Sunday, May 12, 2019

OSR: Adventuring in the Lands of the Handsome Men (part 1)

This is another post about the Handsome Men.  I wrote about their culture more generally here and their families more specifically here.  I also recommend reading everything Arnold K. ever wrote on the subject of Elves, as they are a large source of inspiration for the Handsome Men.  Now, let's talk about what it would actually be like for you to guide a bunch of well-traveled rootless murder-hobos through their territory.

                                                   from National Geographic

Go North.  Pass across the breadth of the Empire and up to the Northern frontier.  Then, once you reach the Wildfire Plains, cross as quick as you can.  Once the yellow grass begins to turn green and the air grows humid and you leave behind the patches of burned grass and charred trees, you have reached their lands.

The Lands of the Handsome Men are known for their beauty.  In the Northernmost regions you will find great forests with hundred foot tall trees choking with life, overflowing with a million varieties of brightly-colored birds, jaguars, apes, monkeys and everything in between.  In the East you will find the Plains continue, though without the eternal blaze or the Fire Ghosts, until it reaches the Sea of Sand.  In the West, on the other hand, you will find well irrigated plains, fens, bogs and mist-shrouded forests.

And of course, you will find people.

Common Races in the Lands of the Handsome Men

In the West, besides the Handsome Men themselves, you will find mostly Elfmen, Frogfolk, Lizarians, Crocolings and Jelly-Eyes (Salamander-folk).

In the East, besides the Handsome Men, you will find Elfmen, Goatlings, Oxmen, Lizarians and Morcai.

Generally, the client races of the Handsome Men naturally gravitate toward certain roles.

Elfmen play the same role wherever the Handsome Men go; acting as stewards, valets and bodyguards, going where there masters will not and preparing the way for them.  Also, before we continue, a warning: Elfmen are not their own race.  They are created by the Handsome Men by surgically and magically modifying a member of another race, usually a Human or something that looks a lot like one of the Handsome Men.  The Elfmen generally resemble the popular view of Elves; beautiful, somewhat aloof, hippie-dippie types who wear revealing clothes and always have shampooed hair and washboard abs.  However, this beauty comes at a great cost.

Elfmen look quite beautiful on the outside, but are actually riddled with cancers and disease on the inside.  They cling to their Masters, because without the magic of the Handsome Men, they would swiftly degenerate and die.  Yet despite the fact that they are totally reliant on the Handsome Men for survival, Elfmen are generally far more sane than their mercurial masters, who are prone to madness, delusion and irrationality.  As such, the Elfmen do everything in their power to ensure that no one does anything that might bother their masters, as a Handsome Man who is angry is an incredibly dangerous thing.

Frogfolk are generally used as brute labor in more humid climates, as their moist skin helps them to tolerate the sun better than some other races.  They can also tolerate being wet without complaint, so they are ideal fishermen and rice farmers.

Lizarians are reptilian, with highly cerebral minds and a cold-blooded attitude.  They form the majority of Scholars in Handsome Men society, though even the most intelligent of their kind cannot match the Handsome Men.  They are also known to take up other positions requiring intellectual labor, such as managing finances, acting as an administrator or a bureaucrat where such things are needed.

Crocolings are a free-spirited and independent race, so they are difficult to utilize.  Most of them find employment in positions where they can make their own decisions, so many of them find themselves becoming mercenaries to fight in the many intercine wars of the Handsome Men, or against the Orzanian Empire to the South.  They are generally more expensive than Morcai or Goatling mercernary bands, but they are more sensible than the former and less cowardly than the latter, so they have established a comfortable niche for themselves.

Jelly-Eyes are known for their patience and their loyalty.  As such, they are prized as bodyguards and enforcers.  A Jelly-Eyes who breaks his word is as uncommon as a Goatling who keeps his.  They are inflexible in their principles, generally.  As such, they are often given tasks that allow them to exercise authority apart from the supervision of the Elfmen or the Handsome Men themselves, acting as bounty hunters, slave-merchants, and man-catchers.  Also, for reasons that almost make sense, they make up the majority of the dedicated clerical class.   

Goatlings form the other half of the Middle-Manager class in Handsome Men society.  While Lizarians handle the white-collar work, Goatlings are the ones who leave the realm of pure theory and go into the messy world of the possible.  They are famous for acting as advocates in legal cases, as well as acting as diplomats and representatives.  They are also known for their discretion in combat, if not their valor.  They seem to have an unerring ability to pick the winning side in any conflict.  No sane commander trusts his Goatling troops not to defect or flee if he starts losing, but they all value the advice of a Goatling advisor.  
Oxmen are the counterparts of the Frogfolk in the East.  Where the air dries out and the Frogs can no longer effectively work, they fill the gap for the Handsome Men.  This is their most common role, though it is not the only one.  They also form large contigents of the mercantile class, as an Oxmen is generally more trusted than Crocoling or a Goatling, as the former is likely going to fleece you for every coin you have while the latter is likely trying to scam you.  That's not to say there aren't ruthless Oxmen, there are, of course; but no one sees it coming from them.

Morcai are a wild, horned race of reptiles from the depths of the Sand Sea.  They are known for their incredible, fanatical courage; their lascivious women; a matriarchal culture and being able to inject venom through their fangs or spray it from the same.  Morcai are relatively uncommon outside of the Sand Sea, and are often mistaken for Lizarians, though no one who met any of the latter would confuse them with the former.  Morcai are generally used for only one purpose in Handsome Men society and that is to fight.  Morcai soldiers are known for their viciousness and their complete unwillingness to surrender, as for them, to die for a worthy cause is honorable and to retreat or be struck in the back is a sign of deep shame.

This reputation is reinforced by the fact that many of the Morcai who are sent into the lands of the Handsome Men are exiles from their own land, seeking either an honorable death in battle or enough martial glory that they might wash away the stains on their family's reputation.

                                                       by Scott Gustafson

Handsome Men society and social structure

There are four classes of people in Handsome Men society.

First, there are the Free.  This a class almost exclusively made up of a Handsome Men.  This is the only class that can own vast tracts of property, Dependent Employees (slaves) and in the case of urban dwellers, hold public office.  They are trusted to be the guardians of society, the gate keepers and wise elders, acting in the interests of those under them.  This class is also not expected to work.  A Handsome Man who actually has to do labor to support themselves will be thought of as low-status compared to one who does not.  In this society, to be idle and to have enough to be able to waste it on luxuries or give lavishly is sign of good breeding and virtue, while to labor or be miserly is considered a sign of poor breeding, low status or vice.

The Second Class is the Sibling Class, the so-called Little Brothers and Sisters.  These are ostensibly free people who are part of a Handsome Man's Household, working for the Handsome Man like the peasants attached to a manor worked for the Lord of that Manor.  In turn they receive protection, which is something that they desperately need, but more on that later.  Some Little Brothers and Sisters live on the Plantation, working alongside other members of the Household along with Dependent Employees, while others live among their own in small villages under the protection of the nearest Handsome Man, who usually only stops in every so often to see how things are doing, if any assistance is needed, and to carry out certain rituals that must be observed.  For example, one of these is that the Handsome Man be given gifts by the children of that village, which will always be treasured.  In reality, these spontaneous displays of generosity and affection are carefully rehearsed by the Elfmen and the Little Brothers in the village to ensure that the Handsome Man is not offended by anything that might be in the village.

For this reason, among the Elfmen, there is a common, if rarely vocalized belief that the personal assistants and valets of the Handsome Men are the true ruling class of their society.

The Third class are the Chainfolk, sometimes called the Enslaved Peoples or the Oppressed Ones.  The Chainfolk are generally those who come from other societies who still hold to such barbarous concepts as taxation, civil government and organized religion.  The Handsome Men are always eager to adopt the Chainfolk and educate them on how much better their society is than whatever one the Chainfolk came from. 

The Fourth class are the Dependent Employees, or slaves.  Not that you will ever hear that label applied to them by a Handsome Man.  Handsome Men abhor anything ugly, evil or unpleasant, so they bury any evils their society produces in euphemisms.  They are still slaves, though.  For laws regarding how these slaves are treated, find an American history textbook, flip to the chapter on it, and rip it out.  There you go.  Go ahead and include stuff like whippings, forced marriages, sold on the auction block, forced to fight to the death for psychopathic masters, and etc, etc, etc.  Just remember that anything evil or unpleasant will be wrapped in euphemisms or ignored or rationalized away; and the actions themselves will usually be carried out behind closed doors.

                                              by Alicechan

On Masks, Civil Society and the Duality of Man

Talking to the Handsome Man has been described as a "chore best left for slaves."  It's basically impossible.  Handsome Men speech is layered in so many layers of euphemism, figures of speech and carefully pruned vocabulary that it is incredibly difficult to speak to them about anything important.  Discussing the weather, tasty foods, pretty things the Handsome Man is wearing, shiny objects or other pedestrian topics is easy, but that's not the issue.  Discussing these things with a Handsome Man is easy.  But unless you're making small-talk, these things usually aren't important.
Combine this with the Handsome Men's deliberate refusal to engage with anything evil or ugly is one of their strongest taboos.  To speak about ugly things in front of an unprepared Handsome Man is one of the gravest social errors you can make, and in Handsome Man society, a breach of custom is identical to a breach of law.

You see, Handsome Men, while being very progressive in some ways, also have strong social taboos against many things.  For example, while in theory you can do any sort of sexual thing you want in Handsome Man society, have sex with people of the opposite sex, the same sex, animals, your Dependent Employees (slaves) or anything else you want to do, if you actually do any of the above, you will be severely shamed.  To the Handsome Men, the only proper sexual activity is between two consenting parties of equal rank and usually of the opposite sex, though opinions do vary somewhat.  There are also similar taboos against defecation, nudity, using drugs, drinking alcohol or eating in public. 

But if you do that where people can see you, you will be severely punished or at least publicly condemned.  Though this condemnation will be wrapped in so many layers of polite verbiage that you might not realize it is a condemnation.  The other more acclimatized people will realize it though. 

You see, Handsome Men are constantly wearing masks, always pretending to be moral, beautiful and perfect.  They will not engage with anything that forces them to take off their mask.  That is, unless they want to.

The prime example is fighting a Handsome Man.  The first thing any Handsome Man will do is run away.  This is not because they are afraid of you, but because they need to change into their War Face.  Once concealed from you, the Handsome Man will use magic to transform their bodies into monstrous forms equipped with tougher bodies and natural weapons.  Then they will return and engage you.  Elfmen do the same thing, but they usually do not have the same magical abilities, so they use masks and costumes.

A Handsome Man's War Face is more than just a form suited for battle, however.  It is a compartmentalization of all the gross, repulsive, diabolical and animalistic aspects of their personalities.  A Handsome Man cannot "act out" expect when they put on their War Face.  So whenever they get the chance to do so, they relish it.  Handsome Men who are attacked often play with their food, so to speak.  This isn't always a metaphor, either.  Handsome Men also change into their War Faces for other reasons than just to fight.

For example, the Night of the Hunter's Moon is an annual festival for the Handsome Men where all the attending Handsome Men transform themselves into their War Faces and engage in ritualistic hunts against specially marked prey, as well as other debauchery, such as wild orgies, drinking until they black out, bathing in public or eating where people who do not know them can see.  The stereotypical example is that of the Handsome Man and Woman who are married but trapped in a seemingly loveless, "sparkless" relationship.  They are polite and chaste with each other for the whole year and you might wonder if they even truly care for each other.  The exception is this one night, where they both transform and go beat a Wyvern to death with their bare hands, then argue and start a fight that destroys half the house, before having wild-monkey sex and going to bed in a heap.  The next morning they wake up, put their masks back on and pretend like everything is that happened last night simply didn't.

This behavior sounds completely odd, but it really isn't.  Above is actually a relatively modest indulgence, far less than what some would do.  Hunting whole menagaries of dangerous magical beast, engaging in ritual combat with condemned prisoners, even chasing down and killing those unlucky enough to be walking around on the Night of the Hunter's Moon are all acceptable practices on this one night.  For these and other reasons the Night of the Hunter's Moon is a festival known for its excess, as well as its danger for the non-Handsome Man.  In cities where this festival is celebrated, this is the night to lock your doors and huddle together till morning, when the Free will put their masks on and go back to being Handsome.

                                                  by Fifthroom

Handsome Man Justice

Earlier, it was mentioned how Handsome Men Society does not have civil government.  However, this is not entirely true.  Rather, it is more accurate to say that Handsome Men Society has no overarching legal framework.  Civil government does exist in certain polities and city-states, but there is no centralization of power.  The Handsome Men do recognize the need to band together and do so in times of great turmoil, such as during disasters or invasions.  However, these temporary alliances never last and are mere stopgap measures to assist all who are involved.

Ordinarily, however, Handsome Men government has a very limited scope.  However, the Handsome Men are not lawless.  Their society is predicated on the doctrine of unwritten law.  That is to say, there is law, even though it is not written down.  Furthermore, when a Handsome Man, acting as a judge reaches a verdict, they do so in accordance with precedent of other Handsome Men's judgements.  For the Handsome Men, cases are not law, but evidence of law.

However, in practice, things don't always work like that.  For the Handsome Men themselves, they usually only fall under their own jurisdiction.  A Handsome Men in their home has absolute control over their surroundings and members of their household.  If there is a dispute between two members of a Household, the highest ranking of the Handsome Men will judge the case.  This also applies if a Chainfolk and a member of a Handsome Men's Household get into a dispute.

However, if two people from two different Households are having a dispute, the ranking Handsome Men from both households will come together and sit in judgement over the case and reach a joint verdict.  At least, in theory.  Sometimes the closer Handsome Man will simply make their judgement without consulting the other Handsome Man.  This can lead to blood feuds, assassinations and intercine warfare, as an attack on a member of a Handsome Man's household is an attack on them.  Most of the wars the Handsome Men fight are against each other, of Household against Household.  Many of these wars can be just as bloody as the warfare of states further south, as the Handsome Men who begin the fight end up dragging their friends, kinsmen and superiors into an escalating spiral of violence and destruction.

This, among other reasons is why all who can enter the Household of a Handsome Men.  By becoming a member of a Handsome Man's household, you earn some degree of protection.  Many a brute or highwayman have been dissuaded from attacking someone because of the seal of the Handsome Man they carried, for those violent men know that the arms of the Handsome Men are long and their vengeance absolute.   

The one exception to the above rule is with the cities of the Handsome Men.  In a Handsome Men city, the law of the city usually trumps the individual Handsome Men, as before you enter the city of a Handsome Men, you must agree to enter the city and behave as a guest would of your own free will.  Thus, once in a city, even the Handsome Men themselves fall under the jurisdiction of the city.  Anyone who breaks a city's law will be taken to the city's justices and there usually won't be any dispute.  Usually.
In a City, additionally, things are slightly different than when you are taken before an individual Handsome Man.  For starters, if one of the people being judged is a Handsome Men, a Handsome Man of a superior rank, or a council of Handsome Men will be assigned to judge the case.  You will have to make your case before them. 

However, if no Handsome Men are directly involved in this case, or you are accused to acting against someone who has minimal or non-existent status, such as a stray (a little Brother who was rejected) a Dependent Employee whose master doesn't care enough to intervene, or another Chainfolk, you will be taken before a Subjugulator.

Subjugulators are the Clown-Judges of the Handsome Men, lesser Magistrates elevated above the other little Brothers.  Handsome Men regard them as cute and funny, laughing uproariously at their antics.  Everyone else is terrified of them.  The Subjugulators are known for their excessive and random violence, the irrational and unfair nature of their judgements and the terror they induce in children and adults alike.  A trial with a Subjugulator is always odd and occasionally descends into a full blown circus.  For this reason, the Handsome Men are known to attend these trials and watch from the gallery, politely applauding and laughing along at the Subjugulator's joke.

To see how a Subjugulator-run trial is organized, roll on the table below.

In this trial, the verdict is being decided on...

1- Who can tell a more interesting version of events.  Truth is irrelevant.
2- Who can tell the funniest joke.
3- Who can flatter the Subjugulator or the gallery the best.
4- Who can beat the other in a game of riddles.  Depending on the case, it might be better to win or lose.  For example, if you are accused of some masterful crime, it might be better to throw the riddle contest.
5- Whether the plantiff/prosecutor can beat the accused in some contest.  The contest could be anything from a cooking competition, a fist fight, a wrestling match or a race to see who can grab the shiny black rock off the desk in the Subjugulator's office and bring it back here first.
6- It is based on the facts and the evidence.  It's all very unorthodox.

But then...

1- The Subjugulator rules that the Defense may only speak to insult the prosecutor.
2- The Subjugulator declares that they are having a recess for lunch, and whoever can bring him or her the better dish will be granted the right to decide the verdict they want.
3- The Subjugulator announces the verdict and the attached punishment at the start of the case, then says that whoever loses will be forced to endure that punishment
4- The Subjugulator tells everyone that there is another Clown in this building and is thus delaying the trial until the Subjugulator can find that Clown and deal with them.

                                                     by Abigail Larson

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