Friday, August 25, 2017

Cross-Post: Libris Ludorum Ruminates on Houses

Nemoricus, who is one of my most supportive Patrons (also the author of the Psi-Wars primer: I just post what he gives me; and the author of the Psi-Wars bibliography, which I'll post soon; and frequent editor of my material) has been following the houses closely and decided to explore them, noodling through them in a series of four posts that I'd like to share with you, and then comment on.

The Posts

The Commentary

I want to say, up front, that I believe in the Death of the Author.  I believe that the most complete and detailed setting book only acts as inspiration, like a cook book, for the reality you create at your table.  Your Psi-Wars (or your D&D or your Shadowrun or whatever) is yours, and thus correct.

So I'm going to say up front that I'm going to disagree with Nemoricus on some points, but this is mainly because I have "additional information" that might change his mind when he sees more material coming out, and because I have a particular vision that just disagrees with some of his points.  That said, I don't want anyone to take this as "correcting" Nemoricus.  If (when?) he runs his Psi-Wars game, these perspectives will be true.  More than that, they're useful, to him, to you and even to me.  It shows me how people see my work (I have a hard time gaining perspective on my own material, which is why you always need a professional editor!), and at several points, as you'll see, Nemoricus raises interesting issues that I haven't considered, and I find quite convincing.

The first point I want to make, over everything, is how Nemoricus is looking at the houses, which arose from a criticism he had.  How do people see each house?  How would you feel about a house if you were some common guy in the Alliance?  How do other houses see the houses?  How can you use this house in a campaign?  I imply a lot (as you can see from the fact that he pulls a lot of material out of my work), but a point he raised is that it would be helpful if these were explicit, which is what he's done here!

House Sabine

This house, at least from my perspective, seems the most well-received, though I'm not entirely clear on why.  Some of my readers comment that they just like the idea of a "House Princess Leia," so that may well be it.  In a sense, I find the Nemoricus' commentary spot on, but not particularly revealing beyond what I sense most people had already picked up.  The key points:
  • House Sabine is well respected among the people because of their egalitarianism
  • House Sabine is respected among the nobility because they make great wives
  • Nonetheless, people find house Sabine a little creepy, on account of their ESP (their fixation on poison probably doesn't help either)
  • House Sabine has a bit of a witchy reputation.
While not included here, Nemoricus suggests that House Sabine should have access to Psychic Hunches.  I think I can go along with that; I'd make it Blood Purity 0.

Nemoricus then discusses the paths of Communion.  I mentioned this back in the week before I revealed the Houses, but each House has "three paths of destiny" open to them, each exemplified by an ancestor.  Given that I haven't revealed my choices, this is the point where he and I will disagree the most, and I'd like to note that the paths of ancestors might not necessarily fit the paths of your current character, which is more what Nemoricus is trying to discuss here.

The Bound Princess: Here, we agree 100%.  When I conceived of House Sabine, I already knew that the Bound Princess would be one of their core archetypes.  They are the princesses bartered and sold across the Eternal Empire, the bidding chips that the Akashic Order used to control House Alexus and to breed its aristocracy.  The archetypal ancestor for this is Sissi Sabine, the founder, who gave herself as a wife to Alexus Rex and mothered the entire House.

The Beautiful Fool: Nemoricus argues for the Beautiful Fool from the perspective of a desire to manipulate others and to get their desires.  Here, I can see Nemoricus reaching for a witchy archetype, and that's something I've struggled with a bit too.  I think their ultimate last two archetypes won't perfectly fit into the paths, and will borrow from quite a few. I agree with a witchy archetype, the Sabines as manipulators, but I'd also argue for someone who throws off the chains of the Bound Princess.  The Sabines tie strongly into rebellion, in that they lead the charge against the old institutional orders (which makes sense, as they're keenly sensitive to how those old orders demand sacrifice).  In this sense, House Sabine could be the Beautiful Fool or the Rebellious Beast.  Perhaps a bit of both?

Madness: Nemoricus argues that the weight of their visions could inspire madness.  I find it interesting that he's chosen the three "traditionally feminine" paths.  It should also be noted that Madness often has privileged access to information that nobody else can understand, and that people tend not to believe the prophet. This is a compelling path for a member of house Sabine to follow and reveals something of their strange and isolated ways.  I think he makes a compelling case for this.

House Grimshaw

This house was one of the first I conceived of and, other than House Elegans, probably went through the most changes as my design progressed.  I personally find them the hardest for people to connect with, but again, I have a hard time seeing how people react to them.  We haven't seen a mess of characters pop out yet!

I'm glad Nemoricus depicts them as defenders of the old Empire and as big believers as Noblesse Oblige, as that's what I was going for.  Part of the reason Nemoricus started this was to show how Sabine could be evil and Grimshaw could be good, as at least one commentator saw them the other way around, and Nemoricus wanted to examine both.  What is definitely true is that Grimshaw and Sabine represent two different views of aristocracy, one a champion of the people (who might be deceptive in that support) and the other a champion of the aristocracy (who is honest and forthright in that defense).

As for the Paths of Communion, he's chosen two of the paths I had chosen: Mystic Tyrant and Righteous Crusader.  House Grimshaw/Daijn tend towards either the path of the inquisitor or the usurper.  This third choice was the Other, which I hadn't thought of, but I find an interesting choice.  If Sabine are Space Witches, Grimshaw are Space Wizards, locked away in their ivory tower, practicing their spooky, ergokinetic craft.  Making them Other emphasizes this fact, and makes them the subject to whispered conspiratorial theories.

The most striking point of this analysis, though, is his discussion of their psionic powers.  I personally find it troublesome to give the aristocracy flashy psionic powers, and given their limited set, I needed to make sure each house could wrap strategies around their few powers.  As such, I've tried to include unified combat and "spy" abilities as the foundation for their powers.

Grimshaw has the flashiest psionic powers I offered, but I the theme I went for was "anti-technology" and I'm delighted that Nemoricus picked up on this.  Their ability to neutralize technology shapes their relationship with it.  They use robotic bodyguards, for one thing, because they know nobody could turn those robots against them (they'd just short them out if someone did), and they use their "empty blades" so that nobody else can sever their connection with their force swords.  His analysis is spot-on here.

House Elegans

I think Elegans is one of my favorite houses, though given their reception, I think I could tighten their themes.  If I had to pick one theme, it would be "Tragedy."  They've lost a lot, which I tried to emphasize with their children's toys, their "imaginary friends," and their signet ring (which worked a lot better when there were more Elegans around!).

Nemoricus sees them a little differently than I do, but he pulls that vision from the implications of the setting, so he has a point.  I see them as bundled together, the last remnant working together to bring their house back, but Nemoricus argues for a more scattered house.  His point is that not everyone would make it back, and that they're strong enough to survive on their own.  I find this a compelling point.  You're more likely to meet an Elegans out on the rim than you are any other member of an Alliance house. That said, he picked up on "robin hood" like quality, which I totally agree with, and I'm glad he found evident in the writing, as that was my intent.

Nemoricus suggests that they follow the path of the Righteous Crusader, the Rebellious Beast, the Beautiful Fool and Death.  

Now, I had certainly planned on the last two.  Jax Elegans was the Death of Lucian Alexus and the end of the Eternal Empire.  They're also a dying house haunted by the ghosts of their vanished relatives.  They know Death well.  

I see house Elegans as willing to do and try things that others are not, the "left hand" of the Emperor, and as such that makes the peril of Death a good one for them, but also the Beautiful Fool, in the sense that everyone loves them, but also in the sense that they're willing to violate the established norms to get what they want, and in so doing, create innovation.

I hadn't considered the Rebellious Beast, but it suits them, in an entirely different way than House Sabine.  They're willing to take down the Empire and to do whatever it takes, even dealing a great deal of damage.  I don't think I would give it to one of their ancestors, but that's not really Nemoricus' point. He's arguing that a modern Elegans would likely follow this path, and I think that's certainly true!

I feel one point has, perhaps, not been emphasized enough, so I'd like to emphasize it here: Elegans is a warrior house.  Yes, they make great spies and courtiers, but if you walk over their eugenics, you'll see that they have a lot of combat advantages.  They invented an entire style of combat (that suits their particular eugenics well), and they've learned to even gain combat utility out of non-combat powers.  They contrast with House Kain, where the latter is a "warrior house" by being stronger and tougher than everyone else, House Elegans is a "warrior house" by being faster, more precise, and more determined than everyone else.

One point that Nemoricus did raise, which I also feel should be emphasized, is that House Elegans is a political wildcard.  The stance of Sabine and Grimshaw are "known quantities." Elegans can tip the scale.  Thus, if Sabine and Grimshaw represent two sides of a political conflict, Elegans represents the thing they fight over.  Even if you don't want to play as a member of House Elegans, they can serve a useful purpose in your campaign by precipitating political strife.

House Kain

A member of House Kain would totally agree with this
Probably the most unique of the Houses (thus far) so it's interesting to see how Nemoricus sees them, which is primarily independent, anti-tradition, overconfident and romantic.

I find his portrayal of them as anti-tradition a bit troublesome.  I think I understand where he's going, but I want to suggest a different perspective.  House Kain embraces "traditional" methods more than most houses (except perhaps Grimshaw).  They embrace the old force-sword-and-buckler combat, and they continue to wear the old armor.  They're more anti-sophistication.  They're the guys who remain knights when everyone else has moved on to smallswords and poetry.  I would also argue that they embrace the notion of nobility, but a more "landed" version of nobility.  They're deeply tied to Caliban in a way the other houses have moved away from.  They see themselves as their people's protector, while many of the rest of the aristocracy have begun to take their position for granted.

This makes the relationship between the rest of the aristocracy and House Kain complicated.  House Kain seems to not care, but they clearly do as they cling to defiantly to their title.  They claim to disdain dueling, while having a unique dueling style all their own.  They are noble where the other houses have become aristocratic.  Which, I think, is what Nemoricus is trying to get at.  That said, this is something I think could be cleaned up and made more straight-forward.

I am very glad that he picked up on their romantic side.  I was worried people would see House Kain as always rough barbarians, when they're not.  They're a very masculine house, but where the other houses are more "clean shaven man in a suit" sort of masculinity, Kain is a rough "stubble and pitted steel" sort of masculinity, and he's quite confident that he can woo the damsel away from the overly sophisticated noble prick who is more into poetry than he is into the arts of war.  I see them as presenting a tough exterior, but saving a gentleness for their women.  On the flip side, a Kain woman is the sort who's going to say something like "Only a Kain woman can truly breed warrior sons!" and have a lot of spit and fire in them anyway, which might be another reason House Kain has learned to be very nice to women!

One point that Nemoricus makes that I want to repeat, primarily because it's a good one that I hadn't considered: House Kain knows the space about Caliban well.  If we see the Hyperspace around Caliban as "mountainous" with the main Caliban thoroughfare, like a "pass," then House Kain knows all the other "passses." That means they not only defend the main point of attack the Empire could make, but they can slip out to attack from unexpected angles, and they know what "secret" routes the Empire might eventually uncover and try to go through.  They're truly competent defenders!

Ammendum: Nemoricus raises the point of "Why is House Kain still a member of the Alliance?"  With such a culture clash, and with such fierce independence, why not abandon the Alliance and go your own way?  I think Nemoricus makes some good points.  Let me supplement it with two additional points.  First, Kain benefits from traffic that it controls going through Caliban.  It has a monopoly and that fuels its wealth.  One of my inspirations for the house was that of a German River Baron, who build castles over rivers and demanded a toll from all traffic.  Imperial domination would certainly undermine that little deal.  The second reason is that the Alliance offers them legitimacy.  Without the prestige of aristocracy, they're just some warlords and bullies, and they like the romance of being able to seduce Sabine women and cuff a loudmouth Grimshaw on the jaw and get away with it.  They're proud of their titles, the fact that they're knights and heroes and that they have ancestors buried on Maradon.  You see this sort of thing during the decline of the Roman Empire, where outsider barbarians craved the legitimacy offered by the Roman empire, even long after the Roman Empire stopped mattering (the "Holy Roman Empire" didn't dissolve until the early 1800s, 1400 years after the traditional date for the fall of the Western Roman Empire).

The Fifth House?  The Sixth?

I could go on, but let's stop here for now.  If you enjoyed reading up on the Houses, I highly recommend going over his material, and he has plans for more.  If we're nice, he might even try his hand at a new house, or do a write-up of the fifth house that will pop out of this weekend's poll.

What I've found striking about this experience is how much of a response the Houses have earned, and arguments as to what more they need.  Nemoricus offers some, some of which I should consider folding into the House write-ups, but I need to borrow some of these ideas for the Empire.  The Houses give a solid foundation on which to build a character, and while one can say that the Empire does this with organizations, I think I would argue that the Houses give a multi-dimensional way of building a character ("An Alliance regular Commando working for House Grimshaw" or "An Elegans Senator" or "A Sabine Spy.") that the Empire lacks (an Imperial Black Ops Commando; an Imperial Security Officer), but this entire process is a learning process, and I knew up front that I'd need to revisit both the Empire and the Alliance after everything was done, which I will do before Iteration 6 finishes up.

In any case, I wanted to thank everyone for exploring the houses with me.  We're almost done with the Alliance, so I'll see you guys next week to wrap it up!
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