Friday, October 4, 2019

Wiki Showcase: Aristocratic Lens - The Mithanna

I asked my patrons to vote on which aristocratic lenses they wanted to see, and four options tied for second.  This is the third (and last that I'll discuss here; the fourth was the Last Alexian, which is a Patreon special, available in the Lost book of Houses).

I was honestly a little surprised to see Ranathim Aristocracy do as well as it did.  I'm glad it did, though, because it gives us a chance to look at some truly alien nobility.  Most of our aristocrats are either human, or only superficially different from human nobility (you could, for example, build an Asrathi noble as a generic aristocrat, but there's nothing in that post that would encourage you to make him different from, say, a Pelian noble).  This gave me a chance to explore a really different sort of aristocracy, to set up some unusual and alien traditions.

One concern I had going into the design of the Mithanna was mounting complexity.  I didn't mind adding more and more houses to Maradonian nobility, because they're a central focus of the game and I expect players will want to see a lot of detail about them.  The Ranathim pose a different problem, as they're explicitly "foreign."  They're the "Red Men of Mars" that John Carter goes and learns about, with their Jeds and Jeddaks and Tharks, or the Klingons with their overly nuanced sense of honor and their unique language. They're meant to feel foreign and exotic, which both means they need a lot of detail, and that people don't care about their detail until they really care about their detail.

So I wanted to make something something that felt weird but didn't actually use any new mechanics.  If you're familiar with the Divine Masks, you're already familiar with Oath Magic (ie, just buying a learned prayer as a straight up trait and slapping an oath modifier on it), so I chose that mechanic as my core focus.  I chose a single oath (the Mithna Edict) as the focus of the characters, the one thing they turn on, then added a handful of ways to customize your characters (a few new oaths, some psychic abilities, a few common traits, etc). 

I felt three houses were enough, though I've heard murmurings of wanting a fourth or making their own, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader. With the Maradonian nobility, I could easily see games centered entirely on them.  The Maradonian aristocracy are one of the participants of the central conflict of the setting, and they're a familiar sort of nobility, which allows players to easily understand them.  They could well want to play one and find that the four houses offered aren't enough, hence the Lost Book of Houses.  With the Ranathim Aristocracy, I don't see that nearly as much of a concern.  I see most players experiencing the Umbral Rim as outsiders, and those that want to run a strictly Umbral Rim/Ranathim game are, first, likely to be rare and, second, served already by the great variety of the region.  They can play as a member of one of the three Mithna, or they can play as a Slaver-lord, or they can play as a Gaunt priestess, or they can play as a Trader Merchant-King, or they can play as a Keleni prophet, etc and so on. The region is already rich with variety, so the Mithanna only really need enough variety to lightly outline how they might vary from one another, and then they can be tossed into the wild mish-mash of ideas brewing in the Umbral Rim.

What emerged from my design was, as someone pointed out, very Fae-like.  This wasn't actually intentional (I drew more inspiration from Vampires, especially Vampire: the Masquerade. If you squint, you can even see the Gangrel behind Mithna Galantim), but I can see it.  Like with most things I put into the Umbral Rim, the idea is to create a disorienting set of rules that nobody properly explains to the player, making him feel like an outsider, so that he staggers into insulting one of these and ends up dueling them in some crazy, pulp space opera dueling chamber with a gyrating floor and spike traps, while a Ranathim princess struggles with her feelings for this strangely compelling Earth man and the fact that her Edict forbids her from loving him (unless he does these equally weird, arbitrary things that the princess sighs and rolls her eyes when explaining it to him, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world).  I also had to explain how the aristocrats of a broken empire could still keep their power, given the constant churn of disorder and anarchy in the Umbral Rim.  I think it worked out well.

The dueling, blood-feuds, and the explicit bonds to worlds (such as Galantim ruling an estate on Hekatomb) is based on feedback from the Disciples.  They thought the Mithanna needed more context.

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