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Questions on Rafiel, Atzanteotl, elven history...by Ville Lähde
In our current campaign I've had to think a lot about the relationship of the Shadowelf conspiracy, the cult of Rafiel and Xatapechtli. "The Caravan campaign" is based on the plot by Telemon and Xatapechtli to start a war against Alfheim (description of the campaign is in the Vaults). The intent of the war is not just to annex Alfheim but to turn the Shadowelves away from the Way of Rafiel.
I've always liked the complicated structure of the conspiracy, since the motivations of all involved are not simplistic. (Everything relates to the GAZ era.)
Some ideas on the historical background: - The enmity between the Shadowelves and Alfheim began perhaps first and foremost as a misinterpretation and due to misdirected bitterness on the Shadowelves' part. The myth that the Shadowelves were "abandoned" (first after the Great Rain, then by the Alfheimians) lives on in their culture and can be used as a political weapon. On the other hand, it is possible that the Alfheimians around 130 AC did dismiss their cousins rather brusquely. This ambiguity of history, and he long memories of the elves, offer interesting material for a campaign.
- I'd think that most of the Shadowelves were not aware of the first attempts to use the humanoids against the Alfheimians - those attacks may even have been solely orchestrated by the Feathered Serpent (see below)! The invasion attempt of 560 is another matter, as it involved substantial SE armies. How was that war portrayed to the SE population at large? Was there a casus belli? In any case the King at the time (the one previous to Telemon) must have been involved, perhaps by the machinations of the previous Feathered Serpent?
- The current plot goes back as far as the 600's, to Xatapechtli and his later alliance with Telemon. (Xatapechtli of course was working for the previous Feathered Serpent, and must have been involved in earlier plots. In the Caravan Campaign it was Xatapechtli himself who formed the pact with the House of Corun, but at the time he was only following orders. Later the Coruns became his pet project.) In our campaign I have written it so that they used the failure and the purges of 675 to rekindle the hatred towards the Alfheimians. The infiltrators were mercilessly slaughtered by the forest elves etc etc.
That is: during the 600's the Shadowelves in general considered the surface elves their enemies, but they didn't go out of their way to hate them. The invasion attempt of 560 had been a gamble. Even if the shamans supported it (I haven't decided on this), the average grunt didn't see it as a holy war or anything like that. One of the important facets of the current plot has been to prepare the Shadowelf culture for the war, feeding anger and bitterness towards the other elves. History has been rewritten?
The long history of the conflict aside, the motivations of the present conspirators are an interesting mix. I've recently written a lot on them to make the situation more fruitful for actual play.
- Telemon isn't just a pawn of Xatapechtli, although he isn't aware of all the actions of the spy master. (In our campaign Xatapechtli's cronies have committed sacrilege which Telemon wouldn't have approved - trafficking in soul gems. Even the disillusioned king still believes in the myth of the elven souls.) Telemon is no fool, either. He doesn't trust Xatapechtli wholeheartedly and is wary of the power of the Feathered Serpent institution (see below). His main motivation in the whole endeavour has been to liberate his people from the cruel and restrictive (in his view) Way of Rafiel. In the open he has stayed faithful to the Way, even using interpretations of the Verses to support the war effort. Still, his political and religious attitudes are much more complicated than those of the earlier kings fighting against Alfheim. I haven't actually decided on this yet, but perhaps the earlier kings were more directly manipulated by the Feathered Serpents. Telemon is too smart and complex for this to work (and Kanafasti is a good adviser), so Xatapechtli has had to forge a much more equal alliance.
--> Thus Telemon can be potentially affected by appeals to certain aspects of the SE culture (souls etc.), but his militant "secularism" can be a surprise to anyone who is trying to gauge his actions.
Historical grudges and the will of conquest are good mask for his true motives. On the other hand, his realistic attitude to Xatapechtli offers a point of intervention. If someone can prove that Xatapechtli is planning to do him harm after the war, he will not hesitate to strike at his ally. But it would be very difficult to turn Telemon away from the war. If everything fails, he might even abdicate and try to lure as many of his people with him to exile.
- Kanafasti is Telemon's friend, and he has been a counterweight to Xatapechtli, but his motivations are still for the most part egoistic. He doesn't want to go Wandering. He has no strong political or theological commitments and is much more viable to be bought or turned around than Telemon. On the other hand, he is desperate enough to commit acts that Telemon wouldn't consider.
- The Princess and the General are much more simplistic figures, and I haven't yet thought out any story-potential for them. There is one thing though: if the General is so much surrounded by his mythical Rafielite status (the Sleeves of Flesh), he is unlikely to be an unbeliever like Telemon. Or is he just taking advantage of a good opportunity?
- What about the Shamans? They have been always a bit suspicious about the war effort, although perhaps in the earlier centuries they were more involved. Rafiel after all speaks of enemies sent to test his people. But the growth of Xatapechtli's power in the court, and the alarming non-Rafielite policies of recruitment into the Second Shadow (and from there to the Serpent's Eyes) have caused more suspicion.
Porphyriel knows that Xatapechtli has a technically illegal network of spies around the world, but its extend and actions are unknown. (The description of Serpents' Eyes is interesting. It breaks the rules of the Second Shadow, but I'd think that everyone knows it exists, perhaps must exits, and inevitably breaks the rules. But this voluntary ignorance on the part of the Kings and the Shamans has given the Feathered Serpents the chance to grow a bigger and more loyal organisation than anyone suspects.)
- Porphyriel and the shaman council are convinced that Xatapechtli is the main instigator of the war, trying to increase his power and independence from shaman control. And in any case, Porphyriel knows that conquering Alfheim would divert the SE culture from Rafiel's main goal, completion of the temple. Thus war has to be averted. (By the way: I've never read WotI properly and thus may be talking out of my hole, but has any explanation been offered as to why Rafiel would suddenly actively encourage the invasion of Alfheim, endangering his most important project? Rafiel has been an interesting concept just because he is so focused on this relatively tiny group of elves, just because he has a secret project of "Radiance 2.0". His change of priorities in WotI never sounded convincing to me.)
- Xatapechtli has been left a bit too vague in the GAZ. He is portrayed as the evil influence behind the throne, a mind disturbed by the Azcan cloak. I've tried to make him more interesting, which required some rewriting.
The whole Feathered Serpent institution is one of the eldest in the Shadowelf culture, going back to the time when they weren't yet Shadowelves - their life in Aengmor. At that time they were worshipping Atzanteotl. This led me to think that the dark influences that have affected the Feathered Serpents for over 2000 years must come from Atzanteotl.
In the GAZ the relationship between Atzanteotl and Rafiel has been described as relatively pacific, which doesn't fit this. It is said that Rafiel's portrayal of himself as a cruel deity has so far pacified Atzanteotl. (But there are other kind of canon descriptions also? DM's Complete List of Mystaran Immortals describes their relationship very differently and uses a variety of sources.)
Instead I've decided to emphasise Atzanteotl's enmity towards Rafiel and his pet project the Shadowelves. Atzanteotl has been using the Feathered Serpent institution to sow discord within SE culture and turn them against the followers of Ilsundal.
But why did Atzanteotl abandon the ancestors of the Shadowelves in the first place? Their task in driving Atruatzin's followers from Mictlan/Aengmor, rebuilding the city and producing the Schattenalfen migration was done. (Although: The canon texts give conflicting origins to the HW Schattenalfen. Are they of the same stock as the Shadowelves, or do they stem from the 1700BC anti-Ilsundalean migration? In general, the roles of the anti-Ilsundalean fraction from the Migration and the underground exodus of the pre-shadowelves are confused in some texts.)
Perhaps Atzanteotl had further plans for the Lost Four Clans, but that upstart Rafiel grabbed them from him? Further, perhaps Atzanteotl has learned of Rafiel's plans to use the soul gems, the very fragments of the Blackmoorian device which destroyed his people in 1700 BC, in construction of his Chamber of Spheres. This would enrage the bitter Immortal to no end.
So all Feathered Serpents have been influenced by Atzanteotl. The repeated (and partly secret?) attempts to destroy Alfheim even before the present conspiracy gain more meaning from this. But it isn't sure how complete this influence is. Each Feathered Serpent may have motivations of their own, not realising that they are pawns of a higher power. Perhaps Xatapechtli is also trying to break his people from Rafiel, but he is even further disillusioned than Telemon? He has been groomed by a long tradition of spymasters.
Perhaps they have long ago realised that the story of the soul gems is a flat out lie - and so is the practice of abandoning children, casting out the old, predestination of social rank and all those main structures of their culture. This disillusionment which has further motivated their actions over the years.
Many of these beliefs are so deep-rooted in the Shadowelven culture, however, that they cannot be confronted head-on. Xatapechtli believes that war, contact with the surface cultures and resulting distance from the shamans is needed. He is just a much more unscrupulous and cruel than Telemon, Kanafasti or any of the other conspirators.
And of course in the end his actions have unintended consequences - intended by Atzanteotl.
Xatapechtli is ready to do anything, use anything, make anything a weapon in this struggle, to make good on his quest. (I've been reading Iain M. Banks recently.)