As I mentioned, the horns are one of the first things fans noticed about the Zabrak Darth Maul. Ian McCraig, the lead concept artist for Episode I, was asked to draw his worst nightmare. That drawing was way too much for George Lucas; however, another drawing of an art department crew member with circuitry on his face intrigued Lucas. It was also suggested that this Sith Lord have a devilish look. What better way to create a devil than to add horns?
As a physical feature, the horns really serve no real purpose, but the length and formation is genetic. Hair is also a genetic trait. It is quite common for a Zabrak to be born without any hair on her head -- or anywhere else, for that matter. As an added bit of fanon, some Zabrak players who take a purist's stance consider the Zabraks without hair to be the purest of Iridonian blood, though there is nothing in canon to directly support that assumption. However, it's known that Zabraks can interbreed with humans despite having two hearts. This could definitely lead to a purist movement among some Zabraks.
Zabraki culture, like Human culture, is quite varied because of colonization and intermingling with other cultures. We are aware of Mandalorian Zabraks, Jedi Zabraks, and of course, Sith Zabraks. However, one thing remains consistent between all Zabrak cultures: facial tattoos. When a Zabrak comes of age, he is inducted into his clan via a rite of passage and the application of a facial tattoo representing his family and clan. Some of these designs are simple, like Master Agen Kolar's, or extremely elaborate, like that of Satele Shan's Master, Kao Cen Darach.
At this point, I should probably note that Darth Maul's tattoos are not typical of a Zabrak. In fact, those markings are actually Sith markings. Similar designs can be found on the Twi'lek Darth Talon and Darth Krayt. This particular face confuses me when I consider the SWTOR character creator. If you look closely, the Imperial Zabraks all display similar markings to Darth Maul, which is fine for the Sith classes, but from a canonical point of view, seems out of place. Why would a Bounty Hunter have Sith markings on his face? Sure, there are fringe cases in which that applies, but generally, it doesn't make a lot of sense.
Thanks to roleplaying games like Star Wars Galaxies and Wizards of the Coast's Star Wars D20 RPG, both of which give players the ability to create Zabrak characters, fans have fleshed out some of the missing pieces in Zabrak culture.
The most important part of Zabrak culture that canon never really covered is the rite of passage for young Zabraks. According to fanon, this ritual takes place at about age 13 when a Zabrak youth is accepted into the clan as an adult in a series of callenges called the Selenoren. These trials are designed specifically for each Zabrak by his parents. Traditionally, fathers administer the Selenoren to sons and mothers to daughters (of course, there are exceptions for single-parent families and the like). When the rite is completed, the young Zabrak is given his facial tattoo, called "jatos" by roleplayers.
Fans also created courtship and marriage rituals that I find interesting. This Tai'Shan, as it's called, begins with pheramones. Each Zabrak supposedly emits his or her own distinct scent that is picked up by the olfactory nerves but cannot be smelled directly. When the "right" Zabrak picks up on these pheramones, it causes physical attraction. Although many Zabraks follow the rest of the Tai'Shan ceremony, like the Acts of Devotion and the Tea Ceremony, most dismiss the pheramone part of the Tai'Shan to be superstition.
In Star Wars: The Old Republic, Zabraks are treated the same as any other non-human species. If you play a Zabrak on the Imperial side, you will notice a lot of references to your lack of Human or Sith genetics, but that does not affect the overall storyline. If you happen to roleplay as a Zabrak on the Imperial side, other character might look down on you. If I were to create a Zabrak character, I would certainly use that to add flavor to his backstory.
On the Republic side, Zabraks do have loftier positions. However, stereotypically you will find them in militaristic roles, perhaps among Jedi Knights or Republic soldiers. This most likely stems from the strong personalities that follow most Zabraks. An interesting Zabrak on the Republic side might be a philosopher with a martial edge -- a true warrior-monk, if you will.
How would you play your Zabrak? There is a broad spectrum of different ways this species can be approached because of how common it is. What is your favorite part of the culture? Or do you pretty mch ignore the species entirely? Let me know in the comments, and I will see you next week (maybe at the Guild Leader's Summit, if you're going.)
The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently in production by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!