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View Full Version : Greyhawk: The Scarlet Brotherhood. I don't really get it.



johnbragg
2019-06-05, 04:22 PM
Scions of an ancient empire, who have kept their bloodlines for a thousand years or so. I understand why the Scarlet Brotherhood wants to keep alive their version of the memory of the Suel Empire, and dream of its restoration.

What I don't get is why anyone else is very worried about them. Monks and assassins, yes, but paladins and wizards and warlocks and rogues. And bards and rangers, and clerics and sorcerers and..... They don't seem to have a current power base, like the Red Wizards of Thay or the Zhentarim. They don't seem to have a divine patron like Iuz or Asmodeus who would reward faithful service.

They can't really recruit talent, because they're all about Suel supremacy, which is not really a motivating ideology if you're not Suelish.

So why are they a scary faction? Why are they more intimidating than the deposed nobility of Europe? EDIT: Or even better, a secret society of descendants of Genghis Khan's horde, which ruled about as long ago as the Rain of Colorless Fire that ended Suel's glory years.

I just don't get how a bunch of xenophobic, isolationist lunatics somehow also are master infiltrators and manipulators of non-Suel nations.

Segev
2019-06-05, 04:37 PM
Not a Greyhawk expert, but if I were writing about this, it'd be about their persistence and perniciousness. There's also going to be a healthy dose of hypocrisy: they aren't inbred to uselessness because they keep marrying in new breeding stock. Some of the time, they seek out disgruntled but talented people and talk them up about how they embody certain virtues, seduce them with a prospective mate, and then induct them as "Suelese" by rite of marriage and because those virtues they were talking up are considered the virtues that mark the grandeur of Suel. PErhaps they even convince themselves that there must be a distant bloodline relation somewhere in the new, competent member of the society's past.

The rest of the time, they convince themselves that this person has the genetic chutzpah of Suel somewhere in them by dint of how awesome they are, and send a society member to seduce and marry that person and have kids. Those kids are indoctrinated without the non-Suelese parent's knowledge or consent, possibly even taken away to be trained in secret away from said parent if the parent is too dangerous to the raising of a proper ideologue and assassin-mage.

In effect, they have a breeding program with the dual goals of Suelese purity and genetic supremacy as measured by the quality of the prospective genetic donors, and allow their purity to drift while denying this.

They then position themselves in places of power and wealth, using their beauty (which they do breed for) and talents and existing connections. They probably aren't really as powerful as they like to think, but the spectacle of their achievements keeps them in the public imagination, and the promise of their assassins keeps them feared by the powerful.

Think HYDRA or SPECTRE more than the Zhentarim or Thay. More like an evil version of the Harpers, with a hypocritical take on recruitment vs. genetic purity.

johnbragg
2019-06-05, 04:55 PM
Not a Greyhawk expert, but if I were writing about this, it'd be about their persistence and perniciousness. There's also going to be a healthy dose of hypocrisy: they aren't inbred to uselessness because they keep marrying in new breeding stock. Some of the time, they seek out disgruntled but talented people and talk them up about how they embody certain virtues, seduce them with a prospective mate, and then induct them as "Suelese" by rite of marriage and bec ause those virtues they were talking up are considered the virtues that mark the grandeur of Suel. PErhaps they even convince themselves that there must be a distant bloodline relation somewhere in the new, competent member of the society's past.

The rest of the time, they convince themselves that this person has the genetic chutzpah of Suel somewhere in them by dint of how awesome they are, and send a society member to seduce and marry that person and have kids. Those kids are indoctrinated without the non-Suelese parent's knowledge or consent, possibly even taken away to be trained in secret away from said parent if the parent is too dangerous to the raising of a proper ideologue and assassin-mage.

In effect, they have a breeding program with the dual goals of Suelese purity and genetic supremacy as measured by the quality of the prospective genetic donors, and allow their purity to drift while denying this.

They then position themselves in places of power and wealth, using their beauty (which they do breed for) and talents and existing connections. They probably aren't really as powerful as they like to think, but the spectacle of their achievements keeps them in the public imagination, and the promise of their assassins keeps them feared by the powerful.

Think HYDRA or SPECTRE more than the Zhentarim or Thay. More like an evil version of the Harpers, with a hypocritical take on recruitment vs. genetic purity.

Joining Hydra as a lowest-level minion is like joining the Masons or the Elks' Club in the 1950s--you make useful connections, and become known as a fellow who does favors in return for favors. And HYDRA, at higher levels, has access to wildly advanced tech.

Is it in the lore that they recruit talent, and declare them "honorary Aryans Suelish" and get them into the breeding program?

It seems that in the official Greyhawk chronology, they went from being a newly discovered isolated tribe to being devious mastermind puppet masters in control of 3-4 kingdoms during a 5-10 year war.

Segev
2019-06-05, 05:01 PM
Joining Hydra as a lowest-level minion is like joining the Masons or the Elks' Club in the 1950s--you make useful connections, and become known as a fellow who does favors in return for favors. And HYDRA, at higher levels, has access to wildly advanced tech.

Is it in the lore that they recruit talent, and declare them "honorary Aryans Suelish" and get them into the breeding program?

It seems that in the official Greyhawk chronology, they went from being a newly discovered isolated tribe to being devious mastermind puppet masters in control of 3-4 kingdoms during a 5-10 year war.

Like I said, I have next to know Greyhawk lore knowledge. I didn't even know that Suel was a Greyhawk thing; I'd oft wondered what the "Suel Arcanamach" PrC was trying to represent. (It's a pretty lousy PrC.)

I can only give you an idea how I'd try to make them functionally scary.

It's quite possible that they do recruit talent from "lost bloodlines," or declare people "honorary Suelish" or marry them in. I have no idea. But, just borrowing your Mongolian Horde analogy, if you were to be seeking to form a Secret Society that was the "heirs to the Khan," you wouldn't have too much trouble finding people who meet the bloodline requirement. I've heard numbers as high as 5% of the population of the world being direct blood descendents of Genghis Khan, due to just how *ahem* prolific he was with his very extensive harem of princesses married for political reasons.

So if they're going off of Suelese blood, they just need to "verify" that a potential recruit has it by some line.


That said, no, I don't know why they are so feared canonically, nor even if there is an answer in canon to that question.

johnbragg
2019-06-05, 05:18 PM
I'm thinking that I dump the Greyhawk lore, and the "Scarlet Brotherhood" is just a secret society of evil carbonari out to bring down the established order and build their own empire on its ruins in the name of, oh, say, Asmodeus or someone.

icefractal
2019-06-06, 12:48 AM
I don't know if they're presented this way - I seem to recall them having a largish membership - but in D&D, especially 3.x, you don't need very many members if they're individually powerful enough. If even a half-dozen high-level characters team up, they can make significant trouble, especially if they're willing to work behind the scenes.

Kaptin Keen
2019-06-06, 01:02 AM
If you look around the world today, some very very scary dudes perfectly match the Scarlet Brotherhood, have zero difficulties recruiting for their suicide causes, and punch enormously over their weight. Then, when the world swings it's more meaty response their way, they get pummeled into mush, sure, but they just pop up elsewhere, new faces and new slogans, but same old BS none the less.

johnbragg
2019-06-06, 08:40 AM
I don't know if they're presented this way - I seem to recall them having a largish membership - but in D&D, especially 3.x, you don't need very many members if they're individually powerful enough. If even a half-dozen high-level characters team up, they can make significant trouble, especially if they're willing to work behind the scenes.

They didn't start in 3X, but you have the same logical problem there. Sure, a dozen 15-20th level casters can be great puppet masters and swing entire kingdoms around. But what do those dozen dudes get out of it? Why is the 14th level Court Wizard and Prime Minister of Furyondy or Karameikos going to align with the Scarlet Brotherhood, rather than with Iuz or Asmodeus or some dragon or mind flayers or whatever? What is the Scarlet Brotherhood bringing to the table, that the Optimized-Wizard-Power-Behind-the-Throne is going to pledge allegiance to the dream of a renewed Suel Empire?


If you look around the world today, some very very scary dudes perfectly match the Scarlet Brotherhood, have zero difficulties recruiting for their suicide causes, and punch enormously over their weight. Then, when the world swings it's more meaty response their way, they get pummeled into mush, sure, but they just pop up elsewhere, new faces and new slogans, but same old BS none the less.

Very close to discussion of current politics. But I don't see a semi-secret society that, by subverting high-level people or placing secret agents, has taken over several countries. Especially without some major resource base--Middle Eastern oil, China's industrial labor force, Silicon Valley high tech, maybe the US university system.

Kaptin Keen
2019-06-06, 12:36 PM
Very close to discussion of current politics. But I don't see a semi-secret society that, by subverting high-level people or placing secret agents, has taken over several countries. Especially without some major resource base--Middle Eastern oil, China's industrial labor force, Silicon Valley high tech, maybe the US university system.

Then don't make it more specific than I did.

We're not discussing the real world, or the present day. We're discussing a fantasy medieval world, and I'm just pointing out that - even in present day RL there are plenty of groupings who do precisely what you're saying. The middle-east is rife with it. Propably the rest of the world is too, to some degree. But let's not go there. It was an example, and not a perfect one at that. Just saying - it's there, in an entirely unimaginary way.

History is full of powerful organisations, from the knight's templar over the free masons to the illuminati (semi-real) and so on. There's seriously no reason the Scarlet Brotherhood couldn't be real in a fantasy setting.

Segev
2019-06-06, 01:23 PM
Like I said, they sound like HYDRA to me.

Particle_Man
2019-06-06, 01:41 PM
What if they were all doppelgängers?

Kaptin Keen
2019-06-06, 03:22 PM
What if they were all doppelgängers?

So ... some other secret doppelgänger society posing as the Scarlet Brotherhood, for reasons so convoluted it would make sense only to doppelgängers? Sounds reasonable.

The best thing about doppelgängers is that the secret doppelgänger society could itself be infiltrated by yet another secret society of doppelgängers - and so on, and so on, ever smaller factions of factions until, at last, one loyal Suel doppelgänger has manipulated all the others into forming the Scarlet Brotherhood for what they firmly believe are their own reasons ... but really, it's just the Scarlet Brotherhood, pretending to be another secret society, pretenting to be the Scarlet Brotherhood.

It would be a scheme the Suel would applaud.

Grim Portent
2019-06-06, 05:23 PM
Looking them up a bit they have their own country, but it does seem like anyone who hasn't managed to keep a 100% Suel bloodline over the course of a thousand years has no reason to like them, let alone join them, seeing as you get less rights even if you're mostly Suel blooded.

Unless they have some kind of super powerful magic they've managed to keep hidden I can't see why anyone would be that interested in them. They apparently have magically crossbred slave races, but that just means their empire is going to be filled with lots of disgruntled masses who want to see the purebloods brought down and killed, and even those with mostly Suel blood will eventually produce large amounts of people who resent their lesser status and seek to undermine the purebloods.

Lvl45DM!
2019-06-06, 07:45 PM
The Barbarian Hordes the the north, the Fruzti and the Hold of the Stone Fist and others are also Suel, so they get alot of breeding stock and members from there.

They do have a power base, the Tilvanot Peninsula, separated from the rest of the Flanaess by the Vast Swamp. They have enslaved all the people of Hempmonaland giving them an army of Aztecish warriors, and their breeding program extends to the humanoid scum they have also enslaved.

Their divine patron is Tharizdun, and they have several other gods, Pyremius, Beltar, Syrul and Llerg as well as Wastri. Oh, and Wee Jas. They are also the ones who blew up the Baklunish Empire with the Invoked Devastation.

So they have a base of operations thats nearly impossible to invade, hordes of violent people that they like and who are willing to fight and breed for them, fanatically loyal members desperate to move up in the ranks, and several armies worth of less technologically and magically advanced slaves, along with a handful of gods in their corner, and they serve the greatest most powerful evil that Oerth has ever seen.

Mark Hall
2019-06-07, 02:59 PM
The Scarlet Brotherhood sourcebook (https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/17402/The-Scarlet-Brotherhood-2e?affiliate_id=315505) from late 2e goes into a lot of this, but, briefly, the comparison to Hydra is probably apt. In the Flanaess (the main campaign area), Scarlet Brotherhood agents could be anyone, and they act indirectly; they might bribe some humanoids into attacking a village, they might simply work together to undercut a Flan business, or they might assassinate particular leaders. In the Flanaess, you won't see an army of Suel marching under the banner of the Brotherhood, just a bunch of unrelated incidents that slowly, and circumspectly, undermine the opponents of the Suel destiny.

Clistenes
2019-06-10, 03:04 PM
They don't seem to have a current power base, like the Red Wizards of Thay or the Zhentarim.

They have their own nation in the Tilvanot Peninsula, an a colonial empire extending to Hepmonaland and Amedio Jungle. Their society is evil, but well organized and advanced, strongly focused towards ruthlessly nurturing talent and training strong agents.


They don't seem to have a divine patron like Iuz or Asmodeus who would reward faithful service.

The non-good deities of the Suel pantheon (mostly Pyremius, Syrul, Wee Jas, and Bralm) grant their Clerics power. And the gods of Oerth tend to be hands-off (save Vecna and Iuz), so their foes rarely get too much help...


They can't really recruit talent, because they're all about Suel supremacy, which is not really a motivating ideology if you're not Suelish.

There are other Suel populations in Flanaess, and they do recruit non-Suel mercenaries, vassals and agents.


So why are they a scary faction? Why are they more intimidating than the deposed nobility of Europe? EDIT: Or even better, a secret society of descendants of Genghis Khan's horde, which ruled about as long ago as the Rain of Colorless Fire that ended Suel's glory years.

Because they have 1.-Many high level Wizards, Rogues, Fighters and Monks, and in D&D a few high level characters can destroy armies of mooks and topple kingdoms, and 2.- They have been infiltrating all Flaenian societies during decades, and they have sparked wars without people realizing what was happening until it was too late...


I just don't get how a bunch of xenophobic, isolationist lunatics somehow also are master infiltrators and manipulators of non-Suel nations.

Why not? They have selected intelligent people and trained them very well...

Deepbluediver
2019-06-10, 08:27 PM
As far as I understand it, they are zealots, and EVERYONE should be frightened of zealots. When you dispose of ideas like "self-preservation" or "proportional response", then the amount of destruction (it's almost always destruction, though I've love to see a creation-focused bent on some fanatical cult) you can inflict on your enemies or perceived enemies is wholly out of scale to what you'd associated with a conventional force. Also, because zealots follow their own internal logic that doesn't conform to what most people think, it can be very hard to predict when they are going to turn on you, or ally with you, or harry off to go do something completely unexpected.

It's like being handcuffed to a time-bomb that only displays random numbers.

Max_Killjoy
2019-06-10, 10:23 PM
(it's almost always destruction, though I've love to see a creation-focused bent on some fanatical cult)


Quick AsideTM, In one of the settings (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?497634-How-to-4th-century-BCE-setting&p=21132313&highlight=Ersetuki#post21132313) I'm working on, there's a cult (of the Green Mother and the Ever-Reborn Father) who espouse striving for maximum possible fertility in all things, from people to livestock to crops and forests -- the more life, the more living things, the better. In a pre-modern setting, this can be dangerous in its own way, given how potentially easy it would be to outstrip the food supply before modern agriculture (or how easy it is to outstrip the carrying capacity of a region with modern advancements...)

johnbragg
2019-06-11, 07:16 AM
I just don't get how a bunch of xenophobic, isolationist lunatics somehow also are master infiltrators and manipulators of non-Suel nations.

If you handwaved an eastern European mountain minikingdom of Nazi-expys, I don't see them as logical candidates to ALSO be the "shadowy conspirators of anti-Semitic legend" expy. The themes don't mesh, for me. Obviously others disagree.


As far as I understand it, they are zealots, and EVERYONE should be frightened of zealots. When you dispose of ideas like "self-preservation" or "proportional response", then the amount of destruction (it's almost always destruction, though I've love to see a creation-focused bent on some fanatical cult) you can inflict on your enemies or perceived enemies is wholly out of scale to what you'd associated with a conventional force. Also, because zealots follow their own internal logic that doesn't conform to what most people think, it can be very hard to predict when they are going to turn on you, or ally with you, or harry off to go do something completely unexpected.

It's like being handcuffed to a time-bomb that only displays random numbers.

You're right about zealots being unpredictable, which is scary (never know when a new revelation is going to cause them to turn on their allies / split into warring factions / sacrifice the Leader or Deputy LEader to their Dark PAtron) but that's a different thing from "master infiltrator planners biding their time and accumulating power"

As for me, if I ever get to run Saltmarsh, I'm just swapping them out for easily understood Zhentarim (Black Brotherhood). "Join us and prosper. Oppose us and suffer." Recruit powerful allies (power in various forms) with the promise of more power (in various forms) from working together with the other Zhentarim. (See, THOSE guys I could see getting secret control of the grand viziers of a half dozen kingdoms and launching a ruinous war designed to leave the Black Brotherhood as the supreme power in the kingdoms. The fantasy racism for a 1HD race and the Lost Empire and the monks just get in the way)

Mark Hall
2019-06-11, 12:22 PM
then the amount of destruction (it's almost always destruction, though I've love to see a creation-focused bent on some fanatical cult)

In Shadowrun, the Amazon is magically-powered overgrowth, led by, IIRC, a Great Dragon.

Deepbluediver
2019-06-11, 07:03 PM
In Shadowrun, the Amazon is magically-powered overgrowth, led by, IIRC, a Great Dragon.
That's awesome (never played Shadowrun)- my homebrewed setting is basically the same thing just scaled up to an entire planet and a slumbering goddess.

Clistenes
2019-06-12, 04:31 AM
As far as I understand it, they are zealots, and EVERYONE should be frightened of zealots. When you dispose of ideas like "self-preservation" or "proportional response", then the amount of destruction (it's almost always destruction, though I've love to see a creation-focused bent on some fanatical cult) you can inflict on your enemies or perceived enemies is wholly out of scale to what you'd associated with a conventional force. Also, because zealots follow their own internal logic that doesn't conform to what most people think, it can be very hard to predict when they are going to turn on you, or ally with you, or harry off to go do something completely unexpected.

It's like being handcuffed to a time-bomb that only displays random numbers.

The players know a lot about the SB, but people in-universe know very little about them... they don't know the true extent of their racism and zealotry...

Also: the SB are LAWFUL Evil... they make long term plans and they stick to them; they don't snap and start killing their minions, mercenaries, agents and allies on a whim...

Beleriphon
2019-06-13, 12:06 PM
Like I said, they sound like HYDRA to me.

They're basically HYDRA, with a dose of Kobra Kult from DC (ie. stupid weirdos in strange costumes, that are some how "dangerous" to guys like Superman).

Lvl45DM!
2019-06-13, 06:57 PM
They're basically HYDRA, with a dose of Kobra Kult from DC (ie. stupid weirdos in strange costumes, that are some how "dangerous" to guys like Superman).

PCs arent superman, SB isnt stupid and they dont wear weird costumes. Their formal wear is just red.

Think more HYDRA from the MCU. Bunch of Nazis who screw themselves over when they get all Nazi, and then come back sneakier.

Beleriphon
2019-06-14, 05:02 PM
PCs arent superman, SB isnt stupid and they dont wear weird costumes. Their formal wear is just red.

Think more HYDRA from the MCU. Bunch of Nazis who screw themselves over when they get all Nazi, and then come back sneakier.

I'm familiar, the weirdos in costumes is the Kobra Kult, for those not aware of them. Perhaps I should have been more clear. Kobra Kult are a secret society in DC that are kind of like HYDRA in that have members everywhere, who don't advertise they are members to the world at large. There's an issue where the girl Jimmy Olsen is dating is a member and bring him to a meeting, he has no idea what is going on at first.

The Kobra Kult is dangerous (despite dressing like lizard cosplayers at some meetings....:smallsigh:) despite the fact that probably shouldn't be from a cursory examination. Like the Scarlet Brotherhood is more dangerous than they really should be if all you do is look at the surface details. MCU HYDRA is probably a better comparison though. At least up to Captain America: Winter Soldier, Agents of SHIELD HYDRA is just dumb.

A similar organization to the Scarlet Brotherhood is the Emerald Claw in Eberron. So, if you want an extra source to draw cues from you have that.

Also, what's with the bad guys and having colour names? Scarlet Brotherhood, Emerald Claw, Black Network, Red Wizards, Iridescent Peacock Society (this one's real, I promise), etc.?

KillianHawkeye
2019-06-14, 07:22 PM
Isn't it obvious? They have a cool name, and that makes people remember them (either in a good way or a bad way, depending on your view on secret world domination cults).


Also, what's with the bad guys and having colour names? Scarlet Brotherhood, Emerald Claw, Black Network, Red Wizards, Iridescent Peacock Society (this one's real, I promise), etc.?

See above. Having a cool name is Branding 101. You need a cool name or a stylish logo or a really memorable motto if you want to make it in the cutthroat world of secret society recruiting. Colors and animals are easy mode for cool names and symbols.

This is why the villains often seem cooler and more powerful than the heroes. They need to be. Good guys will join the heroes because they have honor or value justice or whatever; their image is maintained by their moral codes and overall righteousness rather than a sinister air of mystery and matching costumes. Bad guys rely on their reputation and the peoples' fear of their power and influence.



Take the Dark Brotherhood from Skyrim as an example. They're a pale spectre of their organization's former glory, down to barely a handful of remaining members. But the people still whisper their name fearfully, and call out to them in the night when they want someone dead. Because they maintain their villainous reputation, they're still seen as the stuff of nightmares, and they have to keep up the act just to keep themselves going.

Eldan
2019-06-15, 09:12 AM
Okay, I got to know. What's the Iridescent Peacock Society.

Deepbluediver
2019-06-15, 09:45 AM
Also: the SB are LAWFUL Evil... they make long term plans and they stick to them; they don't snap and start killing their minions, mercenaries, agents and allies on a whim...
Fair enough, though from what I know of lawful-evil (trying really hard to avoid alignment debates) then they can still take actions that other people wouldn't expect because of what you are driven to do by your code. A lawful-evil entity might promise something like "we agree not to kill anyone unless they represent a significant threat to our own existence" and then get away with quite a lot of murder simply by defining "significant threat" however they want. The fact that lawful entities usually stick to a certain chain of logic doesn't mean that lawful zealots can't rely on troll-logic (or logic that makes sense only to them).

Xuc Xac
2019-06-15, 02:14 PM
Okay, I got to know. What's the Iridescent Peacock Society.

Evil wu jen club in one of the Japan knockoffs in Forgotten Realms.