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Harmonizing Nali Chronicles with Main Unreal/UT

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Skaarj Warrior Skaarj Warrior
Posts: 85
Joined: 12 Mar 2016, 20:17

Subject: Harmonizing Nali Chronicles with Main Unreal/UT

Post Posted: 16 Jun 2024, 08:09

I haven't been around for quite a while--RL's been a bitch. But I have a brief window of vacation, so I've busted out Unreal for a bit. In some post or other three or four years ago now, I mentioned that I was going to play through all the custom SP maps one last time. I started that process and then RL did its thing, so I'm still poking away at the big revisit. But the pak I'm currently looking at is Nali Chronicles, which I think is awesome. I love both the spells and the potions. But how to fit it with the rest of Unreal? The framework given by the authors just doesn't make sense. The Guild of Nali Mages has to disperse into hiding after the Skaarj have been around for, like, two centuries? Why didn't the Skaarj get around to dealing with them after just, say, a year or so? (Occupying powers like to take out potential rebels as quickly as consolidation of power makes feasible.) And as an example of how badass they can be, a Nali master creates Nyleve Falls (major geological formation) and brings the Vortex Rikers down from frikkin' orbit in a massive burst of power that goes both down into the earth (a major geological operation) and out into space (literally the most far-reaching atmospheric operation one can think of)--and does both of those things simultaneously. Sure, he dies in the process, but even half that much power would be like having--to use the words of MisterProphet's review of same--"a redeemer in your mitts". Which is way cool, but that very element of Nali Chronicles makes absolutely no sense in the context of Unreal's main campaign.

To put it another way: the problem is that NaGaruuk totally kicks butt, and he's just a junior mage, not even a mid-level spellcaster at the beginning of the game. And look where he ends up. Even if there were only enough Nali mages to just lead the resistance, rather than a whole army of mages, the Nali in NC had enough power to beat the Skaarj by themselves with no need of 849's help. At most he could have been helpful as a tactical consultant, giving suggestions about how best to attack a race that thinks in technological terms. Otherwise, 849 would have just gotten in the way.

This problem has bugged me ever since I originally played NC seven years ago. At that time I wrote up a single paragraph outlining the gist of a solution, but there were still holes in the narrative. So today I've indulged myself and taken the whole day to fully develop a scenario that makes rather more sense of the kind of power we see wielded by NaGaruuk and his chums. To do so, with due apologies to Mr. Levin & Co., I had to jettison the NC timeline.

In my new chronology, Nali Chronicles takes place during what I call the First Skaarj Invasion, nearly 8 centuries before the Second Skaarj Invasion and the swashbuckling swathe cut through it by 849. In addition, although I don't specify this in my essay below--I'm envisioning the events of Nali Chronicles as too remote for details to have survived for eight centuries--I have to significantly re-imagine the ending cutscene of NC, using poetic license to turn it into a climactic battle in which the main Skaarj dropship is pulled out of orbit, a demonstration of power so great that it frightened even the Skaarj into giving up.) The problem then becomes how to explain the Nali's loss of powerful mystic warriors like NaGaruuk. After toasting Skaarj tookus during the First Invasion, Why weren't they around to do the same thing during the Second? ('Cuz clearly they weren't.) That's the burden of this essay. At the end, BTW, I give a nod to Redeem Your Space; the "Federated Imperium" is Mr. Paci's unnamed totalitarian government, and I also adopt his framework of multiple Nali planets connected by energy gates.

Caveat: Only total Unreal nerds will be interested in this lengthy disquisition. I'm an historian by profession, and I wrote it like my dissertation, so most of you will find it sort of dry and academic. But for those few who are really into Unreal lore and not just gameplay, I hope you like it.


...The First Skaarj Invasion occurred at the end of the Age of the Great Ancestors, a period for which almost no written records exist. At that time the Nali could meet their spacefaring enemies with only primitive technology. But they bested the star-travelers on the battlefield with esper skills channeled by ritual and mental control, an ensemble of abilities which, thousands of light-years away on Terra at that time, would have been called "magic". Reliable documentation for Nali history becomes available only during the half-century after the Skaarj defeat, so all writing about the First Invasion comes six decades or more after the fact; and folk traditions that portray individual Nali masters blasting entire Skaarj airfleets from the sky or wiping out entire assault forces with a single conjuration should be handled with care. What cannot be disputed were their results: after two seemingly successful years of relatively easy invasion, the Skaarj retreated after just one more year of increasingly embattled occupation and thereafter stayed away for nearly eight centuries, turning their attention to other sectors of their frontier.

The Nali victory over the Skaarj was commemorated by restarting the yeardates with year 1 of a new reckoning, the Age of Chizra's Bounty (usually abbreviated to just "Age of Chizra", or AoC, when giving numeric years). Rebuilding civilization was difficult, however. The Skaarj invasion had been sudden, brutal, and initially effective: the peaceful, indeed pacifist, Nali were caught utterly unprepared and had to re-orient their religion to allow for the use of violence, a sociocultural turn which many highly placed religious figures apparently refused to make. As far as we can tell, it took a full two years before the Nali could sustain effective opposition. In the meantime, Skaarj records* show that the Iltronoth, Goa'uld, and Sheltana hordes had consolidated their hold across all seven of the satellite worlds colonized by the Nali via energy gates--and even most of Na Pali itself. As they withdrew a year later, the Skaarj followed a scorched-earth policy, destroying most Nali infrastructure and institutions across the seven worlds. This action left Nali society at an economic nadir from which it took centuries to fully recover and which had profound sociocultural effects.

The basic problem was that the loss of culture, infrastructure, technology, and resources was so total as to nearly destroy Nali civilization wholesale, throwing them back to a primitive way of life. True, even after the Skaarj invasion, for the first few centuries the great monasteries and priestly training centers remained home to thousands of students across the continent. Their religion and their powers had never depended on technology, nor even written records: training was exclusively mental and depended wholly on practice and memorization. The Great Mysteries were retained in the mind, and relatively few minds at that--the higher officiates of the major monasteries and temples. Thus the religious establishment was not as immediately affected by the disaster as were other major social institutions. However, in the end the primitivist orientation of the religious orders would prove more of a detriment than a help. What is not written will inevitably be lost if those with knowledge die without passing it on--or become so few that when a master suffers dementia before passing on her crucial knowledge, and that master happens to be the only remaining receptacle of said knowledge, the effect is the same: important information vanishes.

These tragic losses did not, of course, happen overnight. Indeed, the slow creep of the process kept it from causing alarm until too late. In this regard, other social forces played a key role. At the beginning of the Age of Chizra's Bounty, the massive effort and attention needed to rebuild Nali society and culture across multiple worlds began to siphon resources and energy away from the religious institutions. Then, as the first century lengthened into two and then three, conditions improved. Between generations, the Nali at large forgot the original reason for which they had begun to neglect the temples--sheer survival--and started to regard the newly lowered status of religious observance as not new at all, but simply as normal: the way things had always been. Religion remained a ubiquitous presence, certainly, but much less crucial for everyday decision-making than it had been during the Age of the Great Ancestors.

More specifically, as Nali technology advanced and mechanical contrivances grew more commonplace--even if not at a level of sophistication we might consider a mark of significant progress--later generations saw a gradual but eventual near-complete abandonment of the ancient pursuits of religious self-cultivation. Xenobiologists theorize that the Nali have some kind of genetic ability to mentally interface their body's electrical field with Na Pali's unique electromagnetic matrix, whose volatile interaction with tarydium is still poorly understood. Whatever its basic source, however, the native ability is useless without developing the mental skills to channel it. These skills require a lifetime of dedication to strict discipline, physical privation, and focused (often painful) training which had never attracted a large portion of the Nali population even during the Age of the Great Ancestors. This problem was magnified at first by the challenges of rebuilding after AoC 1, and then by the long, perhaps too-comfortable peace that ensued, which ultimately--and ironically--bred complacency toward the very knowledge and practices that had made that peace possible.

Therefore over the centuries the major Nali religious establishments were slowly deserted by both donors and devotees as the great personal cost of joining the Nali priesthood seemed less and less necessary, and became less and less esteemed by the populace at large. The last known instance of Nali mystics using one of the Great Mysteries to avert a natural disaster--stopping a flood, a specialty of the monks of Vandora--was in Galactic Year 2066 (AoC 645). Furthermore, ominously foreshadowing future developments, this final employment of genuinely high-level power was far from smoothly executed.** By some irony of chance, exactly fifty years later AoC 695 (GY 2106), the wettest year on Nali record, unleashed 6 terrible floods over various locations. Each of these occurrences claimed tens of thousands of Nali lives and caused damage that took decades to recover from. Given the attendant social and economic chaos, documentation for the floods is sparse, but it does include a number of pleas for help by Nali worshippers to various temples. A century earlier monastic and priestly orders would have shown no hesitation in responding to such requests, but this time neither the Vandorans nor any others tried to avert disaster.

The alien scholar, observing these developments from an external vantage, will conclude that the greater knowledge was by then clearly in significant decline. Incumbent upon the historian, of course, is the duty to present the subject's point of view as well. Therefore we should note that this was the era during which Nali priests first articulated the theological concept of Soulsource Conservation, a notion that the font of Nali mystical power was the soul of Na Pali herself, the Great Mother of the gods, and this resource was a) consumable; b) finite; and c) non-renewable. Therefore its use for major conjurations requiring large amounts of energy should be avoided, even to prevent significant suffering: once Na Pali's soul was used up, the planet and its Nali population would dessicate and die. This was the response which the desperate worshippers received during the 695 floods. But at that time many elderly Nali could still recall a few scattered major pre-Soulsource conjurations from their childhood, so Soulsource Conservation was met with much scepticism and resentment on the part of the larger population. At this point the previously gradual decay of the monasteries accelerated into rapid decline. Their sharp diminution of prestige may be seen in Nali diaries and correspondence of the time, an attitude which manifested materially in the precipitous drop of new initiates by 85% over the next decade (and they were already at an all-time low of about one novice per 40 villages). Donations by wealthy merchants, the economic lifeblood of the orders, had been slowing noticeably for three centuries, but by AoC 723 (GY 2134) they had almost completely dried up. The monks and priests turned to mercantile activities in order to keep a shadow of their institutions and traditions alive, but this solution further curtailed their ability to cultivate the Nali mysteries.

The privations of the religious orders during these decades caused one of their most prestigious institutions, the monastery attached to the Temple of Velora, to close its doors completely in 741 (GY 2152). This event marks the date of convenience for the beginning of the relatively short Time of Twilight, although of course, as the foregoing discussion should make clear, the actual twilight of Nali mystical knowledge was by that point well underway. And anyhow the Time of Twilight itself gave way less than a century later to the Years of Bondage when the Skaarj finally returned in 839 (GY 2249). This time they came with improved technology and overwhelming force, the latter including several allies (one socially subordinate, one fortunately tenuous because loyal only to money) and subjugated inferior races such as Brutes and Slith. To these the Nali of AoC 836 could oppose a scattered priesthood that was but a mere shadow of its former self. The most difficult--and therefore most powerful--of the ancient techniques had been wholly forgotten; what remained was individual teleportation and limited telekinesis.

Because the greater Nali teachings were passed directly from mind to mind, their documentation forbidden, they remain lost to this day. Even had there been sufficient time to train a new generation in the old ways so as to resist this renewed assault, the effort would therefore have been vain. The best that the remaining Nali mystics of the Second Skaarj Invasion could do was to shield from Skaarj detection vital supplies for the Nali resistance and their human allies. Under these circumstances, when the Vortex Rikers brought Prisoner 849 to Na Pali in 2250, he came as the fulfillment of a vague, old prophecy of a Messiah.

The likelihood is that the messianic prophecy was originally construed as applying to a future Nali master, not some foreign alien. After all, matters might have turned out differently: what if the massive, multiple deluge of 695 had occurred in 645 instead of that small single flood, resulting in complete failure by the Vandoran monks at that time instead of their halfway-botched success? Such an acute short-term embarrassment would likely have prompted severe self-searching which in turn could have led to a last-minute revitalization of the ancient learning before a critical mass of the Great Mysteries were lost and made unrecoverable. Then no alien help would have been necessary at the Skaarj's second advent. We are now accustomed to the way things happened: 849's survival and escape set in motion the events that would lead to the Skaarj-Human War, the fall of the Federated Imperium and the establishment of the NEG, the exploitation of Na Pali's tarydium by the Liandri Corporation, and ultimately the creation of the Tournament. From our current perspective it is easy to see these events as inevitable. It is simply the way things are, and when we visit Na Pali today we see a world decimated by war, its people impoverished by Terran interests and dependent upon Terran protection. We must remember that the great Nali masters had once been capable of flinging from their homeworld and their greater space a civilization far more technologically advanced and to all outward appearances significantly more powerful than their own.

* [FOOTNOTE 1: I am indebted to my colleague Il'tein'jik of the Rr'ktan Horde, High Librarian of the Skaarjshome Archives, for the unprecedented access he allowed me when I visited his institution during the Sixth Armistice as part of the NEG-Skaarjshome Initiative of Cultural Understanding. I suddenly lost contact with Librarian Il'tein'jik after the armistice was terminated by the Arcturus incident, so I fear that his welcome cooperation may have cost him his position, or worse. Let his idealism stand as an example to academics everywhere.]

** [FOOTNOTE 2: This flood was small as such events go, yet the monks' first attempt failed and a few villages were destroyed before a second ritual and then a third were performed. The eventual success was apparently due more to raw force than proper technique. In similar circumstances during previous centuries, monastic records indicate that just a single circle of 4 or 5 Vandoran monks were deployed in such cases. This was tried here too but proved completely inadequate; by this time, clearly crucial procedural knowledge was already being forgotten. To stem the flood, all the Vandoran monks took part in a second attempt. But even that was not enough, and this new failure prompted the Vandoran brotherhood to augment their power in a third ritual by linking with the priests of Chizra and the Five Shamans of the Sunspire. (The latter are shadowy figures in AoC records who are mentioned at odd intervals as wielding powers relating to atmospheric phenomena. At any rate, this seems to have been their last exploit, for they vanish from the historical record after this final appearance.)]

User avatar Mister_Prophet
Red Nemesis Leader Red Nemesis Leader
Posts: 3109
Joined: 11 Nov 2007, 23:30
Location: Lost in Oraghar

Subject: Re: Harmonizing Nali Chronicles with Main Unreal/UT

Post Posted: 23 Jun 2024, 01:05

I've been chewing on your post for about a week as I've found the read interesting in that special nerdy kind of way that appeals to me. As someone who has themselves written an elaborate backstory to Na Pali history behind the scenes to source my own ongoing, and unfinished, projects...I do feel a kinship with anyone attempting the same kind of deciphering. That you are doing this as a reactionary measure for a community release, however, is a new concept to me.

Nali Chronicles....yeah.

On paper the idea is cool. But this is the thing about fan projects. The same way that fandom can miscue tone and make connections to things that don't fit is sort of the hallmark we escribe to when we dabble with mod making, innit? That your protagonist's whole motivation in NC is to trigger the coming of the Nali Messiah is an interesting premise. That you use magic to slay countless armies of Skaarj and lay waste to a whole garrison of skydemons to summon...a prison convict, is what we call an imbalance of concept. That's like if John Wick kills a planet full of killer deceptacons so he can die to rally the coming of Shia LeBeouf. If we accept NC as we should, as a standalone fan project, it cannot cause harm when comparing it to the mother game. A nice, fun project just as well.

Your background history is cool, well worded, and impressively thought out. Might be fun to compare notes sometime.

Skaarj Warrior Skaarj Warrior
Posts: 85
Joined: 12 Mar 2016, 20:17

Subject: Re: Harmonizing Nali Chronicles with Main Unreal/UT

Post Posted: 27 Jun 2024, 07:23

Mister_Prophet wrote:I've been chewing on your post for about a week as I've found the read interesting in that special nerdy kind of way that appeals to me. As someone who has themselves written an elaborate backstory to Na Pali history behind the scenes to source my own ongoing, and unfinished, projects...I do feel a kinship with anyone attempting the same kind of deciphering.
Awesome! I was afraid I might not find any readers at all, given the length. Glad it appealed.

Mister_Prophet wrote:That's like if John Wick kills a planet full of killer deceptacons so he can die to rally the coming of Shia LeBeouf.
Yup, precisely my point.

Mister_Prophet wrote:If we accept NC as we should, as a standalone fan project, it cannot cause harm when comparing it to the mother game. A nice, fun project just as well.
Yeah, I know, I know. But I enjoyed it so much that I really, really wanted it to fit with the main game somehow, and when I play through it, it feels to me like the very far past--it's recognizably Na Pali but what we glimpse of society/culture through the magic is different. So I thought, well, if we reframe the pak's context and get rid of the notion that the purpose is to summon 849 but rather just to beat the Skaarj, what are the possibilities? And it just kept bugging me.

Mister_Prophet wrote:Your background history is cool, well worded, and impressively thought out. Might be fun to compare notes sometime.
Thanks a ton for the praise, and right back atcha for your reviews--I'm only accustomed to writing that smooth on commercial sites, not fan sites like this one. I'd love to see what you came up with at some point, although I'm in the middle of moving because changing jobs. I'll be paying dues at the new job, teaching all new classes which means all new prep and 14-hour days, so there'll be next to no free time until next summer. But if it all works and I settle in comfortably, I'll pop up and give you a holler.

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