Cultural Traits of the Denizens of the Isle of Melnibone - Preliminary Report | A treatise by the Academician
Alignment Chaotic Neutral (Evil) to non-Meliboneans, Lawful Evil to kinsman. In this regard, the Melniboneans seem to emulate to a certain extent the dynastic Chinese society. Their dealings with other races (and, for our purposes, the Melniboneans should be considered to be members of another race despite their interbreeding abilities) generally fall into one of two categories: trade, and oversight. The Melniboneans, as constituents of an island-based economy, have much that is unique to offer in the way of goods, but must also similarly import much that is unavailable on their island. Although the natural ingenuity of the Melnibonean’s, their distaste for other races in general and their relative isolation has prompted them to quite creatively supply the vast majority of their needs with local goods, the more contact the Melniboneans have had with other cultures has increased the demand for imported and foreign goods.
Social/Political Hierarchy The Melniboneans have a fluid and complex hierarchy of royalty (almost all pure strain Melniboneans can claim some measure of aristocratic blood) that, conversely, has a very rigid and implicit set of powers and responsibilities. It is my belief that, unless born to the Melnibonean society, individuals would find it very difficult not to commit serious transgressions of protocol with regard to royalty relationships. The Melnibonean emperor class, although strictly hereditary, is comprised almost solely of sorcerers. However, the divisions between Wizard and Warrior within the Melnibonean society are indistinct at best, and the sorcerers are also often fierce and skilled fighters, while almost all pure Melniboneans can perform some sort of sorcery, although for the most part it is simple and cantriptic in nature. The aristocratic classes take great pride in both the power and relative hazards of their individual magical abilities. Other than basic skills, however, Melnibonean sorcerous expertise extends in a few easily recognizable areas:
(1) Summoning. An estimated 80 percent of all Melnibonean sorcery at the cognizant level is devoted to the summoning of extra-planar beings. Many Melnibonean aristocrats have pacts with specific extra-planar beings (some of great power) on whom they can call for aid and other commodities. Many of these pacts, especially at the higher levels of Melnibonean aristocracy, were made in the distant (human terms) past, but many sorcerers of note continue to strike these sorts of bargains contemporarily. Monster Summoning-type spells should be considered common; and, to be ranked within the typical Melnibonean hierarchy of sorcerers, the Gate spell must be held. Higher level aristocracy would have within their immediate cognizance a number of spells of this nature, and they seem to rely on them for many non-traditional (human terms) employments.
(2) Elemental Control. Melnibonean sorcerers also employ a good deal of elemental control spells. However, it should be noted that they generally employ such spells at often double their perceived spell level. Such spell use extends to the four main planes and the sub-elemental planes. It should be noted that a single instance of a Melnibonean sorcerer losing control of a summoned elemental has not been observed.
(3) Mentally related informational spell use. ESP, clairvoyance, clairaudience, speak with dead and scrying form in general make up a large part of the Melnibonean magical ouvre. Even the most minor sorcerer will generally have ESP and clairvoyance spell variations available to them; some Melnibonean sorcerers specialize in these types of spells, and their services are often called upon by higher ranking individuals in the aristocratic hierarch, allowing them to often enjoy a prestige above their hierarchical level in most cases; and Melniboneans, it should be noted, seem to employ a number of spells of this nature which (a) are far more powerful than the traditional versions of similar spells, and (b) a variety of related spells the parameters of which are currently unknown to wizards of our realm. It is in here that the most danger for spellcasters resides.
Cultural Predispositions Before making judgements on Melnibonean cultural traits, one should take into account the cultural background in which those traits were built. There are a number of factors that cannot be discounted when observing Melniboneans in their natural habitat;
(1) Melniboneans do not fear death in the ordinary sense. Physical death is not, in the case of Melniboneans, considered the end of existence. In this one must consider looking to the example of the elves for reference, and it could mean that the Melniboneans do not have souls (although this is currently speculation). At any rate, Melniboneans fear death in only that it is physically painful. My observations seem to indicate that this fearlessness is due to the Melnibonean cultural connection to extra-planar beings; it is my belief that part of the power of the Melnibonean pacts with these beings stems in part from the bargaining of individual souls to these beings in exchange for other considerations. Unlike in humans or demi-humans (but in many cases like the situation of humanoids), since souls have already been bargained for (in some cases, centuries prior to the birth of the bargained), concerns for the afterlife are already taken care of. Conversely, this view of death extends to their dealings with other cultures, giving the Melniboneans a reputation for cruelty and a capacity for horror that can often far outweigh that of more familiar cultures. The Melnibonean culture is inured to death and its prescient throes; torture, murder, treachery, and other behaviors are subsequently so ingrained into the melnibonean culture that they have literally taken on mantel of art forms, wherein for example a particularly subtle or extravagant assassination would not be seen as evil, per se, but rather an expression of artistry in a mundane act, much like the highly stylized decorations and engravings the dwarves put on their mining equipment, and would draw the assassin a measure of respect and, in some cases, laudation from his fellows.
This aspect of Melnibonean culture also affects their views of the traditional friend/foe relationship. Melniboneans, in general, do not have “enemies” in the sense that our cultures mean; rather, they are overall disinclined towards non-Melniboneans, and hold each other in regard to degrees in such categories as (a) familial relationship, (a) level of aristocratic blood, (c) sorcerous powers, and (d) status in society. Individualism is highly promulgated, while social collectivism is shunned. Combining these two precepts, it is therefore easy to see why, for example, unlike in our own culture, a Melnibonean might have a family member killed as part of a magical experiment. For one , it increases the experimenter’s sorcerous knowledge; two, it might rid the experimenter of a potential familial/aristocratic rival (Note: Melniboneans are universally, but with many variations, patriarchal); third, the artfulness of the death might very well improve the experimenter’s status amongst his peers. It is our recommendation that the abovementioned point necessitates that non-Melniboneans use extreme caution in personal dealings with Melniboneans.
(2) Melnibonean culture exhibits the classical symptoms of decline. The culture of Melnibone’s successes are, historically, rooted in the past; their military victories, their commercial success, their cultural expansion, is all currently in a state of retraction. This tends to give the culture two elements: (a) an innate conservatism, and (b) a measure of respect for decadence. The culture of Melniboneans is very old, by Greyhawkian terms, and they number their kings in the thousands. This gives the Melniboneans culture an enhanced sense of conservatism, especially when confronted with change, that is reminiscent of that of the High Elves; although their individual lives are not so long as the elves, their cultural life, as far as can be determined, rivals and may even surpass that of the elves encountered today. This conservatism lends itself to (1) racism, (2) and disdain for non-Melniboneans,
(3) a far-reaching sense of loyalty -- that often surpasses even an individual’s life -- to their aristocracy;
(4) an sense of underlying collectivism that promotes, within each individual, the policies and goods of Melnibone and its leaders before that of both the individual and, especially, non-Melniboneans. It cannot be emphasized enough that, despite personal loyalties, a Melnibonean has NEVER been known to choose loyalty to non-Melniboneans of their causes over their almost instinctual loyalty to Melnibone and their rightful leaders. At the same time, the high points of Melnibone’s cultural expansion have long since passed; Melnibone is a culture in decline, and these cultures (see also the writings listed concerning the Suel folk of northern Greyhawk) exhibit certain symptoms. Although the Melnibonean culture is atypical, one symptom that overshadows the others is the level of decadent behavior observable in the culture. Melnibonean culture began with baroque tendencies; age has exacerbated this, to the point where even the most foul (our terms) sexual and bloodthirsty behaviors are viewed in terms of their artistic merit; entire genocides have been committed by Melniboneans -- thankfully, in the distant past and on other planes -- for their aesthetic value. This behavior has been growing steadily worse for some centuries, and give the average Melnibonean (if such a thing can be said to exist) a perverse sense of humor and aesthetics that often can be totally antithetical to the cultural precepts of non-Melniboneans. A Melnibonean, for example, might find the torture of a child perversely humorous, but the failure of a plant to produce a fruit might bring this same Melnibonean to tears. To understand the reactions of a Melnibonean, one would have to grow up in the Melnibonean culture; and this, conversely, would subsequently inure the observer to the culture in such a way as to tincture the observations as to make them useless for our purposes. It is our recommendation that the abovementioned point necessitates that non-Melniboneans use extreme caution in personal dealings with Melniboneans.
(5) Melniboneans are physically identifiable from other races, although seem to be typical of none. That physical characteristics are an effector of overall cultural traits is undeniable; in this, then, Melniboneans are doubly cursed (human terms). On one hand, the Melnibonean cannot exist outside of his home environment without drawing notice; notice, considering the aggressive past of the Melniboneans, often means antagonism. Therefore, Melniboneans have constructed within their culture a very exclusive set of physical parameters separating “Melnibonean” from “not-Melnibonean” and, as time has gone on, have used these to reinforce their aggressive personalities. Conversely, this means that Melniboneans -- especially when out of their natural habitat (which, it must not be forgotten, is an island, an area of limited geographical boundaries) tends to make them feel isolated and vulnerable to attack. Melniboneans see themselves as truly the oppressed minority, which becomes militarism when coupled with their narcissistic cultural tendencies. It is our recommendation that the abovementioned point necessitates that non-Melniboneans use extreme caution in personal dealings with Melniboneans.
(6) Melniboneans exhibit the purest sense of chaotic behavior yet observed in a human or demi-human race. Even when compared the chaotic behavior of some of the lower humanoid societies, the Melniboneans exceed; they are true chaotics, and we have labelled them chaotic neutrals. There are a number of reasons for this behavior; (a) the vast majority of their pacts seem to be with beings of a chaotic nature, and throughout the history of the Melniboneans the influence of these beings can be without question; (b) as part of a culture in decline, Melniboneans seek to recapture the glories of past eras. However, to do this organization would be required, organization that most Melniboneans are incapable of. Therefore, ‘recaptured’ glories are individualistic, and chaotic individual behavior is especially respected; (c) their sense of minority causes Melniboneans to strive for attention, of their own kind and of non-Melniboneans. This cultural affectation causes Melniboneans to engage in seemingly ludicrous, albeit highly stimulating, behaviors; (d) an undeniably artistic temperament. Melniboneans have both varied and baroque tastes, and an overall scholarly bent. Coupled with other aspects of their cultural personality, Melniboneans have tended to celebrate and reserve power for similarly baroque individuals. This tendency toward the baroque shows itself in all aspects of Melnibonean life: art, sorcery, warfare, commerce, politics. It is our recommendation that the abovementioned point necessitates that non-Melniboneans use extreme caution in personal dealings with Melniboneans.
•The Melniboneans are herbalists of some note, and their healers are possibly of far greater talent than that of the realms. As far as the workings of the Melnibonean physique, there are no alternatives. However, it should be noted that dissections have found the Melnibonean physique to be similar, although with some substantial differences, from the typical human anatomy. Curative actions taken on Melniboneans may have no or, in some cases, the opposite effect on traditional humans.
•The Melniboneans are also proficient slavers, and while this seems abhorrent to us, the practice is widely accepted within Melnibonean culture. Many of their slaves are of captured races -- some from this plane, other not -- who have been bred solely as subservients to the Melnibonean culture. Centuries of this have produced amongst the slave population a level of loyalty to their Melnibonean masters that is unheard of off their island. The Melniboneans do, however, frequently visit and purchase slaves from available markets off-island, as well as capture and conscript those non-Melniboneans unlucky enough to be caught in what they consider their “territorial waters.” Slaves are used for all menial and socially unacceptable jobs, leaving Melniboneans to more scholarly pursuits.
•The Melnibonean is almost universally of a monied class. Even the poorest Melnibonean would be considered of upper middle class in our society, and most could be considered quite wealthy. Many families go so far as to coin their own currency, for use in interfamilial commerce.
•The Melnibonean military has access to a number of weapons not currently in non-Melnibonean arsenals. These include: (1) A number of extremely large war galleys, far larger than the standard non-Melnibonean warship, armored in gold and spells and propelled by drugged slaves for similarly speedy movement. These “Sons of Pyaray” are historically noted for their ability and dangerousness; (2) A large number of sorcerous weapons and armor, usually of unique or highly original type; (3) A particularly virulent type of “Greek fire,” as well as highly accurate sea- and land-based siege engines to deliver it; (4) A number (unknown) of dragons, whom allow themselves to be ridden in battle by specially trained “dragonriders” and who are highly venomous. Records are few, but seem to indicate that the dragons are highly intelligent and absolutely loyal to their riders, who are considered to be selected by the dragon for life. The dragons themselves are green-scaled, are hardy fliers, and use a breathe weapon a sort of liquid that, when it strikes, bursts into a particularly hot and corrosive flame. This liquid is even more dangerous in that it tends to both splash and stick, making even missed strikes dangerous for ground troops, on whom these dragonriders are usually sent. However, the laconic use of these dragons seems to indicate time is needed for the dragons, after use, to “recharge,” although it is unknown where and for how long. The earliest recorded interval of dragons being used in two different military campaigns in approximately 7.5 years, and the strengths fielded were minimal in this case. The average interval seems to be between 20 and 40 years for a full compliment of dragons.
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