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In Volo's Guide to Monsters, the chapter on Yuan-ti tells us that they tend to live in a caste system, where the Abominations are the top rank, the Malisons† are the middle rank, and the purebloods are the lowest rank. From p. 92:

The vast majority of yuan-ti fall into three categories–abominations, malisons, and purebloods–while the mutated broodguards and exceedingly rare anathemas have their place in the hierarchy as well.

This is further expanded on p. 95, but there is something that is missing from their explanation: Why is the term "pureblood" used to describe the lowest rank?

Intuitively, the term "pureblood" makes me think of the highest rank, as villainous caste-based societies often consider their highest members "pure" and those beneath them somehow "impure" (I'm probably thinking of vampires, but I can't remember from which fiction).

However, when it comes to Yuan-ti, the term "pureblood" is used for their lowest rank. So does that mean that their higher ranks are "impure"? Why are they considered better then, if they are "impure"? I mean, I know that the fact that the higher ranks are more snake-like is why they are considered "better" by the Yuan-ti, but to me the terminology does not match up.

The information in the Monster Manual and Volo's Guide to Monsters describes the purebloods as being the most "human-like", but they are still Yuan-ti, not actually human, so that seems to exclude the fact that they are "pureblooded humans" or something; if anything, it implies their blood is weaker, since they're only a little part snake and mostly human (but not entirely human). Surely then, those who have not gone through any transformation at all should be called "purebloods"? Anyway, these ramblings are not my question, they are just to show my train of thought and confusion.

Is there anything published in official material, presumably in the lore from earlier editions of D&D (unless I've overlooked something in 5e), that explains why the term "pureblood" is appropriate for their lowest rank, or that otherwise explains why that makes sense? I'm looking for something that explains the in-universe lore reason behing this name, not the real-life reason as to why that name was chosen for that monster. Lore answers only please.


† Whilst playing the video game Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir, which is based on D&D 3.5e, a loading screen message tells me a brief version of the same information:

LORE: There are three major castes within yuan-ti society: the purebloods, halfbloods, and abominations. The more snakelike the individual, the higher their status.

Therefore, I assume Malisons in 5e were called Halfboods in 3.5e, or that they are somehow otherwise equivalent.

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Because they are the more "pure", i.e. most human

According to the AD&D 1st edition Monster Manual 2 (1983), yuan-ti are humans who were corrupted into snakelike creatures by some ritual or other:

Inhabitants of tropical jungles, the yuan ti are a degenerate and corrupt race of creatures who were once human. All are devout demon worshippers who have a high regard for all kinds of reptiles. Through dark and unknown practices, their blood has become fouled and they produce monstrosities. There are 3 types of yuan ti: Purebloods, halfbreeds, and abominations.

While the etymology is not strictly defined in this entry, it is clear that the "purebloods" are most human, while the snake-like traits are referred to as a form of corruption, or fouling of their blood. The most obvious answer is that the purebloods are so named because they are the most humanlike and therefore least "corrupt".

However, it is the "corruption" that raises one's status within yuan-ti society, since they value the snake-like traits more than the humanlike traits. In other words, being pure-blooded is a bad thing to the yuan-ti.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I see; "most pure", rather than "being pure" (as in, is actually 100% human). I think your last paragraph in particular is clearing up my confusion; that if they are "fouling their blood" to make themselves more snake-like, then they value the "corruption", not the "pureness", in their blood, and, as you say, "being pure-blooded is a bad thing to the yuan-ti". \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Jul 18 at 14:15

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