This article is part of the Surgisilena article that appeared in the November 2013 issue, and was reprinted in the July/August 2021 issue. The remainder may be found in Doing It My Way > Character Generation Rules > Surgisilena.
The Surgisilena (“pleasant company”, in the language of their world of origin) is a philosophical organization devoted to providing pleasure. They are best known by the many Harmonies (meeting places) they have established. They are often dismissed as prostitutes, but that perception is wildly inaccurate and the result of miscommunication and negative agendas. The Surgisilena boast a rich tradition of culture and service dating back well over a thousand years.
The Surgisilena is a part spiritual, part social organization that continues to operate in much the same manner it has for centuries. They are devoted to a body of philosophical beliefs based on providing pleasure and companionship. They are also often called upon as hosts, performance artists, confidantes, ceremonial performers, cultural aides, and other such actions that bring pleasure. The misconception is that “pleasure” also includes physical intimacy. While adherents are not averse to such dealings, they are quick to point out that it runs counter to their central concept.
A close historical analogue is the geisha of ancient Terra. While geisha were also sometimes mistaken for prostitutes (mostly due to cultural and linguistic differences), they filled a similar role as purveyors of refinement and camaraderie.
Surgisilena traces its origins to early ’grief counseling’ in a religious context, as an offshoot of the dominant religion, formed to specialize in helping families through the grief of losing a loved one, especially when little or no information concerning the circumstances was available. These individuals were revered for their ability to assess a grieving family’s psychological state and provide proper emotional and psychological healing. These individuals were even more needed during the earliest stellar explorations, as unexplained disappearances were inevitable.
As the comforters’ roles expanded, so too did their philosophical outlook and social goals. The overt religious trappings and strict hierarchy of the original sect gradually gave way to a looser, more secular ideology that also provided for comfort and pleasure. The organization eventually made formal the separation from their religious origins, and took the Surgisilena name.
Political and societal changes on the homeworld eventually led the Surgisilena to move their headquarters off-world, and the new headquarters world quickly became the stereotypical pleasure planet, with lavish resorts and every imaginable diversion. Guests from all over spent time there, making the Surgisilena quite wealthy. In turn, the companions reinvested their gains into promoting their mission throughout the homeworld’s area of influence, and they once more became an accepted part of society, with a great deal of influence.
Interstellar warfare, from civil wars and contact with aliens, brought profound change. The suffering they created stretched the Surgisilenas’ ability to cope. Many Harmonies were destroyed; others, overwhelmed by war casualties, shut down. By the time a lasting peace was attained, the Surgisilena were in full decline, left with about a third of its former influence.
Societal reaction to the wars led to greater prudery and asceticism in society. Surviving Harmonies found themselves the focus of an official pogrom. Basically, the organization was viewed as a giant prostitution ring and outlawed. The social changes, and the resulting political changes, led to a long hiatus in interstellar commerce, and this proved to be the salvation of the Surgisilena. Although isolated from one another, each Harmony was accustomed to operating independently; many Harmonies were able to subtly influence their worlds to a more open attitude. Their isolation proved to be a blessing.
With the resumption of interstellar commerce, the Surgisilena underwent a renaissance of sorts, which continues to this day. While no longer considered a vital part of society, neither does it suffer official discrimination. In general, policy toward the group falls under the scope of religious freedom, subject to individual planetary law.
Throughout its history, the basic mission of the Surgisilena has remained the same: to create an atmosphere of comfort and pleasure that promotes emotional and psychological health. It also seeks to educate nonmembers in its beliefs; unite all beings spiritually, foster a community of common hedonistic ideals; and even to change outmoded views on pleasure and intimacy.
Adherents believe that there is a strong link between enjoyment and spiritual awakening, and that this link runs through all living things. In a sense, Surgisilena consider everything sensual: a fiery sunset, a moving operetta, a good meal, even a willing partner. Through intense enjoyable experiences, they believe they achieve spiritual union with all life. To reject or taint such pleasure is to damage oneself and others.
The association is open to all, regardless of gender. The membership skews very heavily Human, although a few Harmonies near alien polities have admitted a few aliens into their ranks.
Becoming a Surgisilena
Devotees train for years for their roles. The process begins with a complete background check and psychological screening; rejects include those with untreatable mental problems or criminal records. If the applicants pass the screenings (which are very thorough), the prospect begins three phases of training. The first phase features instruction on shedding self-destructive behaviors and barriers to personal and interpersonal happiness, fostering good interpersonal relationships, and encouraging further study in any innate talents useful to the organization that the aspirant possesses. Successful completion of this phase ushers in phase two, where he or she studies the philosophy of the group, learns its principles and practices exercises similar to yoga for fitness and ritual purification. Phase three involves a period of serving as a Harmony novitiate under the close supervision of the Harmony leader. When the novitiate is deemed ready, he or she is formally inducted in a ceremony that includes the selection of a name the new Surgisilena will be known by. He or she is then considered a full-fledged member.
Surgisilena are expected to participate in all Harmony ceremonies and rituals, entertain guests to the best of their abilities without prejudice, and stay physically fit and practice good hygiene. Their study of philosophy continues after their induction into a Harmony. Finally, they must be prepared to seize any opportunity to enlighten others on the beliefs and true role of the organization.
Surgisilena wear no distinctive clothing, uniforms or accessories, but always appear well dressed and present a pleasing appearance. Dress standards are often much looser within the Harmony premises.
Harmonies are usually found on worlds with Population 7+ and Law Level 5-. There are a few unusual cases where Harmonies operate successfully despite intrusive governments, and there is one world where the Surgisilena are the government.
Some Harmonies are large and wealthy enough to be lavish resorts in their own right. Visits to such places are typically expensive affairs, but offer creature comforts and services unheard of on even the most posh starliners. Most Harmonies, however, are small, occupying a single dwelling and having a staff of no more than two dozen.
Harmonies typically support themselves through admissions fees, special services (such as souvenirs or spiritual counseling), and dues assessed individual Surgisilena. The Harmony also gets a percentage of fees the Surgisilena charge to act as social and cultural companions. Permissive planetary governments may confer tax breaks, or even issue periodic grants or stipends.
Visitors will find diversions to fit whatever tastes they have, within local law. Some can be illicit or explicit, depending on the local Law Level, but many Surgisilena are also highly trained and versatile entertainers. Visitors undergo a brief purification ritual upon entry, which include promises of proper conduct during the visit.
Leaders are typically drawn from the most senior members of the Harmony. On rare occasion, there is more than one suitable candidate; in such cases, the Harmony holds a vote to select the new head.
Surgisilena and Society
Official tolerance has not totally erased the misperception of the Surgisilena. Many people, especially in frontier areas, still hold backward views of the organization, and no extraordinary protections are granted to the group on an interstellar scale. Unfortunately, this only helps perpetuate the notion of Surgisilena as nothing but exotic playthings.
Surgisilena are encouraged to travel, and many do. They can be found aboard ships or at starports as passengers, hired entertainers, or recruiters. They can and often do sign on for varying lengths of time aboard private vessels. When and if they return to a Harmony, their shared experiences bring a rich variety that keeps the entire organization fresh and vital.
Surgisilena signing on permanently with a starship crew can bring a unique perspective to solutions. They are not necessarily pacifists, and do not necessarily eschew violence—many Surgisilena take up self-defense or weapon training—but they do not view such as a means to an end. Their training makes them adept at conceiving nonviolent solutions that others may miss.