Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Legacy of the Oracular Order: the Genetic and Psionic Heritage of Aristocracy

The Aristocracy of the Alliance wouldn't be where it is today without the Oracular Order.  Their insights into the future gave them the patience, prescience and precision to breed the nobility into superior stock.  As a result, the aristocracy is better than you: prettier, smarter, more graceful and healthier.  Or, at least, they should be.  In the centuries since the fall of the Alexian Empire, and without the guidance of the Oracular Order, the Houses have drifted genetically.  The rise of the new Empire has made collecting those bloodlines together and restoring the Oracular Order's original vision harder and harder.

The Order did all of this to create reliably psionic bloodlines.  As a result, all Alliance Aristocracy is potentially psionic.  This greatly shapes their military and espionage doctrines!

Finally, the Order did all of that to ensure everyone was in place for some great crisis it foresaw, a crisis that never came, that the Houses don't stand ready to face.  I want to treat this as a Destiny, which represents some interesting choices for how members of a house see themselves and what path they choose to follow in the present, whether they want to adhere to the purpose that gave them life, through it all away for their own power, or set everything aside and try something gloriously new.  However, as I worked on it, it became increasingly clear that it needed a fuller treatment that would have to wait until I dived into the Oracular Order itself, so it's been set on a back burner, but I do have notes, and those notes guided the creation of the four houses I will present, and the "notable members" within each.



The Maradonian Nobility ruled not because they had more power or prestige than everyone else, but because the Oracular Order ordained it so. With their deep insights into the future, they knew what shape humanity must take, what heroes the future would need if Maradon was to build a civilization that would last millennia and fend off the great impending threat. The Oracular Order shaped the aristocracy of Maradon into the heroes the future needed, and placed them in positions of power, to ensure their ascendancy and prowess when that appointed day came.

With the fall of the Oracular Order, the nobility of the Federation and Alliance rely more upon their prestige and power to enforce their claims to power, but their moral claims still come from this notion that the galaxy needs the noble houses of Maradon to stave off some future crisis. Many within the noble houses even still believe those old words and try to live their lives according to the principles the Oracular Order laid out for them. Others, especially those who quietly subscribe to the beliefs of True Communion, defy the chains of fate and forge their own path. But however one feels about the impact the Oracular Order made in shaping the noble houses, those marks remain.

The core reason for Oracular meddling in Maradon politics arose from the need to shape the future. Everything they did with the nobility centered on this core principle. Thus, all noble houses have a destiny that they should fulfill, a role that the Oracular Order saw for them. To fulfill this role, the Oracular Order needed the Maradon nobility to have psionic power. While this has a genetic component, the artificial and technological meddling with genetics causes some unfortunate psionic side-effects, like madness. As a result, the Oracular Order carefully bred the nobility to get the exact, psionically active bloodlines the future needed, using eugenics rather than direct genetic engineering. The genetic markers of a noble house remain, today, one of its most central features, and nobles use those distinct markers in their biometrics to prevent access to technology by anyone outside of the family.

Genetic Legacy



A house represents a carefully engineered bloodline, a genetic lineage trailing back at least 50 generations for the purest houses. Precisely what this lineage entails varies from house to house, and how that is expressed varies from individual to individual.

Characters who belong to the genetic legacy of a house must take the perk (House) Bloodline. Those with this perk register as a member of that bloodline to any genetic scanner or genetic biometric lock; furthermore, characters with this perk may purchase any abilities (whether genetic or psionic abilities or distinct forms of destiny) available to the House.

Most houses have eugenic templates, which represent the result of the centuries’ long eugenic project undertaken by the Oracular order. In principle, members of a House should have the full template, but in practice, most members have stray genetic impurities that prevent them from achieving the total vision the Oracular Order had for the House (this is especially true in the present day, centuries away from the fall of the Oracular Order).

Thus, each template should be broken up into four power-up packages. Each package has the perk Bloodline Purity which represents how close to a “pure” member of the House a character is. This acts as a trivial reputation, granting a +1 to anyone who is aware of the character’s genetic purity, and considers this a useful trait (for example, for those considering a marital match with the character and who wish as pure a bloodline as possible for any potential child). A character who takes all four power-up packages has “the complete House template” and Bloodline Purity 4, but most characters will only take 0-3, and having a lower Bloodline Purity as a result.

All of this eugenic engineering has created some potential genetic drawbacks. Characters who take the eugenic power-up template may take optional “common” disadvantages, and characters with a bloodline purity of 2+ may increase their disadvantage limit by 5, provided they take at least 5 points worth of common disadvantages from their house (treat the eugenic template as a customizable racial template).

One common eugenic disadvantage is Mental Instability. Mental Instability is a secret disadvantage (B120), a lurking “trap” in the genetics that the GM can spring upon a player whenever he, provided she takes the Mental Instability disadvantage. Allow the player to take up to between -10 and -20 points, and then assign a disadvantage worth at least five points less.

Eugenic Considerations

A character’s genetic traits must be taken at character creation, as they represent something fundamental to the character. In essence, treat their genetic power-up as a slightly customizable racial template. At the GM’s discretion, a character might have “buried” or “latent” genetic potential that a psionic healer might bring to the fore, but I offer this only as a potential excuse a GM might use to allow a player to retroactively go back and change his character (a better way to handle “hidden genetic potential” would be as a secret advantage!).

Breeding matters for inter-noble marriage. If characters want to keep their bloodline pure and ensure that their children have access to the maximum, they need to choose someone with maximum genetic compatibility with their own genome. Who exactly is compatible and why is left entirely to the GM and is primarily a narrative concern. Characters with Bioengineering (Eugenics) or certain versions of Esoteric Medicine might be allowed to roll to tell who would be genetically appropriate and why. Generally, marriage within aristocracy is superior to marriage outside of the aristocracy for maintaining bloodline purity, but outsiders sometimes (by sheer chance) have just the right make-up or would add a vital component missing from the currently fading bloodline. This only a special effect in most Psi-Wars games, as they tend not to be multi-generational; even if they were, consider allowing players to write their characters as they wish, telling a story with their choice of genetic template. Decreasing purity emphasizes the slow decline of the bloodline’s grandeur, while being an unexpectedly pure and strong member of the bloodline is exactly the sort of heroic exceptions PCs tend to be!

Characters can intermarry, of course, and have children with mixed lineages. In most cases, children tend to show traits of one parent or the other (only one Bloodline perk), but some children directly inherent the blood legacy of both houses! In such cases, the characters take both bloodline perks, and may take genetic packages from both bloodlines however they wish, but treat the Bloodline Purity perks as distinct (generally to a maximum of 4: characters may not have more than 4 points of Bloodline Purity in any combination): a scion of both House Sabine and House Elegans may have Sabine Purity 3 and Elegans Purity 1; these combine for the purpose of reaction modifiers, but not for the purposes of any prerequisites the GM might have (that is, such a character has +4 to impress people who like extreme breeding or who look for an excellent marriage match, but could not purchase an Alexian ability that requires Purity 2+).

Cadet Branches

Often, a noble will have multiple potential heirs, and when he dies, he needs some way to properly divide his estate. Traditionally, all titles and property go to the first born son (Though different houses have different traditions: Sabine, for example, offers the domain of the house to the first born child, regardless of sex). In some cases, a secondary heir has collected sufficient power and prestige that his House cannot easily dismiss his claims. In such cases, the secondary heir typically receives a lesser portion of the estate and gains a new name and is noted as a cadet branch.

Cadet branches typically act as a house within a house. They pass their titles and estates down to their first born son and, if that’s not possible, branch off their own cadet branch, and so on. They still belong to their parent house, genetically and politically, and often serve as close allies. Should the branch die off without heirs, the estates and titles revert back to the master of the House, and if the governing branch of the House die off without heir (or suffer terrible scandal that forces abdication of certain positions), a cadet branch will typically step in to rule the House.

Treat a cadet branch as genetically identical to the governing house with a few minor exceptions. They have the same (House) bloodline perk, and the same eugenic power-ups, but they may change out one or two power-ups for power-ups of their own. This allows for variety within a house, and also for players to belong to a particular house with a chance at greater customization.

Psionic Legacy

The purpose and intent of the eugenic engineering of the Maradonian aristocracy (as well as other aristocrats eventually folded into the old Empire’s nobility) was to foster psionic talent. The Oracular Order needed more psions to feed its ranks and often drew them from carefully bred aristocratic lines, but more importantly, psionic power more carefully integrated the aristocratic line into the weave of destiny and solidified their destiny, and better helped them perform destined role.

Any character with the (House) Bloodline perk may purchase any psionic ability or talent associated with their house at any point provided they meet the Bloodline Purity prerequisite. Some characters never manifest any psionic powers, as the eugenic engineering of the Houses only make these traits more common, not guaranteed, but this is a narrative factor, not mechanical one. Other characters might manifest powers outside of the House Bloodline, or stronger powers than his Bloodline Purity would suggest, for the same reasons that any human might manifest psionic powers (for example, the character takes the Psionic Power-Up Package at character creation, or chooses to purchase a Psi-Talent). The Bloodline perk not a limitation on what the PC may purchase, but rather explicit permission to purchase certain psionic abilities.

Psionic powers available to members of a genetic line break down according to Bloodline Purity. Powers available to Bloodline Purity 0 characters tend to be the most common powers in the house, and those that define its members the most strong. Bloodline Purity 1-2 tend to be more rarified, and most nobles take their presence as a sign of excellent breeding. Bloodline Purity 3-4 tend to be the rarest and most powerful abilities of the psionic legacy. If the House has a Psionic Talent in its psionic legacy, that talent tends to require Blood Purity 4, as such pure blood opens up an entire psionic power and all of its abilities to the noble.

As a rule, Houses generally only have access to abilities within a single power.

Destiny

Ultimately, the Oracular Order engaged in all of this multi-generational eugenic engineering explicitly to push members of the House down a pre-ordained path, the Golden Path, one charted for them by the Oracular Order. The aristocracy profited from the Oracular Order’s insights and endorsement, and in return, they served the Golden Path.

Gathering all of these threads of destiny and turning individual bloodlines into vital lynchpins had a price, however. An individual acting in bad faith, with the full weight of history behind him, could sabotage everything and throw everyone off of the winding and narrow Golden Path. Thus, those nobles who find themselves pressed by fate also find that they have a choice in which fate they choose to embrace.

Each house has three Destiny traits associated with them representing three possible directions the House could go. The exact nature of the Destinies vary from house to house, but they broadly follow the same themes. The first, the “True Destiny” of the House represents the Destiny members of the House would accept to further the Golden Path. This destiny is one of subordination to the (now vanished) House of Alexus and to the Oracular Order. It usually culminates in some great sacrifice. The second and third are “Corrupt Destinies,” which represent a dangerous deviation from the Golden Path. The first almost always involves a selfish path, wherein the noble profits and makes himself, his house and his family stronger, but at the cost of selfishly violating the code and morals of the Empire and possibly endangering the Galaxy. The third Destiny represents a liberation from the Golden Path, wherein the noble rejects the black and white choice placed before him by the Golden Path, and charts his own course, attempting to find a way to protect the Galaxy in his own way.

Most nobles never have Destiny, but any PC who has the appropriate Bloodline perk may freely choose one version of Destiny, but which they choose is up to them. They may also trade their chosen Destiny for a different one, but this typically involves some substantial rejection of the premise of their original Destiny in favor of the new Destiny, a narrative matter between the PC and GM. Aristocratic PCs are not “locked into” one of these three Destinies and may choose their own Destiny (say, with the Heroic power-up). Ultimately, the three Destiny traits of a house represent an interesting way of discussing the ultimate fate of the House, and the PC’s role in that fate.

Only the GM can answer whether the PC’s choice of Destiny has any impact on the setting and what, if any, impact that choice has. Perhaps the Oracular Order was simply wrong about the far future, or perhaps their predictions ran off the rails long ago and the Golden Path is no longer achievable. Or, perhaps, the Oracular Order remains critically relevant to this time and still works behind the scenes to maintain a sliver of hope to returning to the Golden Path before the increasingly imminent “great threat” that faces the galaxy. In the latter case, the GM should work out what sort of impact the PC choices make and present him with meaningful choices that pertain to his chosen fate.

I’ll return to this particular feature when I look at the Oracular Order in greater detail.

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