Social Impacts – Races and Birthrights

Imperium Image

It really doesn’t matter if they LOOK alike…

Every conscious creature of Atheria gains a share in the magic of the land of it’s birth. While the potency of that gift varies with the intelligence and size of the creature, those gifts have a massive impact on both the creatures and the people of that world.

The mechanics of Human and Animal Birthrights have been dealt with elsewhere. Sapient beings such as humans are, however, unique in one way – and it’s a way that impacts every world where intelligent beings of wildly different natures roam and meet.

How do they feel about it?

To start with, Birthrights inspire some rather contradictory thoughts in most Atherians. For an example lets look at a couple of Birthrights in particular – the Order Birthright of the Imperium and the Elemental Birthright of HuSung.

People tend to take their own birthrights – and especially their passive aspects that are more or less “always on” – entirely for granted, and tend to see people with other birthrights as being a bit… defective, at best.

  • Thus the people of the Imperium take the fact that they have a pretty much universal knack for EVERYTHING (their permanent Inspiring Word effect), are twice as effective at helping out as anyone else (they all have the Aide ability), and tend to spontaneously organize themselves for tasks and have maintained a stable government and society for six thousand years (they are, after all, creatures of order)… as absolutely normal. It’s all the REST of the people of the world who are lazy, inattentive, unskilled, unhelpful, and in constant turmoil.
  • The people of HuSung are inherently resistant to elemental damage – and so they never get sunburned, do not suffer from winter’s cold, pick up hot coals to light things with, dabble their fingers in acid and boiling pots, and don’t even think of such things as being perilous. If a baby crawls into a fire and spills a boiling cauldron of soup on itself… that’s time for a scolding, not time for a funeral. The fact that foreign visitors to their realm don’t like their tea and soup boiling hot, get upset just because the house is being kept just above freezing, or think that there should be extra blankets or special clothing for winter is just weird – and goes to show just how those delicate foreigners have no tolerance for even tiny discomforts.

Most people find it fairly obvious that THEIR Birthright is the “best”, and feel that everyone else’s Birthright is quite inferior. .

  • In the Imperium, where everyone has an inherent ability to boost the effects of minor Charms and Talismans… the people know that their magical devices are the most powerful in the world and that almost any man can have a small suite of powerful, helpful, magical devices that they can – given a few hours – trade out as needed. Rent the proper Charms – and, if you have enough of a share in the powers of Order, Talismans – and you can accomplish almost any task with skill and speed. Thanks to that ability, the Imperium is a land of plenty, easily sustaining one of the largest population densities in the world – and so supporting a semi-modern lifestyle, with universities, organized coach services, regular presentations of plays and literature, and more. It’s pretty obvious that the people who cannot change out their abilities to meet their needs have most inferior Birthrights!
  • In HuSung, a quarryman may temporarily enchant his tools to easily cut through rock, do what would be two full days worth of backbreaking labor for most others in a half an hour or so, and then – out of suitable spells, and so knowing that there is little or no point in working more today – go back home for tea, some relaxation, and to play with the children for the rest of the day. If attacked, any farming village may defend itself with a barrage of elemental magic – and so there is little oppression. Those who are so unfortunate as to be born with other birthrights, and who thus must exhaust themselves in labor merely to survive… are fit for little more than slavery; it’s not as if even their full efforts are particularly worthwhile. Only the people of HuSung have been blessed by the powers of the Elemental Dragons, and only they have the time to cultivate the true arts of ceremony and civilized living.

And yet…

  • In the Imperium… a native might look at a visitor from HuSung and see that THEIR Birthright grants them powerful elemental magic – powers that would take great talent and decades of study for a native of the Imperium to achieve – and become jealous. That imperial onlooker will, of course, not see the steady toll that having such powers available to even the very young takes on the people of HuSung. There, far too many children… can be expected to die of miscast spells (whether their own or a playmates), of childish quarrels, or in the regular elemental disruptions. Storm, earthquake, fire, and flood… will regularly devastate areas. While the people will mostly endure thanks to their own elemental powers, HuSung is still a place of constant reconstruction.
  • In HuSung, a native of the realm might look at a visitor from the Imperium and see… that their Birthright seems to grant them near-universal skill, and an array of powerful, perpetually-active, magical devices with which to meet any challenge, and that their children virtually all seem to live – and to learn with amazing speed, thanks to still more of those incredible magical devices. Is that not a cause for a little jealousy? Of course, a native of HuSung will not see the social rigidity those powers foster, or how the stability and freedom from disaster of the Imperium comes at the cost of enslaving any child who is even slightly disruptive, or the fact that he or she has far more leisure time (if fewer amusements to spend it on) than most of those in the Imperium.

Atherians… thus tend to accept the more subtle aspects of their own Birthrights as normal, to see their own society (which is, naturally enough, adapted to exploit their particular Birthrights) as superior to others, and will tend to regard people with other Birthrights – who cannot function nearly so well in the society that THEY are used to – as generally inferior.

Still, while their OWN Birthright and realm are obviously the best, it’s hard to avoid being jealous of the obvious unearned gifts that other Birthrights grant.

A native of Dernarik (with a Birthright that allows them to mold minor features of the world to suit their needs) is, by the standards of the Imperium, sullen, incompetent, and obstructive (no “Inspiring Word” or “aide” effect) and by the standards of HuSung hopelessly spoiled – and yet THEY get to just FIND stuff that they need! They find routes that didn’t even EXIST before they went looking, and just keep FINDING metal deposits, and patches of rare herbs, and whatever else it is that they want! The Imperium has to WORK and TRADE for all that stuff! Damn those annoying, lazy Dernmarikers!

The Barbarians, with their animalistic enhancements, find it VERY hard to understand how everyone else can be so weak and slow or yet find it so easy to form complex societies – and tend to conclude that a culture organized beyond the clan level is a symptom of physical (and probably moral) weakness. Ourathan’s, with their shapeshifting and mental powers, tend to think that everyone else’s bodies and minds (as well as those of their own people who cannot defend themselves and lack protection) as clay for their sculpting – but fail to see just how warping that is to their society. Those with the Divination Birthright think that everyone else is so blind and foolish that they keep constantly missing the obvious, those with the Life Birthright can’t see how everyone else can possible be so FRAGILE – and those with the Light Birthright tend to avoid everyone else. After all, they must be complete idiots! How can they expect to try such obvious deceptions and to expect other people to participate in the idiocy?

It goes on and on. Like it or not, people getting a freebie – any freebie – that you don’t get tends to be seen as unfair. On the other hand, when you get something that other people don’t get… that tends to get taken for granted. Given the depths of the gulfs that a few changes in skin color and language have put between people in the real world, it’s hard to see how truly exotic races – creatures often more different from each other than a dog is different from a chimpanzee – can get along so well in so many settings. Many d20 worlds can chalk it up to the unnatural energies of the outer planes enforcing unnatural behavior patterns, but those with no such explanation… should probably think about it. There’s a reason why first edition AD&D included those charts on race relationships.

In any case, Birthrights are the foundation of reality on Atheria. They define it’s realms, it’s laws of nature, and it’s cultures. They define what it means to be “human” there, and greatly enhance their bearer’s ability to survive.

And that is the problem. Birthrights redefine humanity, changing people to fit into Atheria, rather than allowing them to grow and build to suit their own nature. For those who dare to give birth in other lands, they set a vast gulf between parents and offspring. In one way or another… the lands dispose of those children who do not fit into their patterns. Humanity has been permitted into the gardens of Atheria, but it will never be truly theirs.

Atheria is not a world for men, but merely a place of refuge.

It’s ways are old beyond measure, the presence of men yet young upon it.

It’s magic runs it’s own way, it’s depths beyond men’s mastery.

In each great domain one power holds sway, binding with each new life.

A Birthright that shapes the region, and the life within it, in it’s own image.


6 Responses

  1. On that note, here’s something I’ve been meaning to ask: how obvious is the Dernmarik birthright? It was never completely clear if anyone from outside it understand what the people there had (or did), except that they kept having “lucky breaks”. Then again, it might be something known only to the well-educated, or just be too subtle to be clearly defined.

    Used properly of course, it’s arguably the single most powerful Birthright on Atheria. But it will never *look* particularly potent, so it’s easy to forget why Dernmarik-ians somehow always end up with just what they needed.

    • As a rule it isn’t very obvious – and it tends to remain unconscious for most people. Minor, subtle, edits are relatively cheap, and they’re much safer that way. People who become aware of their ability and try to use it purposefully… are at serious risk of trying a large enough edit to drop themselves right out of Atheria. That’s an especially bad problem in Dernmarik, which isn’t the most stable of realms anyway. Several thousand years of the people who just accept that the world is kind of convenient being the ones to leave offspring has had an impact.

      Those times when someone gathers up a bunch of people with the dimensional magic birthright and intentionally tries to shape reality by spreading rumors or (worse) explaining their abilities and trying to get everyone to work on something… tend to give rise to lost city stories and such. That’s one of the major reasons why Dernmarik – despite being a fairly comfortable realm in most ways – is relatively thinly populated. Until quite recently there was no hope at all of getting back if that happened, and even now it’s a slim chance.

      In many ways, the folks with the Dimensional Magic Birthright come closest to behaving like normal humans; they get to bend the world to their wishes a bit, instead of simply being shaped to fit its patterns. Of course, normal humans do it with their skills and technology instead of raw willpower, but a lot of that won’t work on Atheria anyway. Of course, the Dimensional Magic Realm is the only place on Atheria that fairly readily allows creatures to come and go an accommodates them a bit. It could reasonably be said that the realm likes visitors.

  2. Some interesting points regarding how the various Birthrights would view each other and how this would even apply to people belonging to different races. The complex social dynamics that having even multiple closely related species in proximity to each other would fascinate a sociologist to no end. Let alone the amount of intrigue plots this could present for a campaign.

    • Oh yes. I’ve always had some pretty severe doubts about the generally mixed communities of d20. Sure it’s convenient for that mixed-race (or species) party, but I always kind of felt that most places should be single-species and pretty suspicious of a mixed-species group of adventurers.

      • Particularly as (A) Adventurers are rarely the most stable representatives of their respective species, and (B) Many of those species have innate personality aspects which are at the least suspect, and often outright dangerous. But leaving that aside, it’s a bit like having superheroes about: even the well-meaning ones often explode things, and they are liable to completely misunderstand the random foreign populations they visit.

      • Oh yes. Entirely too many adventurers are unstable enough to detonate on occasion with no enemy action required whatsoever…

        With one player it got to the point where no one was startled when his character managed to blow himself up with nothing but a log and a supply of molasses – although they were mildly startled at it only taking him a few minutes.

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