Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lockout: Cultural Overview 1- The Silken Kingdoms

Kingdom of Silks is a well-ordered society on the whole, where etiquette and poise are paramount. Many different schools of philosophical thought contend for commercial and mystic authority, but overall the society has advanced beyond inter-faction violence. Arcane and psionic pursuits are what define the Kingdom, and the advances and conveniences these studies have produced allow most citizens to live in relative leisure despite the tremendous ecological devastation surrounding them. Though it is uncommon for most citizens of the Kingdom to pursue a purely martial path, those who do are extremely well-trained and dangerous. Much of the warfare is relegated to ranks of constructs, from the numerous terracotta soldiers cast from living earth before great battles to the sentient warforged and mysterious, musical shardminds.

The Position of the Races Within the Kingdom of Silks

Eladrin: The majority of Kingdom citizens are Eladrin, and thus form the peasant caste. Most can read and write, and as farming is handled magically, most focus on jobs as scribes, carpenters, and artisans. Many Eladrin join the military, of course, though usually as martial characters. Eladrin also comprises a large percentage of the ancestor-worshipping clergy in the Kingdoms, using their powers to cast out malevolent entities unleashed by the other Bloodlines.


"Bloodlines" are specific magical philosophies, genetic qualities, and cultural similarities that bind particular citizens of the Kingdom of Silks. Most bloodlines are not actually related to the circumstances of a creature's birth, but rather represent conscious choices available to most qualified Eladrin of the Kingdom willing to undergo the necessary changes and sacrifices. However, many bloodlines also breed true, or simply raise their children in such a way that the possibility of rejecting the covenant associated with the bloodline is never presented; this is especially true of Tieflings and Genasi.

Tieflings: The Tieflings are merchants, scholars, litigators, and politicians. Despite their bonds with Demons and Devils, the Tiefling bloodline is not inherently evil. Instead, very careful and elaborate contracts are usually signed by family patriarchs, granting power to and servitude from all of his offspring by blood. These contracts often include florid and numerous riders restricting the influence fiendish patrons may exert over members of the family, and often limits over how quickly or regularly a member of the family may supplicate the patron for greater power. The contracts are intended to limit young Tieflings' ability to further their debt to their masters. The Tiefling culture also frowns on greed and haste, encouraging its youth to pursue knowledge slowly and patiently rather than in a rush. Of course, many young Tieflings break these bonds, but such rebels are quickly and efficiently hunted and put down by either fellow Tieflings--Especially those Avengers tasked with quieting the wailing souls of Tieflings who broke contracts before, and those Runepriests who specialize in sigils of binding and reprisal--or the shadowy Eladrin regulatory council that polices the bloodlines for excesses.

Other Eladrin may sign onto one of these contracts, becoming a tiefling at that time (though possibly with lower privileges and responsibilities due to being a late addition); after a certain number of years, these newly-minted tieflings pass the agreement on through their blood as well. At one time, trade between the Kingdom of Silks and the Tran Empire was said to involve an exchange of thinkers, and there are claims that some dwarven scholars may have signed contracts with the Tieflings as part of that alliance. All records of any such exchange, however, have been expunged most thoroughly. Many Tieflings settle in flame-and-ash covered areas of the kingdom, which allows them a certain amount of military security without needing to maintain large standing armies. Tieflings often favor summoning magic, and many pursue the Arcane and Primal power sources.

Genasi: The Genasi are amongst the most savage and unpredictable of the bloodlines, and rarely dwell within "polite" Kingdom society. Bound to Demons, Elementals, or occasionally Giant and Primordial patrons, Genasi are the most physically imposing of the Eladric offshoots. Master craftsmen and artificers who also thrive in military capacities, Genasi tend to live in the outskirts of the Kingdom, often in areas too physically inhospitable for easy habitation by other bloodlines. Families maintain altars to their particular source of power, and a ritual at the appropriate age (or later, in the case of Eladrin who join a Family) causes the supplicant to undergo his first elemental manifestation. Many Genasi serve multiple families, or undergo multiple manifestations from the same shrine; all of the Abyssal manifestations are commonplace and there is no particular stigma attached. Genasi are prone to mental instability and violence, but within their own society these tendencies are held in check by a comparable level of power from companions.

Githzerai: Loyalists to a culture that is thousands of years past, the Githzerai are a discrete race of Eladric origin; no one can undergo a change into a Githzerai. While it is difficult to claim that the Gith are "old" in comparison to the other races of the Silken Kingdom, the specific bloodline of the Gith has been distinctly defined since the days when the arcane practices that create and define the other bloodlines were being developed. Whatever their original source of study, the research the peoples of the Gith were involved with in that misty past was flawed; a great ritual they attempted cracked the earth beneath their city, spilling all of its inhabitants into a vast cavern miles beneath the surface. Obviously, most died; either in the fall, or in the cold, lightless days afterward when they battled horrible creatures created and led by the Firsts of the Ruby Caliphate, whose own sprawling empire had dark tendrils even beneath the nascent Silken Kingdom. The Gith that survived did so by developing the only resource readily available: themselves. While today many Gith live on the surface, and their people are very much a part of the Kingdom, the lessons of those first dark years are visible in every specimen's pale flesh, silver-flecked eyes, and lightning-quick movements. Gith still favor internally-directed pursuits, whether that be as incredibly fluid swordsmen or levitating psions.

Changelings: Imperial spies without an emperor, Changelings embrace transmutative magic and are far less concerned about patrons. They may be found in any occupation, and often dabble in multiple skills (bards are thus a popular choice). Changelings are all made, never born; an Eladrin seeks out, or is sought by, existing Changelings and given certain acupuncture and alchemical treatments that render his flesh more malleable while awakening and growing certain voluntary muscles beneath the skin. Many Changelings pursue paths which provide further physical alterations, especially Barbarians, Wardens, Druids, and Battleminds. Others dedicate themselves to simple arcane studies. Because all Changelings are drawn from base Eladric stock, they have no overarching Family loyalty to conflict with their often mercenary agendas.

Deva: Monks and ascetics, priests of the past and researchers of forgotten lore. Devoted to eternal existence, Devas are also made rather than born. Unlike the other bloodlines, Devas can come from any Eladric race. After a series of ritual tattoos are applied to the flesh of a supplicant, he or she is encased in a crystal pod and left to incubate. Bathed in pure residuum and waves of psionic energy, the supplicant's body and mind are both reshaped into a durable vessel remotely linked to all other Deva in existence. Thus a newly-formed Deva already has access to the thoughts, experiences, and recollections of hundreds of its kind currently active, and thousands more who exist as half-formed thoughts and snatches of memory. A Deva who dies has its personality cast into this swirling web, to be drawn into the next supplicant undergoing the change. Deva are inscrutable amongst the peoples of the Silken Kingdom; some pursue lives of violence and adventure without regard for their safety, while others might live out a hundred years as a simple baker in a small town. As various personalities influence the gestalt, a Deva might suddenly take up a grueling study of arcane magic or martial discipline, or dedicate its existence to vendetta against the family of a creature it has never met in this life.

Half-Elves The lot of a Half-Elf is varied. The term itself is something of an archaic misnomer, as no "elf" has been naturally born within the Kingdom of Silks for many hundreds of Eladric generations. Its commonplace use reflects something of the prevailing attitude towards the halfbreeds within the Kingdom; not outright rejection, certainly, but a kind of casual racism that permeates most levels of "enlightened" Kingdom society. Half-Elves are produced when members of a specific bloodline breed with a pure-blooded Eladrin. Certain bloodlines, notably Deva and Changelings, are incapable of producing Half-Elves due to the dramatic physical changes their bodies have undergone. Other bloodlines, such as some Tiefling families and all Genasi, only produce a Half-Elf if the individual has undergone the necessary covenant; otherwise their child is simply an Eladrin.

Half-Elves have the ability to enter Genasic and Tiefling covenants, becoming fully-manifested members of those bloodlines. Similarly, a Half-Elf can be changed into a Changeling or Deva just as any other Eladric race. It is because of these possibilities that the true "Half-Elf," the individual who chooses not to accept any of these paths to power, is so disdained. Most Half-Elves in the Kingdom are from families too poor to warrant the attention of a bloodline, and thus often enter martial military service. Of course, some are driven to excel precisely because of these cultural prejudices, either through application of concentrated study and physical conditioning or shorter, more dangerous paths to power. Half-Elves who have formed poorly considered pacts with the Infernal and Elemental forces are among the most common sources of violence and disturbance within the Kingdom. As such, many Half-Elves travel the world, settling into lives of adventure or banditry in the Tran Empire or Ruby Caliphate.

Warforged Silken Warforged are generally built with more grace and delicacy than those of other kingdoms. Most are constructed from ceramics and lacquered wood, and it is common for them to be sculpted or actually adorned with clothing, usually robes or gowns. Silken Warforged are also likely to be crafted and imbued with specific gender, and even bloodline, identities: thus one may have a female Eladrin crafted from residuum-infused bone china teaching Eladrin children at a local school, or a red-iron warforged with two great, curling horns of volcanic rock set to guard a Tiefling bordello. While most warforged are built for combat, either as familial guardians or commanders of lesser constructs, the Silken Kingdom also sees the use of programming their ageless servants for other tasks. Many teaching duties are filled by warforged, as well as surveying and exploration in areas where a living creature would struggle to breathe or survive. Some warforged are created autonomous, but far more are eventually granted their autonomy after performing certain services, or upon the death of their appointed family.

Shardminds Shardminds are a special type of construct created only within the Silken Kingdoms. Like the warforged, above, they tend to be anthropomorphized in features and personality, but the base materials of their construction are always crystals and faceted gems. These minerals are mage-grown over a skeleton comprised of precious metals, which are beaten into rods and inscribed with runes. Shardminds have a higher affinity for scholarship and arcane research than warforged, and are almost never constructed for combat purposes. Instead, shardminds serve as private tutors to the children of the greatest families, assistants in magical labs practicing dangerous experiments, and extremely efficient clerks in the Kingdom's greatest libraries. Peasants claim that the heads of most important families have at least one shardmind whose sole purpose is to store the family member's personality. Constantly updated through telepathic links, these shardminds are an insurance policy against assassination; at the moment of the family member's death, the shardmind activates and proceeds to hunt and slaughter "its" killer.


  1. Ha ha, this is great! For some reason I was playing around with the idea of making a Voidsoul nihilist when you first mentioned this campaign, and now here's an opportunity to actually make that a character choice rather than a cliche accident of birth!

    I don't really understand the half-elf bit though... so the base citizens are eladrin, who all can freely join bloodlines that have profound physical manifestations. Sure, some of these bloodlines are irreversable for those born into them (tieflings), but for the most part the society seems to revolve around measuring an individual by what they make of themself rather than what they are born as.

    Except half-elves. In a society where two siblings born to the same mother can end up looking completely different as they mature, one with red skin and horns and the other with ice for skin, half-elves for some reason stand out as less-than as a result of mixed heritage? Why would half-elves have any social stigma related with them at all? A half-elf can join all the same bloodlines that a nnormal eladrin can... or can choose not to join any at all the same as an eladrin can. The eladrin child of a deva wouldn't be stigmatized for chosing not to follow their parent's bloodline choice, but half-elves are despised for not following their parents?

    Maybe I'm just not getting it... it seems like if anything, a culture so prone to personal reinvention would be perfect for half-elves and their dilettante ability. I would have been less surprised if all citizens started out as half-elves (mechanically, though obviously that name would have to change) and could choose to go into Bloodlines like you mentioned, one of which being Eladrin.

  2. Always happy to be pushed on my flavor!

    If I ever set a game in the Silken Kingdoms, it would be an opportunity to really highlight how their society is shaped; the racial blurbs alone can't really do that justice, but I'm trying to expend my energies on the Tran since that's where Lockout takes place. The important thing to understand about the Silken Kingdoms, though, is that theirs is a society dominated by magic--magic wielded by extremely long-lived creatures who've mastered their very bodies. Eladrin (and I should probably go back and add this to their description) have no connection to the Feywild whatsoever; their teleportation abilities instead represent their actually breaking their body into pure magical energy and shooting it in the desired direction. They are, in essence and mind, pure arcana.

    They used to be, well, not that. They used to be elves, and the elven race in the Tran Empire represents protean eladrin who rejected the focus on magical experimentation in favor of a connection with the nature of this world (which also distinguishes them from the Genasi, who prefer to go right to the tap when it comes to harnessing the power of the elements). Pretty much all Silken citzens disdain elves, feeling that they threw away an opportunity for real enlightenment and power to rub sticks together in a forest. The Silken Kingdoms are incredibly advanced and the average standard of living is much higher than those of the Empire or the Calpihate. Magic made this possible...even as it ravaged the areas outside most of the magically warded cities.

    A half-elf who fails to "better" her situation by signing a pact, undergoing an elemental dedication, or attracting the attention of the Changelings or approval of the Deva is seen in the eyes of Silken society as a degenerate. She has abandoned the path of evolution for one of stagnation. The rules actually tie into this as well: consider that half-elves are the only biological Silken race without the possibility of a stat boost to Int, and then extrapolate what that would mean for their place in society. Certainly they make excellent Sorcerers and Warlocks, but in a culture that has rarified mental pursuits and popularized wizardry and psionics, this would hardly be impressive.

    So yes, the Kingdoms are a society of personal reinvention and attainment; however, a half-elf who remains a half-elf (even one who uses a bloodline encounter power instead of taking an at-will with Dilettante) is seen by the rest of the culture as a regression back towards that what they're trying to escape (that is, elves themselves). The fact that even eladrin participate in this mockery helps to highlight how the "peasant" class of the Kingdoms still considers itself far above their racial forebears.

  3. Sidenote: Your example in the second to last paragraph was the eladrin child of a deva; since deva can't reproduce after the change and they suddenly have a lot of other personalities clashing in their heads, a deva parent might not even recognize a child it had before undergoing the transformation. It's something of a distinct bloodline in this sense, like Changelings, in that offspring may well imagine that their parent has undergone the change, but they won't necessarily ever see them again or recognize them if they do.

    Side-sidenote: I rechecked and, actually, Half-Elves are the only race in the Kingdoms who can't boost their int, since both constructs have that as an option or requirement.

  4. The arcane "evolved" nature of Eladrin is cool, and does a good job of making them seem distinct from elves.

    I'm still unclear though... "half-elves" are the offspring of eladrin and eladrin bloodlines, correct? Not the offspring of "elves" and something else (at least not outside the Tran Empire). So again... I don't understand how an Eladrin is different from a Silk Kingdoms half-elf. Why do some unions result in Eladrin children, who can remain bloodline free with no stigma, and others result in "half-elves" who are expected to pick a bloodline or be despised?

  5. They'd love an answer to that too. Their best understanding is that the already altered essence of the Eladrin is less than stable. This quality is what allows the race to further modify itself into Tieflings, Genasi, Deva, and Changelings-- and is responsible for the Gith, who represent a very early (and thus now set in stone) veering in that evolutionary path. However, this same instability effectively cancels itself out when bred back into itself. What's left over, a half-elf, is unquestionably (from their perspective) less than an eladrin, and certainly does not reach the heights of the other bloodlines.

    The prevalence of half-elves (who aren't really Eladric, in that they lack the arcane traits and other abilities) is an uncomfortable reminder for the Kingdom of what they though they'd left behind. Since the society prides itself on its rarified intellect and philosophy they don't, say, leave the babies out to perish from exposure or sanction them...but many members of the society would probably love to.

    I think what would help you conceptualize this is to remember that the baseline image in their minds is not Eladrin, it's Elves. Every Eladrin rests comfortably on a long and storied history of arcane innovation and cultural sophistication. Since the areas outside their cities are things like eternal blizzards of acidic snow, or lakes of liquid lightning full of half-formed sludge zombies, they're not only grateful for that innovation, they're reliant on it.

    The only unions that produce Eladrin are the union of two Eladrin, as mentioned in the racial descriptions. Eladrin's ability to provide the base material for elevation into even more varied specialists (Tieflings, Deva, etc) is one of their greatest contributions to the society as a whole; of course, as long-lived hyper intelligent creatures, they're useful on their own as well.

    A half-elf who manifests a strong bloodline (ie, swaps Dilettante for a racial) is probably more likely to take after that parent; and half-elves who excel in their studies or the like are probably going to be recruited by the Deva or Changelings. But a half-elf who has no strong bloodline showing and does none of these things is, basically, an elf. And elves (at least in this world) aren't known for their incredible magical contributions over the last several thousand years. So when an eladrin burgher on his way to the magical printing-press he runs spies a half-elf adolescent strapping a sword to his waist before he goes out to work the walls as a guard, the burgher is thinking "Thank the sigils and stars that there aren't more of those in my city, because if there were I'm sure we'd be drowning in the sentient mudflow outside by evening." Half-elves are a reminder of how far the Silken Kingdom has progressed as a society, but they're also somewhat ominous, as each one can be viewed as a net drain on that same society.

  6. Ah... this is starting to make much more sense. I think my confusion stemmed from the part of the half-elf entry that reads "Other bloodlines, such as some Tiefling families and all Genasi, only produce a Half-Elf if the individual has undergone the necessary covenant; otherwise their child is simply an Eladrin." That made it sound like you were never quite sure if your kid would pop out a half-elf or a pure eladrin, which made the whole hatred of half-elves seem a bit arbitrary. But if eladrin only come from pure eladrin unions, while other bloodlines breed true or don't breed at all, and half-elves are the result of mixing a bloodline with an eladrin, everything makes more sense again. And suddenly, the idea of what is loathsome about half-elves starts to make more sense. It would be similar to if every once in a while parents popped out Neanderthal babies in today's world, a glaring throwback showing the unsophisticated savagery from which we emerged. You might not hate the baby itself, but you'd certainly despise what it represents, and consider yourself superior to it...

    Yes yes, all of this makes sense now, quite nice!