Homunculi [Race]

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Homunculi [Race]

Post by Marina » Sun Mar 10, 2013 8:29 pm

Homunculi

1. Definition
Homunculi (singular homunculus) are quasi-undead, artificial creatures. They are created by summoning the soul of a dead sentient creature, purging the soul of all memories and personality until only pure essence is left, and placing it into a phylactery - an specially prepared obsidian crystal. This blank-slate soul can then be given an artificially engineered mind and body of any design. Creating and developing a wholesome homunculus requires extensive and combined knowledge of alchemy, necromancy and mathematics.

2. Population
There are ca 3000 homunculi in Pal Tahrenor, over 95% of which can be found in the major cities of Tian Xia. Homunculi live alongside their creators, or wherever their creators want them to live. They have no sense of racial unity and do not form their own societies. Homunculi are strictly artificial and cannot procreate in any way.

2a. Registration
All homunculi, regardless of who owns them and where in the world they are based, must be registered at the Imperial Artificer Authority, a special organ dedicated to the administration of homunculi and other artificial races managed by the imperial court. The registration data includes personal name, personal title, held official titles, owner identity, model number, date of registration, and current location. If a homunculus changes place of residence, it must be reported to the IAA. Homunculi owned by the government are registered as owned by the Tianlong Dynasty. A homunculus must state their registration data whenever prompted. A homunculus can't "make up" registration data, so if it doesn't have any, it will say so. An unregistered homunculus must be immediately reported to the IAA and the Ministry of Justice, and apprehended for an investigation of its origins.

3. Lifespan
Homunculi are unaffected by age. They only die when their phylactery is damaged, which makes their soul leak out and dissipate. There are also certain kinds of anti-undead magic that can expel the homunculus' soul from the phylactery without physically destroying the latter.

4. Physical Characteristics
A homunculus' body is traditionally made of ceramic materials, such as terracotta or stoneware, but it can technically be made of anything. It is usually made to be at least loosely humanoid in shape, with bodyparts attached together using ball or swivel joints. The phylactery must be located somewhere inside the body. Regardless of the body shape, a homunculus will always have a pair of immaterial, ghostly eyes that emit a cold blue or purple light. Sometimes, the homunculus is already made with clothes on, much like a statue. Otherwise, homunculi wear formal human clothes, or whatever else they're expected by their masters to wear.

At a distance, a homunculus of traditional design can pass for a human, but upon closer inspection it obviously looks like a doll, with its stylised facial features and sometimes visible joints. Its face never changes expression, its mouth doesn't move when it speaks, and its voice echoes noticeably. Its surface may look like skin, but is cold and hard to the touch. The eye sockets are usually left empty, so the creature's faintly glowing eyes can look like they have black eyewhites.

Homunculi have very dull senses compared to humans. Their sight and hearing are considerably worse, and they don't have a sense of smell or taste at all. They can feel pressure on the surface of their body, but nothing else - no physical pain or pleasure, no heat or cold, and so on. The developers of the original homunculi were mainly concerned with their mental abilities, and have not taken these things into consideration.

Homunculi are generally not suited for physical combat, due to their stiff movements and the fragile materials they're usually made of. While it's possible to make a combat-oriented homunculus, it's decidedly not cost-effective - much more muscle can be obtained elsewhere, with much less effort.

5. Mental Characteristics
A homunculus' mind operates using mathematical algorithms - a system of logic that allows the creature to understand and sort information, as well as behave in certain ways while in certain situations. However, as outlined above, a homunculus is originally a blank slate - a vegetable. The algorithms must be constructed manually, and then imprinted on the creature's soul using alchemy. This is by far the biggest task when creating a homunculus. It takes decades of development by many skilled mages and mathematicians to make a homunculus generally competent in life. Accumulated tradition in Tian Xia has allowed to speed up this process using old blueprints, and create many similar homunculi in a relatively short time. However, inventing new and better ways of composing a homunculus' mind is always a huge task, though certainly worth the effort in the long run.

There are certain inherent advantages that this "mathematical thought process" has over normal, biological brains. A homunculus' abstract, alchemically defined mind has an infinite capacity for information. This means that they have absolute memory: they can remember everything they have ever perceived, down to the tiniest detail. This allows them to learn things much faster than most other creatures. Homunculi are also capable of emotion - sort of. All it takes is an equation: situation X = emotion Y. While this means that homunculi can change their emotional state whenever the algorithms demand so, their emotions are not fake. Happiness and sadness affects them as much as it does humans, though not always in the same ways.

This kind of artificial mind also some inherent weaknesses compared to a normal mind. First and foremost, it has no instincts: lack of drive for self-preservation can be particularly troublesome. It also has no intuition, and what could be called common sense: homunculi are somewhat prone to irrational behavior and silly mistakes that not even the dumbest of trolls would make. A well-developed set of algorithms and a good amount of accumulated memories can help iron this out, but this problem can still emerge in the most unexpected of situations.

It is worth pointing out that homunculi are absolutely not machines. They have souls and are capable of feelings and preferences, though because their mind works differently from other creatures, their subjective aspects can come into expression differently. There can also be slight mental variations depending on what soul is used in the creation. Like sheets of paper, souls can be made completely blank, but as different kinds papers can differ in size or texture, so can different kinds of souls.

6. Magical Characteristics
Homunculi lack an imagination, so they have great difficulty using most kinds of magic, since it usually requires at least some personal creativity. However, they are highly adept at magic that can be put into numbers and formulas, such as manipulation of time and space, as well as alchemy and rune-related magic. They cast their spells by tapping into their knowledge of the scientific way of things and consciously altering it to fit their needs.

Because homunculi are notoriously defenseless in combat, the Emperor of Tian Xia has let create the Terracotta Warrior Hall. It is a small army of non-sentient terracotta golems that are especially made to be summoned by homunculi when they are in danger. The warriors are quite formidable and fight like proffessional human soldiers. They're armed with a dao, a ji and/or a bow. The number of warriors a homunculus can summon varies in accordinance with its position in society. Most can summon two, while some high-ranking officials can call up to ten at a time.

7. Background
When Tian Xia became a vast empire, it began facing the problems of overextension. One of those problems was the rising level of corruption in the outlying provinces. The handful of trusted officials couldn't keep their eyes on everyone, and embezzled resources kept streaming out between the Emperor's fingers. The imperial court began looking for unorthodox solutions, and among them was the idea to employ some kind of especially loyal creatures into the bureaucracy. However, they couldn't find any sort of creature that was loyal by definition, save for mindless ones, which weren't fit for the task. Contracted monsters from the Astral Plane would be loyal enough, but employing them in large numbers was impractical, and didn't solve the root of the problem. Eventually, someone came up with the idea of making the perfect creature rather than looking for it. A group of wizards started a project to make a flawless servant from scratch.

After almost a decade of work, the research finally yielded results. Using only raw ingredients, knowledge and audacious experiments, the mages brought forth an artificial creature whose mind could be shaped in any way the maker wanted. It could be made capable to perform complex tasks, without having the natural greed that resided in all living beings and made them want to cheat their masters. The creature was named "homunculus", or little man, because the prototype had a small statuette for a body. When the project's success was recognised, the imperial court decided to invest in further development, so that the invention increased in numbers and usefulness.

Homunculi are now relatively common in Tian Xia's imperial bureaucracy, and are a big factor in the efficiency of administration of the huge empire. Most are owned by the imperial crown, after being bought from their original creators. Some also serve as butlers for noble families, and some are given as prestigeous gifts to foreigners. Multiple projects to further develop homunculi are also ongoing.
Last edited by Marina on Wed Sep 11, 2013 7:06 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Homunculi [Race]

Post by Darrik » Tue Sep 10, 2013 11:46 pm

Huzzah! Marina is back, which means the Homunculi can be looked at!

A chatlog from today, with some of my present concerns
------------------------
(09:17:41) Darrik: The tl;dr version is: love the concept, but presently very much overpowered.
(09:18:25) Marina: how
(09:33:50) Darrik:
Kat can probably explain better than I, but here's what I recall:

Several factors combine together to make them overpowered. Essentially, they are like liches in some regards: essentially immortal unless their phylactery is damaged. The ability to teleport golem warriors to your side, and being capable of versatile magics despite being a man-created object

If we work on the assumption presented, that this was a course of research approved by the Imperial Bureaucracy (And yes, this is definitely the kind of research I can see being approved, no questions asked) there would be great care taken to ensure that the results of the research were functional but not capable of teleporting things here and there at a whim. There would be safeguards to ensure that the homunculi were under the control of the empire.

Another issue with the present draft: the empire, as a general rule, doesn't typically approve of necromancy. But that is an easy workaround: using the purified astral essence of an astral creature to create the phylactery is borderline to the taboo of necromancy, but acceptable as a line of research.

Now, on to the things which definitely work, lest you are thinking that my goal here is to stomp on the idea:
The Tianlong dynasty would definitely see a use for home-grown creatures capable of extremely rapid mathematical thinking: in accounting sections and archival departments where being able to rapidly produce information would achieve a boost to the efficiency of the imperial bureaucracy. Research to create such an outcome would definitely have been approved.

The main thing with a 'government approved creature' is to ask the question 'Why were they made, and to what purpose?' With regards to corruption, it is certainly prevalent, but there are checks and balances in the reporting system which helps the empire keep it to a manageable level. And something which can potentially be reprogrammed would not be ideal for countering corruption when sent so far from the heart of the empire.

(09:38:41) Marina: can you please copy this and sent it to me as a pm to give it more permanence?
(09:39:02) Marina: i'll write a reply tomorrow after i get some sleep
(09:39:28) Darrik: I'll post the chatlog in the world dev thread if you like, so others can chip in and correct me if they feel I'm being a bit too fusty
(09:39:48) Marina: that's even better
------------------------


On a broad note, I like the notion of the homunculi, and can think of several ways in which they could serve the empire effectively.

However, I think giving them magical powers is a bit too much, given they are potentially immortal and capable of computer-like speed of thought. Certainly, the Tianlong dynasty would not want them to have magical abilities given that their programming could potentially be compromised if someone developed a grudge and had the requisite knowledge.

I delved into my word documents and found my original setting notes for races while working on various aspects of Tian Xia:

=Homunculi (Tentative, pending amendment of some aspects)=

- I can see the Tianlong approving of Homunculi, assuming the removal of magical powers and teleportation.
- I perceive the Tianlong viewpoint being along these lines: "For the sake of the empire, we allow the homunculi. For as long as they prove undistractable, incorruptible, utterly loyal, their existence is secure. Should they prove otherwise, their existence shall be deemed anathema, and their creators punished for the blasphemy of repeating the mistakes of the Changers"
- With the lesson of the Changers' War carved into the very planet, can you imagine a longstanding dynasty allowing such creatures on any other grounds?

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Re: Homunculi [Race]

Post by Marina » Wed Sep 11, 2013 7:17 am

Here are my thoughts about the points you raised.

About reprogramming. Reprogramming a homunculus - i. e. overriding their mind or certain components of their mind is impossible. Since they have absolute memory, they can't be made to forget things they are already set to do. The only way to reprogram a homunculus would be to purge their soul completely and re-create it from scratch, as per their normal creation process. This can only be done if one knows said process, which would be a closely guarded secret of the imerial court. If Coca Cola can keep their recipes hidden from today's cyber-paparazzis, I doubt a dragon court would have a problem.

About the phylactery. Homunculi are not the same as liches in this regard. The main advantage of a lich's phylactery is that it can be stashed at a remote location. A homunculus' phylactery must be contained within, or within close proximity of their body, otherwise they won't be able to control the body. Since homunculi are made of clay or other fragile materials, and their phylactery can be broken, they're not exceptionally tough. Using violence, snuffing a homunculus is not any harder than snuffing a human, provided one knows to go for the phylactery.

About corruption. Since you've based some of your lore on Imperial China, I'll use the Qing dynasty as an example. After some 200 years in power, the ruling elite, including the mandarins, have become so comfortable that all of the empire's feathers ended up in their nests. For example, the Sino-Japanese war. When you have officials embezzling huge chunks of military funds in the middle of a war, you know you have a problem. The Qing got defeated instead of winning easily, like they would have done if their bureaucracy was working as intended. Corruption has become utterly debilitating, and not something that can be held down to reasonable levels for long, since it gets worse all the time in a dynastic setting. This is all basic human nature and the dragons would be well aware of this "exponential corruption" phenomenon. In light of that, they would be actively sanctioning the creation of a race of incorruptible officials, rather than be skeptically approving it, so that their dynasty doesn't keel over after a few centuries for the same reasons human-staffed empires do.

About magic. I don't believe that their ability to learn magic needs to be completely removed, but I agree that the amount of magic they're taught in practice needs to be restricted. One that works as a paper-chewer at an authority organ doesn't need to know any magic. One that works at an alchemy lab would benefit from knowing alchemy, etc. Homunculi lack personal ambition and self-interest, so they wouldn't be able/willing to abuse their powers. They also can't be bribed, intimidated, or otherwise persuaded to do something they wouldn't normally do, since they have no sense of fear, greed or drive for self-preservation. In that sense, giving superpowers to a homunculus is a lot less dangerous than giving them to a human.

About teleportation and summoning. Homunculi are vastly expensive to create and a valuable asset to the imperial court. They need some form of personal defense so that anybody can simply walk up and smash them. Teleportation and warrior summoning are functional in this regard (I did the terracotta warriors just because I thought they were so badass, but normal non-summonable guards would work too if you're opposed to the idea). Homuncluli don't act on impulse, so it's easy to program them to use their abilities only in very specific situations.

I added a new section in the main article under the label 2a Registration.

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Re: Homunculi [Race]

Post by Darrik » Thu Sep 12, 2013 11:45 pm

In hindsight, I can see I could easily have come across as something of an authoritarian ass thus far: if I have, I apologise.

The curse of the written word is that it is far too easy to assume the worst when gauging the intent or emotion behind them, and my style of writing tends to make me seem cantankerous at times.

For what I write next, it is critical that you understand some background motivations behind why I'm engaging with this particular thread in World Dev:
1 - I happen to like the idea of both the Homunculi and clay warriors, and actually -want- to find a place for them in the official writeup of Tian Xia.
2 - I have something of an investment in Tian Xia, having spent literally months working on the setting (with more to come), and take an active interest in anything over in the big green splash on the world map to see if it can be incorporated into the Wiki details.
3 - I'm not trying to shoot down the ideas. Rather, I'm stress testing them in the context of what I have managed to already get approved by presenting my case with the Admin and mods.

---

By way of background: every aspect of Tian Xia which I have thus far had approved has come at the requirement of keeping things reasonable, ensuring there was a consistent logic behind the empire's projects and governance, and ensuring a balance of weaknesses and strengths at the Imperial level. I had to answer a lot of pointed questions =p

You can see what has already been approved here:
http://www.tharshaddin.com/wiki/Tian_Xia
http://www.tharshaddin.com/wiki/History_of_Tian_Xia
http://www.tharshaddin.com/wiki/Magic_in_Tian_Xia
http://www.tharshaddin.com/wiki/The_Imp ... f_Tian_Xia
http://www.tharshaddin.com/wiki/The_Laws_of_Tian_Xia
http://www.tharshaddin.com/wiki/Races_Within_Tian_Xia
(You can see the messy beginnings in the world dev thread here: http://www.tharshaddin.com/rp/viewtopic.php?f=40&t=3097 )

It is the Races Within Tian Xia page which I hope to see updated with Homunculi, if moderator or admin approval can be obtained.

The reasons I am highlighting the issues I currently see with the homunculi is not to be authoritarian, but simply because I can be considered something of an authority on the issue of Tian Xia and getting aspects of the setting packaged in a way the mods are happy with. It's a fine distinction, given that I am by nature an arrogant sod, but the distinction is there :)

Another important distinction I'd like to make:
There is absolutely nothing which says that the character Marina has to fit the 'magicless mould' I am suggesting for the Homunculi. The Dynasty may not approve the mass production of automata with magical capabilities, but they would approve one or two as proofs of concept.

Hopefully, by removing the potential concern of 'My character application is riding on not making any major change to Homunculi as currently presented' we will be better able to look at the options.

---

Alright, so hopefully that's my background, motivations, and related wherefores clarified so that I can hopefully communicate more effectively.


The truth is that the Homunculi have a LOT of potential as a staple of the Imperial Infrastructure in Tian Xia. The Clay Warriors too could provide a unique twist to aspects of Tian Xia's military, both as guards and as shock troops in the jungles of Nanyue.

But the honest truth is this, from my own personal experience: for the homunculi to be approved by admin, they would have to change a bit. ('Marina the character' may not have to, but Homunculi as an 'In The Wiki' official Tian Xian artificial race will).

(As a sidenote, for some reason I had a few paragraphs here about my inspirations for Tian Xia coming from the Ming, not Qing, and a discourse on how the internal politics change significantly when the question of imperial succession is completely removed. But I've spared you that, and I'll save the topic for Chat, where I can be called upon to clarify when I inevitably start to ramble on.)

Instead, I'm going to rattle off some random brainstormy ideas on why I think Homunculi are a good thing, and places I can actually see them being used in Tian Xia, even though I am holding to my 'no magic' stance.


===Random Brainstormy Ideas===

=Regarding creation=

Although necromancy is a taboo, there is scope for the idea to be reworked as combined research between the Imperial University of Magical Studies and the Kan Yu geomancers.

Also, there is nothing to say that the homunculi cannot be more robust: a steel compartment to protect the phylactery and the Homunculi's memories in the case of an accident or attack (like a plane's black box, I guess). It'd be costly to properly prepare a replacement body, but worthwhile.

=Jobs for Homunculi=

Given their capabilities for memory and rapid processing, Homunculi would be well suited for many clerk-type roles within the government departments. Most would end up seconded to two primary areas, where their abilities would be a significant boost to efficiency:
- Ministry of Revenue (self-explanatory, really)
- Ministry of Defense (As clerks in the logistics section)

I can see them also assigned as clerks in archival sections of various departments, where a perfect memory would make accessing documents much more efficient.

=A sidenote regarding corruption=

Typically, investigation of corruption is handled by the ministry of Justice and, in certain circumstances, by the Jinyiwei. Homunculi would not generally be risked for such dangerous work. (Not to say it couldn't happen, but as a general rule, Magistrates are expected to know how to do their job without a portable genius memory bank at their side)

However, I can see Homunculi being programmed as forensic accountants, trained to spot trends of inconsistencies in figures which would lead to an investigation being started.

=Stretch goals: magic and homunculi=

Now, I will be blunt. I don't see the teleporting bodyguards or 'every homunculi being able to cast spells' thing happening. The former is a logistical nightmare, the latter a significant security risk that the Tianlong would not approve the mass-production of.

But, they are creatures created from magic, and if we assume that the Kan Yu geomancers are involved in the project, there are other possibilities available by tapping into the inherent properties of the homunculi.
(see http://www.tharshaddin.com/wiki/Magic_i ... _and_Earth for brief notes on the geomancers)

For Example: Government Telegram/Email/What-have-you communication system. Homunculi stationed by a geomantic resonance node, designed to link in with other Homunculi likewise placed, allowing for communication from one Homunculi to another. Given the difficulties of setting such things up, I'd imagine them placed in regional Magistrate offices. It'd be a system based on utilising their inherent properties, rather than the homunculi casting spells themselves.

Although, even this is something I'd probably have to go into a lot more detail with before it could be approved, but I am not above wishful thinking =p

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Re: Homunculi [Race]

Post by Marina » Fri Sep 13, 2013 9:06 am

You're not being an authoritarian ass. I only wanted to shed light on why I made them the way I did, and what I originally had in mind for them. Don't forget that I wrote this article when Tian Xia was still utterly obscure and undeveloped, so I could go wild with the concept. Now that there's suddenly (suddenly for me, anyway) a tight lore framework to fit into, I can't go as wild as I'd like to.

I've already said that homunculi in the bureaucracy, which is about 95% of the race, won't know any magic. Only the ones assigned to magical laboratories would be programmed for that. So no, I don't really want "every homunculus to be able to cast spells". If you want to remove magic from them altogether, I can live with that. But for the sake of the argument, I stand by my point that a magic-wielding homunculus is no more of a security risk than a magic-wielding anything else.

I'm a world builder before I'm a roleplayer. Marina the character is secondary in importance to the race concept. Rest assured, I have at least 20 more character ideas floating in my head right now, so if Marina has to go, she won't be missed very much.

Grabbing a dead soul and doing things with it is necromancy no matter how you look at it. It's perfectly normal for governments to secretly do things they denounce in public, provided they can keep it secret, which they can in this case.

The black box idea sounds wonderful, but I don't see how that makes them any less overpowered, which I understand is the number one concern with the whole thing.

Homunculi aren't meant to investigate corruption by themselves. They're simply meant to be a part of the administration that needs to be investigated the least, due to their inherent loyalty. While magistrates may be perfectly capable of doing things without a portable genius memory bank at their side, having one would probably not hurt.

I intended for homunculi to be used in a manner not dissimilar to computers, although with more self-sufficience. I don't think that technological advancement always has to follow the strict medieval -> steampunk -> modern -> cyber route. Their base abilities can find a use everywhere, so that they're spread across the society, not just in particular ministries. But that's up to you. I'm not going to intrude on your work any more than I already have.

Teleporting bodyguards are not important. Terracotta warriors can be developed as a separate concept - the empire's spin-off of the "artificial people" idea.

Considering that you made your post at 00:45 my time, we probably won't be meeting in chat very often. Perhaps if you log on a bit earlier; otherwise this thead is where it's at u_u

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Re: Homunculi [Race]

Post by Saruna » Fri Sep 13, 2013 4:50 pm

Popping in to say that I love both of your imaginations and the mods will be chiming in with sorta an official view on trying to make everything fit together eventually -- right now we're still discussing it. Just as a reassurance we're not looking to squash any ideas, because we adore inventive setting work and both of your ideas are valued, but ensuring everything fits in a balanced way is very important to us. So yeah! Carry on and know we're not ignoring the discussion.
#biologicallyconscientious||Characters and threads.

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Re: Homunculi [Race]

Post by Saruna » Sun Oct 06, 2013 5:23 pm

I am so so so sorry it took us so long to respond. Seriously, if I ever say there is going to be a response soon and then several weeks pass please pm me and ask me wtf I'm doing.

Our feeling on the matter is pretty much so long as 95% or more of the homunculi are clay statues with limited abilities -- as most humans and the majority of other species remain standard for the majority -- there are no problems with having a few extraordinary statues as far as balance issues go. If there are ever player characters who decide to play a rarer form of homunculi, it's something that'd get worked out through the app process, which isn't a problem.

So, repeating some of what Marina had said and adding some of our own stipulations:
  • Normal homunculi wouldn't have magic.
  • In that vein, none of them would have the summoning ability.
  • Very limited teleportation (returning to a creation point maybe, with a need to recharge for x amount of time after and only being able to do it so often).
  • Normal homunculi would be made of clay.
  • Normal homunculi wouldn't be able to levitate.
  • Extreme temps should mess with their ability to function.
  • Rather than feeling pain, structural damage should impair their ability to function.
  • The crystal itself should have its own weakness, or be reliant on structural integrity.
Outliers can deviate from that so long as it makes sense, but that goes for any character. This is all purely from a balance standpoint -- we all loved the idea of the homunculi and liked to speculate whether or not there were other kinds in other places that different cultures developed independently.

As for their location, that's one of the crappy things about being on a board with other people. We had thought you were gone for good, so when Darrik stepped forward saying he was interested in developing Tian Xia we gave him the go ahead, and while I showed him your homunculi post it hadn't become canon yet so he was free to work it in as he chose. Now that you're back the homunculi go back to you, but Tian Xia has been, for the most part, canonized. It's a not fun situation, but that means that if the two ideas aren't meshing the homunculi are going to have to move.

That doooooes give you license to develop a whole culture/countrything around them, though! Sahuli and Setkhantos have received absolutely no love, as with most of the sooquoi plains. There will be some nomads in the sooquoi plains around the southern trade route, and I think some people were interested in a spot in the northe, but pretty much most of it is open. Or you could also work them into Eyropa (though we'd need to talk to frug about how he'd feel about it).

We really, really hope this doesn't discourage you because, as I've said before, you have killer ideas. You go for off the wall, and there's always a beloved place here for that. I love your willingness to shoot for the things that no one else has. So please do continue to do that, even if right now feels like an unfair setback.

(by the way, send tell a pm on his kitan account, as it looks like he might have forgotten to reply to your guys' thread!)
#biologicallyconscientious||Characters and threads.

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