So I just read Aleister Crowley’s long short story “Atlantis” [in the book I mentioned last week, but also available here http://hermetic.com/crowley/libers/lib51.html]. Partly a satire, partly a utopian story (ok, a seriously messed up utopia), and partly an occult treatise, the story describes the lost continent of Atlantis, which according to Crowley did not so much sink beneath the waves as blast off into space! The rulers of Atlantis are described as being “as hairy as ourang-outans” and deformed in various ways (“this special feature might be a nose of prodigious size, hands and wrists of gigantic strength, a gorilla jaw, an elephant ear”). They shaved themselves but prized their deformities so that anyone born without one was not allowed to live. This master race ruled a more human-like ‘servile race’ that was kept in absolute ignorance and made to work 16 hour days. At the first sign of illness the serviles were transferred to deadly phosphorus mines.
In the bizarre economy of Atlantis, the sweat of the serviles was transformed into a substance called “zro” which could in turn be transformed into almost anything — building material, metal, drugs, and fuel. There is an entire chapter on the metamorphoses of zro and its mixture with an unknown isotope of phosphorus. The waste and garbage of the masters, as well the corpses of those killed by magical misadventures, are thrown down to the serviles as a sort of ‘manna’ which is prized as their food. I did mention that this is a seriously messed up utopia, yes?
The Atlantean masters have of course discovered the key to immortality through the use of zro, and developed psychic powers that eliminated the need to speak. They devote all their energy to orgiastic rituals meant to hasten their ascent to Venus, for they believe that they came from more distant planets in the solar system and that their destiny is to eventually reach the sun.
The continent of Atlantis has, at its center, a pillar, which houses the “Atla,” a god-like entity that Atlanteans worship. To stand before it unveiled means annihilation for men (the Atlanteans consider this an honor), but women who see the unveiled Atla are unharmed and return with a smug, ineradicable smile that generally causes their peers to slay them. The Atla is probably intelligent, and certainly alien; it is unclear if it really cares about the Atlanteans at all.
Reading “Atlantis,” I was struck by a lot of gaming potential. There are echoes of McKinney’s Carcosa: the world is dark, dangerous, and callous; the masses of humanity are exploited by their technological or magical betters. The multi-hued inhabitants of Carcosa are suggested as well: “The colour of the Atlanteans was very various, though the hair was invariably of a fiery chestnut with bluish reflections. One might see women whiter than Aphrodite, others tawny as Cleopatra, others yellow as Tu-Chi, others of a strange, subtle blue like the tattooed faces of Chin women, others again red as copper. Green was however a prohibited hue for women, and red was not liked in men. Violet was rare, but highly prized, and children born of that colour were specially reared by the High Priestesses.”
I also see some interesting ways to link this vision of Atlantis with my idea of a dreamland campaign. For one thing, the Atlanteans practice “dreaming true,” a method Crowley does not explain at all but which has a wonderfully suggestive name. (Dreaming true: does this mean a sort of scrying by having dreams of true things, or does one dream something true — dream it and thus make it so?) For another, the planet-hopping Atlantean civilization calls to mind Lovecraft’s dreamland cats, which literally hop to the Moon and back. Could one also hop from the Moon to Atlantean Venus, or might the Atlanteans invade the Moon, or Dreamland, for slaves, black phosphorus, or zro? Perhaps the Atla is a portal, or the Atlanteans are still on Mars, and setting their sights on Earth.
In my fevered imagination now, I can see a hollow moon, the interior of which is Dreamland. Adventurers can enter Dreamland in any of a number of ways, possibly including hashish, Atla, magical ceremonies, or portals at the top of ziggurats or in the depths of dungeons. Much of the earthly, waking world is already explored and stripped of loot, but the Dreamland remains an uncharted (and unlooted!) cipher. Until the PCs step forward to become The first murderhobos in the Moon!