Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Zero-Template Challenge: The Vithani, the Star-Children of the Umbral Fringe


Few humans have even heard of the Vithani, and fewer still have laid eyes upon a Vithani slave, much less enjoyed their company. The brutal slavers of the Umbral Rim covet them, but since the Dark Cataclysm cut their world off from the rest of the galaxy, they've had to make do with the population of the Vithani that remain in the galaxy, and their fragile biology paired with their fraught personal lives means they tend to meet untimely ends, and their number slowly, but steadily, dwindles.

The Vithani share the same humanoid body-plan that most humanoids of the galaxy, but with a slighter build and more gracile features. They have remarkable coloration, however, with inky black skin, freckled with patterns of small diamond or square "spots" of white, white lips and long, white hair.  Some have different colors, and they may have a deep violet and very dark blue skin, or they might have a bright magenta coloration to their hair, spots and lips, or a vivid, neon-blue or brilliant crimson hue.  These spots sometimes chart out recognizable patterns, like stars in the night sky, hence their nickname of Star-Children.

The Vithani come from a star within the globular cluster just beyond the Umbral Rim.  Their world has very thin air and retains little light even by day, when their star appears to be but the brightest of a great collection of vivid, beautiful stars. They have evolved to see by this starlight, and stripped of starlight or sunlight, they are blind, and the full sunlight of more daylight worlds can blind them.  They have evolved to breath the refined, celestial air of their world, and they labor under the thicker air that blankets most worlds.

Their relationship with the stars does not end with their appearance and their ability to see so well by starlight: it shapes their very lives! The Vithani have an intensely strong relationship with fate and fortune, and it is written in the stars, and in their stars. Almost all Vithani have a Destiny of some kind, and when it affects them, it affects them much more keenly than it affects other races. They mastered astrology to better understand how the shape of the stars affected their lives. This can make them powerful if their astrologies point to fortunate destinies, but it spells their doom when the stars are misaligned.

Finally, while many describe the Vithani as "magical" or "naturally psychic," this isn't exactly true. Instead, the have a unique relationship with psionic abilities: all Vithani that are strong-willed and beautiful are also naturally powerful with psychic abilities; Vithani that are weak-willed and ugly have little facility with psychic power. Those who have studied them are not sure why these things correlate, and have only noted that they do.

The explorers of the First Tyranny found a navigable hyperspatial route to the Vithani cluster and discovered their world.  The Vithani themselves had not yet discovered star travel, but were technological enough to forestall any Ranathim invasion and held off the Tyranny, who turned to a strategy of trade and espionage until they unlocked the secret of Vithani astrology.  With that stolen secret, they learned the fates of the Vithani and struck at the darkest hour of the race, easily conquering them.  The rarified princes and princess of the Star-Children became the slaves of the Ranathim, and so it remained until the Dark Cataclysm rewrote the hyperspatial map of the Umbral Rim, and cut off all contact with the Vithani cluster.  The Vithani slaves left in the Umbral Rim like to think the natives isolated in their cluster have long since thrown off their masters and live free lives.

Today, the Vithani can mostly be found as rare treasures held in the collections of wealthy slavers.  Free Vithani do roam the galaxy, either having liberated themselves, or descended from those slaves who escaped and set up small, isolated colonies on remote moons with thin, gauzy atmospheres. When they travel, they often pass themselves off as rare cousins of the Keleni, to whom they bear a passing resemblance, when they bother to explain themselves at all.  Generally, like all Vithani, they are compelled to follow their fate and lead interesting lives of danger and adventure.


0 points

Features: Alternate Attribute (Aura) [0]; Gracile 1 [0]; Night-Adapted Vision 5 [0]; Low-Pressure Lungs [0]; Rule Option (Extreme Destiny) [0]; Taboo Traits (Appearance, Charisma, Smooth Operator, Will), Ultravision [0]

Vithani Features

Gracile means they're 5% taller than normal, though I'd be tempted to just make them 5% lighter than normal.  Their Night-Adapted Vision paired with their natural Ultra-Vision means they can see between -7 and -5 darkness penalties with no penalty. However, their Ultravision means they cannot see at all without ultraviolet light, so they must be outside under starlight to see, or have UV "black lights" to see. Low-Pressure lungs means they treat thin atmosphere as normal, and normal atmosphere as Dense (which functionally means they are a perpetual -1 to HT in normal atmosphere).

For common traits, I'd recommend at least Allure as a common Talent, but likely some supernatural talents (Devotion, perhaps) as well. Craftiness might fit them too.  Smooth Operator, though, is forbidden (You'll see why in a bit).  Distinctive Feature might also be a good way of reflecting an especially unique "constellation."

Rules Option (Extreme Destiny)

Vithani can always buy Destiny, or have Destiny imposed on them by the GM if they have Point Debt, etc.  Vithani must pay 5 more points per level of Destiny (Trivial Destiny is a 5 point advantage) or gets back 5 more points per level of disadvantageous Destiny.

Vithani always use the Impulse Buy variant of Destiny, and they get 1 Impulse Buy point per 5/points of Destiny (thus, their version of Greater Destiny [20] gives them 4 Impulse Buy points, rather than 3).  They should always have the option of using those Impulse Buy points, and if I fully expanded this race, I'd work out a suggested list of what they should be able to do with them.

The GM should always be able to use "Villain Points" against the Vithani, with one VP per 5 points of Disadvantageous Destiny they have (thus, the GM would have 4 VP to use against a Vithani who had a Greater Destiny [-20]).

If using the Great Book of Destiny, the Vithani can purchase a Mark of (the Hour) as a perk ("the Primal Mark" or "The Mark of Glory" etc).  This reflects itself in the spots on the Vithani, which is recognizable to others who know the marks (Hidden Lore (Vithani)?). The Vithani with the mark may always buy a Destiny associated with that particular Hour, and the GM can convert any point debt into a disadvantageous Destny, but only one associated with that particular Hour.  Thus, the Mark sets what broad sort of Destiny the Vithani has.  The GM might also allow the Mark of (the Path) for a similar role for Path-based Destines.

Alternate Attribute (Aura)

Hooboy, here we go.  This might be a little over-the-top, but I wanted to tinker with Alternate Attributes.  This is a worked example of Charisma as an independent attribute (Alternate Abilities page 25), combined with Will and Christopher Rice's the Fifth Attribute. Here are the rules:

Aura costs 10/level.  It replaces the function of Will, and all Social Skills (that is, any skill that falls under Smooth Operator), Psionic Skills, Chi Skills and Enthrallment Skills fall under Aura.  Aura determines the character's appearance:
  • Aura 6 or less: Hideous
  • Aura 7-8: Ugly
  • Aura 9: Unattractive
  • Aura 10: Average Appearance
  • Aura 11-12: Attractive
  • Aura 13: Beautiful
  • Aura 14: Very Beautiful
  • Aura 15+: Transcendent
Vishani appearance works a bit like Charisma: it should apply its base reaction bonus against a target even if they can't be seen, but it applies its higher bonus like normal (ie men will react to a female Vishani with Aura 13 at +4 rather than +2, but if they cannot see her, they react at +2). Vishani may choose to define their Aura as Impressive or Androgynous if they wish, but once defined, it should remain that way.

Vishani have FP equal to half (rounded up) their HT.  They have Aura Points equal to half (rounded up) of their Aura.  Aura points can be spent only on psychic powers, like Energy Reserves (Psi). Aura points may be purchased independently at 3/level, and they recover at the same rate as FP (but recover independently).

When using a Psi-Wars template with a Vishani, their Aura starts at 10, and all points spent on Will, Charisma or Smooth Operator should be converted to Aura, and every 10 points increases their Aura by one level.

Okay, so here's the logic.  If we treat Charisma as an Attribute, then it should clearly handle all social skills.  But that should only be worth about 5/level unless we decide it should be worth more than that (the 10/level suggested by Alternate Attributes), but to round it out, Alternate Attributes suggests bundling it with Will, which we've done. It might even be necessary to move more skills over to it, in which case we can pull Psionic, Chi and Enthrallment skills over.  Enthrallment makes sense to me (it's basically a social skill), but Psionic and Chi aren't strictly necessary if that seems over the top to you, as Will is already extremely powerful with both Psionic (extra effort) and Chi (power-blow) skills.

As for appearance, this might be my way of getting them to look pretty without actually buying appearance.  But here's the logic: Alternate Attributes suggests a +1 to Reactions per level of the Charisma attribute and -1 to Reactions per negative level.  This functions the same, except it reskins it as appearance, rather than raw charisma.

All told, I think all the results balance out. Their AP is a bit high, but they lose some more generalized FP to get it, so that seems fair.  It might be a bit cheap, but this makes IQ a bit expensive so I think it evens out in the end.

Great Notes Of Destiny!

When I started the Vishani, I knew I wanted a race for the Umbral Rim, and I knew I wanted them to be another option for slaves (because how often can you see a Ranathim dancing girl or Ranathim gladiator before wanting to see something else?) and I wanted them to mess around with Destiny, which has some underutilized aspects that I wanted to highlight. My first thoughts were the Vithaani of Tales of the Solar Patrol (hence the name) and I thought about "the red men of the Umbral Rim" actually, but then I pondered the Orion Slave Girls, and then that got me to thinking about the Mirialan of Star Wars, so I had the idea of "Green with black marks" and then I was looking at Ultravision and Low Pressure Lungs and thought "What an ideal combination!" but that meant stars and that meant this particular look.

I worry that they look a bit like the Keleni, as both have darker and/or blue skin with light and pale hair.  Both half "elfish" vibes too, and tend to think a lot about destiny and such.  So maybe it's too similar, or maybe it's a bit "Togruta vs Twi'lek" and "Sea elf vs Star elf," I dunno.

If I kept them as a major race, I might ditch Aura. It's somewhat complicated and adds quite a wrinkle to the game. It's easier to just say they're all Attractive and be done with it.  That said, it does create a somewhat unique incentive structure, and it might be neat to think about a fifth attribute for other races as well!

This highlights how often Features often turn into straight-up zero-point disadvantages in the wrong situation.  Given the nature of Psi-Wars, though Low-Pressure Lungs should be at least a quirk, but I do like the idea of them: you need to be a bit breathless to meet them.  I'd also go with a full 10-point version of Ultravision, because they idea of them being blind without UV light would probably be too harsh for most players, but I'd keep some level of Night-Adapted Vision.  I might give them Obvious at some level, if they "black-light glow" in the dark. I'd also consider -1 ST and raise their Gracile to 2 (in case they weren't already Keleni enough). I also had originally given them Dreamer as a quirk, and it might be worth keeping for them.

I like them, though.  They're a pretty pure expression of the feature-based race, and get a lot of utility that hangs together thematically, so I'm rather proud of them.  I wouldn't mind seeing them as part of the Psi-Wars canon. What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. I like them! A Vithani officer with the warlord lens would be an interesting character, I think.


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