threatened, they will draw the threat not away but deeper into the House.

At the centre is the House's heart, a perfect arched cube of a room, the only such room in the whole structure, 3 stacked rows of 3 arches on each side. It has no floor. It goes down forever. Among the monks, the greatest blessing is to be permitted to fall into it and pass beyond existence into the Law. The most solemn of their duties, however, and the highest
honour is to carry out into the world one of the heavy fist-sized cubes, arched on each side and filled with blackness inside, that appears every 7 years somewhere within the House, and to bury it in fertile earth in a distant land.

Inspired by Xavier Corbero's home/art project. All you need for this a good way of randomly generating spaces and rooms: Vornheim has one, or you could use Donjon or similar. The trick here is that all the spaces flow into each other all the time, since everything is open arches. For the truly stripped-down, minimalist architectural approach, keep it very simple: spaces have two sides of d100ft each and d4 levels, all with arches every 10ft (although not always - introduce at least one irregularity into every room, like a properly made carpet); arcades are corridors of d4x10 ft width and d100xd4ft length. Beyond each discrete area generated like this is...another one. But throw in stairs, drops, dead ends too as you see fit, for an interesting fighting environment. It doesn't have to be 10% random: let the Law Unfold in your mind, and be guided by it.