Originally posted by lurking_shadow
At some point, when designing my campaign’s plot, I came across the Villichi and found them far too underdeveloped. Since I know they are a favorite of the boards, I decided posting what I came up for them - I deviated a little from canon but, hopefully, for the best.
Overview and Origins
The Villichi are two separate things often mistaken as one: a recessive trait that causes human girls to be born pale, potentially tall and inherently psionic; and an ancient monastic cult of psionic warrior-priestesses.
Villichi-born have existed since the onset of mankind, at the Rebirth. Their cult, however, probably formed later in the Green Age. It is not clear what exactly led to the birth of the Villichi priesthood, but esoteric sects living in secluded monasteries for the purpose of psionics mastery were hardly uncommon, in that age. The Villichi born’s appearance and, more importantly, their powers must have always set them apart from the rest of humankind, and eventually must have led them to withdraw from human society as well. That separation may not have been in bad terms, however. Even in the Brown Age (the current age), the Villichi are seen with as much awe and respect as they are seen with fear. It’s entirely possible that the humans of the Green Age perceived the Villichi as superhuman, not inhuman.
Convent of the Harmonious Blade
In the 190th King’s Age, there isn’t just one, but three convents of the Villichi. The Convent of the Harmonious Blade, while perhaps the most dissimilar, is still quite representative of the Villichi priesthood as a whole.
Location and Resources
The convent lies in the central island of a tiny archipelago in the middle of the Sea of Silt. The craggy hills of the surrounding islands protect the convent not only from view, but also from the worst ravages of the silty wind. Only from above can the Green Age ruin in which the priestesses dwell be seen; the presence of it’s current owners is betrayed only by the carefully tended fields nearby and by the torchlights that are lit at night.
The ruin is a small keep that was abandoned long before the Villichi came by it. The priestesses have converted the keep into a monastery, but altered it very little and repaired it even less; they lack the skill required for major stoneworking. Some parts of the keep are not inhabitable, since they are in danger of crumbling. The keep’s solid walls and floors have been ravaged by time and the elements, but most of it is still standing - and so are the battlements. It remains highly defensible and is capable of housing all the priestesses at the same time. It also houses the small herd of carru tended by the priestesses.
A few silt skimmers are kept in a harbour hidden between the nearby hills. The skimmers are the primary method for traveling in the Silt Sea and, in the case of some disaster, are to be used for abandoning the convent. Given it’s importance to the priestesses, the small fleet is fairly well protected. The harbour is another Green Age ruin, but it is much less preserved than the fortress. To make it functional, the priestesses had to build upon its stone structure using wood and leather, but the makeshift work has to be repaired after every major silt storm.
Several water sources exist within the archipelago, including wells and even a small spring that feeds a tiny lake. There is some vegetation on the islands, and many patches of mud flats between them. Most of the local fauna is composed of small lizards, insects and birds. Crystal spiders are one exception; they have several nests in the archipelago. These are a primary source of gems for the priestesses of the Harmonious Blade.
Another of the Convent’s valuable resources is the great collection of tomes and books – most containing lost knowledge of the Green Age - that the priestesses have preserved for millennia.
There are four ranks within the convent: apprentice, sister, master and the mistress of the convent. Aprentices are referred to as kaishaia – little sister. Upon reaching adulthood, and a certain level of skill, aprentices become full priestesses. These are called shaia – sister. The most respected priestesses, namely the eldest and wisest instructors of the convent, are elevated to the rank of zaishaia – meaning older sister or big sister. The mistress of the convent is called saishaia – eldest sister – though, despite her title, she is required to be the most respected of the zaishaia, not the eldest. That is also the case of the masters: a skilled and insightful priestess may be promoted while still young.
Though the ranks themselves are formally recognized, the titles are somewhat relative and their usage is heavily dependant on circumstance. Any priestess may be simply called shaia, for instance; a child might call an older apprentice zaishaia; a master might use “shaia” to refer to another elder, or “zaishaia” if she is about to ask for a favor.
Pretty much all decision making is done by the mistress of the convent under the counsel of the zaishaia, but the hierarchy system of the Villichi is fairly horizontal. (As opposed to, say, the hierarchy system of the city-states). The elders are approachable and the voice of even the youngest apprentices carries weight.
There are over one hundred priestesses in the convent of the Harmonious Blade. Young adults and the elderly comprise the vast majority of the population (about 85%: 60% shaia and 25% zaishaia). This is a consequence of the naturally long lifespan of the Villichi, their psionic powers and their seclusion from the rest of Athas; the Villichi live much longer than other Athasian humans.
Also, it should be noted that (in game terms) most of the Villichi of this convent are of the Psychic Warrior PC Class; about 65% of them, of all ranks. This is perhaps the only place on Athas where Psychic Warriors actually receive formal training. The remaining 35% are mostly comprised of Psions (and Psionic Monks, if an alternative full Class is used). Wilders are rare, but do exist; these usually are Villichi that were found and brought to the convent only after becoming adults. Of all the psionic Prestige Classes, the Psychic Weapon Master is the most common; fully 25% of the priestesses have levels in this PrC or are on the way to acquire them.
Chores and Habits
The Villichi live ascetic lives.
In the Convent of the Harmonious Blade, much of the priestesses’ time is spent tending their crops and their carru herd; given the pervasive silt and the insects from nearby mudflats, these activities require special care – the Villichi’s powerful psionics and superior knowledge of nature notwithstanding. Carru milk and its derivatives, such as butter and several types of cheese, form the basis of the priestesses’ diet. They also grow various nutritious vegetables and medicinal herbs, but must resort to trade in order to obtain grains. Grains are important not only for the Villichi, but to the carru as well; the convent’s tiny archipelago, although rather fertile, is much too small to support enough pasture all year long for those animals. The Villichi also must trade for the raw materials they use to make clothes (they do not slay carru for their hide). The priestesses are superb weavers, and produce much more cloth than they need in order to trade.
A few of the sisters are also weapon makers – something unique to the Convent of the Imperturbable Blade, since the Villichi rarely focus at this sort of craft. All weapons made by the convent sisters are bladed crystal weapons, usually swords or daggers. Gems are harvested from crystal spider webs then psionically fused together and then shaped into blades. The whole process requires considerable skill, superior psionics and great dedication, but the resulting weapon is impressive – durable and incredibly sharp. Such blades are almost always imbued with psionic powers. They fetch extraordinary prices at Tablelands markets and elsewhere but are exhausting to make, so they are never produced in numbers. Enchanting non-crystal weapons procured outside the temple is almost as taxing, but does not drain the limited supply of crystal spider gems. Consequently, part of the convent’s armory and many of the psionic weapons traded with outsiders are not made of crystal.
Of course, the Villichi also make themselves busy with things other than caring for their own sustenance. All priestesses on the convent, with the exception of toddlers and those on their deathbeds, engage in combat practice at least once per day. These practices take many forms, such as sparring in pairs or training against wooden targets, but the most common way is to perform kahalash, solo routines of sequenced attacks and defenses against “imaginary” opponents. There are many kahalash for each of the Villichi’s five preferred weapons – the spear, the staff, the long sword, the “fist” (hand-to-hand) and the composite bow. Almost all of them incorporate psionics in some way, of course. The primary location for combat practice is the inner courtyard of the fortress, but they may also take place outdoors, on the island, or in special rooms indoors. Often, all the sisters engaged in combat training will perform the same routine, synchronizing their moves with the most advanced one of the group.
The priestesses also engage in quiet meditation and pure psionics training for several hours a week. Meditation is often performed solo, but group sessions, are also common; when meditating in group, one senior priestess runs the session and monitors the others for loss of focus. These events also involve brief philosophical discussions before and after the meditation proper. Psionics training can also be performed solo or in groups.
While they can read and write, and they do keep large libraries, the Villichi prefer teaching in a master/apprentice manner, since they believe an instructor can convey unspoken nuances in a way books cannot. They rely on books as a complement to hands-on exercises and for the study of history and of scientific lore – such as physiology and the minutiae of psionics theory.
The bulk of the menial work is done by the young adults of the temple, but everyone is expected to help. Work division is done informally, although the mistress of the convent or the other senior sisters sometimes dispense specific tasks to specific priestesses. Infant and adolescent sisters spend most of their time training and being indoctrinated into the Villichi way. The elderly usually focus on spiritual matters and perform the roles of teachers, though instructorship is conditioned on competence, not age.
Goals and Philosophy
Ultimately, the Villichi priestesses seek s’jut – enlightenment. That is the true goal of the Villichi Way. To them, “enlightenment” is an abstract concept that eludes definition by its very nature, but is understood to be a combination of peace of mind, deep self-acceptance, knowledge of the human condition and of the workings of the Universe, great psionic prowess and more, much more. S’jut, they believe, may come as instantaneous epiphanies or as long term developments that may unfold even in the strangest of circumstances, but which mostly occur as a result of a life of discipline and devotion. The most effective tools for achieving s’jut are psionics training, meditation and kahalash. It may seem strange to seek enlightenment through combat training, but to the Villichi – particularly to the priestesses of the Harmonious Blade – kahalash is simply considered to be a pragmatic form of meditation. The harmonious and precise, though also fluidic and spontaneous, movements of the kahalash routines supposedly quench the restlessness of the human body and soul, sate the violence inherent to human nature and silence the fears, urges and frustations that perpetually plague the mind, at least momentarily. While thus engaged, then, the performing priestess is free to achieve a deeper state of mind that is unshackled by mundane worries and, therefore, is more powerful and better able to achive s’jut.
Villichi tradition proscribes several behaviours considered to be reprehensible, such as feeding on meat, coming into contact with metal, sexual intercourse, abuse of intoxicating substances and violence.
These prohibitions are perceived as nothing more than the wise avoidance of habits that are detrimental to the Villichi. Sexual intercourse is perceived as a carnal distraction from the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment; marriage is further disapproved since it would interfere with the duties toward the Sisterhood. Excessive consumption of liquor is shunned for the reason that it numbs the mind – the greatest tool of the Villichi. Ingesting the flesh of a creature capable of emotions is regarded as a disturbing and uncharitable act. Metal is thought to interfere with the use of psionic powers. The taboo against metal is also related to the connection between metal and wealth; by declining to even touch metal, the Villichi symbolically renounce greed and material ambitions. Violence is thought to disrupt the centered state of mind required of a Villichi priestess even if it is warranted or unavoidable, such as fighting in self-defense. Unwarranted violence is seen as petty, immature and maybe a sign of deep emotional distress or a flawed character – a priestess should know better.
The only “penalty” for most transgressions is spiritual purification. This usually means seeking guidance and counsel from other priestesses and engaging in long periods of meditation. More extreme cases require voluntary seclusion in special, isolated rooms in which an offending priestess may engage in exercises of self-examination undisturbed - except for the periodic visits of a mentoring zaishaia. Seclusion lasts until a focused mindset is regained.
Unrepentant priestesses that insist on relapsing into error are another matter. If the habit is annoying but not dangerous, the mistress of the convent may or may not decide to simply tolerate the irregular behaviour. If it is deemed too disruptive, the offending priestess may be asked to leave. Banishment is a grievous measure never taken lightly and exiles are always accepted back, should they repent or change their ways. (Thus, a priestess that pursues romance with an outsider may have to depart the convent; but if the lover dies or the relationship is otherwise ended, the exiled sister may be embraced again.)
Violence is the least tolerated of all transgressions, particularly if directed toward fellow priestesses. Incidents of this nature are very rare, though, since their training gives them a firm grip on their own tempers, and since the Villichi share a strong bond with each other. The only circumstance in which the Villichi contemplate executing one of their own is when a priestess poses a threat to her fellow sisters and no other viable way of defusing the problem is found.
Relations with Other Convents
Loyalty towards the Sisterhood comes before loyalty to a single convent. There is no infighting or rivalry of any kind between the three convents. Contact between them is also minimal, however; the convents are autonomous and generally keep to themselves. Nevertheless, they do cooperate, if the need arises. The Convent of the Harmonious Blade is the most martial of the three and, as such, is occasionally requested to intervene in behalf of the others on hostile affairs. Additionally, priestesses from the other two convents often come to the zaishaia of the Harmonious Blade for advanced training in the kahalash and pure combat. Conversely, priestess of the Harmonious Blade sometimes seek zaishaia from the other convents for further instruction in pure psionics and in the finer techniques of mastering oneself.
The saishaia of the convent on the Ringing Mountains is senior to the mistresses of the other two convents, though this is mostly mere formality; decision making that affect the Sisterhood as a whole are fairly rare, and never made without (at least near) consensus.
Relations with Outsiders
Though compassion and serenity are the true underlying emotions that govern the Villichi, they are best known for the facade of ruthlessness and aloofness that they mantain when dealing with outsiders. Not all of their apparent callousness is feigned; detachment is one of the cardinal tenets of the Villichi way. However, their reputation is a carefully constructed tool for discouraging outsiders from meddling with the Sisterhood – and it’s quite effective.
For their part, the Villichi generally avoid meddling with the outsiders as well – their goal is to transcend the material world, not interfere with it. Some meddling is inevitable, however. The primary material concern of the Sisterhood is tracking and retrieving Villichi children. Each convent is responsible for Villichi born in different parts of the known world; the Convent of the Harmonious Blade is charged with watching over all of the inhabited islands of the Sea of Silt, and over many of the coastal settlements. The dwellers of these areas have learned to respect and fear the Villichi, for the priestess of the Harmonious Blade are the boldest and most pragmatical of the Sisterhood – they are not afraid to get their hands a little dirty, if the need is great.
Of the three convents, the Harmonious Blade interferes the most with its neighbours. Even so, these are extremely rare events. The decision of assisting, or hindering, outsiders is never taken lightly and only occur if the consequences of inaction are too great – the death of an entire tribe, the defilement of an entire island - and if the cost is small. The Sisterhood doesn’t concern itself with the morals of the outsiders to a very great extent; the Villichi are loath to deem a tribe of outsiders “more deserving of life” than another, and thus intrude on a quarrel forcefully. They are far more willing to intervene if violence is avoidable or not necessary at all – if the trouble is some natural catastrophe, for instance. Of course, the Harmonious Blade prefer to help inoffensive neighbours over dangerous ones. And prefer to do so anonymously most of all.
The Sisterhood is quite secretive; the location of a convent, or even the simple fact that there is more than just one, is a closely guarded secret. Currently, two groups of outsiders are coming into the Harmonious Blade purview. The first are a tribe of giants. Though their kind have tried settling the convent’s archipelago many times, in the past, the priestesses have managed to dissuade them without revealing the existance of the convent; some beastheaded giants are now beggining to suspect what these “haunted” island’s secret is, which may force the Villichi to act. The second group is a neighbouring village of dwarves. It has long become clear that the priestesses will need help repairing the convent’s keep and harbour, eventually. What deterred them from recruiting the dwarves assistance until now, however, is how to keep the secret of their location from getting out, but the structures are becoming more and more unstable.
The Harmonious Blade is far from self-sustaining, and hence mantains a somewhat extensive network of trading contacts. The contacts are always approached on neutral ground, however, and preferably without advanced warning. Since telepathy and precognition are not the Harmonious Blade area of expertise, though, many encounters have to be pre-arranged.
Priestesses sent beyond the convent’s archipelago are always experienced and mentally tough. Athas is a brutal world and the envoys often return distressed and in need of spiritual regeneration.
Two simple questions drove me to develop the stuff presented in this post: what exactly do the Villichi do, and why? There is next to nothing in cannon material that explains what makes the Sisterhood tick. (Beyond protecting its own, I mean.) Their monastic way and psionic focus led me to liken them to Oriental religious groups such as the Shaolin and the Tibetan monks and, through that comparison, I tried to answer those two little questions.
I’d appreciate some constructive criticism. So, what do you think?