Tucked away in the optional (what Monte Cook calls the “advanced”) rules chapter are a couple of playable non-human races for player characters, one of which are the reddish-violet Varjellen. Harsh and alien, I find the Varjellen extremely compelling as they just don’t value things in the same ways that humans do. First off, Varjellen are Visitants, which means they’re not native to the Earth. Add to this the fact that they don’t generally understand the need for history or storytelling in general and we have a person who on the surface looks to have little attachment to the Ninth World. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Varjellen are fiercely loyal to those who earn their trust, to the point of awkward frankness.
“Varjelen” with one L, by the way, is a Finnish word meaning to defend, protect, or save. To me this is indicative of the Varjellen as the ultimate loyal friends. Like Ninth World Wookiees, Varjellen are close with their allies, potentially to the point of over protectiveness. Distant with the rest of the world, they construct a small network of important people, holding personal obligations higher than those of society. Indeed, their penchant for vengeance implies a kind of personal law which they see as higher than those of the world. The Varjellen is a sovereign nation unto themselves.
Varjellen physiology allows them to reconfigure their internal organs with a bit of work, to suit their circumstances and current lifestyle. This means that in a party situation, the Varjellen in the group can in some ways compensate for what’s missing from the group, or rework themselves to better complement a friend. Coupled with their dedication to their proven associates, Varjellen are the ultimate givers, willing to open up their chest cavities and change themselves to be what you want them to be.
“Don’t wink your mouth.” <– Talking to the Varjellan, who doesn’t quite get human body language. #Numenera
— Shanna Germain (@ShannaGermain) December 14, 2013
What’s great about the strange and awkward way Varjellen come off is that they can easily become comic relief. They’re straightforward, saying how they feel and what they intend to do. They live in isolated communities, so they often go their whole lives without much interaction with Humans. Trying to wink with their mouths and other crazy alien behavior comes naturally with such an alien species. They even love strong drink and spicy food, most likely due to their physiology, but also because they’re the weird cousin who doesn’t fit in and eats weird stuff. They’re the black sheep nobody in the family gets but you.
The roleplay for Varjellen can also be interesting due to their gender situation. Only becoming gendered to reproduce, playing one affords the opportunity to play a character unbound by cultural gender norms, and perhaps later voluntarily entering into them due to a planned mating. What happens when two Varjellen decide to mate? How do they decide who will become male and who will become female? Do they take on culturally assigned roles at that point? Are they anything like our own ideas of masculine and feminine (probably not)? To put it bluntly, this is an opportunity for you as a player to explore identity. Who could pass that up?
Physically, Varjellen are tall, with keen eyesight. I’d guess they’re natural with bows and probably prefer long melee weapons in war and adventure. One can easily imagine them rushing into battle with a heavy sword or holding back, taking careful aim with a bow. The one in this artwork from the book seems to be Wielding Two Weapons at Once, perhaps in a style taught within its native village. Methodical and seemingly detached, Varjellen could make excellent hunters and trackers. But they have an interest in technology as well. Perhaps Varjellen prefer the crossbow or even Numenera devices. Could they have troves of lost artifacts in their enclaves? Laser shooting orbs or plasma releasing spears. In my mind I see Varjellen acting any way but normal in battle, making strange tactical decisions, using unheard of weaponry, and taking sudden vengeance when their allies are threatened.
I’ve yet to play one at the table, but as you can probably tell there’s little about them I don’t find fascinating and provocative. I highly suggest giving them a chance.