Overall House Alignment: Neutral Evil
Common Classes: Aristocrat, Sorcerer, Bard
Rarer, but not unheard of: Expert, Rogue, Fighter, Cavalier
Rare: Oracle, Alchemist, Wizard
Extremely uncommon: Paladin, Cleric
Favoured Deity: Calistria, though there are small, secret pockets of diabolism among the family, often affiliated with Demon Lords who are associated with lust and hedonism. The rare good-natured scion tends to be drawn towards the Empyreal Lord Arshea.
House Blazon: A large bunch of golden grapes on a field of white.
House Motto: Grace Beyond Reproach
Overview: Today House Sclerina is famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) for hedonism and excess, but this wasn’t always the case. One of Taldor’s truly ancient royal families (the much lauded violet eyes occasionally show up in sons and daughters of the line) they were once on the forefront of expansion and innovation, having grown with their nation from a minor family of slight repute to a powerful house of vast influence. In the nation’s early years they were winemakers of great renown, and while the quality of their product has declined with their morals, they still own and operate several vast vineyards in northwestern Taldor. While never a particularly martially or magically powerful house, they have been at the center of the Taldan cultural scene almost since the nation’s birth, and perhaps a presence at the heart of the rot that would set in fueled their own thousands of years descent into decadent excess.
A powerful presence in Oppara’s highborn social scene, House Sclerina is known for three things; slaves, vice, and parties. The three overlap quite often. Most of the family’s wealth comes from the cottage industry of slave trade they’ve slowly built up over the generations; in modern Taldor they are the go-to source for human (or humanoid) merchandise. Galley slaves are often bought and sold by the boatload, with the purchaser never seeing their wares, but a private courtyard in the center of the family’s shops in the Grandbridge district regularly holds private auctions for domestic slaves and the occasional lot of hard laborers, though few in Taldor make extensive use of such workers. Among certain social circles, having particularly beautiful or exotic domestic slaves is seen as a sign of status and while sex slavery is not officially condoned by the state, it’s no real secret that this is the true fate of many such purchases, particularly within House Sclerina itself.
Sorcerous blood is unusually common within the house. The official story is that this is the legacy of a number of particularly powerful arcane caster’s among the family’s Azlanti ancestors, but in truth it’s more likely a side effect of the numerous “exotic” affairs members of the family have indulged in over the generations. While such inhuman-blooded bastards are usually shipped off without any ceremony, one will occasionally pass as a normal son or daughter of the house and continue to pass on their legacy until a sorcerer or two is born.
House Structure: Too debauched for a particularly firm chain of command, beyond a directive to obey the Grand Actuarius, family members are usually left to the languor of such indolence as pleases them. With that said, the positions of managing various important industries within the house carry both prestige and a measure of authority (when acting on behalf of their interests) over others, the Sclerina holding them usually appointed by the Actuarius to such. The Master of Revels, given the movement of the family from one gala to the next, holds the most power in the house outside of its actual head.
Notable Historical Sclerina
Xene Sclarina, The Winemaker (druid/Sorceress)
Though not officially the original head of the family (that distinction belongs to her husband) Xene’s work laid the foundation for House Sclerina’s greatness. Born to druids of the Verduran Forest, she was promised to a minor Taldan noble who’d gained some measure of favor with the current grand prince to cement an agreement between the druids and Taldans in the years long before the Treaty of the Wildwood was signed.
Though there was no real love between Xene and her husband, the young druid fulfilled her marital obligations willingly and set about making use of the hands she and her husband had been given. Within a few years the acres of bare farmland had been transformed into lush, fruitful vineyards and a number of risky loans allowed the family to establish the first of what would be many wine making operations. It was many years before the first fruits of her labors were ready for consumption, but when they were the House’s wines were world famous in a matter of months and in demand everywhere from Varisia to Osirion, launching the fledgeling house into fame and fortune.
Xene quietly led her House on a course of gradual but steady expansion for the rest of her life, carefully laying the groundwork that would allow her descendants to prosper. She’s been spinning in her grave so long that her bones have disintegrated.
Iagares Sclerina, the Debauched Prince (Aristocrat)
House Sclerina has produced a few Grand Princes, the most relatively recent of which was Iagares, who ruled Taldor briefly. The first few months after his inauguration seemed no different from that of your average Grand Prince, but before long there was a sharp decline in the quality of his rule. Whether he went mad with power or his handlers just lost control of him, no one is quite sure, but over the course of just a few months the imperial palace became an oasis of hedonism and decadence.
Stories of Grand Prince Iagares' reign are popular in seedier taverns, treated as a form of lascivious entertainment with the more horrific consequences of the prince's excess gleaned over or ignored altogether. Though his reign wasn't all that long ago (occurring somewhat early in the midst of the centuries long war with Qadira), most of it was stricken from official records, leaving most people unsure which of the tales are true, which were created from whole cloth and which fall somewhere in between.
Stories say he bedded countless whores, parading them around the palace in the dress of highborn ladies. Others claim he frequented the gladiatorial battles, demanded such extravagant and bloody battles that before long the Oppara Arena began running out of slaves to battle, leading him demand a whole section of unbearded peasants be forced into the battlegrounds so his trip wouldn't be wasted. Particularly popular in the taverns are stories of how he seduced or forced himself upon numerous noblewomen, publicly commenting on their skills, or lack thereof, and ranking them against one another. Some say he ordered his Ulfen Guard to execute petitioners on the slightest whim so often that when the assassins came for him, they stepped aside and let him be slaughtered right on the throne (though of course no one suggests this when a member of the Ulfen Guard might overhear.)
Whatever the truth of his reign, it was barely three years after his inauguration when one of the countless assassins sent for him finally struck true, cutting the mad prince's head from his shoulders while he still sat upon the throne in the imperial palace. Most busts and paintings depicting Iagares were subsequently destroyed by his successor, but a few still exist in House Sclerina's estates, all depicting the hedonistic tyrant as a gallant, heroic figure, often dressed as a famous hero or even a god.
Notable Members of House Sclerina
Grand Actuarius Georgios Sclerina, The Consumate Gentleman (Fighter (Rondelero duelist) 9/Ranger (falconer) 9)
As his self-proclaimed title would imply, Georgios Sclerina, the current Head of the House, styles himself as a sophisticated gentleman of leisure. Leadership of the family fell to his shoulders after the death of his father and he gladly accepted it, despite having no real interest in managing the family. Rather he farms out the vast majority of his responsibilities to lesser relatives, adding the title of head of the house to his ever growing collection of honorifics while doing none of the actual work that goes along with it.
Georgios spends most of his time attending lavish parties thrown at the Houses estates, or on lengthy hunting trips in Taldor and abroad, always bringing home the largest and most impressive trophies (though a few of his retainers whisper that some of his stories are wildly exaggerated.)
Though he's made no move to reverse the decline of his house, Georgios will jump to the defense of House Sclerina at the drop of a hat, challenging anyone who dares speak ill of the slavemongering vice peddlers to a bloody public duel.
Lady Sophia Sclerina, the Biting Whip (Inquisitor of Calistria 11/Rakshasan Sorceress 11)
The youngest daughter of a minor branch of the family, Sophia was...troubled from a young age. Servants were frightened of her even when she was less than half their size, family pets would mysteriously go missing, her tantrums were the stuff of legends. Everyone knew the child was Wrong, even beyond the usual unsavory predilections children of the Sclerina family are prone to developing.
She was sheltered and coddled for most of her childhood, eventually given over to the Church of Calistria in her early adolescence in the hopes that they could mold the girl's vicious instincts into a more acceptable form. Surprisingly, they were successful. Mostly...
Sophia now primarily serves the family as a trainer of slaves. She has a sharp eye for defiant and willful slaves too difficult for normal trainers, purchases them at a steep discount when no one else can handle them, and then slowly and gleefully breaks their wills. All the rumors say that her methods are horrifically cruel, but the young sadist is quite intelligent and carefully keeps all her workings behind closed doors. No one ever sees the slaves in her "care" until they've been thoroughly broken and trained.
Sophia enjoys nothing more than causing pain, especially to those she believes have wronged her or her beloved family. While most of her time is spent breaking stubbornly defiant slaves, she revels in true sadistic glee when able to "justly punish" an enemy of the family. Killing them would never do; she's quite careful to keep her playthings alive. After all, if they wronged the family, what better punishment than to twist and break them until they willingly serve the House?
Though she's truly devout, her methods are often extreme, even for Calistria's church. Sophia was gifted with a silver tongue and a lovely body however, which more often than not ensures she gets her way. The impressive sums of money she donates to the church probably help...
Lord Dionysios Sclerina, The Philosopher (Alchemist 8/Aristocrat 8)
Rumor has it that Dionysios had real potential, once. He was an excellent student, and in his youth he invented a few alchemical solutions that still bring in a steady stream of income. With his schooling behind him he was put to work in one of House Sclerina's less public industries, concocting exotic and potent drugs to amuse the nobility or give the poor a temporary escape.
Over the years he rose through the ranks, but as he gained more power he abused more power. Though now he theoretically runs the branch of the family that peddled vice in Oppara, Dionysios's own drugs have all but destroyed his formerly brilliant mind, and his underlings struggle to manage the business despite the alchemist's often contradictory or nonsensical orders.
Dionysios styles himself a philosopher, and will drone on for hours to anyone who will listen about his thoughts on life, the universe and everything else. Of course, unless you happen to be on the exact same concoction of drugs and alcohol that Dionysios is currently enjoy absolutely nothing he says makes a lick of sense.
Lord Nikolaos Sclerina, Master of Revels (Sorcerer 10/Aristocrat 10)
Nikolaos considers himself a shining star among Oppara's social elite, and it's hard to argue against him. The corralling force behind nearly all of House Sclerina's legendary parties, he knows anyone who's anyone in Oppara and has a finger on the pulse of society. If a young bard is making a stir, on an interesting foreigner is visiting the city, Nikolaos knows.
Vain, flamboyant and loud, most people write Nikolaos off as a shallow fool (though admittedly a shallow fool who throws really, really great parties) but in truth he's far more clever than he lets on. While House Sclerina's parties certainly appeal to their own hedonistic interests, they're also a convenient way to farm blackmail material. Most have no idea that Nikolaos is sitting on this treasure trove of dirty little secrets (if they did, they might not have quite so much fun at his parties) and the house uses them only in dire circumstances.
Though most of his true interest is lascivious, Nikolaos likes to style himself as a patron of the arts. House Sclerina's parties are often the first venues of many young graduates from the bardic colleges, though rumor has it it's no coincidence that performers are uniformly female and that the audition process is quite thorough. Instructors at both of Oppara's bardic colleges have urged their students to avoid said parties, but there are performers among every class who are eager to seize their first chances at a bit of fame.
Lord Adralestos Sclerina, Man of Action (Rogue 5/Aspis Agent 7//Fighter 12 (Rondelero Duelist))
If there is one thing the Durahan stand as an object lesson in, it is that the world is full of do gooders. And not all of them have the decency to fritter their lives away in some neverending battle against unspeakable things that are kind enough to kill said heroes off every so often. No, some of them instead free slaves, sink ships carrying illicit goods or even burn whole crops of narcotics. While the Sclerina generally speaking rely on outside talent for succor when such difficulties arise, every so often the house manages to breed their own champion.
Adralestos is a man with a peculiar sense of self-awareness and industry, enough to know that he thoroughly enjoys the decadence and decay he grew up within and is surrounded by, yet also knowing that if decadence goes too far to weakness, his family will lose the very means that provide his lifestyle. What the family needs then is a champion who can mire themselves in corruption, nurture it, foster it, without themselves becoming corrupted. A man able to be elegantly wasted in sensual decay, yet with an iron core of purpose. There is something disturbing about a self-possessed youth simply deciding to be such a man, and then spending years making himself into one. It speaks perhaps to a willpower and clarity as to border on sociopathy.
This man of will might have been a truly dazzling and epic figure in another family. Amongst the Sclerina, he has the distinction of having traveled the length and breadth of Avistan and Garund alike, securing markets and shipments, organizing intelligence, defense and counterstrike, and taking savage revenge where the family has been wronged. The malign merchants of the Aspis Consortium consider him a friend and ally, offering training in organizational secrets. He has dined with the infernal house of Thrune in the finest palaces and slavetaking chieftains of the Mwangi Beykar tribes in deepest jungles. He has clashed blades with Eagle Knights of Andoran on the decks of burning ships, and hunted the liberators of the Bellflower Network into wastelands. He has delivered an eloquent defense of the slave trade to the Primarch of Absalom himself. His retinue of companions and network of minions could almost be something of a personal trading coster, were it not so closely twinned to the house itself. The stories say he has even survived romancing a succubus, and has otherwise work to check fiendish influence, but only to a degree where it would impair house function. He is swift and sure, bold and intelligent, compelling and keen. And he is all these things in the name of keeping men enslaved and addicted, in the name of purveying spiritual dissolution and enjoying the fruits of that trade as his due.
He has also curtailed his more far ranging travels of late with the death of the old family patriarch, keeping about Oppara to ensure the smoothness of a cousin’s rule, that none of the family minions or external enemies look to take advantage, that the books are largely in order, all that sort of thing (some also say it is to continue a fairly dark romance with the Lady Sophia). He looks to have no particular interest in rule over his family, as he seems to view that as an impediment to his real work.
Some view his career, and recent home focus in the name of family dedication to be a dark mirror to that of Aurelian Branas. Certainly both men seem to know each other, and regard each other with thinly veiled and deeply personal hate. Neither has however spoken to the why of such things.
Strengths of House Sclerina
Dirty Little Secrets - House Sclerina has countless bits of dirt on the members of numerous royal and senatorial houses. Though generally only used in dire straits, a simple letter to a prominent nobleman with a predilection or two that might be frowned upon by polite society is often all it takes to clear up a bit of trouble the house may find itself in.
Legacy - They may be awful, but they’ve been awful for a long, long time. In this age of declination, those who haven’t blinded themselves to Taldor’s fall from grace are hesitant to make any real move against a part of their lost glory, even if they’ve fallen further than most.
Slaves, slaves, slaves - They’ve got a lot of them. Seriously. And while many were born into slavery and know only what they were trained for, a surprising large number used to live other lives, and possess a diverse set of skills they might begrudgingly lend to House Sclerina in the hopes of winning their freedom.
Friends with deep pockets - House Varian and House Sclerina get along quite well; Sclerina’s loans to fuel some truly epic spectacle or another are always repaid promptly and with interest, so requests for a bit of cash are always promptly acceded. The Stromfords besides rely on the house to find good prices for the slaves their colonial endeavours will sometimes claim, and are happy to loan out thugs and enforcers in exchange.
Vice- From supplying and owning brothels, to having a direct pipeline to the narcotic crops of Katapesh (along with producing their own drugs), the Sclerina could almost be something of a crime guild, were not their activities both largely legal, and on a scale of international profit most thieves’ guilds could never dream of on their greediest day.
Weaknesses of House Sclerina
Slaves, slaves, slaves - galley slaves are more or less accepted among Taldan nobility (they don’t have to see them after all, and of course only those awful lazy vagabonds end up as galley slaves) as are domestic slaves, but House Sclerina goes far beyond the normal scope of human bondage in Taldor. Sclerina makes those who tend to be on the moral fence when it comes to slavery very, very uncomfortable, and the depths to which they’ve sunk have caused more than a few to rethink their acceptance of slavery.
Hedonism and debauchery - Modern House Sclerina cares little for anything but the pursuit of pleasure
Foreign Relations Worth Noting
Andoran - the fledgling nation would like to see House Sclerina and everyone who’s ever colluded with them wiped from the face of Golarion. Sclerina thinks Andoran needs to loosen up.
Golarion’s slave-owning nations - Always on the lookout for strong backs and exotic good looks to sell to their countrymen, along with markets with exotic tastes to cater to, Sclerina’s business-minded sons and daughters keep close ties to nearly all of the world’s nations that trade in lives, including...
Cheliax, Katapesh and Qadira - much to the displeasure of many of their countrymen, House Sclerina maintains relatively friendly ties to both Taldor’s former colony of Cheliax and their long-time enemy, Qadira, or at least to their slave markets. This has, from time to time, caused them no small amount of trouble back home, but the business benefits they enjoy from their collusion with the two nations outweighs the problems it causes. Though in times of heavy disapproval, they keep such dealings extremely quiet. Still, on the rare occasions Taldor needs to make some kind of diplomatic effort with those nations happen, a Sclerina is usually involved.
Katapesh is a more benign (for a value of the word), state of affairs. As one of the premier markets of the world for slaves and drugs alike, the Sclerina have a long established presence within that land, said to have held personal congress (in more ways than one, go the stories) with its mysterious Pactmaster lords, and to be a welcome presence at the flesh fairs of Okeno. They have enough favour as clients and patrons to the slaver fleets of Okeno that the feared, yellow sailed ships are even rumoured to sometimes aid the house as enforcers for hire.