Factions

Power factions in the Known Worlds are multiple, but they can be divided into three main groups: Noble Houses, Church, and Guilds.

And then, there are the others. The latter catch-all category includes mostly second- and third-class citizens: yeomen, aliens, peasants, the Changed (genetically modified beings who are most often hunted and destroyed by the Church or by frightened serfs), Lost Worlders and barbarians from outside the Empire, Sathraists, Psychic Covens…

Those Who Rule: Nobles Houses

There are five major noble houses, or Royal Houses, and a dozen or so minor houses. House Justinian used to be a major house but fell in status. In addition, the Houses of Alecto, Gesar, and Windsor were left extinct after the First Emperor War. House Chauki is also believed to be extinct, overthrown by the Hazat (see also entry under Minor Houses.)

Royal Houses

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Al Malik: The exotic and inscrutable al-Malik are often accused of being mere merchants, for their ties to the League are well known. But they have proven their noble legerdemain many times, through the acquisition of land and a unique understanding of human nature and politics. It is very hard to pull one over on an al-Malik, but it is likewise hard for them to resist the lure of a good adventure or challenge. Vassals of this family are well-treated and return the respect with solid service.

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Decados: Slimy, cunning and extremely successful, the Decados have risen to power through treachery and an uncanny understanding of their rivals – helped in no small part, no doubt, by their vast, invisible intelligence network. While the other families accuse them of a number of crimes, the Decados are here to stay and thus must be dealt with on their own terms. Decados vassals despise their lords but are kept in line through fear or the promise of power for those who make good quislings.

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Hawkwood: Prideful yet honorable, the Hawkwoods have seen one of their own take the Emperor's throne. While Alexius Hawkwood has since distanced himself from his family to appear more impartial, the Hawkwoods take such political setbacks with stoicism — the same fierce perseverance with which they beat back the barbarian raiders to their worlds. A Hawkwood does not give up. House Hawkwood is more beloved by its vassals than any other house, for they treat them fairly and with justice.

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Hazat: Hot-blooded and intense, the martial Hazat know how to field an army but are also no strangers to intrigue. When they can calm the vicious infighting from family to family, they can present a formidable front against rivals from other houses. Left with less land after the wars than they began with, they now pursue a campaign against a barbarian world, seeking new lands outside of the Empire. Hazat vassals are loyal, for they know that sacrifices for their lords are often rewarded.

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Li Halan: This pious and disciplined family was once the worst behaved of all nobles. Their immoral exploits are legendary, as is the tale of their overnight conversion to the Church. They now pursue the scriptures as fanatically as they once chased pleasure. While other nobles may snicker at the faithful lords, they more often fear the Li Halan, for this family has proved implacable on both the battlefield and at court. Their vassals are fiercely loyal, for they know their place as vassals in the Pancreator's plan.

Minor Houses

Cameton: House Cameton's holdings are limited to Byzantium Secundus, where they assume a sort of stewardship of the Empire — and are less than pleased to have an actual Emperor on the throne these days. Arrogant, greedy, and insincere, they usually become diplomats or administrators, the better to serve their own interests.

Chauki: Not really a minor house, but a former Royal House that was supposedly exterminated. Their remnants survive on the Lost World of Iver, accessible only through the second, secret jumpgate at the outskirts of the Pandemonium system. Claiming to be from House Chauki is like painting a large red target on one's forehead — the Hazat in particular would be happy to silence you.

Juandastaas: This house leaves many uneasy; it is the most friendly to aliens, and particularly to Ur-Obun. To this day, mixed marriages between Juandastaas nobles and Obun and not uncommon. During the days of the Second Republic, some of its members even used genetic manipulation to make such unions fertile, thus introducing alien genes in the house's line. The Juandaastas are open-minded and even-handed, tending towards philosophy and diplomacy. They are fierce advocates of alien rights, and have a high incidence of psychic ability.

Justinian: Loyal and honorable to a fault, this martial house stood by House Alecto even as it was destroyed, and lost their primary holding, the world of Paradise, when the jumpgate mysteriously sealed. Their house is now divided between a conservative Old Guard, and an aggressive band of Young Turks.

Keddah: The only minor house that claims rulership of a planet, Grail, home of an important Sanctuary Aeon monastery and site of the Prophet's Healing, and is thus wealthy. Bound by an ancient treaty to the hated Decados who force them to war with the Al-Malik.

Masseri: The poorest, most destitute of the noble houses, it used to hold dominion over the planet of Daishan but lost everything in the Symbiot invasion. It is now beholden to the Decados, who never let anyone forget it. Many of members of the younger generation of House Masseri have renounced their heritage instead and are now seeking their fortune as freelancers.

Shelit: A mysterious house of disfavored Kurgan nobility, the Shelit have allied themselves with the Hazat against their Caliphate rulers. Ultra-rational, dispassionate, conservative, and low in profile, they are cybernetic engineers without peer, and all have at least one cybernetic limb.

Thana: Engineered with tall, slender physiques, almost avian - yet beautiful - bone structures, violet eyes, and translucent hair, the Thana ruled Eridol before the beast-like Aluun drove them away, and the jumpgate sealed. Disdainful, long-lived, and highly psychic, but scholarly and artistic in nature, they were at one point controlled and carefully watched, but now serve many noble patrons. The Church keeps a close eye on them.

Torenson: Reputed for their sense of etiquette and skillful management, many younger scions of House Torenson act as seneschals or chaimberlains for other noble houses. Authorities on noble mores, manners, and etiquette, House Torenson is slowly gathering influence again as many of its nobles act as social advisors to nobles of the Royal Houses. Strict, rigid, they are unswervingly neutral in all matters save social grace.

Trusnikron: A young, energetic house, Trusnikron is deeply honorable, straightforward, and self-reliant. Trusnikron are superior cavalry and animal trainers, serving House Hawkwood as cavalry officers, and the Hazat as mercenaries. They have little political skill, and are considered uncouth and barbaric by most other nobles.

Van Gelder: Once all but ruined, the Van Gelder owe their survival to the Decados, who they now serve as spies and assassins. Bitter, angry, and solemn, they are untrusting, lack any regard for honour, and have a talent for poisoning. The Decados provide them with many riches, but only so long as they remain useful.

Xanthippe: The Xanthippe seldom have their holdings planet-side, preferring space stations and starships. A small, matriarchal house, the Xanthippe are canny and tough, with a reputation for producing fine wine, and elite mercenaries. In general, female Xanthippe become leaders and warriors, while male Xanthippe become artisans, and healers. All of their lore and law is contained in a text called the "Measure".

Those Who Pray: The Church

The Church of the Pancreator is formed of five main orders, or sects. In addition, a few minor sects are tolerated, such as the Hesychasts (mendicant monks), the Preceptors (scholars and teachers), the Ven Lohji (Ur-Obun sect), etc.

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Brother Battle: This order of monk knights is the most elite fighting unit in the Known Worlds, surpassing even the Emperor's Phoenix Guard in martial prowess. Originally initiated to protect pilgrims and pursue heretics, the order is now chartered by noble houses, Church sects and even guilds to perform elite military operations on many worlds, including the deadly Stigmata Front against the Symbiot alien invaders. Despite rumours of heresy and usury within their ranks, everyone wants a Brother Battle monk by their side in times of trouble.

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Eskatonic Order: These hermetic sages are often thought of as wizards by the common folk, but the nobles and guildsmen know them for the kooks they often are. While there are many within the order who possess profound wisdom and learning, there are just as many who are obsessed with the end of the universe and who stand on street corners telling everyone about it. Once considered a heresy by the Orthodoxy, the Eskatonics were admitted into the fold when their theurgical rites proved effective against the Symbiots.

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Sanctuary Aeon (Amaltheans): Also known as the Order of Saint Amalthea the Compassionate. Healers and compassionate mystics. Everybody loves the priests and priestesses of Sanctuary Aeon, followers of Saint Amalthea. When an Amalthean comes to town, there is always someone willing to provide hospitality for her. Indeed, so beloved by the commoners are they that when one was once accused of witchcraft by an Avestite, the Avestite was seized by the populace and burned at the stake instead.

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Temple Avesti: Dreaded inquisitors. The Avestites long ago seized most of the seats on the Inquisitorial Synod, and have since then made it their duty to search the Known Worlds for signs of heresy, demonism and any other threat to the faithful. Their illiteracy, fear of learning and dogmatic adherence to certain extreme scriptures makes them feared and hated throughout Human Space. But they are obeyed nonetheless. Only the most fanatic and ascetic initiates are admitted to this sect.

Urth Orthodox: The largest sect, it is the Orthodoxy that most people associate with the Church. Its priests can be found on all worlds, from the ostentatious bishops of the capital cities to the more humble parish priests in the most poverty-stricken fiefs. While the Orthodoxy has gained a reputation for their cunning political manoeuvres, most priests know little of such things, being entirely too busy protecting the souls of the simple faithful. While many may spurn the Orthodoxy for its martial role in the Emperor Wars, when tragedy strikes, it is the Orthodoxy they return to for consolation.

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Those Who Trade: The Guilds

There are five main guilds that make up the bulk of the Merchant Leagues, plus a dozen smaller, more specialized guilds.

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Charioteers: Star pilots and merchants marine, this intrepid guild is what most people think of when they imagine the Merchant League, for it is the Charioteer merchants with their exotic, travelling medicine shows who are most often seen by the commoners. They own the star lanes — literally. Without their secret jumpcode technology, travel through jumpgates would be impossible. In addition, the best pilots come from this guild.

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Supreme Order of Engineers: High technology is rare in the Dark Ages, and most people fear it, for as the Church teaches, it is the symbol of human hubris which brought down the Republic. Few dare to delve into its secrets anymore, and those that do are considered mad — like the Engineers. These strange technicians often modify their bodies with cybertech, becoming more machine than human. While they creep out the commoners and disgust the priests, everyone knows just how valuable their lore is in maintaining intergalactic power and communication.

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The Muster: Professional soldiers, these mercenaries are essential to most military operations throughout the Known Worlds. Even the Brothers Battle rely on their orbital artillery support, and most noble houses have hired them to either assault their rivals or quell rebellions. But soldiery is not the only labour this guild contracts; they specialize in all sorts of trained help: cooks, technicians, animal trainers, butlers, etc. In fact, it's very dangerous to hire trained labour without contracting this guild — their enforcers ensure that they get the largest and juiciest contracts. They also act as bounty hunters and even slavers.

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Reeves: Somebody's got to do the paperwork, and this job is left to the Reeves. They do it quite well. So well that they are the de facto bankers of the Known Worlds and probably one of the richest factions in the universe — although few realize just how rich they've become through their loans to noble houses. Just about everybody owes the Reeves, and when one comes calling on favors, few dare deny him.

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Scravers: If you can't find what you're looking for legally, chances are the Scravers can get it — for a price. Scravers specialize in all sorts of activities normally viewed as anti-social (but often fun): gambling, black market goods and even thievery. Of course, they deny it all, hiding behind the guise of a salvage and reclamation guild. Since they possess blackmail on just about every major official — even bishops — little is done against them.

Outsiders

Aliens

Humanity has made contact with many sentient races since it began exploring the paths left by the Anunnaki. These are the ones it still has dealings with, in one form or another.

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Ur-Obun: This peaceful, philosophical race, like their Ur-Ukar cousins, claim deep Anunnaki involvement in their history. The Anunnaki (the ancient race who built the jumpgates) apparently engineered the two races' fates, separating them onto different worlds before they disappeared from history. The Obun are given positions of respect as councilors and advisors in Known Worlds society. However, while they are treated politely, their advice is often considered naive by the militant human culture. Nonetheless, an Ur-Obun became one of the Prophet's disciples, and is honored by an Obun a sect of the Church.

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Ur-Ukar: Due to their initial hostile dealings with humanity, the Ukari are now a broken race. Their homeworld is owned by the League, who reap it for its mineral resources, selling the spoils off-world to noble houses. The have been removed from their ancestral, subterranean lands and herded into tight caves in poverty. Few humans care what happens to them. A resistance movement has responded with terrorist tactics, and has taken its war of hatred to other worlds. Nonetheless, the League values them for their shady, underworld skills.

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Vau: The mysterious Vau mandarins have demonstrated several times over that they could wipe out humanity if they wished, yet failed to do so. Non-expansionistic and enigmatic, little is known about the Vau. They have entered human space at most ten times since first contact in 2945, but set up an embassy on the planet Vril-Ya. They also recently gave the coordinates to the lost world of Pandemonium to humanity, the only system ever to be found with two jumpgates, which led to another lost world, Iver. Vau technology was superior to human technology even in the Second Republic, and even more so now. It is not known how many worlds make up the Vau Hegemony.

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Symbiots: Little is known about the Symbiots except that they breed powerful warriors, use organic technology, adapt very quickly, and are highly susceptible to psychic and theurgic powers. Some Symbiots are known to be shapeshifters, and have infiltrated the Known Worlds to spread their taint. Symbiots are also known for their ability to turn their foes into Symbiots by implanting spores or seeds of some sort in them, and no cure for Symbiosis has been found to date.

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Vorox: Huge carnivorous, multi-limbed beasts, the Vorox are new to civilization. That they achieved sentience at all on their toxic jungle world is a wonder. That they have come as far as they have since is a tribute to their adaptability and powerful attributes — valuable qualities in the Known Worlds. They are most often trained as elite shock troops by noble houses, but many have joined the League to see the stars firsthand.

Gannok: Some think of the Gannok as ridiculous monkeys, but few can deny their mechanical aptitutude. They are simian in appearance and have a strong sense of humor, but their stench often keeps others from getting too close. The oils their skin exude may smell, but they aid Gannok to regenerate wounds at an incredible rate. They learn fast, especially by mimicking others, and many believe their sentience comes from mimicking early human explorers — or from hanging around the Ur ruins that dot their homeworld.

Shantor: Ungulates who only achieved a crude level of tool-use before humans discovered their homeworld, the Shantor are now a broken race. Suffering from centuries of slavery and forced relocation, Shantor culture barely survives. The traditionalists cling to their religion, praying for a savior, while the young Darkwalkers sell themselves as soldiers and laborers in return for drugs to satisfy their suicidal addictions. Although most humans grant Shantor a limited sentience at best, all who have come to know them recognize their enduring nobility.

Etyri: Avians of brilliant plummage and regal bearing, the Etyri fought a hard evolutionary battle for their sentience against a rival lizard race. Advanced tool-use and cunning won the war for the Etyri, and they ruled unchallenged from the treetops of the planet Grail for years — until humans arrived. While many Etyri still maintain their noble lineages and a degree of freedom, their lands have fallen tree-by-tree under the control of human corporations and eventually noble houses.

Ascorbites: Few Known Worlds races are as enigmatic as the Ascorbites, insects with a different sentience from mammals — including humans. While they seem to share a hive-communication, they do seem to be somewhat individualistic. It is hard to communicate with them and even harder to understand them; their goals are alien and unfathomable. Even the few Ascorbites who have cut themselves from the hive can say little about their race's ways. Nonetheless, human explorers still try to parley with them, for their jungle lands are rumored to host hidden Anunnaki ruins and other ancient wonders.

Oro'ym: Perhaps one of the oldest sentient races encountered in the Known Worlds, the amphibian Oro'ym are a fallen race. Archaeological evidence hints that the Oro'ym once had an advanced star-faring culture, but suffered a collapse and millennia-long dark age they are only now climbing out of. Their language and religion holds tantalizing clues to Anunnaki history, but few can now unravel these mysterious traces. Who knows what ancient wonders the ocean depths of the planet Madoc hold? Only the Oro'ym…

Hironem: The reptilian Hironem are perhaps the closest example Known Worlders have of the mysterious Vau culture. Evidence suggests that ancient Hironem culture was heavily influenced by the Vau, and this shows in their present day caste structures and religious dogma. Their belief in S'su (a universal life energy) and its behavior colors everything they do.

Barbarians

Kurgans: Barbarians from the Kurgan Caliphate are actually quite polite and mannered. Their ways may differ enough to spook a peasant, but htey are intelligent and leaned, preserving many things from Second Republic culture that was lost to the Known Worlds after the Fall. Much like the Moors fighting the Spanish, the Kurgans are engaged in a conflict with the Hazat over a lost world. The Kurgans are very well organized, and they have managed to hold the Hazat off for a very long time (of course the Hazat were fighting the Emperor Wars, the Kurgans, and each other too).

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Vuldrok Raiders: Big burly viking-types who are not unified into one coherent entity, but consist of many smaller star-nations. The Vuldrok Raiders actually live up to the stereotype of the barbarian held by most peasants: they are rude and brutal in their behaviour. Used to taking what they want by might, they rarely heed rules of social propriety and tend to get very miffed when reminded of them. They have been making incursions into Hawkwood worlds.

Lost Worlders: Every once in a while, a closed jump route reopens or a forgotten route is rediscovered. Barbarians from worlds that have been isolated for centuries may trickle in, either on their own or brought back by explorers from the Known Worlds. The variety among Lost Worlders is unending, since all they have in common is their planets' long isolation. Barbarians visiting the Known Worlds are sure to attract the Church's attention, for they risk corrupting the Faith with their heathen ways.

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