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Friday, 25 November 2016

Classic Rant: Arrows of Indra: Rakshasas

Here's the quote from Arrows of Indra itself about Rakshasas:

"Rakshasas are a race of humans who were cross-bred with Asura demons. They are thus an Unholy race; though not all members of the race are malevolent, their culture as a whole venerates the demonic Asuras and most Rakshasas have Unholy alignment.

Rakshasas appear taller than the average human, with dark almost soot-black skin. Their canine teeth tend to be longer than the average humans, looking almost like fangs; their eyes tend to be reddish in colour, and they have long hard nails.

Rakshasas have had many mighty kingdoms of their own, most particularly the kingdom ruled by the Asura demon Ravana on the island of Lanka, thousands of years ago in the time of the Avatara Rama. It was Rama who destroyed this kingdom; and since that time the Rakshasas have been scattered to live in jungles, hills and mountains in the peripheral areas of the human Bharata-civilization, sometimes as barbarians and sometimes in small kingdoms. Many of the latter are ruled by full-blooded Asura demons.

Rakshasa society is Unholy by nature, the Raskhasa priests who govern it worship and make human sacrifice to the Asuras, and the Rakshasas are said to be cannibals who drink human blood out of ritual cups fashioned from human skulls. Their Asura-worshipping priests are known for their magical power and for the ability to change shape. Rakshasa society also features powerful Siddhi magicians, particularly famed for their skills.

In spite of all this, Rakshasas are perhaps more common in human society than many other non-human races, second only to the barbarians like the Bhils in frequency; they are often hired as mercenaries or servants of other kind by less-than-holy kings. They tend to be mistrusted of course, but are not automatically persecuted in most human kingdoms and can sometimes rise to high positions. Rakshasas are considered to be very wily, ruthless, and bloodthirsty; they make great magicians because of their demonic blood, and excellent warriors because of their fearless bloodlust in battle."

Now, the thing I really like about Rakshasas here is that they're not 'tieflings'. They're the ancient world's understanding of that same idea, which is to say that unlike tieflings, they generally have no regret about their state (they certainly don't spend a lot of time being woeful emos) nor are they supercool "dark antiheros". They're usually not heroes at all, and if they are, they're considered lesser and tainted heroes for being half-demonic, not more noble or better for it (though perhaps impressive for defying their nature).

That says something about the different views we have in the modern world versus the world of Epic India. Of course, up until about 70 years ago we wouldn't have had views very different from theirs; the whole notion that "dark" is somehow "cool" is a pretty modern development.

On the other hand, its pretty interesting to note that the Indian world concept of the time did not simply treat rakshasas as "orcs", there are subtleties in the handling of them, and while on the one hand it was very clear that they are social outsiders (in human society) and when outside (human) society they tend to aggregate in despicable kingdoms of evil, there was no "kill-on-sight" rule toward them; but on the contrary, it is one of the ironies of the game world that BY FAR the most common non-human race your PCs should see in the Bharata Kingdoms are Rakshasa. There will be Rakshasas living openly in just about every metropolis, several kingdoms (usually of non-holy rulers) will hire them as mercenaries or wizards-for-hire, and some of these will rise up to high positions of influence in the armies or the court. The Epic Indian stories are full of cases of "Such-and-such king was a great devotee of Shiva had these Rakshasa generals in his service" or "Prince whatsisname's chief counselor was a rakshasa". NOW, before we go too far with inclusiveness, the implication is almost always that these rakshasa end up proving to be a corrupting influence on the kingdom.

Of course, once again, as an AoI GM you have the liberty to make YOUR Rakshasa anything you want in your game world (even emo, or drzzt-clones, if you really must). The main reason I included them was because they were emulative, and because they gave people who like to play a really unholy character race the chance to do so (note that "unholy" does not necessarily mean "evil", and it definitely doesn't necessarily mean "chaotic stupid").


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Oversize + H&H's Chestnut

(Originally posted October 11, 2013)

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