Sand and Dreams I: The Barakah

The jinn, or djinn, of legend have been seen as angels, demons, spirits, or perhaps something in-between. They were fashioned of fire, and can shape-change into animals, people or insects (or, according to other accounts, they can possess these things). They were created before humans, and are more like humans than most other demons and angels. Judging by some tales, perhaps they were the first creatures to have free will. There are various orders of jinn, some evil, some not, some ultra-powerful, some not. The names bestowed upon these orders vary depending upon your source.

The attitudes of jinn toward humans are similarly changeable. In most tales their reactions depend on how humans treat them. If the human is kind and selfless, the jinni acts in a selfless manner in return. If the human — deliberately or accidentally–gives offense, the jinni gleefully ruins his life. Some say that jinn, like humans, can be either good or evil by their choice, while others lump them in with demons in their entirety. Jinn offer salvation, ruination and inspiration in turns, and act as a mirror to humanity’s graces and follies.

All of which serves to illustrate one central tenet around which the jinn revolve — they are fluid, changeable, capable of being one thing or another at will or as circumstances dictate. A jinni is the ultimate shapeshifter.

The other central tenet is this: jinn, for all their free will and changeability, live by an intractable set of rules and laws which they must follow at all times. In one story, a jinni was only able to help the humans she promised to aid if they called upon Solomon. Jinn also must aid anyone who frees them (usually from some sort of bottle, lamp, or mystical trap). In this way the jinn resemble other powerful spirits of myth and fairy tale — for some reason, powerful forces always seem to operate under a strict set of laws.

Jinn in Roleplaying Games

Putting jinn in your game can amount to opening a Pandora’s Box of trouble if you aren’t careful, particularly if your jinn are every bit as powerful as the jinn of legend. While you can handle this by introducing low-powered jinn, this can rob these great creatures of legend of much of their mystery and magic. Instead, there is another possibility.

Overview of the Barakah

Jinn reproduce in the same ways humans do. In fact, according to legend they can inter-breed with humans, creating half-jinn offspring (whom we shall call Barakah). Such a creature is a blend of Earth and Fire, an odd mix of humanity and divinity (or the demonic). By introducing one or more of these into your game you retain the magic and mystery of their inscrutable and ancient jinn parent by association, while bringing the power level down to something manageable. This also allows you to tie the character into society through her human parent, creating personal connections and local plot hooks.

So what would a Barakah be like? According to some reports they can fly and walk through walls, but that’s hardly a place to start. So let’s see what we can come up with. We’ll go into more detail in later articles; for now we’ll deal with a few generalities. First off, we’ll make the assumption that jinn are spirits, neither wholly evil nor wholly good. This gives us the flexibility necessary to a player character (PC).

Power Level

According to legend the power level of the various types of jinn varies wildly. Presumably the power level of the parent will have some effect on the power level of the child. Because of this, you can custom-fit the power of the Barakah to the type of game you run simply by dictating how powerful the jinn parent was. If you want the Barakah to be barely more than human, you can do that. If you want the Barakah to grow into real supernatural power, you can do that too. Barakah should serve very well as both PCs and non-player characters (NPCs) because of this adaptability.

Longevity

Jinn do not live forever, but they live for such a long time that by human reckoning they might as well be immortal. The lifetime of a Barakah should depend on the power of the jinn parent. The options range from long-lived but within human possibility, to five hundred or even a thousand years. In a world that includes other long-lived races I recommend setting the cap for the most powerful Barakah at 1,000 years. In a game with shorter-lived races I recommend setting it at 500. This is, of course, adaptable to your needs.

Powers

The Barakah could exhibit simple yet odd abilities, or she could prove a force to be reckoned with. Here are a few directions in which her abilities might grow and some general benefits she might gain from being what she is. We’ll go into further detail in later articles.

  • Fire- and heat-related abilities
  • Desert-related abilities
  • Shape-shifting
  • Deception and beguilement
  • Transportation
  • Invulnerabilities and adaptabilities
  • Sensitivity to spiritual energies
  • Ability to develop powers instinctively
  • Prophecy and foretelling

Weaknesses

All supernatural creatures, particularly within a roleplaying game, have weaknesses. Promising areas in which the Barakah could exhibit weaknesses include:

  • Water- and cold-related vulnerabilities
  • Susceptibility to the intricate laws that govern jinn and other spirits
  • Susceptibility to things that would harm or banish spirits
  • Attracting the attention of other spirits and creatures of power
  • Unintentional release of powers when threatened
  • Difficulty balancing spiritual and human natures
  • Sensitivity to spiritual energies
  • Less power and flexibility than full spirits
  • Difficulty controlling abilities learned by instinct

Vestiges

The spiritual nature of the Barakah is bound to come out in some way or another. She should find it difficult, in the long term, to pass herself off as human. Perhaps the temperature of the room heats up when she feels angry, or, at high levels of power, she might leave scorch marks where she walks.

How Do They Fit In?

How well the Barakah fits in depends on how powerful he becomes and how much of a role magic has in your game-world society. Someone with little power who suppresses his spiritual side might be almost indistinguishable from human. He has a few prophetic dreams now and then, but he’s learned not to talk about them. Sometimes he senses odd things, but he pretends not to notice them.

Someone whose jinn parent wielded great power, however, is destined never to fit in with normal humans. She has conversations with people who aren’t there and when someone angers her she burns whatever she touches. When night falls in the summertime, flames burn in her eyes. She moves from city to city, finding a new home each time her powers flare out of control. Or she finds other supernatural beings to work with, people who will understand her and accept her. Perhaps she finds her way into the spiritual world to live with her jinn family or other friendly spirits.

That’s a best-case scenario. Perhaps she runs from city to city, hunted by people who don’t understand her or beings that want to take advantage of her inexperience with the world of magic. Since she might display her powers early in life, she’s vulnerable to her jinn parent’s enemies or to those who hunger to kill such an unnatural crossbreed. Maybe she finds her way into the spiritual world where, despite her strengths, she finds herself outmatched and outgunned in a very deadly game.

Barakah can live magical, enchanting lives. And they can find themselves overwhelmed by blood and death and pain.

Imagine What It Must Be Like…

Imagine what it must be like growing up half-spirit, half-human. You sense things no one else can. You see things no one else can. You know you’re different from everyone around you, and they know it, too. Yet half of you longs to fit in, yearning for love and companionship just like everyone else. You want your mother to hold you, but she bows to you instead. You want your sister to confide in you, but she flinches from your touch. The first time you kissed someone you gave him third-degree burns. And sometimes, late at night when no one watches you, you’re sure you could turn into a bird and fly away — if you just tried hard enough.

Still to Come

In later articles we’ll talk about working Barakah into your campaign and your rules system. We’ll discuss powers, weaknesses, and vestiges in greater detail. A few sample jinn family members will stop by, as well as some human family members, friends, and enemies. We’ll take you on a tour through the Obsidian City, introduce you to one of the Barakah, and talk about the relationship between plots, plot hooks, plot seeds, and the Barakah. We’ll also discuss whether or not you should allow someone to play one of these creatures in your game, and we might dip briefly into such topics as genre and the pros and cons of making the jinn and their offspring wholly good or evil.

Until next time…

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