Tsuruga, Fiefdom of the Faceless
Eberron introduced a really interesting race, called the Changeling. Their big gimmick is that they can change their form into pretty much any kind of bipedal humanoid, which is pretty cool. I’d already decided that they’d be from the islands of Japan (I use a real world map for my world, it makes it easier to fix locations in players’ heads, and the contours come pre-drawn), so I wanted them to have a pseudo Japanese culture, but was really interested in what their culture would look like given that they have no gender and can look like anyone. How do you establish identity without having a firm face? It seemed like accolades and reputation would be what mattered, but there would have to be ways to make sure people were who they said they were, close connections and lots of order.
Tsuruga, the short version
Tsuruga is the homeland of the changelings (Tsurugai), and its culture is based on the notion of identity. When everyone can literally look like anyone else, the relationships that surround them and their own personal achievements become the only way of delineating one person from another. Loosely based on feudal Japan, the Tsurugai have a caste system, held in place by centuries of tradition.
The basis of Trusugai conduct is the caste system, which is centuries old and frames their lives. Divided by the elements, the castes are Earth (Tsuchi), Air (Fuzei), Water (Mizu), Fire (Kaji) and Metal (Kinzoku). The Tsuchi are the farmers and workers of the Tsurugai, the cobblers and coopers that represent the basis of society. The Fuzei are the religious caste, represented by everyone from village priests to the priests of the high temples. Kaji are the mages, wizards and sorcerers who tame the elements through skill, rather than through the power of the gods. The Metal caste, the Kinzoku, are warriors to a man, not simply those who fight sword to sword but siege technicians and blacksmiths. Finally, the Mizu, who are the hardest to explain. The best words to describe them are praxis or arete, for the Mizu are the ruling caste who devote themselves to excellence in an art. Scholars, servants, artists, and dancers all come from the Mizu caste.
From this, the castes are further subdivided by socioeconomic status, religious devotion, and other sorts of orders one might belong to. When a Tsurugai brings honour to themselves, they brings honour to all of those things, and thus establishes their identity further, making their mark on the world. Wealthy and well-born Mizu are the rulers of the nation, while the poorest Mizu might devote themselves to the service of higher ranking Kaji or other Mizu. High status Tsuchi aren’t simply farmers but master craftsmen or the heads of large organizations of Tsuchi-caste workers.
How does a person come to be born into a caste though, and where are the differences between caste, clan, and order? Then Tsurugai parents decide to have a child, that child is of the clan of whichever partner brings the child to term (not simply the mother, because Tsurugai have no sexes), on the rationale that whomever brings the child to term is focused on the family. From the other partner, who carries on supporting the pregnant other, the child inherits its caste. Often this isn’t an issue, because people of the same caste, or even same caste and clan will marry, and the child of two Mizu parents is typically looked upon more favourably in Mizu circles than a child of Tsuchi and Mizu breeding. Orders are something a Tsurugai comes into itself, joining them by choice, or sometimes inheriting a position in them, establishing relationships with others of its race. There are warrior orders, priestly orders, scholarly orders, all kinds.
What happens to Tsurugai who buck the caste system? To the Tsuchi who wants to be a priest, or the Mizu who dreams of being an archmagus? In short, they don’t. Aspiring to things outside their caste is looked on as unfitting, and brings dishonour, because it means they fail to serve their caste with pride. The happy fish is the one who does not stray from the stream. Sometimes these people run off and go on to become exactly what they wanted in other places in the world, but they’re not welcome back into Tsurugai society, to the point of being ostracized for their shameful conduct. It should be noted that ascending within sub-castes, such as a poor village priest working and becoming the hierophant of the capitol temple is not only not shameful, it is much admired, because it shows a dedication toward an appropriate purpose.
The gods of the Tsurugai have no faces, and take no shapes, represented instead as a myriad of images of a multiplicity of races, and divided by their own elements, but not bound by them, for the gods exist in the heavens. The earth goddess is represented in the heavens by the moon, and the fire god by the sun. The water god can be seen in the storms and the rain, while the metal god is in the steel of the stars, which have fallen in the past. But to reach any of the gods, the gods of the air are required to intercede, and the proper prayers observed. The air stretches from the earth to the heavens where the gods make their home, and it carries the messages of the people to the gods. The major gods of the Tsurugai are as follows:
- Kitagi of the seven winds, guardian of the air (CG).
- Sakaide the enchanter, who tempts into flame (NE).
- Uchiumi the conqueror, bringer of steel (LE).
- Katsuura the wise, the lore of the rain (LG).
- The giant Omitama, who hung the moon (TN).
The Tsurugai are not exactly a peaceful nation, or a nation at all. Rather a collection of nations branded as one by outsiders because they share many traditions. Factions constantly war for dominance over the islands, pressed on by families, sub-castes, and various traditional orders. All of them strive for excellence, and excellence means dominance. The last major civil war on the islands was between the isolationist Furano clans, who wanted to expunge all foreigners from the islands, and even wanted to force the native Fukai (kobolds) into exile; and the Jusenkyo, who embrace the rest of the world and wanted to establish better relations with surrounding nations. The Jusenkyo won after a fashion, in part because they enlisted the aid of foreigners, most notably the human knight Alan Schezarade and his companions, who hail from lands so far off that no Tsurugai has ever set foot there. The Furano clans remain a strong fashion, and will no doubt try to influence affairs in the same manner they have for the past five centuries, working in secret and occasionally trying to seize power.
The Fukai have lived on the islands as long as the Tsurugai, the tiny kin of the dragons of legend. Their settlements are often underground or in the foothills of the many mountains which dot the islands of Tsuruga, though some of them have settled in the urban areas. Primarily hunters and miners, the Fukai associate closely with the Tsuchi, often trading raw materials or finished metal goods for food and luxuries. Fukai blades are some of the most prestigious in the Kinzoku caste, often made of unique metals and alloys, and Fukai jewelry often adorns the Tsurugai of the highest rank. Their encounters with other races, such as the seafaring Nirmala, and the Xiang Empire off their coast didn’t begin with warfare, but rather negotiation and adaptation, members of the Mizu meeting with the captains and generals to show them Tsurugai culture. As a race of shapeshifters, they were met with distrust, but have always conducted themselves with dignity and honour in their official dealings with the races. In their unofficial dealings, maybe a little less so, but they’re unofficial for a reason. The Furano clans, opposed to any such interactions, nearly staged a coup upon the first encounter with the Nirmala, fearing these warlike races. So far, the islands haven’t gone to war with their allies, but with clans like the Furano around, the possibility remains open.
Much of Tsurugai arts lies with the Mizu caste, barring the arts of war and magic, which are practiced by the Kinzoku and Kaji respectively. Members of other castes have been known to dabble these practices, but always take second chair to the professionals. The most famous artform is the kyougen of the Mizu, the legend plays where many parts are played by a few, or even one, focusing on interesting use of the actors’ shifting abilities to motivate the drama. Academics as well, is the focus of middle class members of the Mizu, those who are not in service nor rulers sometimes choosing to acquire schooling in Tsuruga or even abroad. Many scholarly orders are based in the islands, though entry to some is not restricted to Tsurugai.
Tsuruga at War
The last time the Tsurugai went to war against someone who wasn’t of their own race, it was when the Fukai emerged from the mountains. The castes present in all of the clans going to war immediately become part of the machine, shifting and adapting as the situation changes. The Tsuchi feed and clothe the warrior Kinzoku and their accompanying Kaji. The Fuzei bless the warriors and cast auguries before the battles, and the Mizu take counsel and meet with the Mizu of the other side to discuss the affairs of the war. Occasionally, these separations lead to strife within the castes, the Kinzoku reviling the Mizu as cowards, or the Tsuchi as farmers to be crushed underfoot, and intercaste warfare sometimes results. This sort of struggle is quelled immediately, often by the forces of the Kaji and Fuzei, and the aggressors are executed, their families shamed for ten generations. No one with honour wishes to be other than what they are, as the frog does not wish to be a bird, so the bird does not wish to be a man.
Magic in Tsuruga
Magic in Tsuruga is typically practiced in two forms, arcane and divine, but the lines between these aren’t drawn exactly. Divine magic is that which is granted by the gods. If a child of the Fuzei is blessed with the gift of sorcery, it is a gift from the gods, and they are raised as a priest-magus. If, through study, a Kaji student masters the lore of the archivists, it is through their own mastery of the fire that tempts, and they are trained as a mage. The other castes have their own magic, Kinzoku magicians are often Duskblades, or other practitioners who mix steel and spell, while the magic of the Tsuchi is the magic of the earth, and one tends for find druids in their number. The magic of the Mizu is the magic of water, the mastery of flowing energies. Bards, Spellthieves, and other dabblers are often trained among the cast, and even the sorcerers that grow there are encouraged to pursue similar paths.
Tsurugai in the World
There are colonies of the Tsurugai living among the Suraj of Maharashtra, in the cities of Nafaanra, and even in the capitol of the Xiang Empire. Often viewed with mistrust because of their abilities, they persits in the outside world in an exercise of perseverance. Many of them bring their culture with them in one form or another, conforming to caste and clan as is appropriate. Without caste and clan, the Tsurugai has no identity. They are faceless.