Seeds of Wars!

Crumbling stone shifted under Avashta’s foot, and she winced at the faint but undeniable sound it made. She wasn’t supposed to be here, in this place where the elders forbade entry to all but the most devout of priests. She should be out with the other hunters, gathering food for the clan, and she would. She was a princess of the Shadowed Moon, after all, and she knew her responsibilities. One day, when she reached the age of majority, she would become queen, assuming she came into her power as her mother had promised she would.

They had passed the ancient ruin thrice in as many weeks, and each time, her need to explore it had grown. It was as though she heard the ruin speaking to her, its voice inaudible but growing stronger, and each time the calling grew stronger.

Something groaned in the darkness below her, down the ivy-wrapped steps of the stone staircase. A chill suffused her, but somehow she knew she would not need her bow and quiver. Creatures lurked in the caves, but she felt as safe as she would in her own home.

At the base of the steps, Avashta’s elf eyes made out a round chamber filled with darkness and fungus. It looked as though no one had entered the chamber for years. At its center stood some sort of altar of green stone that glimmered faintly in the faint rays of moonlight that filtered through the cracked ceiling. The coldness radiated from the altar, or perhaps it drank in the ambient heart of the room. She could feel it flowing out of her body.

She shouldn’t have come here. This was wrong. Whatever had lured her down to this place was not what she expected. She had been a fool.

Even as she thought these things and started to turn, glowing green cracks appeared along the altar, radiating power such as she had never before witnessed. Avashta stared in awe as the altar rose from the dusty stone and drew itself apart, like a puzzle box unraveling, to reveal a swirling morass of emerald mist at its heart.

She heard again the same call that had drawn her to this place, only now she could make out the words.

“Welcome, Daughter of Destiny,” the voice said. “Your journey has only just begun.”

* * * * *

SoW-Cover-KSHey everyone!

You know how I’ve been talking about being a full-time writer and game designer these days, stringing projects together, living the dream? Well, this is one of those projects, and it is well worth a look!

Seeds of Wars: RPG Realm Management

Seeds of Wars was inspired by classic realms management games like the Civilization series or the classic Birthright setting (the creator, Nicolas Nayaert, is a BIG fan).

The Premise

Thousands of years ago, the people known as the Vareene waged a brutal war against a galactic infestation known only as the Congregation. These humanoid aliens buried their last hope–a powerful artifact called the Catalyst–on the distant, primitive planet of Ceres, where the Congregation would never think to look for it, and hid their final outpost behind a shield that blocked detection and sensors. Cut off from their homeworld as the last teleportation gates were closed, the small enclave waited for the war to run its course, when they would return to a wounded but surviving Vareene Empire.

Alas, such was not fated to pass. The Vareene died out, leaving the small outpost on Ceres as their last legacy. The survivors integrated with the native peoples of the planet, giving rise to powerful bloodlines linked to the ancient technology of the Vareene, which eventually became known as magic. Over centuries and then millennia, the Vareene ceased to be as a distinct culture, and in time their origins and purpose became the stuff of myth and legend. The truth was forgotten, but the power of the Vareene lingered in those descended from those original extraterrestrial visitors, including the key to unlocking the mythical Catalyst–which the folk of Ceres will need if their civilization is to survive.

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The World

The world of Ceres has many of the same tropes, stories, and other bits that you will find in other SFF stories and settings. There are elves and dwarves and humans, orcs and halflings and gnomes, and other fantastic species and peoples. (We prefer the term “ancestry” to “race.”) None of these peoples are the direct descendants of the Vareene–it’s not like elves are THE oldest and best culture on Ceres (though it depends on what elf you ask, some consider themselves almost entirely Vareene). Their heritage exists in all sorts of people, from the toughest human to the cleverest elf to the cruelest orc to the stoutest hearted halfling. No ability score is a requirement or mark of this legacy, nor is a class or background. Heirs of the Vareene come from all walks of life–from various ethnicities, ages, sexualities, and gender identities.

Whatever you want to play, you can be a Child of Destiny.

The heroes are assumed to descend from a Vareene bloodline, granting them both uncommon powers and a certain degree of deference in society. They are the children of history–the movers and shakers of Ceres and the destined protectors of the world.

(And if you want to play a ruler who doesn’t share this genetic heritage, that’s feasible too.)

The Story

The setting’s mythic story is a cyclical one: in every age, Ceres faces a rising doom that the heirs of the world must face and defeat. In the fantasy era, those with the genetic power of the Vareene discover buried secrets of their interstellar past and must overcome scouts from an unknown, alien threat–a small band of Congregation that has the power to destroy all of Ceres by itself. Centuries later in the “modern” age, our heroes face an impending invasion by unlocking the power that lies dormant within the planet and also reverse engineering the technology of the scouting unit. And finally, after Ceres has won its first battle against the Congregation, the heirs of the world must take to the stars to confront their destined foes.

Or, at least, that’s the overall plan.

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The Kickstarter

The initial Kickstarter aims to produce the first of three campaign arcs for the Seeds of Wars overarching setting. The setting goes from fantasy to modern to high science fiction, as the descendants of the Vareene finally rise to confront the Congregation. The players take the roles of powerful leaders of various backgrounds, be they martial or magical, religious or criminal or creative, who hold special prominence in the world and occupy a unique position allowing them to gather the power and resources necessary to face the coming threat.

Stretch goals unlock additional eras and what a truly unique aspect of Seeds of Wars: a realm management AP to be used on your devices. You can read more about that on the Kickstarter page itself, but essentially it gives you powerful electronic processing and record keeping for running an entire kingdom. You can play the game like a standard RPG or like the ruler of a kingdom, and make any balance between the two playstyles that you like.

Mechanics

You may have noticed that, aside from talking up the App (and seriously, go check it out!), I haven’t said much mechanically about this game. And that’s because the game is designed to be adaptable to any game system, be it D&D, Pathfinder, Shadow of the Demon Lord (my personal favorite), Red Aegis, Cypher, Hackmaster, Shadowrun, you name it, you can do it. Our goal here is to provide a compelling setting and story that pulls you in and gives you all the tools for a memorable, epic campaign.

You can alternate hack-and-slash dungeon crawling with courtly intrigue, then zoom out and control your kingdoms on the macro scale. Built your power, forge alliances, and work together to save your world.

There’s more to see and learn about the Seeds of Wars setting. Go check out the Kickstarter, and kick in some money to help make this happen!

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The Chariot: Wayne Iori

You know the drill: this post contains minor spoilers for my Persona tabletop RPG, particularly about Wayne, The Chariot character, who is one of the actual PCs in the game. Thus, what I say about him is subject to change, as he’s still developing and being revealed as a character.

If players want to preserve the mystery and only learn about Wayne at the table, skim or skip this post!

The Chariot

Driven, skilled, aloof, and with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, Wayne is a quiet but very apt manifestation of the Chariot Arcana. He isn’t loud and brash like Ryuji from P5 or tsundere and over-protective like Chie from P4, but exudes the kind of quiet, reserved competence and drive that marked Kuromoru from P3. He’s Japanese, dyes his hair blowfish orange (his parents hate it), and spends a lot of his time plugged in to his classy high-market iPod.

The Chariot represents triumph through grit and determination, success achieved through remaining confident in your abilities and executing your talents to their best. Persona Chariot characters are typically strong with physical attacks, brash, and a little bit arrogant. (That’s the shadow slipping through.)

Wayne Iori

Wayne cuts a flashy figure with that hair (artist unknown)

Wayne is still coming into his own as a hero. He has a firm belief in himself and his abilities, but he keeps running into hurdles that he can’t conquer. In Japan, all he wanted to do was hockey, but his parents moved to America–to him, inexplicably–just when he was on the verge of breaking in. Now here in Seattle, he’s trying to go out for the Thunderbirds, and he achieved some success–see his pseudo-date with Janna, below–not to have it ultimately blow up in his face. He hasn’t yet learned how to reconcile his aspirations with his life.

A Maze of Relationships

Wayne tells people he’s named after Wayne Gretzsky, but in reality, his dad named him after the character in the movie Wayne’s World. That in itself is an encapsulation if Wayne’s standoffish relationship with his parents, Yoshi and Ulala. His mom’s pretty ok, if temperamental, but not only does his dad’s love for western media embarrass him, but Yoshi’s long-planned move to America essentially crushed his son’s young dreams. He spends most of his time at home plugged in so he doesn’t have to interact with them.

Wayne is a key, if somewhat distant part of the core group, and was one of the first of the heroes to awaken to his persona (see below). He kind of goes with the flow alongside Zach (Strength), Uki (Devil), and Jimmy (Magician), and he’s usually to be found quietly observing until the moment his talents are called upon. Some people who meet him think he’s judgmental, but in truth it’s usually more that he’s hanging back, leery of putting himself out there and making a mistake.

Wayne initially met Janna (Priestess) in math class, as she is a year younger than them but at a comparable academic level. She’s actually better than most of them st math and other subjects, growing frustrated with Wayne getting a question wrong, such that she blushingly informed him of how to do the equation and suggested she could tutor him. This interaction meant little to Wayne, until they were all at a party where Janna was being harassed by some dudebros, and in a panic, she clung to Wayne’s hand and informed everyone there that he was her boyfriend. Wayne had no idea how to react and both of them were very awkward. (Wayne is key to Janna’s own personal awakening in Seattle Underground.)

Thereafter, her brother Brent (Emperor) called Janna’s bluff by inviting Wayne and Janna to a hockey game down in Kent, during which the two were super awkward. In a surprising turn of events, it came to a shoot out but one of the Thunderbirds was injured and the coach called on Wayne to suit up. He managed to score the game winning point, ending the sorta-date on a high note, but shortly thereafter he learned that his actions at the game have had dire consequences! Essentially, his hockey career is over before it began.

Wayne has formed a connection with Kazushi Miyamoto, a 20-something personal trainer who is teaching him some speed skating techniques. Miyamoto is having marital problems, and through him, Wayne sees a different side of life he’d never considered.

Wayne metaverse

Wayne in the metaverse (artist unknown)

Awakening and Persona

Wayne always has his nose buried in a comic book and/or his ears plugged up with his headphones, so when the team first entered Darkest Seattle, he didn’t notice at first. Wayne wandered off and was captured by some shadows, who proceeded to beat him until Zach and Uki showed up to rescue him. When the tables turned on his then-acquaintances, Wayne tried to fight the shadows with his hockey stick, but to no effect. They knocked him down and we’re about to land a killing blow, when he found himself abruptly reliving the darkest moment of his life: when he came home to tell his parents about his first hockey game coming up, and found a ticket for their flight to Seattle on his bed: the morning of his game. Hopelessness and despair seized him.

Then he heard a cool voice from across a great distance that asked what gave him the strength to stand against that feeling of loss–when the world he imagined was suddenly gone–and Wayne said that he still had that hope. The roar of a motorcycle engine filled his mind and the voice challenged him to prove it.

Thus did Wayne awaken to his persona, Cloud Strife of Final Fantasy VII fame, whose electrical powers turned the tide of their battle with the shadows. Wayne’s hockey stick turned into a RWBY-style gunscythe, which he wields with strength and precision. His persona is mostly about physical attacks and lightning, with a few buffs as well.

Cloud K-Koji.jpg

Cloud Strife (art by K-Koji on Deviantart)

Shadow and Challenge

Wayne never had to face his shadow in Darkest Seattle–when the others were in danger, his Persona came roaring out of him to save the day. If and when he does, the Reversed Chariot will represent uncertainty and a lack of control over his own life, as though Wayne is dragged along by his own chariot. It represents a challenge to Wayne’s self control and demands that he bow under the pressure.

Wayne’s challenge, as appropriate for his Arcana, is to find his way in life, assert himself, and control his own destiny. His youth has been spent rudderless on the seas of circumstance, but now he has a chance to rise up and take ownership of his own life. If he can do it.

Easter Eggs

Wayne best emulates the awkward, shy schoolboy aspect of Persona heroes. He reminds me the most of the main character from Persona 3, with the classy headphones and everything. They’re even an actual stat-boosting item in the game (I believe they null sleep).

Iori is a name from Persona 3, and one of Wayne’s cousins is actually Junpei Iori, the Magician character from that game. I picked the name in part to highlight that fun, pop element that his America-loving father embraces. Junpei himself isn’t old enough to be Wayne’s father, but there’s that thematic connection.

Kazushi “Kaz” Miyamoto, the personal trainer Wayne is working with, is the Chariot Arcana social link character from Persona 3. He was a teenager at the time and is now in his twenties and married to Yuko (the Strength character from P3), who is Zach’s coach.

Wayne’s mother is Ulala Serizawa (The Star) from Persona 2, who was a playable character from Eternal Punishment. I’m not saying the potential to wield a persona is hereditary, but Ulala will be way more understanding of Wayne’s powers if she ever learns about them.

He is also connected to the Nijima family of Tokyo, though their exact relation is unclear. His mother introduced Sae Nijima to him as his “cousin,” but she seems to be quite adamant that she’s a potential romantic partner for him.

The Strength: Zachary Beathan

This post contains minor spoilers for my Persona tabletop RPG campaign, though none of this should be all that surprising for my players. If you want to learn everything at the table, give this one a miss.

Zach is played by one of the players in my campaign, and he’s still developing. This is just what we know about him thus far and all this info is subject to change.

The Strength

Gawky, awkward, and well-meaning, Zachary Beathan doesn’t seem at first glance to be a likely Strength Arcana character. He spent his youth in and out of hospitals, the victim of an early dread disease that has held back his social development as well as his physical prowess. He isn’t sickly, exactly, but he isn’t nearly as strong as average kids his age, and his stamina is very low, because he’s never participated in sports of any kind, even as a child.

But in truth, as in the rest of the Persona series, the Strength Arcana represents the power of self-control, gentleness, courage, and virtue over brute force. A common trope among Persona Strength characters is their strength of heart, and Zach is the strong, good heart of the Persona Heroic team.

Zach has brown-black hair, brown eyes, and a pleasant smile. He always seems a little tired, but he’s unfailingly polite to most people.

Zach Beathan in the real world (artist unknown)

In the Persona series, Strength personas typically excel in physical attacks and attributes, and the Black Knight is no exception. He also uses the element of Ice, but he’s about as good with it as, say, Yusuke in Persona 5 was: sure, he can use the magic, but his primary strength is dishing out boatloads of physical damage.

Relationships

Zach’s parents, Thomas and Lisa, are extremely protective of their delicate flower of a son, to the point of locking him up rather than risk him getting sick or hurt. They had to argue quite a while before they finally decided to let him go to a school with other kids, let alone a public school. This causes him some problems when it comes to a social life, and he often finds himself grounded or given strict curfews. To this day, he typically cannot participate in nighttime activities because he has to be home. If his parents learned about his metaverse activities… well, odds are they wouldn’t believe it, but they’d forbid him from associating with the obviously delusional friends he’s made.

Zach is good friends with the core crew of Persona wielders, including Wayne (Chariot), Uki (Devil), and Jimmy (Magician), as well as newcomer Brent (Emperor). He sort of knows Janna (Priestess), but they haven’t actually talked to each other. He also has an odd, young relationship with Timothy Brothers (Death), a former bully and Jimmy’s nemesis, whom he stumbled upon in a vulnerable moment wherein he discovered that Tim has an adversarial relationship with his abusive father, as well as a sickly younger sister (Alice) that he tries at all times to protect (mostly from his father, but also from the world in general).

The first classmate Zach met on his first day was Sayeed Ahriman, a handsome football player and upperclassman, who helped him pick up his schoolbag after some jocks knocked him over. He fell deeply in love with Sayeed from the moment he saw him, and shortly thereafter he forged a bond with Sayeed, who turned out to be the Lovers Arcana.

Awakening and Arcana

Zach bears the distinction of being one of the first two Persona wielders to awaken to his power, when he and Uki and a distracted Wayne found themselves drawn into Darkest Seattle. When dark creatures attacked them, he plucked up the nearest weapon—a gunblade—and did his best to fight, to protect Uki and himself, despite his body’s weakness. He saw a vision of the worst moment of his life, lying in a hospital bed while a medical team worked to resuscitate him.

Now as then, he felt the darkness drawing him down into despair, but he heard a powerful voice from across a great distance asking why, in that moment, he did not give up and die, and whether that strength remained to him. Zach choked out an affirmative, and the entity demanded he speak louder, and he screamed with more strength than he had ever known. And thus did he forge a pact with Moriaen, the Black Knight, who brought new strength and power to his limbs. Together, they made short work of the creatures.

The Black Knight (artist unknown)

Moriaen the Black Knight is a physically-inclined persona, with power over ice magic and, appropriately, strength. His strength gives Zach great power with his gunblade (Final Fantasy VIII is Zach’s favorite video game), and Zach’s metaverse outfit is a suit of hooked black armor inspired by that of his persona.

Moriaen’s pursuit—looking for his father at Camelot to recover his birthright—mirrors Zach’s own quest to discover himself and find his true inner strength.

Shadow and Challenge

Zach’s challenge is to build up his confidence in himself, his abilities, and his own inner strength. His path does not necessarily represent physical strength, but rather self-control and moral strength of character—restraint over the beasts of his nature.

Zach hasn’t had to face his shadow—yet—but it represents The Strength Reversed: cowardice, vanity, doubt, and a lack of self-control. When Zach encounters his Shadow, he will be horrified and disgusted but also recognize that darkness inside him.

Zach in the multiverse (artist unknown)

Easter Eggs

Zach might be the most classic Persona hero on the team, as he is a nerdy transfer student who starts from essentially nothing and wields a dark sort of Persona. He also follows a similar progression to, say, the hero of P4 or P5 in that he can’t go out at night at first and all his social contact is done at school.

At the same time, he provides this excellent inversion, because he’s gay, and a major part of this game is to include explicitly queer content that gladly, gleefully embraces what Persona should have been doing for years. Sayeed (Lovers Arcana) is kind of his designated love interest, and Zach gets all flustered around the older, suave upperclassman, who takes their blossoming romance in stride. (For a very deep cut, this continues the trend in Persona games of the first companion the PC sees in the game being the Lovers character, which was the case in Personas 3 through 5.)

Also, a fun Easter egg is that Lisa, Zach’s mother, is Lisa “Ginko” Silverman, one of the core characters of Persona 2: Innocent Sin (and she has a supporting role in Eternal Punishment). Considering how deeply in love Lisa was with Tatsuya Suou (Jimmy’s adoptive father), I’m not saying the two of them have a thing in my game… but I’m not saying they don’t. 🙂

 

The Devil: Uki Uehara

This post contains mild spoilers for my Persona game, so if you’re playing in the game and you prefer to learn everything at the table, look away!

Uki is also played by one of my players in my campaign, and she’s still developing. I didn’t design her: I’m just reporting on how her player is developing her and giving some insight into my plans for her.

The Devil

Sardonic, witty, and more than a little sexy, Uki Uehara is a classic Devil character for the Persona series, particularly taking after Nurse Sayako in Persona 4 (which is not a coincidence). Much like typical Persona Devil characters, she has characteristics of “poor character” and exhibits antisocial tendencies. She is untrustworthy, unpredictable, and always concerned about the bottom-line: herself.

At a young 16 (February 14 is her birthday), she is the same age as most of the team, being a sophomore at Apex High in the spring of 2018. She’s mostly home schooled and largely without friends, at least until fate decided to throw her together with the others the first time they ventured into the metaverse. She is one of the founding members of the Persona Heroic team.

Uki

I mean, it’s not a coincidence that Uki looks like Ayano Aishi a.k.a. Yandere-Chan (artist unknown)

Anime trope alert! Uki doesn’t strictly remember everything about her past, and this is still being revealed to her as time goes on (i.e. the player doesn’t some of this).

Born in a sleepy little town in Japan, Uki’s had an unusual life. Her father was never in the picture, and her nurse mother, Sayako, did her best to raise her alone but was never especially warm to her, nor did she have much time for the child. Saya brought a regular parade of (often much younger) men through their lives when Uki was young, none of whom she formed any sort of attachment to. She had only one friend in her country town, a little girl of comparable age named Nanako, but Says largely forbade Uki to spend any time with her outside of school, and eventually she employed a private tutor for Uki so she never had to leave the house. They lived fairly comfortably, at a higher status than Saya’s nursing income should have allowed.

At some point, when Uki was ten or so, Sayako had a change of heart and decided they had to leave Japan, and she spent the next couple years working with Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Uki has lived in many places in the world–Africa, South America, the Middle East. She never managed to make friends or form lasting attachments before she would have to leave again.

Saya came down with some sort of exotic disease on assignment to Africa, and her condition deteriorated over time until about one year ago, when the mother and daughter pair moved to Seattle. Uki didn’t know why they picked Seattle, but apparently the two were able to get dual citizenship without much trouble, though Saya didn’t work. Uki went through a series of private tutors, most of whom she drove away or charmed until Saya dismissed them. Saya proceeded to drink and have one night stands until she finally collapsed and had to be hospitalized.

Uki was left alone at age 15, without access to wherever Saya was getting money. Ultimately, she transferred to Apex High, a public school. She accidentally ended up hanging out with first Zachary Beathan, then Wayne Iori, bonding over their strange experiences with the metaverse called “Darkest Seattle.” Jimmy Calendar, her tour guide on her first day at Apex, would become one of her friends also, once they rescued him from the metaverse, and she had also forged a mutually snarky relationship with Lisa Matthews.

Uki was drowning in hospital bills, forcing her to work at a sex shop on CapHill until she got fired by her douchebag of a boss. She start wandering the streets, looking for a John, and met Vivienne, the mysterious and flirtatious owner of Cain’s Dive, a piano/karaoke bar on Broadway. Uki has a pseudo-romantic relationship with the 30-ish Vivienne, whose devilish nature reflects her own. (You know how Persona sometimes allows you to pursue age inappropriate relationships? Welp.)

Uki is close friends with Zach, Wayne, and Jimmy, and she’s in the drama club with Brent.

Awakening and Persona

Uki was among the first of the heroes to awaken to her persona, as she was drawn into Darkest Seattle as a result of winning a free comic book alongside Zach and Wayne. In the metaverse, she and Zach confronted a group of shadows and she was overcome with despair and flashed to the darkest moment in her life, in which she was hiding from an angry man looking to assault her, but a woman’s voice from across a great distance asked why she did not give up–why she did not surrender–and whether that strength of will remained within her. Uki insisted that it did, and so did she forge a bond with her persona, Dawn, the Triple Goddess.

Dawn 3

Dawn the Triple Goddess, created by Joseph Michael Linsner

Dawn is an iconic comic book figure who has fallen somewhat out of the public eye of late. She represents both death and rebirth, and is surrounded by dark intrigues among gods and mortals. A primal sexual being, she is known for her great beauty and allure but also her great will. Uki made a deal with the devil and wields Dawn’s power in battle, which is primarily based around the Curse element and negative status conditions.

In the metaverse, Uki uses a gunwhip, which upon command straightens into a very long-barreled pistol that packs a massive punch.

Shadow and Challenge

In the universe of Shin Megami Tensei the Devil typically represents the urge to do selfish, impulsive, violent things, and being a slave to one’s own impulses and feelings. A fully developed Devil path, however, typically finds a healthy bond or sense of commitment, and that is what Uki struggles to accomplish.

Uki has not had to face her shadow, but no doubt it will reflect her darker impulses and show itself to be utterly without compassion, feeling, or remorse. The Devil Reversed represents freedom from bondage and addiction–completely breaking free of her bond with her mother. It is the part of her that is grateful her mother is ill, and takes perverse pleasure in watching her slide toward death. It is the part of her that rejoices in causing pain to others and betraying trust put in her.

To combat her shadow, Uki must overcome her natural difficulty forming connections with others. She had a fundamental distrust of those around her, making it hard to see anyone as a real person, let alone a friend. Seeing the other persona users metaphorically naked and vulnerable in the metaverse has shown her, possibly for the first time, that she’s not alone against the world.

Uki recently learned that she has a half-sister, Yumi Kujikawa (Star arcana) of the American branch of the 2K Group. It seems their father is Akira Kujikawa, CEO of American operations, having conceived Uki while in Japan on business with his wife’s nurse, Sayako Uehera. Yumi learned of this recently and reached out to Uki to build a relationship with her, and is also working on Akira to get him to renew the child support payments he discontinued when Sayako went into the hospital–and to pay for her bills as well.

Uki metaverse

Uki in the metaverse (artist unknown)

Easter Eggs and References

Uki is, of course, the daughter of Sayako Uehera, the nurse and Devil arcana social link from Persona 4. The sleepy Japanese town in which she grew up was Inaba, the setting of that game, and her childhood friend was Nanako Dojima, the Justice social link and cousin/sister of Yu Narukami, the main character of P4.

The name Kujikawa isn’t a coincidence either: Yumi and Uki are both cousins to Rise Kujikawa, the Lovers character in P4. The 2K Group of which Akira is the American CEO is what the Kirijo Group from Persona 3 has evolved into, having merged with Kujikawa Aerospace in the United States. Akira’s younger counterpart, the CEO of Japanese operations, is Mitsuru Kirijo, the Empress character from Persona 3.

Uki hallway

Uki has an iron will. (Artist unknown)

Burn My Dread: Anxiety and Persona 3

“Fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already … Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit … that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.” ~ G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles (1909)

Or, as famously paraphrased:

“Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” ~ Neil Gaiman, Coraline (2004)

Important Warnings

So I’ve talked before about my struggles with anxiety, but this is my first attempt to do a long post where I delve into the topic in detail. Content warning: This post will contain some vulnerable talk about anxiety, depression, suicide ideation, and some dark stuff.

And no, let’s just get this clear up front: You do not need to worry about me.

Before I go into this, I want to offer an important caveat here: I have an anxiety disorder, for which I am in counseling. I do not currently use anti-anxiety medication, though a) I might at some point, and b) maybe I should? Anyway, nothing in this post should be construed as in any way questioning the use of said medication or any other medication. We all live different lives and cope with our struggles in different ways. Do what you gotta. I support you regardless.

If you, dear reader, are anxious or depressed or struggle with ailments such as mine or otherwise, please know this: if we know each other or if we have never met, even if we never will, whether we be friends or the farthest from, we are together in this. I love you and support you and I wish you all the best.

If you continue reading, great, and I entirely understand if you don’t. Take care of yourself.

Also, this post will contain significant spoilers for Persona 3. I mean, the game is over 10 years old at this point, so honestly you should have played it by now, if you’re a JRPGer, and I highly recommend you do. I’ll try and mark the really spoilery stuff, in case you haven’t yet played it.

What is Persona 3?

Oh, only one of the best video games ever made, and one that has had a profound impact upon me.

This post has been a long time in the making, including 100+ hours of video-gaming in which I played perhaps one of the least likely games one might expect an anxious person to play: Persona 3 FES, which is principally about saving the world from an impending doom whilst desperately building relationships with the damaged people around you, and also about depression and dread.

It is a fantastic and powerful story that brought me to tears multiple times, and if devastating emotional roller coasters whilst fighting monsters born of the collective unconscious is your thing, I highly encourage you to check it out. The digital version is available on the Playstation Network, and I’m given to understand Atlus is currently creating current gen console versions of both Persona 3 and Persona 4 (which is considerably lighter in tone, but no less powerful–I might be doing a follow-up post about that game). And of course, there’s Persona 5, the game currently on top of Atlus’s releases, which is utterly fantastic and you should be playing it.

Persona 3, specifically the PS2 FES variant, is the subject of this post. There is also a Playstation Portable version of the game which allows the choice between a male protagonist or a female protagonist, which may have some impact on what I say below. I haven’t played the PSP version, though I’d like to some day.

Also note that this blog post is not intended to be a dissertation on this masterpiece of a game, which would no doubt consume volumes. I suspect I could write a whole book about Persona 3, and if one already exists out there, I would like to read it. 🙂

Anxiety and Storytelling

If my 15+ years as a professional author have taught me nothing else, it’s that fiction often emerges from an anxious mind. I know of very little fiction that does not have, as its parent, some sort of pain, uncertainty, or doubt. Which is to say, in my experience, fiction is the byproduct of dread. Dread is the fuel that produces story.

Why do we tell stories? I’m sure the answer varies widely, but for me, my stories are an attempt to assert myself. To express myself. To forge connections with those far beyond me, whom I may never meet. To put my thoughts out into the world to be interpreted and considered. To move, to provoke, to edify.

Why do I do this?

Because I am anxious. Because I doubt myself. Because I have known for some time that I am mortal, and my life is finite. I will die someday, and the stories I have within me will be lost like dust in the wind. The truths I know, the feelings I have experienced–the only way to convey them is to commit them to stories. This is my truth, and I think it’s a truth that every writer must either embrace or grapple with or both.

I do not mean to speak for every writer. Your mind may function very differently from mine, and that’s fine. Perhaps you do not have to deal with anxiety. That’s cool. I’m a bit jealous. (OK, more than a bit.) But this is what writing is to me: a necessary consequence and byproduct of my anxiety.

The Basics of Persona

Like most of the mainline Persona spin-off games from the Shin Megami Tensei series, Persona 3 is half slice-of-life high school drama, half JRPG battling monsters in a metaverse constructed of people’s souls. It’s essentially like playing an anime.

Complete with uniforms (Art by Atlus)

It takes a lot of cues from both Carl Jung’s psychological concepts of the self, the persona, and the shadow. (Note this post is not intended to be an explanation or defense of Jung. That’s a whole other topic.) Every member of the heroes controls a Persona, which is the realized power of their personality taken magical form as a summoned spirit based on a mythological figure, and they spend their time fighting Shadows, spawned from the darkness in all of humanity.

It draws as well from the classic Tarot, even having its own series version of the Tarot deck with iconic art. Every Persona and Shadow is represented by a suit of the major arcana of the Tarot, and the concept of progression through each suit (the Fool’s Journey) is a significant structural element of the game.

Your protagonist has the Wild Card–the Fool Arcana, which is rank 0–and thus the special ability to wear various masks of various arcanas. The other characters have Arcanas associated with them as well, though each of them has a particular set Arcana, which informs their personality and their role in the story.

That’s a very, very brief overview of some of the concepts of the Persona series, and you can read more about it elsewhere. (For instance, I wrote another blog about my Persona tabletop campaign, which goes into this in more depth.) But generally, I wanted to talk about the real meat of the game: the social links.

Taking Power from Social Links

I said the game was half-battle, half-social, but that’s not strictly true. The battle system is very JRPG, with a turn system and attacks or summoning monsters born of your personality. And as fun as it can be, it gets pretty repetitive (the term is “grindy”). You may spend as many hours grinding for XP and loot as you do socializing, but I guarantee you’ll remember these stories and characters better than the fights.

You see, in Persona 3, you arrive, a transfer student with no friends, no social skills, and no particularly memorable quality (other than, I guess, looking fairly cool? I dunno, blue-haired emo boy, sure). You get quickly caught up in some shenanigans fighting Shadow creatures in the metaverse, and things become increasingly dark and dire as you advance, and that’s all well and good, but it’s the social links that make the difference.

You start to make friends, and you develop your relationships through these little scenes with them: learning about their problems and helping them deal with them. Doing little favors for people, spending time with them when they’re lonely, and helping them make sense of the pain they’re dealing with. Their stories are given a good amount of time to unfold, even if the scenes themselves are short and to the point, but you get a very robust view of them as characters.

These can be as mundane as a boy at school who has a crush on a teacher and interprets their private lessons to be dates, a shy girl who’s wrongfully suspect of stealing class money she was entrusted with, or a troubled little girl whose parents are getting a divorce. They can also be as deep and harrowing as a young man dying of a terminal illness, railing against the injustice of the world, and trying to write a story in order to express himself, or a school friend who’s pushing himself to excel in sports despite the stress it puts on his leg, because he’d rather risk injuring himself for life than let down his family.

Equally and probably more powerful are the social bonds you form with your team. With Fuuka, helping her learn to cook and encouraging her even when her attempts are terrible. With Yukari, who’s struggling to have a relationship with her mother after her father died long ago in an accident. With Mitsuru (my favorite of the companions), who stifles at the expectations placed on her from her wealthy/aristocratic family. Or in the case of Aigis, the anti-shadow weapon, you teach her to be human.

In my head canon, Mitsuru and Yukari remain

(Of course, all the female characters fall in love with you and the culmination of their social link is romantic, but that’s another blog post. Interestingly, in the PSP version, you can play a female protagonist, which allows you to form social links and romances with the male characters in your party instead. Akihiko = best boy, fight me. Subsequent Persona games railroad you toward love somewhat less, and allow you to be platonic friends with potential romantic interests.)

You see, all of these characters are struggling. They are all of them touched by tragedy in some way, and the game shows us the many ways people cope with grief and loss.

And along the way, just as you help them, you grow as a person.

Your heart expands, even if you’re not aware of it at first.

The Looming Fall

Throughout the game, Shadows–the darkness born of humanity’s Thanic urge for self-destruction–feast upon unsuspecting humans caught out during the Dark Hour who have not transformed into coffins to await the regular flow of time. They don’t *kill* people, exactly, but instead drain them of their interest and will to live.

We are left, throughout the game, with the zombie-like remains of humans–often fellow students–who linger at street corners and slump in alleys, moaning and saying nothing coherent, however much you try to interact with them. Their minds and souls are gone, and they are Lost. More and more of them show up as each Full Moon approaches, because on those nights, your Shadow-destroying SEES team finds itself face to face with a powerful Shadow, each of an escalating suit in the Arcana, climbing toward Death.

I interpret the Lost’s lack of drive to exist as a removal of their understanding of mortality and life. They are no longer anxious, because they have encountered death and already lost that which they stand to lose. They see no reason to take any action of any kind, and so they waste away, speaking in monosyllabic moans only when spoken to. Walking corpses.

And as I was playing it, I thought: Is… is that what humans would look like without anxiety?

As is made clear eventually in the game, an event is coming wherein all humans in the world will become like the Lost: drained of life and will, listlessly wasting away. And that is the great doom you must face… but to do so you must fight an undefeatable enemy.

Death itself.

This is Thanatos. He’s Death’s Persona.

Time and the Appriser’s Terrible Choice

As you play Persona 3, you come to realize that however much you grind and however powerful you become, you will always live at the mercy of time. Days pass at an unstoppable pace, sometimes in short bursts that begin to feel like gut punches. You need to use these days to develop your 20-odd Social Links, and the game intentionally makes it extremely difficult to do this.

Between limited days when people will be around, making sure to have the right Personas to maximize how much people like you (that’s a thing in the game, which is a little psychopathic, anyway, see Further Reading), and occasionally steep social requirements for getting them to hang out with you (such as being, I think, max courage for Fuuka, max charm for Yukari, and academics for Mitsuru), and it becomes very difficult to get a max Social Link playthrough. You get to a point where you despair of a day where you didn’t rank up with someone, or you misspoke so whoever it is doesn’t get the maximum points for that day. (Seriously, use a guide.) On my playthrough, I managed to maximize all my social links, but only just at the last second. Literally, Aeon 10 was the day before the final battle.

But I digress.

Time is the limited resource in the game. Time is fleeting. In the paraphrased words of the contract you sign at the beginning of the game, it delivers all unerringly to its end. No matter what you do, you cannot get more time, and so you squeeze every second you can out of what’s available.

Except at the moment you’re given the choice.

Yes, toward the end of the game–the end of November/beginning of December, specifically–you’re given a terrible choice by an entity called the Appriser. It has come to serve as the harbinger of Death, and only through a quirk of fate do you have any choice at all in what comes next.

And so you have to make a choice. Kill the Appriser–death taken human form–and all your memories and worries fade, and you can live out your normal lives for a short while before the Fall inevitably dooms the world. Or spare him, despite his pleas and threats to the contrary, in which case you retain your memories and live in constant dread

And that is the counter-intuitive choice. If you accept the Appriser’s bargain, you falsely believe that you’ll get more time. But in truth, what you get is an ending to the game. It accelerates 2 months into the future, implying that you had more time but it was empty. Meaningless. All your memories of the bonds you forged are gone, so you are once again basically alone. Defeated.

If you refuse, you get another month in which to prepare. To spend more time with people you’ve come to love and cherish. You all suffer together with the dread of the inevitable end.

Dread of the end–or determination to do something about it.

There’s a reason the song that plays during this phase of the game is called Living with Determination. The Fool Arcana turns to the Judgment Arcana, representing the end of the journey, and you henceforth must prepare for your inevitable defeat in a vain effort to protect the world. And that is what our heroes must do: protect the world, even if they are not going to see it continue living.

The Demon that is Anxiety

In the Persona games, your starting Persona and the Personas of your companions are, generally speaking, some figure from mythology or folk hero from history. They all hold some particular significance to that character, representing some deep urge or impulse within them. To some extent, this is true of the main characters, too, who start with particular Personas but (generally very quickly) end up with a different Persona, since they are able to hold multiple Personas.

The initial Persona of the protagonist in Persona 3 is Orpheus, who ventured into the Underworld (in the game, most of your adventures are conducted in a demon tower called Tartarus) to try and reclaim a spark of life and light. In the end–at least in the story that we know most commonly–he ultimately failed. Looked back at the last moment, in his selfishness or anxiety, and it cost him all that he had fought to achieve. (And well, that’s significant to the game, see the next section.)

Orpheus is both adorable and unsettling.

But rather quickly, you start collecting other Personas. Orpheus is insufficient after a time, though he will eventually go into your Messiah Persona (Orpheus and Thanatos, spoiler), and you have to summon more powerful entities. They’re based on heroes, fairy tales, spirits, monsters from mythology and folk lore. And the more powerful ones? Well, this is a Shin Megami Tensei game, and so they’re angels. They’re gods. They’re demons.

I have come to see my anxiety as a demon.

He is me–a part of me–and when the anxiety takes over, I put him on like a mask. Like a Persona. Like spiked armor, but the spikes are on the inside of the armor.

That’s how he defends me, you see: however hard you hit me, it hits the armor and skips off. Because the spikes are already digging into my flesh.

I hurt myself. I abuse myself. And you cannot hurt me more than I hurt myself.

That’s the whole point.

I convince myself that I am a monster. Especially–God, especially if I did something to upset you and you strike back. If I screwed up and now things are awful.

I abandon myself. I have no compassion for myself. I am no longer a human being but a devil.

I deserve this.

I’ve given him a name: Deimos, named for the Greek God of Dread.

All of his powers injure me. They’re a crap defense.

And I can’t get rid of him.

But maybe. Just maybe. I can learn to live with him.

I can learn to use him.

Welp. That looks bad. (Art by Atlus)

(I Will) Burn My Dread

Before I go on….

(HEAVY SPOILERS for the end of Persona 3 HERE)

Honestly, I’m just going through this ending step by step. So if you haven’t played the game, you might want to skip this section. Also I get kind of melodramatic here, but you know, that’s the game.

Still here?

Cool.

This song, from Persona 3, is the anthem of my struggles with my anxiety: Burn My Dread

It comes from the purest, most powerful moment for me in Persona 3. Our protagonist–henceforth referred to in the second person–has finally comes face to face with the true form of Nyx, the god of darkness and doom for humanity, alone and helpless.

You’ve developed your Personas as far as you can, unlocking (if you’re a completist like me) the Messiah Persona, a fusion of your original Persona Orpheus and that of your death soul, Thanatos, trailing a strand of gleaming white coffins in its wake (Messiah is Death Jesus, basically).

Messiah is Death Jesus, essentially.

The Velvet Room has reached its destination: the end of the journey. Igor has blessed your journey and fulfilled your contract, though Elizabeth remains suspiciously silent. (Since you have become so close, you can practically feel her heart beating faster because she knows you’re going to your death.) Igor grants you one last card–the Universe Arcana–and you leave your companions behind to fly into the heart of Nyx to work your miracle.

Though it should be impossible, Aigis weeps a single tear, knowing she’ll never see you again.

And now you stand alone. All your power–the power of the Universe–has got you to this point. You stand before the true core of Nyx, the beating golden heart in a storm of dread that will consume the world.

The Universe Persona has given you a single power–The Great Seal–and it lists the costs of that power as your full health points (HP) total. To use this power, you must give up your life. There is no one to save you. No one to resurrect you. Your life for one slim hope that the world might be saved.

And that song starts up. That powerful, resonant song about defiance in the face of death.

Burn My Dread

But the worst thing happens: Nyx acts first, and lashes out with the power of Death, inflicting over ten times as much damage as you could stand even at your strongest. (Seriously. You can, at most, have 999 HP, and this attack does 9,999 damage.)

This is it. We have come so far and work so hard and yet we falter. We fail. Death cannot be avoided. Death will have its due.

But somehow our hero withstands the blow. You endure it, and remain standing with 1 HP.

Fine. Ok. There are Personas that can bring you back with a single HP after an insta-kill attack. This is explicable in the mechanics of the game. Maybe the Universe Persona gives you this power. Hope endures. Hope persists.

But you have no way to heal yourself. You don’t have the HP to spend to cast the Great Seal. The only power that can stop Nyx, and you don’t have the strength to use it.

You have choices: wait and do nothing, or lash out with your pathetic mundane sword, inflicting a negligible amount of damage. You can’t even defend–not that it would make a difference to its next attack.

And Nyx strikes you down again, just as it did the first time. This time, it’s a critical hit that inflicts 9,999 damage, putting you flat on your back. Once again you survive, but you lie there defeated, unable to stand. The camera pans around you as you lie panting in agony, unable to stand.

This. This is the moment when all is lost.

Which is when your companions–the people you’ve spent all of this frantic and fleeting time with–start to speak. You’ve left them behind, and they are only able to watch in some metaphysical way, as you fight for the future of humanity. They can’t help you. They can’t bear the burden for you. But they refuse to let you stand alone.

Ken asks what they can do, Akihiko tells everyone to believe in you, and Mitsuru (best girl, fight me), god, Mitsuru screams at you to take her life if you must.

And you do. You absorb their strength into your own–divine golden light that infuses you with new strength–and partly heal yourself. You drag yourself back up in obvious agony, but also with determination.

Nyx rains death upon you again, but this time it misses. Their belief lets you evade it.

Then the others chime in, including Junpei, the big dope, who refuses to let you die–who asserts that you aren’t alone. You absorb more life energy, until you’re about half full.

This time when Nyx attacks, you block it.

The last of your companions speaks up in support–Aigis asserting that she won’t allow this world to be destroyed–and you are healed fully.

Your silent protagonist speaks, basically for the first time in the game.

“All right,” you say. “Let’s do this.”

You stand up to the personification of dread, and you burn it, whatever the cost.

I think in the end, Persona 3’s story is a story of hope. That humanity can stand in the face of impossible odds and find a way to survive. That sacrifice has meaning. And that to find our truth, we must lean upon those bonds we forge with others–that they are our strength, and they will be there for us in our darkest hour.

And that together, we can persevere.

[Spoilers End]

The Sickness Unto Death

Ultimately, I know I cannot rid myself of anxiety.

Just as the doomed hero of Persona 3 cannot ultimately defeat infinite despair and survive, so too can humans never truly overcome the sickness unto death, as Kierkegaard puts it: the knowledge of and necessity to face our own mortality.

We are mortal creatures. We are finite. We will die.

None of us can escape that anxiety.

But more to the point, I do not want to rid myself of anxiety. Not only would I lose the ability to write, but I would be unable to relate to others. There would be no tension–no healthy self-doubt–and I would become intolerable. I would become listless, with no drive to do anything. I would become Lost.

It is the knowledge that I have only so much time that pushes me to live. I have only so much time to tell stories, to spend time with those I love and cherish, to leave a legacy of kindness and compassion in the world.

But what I can do–what this game teaches me–is hold it at bay. Seal it behind an unbreakable wall of compassion, formed of the very real power I absorb from friends and loved ones. I am not alone. None of us are.

The dread will always be with me, but it doesn’t have to be a weakness. It is my strength. It is my fuel to persevere in spite of the challenges I may face.

I will overcome this.

Further Viewing/Reading:

The Deadly Decisions of Persona 3, by Peter Tieryas (which talks a lot about the Appriser’s choice)

The Mask of Sanity, by the Rev 3.0 (which mentions a bit about that psychopathic angle I mentioned, mostly in reference to P4)

DismArchus’s recording of Persona 3’s final battle (starting with the battle against Nyx’s Avatar, then the final confrontation after about minute 42)

Mass Destruction, P3 movie version (an excellent fight song full of defiance and courage)

The Emperor: Brent Blair

This post contains mild spoilers for my Persona game, but all these things should be fairly clear or at least make sense to my players already, so go ahead and read, unless you want to be completely surprised.

The Emperor

Cool, aloof, and seemingly a “man’s man,” Brent Blair is a classic Emperor character for the Persona series, but also something of an inversion in the great tradition of Kanji from P4 or Yusuke from P5. Brent’s paragon masculinity is performative, and in truth while at the moment, he happily goes by masculine pronouns (he/his/him), his gender identity is best described as genderfluid. He is a year old than most of the team, being a junior at Apex High in the spring of 2018. The team first encountered Brent at school, where he is widely seen as a cool, suave, king-of-the-school type. As they are mostly social outcasts themselves, they were immediately inclined to dislike him, particularly when he seemed oblivious to his little sister Janna‘s struggles, even originally pegging him as a villain of sorts. When he joined the team in April 2018, they came to see his own personal demons and started to empathize with him quite a bit more.

Brent civilian

He’s really got that kind of rumpled cool guy look going on–very anime.

Brent Blair is the cool, smart, talented one that everyone wants to be. Not a jock, not a nerd, kind of a social floater. Part of his popularity is his extremely good looks, but he’s also very talented: he’s usually the star of all the plays at school, he can sing (he’s currently Jesus in Godspell), he plays trumpet in the jazz band, he’s student council, just extremely popular.

He’s currently running against his Mormon “girlfriend” Claire Anderson (the princess of the school, pretty much just as beloved as he is) for class president for next year (when they’ll be seniors together). He’s not very affectionate and doesn’t seem nearly as interested in her as she is in him. She is essentially his “beard,” making him seem normal, which is what he does for her, too. The two have not had sex, nor do they show any sign of interest in doing so, which is part of the reason her parents let them be together. Claire goes around assuming they will be together forever, and Brent doesn’t disabuse her of this notion. And why not? If he has no emotions, surely he can handle life with her.

Brent seems to have kind of low affect–a lot of superficial charm but general indifference to most people. He is very controlled and always cool and in command. Almost unemotional. He’s also unsure of his sexuality and gender identity. He’s AMAB, but he doesn’t feel particularly male or female, and for a long time he thought he was (in the closet) gay, but really he has very little interest in sex or romance. Maybe he’s demi sexual or asexual, but either way he puts up a front of being a cool in command and secure straight boy, even if he’s very insecure and maybe not straight or a boy.

As an extension of feeling out of place, Brent has explored and experimented a bit. He has a pseudo-sexual/romantic relationship with Sayeed Ahriman, with whom he’s had a few rendezvous. For Brent, it’s about figuring himself out, while for Sayeed, it’s about taking care of Brent’s feelings and needs. This is on the down-low, but there have been hints. There was also this moment at the party where the team first met Brent where Zach was looking for the upstairs bathroom and he ran into Brent coming down, and Brent directed him to the master bedroom, where Zach walked in on Sayeed putting his shirt back on. Then there was that time at the hockey game when both of them disappeared at the same time and Zach found them individually in the proximity of the bathroom. Sooooo….

Awakening and Persona

In April, something weird was happening to Janna. She frequently left her room extremely messy, dressed a bit less conservatively, started wearing her hair loose and mouthing off to people, etc. Not acting like herself. Maybe she was being rebellious. Either way, Brent mostly focused on himself, so while he noticed this, he didn’t necessarily care.

It all came to a head, however, when Janna–taken over by her shadow–stole a switchblade from Claire’s locker and tried to kill Brent. The others intervened and stopped the attack, and Janna collapsed. After school that day, they took Brent into the metaverse, where he met his shadow (see below), who was attempting to kill a very haggard Janna. And rather than react analytically or emotionlessly, Brent surged forward and beat the ever-loving SHIT out of his shadow with his bare hands. He had got in a number of great hits when the shadow touched Brent’s forehead and exposed him to the darkest moment in his life: when a relative died and Brent realized he felt nothing about it, only distant confusion that his piano lesson was cancelled that day. He took all the wrong lessons from that experience, which started him on the path to believing himself empty and psychopathic. Instead, he has come to see that he was just confused, and that he does have emotions inside him.

Brent’s persona is Elric of Melnibone, the eternal warrior from Michael Moorcock’s iconic fantasy series. Cast out, notably different, driven by his own sense of self and his own mission. He specializes in water magic.

Elric 1

Elric of Melnibone, artist unknown

Shadow and Fear

Every character in this game has a challenge they must overcome, and Brent’s is a lack of empathy. Or, more accurately, he dreads that he is incapable of empathy and is basically a psychopath. He’s terrified of not having genuine emotions, and that he is all surface, all the time–that there’s just nothing inside him. He has no idea what to do about that.

Brent’s shadow in the metaverse is an albino version of him, as bleached of color on the outside as Brent seems to be on the inside. His shadow was also overcome with emotions, especially nihilistic hatred, because he was the part of Brent that he kept locked away and ignored. Most of his time, he spent trying to murder the real Janna, allowing her shadow to take over her body in the real world, as part of an agreement that once there, she would kill Brent’s physical body so that his shadow could also die.

His shadow looks a bit like Elric in that way, and once Brent has incorporated the persona into himself, his hair is starting to turn a little white in the real world. When Brent goes into the metaverse, his hair turns stark white.

Brent metaverse

Brent in the metaverse–kind of a Castlevania look. (Artist unknown)

Brent uses a gunspear in the metaverse. He is cool, confident, and wholly in command of his own, somewhat androgynous appearance.

Social Link

Brent has some stuff to figure out, so his social link is primarily about coming to terms with his identity and orientation. Like the other player characters (Jimmy, Wayne, Zach, and Uki), his social link focuses on another Emperor character who teaches him about himself. And in this case, that character is actual Kanji Tatsumi of Persona 4 fame, somewhat grown up, who is in Seattle while his partner Tao is on a case. Having gone through something similar to what Brent is dealing with, Kanji can help him deal with his emotions and accept himself, whatever the truth ends up being. Even if there is no one truth.

Easter Eggs

Brent’s white hair in the metaverse is a call-back to Akihiko from Persona 3 and Kanji from Persona 4. His attitude and perspective is similar to a blend of Kanji and Yusuke from P5.

His persona, Elric, uses water magic, which has been absent from the series since Persona 2 (think of Maya Amano’s Maha Aques power on her custom Maia persona), and has necessitated the creation of a new mechanical condition called “Slick” (a bit like lightning’s “shock” or fire’s “burn” conditions), wherein a body is hypersaturated, making their movements sluggish and delaying their action until the end of the round, and also rendering them vulnerable to technical damage from lightning or cold.

Brent has come to appreciate all kinds of things he didn’t understand before, especially video games. They appeal to his perfectionist and completionist side, and he disappears from the rest of the team for days on end (except for metaverse delving) when he’s working on a new game. His collection of platinum trophies is growing steadily, and he does it all blind: no one has even suggested that guides exist, and it would be against his philosophy to use one. It made sense to go back to the beginning to work his way through Final Fantasy, and he’s spent the last few months knocking those games out. Here’s a conversation that might give a sense of his perspective on video games:

Jimmy [impressed]: “Whoa, you unlocked ALL the FFX ultimate weapons except one?”

Brent [shrugs]: “Yeah, just couldn’t figure it out.”

Wayne [thoughtful]: “Isn’t that the lightning bolt dodging one? Like where you dodge 200 in a row or something?”

Jimmy: “Yeah. Crazy, right?”

Brent: [perks up] [realizes]

[battle theme from Persona 3 starts playing as the camera zooms in on his face] BABY BABY BABY BABY BABY BABY BABY BABY

World of Ruin: LGBTQIA+?

If you read my work, you probably know representation is a pretty major part of my aesthetic. I write characters from a rainbow of cultures and identities.

One question I’ve seen periodically is about what makes a book an “LGBT book,” and, more specifically to me, “do you write LGBT books?”

And the answer is, well, kinda?

What does it all mean?

I mean, cis-hetero apex-privilege me isn’t going to claim that sort of label. I don’t write about “what it’s really like” to be gay or trans, and I wouldn’t, because that’s not my story to tell. Nor do I think that’s the only story that can or should be told about LGBTQ+ characters, and thus I make it a point to include LOTS of characters of various identities and orientations. They have what I have occasionally described as queer* content–that is, people of non-straight orientations and non-cis genders having feelings, engaging in romances, expressing themselves sexually, and generally doing everything my straight cis-characters do, including, y’know, existing.

(*Note: Some people don’t like the term “queer,” typically due to a long history of negative association. When I grew up, that word was hurled like an expletive and otherwise used as part of abuse. By contrast, I have always used it and am using it here in the best possible way, to describe the overall LGBTQIA+ community and applicable themes. I absolutely do not mean it in any insulting way.)

Does that make my books “LGBT books”? Maybe?

Let’s see. Throughout the course of my World of Ruin books, what have we dealt with in terms of LGBT representation?

Regel: Only wearing a shirt because it’s cold.

The Gender Spectrum

First, before we even get into the characters, there’s something we should talk about in terms of gender representation.

Gender is a spectrum, both in our world and in the World of Ruin.

In most of the World of Ruin, especially in the city of Tar Vangr, children are not “assigned” a gender–as children, they are simply referred to as “Child” and “they/them” as a singular pronoun. It is customary for children to choose their own gender representation, which may or may not have any relationship to how their bodies look. Most choose “man” or “woman” and some choose “neither,” at which point they are commonly referred to by “they/them” as a gender neutral pronoun. The term “nonbinary” doesn’t exist in the World of Ruin, at least not so far, but the concept of nonbinary people is baked into the culture.

Also: intersex people (which is to say, in simplified terms, people with ambiguous or various genitalia and/or other physical features that do not clearly correspond to any particular sex/gender) are more common in the World of Ruin than our own world, which is part of why this has evolved as the cultural expectation.

This sort of fluid attitude is not always the case in the southern city of Luether, especially among the Blood Ravalis, who are intentionally set up as a patriarchal “hardened gender roles” sort of folk. This is thematically important, as the Ravalis show us what happens when you cling too tightly to patriarchy, and it blows up in your face. They are, by and large, the *bad guys* or–since it’s a gray, gritty world–it should be understood that obsessive masculine posturing (or toxic masculinity, if you will) is a bad thing.

I mean, even the ostensibly crazed Children of Ruin (the raving barbarians of my setting)  don’t ascribe to a gender binary or gender roles, outside of their matriarchal religion: specifically, the Circle of Druids, who have only female members (whether cis or not, it doesn’t matter). And even that institution is crumbling. (No further spoilers for Mask of the Blood Queen.) Many barbarians can’t be neatly labeled male or female, and don’t think of themselves that way. And no one among their ranks has a problem with that–it’s just how it goes.

And the Deathless Fae, featuring mostly in book 3… well, they aren’t even really human. Some consider themselves “men,” some “women,” some only “fae.” A good number of them do not associate with the gender they performed during their mortal lives, particularly the Deathless Rose and a couple others I won’t name, so as not to spoil it.

So that right there is an example of the queer content baked right into the worldbuilding. But what about the characters?

Ovelia: Mostly into ladies. And swords.

So Many Queer Characters

Of the four core characters–Regel, Ovelia, Mask, and Davargorn–only Regel is “mostly” straight (bi/pansexual* but mostly into women). We only ever really see him in romances with women in the books, though a couple of people he has romantic moments with are of somewhat more ambiguous gender. (That gets into the Deathless, who are essentially all trans by definition, but I wouldn’t want to give too many spoilers for book 3.)

(*Note: I am using these terms to be roughly equivalent. There are people out there who prefer the term “bisexual,” and there are people who prefer the term “pansexual,” and there are people out there who absolutely LOVE one term and absolutely LOATHE the other. I am not taking sides on the issue. If the community comes to a consensus on terms to use, fine, I’ll happily adjust my usage, but until then, I will honor those people I know who embrace the term “bisexual” and those who embrace the term “pansexual” and I will not erase anyone.)

Ovelia is definitely into both men and women, but seems to form much stronger relationships with women. She had a couple things with men in books 1 and 2 (a couple of those relationships, um, kinda messed up), then she goes through a torrid relationship with a woman in book 2 and then ends up in a strong committed romance with a woman in books 3 and 4. By that time, her attraction for men is mostly on a low simmer, and she doesn’t have another thing with a dude for the rest of the series.

Mask… Mask is asexual, though not necessarily aromantic. I made it a point to write out any potential sexual relationships. The sorcerer just isn’t interested, though that doesn’t mean they won’t exploit others’ desires (see the sad case of Tithian Davargorn).

Tithian is only shown in relationships with women thus far, but he talks about occasionally having sex with other men. (Though without a romantic element. Maybe the term for him would be bisexual/heteroromantic.)

So that’s 3 out of 4 main characters who are explicitly LGBTQIA+ (we’ll give Regel the benefit of the doubt), but what about other supporting characters?

Garin Ravalis, well, he’s gay and very conflicted about his homophobic’s family’s expectations of him. He can occasionally switch hit and have sex with a woman, but only with a LOT of effort and in a pretty singular situation. (A little bit the way gay men in a heteronormative culture like our own might have sex with women to “prove” their masculinity or ape straightness. And obviously it’s awful that anyone should feel pressured to do this.)

Lady Shard, who shows up in book 2, has a cameo in book 3, and then is an important supporting character in book 4, is essentially a committed lesbian, despite some relationships with men in the past.

Paeter Ravalis, who only appears in flashbacks, was definitely pansexual, though he put out the impression of being straight. Also a raging misogynist, which did not work out well for him.

Lan Ravalis… I think arguments could be made about Lan, who has a certain amount of not entirely healthy fixation with his older brother’s life and sexual exploits. He exploits women whenever possible and holds not a shred of respect for them, but maybe he’s trying too hard? Anyway.

And then there’s Dar-Karsk, the barbarian rotpriest who appears in book 3 and has a major role throughout that book and book 4, who is *absolutely* bi/pan. In many ways, he’s the opposite of Mask, using his voracious sexual appetites to his advantage.

So, what’s that? 80%-90% non-straight characters?

Jeez, maybe these *are* LGBT books…

Mask: Be as kinky as you want to be.

In conclusion

And yeah, maybe it’s a function of what fantasy is to me. I cut my teeth on the Forgotten Realms, where sexuality and gender are significantly more fluid and malleable. I often describe sexuality in the Realms to my players this way: Pansexuality is as common in the Realms as heterosexuality is here. It is kind of a basic assumption that everyone is bi/pan, and it’s rare to find someone who is committed to only one or a limited range of gender expressions. Rare, but not stigmatized.

Why is this the case? Well, in a fantasy world like the Realms, with so many different sorts of folk (elves, dwarves, dragons, etc) and magic to modify one’s body with very little effort, it would just be profoundly limiting to restrict one’s sexual tastes to one particular thing or one’s conception of gender to some sort of binary.

Fantasy worlds are a mirror to our own, and worlds like the Realms–and like the World of Ruin–tell us something about how we view gender and sexuality, and they give us space to ask some questions and ponder some more expansive views.