Twilight Isles – Houses of the Shadow Elves

   The Shadow Elves are organized around a few basic principles:

  • Bloodlines and family names are passed on through the female line; children may be born with wild talents on occasion, but the vast majority of the time, they will be born with the talents of their mother – and thus the techniques for best using the better talents are also passed on through the female line. The houses and clans are thus organized around maternal lines, and males marry into them.
  • Given the tremendous, and obvious, inequalities of power between individuals, there is no point in trying to pretend in equality. The mighty will seize power if it suits them and the weak will be exploited. Those in the middle are best off staying out-of-the-way while the powerful sort out their own pecking order; there’s no good way to control them anyway.
    • As a corollary, what the powerful get up to is more or less their own business. If they want to kill each other off or indulge in weird activities, as long as it doesn’t involve the population at large – or at least no more than a few people from among the population at large – no one will pay much attention to their antics.
  • There’s a basic trade-off in any species; number of offspring versus investment in each one. Shadow Elves may have twenty or more children over the course of a long lifetime – and most of them will slide towards the bottom, despite parental efforts and influence of wealth. Parents do care for their children and their society accommodates that, simply because any society that does not will be overwhelmed by the ones that do – but the investment in any given child is less. Like classical earthly parents with large families, losses are expected.
  • A sizeable chunk of the population never gets past level zero, and usually winds up in very low-status jobs or as slaves. A solid majority make it to level one, and stick there, whether as slaves, lower class, or hanging onto middle class status via specialization. Level two is notable, but not too uncommon. Levels three and up are one in a hundred or so at best – and even the vast majority of those individuals never get past levels four to five. Levels six and up are only found amongst the most powerful nobles.
  • The major houses – accumulations of wealth and property – are thus dominated by the powerful and cunning, and will be passed on to the powerful and cunning, even if it has to be by adoption.

   Of course, within that basic framework, there are a lot of variations – in fact there are hundreds of them. There are also some relatively common bits of house training:

  • Mana Channeling – meaning, more level zero or level one Innate Enchantments. Limited-use talents are usually known as Lesser Channels, while unlimited-use abilities are classified as Greater Channels. In general, purchased Innate Enchantments:
    • Count as “external” abilities. They may be inherent in the user, but they’re still a conscious method of channeling magic, not something natural to the race.
    • Stack with the abilities that are part of the racial package.
    • Count against the limitation on the number of spells a given Shadow Elf can handle at one time while active (the automatic racial abilities do not).
    • Normally require buying off the Specialization on their Immunity to the XP Cost of innate enchantments (+1 CP).
    • Within those limits, however, many Shadow Elves a few CP worth of extra Innate Enchantments.
  • Masteries: Shadow Elves who show exceptional potential will often learn a Metamagical Theorem or two (Specialized in Innate Enchantments, Corrupted/level one and zero effects only) at 2 CP apiece and a level or two of Streamline (Specialized in Innate Enchantments, Corrupted/level one and zero effects only) at 2 CP per level to go with them – an ability which can increase their power quite substantially.
  • Arcane Focus – Empowerment, Specialized in Innate Enchantments for unlimited use (6 CP). This is only really useful to Shadow Elves who will be advancing beyond the first level – but, for them, it can be a substantial boost to their power level.

   Sample Houses:

   Brecanasti

  • House Talents: +2 Con, +3 with mundane skills (Appraise, Craft, Handle Animal, Perform, Profession, Ride, Speak Language, and Use Rope), and unlimited use of Unseen Servant.
  • The Brecanasti are one of the more widespread, and quieter, houses – the quiet backbone of many professions. Even Brecanasti slaves are usually quite well treated, simply because they can be so productive. They usually try to stay out of the major power struggles, only moving against members of other houses if they feel that they’ve become a major menace to their own survival. The house most commonly teaches it’s more promising members various Masteries – focusing on improving the abilities of their Unseen Servants by giving them a portion of the user’s skills and – sometimes – a limited ability to attack, allowing them to inflict modest area-effect damage to resisting targets, to harass people effectively, or to effectively attack sleeping or otherwise helpless opponents.

   Draiocht

  • House Talents: +2 Chr, +3 with charisma-based skills, unlimited use of Stabilize Magic I – allowing them to use third-level spells without difficulty. Unfortunately, this also illustrates one of the major limitations of Stabilize Magic spells; they have to be cast by an intelligent, and magic-sensitive, creature to work. Putting them into non-sapient items won’t work.
  • The Draiocht have mixed fortunes; those who don’t practice magic find themselves at a slight disadvantage, with a fairly useless house talent. Those who do, usually work with Theurgy (using Augmented Bonus to base it on Charisma), where precisely-tuned spells can make the most of their slight casting advantage. In the great competition, Draiocht is noted for their subtle social manipulation, often leading from behind the scenes as coordinators and managers.

   Elthik

  • House Talents: +2 Wis, +3 bonus on magic-related skills, unlimited use of Detect Magic, unlimited use of Prestidigitation, and Read Magic 1/day.
  • The Elthik have carefully cultivated a reputation as formidable militaristic magi, but their true strength lies in their magical senses – which allow a skilled member of the house to keep careful track of the power levels of those around them, to evaluate their house talents and any Channels they may employ, and to tell what effects they have active on them. Their innate talents may not match the raw power of some houses, but knowing exactly what spell to use is often better than having a powerful spell and using it at the wrong time and place. At the moment, thanks to a series of feuds and skirmishes among the other notable houses, Elthik is doing very well.

   Galano

  • House Talents: +2 Con, +3 bonus on dexterity-based skills, and Weapon Mastery/Sabre (+4 BAB with Sabres – a type of Scimitar).
  • The Galano possesses a powerful edge in melee combat with their favored type of sword, often gaining multiple attacks very early on, and possessing excellent martial skills – further focusing on those advantages with a house-specific martial art. Unsurprisingly, they usually attempt to divert any conflicts with other houses into personal duels and favor ongoing low-level conflicts, where their particular advantages come to the fore. Their house training tends to focus on Lesser Channels and – occasionally – on Greater Channels doubling up on their innate talents, which can make them quite formidable.

   Gynt-Haaken

  • House Talents: +2 Wis, +3 bonus on scouting-related skills (Climb, Hide, Listen, Move Silently, Search, Spot, Survival, and Use Rope), unlimited use of Produce Flame.
  • The Gynt-Haaken are strongly militarily-oriented, focusing on skirmish tactics and sniping with their own fire-based house martial art. Unlike many of the other militaristic houses, they like things a bit tense – with lots of calls for scouting and deniable missions – but a bit short of outright warfare. Many members of the house are, however, excessively hot-tempered, leading to a constant embroilment in minor quarrels. Their house training usually focuses on conventional military skills and Masteries – allowing them to upgrade the effectiveness of their flame powers even further.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 83a – Corrigan and the Balrog, Part One

   Corrigan was getting pretty exasperated.

   Confound it! Mr Balrog was stalking him with a butterfly net again! Trying to catch his sparkles!

   It was really starting to bother him! Here he was, trying to read these reports from Advertising, and the hunk they put in charge of Operations was STILL trying to catch his sparkles!

   They were just leaking out like always of course – but it was really getting annoying! Even to a guy from California.

(Corrigan, Smiling) “May I help you?”

(Balrog) “You will tell me why the forces of light hang about you doing nothing! How do you channel them!”

(Corrigan) “I was born this way! Why do you keep asking? I always tell you this, and it’s not like you’re hideous!”

(Balrog) ” I must know the secret of channeling the light! That lack of that knowledge is all that holds me back!”

(Corrigan) “Hmm . . .”

   Corrigan didn’t want to say “good genetics”. That would be discriminatory, and as a good HR man he had to avoid that!

   He wound up giving Mr Balrog a quick lesson on human genetics. Hadn’t he taken biology in battling business school?

(Balrog) “Are you saying that only humans can channel the light? That cannot be true! The Vala too channel the light!”

   Corrigan scratched his head. He’d never really been that much for fantasy fiction.

(Corrigan) “I don’t understand… do you want lasers?”

(Balrog) “Mine is the power of darkness! Only the light can oppose me!”

   Darkness? That sounded like something from his old days at church!

(Corrigan) “Darkness? As in evil?”

(Balrog) “Of course!”

   Well, no wonder Fred had been so bothered, then! He didn’t understand the ways of the Tao, so he didn’t realize that good and evil were both necessary!

(Corrigan) “You want to achieve balance, then?”

(Balrog) “Balance? Is that what is required? I was of the light, and turned to darkness… Is it like humans, that I must stand between?”

(Corrigan) “If that is how you are moved, certainly.”

(Balrog) Look at me Mortal! Do not blind yourself! What am I?

   Corrigan looked. Still one Balrog – massive, flaming, demonic…

   Somehow that seemed to sink in a bit more than usual. It might be something to do with the fact that he was actually focusing at the moment.

(Corrigan) “Oh, wait, you’re a demon! No wonder Jenkins has been complaining about fire prevention costs!”

(Balrog) “A demon? I am no mere demon! I did not fight and loose beyond the circles of Arda! I followed Melkor into Arda to claim it! I am a Maia, of those who helped to call the world into being!”

(Corrigan) “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but creating an entire world is really impressive!”

(Balrog) “You have the light… And you say that one must be between the light and darkness to wield both… Like a human.”

(Corrigan) “Well, that’s one way I’ve heard of. I suppose Jenkins’ Numbers might know another – but you don’t want to deal with them! They make the accountants unhappy!”

(Balrog) “Very well! I shall attempt this! You will show me how to be human and to stand between light and the darkness!”

(Corrigan) “Well, why don’t you meet me after work? I know this wonderful club in the Village.”

(Balrog) “So shall it be!”

   Work went tolerably well – although there were an awful lot of employee files that came in and went straight to storage; apparently they were only backup copies for employees working in an external branch. Corrigan arched an eyebrow at that – but he had other concerns, like advertising and Terry Jenkins. The woman was perpetually unhappy, and ever since Fred had disappeared, she’d been even unhappier. If only she would take her Proma-17 – but she couldn’t even get near her without her sticking a sharp object in him even if she had seemed to be slightly happier for the last day or two (even if she did still stab him every time he called her “Terry”). Oh well! At least the evening promised to be fun!

   The Balrog was waiting – with an oversized motorcycle.

(Corrigan) “Nice bike! Where shall we go?”

   Corrigan had selected a club with a nice, diverse crowd of gays and straights – and few flammable objects. He gave the Balrog the direction – and it cheerily ran people down (normal enough for Battling Business World), kicked cars out of the way (kind of over the top), and took a shortcut though the neonatal wing of a local hospital, cheerily catching babies in the wheel-spokes! (More than a bit over the top, even by Battling Business World standards).

“Waah!!!”

   It was a good thing he’d brought his Proma-17 injector! They’d never remember!

(Corrigan) “There, there… that’s a good boy…”

“WAH… Wah..waa… aahhh…”

   The nurses were outraged. Babies were not proper targets!

   Corrigan sighed. Would they rather have the little things bleed to death? It took a day for them to learn how to heal, and they were so unhappy when it happened.

   Oh wait: they’d rather that the Balrog not be crashing through the neonatal wing! That was no way to behave! It was against every code of conduct! Only parents were allowed to kill un-abandoned babies!

(Corrigan) “All right, Mr. Balrog… your first lesson in being human is to respect others’ feelings!”

(Balrog) “But… Are they not there to kill and torment?

(Corrigan) “No, they exist to help the world grow and change. The more people exist, the more delightful the world is.”

(Balrog) “Growth… Like calling the world into being so long ago. The harmony before the dissonance.”

(Corrigan) “Yes, exactly!”

(Balrog) “But… I am of the Maia! I have always been of one nature or the other! Always pure!”

(Corrigan) “Do you have to be? Seeking purity seems to have made you unhappy.”

   He would have used Proma-17 on the Balrog, but the tough hide and the flaming aura were a bit much for his poor little injector.

(Balrog) “So I should not – say – burn this child to death, but hand it back to that short nurse who cannot reach past my waist?”

(Corrigan) “Yes, that would be a good start.”

   The Balrog hesitated – but if channeling the light involved nothing more than such small concessions, it would be well worthwhile. It reluctantly handled the child back to the nurse.

   Corrigan applauded.

(Corrigan) “Now let’s go back to the street. Infants are no match for your skills!”

   The Balrog absent-mindedly wheeled the bike down the hall, rather than crashing through a wall. Corrigan patted the Balrog on the back; he was learning!

(Balrog) “Why does this feel so… unprecedented? I was kind often enough before I descended in the service of Melkor!”

   Corrigan shrugged. He wasn’t exactly familiar with the Balrog’s life story.

(Corrigan) “Maybe being nice is making you remember. Keep it up!”

   The nightclub was large, busy, and crowded. The riot hadn’t started yet – but it was close as always. The disco ball was smoking already, it looked like someone had lit the fuse early. Corrigan was pleased; he’d been afraid that the Balrog might light it early by accident!

   He started the lesson on nightclub behavior…

(Corrigan) “Okay! When someone bumps into you, what do you do?”

(Balrog, hesitantly) “Incinerate them in unholy flame?”

(Corrigan) “No, no… you say, ‘Excuse me.’ Or you just ignore it. The club floor often gets crowded, and people can’t avoid bumping into each other. If they’re overly pushy or insulting about it, you punch them. That’s how some of the best riots get started!”

(Balrog) “But… Isn’t that being sociable?”

   Corrigan had never thought about that before. He’d always assumed that, if it was obviously an accident, there was no need for him to hit people. Besides… He was used to having the crowd part in awe when he hit the floor in the first place.

(Corrigan) “Well, yes, but unholy flame is right out! That ends the party BEFORE the disco ball explodes, and no one likes that!”

   Corrigan decided to try and get Mr Balrog drunk. OK, lots of people did things they’d regret later while drunk, but loosening up the Balrog might be well worthwhile. His behavior would be hard to make worse! What could he do, set the entire place on literal fire? They had the foam sprays for that; they couldn’t have the place burning down until the disco ball blew up, everyone died, and they woke up at home with no hangover or lingering drug effects! If they slept naturally, all that stuff carried over!

   Quite a few people did ignite when they brushed against the Balrog, but that was hardly his fault. A lot of them were so high that they didn’t notice anyway, which was one reason for the fire extinguishers staying available until the disco ball went off!

   The Balrog did seem to be enjoying himself. Oddly enough, the drugged-up folks often seemed to really see him but accepted him as he was anyway.

   Of course! They were finding their own happiness, and when you were happy, you didn’t worry about other people’s looks!