Burn Your Dread
Persona, a psychological concept forwarded by Carl Jung – it refers to the mask or appearance that one presents to the world. It is the self self-construed, fluid and dynamic, shifting itself at any point for any time, context, or situation. With this in mind, using the idea of the persona is like saying that life is some grand performance – we all don our masks and put on our costumes, and play our part on the fly, improvising lines as we go, constantly mistaking what we want to happen with what OUGHT to happen, whether we like it or not.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? A theory, nothing else.
There’s living proof that it isn’t.
There are people who walk among the Sleeping. They’ve died – or “died” – once, only to come back with brains full of knowledge that they’re not supposed to have. The amount of knowledge was so immense that it nearly tore their soul in half. While their souls have managed to fuse themselves back together through sheer determination and strange circumstances, the break has effectively made these halves two autonomous minds existing in the same body, similar yet different, whole yet broken. And this rebirth has given the power to convert the force of their personalities into its own kind of magic, enabling them to impose their will on the universe. They’re also capable of drawing power from the sum total of other entities’ lives, strengthening themselves through forming deep bonds with friends and enemies alike.
Beyond the “canon” on Cards that I’ve developed for my own purposes, this blog has provided alternative origins based off of the themes presented by the Persona video games.
Running a Persona Game
Once upon a time, I, Zhuang Zhou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, a veritable butterfly, enjoying itself to the full of its bent, and not knowing it was Zhuang Zhou. Suddenly I awoke, and came to myself, the veritable Zhuang Zhou. Now I do not know whether it was then I dreamt I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man. Between me and the butterfly there must be a difference. This is an instance of transformation.
– “The Butterfly Dream”, by Zhuang Zhou
The Persona video games have always been meditations on life and death, encountering one’s own deepest (darkest?) desires, struggling with your place in society, and discovering who you are. The characters, especially in Persona 3, 4 and 5 are representations of the Major Arcana of the Tarot and what each of the trumps stand for. Each game in the series explores a philosophical concept as part of its central theme, and many of them have Jungian underpinnings as evidenced by the use of the collective unconscious and the exploration of Jungian archetypes. Finally, there is an underlying focus on “the human soul” – what a soul is and what it means to possess one.
Making your own Persona story entails building a campaign whose every element leads back to a particular world view. Many of the Persona games focus on the idea of reality being as much a matter of perception and individual actions as it is a plane of existence. For example, do people make the reality around them or are we shaped by our reality? The introduction of characters who wield their personalities against other people or against the world necessarily complicates this discussion.
On a final note – and this might be even more important than deciding on the world view – Persona games are character driven. All of the games, most especially Persona 4, put great focus on interpersonal relationships and self-discovery. Tabletop games should, by default, be as driven by their players as they are by their Storytellers. In a story that revolves around people knowing/liking/loving/hating/killing other people, in-depth explorations of these characters and the bonds they form (or destroy) is necessary.
Card: mortals who are capable of manifesting a part of their soul into another sentient creature, and channeling their personality as a magical force.
Persona: the “other half” of a Card; their other self, realized.
Second Breath: a Card’s birth into a Card.
Sleeper: the term Mages in the World of Darkness use to refer to mortals who have not Awakened. Cards have borrowed the term for similar purposes, as some of them also view their “birth” as an awakening.
Borderlines: the catch-all term for the realms that exist between realms, not to be mistaken with the likes of the Realms Supernal, Shadow, and so forth. The Dark Hour and the Fog are Borderlines that Cards are drawn towards.
The Pilgrimage: the “journey” that all Cards must take towards remembering what happened to them, and bonding with their Persona properly.