From Subterfuge to Artistry

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Code Poems: From Subterfuge to Artistry is an Official GemStone IV Document, and it is protected from editing.

A personal essay, as presented by Melyae Bre'Liran.


The history of code poetry ties deeply into that of the aelotoi enslaved to the Overseers as it was first developed in an effort to undermine the kiramon authority on Bre'Naere. The exact emergence of this practice cannot be pinpointed due to the conditions in which my people lived, resulting in word of mouth being the primarily method of transferal. We are not a long-lived species on Elanthia, and as such, knowledge that may have been imparted centuries ago and carried forward through tales is often lost to the ages, especially considering the environment from which we escaped. At least, from which most of us escaped.

As an aelotoi born after the exodus and raised in a world of general peace and tranquility, I often wondered where and when this practice originated from. I've asked my elders, those who came through the portal, what they might know, and unsurprisingly, they could not give a definitive answer. It was several centuries ago, likely a millennia or more, when we began disguising our messages in poetry. In a world where we had little, and were given less, maintaining records were impossible, and we could only rely on our memories and our voices to carry onward.


What I did learn, however, was that while the Overseers could perceive the smallest slight to their hive in full words, it was rare that they could determine the true messages being conveyed, at least in the way we meant them to be. There was sense to the poem as the words themselves forced the Overseers to view and dismiss them, ensuring the message was carried out and the messenger remained safe.

I am uncertain to what degree our people viewed poems beyond their hidden communications prior to their arrival in Elanith, as the beauty of practice is the code disguised through the first letter of each line. When these letters are isolated, those who know what to look for can see the message clearly. For most, it was enough to put words behind the letters, whether those words made sense was to be determined by the reader. However, as noted, the first letters were the key, and additional steps to hide the message could include offsetting the start of each line.

Below is an example of a poem presented by Eilemay during the Aelotoi Pageant of 5104, when the practice was first introduced to the denizens of Elanith.

Cut the wood, chop it small
      Old logs we stack upon them
   Damp is good, green is good
         Evergreen branches on them

   Put each branch upon the last
Over and up, a tower of brown
      Endlessly reaching into the sky
   Maybe they'll burn the whole place down

— Eilemay

In the example, the code is simply "CODE POEM," and if looked for by those receiving the message, easily deciphered. Additionally, erratic indentation of each line further obfuscates the intended message, causing it to be read, instead, as an ode to a bonfire. The same could be said if each line remained flush to the margin, as most would ignore the first letters for the full words. However, the cruelty of the Overseers often caused my people to practice extra caution, and any opportunity, in this case, formatting, to throw off their suspicions was taken.


With the sudden migration to our new home, the necessity of subterfuge through poetry ended. That did not mean the end of code poems, though. The practice remains in place, shifting from hiding rebellious messages to commemorating the subject in a unique way.

A new tradition popular amongst the Cyrtae'ni, lovers write poetry to each other using each other's names and are gifted along with small trinkets, ranging in the simplicity of a favored flower to strands of zelflyr beadwork. These items are kept together safely within keepsake boxes referred to as amin sutara, translated to mean love dreams, which are often kept in a secure spot and untouched until one of two events occur: the lovers marry or the relationship ends. If the lovers decide to wed, the boxes and their contents are exchanged with the future spouse's family, who then weave the gifted trinkets together and practice reciting the code poems in order to perform them during the wedding to celebrate the joyous occasion. If they separate, there may be a short period of mourning for the end of the relationship. After which, the keepsake box and its contents are burned safely within a miniature bonfire as a symbolic end, while the heartbroken are comforted by their closest friends.

Parents create code poems following the birth of each child, utilizing either cyritaer, meaning son, or nyataer, meaning daughter, followed by the chosen name for the basis. These are embroidered onto swathes of paeline and embellished with images depicting the parents' blessings unto their child. In some cases, if small enough, they are added to their child's yll'suta, however it is not uncommon for the needlework to instead be hung from their child's wall.

While still uncommon, there are those within the Cyrtae'ni who memorialize their loved ones through code poetry. Similar to those occasions mentioned, the name plays a role in the poem's creation, though the theme is mournful in tone. These poems may be used as a marker for burial spots, or less frequently, displayed in other locations, such as a placed that held meaning for the deceased.


Though originally wrought with turmoil and caution, code poetry evolved from strategically deceitful messaging to ways to commemorate or memorialize loved ones. These are not the only uses available for such a media, and more will continue to evolve as we find and make our way through life on Elanith.

OOC Notes

  • Created by GM Xeraphina, February 2024
  • Special thanks to GM Roxia who first presented Code Poetry at the Aelotoi Pageant in Ta'Vaalor during Hot Summer Nights 2004 and to GM Gyres for sharing a log of the event.
  • Additional thanks to all the players who have participated in prior Code Poetry events throughout the years.