Saturday, August 19, 2017

Psi-Wars: Ruminations on House Sabine

Over on Mailanka’s Musings, we’ve seen posts introducing the main noble houses of the Alliance, Sabine and Grimshaw, and we'll soon see Elegans and Kain. In my discussions with Mailanka, I was struck by him mentioning that people tended to see Sabine as the “good guys”, and Grimshaw as the “bad guys”. This surprised me, because to my eye there was far more nuance to each house than that, and there’s many ways that each house could be used.

So, I’m going to delve into my views on each house, what I think stands out about each of them, and how you might engage with them in a game.

House Sabine

Who are they?

House Sabine has been the guiding light of the Federation since its inception. Even when they did not lead it themselves, they held extraordinary insight, and it was common for the Federation’s leaders to consult with them before major decisions. By the twilight days of the Federation, though, their influence had waned, and their warnings of what was to come went unheeded.

When the War Hero was executed and the Emperor led the revolt that decimated the senior leadership of the Federation, Nova Sabine was ready to take action, rallying and organizing the remains of the Federation as they fled into Maradonian space. They are now the leaders of the Alliance, but are plagued by mistrust and resentment.

How do the common folk see them?

The people of Persephone love the Sabine, with their willingness to mix with the common folk and their tradition of gentle, wise guidance endearing them to many. Their guidance is eagerly sought, for their insight and desire for fairness is well known. Yet, at the same time, the Sabine are apart from their people, their distinctive appearance and aristocratic breeding but one factor. The Sabine are unnerving, often seeming aware of matters before they are told about them.

The people of other worlds are less enamored of the Sabine, but their push for more egalitarian policies is well-received in many quarters. However, there are those who wonder about their motivations for doing so, and what advantage they might be seeking to gain.

How are they seen by the nobility in general?

The Sabine have a decidedly mixed reputation among the nobility at large. Their decisive leadership during the rise of the Empire  saved many who would have otherwise perished in the coup, and when the Empire finally pursued, it was Nova Sabine who had brought the Houses together to meet them in battle.

Yet, that very leadership leaves many skeptical of the Sabine. They were too well prepared for it. Did they help the Emperor rise to power? Or did they simply have advance warning, but chose to use the ensuing chaos to improve their own standing?

Nova Sabine’s push for greater opportunity and protections for the common folk fuel this mistrust, and much of the nobility resents the erosion of their traditional privileges. In addition, some of the formerly more powerful houses, those who lost the most in the coup, resent Sabine for being a marginalized house that they must now follow. The Duchess remains the Speaker of the Senate, but the suspicion and resentment of the rest of the nobility threaten to undermine her position.

What are the strengths of House Sabine?

Thanks to their preparation, House Sabine weathered the rise of the Empire with much of their assets intact, allowing them to form the core of the Alliance forces. As other houses rallied, this prominence has diminished, but they still contribute much to the war.

A less obvious strength is the ubiquity of the Sabine. While the leaders of the Federation may have disdained them, the purity of the Sabine bloodline, their beauty, and their excellence as councilors led to them extensively marrying among the other houses of the Federation. Consequently, they have an extensive network of contacts, including in the Empire, and are well positioned to both gather and pass on information.

The greatest asset of House Sabine is its oracular ability. On a grand scale, they have a greater understanding of the currents of history and Communion than most, letting them take actions to direct it down the paths they desire. On a more personal level, their insight and knack for finding things makes them excellent guides.

Traditionally, they do not publicly use their oracular abilities. Part of this is a preference to whisper a thought in the right ear, and part of it is a Cassandra effect that plagues the house. When they attempt to openly predict the future, their warnings go ignored.

What are the weaknesses of House Sabine?

While Sabine is a royal house, with strong ties to the Alexian Empire, they lack a firm base of support among the other nobility, who for the most part attempted to relegate them to a marginal role. Their resurgence does not sit well with many.

Sabine is also not a martial house, and while their holdings have been buffered from the worst of the fighting, they stand to suffer greatly if they are ever directly attacked.

How can House Sabine be the good guys?

Egalitarian and idealistic, the Sabine would love nothing more than to guide the galaxy into an era of peace, prosperity, and equality. They despise the Empire for how it oppresses its people, and if they can bring together the other houses into a truly unified force, they would topple the Emperor, dismantle his regime, and establish a democratic government.

The Sabines need support, however, and player characters could go out and work on each house, persuading them of the wisdom of their vision. Alternatively, Sabine could provide them with cryptic clues leading to the location of lost Alexian relics, with which they could legitimize their leadership.

How can House Sabine be the bad guys?

House Sabine are master manipulators. Duchess Nova Sabine saw the rise of the Empire coming, and so positioned her house to take advantage of the chaos. Her egalitarian policies which empower the common folk are a smoke screen, for her true goal is to bring the other houses to heel. If left unchecked, she has the potential to turn the Alliance into another Empire, using her oracular ability to identify and eliminate any resistance to her rule.

The Sabine also use their network of spies and contacts as assassins, quietly eliminating those they deem a threat. Alternatively, their use of Golden Whin can be used to coerce other members of the Alliance into supporting their plans.

Which Communion Paths do they follow?

House Sabine exemplifies the Bound Princess, for they strongly believe in the measured use of power for the good of their people. They are also prone to fall into Madness, both for genetic reasons and because of their oracular power, where the weight of their visions overwhelms them.

They do not typically fall into Paths of Dark Communion, but those who break from the House’s traditions often take to the Beautiful Fool, casting off their house’s restraint to indulge their own desires and using their oracular ability to manipulate others.

What role does House Sabine’s psionics play?

As noted in Strengths, their tendency to oracular abilities makes the Sabine unparalleled guides, whether as prophets or as seekers. When they make a suggestion, or claim that something will happen, you’d do well to listen. They’re quite likely right!

More generally, Sabine are espers. They know things, and for the gifted (or foolhardy) among them, this can manifest as a blind faith in their own ability. They know what’s going to happen, and have an intuitive sense for what’s going to happen, so why should they follow anything other than the first thing that occurs to them?

While this is often true (Sabine don’t get lost much!), the truth is that their abilities are still fallible. This is one of the reasons behind the restraint that Sabine traditionally have. If they’re mistaken, following their impulses could do more harm than good.

Another consequence is that Sabine value knowledge quite highly. Their upbringing includes an extensive education in history, politics, economics, and many other areas, for these are also used as tools to predict the future, and they can corroborate a vision or a hunch.  They also possess some of the most extensive libraries in the galaxy, and are always looking to expand their collection.

The most gifted among the Sabine, those with Bloodline Purity 4 and unrestricted access to ESP powers, are spies, scouts, and treasure hunters extraordinaire. Clairaudience and Clairvoyance are invaluable tools for snooping around without people realizing it, Retrocognition gives glimpses of what happened in a place, and Seekersense is endlessly useful for finding people, places, and things. You can run, but you can’t hide from the Sabine.

However, I’ll also note that the Sabine aren’t telepaths. They sometimes give that impression, but they just have high ranks in Observation, Body Language, Current Affairs, and other such skills. What looks like mind reading is really just well-informed guessing!

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