Friday, March 11, 2011

Pariah Archetypal Image and the Shertasi

Marcek Rystyna-per -- a Pariah Information Merchant

Marcek is short and slim. He is in his late 30s. He has dark skin, hair, and eyes, rather Middle-Eastern features. His thin cheeks are permanently stained with tears, which glow with a black light. He has a short goatee. His head is covered by a skullcap in dark orange and purple stripes. He wears an Elizabethan-era tunic and pants (“slops” or “trunk hose”) in black, gray, and purple, simple and severe. He has a stuffed-full scroll-case on his belt, ink-stained fingers, and a quill pen in one hand. His face says he knows more than you, and wants you to know it.See the image after the jump:

This is a place where Amy Clark showed her visual eye, and why I should not be in charge of the look of things. Specifically, the Pariahs' tears. The words I gave her said that the Pariahs' cheeks are "permanently stained with tears." The image I had in my head was something like the teardrop tattoos that gangers and prisoners get it, but the long, wide stains Amy envisioned (difficult to see in the image at this size) looks much more like actual tear-stained cheeks, and much more aesthetically pleasing. Similarly, Marcek was envisioned with a skullcap, inspired by a good-looking skullcap I came across in the City of Heroes character generator. I forwarded Amy an image of said skullcap -- and Amy took it further, creating a cap very much inspired by, but in no way identical to, said cap -- and much more distinctive and unique. She got such great details right in here: his superior smile (if, as with most of Amy work, a little cheerier than I would have done myself), scroll-case (with, invisible at this size and resolution, Arabic-looking nonsense script on it), and even ink-stained fingers, which are just wonderful looking (again, hard to see at this size).

The Pariahs are almost completely unchanged by the removal of the Sons of Light, except that perhaps they expand their role a little as the Leovites move out of the middle class and leave an absence for the Iversdotters and Pariahs to fill.

Archetype: The Shertasi fill two archetypes: the Big Scary Monster and the Evil Empire. They are imposing, angry, and vicious, both in person and as a society. Their Empire threatens to overwhelm the Realms, constantly expanding and seemingly unstoppable -- except where it buts up against the equally reprehensible Ma'ar Commonwealth.

Real-Life Inspiration: The Shertasi's biggest inspiration is the Roman Empire, during the height of its glory. Expansionistic, militant, harsh. It has lost all republican values, instead maintaining an inherited monarchy. On the other hand, the Shertasi also take inspiration from the lizards from which they are descended. Let's list out some lizard characteristics as they might apply to the Shertasi:
  • Evolved from the nastiest predator imaginable.
  • Individual, but lives in groups for protection and civilization. 
  • Great sight, great hearing, decent smell. 
  • Strong, slow, tough
  • Plains-dwellers
  • Migratory hunters
  • Human sexuality, but females are larger and dominant
  • Lay eggs
  • Eat infrequently, rests after eating
  • Affected by temperature -- hyper in the heat, lethargic in the cold
  • Try to be alone, regard civilization as necessary evil
  • Need little water, can go quite some time without food.
And a few twists to make it interesting:
  • The males raise the children
  • Mate for life. 
  • Dialect vocal, hisses and teeth-clicks.
  • Language is very short and to the point. Based on:
    • Go away
    • Fight
    • Make peace
    • Child rearing
So, with these ideas, what conclusions can we come to? I'm honestly not sure...

Theme: The theme of the Shertasi is... I dunno. The oncoming storm? The unstoppable force on the horizon? Their hubris will destroy them? The greater of two evils (the other being the Ma'ar Commonwealth)? Well, let's see if we can figure out why they're so expansionistic -- maybe that'll give us some ideas. It's unlikely to be a question of population growth, with small numbers of eggs and independent natures. Their problem could be a lack of resources, but that still feels like we're stepping on the feet of the Ma'ar's conceptual space.

What if it's ideological? Do the Shertasi feel that they must rule -- because they are superior to all others, or so the heathens won't go to Hell? We don't want to turn them into Scary Dogmatic Aliens, looking entirely to faith for motivation. Scary Dogmatic Aliens have their place in fiction, but they  don't fit the other things we know about the Shertasi. What was the Roman Empire's reason for invasion, I wonder...

Twist: What kind of twist should we find here? Some secret that turns everything we think we know about the Shertasi upside down. What if they're only invading in order to flee an even stronger enemy beyond them in the Realms? What if they are trying to take over everyone in order to prepare them for a greater threat on the horizon?

Hm. All the twists I can think of are "greater-threat" twists, but The City of Lives doesn't lend itself to "greater threats," epic battles and cataclysms. It's about politics and intrigue and class struggle. How do the Shertasi fit? Perhaps they don't. Perhaps these warring empires ruling large parts of the Realms are wrong for this campaign world. Perhaps the City should be the only major inter-Realm civilization, the other Realmshifting cultures being dotted about the Realms as independent entities - city-states rather than empires, as it were, the "planets-of-the-week" of Star Trek rather than the Klingons and Cardassians. It's an interesting question, empires vs. city-states, and if the the Shertasi (not to mention the Ma'ar) actually have a place in this campaign world.

I don't have an answer -- all I know for certain is that it has been tremendously difficult coming up with details for the Shertasi and Ma'ar, and what I have come up with feels dull and uninspired. I've encountered this type of block before, and it usually means that an element simply isn't working, and should be excised from the story.
    So let's ponder, and meanwhile, next time we'll take a look at the brand-new world The Realm of Opening!