Friday, April 29, 2016

El Filibusterismo's Simoun in Eberron, Part 1

Jose Rizal's El Filibusterismo is one of the classic works of Filipino literature, and one of the most memorable characters of the novel is the enigmatic Simoun. A mysterious jeweler and pawnbroker, the elegant financier glides through the hallways of power in the peculiar "frailocracy" of the colonial Philippines, hobnobbing with prelates, colonial bureaucrats,  and the native elite. Always immaculately dressed and never seen without his distinctive tinted spectacles, Simoun hovers around the halls of power, ready to provide favors for favors, sharp-tongued advice, or a little loan here and there for his friends. Woe to those who cross the man, for he always seems to know the details of past misdeeds that he can wield like the sword of Damocles. 

A man of smiles and honeyed words, unbeknownst to many, Simoun is a man pursuing a vendetta. Wronged by Church and State, betrayed by his own people, his family destroyed and his lady love sent to a convent to be the plaything of an amorous friar, Simoun is determined to set the halls of power on fire, an explosive revenge that would make Edmund Dantes proud.

Simoun, the Jeweler

Simoun was once known as Crisostomo Ibarra, a member of the principalia. He was sent to study in Europe, where he was exposed to the ideals of the Enlightenment. Returning to the Philippine isles with a dream of bringing education to his community, Ibarra would be frustrated at every turn by the meddling of the Religious Orders who would prefer to keep the populace meek and ignorant. His family ruined, his fledgling school axed, and his love consigned to a convent, Crisostomo is hunted down and assumed dead, only to return years later as the mysterious Simoun. He is a man wronged, and he lets that vendetta consume him utterly, turning the idealistic reformer into a vindictive conspirator.

Simoun is a man at home in the halls power, wielding wealth and influence as a lesser man might swing a sword. Possessed of a canny business sense and bottomless reserves of gold and jewelry, his ability to finance the luxuries of the elite allows the mysterious pawnbroker to weave a network of debt, influence and patronage. He is a financier to the feckless Governor-General and drinking buddy of many a friar, using this influence as a weapon to further his vendetta against the clergy and the colonial elites. The more hellish a society, the sooner the revolution comes, so Simoun constantly eggs on the most rabidly oppressive rulers, encouraging their most repressive policies in order to drive the people to revolt. At the same time, he clandestinely contacts the disenfranchised and oppressed, organizing and arming the most radical for a revolt that he intends to start with a bang.

Importing the Character

To transplant the character into Eberron, we have to take a look at what makes Simoun so memorable as a diabolical and heroic figure. He is a man defined by two things: political influence and his burning desire for vengeance. Visually, he's also memorable for his ominous tinted spectacles that both peer into the hearts of those around and hide his own vindictive soul.

An aristocratic reformer ruined by a Church and out for revenge works perfectly as a Thrane royal. Let's make our NPC a distaff line of the ir'Wynarns. Educated in Sharn or perhaps even spending a few years in decadent Cyre, he would come back home to bring culture and learning back to his people in an attempt to widen their horizons. But in the tense years at the closing of the Last War, anything smacking of cosmopolitanism and liberality has a vaguely treasonous air about it. Concerned by the charismatic noble's popularity and possible ties to foreign powers, reactionaries in the Church of the Silver Flame move against him. He is framed for sedition and heresy. Maybe even by an up-and-coming Bishop named Krozen. Hunted down and left for dead, everyone assumes that matter is over.

Let's call him Krystom ir'Wynarn. Disappearing for fifteen years, he returns as the mysterious Simon ir'Baran, a pawnbroker and jeweler who claims to have made his fortune treasure hunting in the dark depths of Xen'drik, continent of secrets. Simon has ingratiated himself to the more worldly members of the College of Cardinals, as well as the occasional Puritan who can stomach his revulsion at the irreverent foreigner. Nestled in the halls of power, he finances the opulent lifestyle of the most luxurious cardinals, putting them in his debt, and allowing him to influence their decisions toward morally questionable and repressive directions. Having suffered at the hands of the Theocracy, Simon wants his fellow countrymen to suffer as well. Only then, he believes, will they see the corruption within the Church of the Silver Flame and cast out the Theocracy with violent revolution.

Even as Simon hobnobs with the rich and powerful, he seeks to contact the disenfranchised and rebellious, secretly funding stockpiles of weapons and networks of dissidents. Eventually, once the people have seen the evils of the Church, Simon intends to marshal his forces for an explosive revenge against High Cardinal Krozen and the Church of the Silver Flame. Deluded lunacy, or does his plan actually stand a chance? That's up to the DM to decide.

Dark Eyes, Dark Heart

Hope turns to rage.
Finally, we get to that one distinctive visual detail about Simoun: his tinted spectacles. The man is never seen without them. On a practical level, they aid in disguising the features of the man who was once Crisostomo Ibarra. On a metaphorical level, they also indicate how much of Simoun's character is supposed to be hidden. If the eyes are the windows into a person's soul, then Simoun's eyes are forever concealed. Finally, they also indicate his bitter cynicism. Spectacles are two way. They also warp your vision of the world, and Simoun's vision is now forever tinted with darkness and shadow.

It's great material to work with, and allows us to add a fantastic element. Eberron being a dungeon-punk world with awesomeness amped up to 11, we can't let a distinctive visual detail like this go to waste. So let's turn them into something more arcanotech: a whirring set of artificer's optics, blue crystal lenses cut from the remains of a graven idol from deep, dark Xen'drik. Gaudy and distinctive, they lend Simon ir'Baran an outlandish, slightly comical and yet vaguely sinister look. Functional for his trade as a jeweler and appraiser, but who knows what other enchantments may have been woven into its creation?