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Fighting-Monks of Claren-Elian

D&D 3e (3.0/3.5) Rules

by Jeremy Forbing


First detailed in The Odyssey of Gilthanas, the martial traditions of Claren-Elian provide a perfect means for the new D&D monk to enter the Dragonlance world.

Fighting-Monks of Claren Elian

East of Goodlund lies an isle of legend, whispered of by merchants and explorers since before the Cataclysm. Those who have glimpsed it from afar speak of lush forests, forbidding cliffs, and a shining city unlike any other. But none have explored this island, neither conquering minotaur nor fearless kender, for most of those who have dared such a trespass have never returned. Those who have returned speak of terrible creatures, spirits of the woods that move faster than the eye can see and slaughter armed men with their bare hands.

These stories are far more than kender tales. In fact, they are incorrect on only one point: the "terrible creatures" are not spirits. They are mortal men.

History

In ages past, the powerful dwarven sorcerers called the Scions enslaved a tribe of peaceful human philosophers from a faraway eastern land. Moving this tribe-- called "the Ran-Eli"-- to a remote region in the mountains of what would one day be the nation of Istar, the Scions forced them to build a magnificent city known as Claren-Elian. The Scions inhabited this city of living crystal for many years, until unforeseen events caused their disappearance.

Finally free of their decades of bondage, the Ran-Eli swore they would never know slavery again. Their philosophies had taught them the secrets of "ki"-- a form of energy residing in all things-- and this knowledge granted the Ran-Eli amazing control over their own bodies, which in turn allowed them to survive the years of harsh servitude.

To defend themselves from future tyranny, the Ran-Eli refined their ki mastery into a potent martial technique. The refinements were developed in the isolated strongholds of meditative orders, where ki was studied most intensely, and because these orders were traditionally composed of men who did not marry, eventually only men were allowed to practice them. Many women secretly developed their own refinements of ki, but as Ran-Eli society grew increasingly patriarchal, they were forced to practice their techniques in secret. The rules of the monasteries were changed, allowing men who had completed their basic studies to marry. In this way, it became custom that all men trained in the deadly arts of the Ran-Eli.

Fearful of other conquerors, the Ran-Eli remained high in the eastern mountains of Istar, interacting with others only when legends of their martial prowess brought visitors. Most were rebuffed, but representatives from powerful rulers and members of other races-- whose appearance fascinated the Ran-Eli-- were met with.

Soon, Ran-Eli had increased their knowledge of the world by hiring themselves out as assassins, mostly to the Kingpriest of Istar. Yet always, the assassins returned home to report what they had seen and resume their previous lives.

In fact, only one group consistently broke the Ran-Eli's isolation: the worshippers of Majere. Though they worshipped no gods, believing in a power residing within themselves, the Ran-Eli recognized that these outsiders' lives of austerity and disciplined echoed their own. The monks of Majere shared advanced techniques of meditation with the Ran-Eli, and the Ran-Eli in turn taught how meditation and martial prowess could be intertwined. Though only a few monks of Majere truly mastered these combat techniques, a handful of Majere worshippers from each generation practiced these techniques in secret. They kept their knowledge hidden so that others would not seek it for unjust ends, and to hold an advantage against any who thought the humble monks defenseless.

The fighting disciplines grew more codified, with those who had mastered the greatest of the ki forms attaining the title "Master of Rank." It was considered a man's highest honor to become a Master of Rank, and it was written that a woman's highest honor was to bear the children of a Master of Rank. Those women who practiced their own ki masteries in secret tended to avoid such unions, feeling no awe for fighters whose abilities were often exceeded by their own.

When the Cataclysm flooded Istar, the mountains became islands, and only the highest villages-- and the city of Claren Elian itself-- were unscathed. Most of those killed were the warriors, so that the remainder were mostly women, children, and the elders who oversaw the fighting orders. The elders declared Claren Elian the Forbidden City, and withdrew there to plan the rebuilding of their proud cultural tradition. The women were left to rebuild their everyday lives, and the absence of the elders allowed them to use their mastery of ki more often to help the Ran-Eli thrive in their newly altered homeland.

The elders came down years later to take charge of the new generation of boys who were coming of age. They had honed their powers to a deadly edge in Claren Elian, and from then on only Masters of Rank were permitted in the Forbidden City.

When the young men returned, haughty with their well-honed abilities, they took society back from the women. Those who had returned Ran-Eli society to a successful state retreated, unwilling to fight the generation they had raised. The practice of the women's ki techniques blossomed greatly in these years, however, as the women had trouble returned to sedate and subservient lives.

In secret places in the wilderness-- cleverly hidden from the eyes of the warlike males-- the women passed their powerful knowledge to generations of daughters.

The Fifth Age

When Malystryx, the great red dragon, seized control of the Goodlund Peninsula in 3 SC, she almost failed to notice the Ran-Eli. Almost.

Upon transforming the Goodlund Peninsula into a volcanic wasteland, she turned to the islands off the coast. She realized that the skilled killers on the island could be of use, and she set about to intimidate them. After burning a swath across the island and destroying the entire population of a village, she realized they would die rather than submit. She tried a different approach and sent an emissary to learn how she might earn their submission.

The leader of the Masters of Rank, the Superior Master, said that the Emissary would have to best him in combat. She did, and the people of Ran-Eli swore allegiance to Malys.

For many of the women who practiced the martial techniques of their grandmothers, this was the final straw. Some of them left the villages permanently, taking to the woods. Some secretly entered the Forbidden City and studied the lore of the Masters of Rank, which they in turn taught to their sisters. Others even went so far as to educate those boys considered to weak for the monasteries, or leave the island all together.

When three or four Masters of Rank left the island to join their wives, sisters, or mothers in self-imposed exile, the problem came to the Superior Master's attention. He dispatched a handful of Masters of Rank to go out into the world and tell the errant women (and men) how shameful they have become. Each of these expatriates is given one chance to return to the island and resume "proper lives." Those who refuse are permanently banished, unable to return even if they want to do so; those who are seen teaching the secrets of ki to outsiders are marked for death.

Now, a small number of these masters of ki-fighting walk the face of Ansalon, seeking new destinies. For those targeted for death by Malys's personal assassins, these wandering masters may provide their only chance for survival.

Geography

Only skilled sailors can approach Claren Elian safely. The waters around it are fraught with reefs, and both the winds and currents are unpredictable, making the waters dangerous even for expert crews. The eastern, southern, and most of the northern shores of the island rise steeply from the Southern Courrain Ocean. These sheer cliffs and the local currents can pound ships with unwary crews to tinder. Dark, forbidding forests stand atop the cliffs.

The western and part of the northern coasts are lined with narrow beaches of black sand. However, reaching these beaches can be very dangerous. The waters are shallow and rife with reefs, making it dangerous to bring even small boats close to the island. As the shore continues north, cliffs start to rise about fifteen to twenty feet from the beaches.

Larger vessels can approach the island at only one well-known place. In the decades before the Second Cataclysm, Illtide Bay emerged as a regular portage for the vessels under the command of the notorious Gad Maccaby. He charted a safe course through the reefs, reportedly at the cost of two ships. His raiders could anchor in a well-sheltered natural harbor and replenish their water supplies from the falls of pure, sweet-tasting water that tumbled over the fifteen-foot cliff onto the beach.

Although Maccaby's grandson, Scarrel Maccaby, continues to plague shipping in the Blood Sea, he does not make use of Claren Elian. Scarrel dares not test the wrath of Malys.

The majority of Claren Elian is covered by lush green forests, and even though Malys demonstrated her power by scorching the island's center, the hearty forests have already started to reclaim that land. No obvious paths lead from the island's shores to its interior, and would-be explorers must cut their own trails. This is slow going, with a party covering only one mile in an hour. Once away from the shore, however, they start to encounter overgrown blocks of stone and toppled pillars here and there.

These signs of ancient civilization become more common as one moves northward. Finally, the forest falls away to reveal the crystal ruins of a once glorious city, now overgrown and resembling a gigantic garden. Pillared courtyards vie for attention with many tiered buildings that tower as high as sixty feet. Friezes of serpents and flowers decorate everything. Ornate statues stand everywhere, representing idealized dwarves, and many walls are carved with scenes of dwarves being served by human slaves. At the heart of the city is a one-hundred-fifty-foot building. Slender crystal towers capture and focus the light onto the center palace, which sparkles like a thousand stars.

Claren Elian enjoys a mild climate for most of the year, thanks to warm southern currents from the Blood Sea. Summer lasts for nine months of the year, and winter is only a dulling of the ever-present heat.

The Fighting Monks

All men of the Ran-Eli are raised in the island's monasteries from the age of eight years old. When they master the techniques of ki, they are considered men and allowed to leave the monasteries to marry. Some fail achieve this mastery, and become mere workers; others achieve this mastery, but leave the monastery behind forever and study them no more. For the serious students, however, there is another level, and they seek to become Masters of Rank.

Game Details: Ran-Eli monks are identical to the monk class described in the Player's Handbook, except for their choice of weapons. While the kama, a weapon derived from the tools of farmers and woodsmen, is common all over the island, Ran-Eli monks replace their proficiency in nunchaku and siangham with the short sword and dagger, respectively. In place of those weapons, monks instead use their unarmed attack bonuses and flurry of blows abilities with the short sword and the dagger. Ran-Eli are renowned as master swordsmen, and many are multiclass monk/fighters.

Masters of Rank

Those who achieve this level of mastery are the elite of Ran-Eli society. They alone can enter the Forbidden City, unless they grant another permission. Answering only to higher Masters of Rank and the Superior Master, these warriors receive privileges like those reserved in other lands by nobles. In addition, they often have many wives, a practice encouraged among the Ran-Eli.

Game Details: The Masters of Rank are equivalent to the Red Avenger prestige class detailed in Sword and Fist. The "White Clan" described in the role-playing section refers to the Scions and their agents still active in the world, who the Ran-Eli refer to as the Stone Tyrants. All Masters of Rank will actively seek vengeance against the Stone Tyrants any chance they get.

The Superior Master is the eldest 10th level Master of Rank on the island.

The Whisperers in Mist

When speaking of their practice of ki mastery, those women of Ran-Eli who knew the techniques called themselves "whisperers," to hide their true meaning. Ran-Eli children turned these sayings into the legend of the "Whisperers in Mist," guardian spirits who occasionally emerged from the woods to guide a lost child or rescue a wounded loner.

Though the woman warriors of Ran-Eli have no name for their tradition, the Whisperers in Mist is the closest thing. They tend to emphasize stealth more than their male counterparts, and are less flashy in combat. They use the same names for their abilities as the men, since they studied the male techniques whenever they could, but often develop those abilities in startlingly different ways. Forced to use whatever they could find to practice with, the women developed a unique path; stones, buckets of water, and grain sacks are their most common training implements.

The Whisperers tend to share a greater distrust and dislike of Malys than the men, whose strict code forces them to serve her faithfully. Those women who have left the island are often involved in resistance efforts against the Dragon Overlords.

Game Details: Whisperers in Mist are either monks or multiclass monk/rangers. In both cases, they function exactly as described in the Player's Handbook. Unlike the male monks of the Ran-Eli, the women use the siangham and nunchaku. They developed these weapons from farm and kitchen implements and, along with the kama, they have practiced in secret with such weapons for hundreds of years. Certain males have learned these techniques as well, especially the sons and nephews of the Whisperers, and male monk characters taught by a Whisperer in Mist use the traditional monk weapons instead of the alternates described above.

Monks of Majere

The tradition of marrying meditation and martial prowess continues in certain small sects of the church of Majere, though their numbers reached a low-point in the years following the Cataclysm. With the loss of divine magic in the Fifth Age, however, their numbers are increasing. Because the Majere monks keep their training secret, teachers are not referred to by name in reference to these techniques, but by the name of an insect. Each teacher is associated with a different insect, and monks use these code-phrases to tell each other which teacher's disciples they are. The largest group, including perhaps a dozen followers, is the Disciples of the Beetle.

Game Details: Monks of Majere are often monk/clerics, and function identically to the monk class described in the Player's Handbook, except for their weapons. They replace the kama, nunchaku, and siangham with the club, mace, and quarterstaff, although they cannot use their monk bonuses with the quarterstaff at any time while they are wielding it as a double-weapon.

Bibliography:

  • The Odyssey of Gilthanas
  • Tales of the Lance boxed set
  • Fifth Age boxed set

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