Elric of R’lyeh: Politics

  1. Rise of the Melnibonean Middle Class
  2. Local and National Government
  3. International Politics
  4. Breeding and Status

Note: this section has been rewritten a couple of times. Mostly I’ve found it problematic because it touches on both class and race, and the last thing I want to do is trivialise either. There’s an excellent article by Mo Holkar that I would urge you to read, concerning what not to do to avoid slipping into lazy stereotype.

A large part of Elric’s adventures take place beyond the Dragon Isle in the Young Kingdoms, where Elric’s albinoism is secondary to the fact that he is not human at all. Elric of Melnibone provides about as much context as we can hope for in showing Melniboneans dealing with their own kin — and of course Elric’s weaknesses (both physical and moral) also make him persona non grata with his own people.

That hasn’t stopped the roleplaying lines from developing their own perspectives of Melnibone. Both Melnibone (Chaosium) and Bright Shadows (Mongoose) cover the Melnibonean race, and they’re worth mining for ideas. But colourful as those books are the principle features of Melniboneans are pretty unsubtle; they’re beautiful, tall, intelligent, long-lived, xenophobic, magically astute. Basically they’re still the same old Tolkienesque supremacists with the varnish stripped off and a bit more effort into making them actually alien.

They were tall and slender, with slanting almond eyes, ears which came almost to points. While the eyes of some of them were like those of ordinary men, others had eyes that were purple and yellow, others had eyes that were flecks of blue and silver which sparkled constantly. They seemed a proud and intelligent people and were plainly given to avoiding most of their fellows. Yet Ilian also knew that these could be the cruellest of all the invaders. “Call them Eldren, call them Vadaugh, call them Melniboneans,” Jhary-a-Conel had said to her, “but remember that these are renegades all of some kind, else they would not league themselves with Ymryl.” Moorcock, The Champion of Garathorm

Alongside the major themes of mankind escaping the influence of gods and making up its own fate, Moorcock uses the “Man v. Elf” dichotomy not only in Elric’s books, but also Corum and Erekose. In each example the Elves are arguably the architects of their own downfall in the face of the expanding human race (generally through a combination of arrogance, passivity and introspection). It’s also implied that the various races have a single root, and that the Melniboneans were seduced by Chaos. Those elves aren’t bad, they just made bad choices.

Rise of the Melnibonean Middle Class

A large part of our alternate 1920s requires Man and Melnibonean to rub shoulders. In the British Isles the Melniboneans are the ruling race; but to a large part their survival has been contingent on mixing and breeding with humans.

The net effect of breeding is a gradual expansion of Melnibonean blood out from the social elite into the middle class, stratifying the middle classes further and fuelling British class obsession. This is much like the “time of thin blood” in the Vampiric milieu, except Human and Melnibonean are part of the same class structure. The most powerful (and purest) Melniboneans keep themselves relevent to society through allowing their blood to propagate through the lower ranks. Clearly this isn’t a sustainable situation, but for now it’s the social backdrop of the Second Bright Empire.

What about the Young Kingdoms? Since the United States broke away from the Empire, they are divided over the importance of Melnibonean blood. In the more meritocratic parts of the Union being Melnibonean may imply wealth, but nothing more. In the traditionalist areas the feudal structures remain to keep the human rabble out. In some pro-Human states, the gated Melnibonean communities may be as much to keep the aliens in than the humans out.

How much this gets focus in your game is up to you; in an investigative game it may be enough to provide a backdrop, or you may want to dig deep into the different bloodlines and how they interact.

Whatever you do, the situation should not be simplistic. An alternate-Earth Downton Abbey with the Crawleys as cruel and ethereal Chaos-worshipping aliens being waited upon by their human slaves would be easy to do, and also easy to fall into class stereotypes. Both races will have their own anxieties over retaining cultural identity and their place in the political landscape. But while there should be fear and mistrust (following the template that Moorcock has given) there should be counter examples of progressiveness, inclusiveness and perhaps most importantly optimism where the two races interact.

In fact, there should be opportunities to ask what it means to be Melnibonean and a citizen of the various nations. In this culture there is a high propotion of mixed race citizens (and no “pure” Melniboneans). Elizabeth’s “Romance of Melnibone” is a celebration of culture, and given the political structure of Melnibonean estates acting as local government (see below) it’s quite possible that the human commoners also identify as Melnibonean.

Concerning Slavery and Freedom

In the books Melnibone relies on her slaves, and the slave population outnumbers their masters 9:1 (I confess I got this from Chaosium’s Melnibone — I struggled to find an original reference). If the rule of thumb is for 99% of the population to be human, one in eleven humans is a “slave”, and 10% of the whole population are contained within Melnibonean households.

Melnibonean slaves are supposedly kept compliant with drugs but are otherwise well treated (with the exception of labour slaves). They perform various functions for their masters, up to and including teaching the Melnibonean young.

Here in the alternate 1920s, the obvious function of slaves is as an entourage to the Estate and performing a function of domestic service. Is it ever desirable for a free person to become a slave? What do the Estates look like to outsiders — are they well integrated with the local population, or are they closed off and secret? Are slaves really treated well, and how does treatment vary between the Estates? And even if a slave has no voting power, do they still have some privilege conferred on them by virtue of their attachment?

Local and National Government

Elizabeth sought a balance between Law and Chaos in her new Bright Empire. In Britain the House of “Commons” has a seat for every Melnibonean estate on the island, though attendance varies. These are not elected, but inherited positions. The representation of each Estate is not just for the family but also the constituents of the Estate, and so functions as the local government and government representation for thousands of people.

The House of the Lords is something different. The Lords houses Elizabeth’s Court of Chaos as well as European representation from the Lords of Law. Elizabeth’s own Lords are the Variable Eight, and are given honourary titles as repesentatives of the Chaos Lords themselves. Lord Slortar, Lord Chardros and Lord Mabelrode are in constant residence, while other titles — Arioch, Xiombarg, Pyaray and others — change at the Queen’s whim, in a true reflection of Chaos.

International Politics

As indicated in the History, Europe is still under the control of Law and the seat of power is the Vatican. Elizabeth entertains both Law and Chaos in her court, and Vatican diplomats are in permanent residence in her Granbretan.

Aside from this very specific detail I don’t intend to explore this further. Naturally there are interesting things going on in the period — attitudes to the British Empire in the inter-war period, the drive towards Women’s Suffrage, the rise of national socialism in Germany — all of these can be adapted to the alternate world. How subtly you do that is up to you. The intention has always been to make use of actual history as much as possible, particularly if one wants to adapt existing CoC books to the alternate world.

Breeding and Status

Note: the interpretation below assumes an almost indefinite lifespan for “pure” Melniboneans, and deviates from Moorcock significantly. The intent is to signal the alien nature of Melnibonean genetic heritage and to raise a question mark over Elric’s survival at R’lyeh (q.v.).

Melnibonean Blood

This is the rule of thumb I used. The three main tiers of Melnibonean/Human hybrid have an adjustment for Credit Rating.

Human: can be capable conjurers and sorcerers in exceptional cases, but no adjustments to stats otherwise. More than 99% of the population (population of the British Isles is approx 40 million, and the Bright Empire is 400 Million).

Lowest tier Melnibonean: gene was interrupted more than 3 generations ago, and breeding has since been exclusively with humans. May have slightly increased POW and CHA. Lifespan increases by perhaps 20% from nomal human expectancy. Physical characteristics – eyes. Could pass for human except under careful scrutiny. Even chance of producing type 1 or 0 offspring with a human or near-human mate. One in every thousand (10%/20% to CR).

Middle tier: gene was interruped less than 3 generations ago, or was interrupted earlier but there was a successful pairing with Melnibonean stock afterwards. May have slightly increased POW, CHA, SIZ and INT. Lifespan increases by 75% of human. Physical characteristics – eyes, shape of skull, ears. Could pass for human with some disguise skill. One in every 5,000, with 8000 in British Isles and 80000 in the Empire as a whole (30%/50% to CR).

Nobility: gene interrupted for less than 3 generations and successfully paired with Melnibonean stock. Will have increased SIZ, CHA, INT and POW. Lifespan is 250% of human. Physical characteristics – eyes, ears, skull, body frame, skin. Clearly half-breed (and alien to anyone lower born). One in every 500,000, with around 100 in the British Isles and just over 800 throughout the Empire. Mostly these are feudal lords or custodians of ancient Melnibonean estates (60%/90% to CR).

Elizabeth (and others?): Child of pure Melnibonean and human, or of Melnibonean parents with a minor interruption in the line. Will have greatly increased POW and INT, and high CHA and SIZ (tall and beautiful). Lifespan 500% or more of human. Appearance is as a true Melnibonean – but could a true Melnibonean tell the difference?

Elric: Pure Melnibonean. Lifespan 1000 human years +. High POW, INT, CHA, and SIZ. Beautiful, powerful, unearthly, terrifying.

Social Rank

Often CoC defers to Credit Rating for interactions where social rank becomes important. This is highly contextual, in that it’s using one’s perceived status to bluff past requests for credentials, etc.

The Blood ratings have two numbers; the lower of the two is the bonus to Credit Rating that the breeding confers outside the Empire (in the Young Kingdoms), and the higher is the bonus conferred when dealing with people who care about your breeding. The bonus is largely conferred because, even if people don’t respect the blood, there is old money behind it.

At the very highest tiers CR becomes irrelevent, of course. Who’s queen?

With the stratified nature of Melnibonean society, to influence someone else an opposed Credit Rating check is probably appropriate. Here are some sample credit ratings, to be used in opposed rolls:

  • 50: Central government officials, heads of institutions (colleges, trusts, military and civillian departments)
  • 40: Local government representatives, senior members of colleges and institutions, feudal landowners
  • 30: Academics and professionals
  • 20: Merchants, scholars
  • 10: Tradesmen, serving staff, soldiers
  • 05: Apprentices to tradesmen, casual labour
  • 0: homeless, criminals
  • 0 (n/a): Children and slaves

Shade these numbers with the bonuses as described above.

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