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Author Topic: [TSOY] Near's Arid North, Part 1: Sohakaimet  (Read 8445 times)
shadowcourt
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« on: November 05, 2008, 09:49:14 AM »

So, as promised, here's some of the brainstorming I've been doing about what lies beyond the map we know for Near, up to the north. All of this is predicated on the idea that (if it matters to anyone other than my weird self) if Near is similar to our world, most of the nations we know (Maldor, Ammeni, Zaru, etc.) are located in the southern hemisphere. As one goes further south, things get eventually colder, and so Qek approaches equatorial Near.

In my mind, there are a few nations in this area which make up a "northern cluster", in the same fashion that Maldor sits prominently in a "southern cluster." Oran, as the western horse plain, is one of the rare cultures which moves relatively effortlessly between northern and southern clusters, bringing trappings of Maldorite culture to the desert empire of Hamouad, and sometimes bringing Hamouadi goods south to Ammeni and Maldor (though the Ammenites have their own designs on brisk trade with Hamouad, and rely on their own caravans and not just Oranid horse nomads).

For the moment, though, I'm going to start with one of the more marginal, self-contained cultures, because it's one I think is interesting and different from what we've seen so far on the face of Near. Bear with me, as this is all coming stream-of-consciousness out of my head. Some things probably need to be edited and brushed up in the future.

Sohakaimet: In the Shadow of Titans
In the north, there is a land of high plateaus and mesas, ringing cracked valleys and plains of scrub-land. Despite the relatively warm lands which ring it (such as Hamouad to the south and east, Oran to the far south, and Qek and Khale to the distant east), the land called Sohakaimet suffers icy desert nights, frequent storms, and howling winds through many of the seasons. The soil is stony and hard, and the monsoons lead to rockslides, muddy floods, and other calamities which make agriculture difficult, if not impossible. Sohakaimet was not always such--once, it was lush and well-tended, a land of druid priests and clever artisans. But it is said that one should not ask too much of the gods, and the people of Sohakaimet dwell in dread of their living deities.

Walking Upon The Gods
The written history of the Sohakai has been entirely obliterated by the Turning of the Faces, the cataclysm which brought the fury of Sohakaimet's gods down upon its people and destroyed their culture. The fact that this period coincides with the Year of Shadow is no accident. Sohakaimet's high priests in the centuries before the Shadow were students of pure earth energies, able to sense ley lines and the forms and secrets of the land. They believed that the earth itself was the home of the gods, vast sleeping entities which they called the Titans. These gargantuan creatures were rarely seen in any active form--indeed, they were the land-forms of Sohakaimet itself, the slumbering mountains and hills, the winding rivers, the twisting cloud banks, and the overgrown wild forests. The ley priests of the Sohakai sometimes dreamed the dreams of the Titans, and could occasionally prod their sleep to encourage the land to bloom, rain to fall, or wildfires to turn away from areas which they would otherwise devastate.

What little evidence remains from pre-cataclysmic Sohakaimet indicates a rich culture of ceramics, painting, and stylish architecture, including multi-story structures made of adobe and stone. Clearly even before the land turned against them, the Sohakai were no strangers to steppe-dwelling, and used ladders and staircases as prominent features in their homes. The lack of enclosed temples points to ruins which were open sacred sites, including stone dolmens and amphitheaters which served both religious and secular functions. Metal-working was unheard of, however, due to the hesitancy regarding stealing from the very veins of the Titans themselves; instead, flint, ceramic, wood, and cloth were the focus of the Sohakai material culture.

Those Who Hide Their Faces And Do Not Touch The Earth
None can say for certain what crimes the Sohakai ancestors committed that brought the displeasure of the Titans, but rumors and legends run rampant. Some say that a new generation of Sohakai became lazy and indolent, and demanded the bounty of harvest and hunt from the Titans rather than cultivating and nurturing the land and doing the hard work of hunting themselves. Some believe that the people turned away from the gods, and claimed it was their own labor, and not the gifts of the Titans, which sustained them, causing the generous gods to become wroth. Some legends say that the cycle of the world was turning, and the skies were growing fiery even at night, limned with terrible red flame. The priests saw that a time of darkness and starvation was coming, and tried to wake the Titans to battle it, or protect their people. For whatever reason, their prayers offended the sleeping gods, and the Titans woke furious at the arrogance of the people. The earth shook, molten fire burst forth from the earth, and the skies became first flame-filled, and then completely dark. Many died in the bitter iciness which followed, and those few who found refuge within the cliffs and mountains of Sohakaimet endured a hard-scrabble year of which most tales are mercifully silent.

The Sohakai knew that their gods were furious, and most leaders among the people were certain that they were to blame. The first scouts to to return with any useful information told of storm-darkened skies and the slow, lumbering bodies of the angry Titans, treading heavy upon the broken land. The ley priests prayed to the Titans, trying to invoke the ancient compacts, and discovered that the ley-magics they once wielded only drew down violence from their gargantuan gods, causing sheltered enclaves to be battered and laid low by the Titans' wrath. In humiliation, the leaders and priests of the Sohakai announced that the Titans had turned their faces from the Sohakai, and that the people were unfit to show themselves before the land and sky which they once worshiped. What's worse, the Titans' connection to the earth and its energies meant that none who touched the soil were safe

Thus began the pain-staking processes of Sohakai survival, which include fade-hiding and stilt-walking. It is shame at their fallen state that motivates all Sohakai to go masked in all circumstances but the most intimate, hiding all but their eyes and a small slit for their mouths behind the masks which are now their public faces. Similarly, Sohakai paint their flesh and then wrap it in cloth, hoping that their disgraced bodies do not offend the eyes of their gods, the Titans. Decoration of the painted flesh, and symbolic markings on masks designed to show status and accomplishments, are the one conceit to vanity among the Sohakai, making even an outsider able to discern the rankings of individual members of an enclave. Small children receive simple child-masks, and infants are required only to be painted in public; at the age of majority, a young adult receives his or her first personal mask, with symbols of his enclave and name upon it. As he or she gains status and a family, other markings will follow, including symbols indicating bonds to a spouse or children. Unmasking happens only among intimates, generally only blood-relatives and spouses. The wedding night for a Sohakai couple is sometimes the first time they see each other's faces, and is made all the more passionate thereby.

Sohakai also learn to walk upon stilts, practicing incredible balance and agility. This taboo pertains much less to stone than it does the bare earth, and so the larger stilts which are used when travelling the open plains are packed away and traded for smaller stilt-shoes when climbing rock faces and cliffs, and in rare situations can be entirely abandoned in the safety of high mountain enclaves (though such practices are frowned upon by elders who have seen foolishness and lax policies result in Titan massacres). Infants are almost always carried in papooses, and children learn over the years to walk on higher and higher stilts, until they can master the five foot stilts used by adults who must cross long distances. The best hunters and scouts are capable of impressive feats while stilt-walking, outrunning other humans who are not similarly equipped, and performing graceful combat maneuvers while hunting or fighting. Most Sohakai sleep in hammocks in all situations, particularly when traveling the open countryside, lest their touching of the earth offend the Titans. Offerings and contrition must even be made when clay and mud are drawn to make ceramic vessels, apologizing for sullying the sacred earth with their uncleanliness.

Forced to scrape for a miserable existence in the winding cliffs of their land, they sometimes journey down to the cracked desert face of what was once a lush and rolling land, to scavenge for relics of the age before the Turning of Faces or to simply find the food and materials necessary to survive. This rugged life has made the surviving Sohakai a hardy and self-reliant people, capable of living off of meager means and ready to defend each other against outside threats. Small enclaves exist in competition with each other for local resources, and only occasionally come together for mutual defense (such as passing a warning of the sighting of an angry Titan marauding nearby). The Sohakai have become accomplished raptor-hunters, training the eagles of the mesas to hunt small game for them, including other birds, mice, and voles, to supplement the diet of tubers and other roots, and gathered rain-water. In desperation, an enclave will turn to eating its own eagles, but such decisions are rarely wise, equivalent to a group of horse-nomads who are forced to consume their horses to survive.

The Titans: Fury of the Earth
The Titans are creatures of pure elemental power, somehow the living embodiment of the land and nature. In ancient times, they slept with the land forms and weather patterns of the land, only dimly aware of the world around them and reached only through the trances of ley-working priests. The ley lines which criss-cross the land have been described as their breath, their blood, or simply the trails they left when they first walked the world until they found comfortable places of slumber. The energy which courses through these lines, called Chi by the ley priests, is Through offerings and coaxing, the ley priests received the bounty of the Titans, calling forth rain and rich harvests, guiding herds of animals, and occasionally even reshaping the land or traveling great distances in an instant.

Since the time of the cataclysm, the Titans have woken. They are immense creatures--living mountains, with huge bodies composed of stone, earth, water, cloud, even flame, lightning, or trees. It is not uncommon for life to be found upon the bodies of the Titans: some appear as massive creatures who have whole forests on their backs, complete with birds, insects, and other creatures. Sometimes, these islands of green seem the only pastoral place still in Sohakaimet, though it is only the truly brave or foolish who would scale a waking Titan to reach these places of respite. Still, some do, particularly if it means bringing back fruits and vegetables, and hunted game, for the rest of their enclave. Many Titans take semi-familiar forms, appearing as vast bulls, horses, boars, wolves, or other animal shapes, albeit composed of unliving matter. Some even have vaguely humanoid forms, though often multiple limbs or animal features reveal their inhuman nature.

Titans are drawn to fluctuations of Chi, and so geomancers of the old Sohakai tradition must be judicious in their use of their powers, and even their prayers designed to gather energies from the land through meditation and ceremony. As the surest sign of proof that the Sohakai feelings of shame are well-founded, Titans will sometimes cross vast distances to destroy a small circle of geomancers, or leave them scattered to the winds, on the run from their ever-watchful gods. Other than this constant seeking, however, the motivations of the Titans remain mysterious. Some will pass right by a Sohakai enclave and leave it untouched, while others will pursue a small group of nomads for days in a relentless hunt. Some Titans seem to do little more than wander aimlessly; others challenge any other Titan they see to terrible combat, which shakes the earth for miles around the battle-site. Unable to discern the true will of their gods, geomancers and look-outs are forced to try and avoid them, anticipate their bizarre moves, and prepare for the worst.

Some have wondered why the Sohakai simply do not flee their land. After all, Near is a vast place, and a tiny enclave of Sohakai could surely find some new home outside their land of furious gods. Even if they felt it necessary to continue to go masked and stilted, perhaps they would not need to hide from the Titans wrath. But the Sohakai diaspora has learned to its horror that it carries the Titans' curse with it; the gods of the land are everywhere, and any hill or river is the sleeping place of a Titan (albeit more drowsy than the waking ones of Sohakaimet). As if the raging gods whispered to the sleeping ones, Sohakai who practice ley line magics outside of their own lands cause Titans to wake and surge forth demanding punishment, and those who forget their shame and walk the bare earth or reveal their faces to outsiders bring terrible vengeance from the earth-gods, often from a quarter which is unexpected. The threat of such reprisal is more than sufficient to make elders discipline the youth who violate taboo outside of Sohakaimet, though still the young grow envious and fascinated with the foreign cultures they meet, such as the fierce and free horse-nomads of Oran or the painted beauties of Hamouad.

Other Species in Sohakaimet
Humans make up the bulk of the Sohakai, with the occasional goblin enclave found within the mountains, or else scavenging the ruins of old Sohakaimet to eke out a miserable existence. Elves are few and far between, though some seem drawn to this land to view a place which embodies their waking nightmares. Even many of Sohakai's elves observe the ritual masking and stilt-walking customs of the humans, if only sometimes to travel the land unmolested; those that do not receive no quarter from the human enclaves.

The most enigmatic of Sohakaimet's denizens are the land's giants, who seem to be locked in some sort of madness, perhaps in the throes of the same terrible fury which possesses the waking Titans. The relationship between the gargantuan mortals and the living gods has never been fully understood, and is perhaps lost within the ancient lore of the ley line priests. Rumors also claim that brave scouts have seen small creatures dwelling upon the backs and bodies of the greatest Titans, which appear to be hunched and hirsute beings, scampering about on all fours, with snaking rat-like tails behind them. What these creatures are, and how they came to dwell upon the bodies of the Titans, is unknown to the humans of Sohakai. Truly, though, knowledge of how to live at peace with the Titans once more, or serve them in some other capacity, would be greatly prized by the sorrowful Sohakai.

- - -

Okay, so, that's part 1, which has a lot of the flavor. I figure I'll post some crunch in the form of Cultural Abilities, and then solicit some comments from people. Any thoughts? Things you'd suggest expanding or minimizing? Questions or comments?

-shadowcourt (aka Josh)
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shadowcourt
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« Reply #1 on: November 05, 2008, 10:03:48 AM »

In the proud and absurd tradition of responding to my own posts, here's the first crack at the Cultural Abilities for Sohakaimet. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Sohakai Cultural Abilities
Balance (I): Most Sohakai avoid contact with the earth, out of shame over their ancestor’s indiscretions, choosing to wear wooden platform shoes. You have mastered the noble art of stilt-walking, allowing you to avoid offending the earth by balancing on larger poles and stilts. Use this ability to walk, dance, and perform at an impressive height. It is also used for keeping one's balance and climbing in general, making it invaluable to the high-dwelling enclaves of the cliffs and mesas, and to any who are mad enough to scale a Titan's moving form.

Falconry (I): This ability is used to capture and train hunting raptors, common in the aeries and high ridges of the mountains. It can be used to hunt and catch small game with a raptor, or deliver messages to another trained falconer.

Geomancy (R): The study of mystical forces as they relate to land forms, bodies of water, and other features of the landscape. You can use this ability to discern where sources of water are to be found, to guess at the shape of mountains and valleys you have yet to see firsthand by observing surrounding land forms, and to design a structure whose layout is soothing to its inhabitants. Sohakai who learn this art also come to an understanding of the ancient Titans and their ways, who are tied to the land itself. The secrets of geomancy allow you to ultimately discern and manipulate ley lines and nodes.

Glider (I): Gliders are used by the mountain-dwelling Sohakai to travel great distances and to defend their fastnesses from external threats. Use this ability to construct, repair, or pilot a glider.

As a note, I'm considering giving this as an ability specifically to beef up the culture of the goblins. I didn't really do diddly with Sohakaimet's goblins, and I probably should've talked about them more. As creatures of impulse, they are probably REALLY seen as a menace by a culture which is laden-down with intense feelings of shame and grief. It might be fun to make the goblins really crazy and distinct by giving them an aerial culture which is about daring and wild survival in the stormy skies above Sohakaimet. Odds are if anyone thinks that's a good notion, I'm gonna go for it. I'm about 80% convinced just by myself, as is.

Mask Craft (R): Ornate masks connote identity and status among the Sohakai since the time of the Turning of Faces. The ability to paint the body and fashion a mask for oneself is a talent taught to all Sohakai, though not all truly master its ways. Major accomplishments, the birth or death of important family members, or change in rank in a tribe merit modification of a person’s mask. This ability can also be used to read the mask markings of clans outside of your own, and to become a valued mask-artist.

Scouting (I): Keeping watch for the movement of titans, seeing from mountaintops or across steppes, or watching the horizon for monsoons or hurricanes is difficult work. Use this ability when you need to see things at distance.

Scrounging (I): The ruined wastelands of Sohakaimet yield little in the way of food, water, and tools, forcing the Sohakai to become capable at making do with little, and gathering even in an inhospitable area. This ability can be used to find items or materials when they should not be commonly found. This also includes hunting the mobile body of a Titan, if one is brave or foolish enough to climb one, to bring back the spoils of these verdant reaches.

Shame (R): The sorrow and guilt of the Sohakai permeates many of their interactions. This ability allows you to tap into that shame, humiliating someone who has broken taboo or law, and showing your own obeisance and humility for a violation you’ve committed. Use it to abase yourself before a superior or priest, atone publicly for your crimes against the Titans, or make another be silent and obedient.

As an additional note, I am usually a MAJOR detractor of Abilities which look too much like emotions, because I think they lead to lame catch-all and overuse scenarios. So, I'm never someone who thinks Anger (V) is a good Ability, because someone's gonna try and trot it out for anything and everything. But the Shame aspect for Sohakaimet was just SO choice, and I've never seen anyone do anything quite like it, that I thought it was appropriate. It's very weird and corner-case: you're unlikely to use Shame to beat someone to a pulp, or get a hot date, or craft the best spear. Nonetheless, I think it's an example of a rare situation where something which is really more emotional content can become an effective Ability.

Spear-fighting (V): Young Sohakai warriors learn to fight with spears made of wood or bone. Useful for fighting off enemies as well as hunting on the steppes of Sohakaimet. This ability is used to attack with this weapon, or other polearms.

Woodwinds (I): Pipes, flutes, and similar instruments are the most common art form practiced by the Sohakai, used during ritual gatherings and even to communicate warnings over long distances. Use this ability to play a haunting tune, send a signal over the plains, or entertain your fellows.

- - - -

Well, there's the start of it. Dig in, and let me know what people think. There are Secrets and Keys to follow, already written out, but I figured I'd solicit some feedback, first.

-shadowcourt (aka Josh)


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oliof
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« Reply #2 on: November 05, 2008, 10:11:19 AM »

Stilt walking mask bearers praying to the elemental forces of existence? The Anger of the Titans?

This is great stuff.

I wonder how the Houadi enslave the Elves. It sounds as if they'd be the one doing it.
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oliof
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« Reply #3 on: November 05, 2008, 10:14:51 AM »

Cross-double post: Yeah, I was wondering about the goblins for a short while. Good so see them come back as crazy aerial folks. I'd probably make Shame a Secret along the lines of Secret of Specialization, having it grant bonus points to social interaction skills (Pray, Rhetoric, Sway).
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #4 on: November 05, 2008, 03:52:03 PM »

Yeah,  great stuff. I'm going to ask this again, because I find it incredible how much you're working on Near: mind if I co-opt amiable parts of this new northern stuff for the new TSoY book when I finally get around to writing it? Sohakai are very Near-y folks, and I can already see interesting connections to Qek knotwork, giants and whatnot. Very fantastic, too - perhaps could stand having some minor element of human strife to keep vaguely rooted in the sword & sorcery sensibility? Unless you're planning to do the whole of the northern clime in a slightly different style, of course.

Also, potentially relating to the human angle: what sort of cultural boundary interfaces do you envision for Sohakai towards the other peoples of Near, or are they a secluded people? The Maldorean Near is big on the cultural conflicts and the whole "shadow of the empire" -theme, how is it up north?

My goblin vote is: go to it, glider goblins are cool. Near needs more fleshed out weird goblins, I think. Needs to be more like Elfquest, where every valley has its own crazily evolved elves.
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shadowcourt
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« Reply #5 on: November 06, 2008, 08:46:42 AM »

Thanks for the encouragement everyone.

Very quickly, some clarifications, and solicitation thereof:

oliof,

It's not the Hamouadi who are enslaving elves, but my proto-Qek culture. More on them later, but they've got a very Aztec vibe to them. Their reasons for wanting elves under their thumb will be revealed, but it's pretty self-evident, I think, if you consider an elf's relationship to the existence of a sasha. That said, theocratic Hamouad doesn't love elves either, but it's more of a splitting hairs on theology issue.

My concerns about making something like a Secret of Shame is that it becomes grounds for things like a Secret of Wrath or what-have-you, where these Secrets end up popping *constantly*. "I'm cooking in an ANGRY way! I'm painting this painting with my ANGER!" etc etc. It's not a problem in some games, but I hate the constant exchange before every roll that it entails, and how it ends up limiting character actions as opposed to opening them up. It might simply work better if I changed Shame's name to something else, but Humility didn't seem quite right either. I wanted to reflect that it was a character's ability to seem contrite as well as to humiliate others for their injudicious actions.


Eero,

Absolutely. The Sohakai are totally up for grabs for future Near-themed publications, which is why I'm premiering them here, to solicit suggestions from people and try and tailor them. Hopefully some of the connections to things like giants are already hinted at. I hope it was clear that I was talking about ratkin living on the bodies of titans, as well. I'm going to make some of that more explicit with the Secret crunch, as well. I think for the first time I might have a few Cultural Secrets that have Species requirements. I don't want to overdo things like that, as it gets to be a pretty tiny niche one is maneuvering in, but I think sometimes it's really fun to show with a little crunchiness just how, say, a Zaru ratkin might be different from a Maldorite one, or a Khalean elf has different options than an Oranid or Ammenite one.

The ley line magics are forthcoming. I have a system for it which is... not revolutionary, certainly, but hopefully got a little bit of spunk to it. It's one of those sections I'm really not wed to, also. If someone comes up with something genius that would work better, I'm all ears. Even as I write this, I'm thinking about potential rewrites.

We should talk about this, though, because I want to be clear on what you mean:
Quote
Very fantastic, too - perhaps could stand having some minor element of human strife to keep vaguely rooted in the sword & sorcery sensibility? Unless you're planning to do the whole of the northern clime in a slightly different style, of course.

It's true that I envision the Sohakai in an almost fantasy post-apocalyptic setting. Is that what you're referring to, in that they might be flavor-different than the rest of Near? Hopefully there are some reasons, both fluff and crunch, which keep them bounded in that kind of headspace even if they're elsewhere on Near. It's easy to establish it in their own ruined nation, but outside of it, they carry their guilt with them in their remoteness from others (the masks, for one thing) and the danger their own cultural magics present (more on that when the geomancy line stuff is articulated).

Maybe I didn't make it clear because I haven't laid out Keys yet, for instance, but I think the daily struggle of life is not the only source of drama for these guys. One conceit is that their culture is interacting more and more with outsiders, and that this is leading to a drift in the intensity of personal and group guilt which the elders of the Sohakai find dangerous. Rebellious youth are meeting outsiders and wondering why *those* folks don't have to go masked all the time. Lots of potential for the power of romance and love in a world where you're forbidden to show your face. I guess I need to make more of that more explicit.

Another aspect is the competition between, but necessity for relying on, other enclaves of Sohakai. It's not a land where the individual does well, but if groups are too large they can't support themselves.

Let me turn the question around, then, as I'm not sure I'm getting it. What would root them in a sword & sorcery sensibility? Do they seem detached from it, to you?

Quote
Also, potentially relating to the human angle: what sort of cultural boundary interfaces do you envision for Sohakai towards the other peoples of Near, or are they a secluded people? The Maldorean Near is big on the cultural conflicts and the whole "shadow of the empire" -theme, how is it up north?

Well, part of the secret is that I consider Khale and Qek to be as much a part of the northern cluster as I do the southern. They, like Oran, are very much border nations that interact frequently between both of those clusters. So, some cultural tensions, as I envision them. Some of these won't make sense until more is said on these nations, I suspect, but I'll try all the same:

  • Hamouad is a cross-roads point, as a culture which has tremendous wealth but is building its history as it goes. Before the Year of Shadow, the Hamouadi were slaves to sorcerer-kings called the Wazidi, but the Year of Shadow caused that magic to fail and brought about a slave uprising which turned messianic. They've got some "Dune" to them (I can never really hide my sources there), and are interested in spreading their religion (which has no god at the center of it, and instead venerates the bloodline of their messianic revolutionary) to other nations, but aren't actively engaged in full-force war yet. Qek, Khaleans, Oranids, Sohakai, and others are infidels who should ultimately be shown the light, but the nation has plenty of internal problems, and is not fully solidified. Schisms among members of the ruling bloodline are problematic, as well; just because your great great grandfather was a revolutionary prophet doesn't mean you're all that holy, yourself, and people seeking power through the priesthood runs rampant.
  • Hamouad and the proto-Qek are both expansionist cultures with ideas about sovereignty, though what motivates each is very different. The proto-Qek have absolutely no qualms about slavery, and the Hamouadi preach freedom but are hypocritical in how they will subordinate foreigners and force outsiders into mameluke positions in their armies. So, military tension is a real possibility on the Hamouad and proto-Qek front; these are not nations that "get" each other at all, but regard each other as SO alien that it can be hard to simply grasp them. The fact that these might be mercenaries and slave-armies makes that all the more heated.
  • Outsiders are likely to find Sohakaimet a frightening place with not a huge amount to offer, unless you're keen on understanding the nature of the titans or ley magics, or raiding the spoils of what was once a healthier culture with more prodigious arts. As such, this might make them a little dry and disappointing as a place to visit, so maybe I need to spice that element up a bit. I'm not sure what to offer to encourage players to "visit scenic Sohakaimet and die...!", though. It's not really a nation anymore; much like Qek or Khale, there isn't a centralized government to interact with, and enclaves are fighting each other to survive.

I have a lot more thought out on the national interactions, but maybe it'll become more clear when Hamouad and the Qek ancestors are laid out. They're the big players on the international scene, and how they work with the other nations might make all the puzzle pieces fall into place. You might be on to something, though, in that the Sohakai need more stuff to be a'buzz about. We know who they are, but what they do might need more fleshing out.

Hmmm.

-shadowcourt (aka Josh)
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #6 on: November 06, 2008, 05:29:21 PM »

One thing I'm reminded about concerning the north: The Torrid Clime is probably rather awful and completely unpassable, I just know it.

My concerns about making something like a Secret of Shame is that it becomes grounds for things like a Secret of Wrath or what-have-you, where these Secrets end up popping *constantly*. "I'm cooking in an ANGRY way! I'm painting this painting with my ANGER!" etc etc. It's not a problem in some games, but I hate the constant exchange before every roll that it entails, and how it ends up limiting character actions as opposed to opening them up. It might simply work better if I changed Shame's name to something else, but Humility didn't seem quite right either. I wanted to reflect that it was a character's ability to seem contrite as well as to humiliate others for their injudicious actions.

I agree about the emotions. I don't see your Ability as a problem, though, especially if you name and describe it to convey an expertise in the local cultural mores - it's not an Ability for doing something with a feeling, but an Ability for feeling that feeling in the first place, and causing others to feel it. No different from a rhetorical skill in that regard. "Knowledge of the Sohakai Shame" would be a bit long as a name, though.

Quote
Absolutely. The Sohakai are totally up for grabs for future Near-themed publications, which is why I'm premiering them here, to solicit suggestions from people and try and tailor them. Hopefully some of the connections to things like giants are already hinted at. I hope it was clear that I was talking about ratkin living on the bodies of titans, as well.

Yes, I like the ratkin idea. Gives them a new sort of niche, they all tend to live in some sort of monoculture down south - it's just a matter of whose garbage bin they're robbing, insofar as dramatic detail is concerned.

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I'm going to make some of that more explicit with the Secret crunch, as well. I think for the first time I might have a few Cultural Secrets that have Species requirements. I don't want to overdo things like that, as it gets to be a pretty tiny niche one is maneuvering in, but I think sometimes it's really fun to show with a little crunchiness just how, say, a Zaru ratkin might be different from a Maldorite one, or a Khalean elf has different options than an Oranid or Ammenite one.

I have no problem with culture/race cross-specific crunch, myself. Probably won't need much of that in the typical game, of course, being that roleplayers generally aren't interested in a super-focused campaign where everybody has to play a duck from Duckburg instead of everybody getting their own favourite individual character fetish.

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The ley line magics are forthcoming. I have a system for it which is... not revolutionary, certainly, but hopefully got a little bit of spunk to it. It's one of those sections I'm really not wed to, also. If someone comes up with something genius that would work better, I'm all ears. Even as I write this, I'm thinking about potential rewrites.

We'll need to compare notes with the Qek knotcraft (the thing I designed for Finnish TSoY, I think I wrote about it somewhere on the forums one time), as it's a sort of geographical magic as well, if a toned-down one. Perhaps there'll be some fruitful synergy.

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Very fantastic, too - perhaps could stand having some minor element of human strife to keep vaguely rooted in the sword & sorcery sensibility? Unless you're planning to do the whole of the northern clime in a slightly different style, of course.

It's true that I envision the Sohakai in an almost fantasy post-apocalyptic setting. Is that what you're referring to, in that they might be flavor-different than the rest of Near?

Mostly that, yes. From the description it seems that the problems of the people are not the sort of human trouble that the cultures around Maldor seem to be meshed in. The striking first reaction I have for playing this stuff is to go out and slay some titans, which is pretty pure-bred high fantasy. Not a problem for me, as long as the tone and topic meshes well with the other cultures, races and whatnot around Sohakaimet.

It's also a possibility that what you're developing here is a closed, essentially marginalized culture that does not need to harmonize and recombine with others. Qek is like this in original TSoY: it's separated by geography, culture and cultural skills from the rest of the world to such a degree that in the overwhelming majority of campaigns their only relevance will be as the place from whence the primitive, creepy shaman PC came from. Having that sort of marginal place is just fine if that's what you're shooting for here.

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Let me turn the question around, then, as I'm not sure I'm getting it. What would root them in a sword & sorcery sensibility? Do they seem detached from it, to you?

Not detached necessarily, no. If you find that this harmonizes well, then I'm pretty sure that it does. We've just not seen enough of the grand plan to see what sort of cross-cultural concerns these people are going to have with the others you're planning. Taken alone, the focus on an ancient, dramatic magical wrong that shapes their whole lives is pretty distinctive and puts a lot of cultural pressure on any characters - they basically have to abandon their people to gain a sense of personal identity, or they have to become heroes who quest to put a stop to the unnatural and, one would imagine, untenable situation. This is much like Zaru, except that they are set in opposition to a human culture instead of gods, which makes for a big difference. Perhaps there are some middle-range roles in between titan slaying and becoming a detached rogue, but currently I'm not seeing much play situated in Sohakaimet that isn't concerned with one or the other. The titanic vision is just so majestic that it swallows everything else, perhaps.

To make it more about the people, try to find some space for characters who have concerns, especially conflicted concerns, on the human level. Prove to us that a life can be had without committing to a life of deific genocide, if you will. For Zaru that life lies in the fact that their enemies are not gods, but human, and thus able to be overcome or bargained with locally and universally. Where is the human conflict in Sohakaimet?

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Well, part of the secret is that I consider Khale and Qek to be as much a part of the northern cluster as I do the southern. They, like Oran, are very much border nations that interact frequently between both of those clusters.

I like, makes sense. At least for Qek; I haven't pictured Khale's cultural ties to reach that far, it strikes me as a pretty insular society, all told. But why not, I'm certainly going to mix all these people up for my home games, anyway.
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shadowcourt
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« Reply #7 on: November 12, 2008, 02:54:11 PM »

Eero,

Hmmm. Good points all around on that. I think you crystallized what's been bugging me about the Sohakai all along, in that I want to express some things about the tensions and politics of the society without becoming a "let's all band together and kill our old gods" kind of story. The human level of the conflict isn't well thought out yet. I need to think about how to make this germinate into interesting stories, and your Ammenite/Zaru example is particularly poignant for me. There are hundreds of stories available in that relationship, because it's such an inherently human one. Stockholm Syndrome. Slavery vs. freedom. Passive resistance vs. violence. Forbidden cross-cultural love. And there are tons more.

I need to find similar sparkage with internal issues, or external ones, for Sohakaimet. So, perhaps they go on t he back-burner for now, as I wait to see what might pop up for them. I like their portrait, but the fact that it's a portrait tells me that they're static in my mind at the moment. Something needs to change therein.

Thanks for the input so far, everyone.

-shadowcourt (aka Josh)
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dindenver
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« Reply #8 on: November 12, 2008, 09:40:35 PM »

Josh,
  It took me a while to sift through this all.

  I agree that it is missing that gut-level sword and sorcery feel.

  I had an idea, what if the conflict comes from external sources. The Sohakaai remind me of the Zaru in the sense that their own belief structure is what is actually oppressing them. I think what might set them apart is being a staunch and aggressive defenders of their beliefs and taboos.
  So, the idea goes, what if there are raiders constantly trying to plunder the old world riches and the Sohakai dedicate themselves to protect that bounty?

  Also, the Titans are clearly monsters, which sort of breaks the no gods, no monsters, just humans theme. Ir is complicated by the fact that they are considered gods... Or, what if the Titans are nebulous enough that the players can re-work them as clever bandits or local myth?
  Or maybe it would work better if the giants were more metaphorical or just humans that were big like the ratkins are small...
  I know Shadow of the Colossus is an awesome game, but I think it needs a little drift to fit in Near, no? Or maybe you are transferring it a little to literally into the game text?
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