Ixiptla

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Basic Information

An ixiptla is a sacrificial avatar of an aztec god or goddess. Specifically a human (often one captured on a battlefield of a flower war) who is groomed and treated as the earthly manifestation of a god for some time (often a year) before being sacrificed.

An ixiptla was decorated for the sacrifice, and even wore a costume that symbolically linked them to the god during the months leading up to the sacrifice. They were basically a state-sponsored God-Impersonator. They were treated with deference and respect, but almost certainly knew the grisly fate that awaited them on the appropriate holiday.

Human sacrifice, for sure, and in some cases ritual cannibalism. Depending on which god they are incarnating as, they might get a ritual death by combat, where the victim is tied to a heavy anchor stone and given a blunt weapon (more or less a fake weapon, like a macuahuitl with feathers or flowers instead of obsidian blades) to battle against warriors with real weapons. For some gods, a fiery death was more common.

Ixiptla existed of several different Aztec deities, including:

  • Huehueteotl — death: set on fire, then removed from the fire before dead, and heart cut out
  • Huitzilopochtli — adornment: painted blue — death: heart cut out, and cannibalized
  • Tezcatlipoca — adornment: body painted black, face striped, also wearing a feathered headdress — activity: the ixiptla plays a flute in public — death: ritual combat against four warriors, or chest cut open and heart removed
  • Tlaloc — activity: made to cry in public, with the idea this would bring rain in the future — death: burned alive
  • Xipe Totec — death: skinned, dismembered, cannibalized — afterwards: their skin is worn by others at festivals
  • Xiuhtecuhtli — death: chest opened, a fire is set inside their chest, then used to light other fires at temples

Some sources indicate each "variety" of ixiptla had multiple ways they could be sacrificed, with a more shameful (and probably more drawn out and painful) version reserved for those who had inadequately performed their ritual and symbolic duties.

You'll notice a number of the sacrifices involve having the heart cut out. That's because the Aztecs believed the heart was where the teyolia (or divine spark) resided in the human body.

The longer and better a job the ixiptla did in their impersonation of the god, and the better their performance of ritual tasks (like Tezcatlipoca's fluting or Tlaloc's crying), the more teotl they carried within themselves, and thus the greater the benefits for the community.

Sources

Bibliography
2. New Alexandria article - discusses specific details of a Tezcatlipoca Ixiptla in great detail

Game and Story Use

  • Player characters are captured by a Town With A Dark Secret or Mayincatec tribe, which is scary. But then they get special treatment, with fine food and fancy clothes, and some training in playing a musical instrument or performing certain rituals, so it seems for a while like this isn't so bad. Then the GM starts hinting that this special status is only temporary, and leading to something far more sinister. That big holy day they're prepping you for: it's a Fete Worse Than Death.
  • An Ixiptla who feels honored to have been chosen, and takes their ritual duties seriously, could be a very interesting character.
    • Is this behavior just Stockholm Syndrome? Or is it a logical self-sacrifice motivated by a keen understanding that the Gods Need Prayer Badly?
    • Bear in mind that the PCs might go to extreme lengths to convince this character that they don't have to die, and shouldn't be so quick to just accept their fate. A character who is willing to make such a big personal sacrifice for the sake of the world and civilization is by definition a good guy, so the PCs might be motivated to save them.
  • An ixiptla goes missing. If they aren't found before the stars are right, the universe will break down, the stars will stop or go rogue, the sealed evil in a can will escape, etc. The players may have a hard decision ahead of them.
    • Note that you'll likely hit some values dissonance if you send the PCs to catch an escaped ixiptla, and it could derail your plot. So it's probably better to have the PCs as a third-party. An innocent goes missing. PCs start investigating that dissapearance, and discover there's a cult that may have abducted them. But as they nose around some more, they realize that cult doesn't have the missing person, but are hunting them instead. Now the PCs can either race the cult, or run interference to let the innocent victim escape.
      • If the PCs succeed and the potential victim escapes the culty pursuit, the sacrifice fails and bad things happen cosmologically. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
  • Brutally killing an avatar of your god? Where have we heard of that before?
  • Lots of potential overlap with year king plots, especially if an ixiptla gains authority or holy abilities from their position.
    • A PC with embezzled divine power and a handful of performance or religious knowledge skills might be a fugitive ixiptla.
    • A volunteer ixiptla accepts their eventual fate, in exchange for the power to complete a task beyond a mortal's abilities.
  • Also potential overlap with the living parable, if the rituals or manner of sacrifice reflect events in the god's stories.
  • This may be a way to rescue a campaign that went pear-shaped when a string of bad dice rolls resulted in a TPK. Instead of being murdered, the PCs are just knocked out. They wake up later and are being treated great (as above) by their captors. They have time to recover from their wounds, and make an escape plan.
  • Could potentially be used as a way to present the party with a winnable encounter against an enemy many levels above them.
    • The enemy civilization challenges the PCs to a ritual duel, which ends up being a battle with an Ixiptla far above their normal challenge rating. This sacrificial duelist has great stats, and may still have dangerous spells and abilities, but their main attack is nerfed because they are compelled to use a ceremonial sword-shaped object instead of their normal weapon.
    • It's a solution for if the GM (or one of the players) has a favorite humanoid monster from the game's monster manual, but doesn't expect the campaign to ever run long enough and get high-enough level to be able to use that favorite baddie at their full capacity.
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