Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Psi-Wars: Ruminations on House Kain

Completing my series on the noble houses of Psi-Wars, today's ruminations are on House Kain, the independent minded rogues with a love of cybernetics and defying tradition.

House Kain

Who are they?

House Kain is the great wild card of the Alliance, with a tradition of proud, willful action and little concern about noble appearances. This goes back as far as the founding of the Federation, for while House Kain was not invited to the first conclave, Kaito Kain showed up anyway, saying that “You’re not going to build an empire around me without me having something to say about it.” No one could truly fault his logic, and since he came with warships, just in case he was rebuffed, they decided to let him have his way.

This set the tone for Kain’s interactions with the rest of the Federation. While they profited off of the trade that the Federation brought to their territory, Kain made it clear that access to this route was at their pleasure. Nor did they particularly care for the niceties of polite Federation society, and while Kain never quite crossed the line into outright war, their relationship with the other noble houses can be described as “rough and tumble”.

Kain’s independent-mindedness served them well when the Emperor led his coup, for they’ve long taken care to ensure the self-sufficiency of their domain. Combined with the power of the alien station in orbit around Caliban, House Kain solidly controls the primary route into Alliance space, and is a major part of the Alliance’s military power. However, the other houses have not forgotten Kain’s strong arming and disdain for their tradition, and the house’s relationship with the rest of the Alliance is tense at best.

How do the common folk see them?

House Kain is viewed with a mix of awe and fear by the people of the Alliance. Awe for their martial prowess and ability to withstand the Empire’s assaults and their willingness to break from noble traditions. Fear, for their brutality in combat and their extensive cybernetic modifications.

The people of Caliban, House Kain’s homeworld, have a more nuanced view that comes of living with them for many generations. There’s a certain pride in the independent mindedness of their overlords, and a desire to see the house leave the Alliance and go its own way, like the days of Lothar Kain before the rise of Alexus.

How are they seen by the nobility in general?

As a rule, the nobility does not like House Kain, who they see as thugs with no sense whatsoever of aristocratic propriety. Unfortunately, they’re also too useful to alienate. Without the military power of House Kain, there’s a very real chance that the Alliance would fall soon after. Some of the noble houses are willing to take that risk, but at the present enough houses view Kain as too useful to lose, and carefully walk the line between giving in to their demands and alienating them entirely.

On the other hand, there’s a certain romanticism to House Kain’s defiance of tradition and traditional authority, and not a few young nobles fantasize about being spirited away by a dashing rogue to have grand adventures through the galaxy. Even among the older and more restrained nobles, there’s a grudging respect for Kain’s insistence on self-reliance and adherence to their own traditions.

What are the strengths of House Kain?

House Kain’s strength is that it is a self-sufficient power, as per very long standing tradition. If they were to be completely cut off from the rest of Alliance space, Kain has the industrial base to build and maintain their own warships, enough agriculture to feed its people, and so on. What they don’t have themselves, Kain will gladly get through their equally long tradition of raiding.

Knowledge of hyperspace routes is another asset of House Kain’s, for while most of the Alliance and the Empire believes that the only good route through the region is the one Caliban is on, there are more than that. Using these byways is treacherous without the navigational data that Kain jealously guards, however, and so the house has unparalleled mobility, allowing it to slip past attacking forces to devastate their supply lines.

The ancient, alien orbital fortress around Caliban is one of House Kain’s great trump cards, for this vast battlemoon is capable of devastating even fleets of dreadnoughts. Consequently, no attacking force has ever managed to reach Caliban’s atmosphere.

What are the weaknesses of House Kain?

The foremost weakness of House Kain is their pride. Their belief in their strength and independence, while well-founded, often leads to a sense of invincibility, that no matter what happens, House Kain will not fall. This leads them to underestimate the sheer power of the Empire, and to dismiss evidence of weakness in their own preparations.

In particular, Kain’s self-sufficiency is not as absolute as they would like to believe. Their industry relies on imports of key materials not found within the space they control, and without it they could be worn down by a long siege. If House Kain were to be cut off from the Alliance by an assault that went around their space, they would eventually fall.

The orbital fortress above Caliban is another potential weakness. It is an ancient, alien relic that not even they fully understand. A concerning possibility is that the Empire will uncover other artifacts from that civilization, ones that give them control over the battlemoon, and turn its power against House Kain right in the heart of their territory.

Would House Kain go rogue?

This is an additional question, but I think it’s an important consideration, given House Kain’s traditional independent mindedness and their ability to protect their own domain. While they may have the threat of secession as leverage, in a larger sense House Kain isn’t likely to break with the Alliance.

The first reason is pragmatic. If House Kain steps back and allows the Empire to defeat the Alliance, they’d end up surrounded by a power with little love for them. This doesn’t greatly concern them, for they believe that they can hold their territory against all comers, but they could still be bottled up in the Caliban system, a prospect House Kain doesn’t care for.

The second is more ideological. Kainians don’t back down from a fight, and the Empire is the biggest challenger they’ve had in a very long time. Win or lose, how could they pass up the glory of such an epic conflict? Even without the Alliance, House Kain would still be harassing the Empire, raiding its shipping, razing outposts, and generally being a major thorn in their side. How could they do otherwise?

That said, if their relationships with the other noble houses broke down and no reconciliation was possible, House Kain would go their own way and not look back.

How can House Kain be the good guys?

House Kain are not good guys in the traditional sense. They’re too willing to get their hands dirty for that, and they don’t think much of the gentle approach. What House Kain does offer, though, is the romanticism of the outlaw and the renegade. They may follow Alliance law in principle, but in practice they do things their own way, and don’t care much about what other people think.

Thus, you see in Kain not just defiance, but the ability to get away with defying tradition and traditional authority.

How can House Kain be the bad guys?

Kainians are brutal, ruthless thugs without compassion for those who oppose them. Their membership in the Alliance is solely a matter of convenience, for it provides a convenient group keeping the Empire from simply making an end run around their worlds.

If the rest of the Alliance is more idealized, they’ll want to be rid of the Kainians, but they’re too essential for their defence. If the Alliance is more cynical, then they tacitly condone or even approve of the brutality, so long as it’s directed towards their common enemies.

Which Communion Paths do they follow?

House Kain’s lack of psionics makes it more difficult for them to follow Communion Paths than other houses, at least consciously. Despite this, House Kain frequently embodies the Rebellious Beast, for they submit to no authority but their own. If their defiance of tradition and authority is channeled toward a cause rather than their own pride, then you may find Righteous Crusaders.

Kain’s heavy use of cybernetics, while acceptable and encouraged by their traditions, nonetheless distances them from humanity, with some falling into the Path of the Other as a result.

What role does House Kain’s cybernetics play?

Since Kain does not have psionics, they rely on cybernetics to augment their capabilities, especially when it comes to defending themselves against the psionics of other nobles. Particularly important is the Psyber Shield implant, since this guards them against mind reading and emotional manipulation by Telepaths, while the improved HT of their cybernetics guards them against Ergokinesis attacks.

More generally, Kainian cybernetics boost the user’s physical capabilities. Most obviously, this lets them use heavier and more equipment, especially in the area of weapons and armor. A Kainian knight in full combat kit is nearly proof against man portable weapons, though squad operated weapons may give him some pause, and that grand force sword will cut through anything in his path.

However, this ignores the utility of other cybernetic implants. In particular, Kainian Eyes improve the user’s vision dramatically, letting them see greater distances and in conditions that would blind anyone else. This is invaluable for scouts, infiltrators, and the odd scoundrel sneaking into noble palaces at night to woo the lord’s daughter. And with Silvertongue for more favorable impressions, he might succeed!

Cybernetics are also prime for individual tinkering and customization, so each individual Kain likely has a few special tricks built into their limbs. Of course, other nobles are well aware of this, and tend to keep visiting Kainians under close (if discrete) observation.

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