Building “Lifebonds” in Eclipse

Today’s question is related to the Valdemar articles from a little while back, and is basically “How to build a Lifebond in Eclipse”. Given that that question is a near-perfect example of the problems inherent in building things from literature in games, it’s gotten the full treatment as an example.

As so often happens when converting from Literature, the first thing to consider is “what does this never clearly defined literary thing actually do anyway?”. Fortunately for us, there’s actually quite a lot of information about them scattered across various books. Possibly even enough to reach some actual conclusions.

Lifebond (Noun, Fictonal, Mercedeys Lackey): An intimate and very strong connection between two people’s minds.

To summarize the available information about Lifebonds…

  • Some characters say that they’re rare, but the actual books show them to be surprisingly common among the (relatively few) characters who get their emotional status discussed in detail. There’s no apparent reason why they shouldn’t also be fairly common in the general population. (Various books, Wiki list of known Lifebonds).
  • They are independent of active gifts or other special powers, although they may be more common among those who do possess mental powers (Various Books).
  • They are apparently pretty much unbreakable by common magic or psychic means, although the transmission of most useful information can be blocked effectively (Arrows Fall) and the rules may or may not apply to full-scale divine magic. Partially blocked links do not cause emotional traumas, although they might cause anxiety.
  • Magical barriers do not seem to block simple awareness though; Dirk claimed that he would KNOW if Talia was dead and – since he retains enough awareness of her to locate her through magical barriers – he is probably right (Arrow’s Fall).
  • They manifest spontaneously and involuntarily when potential bondmates meet (Magic’s Pawn, Arrow Series, various other books).
  • They can transmit large amounts of psychic/magical energy (Magic’s Pawn, Tylendel drawing on Venyel’s latent mage-gift to power a Gate, the backlashing gate-energy jumping to Vanyel).
  • They cannot be turned off or “refused”. Even attempting to resist causes psychological problems (Magic’s Price).
  • They can only be initially established at short range. (Various books. Canon lifebonds do not seem to appear before people meet and no one at all seems to be lifebonded to someone that they HAVEN’T met – even if the potential for the bonds seems to be established pretty much at birth).
  • According to Firesong everyone has a potential lifebonded partner, but he was more than a bit insane at that point (Winds trilogy).
  • They cause immense emotional trauma when one partner survives the other and may represent a constant or near-constant psychic drain under such conditions (Magic’s Pawn. Note that – according to Kethry, an adept-class mage – “Emotion WAS power. That was what mage a death-curse so potent, even in the mouth of an untutored peasant”).
  • They seem to persist beyond death however; otherwise the mental injury could be expected to “heal” – or it would at least be possible to seal it off – and it would be extremely unlikely for Tylendel to be reborn as Stephen and be able to forge a NEW lifebond with Vanyel (Magic’s Price).
  • Vanyel seemed to be able to function more or less normally after a few years. Interestingly, that partial recovery seems to have occured about the time that Stefen was born (interpolation from the Valdemar Companion and various Wiki timelines).
  • Vanyel seemed fully recovered on the psychc powers level – if still emotionally traumatized after years of warfare without his partner – after meeting Stefan (Magic’s Price).
  • Surviving partners can sense when their bondmate dies, usually experiencing something related to their final seconds (Magic’s Price, other books)
  • The pain of the broken bond apparently went away when Stefan met Vanyel’s spirit – manifested once more on the physical level in the Forest Of Sorrows. Again, Death did not actually break the bond. The pain may have stayed gone too. Admittedly, there isn’t much more to the book – but just because Vanyel was incarnated as a forest didn’t mean that he didn’t have a physical body and a presence on Velgarth – and there’s no suggestion of either of the pair being utterly miserable for decades to come. Just a bit sad about being separated for a while (Magic’s Price).

I know some people who have read the series and have concluded that a Lifebond is a curse. It makes you miserable until you acknowledge it, then there is a bit of great happiness – and then you have the extra pain of remembering what you once had when it plunges you into utter misery for the rest of your life. It can even make people who DON’T have a Lifebond miserable; the desire to experience a Lifebond nearly drive Firesong insane (Winds Trilogy). This, however, is mostly an artifact of Mercedes Lackey’s writing style, wherein she tortures her characters to involve the reader with them. I’m not going to count it as hard data.

Now Life and Death seem to be deeply involved in this. So, what do we know about the afterlife on Velgarth?

  • People do continue to exist after death (Vows And Honor series; Kethry’s Oathbreaker Ritual, Tarma’s Spirit Tutors, Magic’s Price (Vanyel getting a choice of afterlives), Ex-Heralds reincarnating as Companions, Ex Sons Of The Sun reincarnating as Firecats, etc, etc, etc).
  • The dead can intervene if summoned by a powerful mage (Vows and Honor, Kethry’s ritual. It is noted as being power-hungry, but then it is an ancient (and possibly inefficient?) ritual that opens the gates of death for angry ghosts to come through and take someone away), if empowered to by a god (Tarma’s tutors), or – more subtly – on their own if they’re strong-willed enough. This even happens in Valdemar – where, for example, Herald Kris promised a bouquet of Maiden’s Hope flowers to Talia for her wedding – and delivered, despite both him being dead and them being out of season (Arrows Fall). (I think there was also a contact in a dream, but the dead speaking in dreams is a basic feature of pretty much every fantasy world ever).
  • The dead do not, however, seem to gain much of any supernatural wisdom (Vows and Honor, Tarma needs new teachers as individuals reach the limits of what they know. In Oathbreakers, Tarma’s spirit-teachers don’t, and perhaps can’t, tell her much of anything about Heralds. The Star-Eyed came to tell her that they could be trusted – and to let her know that the Companions were spirit beings – in person).
  • The dead aren’t tremendously powerful either. Tarma’s tutors have a hard time reaching her to bring her an emergency warning in the face of some basic magical resistance (Vows And Honor).
  • The magical sword Need contains the spirit of a long-dead mage-smith, who continues to use her various powers quite freely – albeit possibly drawing to some extent on her bearer’s strength (Vows and Honor, By The Sword, Winds Trilogy). It also bonds with it’s bearer – another bit of evidence that the nature of the body doesn’t much matter; an embodied spirit can bond with, and interact with, a living person.
  • Spirits incarnated in objects, places, and exotic bodies can all bond with, interact with, and often communicate clearly with, the living without losing their spiritual nature (Companions, Need, Vanyel as the Forest Of Sorrows).

So… affection and loyalty provide a strong enough bond for a dead person to intervene on the physical plane – although this might (or might not) require that they had psychic powers in life (although reincarnation does seem to change those fairly often, since Heralds reincarnated as Companions don’t always seem to have the same gifts – Various Books).

Yet if simple bonds of affection, friendship, and memory can be enough to bridge the gap between life and death… why can’t the apparently-greater power of a Lifebond do it? Why does one partner dying mean more than the survivor gaining the bittersweet knowledge that their loved one remains always near, waiting for them to join them in the afterlife? Why do deceased parents sometimes seem to look after their children and beloved spouses hang around invisibly and comfort their elderly partners? It seems to work that way for some of the peasants of Valdemar and the other nations of Velgarth (Various books).

To talk about that, we need to look at the nature of Magic in Velgarth.

Have you noticed that something is very, VERY, wrong about how magic behaves in Velgarth? It flows into the world through living things and then acts a bit like water – flowing together into lines or rivers of power, which then flow into the great power-pools of nodes.

But… when water flows into rivers, it loses energy. That swift stream rushing down a mountain has a lot of potential energy per unit volume. The water in a valley river that the stream flows into… has less. The water in a lake is calm and still, much of it’s gravitational potential energy given up. A lake in a valley has much less energy available per unit volume than rain falling onto the top of a mountain. That’s entropy. That defines the flow of time. Yet magic in Velgarth flows and gathers like water – but once it has gathered it somehow has vast amounts of energy and becomes too energetic for lesser mages to handle in despite of entropy and time.

That means that it must have a secondary energy potential. Something that is the same anywhere in the world. It must have somewhere else to “flow” to. Somewhere far “lower” than any place in the physical world – “low” enough to dwarf the energy it’s given up in collecting in one spot. Somewhere that it flows into as it is used, giving up that energy to power acts of magic.

  • Magic comes into Velgarth through Life, and leaves through Death (as explained by Kethry). Living things on Velgarth give up their magical energy when they die. That’s the basis of Blood Magic (as explained in many places). Unless harvested by a blood mage… that energy flows out into the world, forms streams and pools, and eventually leaves it to somewhere else (from whence it returns once more through living things).

Ergo… the realms of the dead are a natural sink (or recycling center) for magical energy.

Normal bonds of affection, friendship, and memory… are weak bonds. They cannot transmit much energy. The dead may enjoy receiving a trickle of power from the living who think about them – but the drain / grief it causes is minor – and the mild pain of that drain may be counterbalanced or outweighed entirely by the contact with, and comforting presence of, someone who is loved and missed. Thus thinking about the beloved dead on Velgarth… is always a mixed experience. There are joyful memories, a sense of presence, and grief, and sorrow.

A lifebond however? A lifebond can transmit large amounts of magical and psychic energy. Someone who is Lifebonded to someone in the realms of the dead has an open energy-sink in their mind, draining them constantly. Grief, depression, misery, and constant fatigue is only to be expected. Weaker spirits may lose their grip on their bodies and be drawn into the realms of the dead themselves – dying of grief whether mysteriously or through suicide.

This means that an (un-)“broken” Lifebond between the Living and the Dead can be treated. All you need to do is to restrain the flow of energy over the link to a reasonable level. Eventually most minds will learn to do that themselves – but there’s no reason why a spell couldn’t do it or a telepath couldn’t show someone how.

So why doesn’t that happen? And why isn’t “suffering from a broken lifebond” a fairly common ailment in the population? After all, everybody dies at least once and the books show lifebonds as being fairly common, portraying thirteen pairs amidst a cast of a hundred or two major characters (Valdemar Wiki, since I never bothered to add up either number).

The simple answer as to why “suffering from a Broken Lifebond” isn’t a common ailment is that those without magical or psychic abilities are much less easily drained and can more rapidly adjust to cut down the flow of energy to a reasonable level. “Broken Lifebonds” are thus only a problem for those with substantial special powers. Everyone else can just feel their loved ones comforting – if distant – presence. Their beloved dead can show up to escort them to the afterlife when they’re on their deathbeds and so on. And nobody considers that a “Lifebond” because – having no significant power to share – they never showed signs of power sharing and AREN’T suffering from a “Broken Lifebond”.

As for why no one has ever analyzed the issue and developed a treatment… to get that answer we’re going to have to look at the behavior of Velgarth’s gods.

  • Oddly enough, despite the various gods, spiritual appearances and experiences, mages summoning ghosts, obvious-to-the-reader reincarnation, and other spiritual interactions… no one in the books seems to be particularly clear about the afterlife. In fact the Companions – the most direct divine representatives around – habitually inflict laser-guided amnesia on their Heralds whenever they find out too much about the afterlife. That’s partially explained by how awkward it would be, and how many social effects it would have, to let people know that their loved ones could opt to come back, and the kind of expectations it would place on the Companions – but that’s still “The gods have said to erase chunks of peoples minds to keep them from knowing too much” (Winds Trilogy). That’s kind of disrespectful at best and treacherous at worst. I certainly wouldn’t like having my mind messed with that way – especially by a creature who was supposed to be my greatest and most loyal friend.

So why are the gods giving such directives?

  • It is well-established in the books that the gods are generally non-interventionist if they think that mortals can handle a problem (Vows and Honor; the Star-Eyed speaking to Tarma, various other places) – although they CAN intervene if they feel that a problem is beyond mortal ability – such as sending the first Companions to Valdemar (the founder) to help him set up a good government (Winds Trilogy and others. I think that I’ll just reference the Valdemar Companion this time).
  • The gods have the Companions – their agents – meddle with Heralds minds to conceal their true nature and other spiritual truths (Magic’s Price, Storms trilogy). That was also established in Vows and Honor, where Tarma noted that the Heralds were not aware of the true nature of their companions – even though the Star-Eyed had seen fit to tell her and there were plenty of clues. Itt was reaffirmed in Mage Winds by Ulric’s explanations about Firecats and Companions.
  • No one has developed an effective treatment for “Broken Lifebonds” because they only affect a minuscule percentage of the population – and because the information about how they work and what is happening to the victims is being wiped out of the minds of all the potential researchers. After all, Lifebonds have been known for thousands of years on Velgarth – but in all that time, no competent research on them has ever been done. And who but the gods has been around for long enough to ensure that?

Would the gods do that? They seem to be generally “good”; would they actually be willing to be that ruthless and cruel? Well… Vkyandis COULD have dealt with his corrupt priesthood at any moment – he simply vaporized the corrupt high priest when he did decide to intervene (Winds I think) – but he let his corrupted priests burn generation after generation of children (who certainly COULDN’T “handle” being arrested by a massive military organization with magic-users) without doing a thing about it (Storms Trilogy). Evidently the gods are quite ruthless enough to leave some people to suffer horrible fates at times. Presumably that is for “The Greater Good”. I have VERY serious doubts about that argument – but I suppose that gods have a better claim to it than most.

Now that got rather long – but it gives us a reasonably solid theory to work with. There are probably spots in the books that it doesn’t quite fit, and it can rightly be regarded as Headcanon (even if it’s a fairly well researched and supported one) – but it does seem to work with the preponderance of the evidence, which is all you can expect when dealing with a literary work; they’re very  rarely completely consistent about how things work.

So, if you and a partner want to buy a Lifebond in Eclipse, you’ll want…

Mystic Link with Power Link (Power Sharing Variant) (6 CP Base). Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost:

  • The character point cost must be shared between the individuals involved.
  • Creates and extremely powerful emotional bond between the individuals involved.
  • The user will become frantic or upset if his or her partner is seriously harmed unless the link is being actively blocked.
  • If one partner dies, the other will suffer extreme depression, grief, and a psychic shock, usually incapacitating them for several days.
  • Power sharing is only possible at close range.
  • If one partner is deceased, the power-flow becomes one way to him or her. The living partner will become fatigued more easily and will suffer a minor loss of Power/Mana/Magical Energy over the course of each day until he or she learns to block it off (paying 1 CP to learn to do so).
  • The user can be affected by hostile magical or psychic attacks directed at his or her partner.
  • If one partner becomes irrational, upset, or is suffering from Morale penalties, the second one will suffer similarly – although bonuses also transfer.

That’s a net cost of 2 CP – one from each partner. Not too surprisingly… about as cheap as any special power comes in Eclipse.

  • Partners who get along especially well may also share the cost of Inherent Spell (Personal Good Hope, L2) with a total of four uses per day (9 CP, split and rounded down to 4 CP apiece) – with each being able to trigger the effect twice. That way they can encourage each other and derive some actual game-mechanical benefit from the warm feeling of being loved.

And there you go. One Lifebond. Occasionally useful, but mostly only really effective at causing emotional turmoil. Just like in the books.

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