August 8, 2019

Seven Empires (and Ten Artifacts)

Thomas Cole - The ArcadianThomas Cole - The Arcadian

The history of my setting exists outside of ransacked tombs and ruined wizards’ towers; it lives on by influencing the societies and institutions which were born from it. So I wrote up a few short (and not-so short) in-universe summaries summaries of the nine major eras of my setting, including the contemporary one.

(and I included a nice, usable random table at the end)

From A Treatise of the Shape and Structure of Empire in the Past Millenia” by Solomon Weaver

The First Empire: The Lady of Gold

Course of Empire: Thomas ColeCourse of Empire: Thomas Cole

When humanity, ill-formed children of hateful gods, were exiled to waste away upon the southern continent, the Lady of Gold came with them. She led them in their conquest of their new homeland and ruled them for centuries.

She taught the brightest among them some of those High Mysteries that are called magic. Her Archmagi enacted her will throughout her empire as she slowly, almost imperceptibly over the many generations she ruled, retreated from public sight.

Then, one night, the most terrible night since humanity was exiled from paradise, she, her court, and her golden city all vanished.

And so the first, brightest golden age of human history faded into memory.

The First Interregnum: The Small Wars

The Duel of the Women - Jusepe de RiberaThe Duel of the Women - Jusepe de Ribera

The great problem with the rule by God-Queen was figuring out what sort of government could replace her. None among the Archmagi - not even those who had attained immortality - were willing or able to take her seat, and many among the first generations after her disappearance believed that they would live to see her return. Thus her empire broke slowly apart as her rule faded into memory.

But the Archmagi remained. Still vested with magical and material influence by their former Empress, they ruled over the scattered remains of the Empire, each to her own little province. As the mortal Archmagi died and their successors - who lacked knowledge of the God-Queen and her gilded empire - took their seats, the shallow peace which had laid unsteadily over the continent broke completely.

These were not the great wars of later years, but all across the once-peaceful expanse of Empire, the grandchildren of the first Archmagi fought each other in petty wars over land, wealth, and small honor. And all across the empire, their subjects suffered for their arrogant posturing - fields went fallow from lack of hands to work them as peasants were called to war, buildings were left half-finished as material was requistioned for wars, and brillaint minds were snuffed out in their youth over bloody familial disputes.

Soon the Empire itself seemed faded into history, as far gone as the Lady of Gold Herself, or the lost homelands of humanity. But there were those who remembered.

The Second Empire: The Oligarchy of Electors

Age of Love - Alphonse MuchaAge of Love - Alphonse Mucha

Contemporary writers, as well as historians of less diligence than myself, wrote about the Nine Great Archmagi who banded together to reform the Empire. This is mere fantasy. In truth, there were closer to nineteen than nine Archmagi involved in the Coalition, and a few of The Nine only joined after their bolder contemporaries’ first few victories.

The Coalition was founded by those few Archmagi who remembered the old Empire - those whose grandparents kept the stories alive, the few immortals that still deigned to participate in political affairs, and the many minor Magi, landowners, and educated gentry whom looked with fondness upon the centuries prior the tyranny of the Archmagi.

Though the Second Empire never reached the extent of its predecessor, it created many institutions that exist to this day, particularly those which still tie Archmagi from across the breadth o the Empire together. Developed during this era were the councils that could anoint new Archmagi, the system of jury selection used to excommunicate heretical Magi and Archmagi, and the mage-hunters who would hunt down excommunicated Magi.

Election of rulers from among the Archmagi, by the Archmagi, concentrated power in a few hallowed halls. But aside from a few petty revolts of peasants and slaves, the process maintained a consensus around leadership that prevented true civil war. Until it didn’t.

The Third Empire: The First Great Dynasty

The Spider - Nikolaos GyzisThe Spider - Nikolaos Gyzis

Aside from the Lady of Gold, there is not woman in the history of humanity as beloved as Tasnim Najjar, Empress Tasnim I - Tasnim the Poet, Tasnim the Hammer, Tasnim who tore down the corrupt oligarchy and brought low the instruments of empire until they were once again within reach of the commons. And yet there is no woman in our history more hated.

The truth of history lies somewhere between the fearful stories of her detractors and the pleasant lies of her adherents. Tasnim was a mostly average Archmage of an unpromising though unobjectionable lineage - she lacked the wealth, influence, or magical might to convince the majority of the Archmagi to support her. But she had two things in great supply - she was bold and ambitious enough that she would risk her own life and house to attain the imperial throne, and she was charismatic enough that her allies would follow her into this mad attempt. That they won the brutal wars that followed her ascencion was more due to luck and the accidents of history than any particular strengthens of her coaltion or weaknesses of the ruling order.

Throughout the reign of Tasnim I and her successors, the authority of the empress was strengthened, the Archmagi were marginalized, and the beureaucracy of empire developed - roads and canals were built across the empire as magistrates were tasked their their matinence and taxation.

For the peasant farmer, life was often better than it had been under the Archmagi. But, Najjar Dynasty often fell into civil strife, for the old oligarchs resented the elevation of a single family above all the rest. So when they saw their chance to challenge that dynasty, they leapt to the occasion.

The Second Interregnum: The Horror Years

Course of Empire: DestructionCourse of Empire: Destruction

Fear and love kept the Najjar alive for almost two centuries - the love of the common masses and the fear of the elites - but a succession of weak rulers gave them confidence to fight for their old privileges. Upon the death of Empress Tasnim III, a group of Archmagi put forth a successor from their own number: that honorable fool, Malena the Overbold. Tasnim IIIs youngest daughter Asma I took her mother’s throne and led the royalist armies against the rebellious Conclave of Magi in a short but bloody war of succession. Within the first year, Malena died on the field of battle, while Asma was murdered by her own servants. Neither left a clear heir, or a clear victor.

Asma’s sisters, cousins, and aunts began to fight over the claim to her throne. The rebels, still attained by Asma’s imperial edict, moved to elect another Empress pretender. Some settled Malena’s charismatic younger sister, but many feared replacing one dynasty with another and instead supported an older, less beloved Archmage. Across the empire, cautious archmagi saw the weakness of the Empress and pressed their own claims upon the throne.

All told, over twenty different houses claimed the throne after Asma’s death. Many of them died violently - in battle, or in the assassinations that were common during those bloody first years. Some died gently: in old age, cloistered in fortresses and surrounded by servants and family. But none would live to see the horror’s end.

Any societal advances during that bloody century are forever shadowed by the sheer extent of the death - no family was spared suffering in those years - the rich and poor died alike fighting for the claimants their parents and grandparents had acclaimed. All the material advances of the second empire merely enabled more efficient slaughter. Soldiering as a profession was born in this boiling pot of statelessness and violence. It was a time of war, and of warlords.

The Fourth Empire: The Long Retreat

Asoka’s Queen - Abanindranath TagoreAsoka’s Queen - Abanindranath Tagore

I have always despised the standard characterization of the fourth empire. Though in its federal structure it laid the grounds for the petty reigns of so-called governors” whose misrule most imperial citizens still suffer under, the Empresses of the Mishra dynasty were not cowards who flinched from challenging their subjects, nor could most of their reigns be characterized as retreats”.

Over three centuries of mostly wise, mostly just rule, a long line of empresses struggled against warlords and Archmagi who fought to break the power of the central government. Some succeeded, but in the long run they could maintain their authority over governors who feared and loathed them.

The crack in at the heart of the Mishra dynasty, the grand flaw made its downfall inevitable, was apparent from its birth: unlike previous empires, the Mishra dynasty was created out of compromise.

Though Karan II was one of the more powerful claimants when she took her throne in the eighth decade of the Century of Blood, she lacked the military might to crush the resistance of her rivals. So she had to grant special rights to the warlords and rival claimants who had established regimes throughout the continent, enshrining their right to rule unmolested in a primitive constitution. Empress Karan was too focused on mending the wounds of civil war to think of the effects her policy would have centuries later. Still, she planted the seeds for the breaking to come.

Many of our most prized institutions date from this era. The university system that produces such brilliant scholars and administrators was established by Karan IIs daughter Avani I to replace the oligarchy of Magi with a professional caste of educated, appointed magistrates. The economy flourished under the careful guidance of these leaders - production became more efficient, encouragement of scientific thought led to breakthroughs in technology after the long stagnation during the Century of Blood.

In the final decades of the twelfth century, the line of Mishra was whittled down by infighting, madness, and foul luck. Thus, when the great plague swept through the empire, carried into each village and city by the roads that had never been more well-trod, among the countless dead was the main line of that Dynasty.

The Fifth Empire: The High Judges

Grand Staircase of the Hall of JusticeGrand Staircase of the Hall of Justice

Meklit I of the Aberash Dynasty was, in many ways, the most qualified Archmage to ever be acclaimed Empress. She was well-renowned during the last decades of the Mishra dynasty as a master scholar - a genius polymath, knowledgable about mathematics, history, law, economics, and magic. She was certainly the most prolific writer to have ever sat in the Highest Chair - for every subject that grabbed her interest, she wrote a book or essay or letter than revolutionized academic thought around it.

Her reputation as a scholar was strong enough that she was nominated Facilitator of the Divining - a position intended to smooth the process and develop a legal framework to decide between the two imperial candidates, so that the Archmagi could unite on one choice and prevent another civil war.

Meklit worked day and night for a hundred hours on her brief, and came to a radical conclusion. She argued that those who sat on the imperial throne had retained too much the power that had belong to an infallible goddess. To enshrine the Empress not only in holy infallibility, but also in the armor of a general and the gilded circlet of a ruler corrupted all but the most righteous of mortal women. Thus much of the material power of the empress: powers of taxation and war-making had to be restricted.

Of course, the two candidates and their close allies strongly objected to the move, but powerful Archmagi that had long resented any rule above their own were quick to join their voices to Meklit’s plea. The reformers decided to elect Meklit herself as the newest empress, confident that a woman of little ambition and less authority would be no threat.

Empress Meklit was not eager to sit upon the gilded throne, but she accepted the crown once offered. Under her reign, the throne lost all but the most symbolic of its powers, and the Empress served merely as a High Judge, respected by all to adjudicate the disputes of the lesser Magi. She also codified the books of law, expanded the use of impartial juries in court cases, and reformed the custom of succession to give the reins of power to the most qualified apprentice of the Archmage, rather than one tied to her by blood.

But they could not challenge the power of the archmagi and the governors.

The Sixth Empire: The Caged Empresses

Course of Empire: DesolationCourse of Empire: Desolation

Even the diminished role that the empresses of the Aberash dynasty played in the politics of the Fifth Empire was unpalatable to the Oligarchs and Archmages, especially when more radical High Judges ruled against the historical pregoratives of that class, enshrining rule of law above ancient custom.

So upon the death of the most radical of the Aberash Empresses, Puleng the Abolitionist, the Archmagi convened together to elect Elvira Caito as the first Empress of a new dynasty. The Caito family was one of long lineage, famous magical talent, and little material power. Empress Elvira agreed to cede all but the most symbolic powers of the imperial throne in exchange for tribute, homage, and protection from her enemies.

And so the empire faded into what was, functionally, a third interregnum, the archmagi, magistrates, and generals fighting each other for domination of valuable trade routes, important cities, and other important resources. Though the intra-empire violence never reached the fever pitch of the Century of Blood, the constant petty wars weakened the imperials until old enemies were able to seize the advantage and prosecute wars upon us.

The Seventh Empire: The Tigers Roars Anew

Women of Eger - Bertalan SzekelyWomen of Eger - Bertalan Szekely

The Urbina family had long stood along the edges of the history books - they were among the archmagi to found the Coalition that ended the first interregnum; women from this dynasty were elected to the gilded throne twice during the time of the oligarchy; they were firm opponents of the first great dynasty and were among those supporters of Malena who maintained their loyalty even after the rebellion had broken apart. Never a prestigious lineage despite its age, the Urbina had been more fond of their mace than their magic”. But it was Eskarne Urbina, Eskarne II, an archmage of immense power and the victor of half a hundred battles, who made the argument that the empire needed a warrior at its helm, that the bonds of fealty had to be reforged before they were forever lost.

Some of the archmagi, those most threatened by Islander raids and Regency war-bands, concurred with this family, while those who had used the lax rule from the imperial throne to enrich themselves spoke against the reforms. But the far-seeing Empress of Adelaide Caito was convinced, and she ceded her throne willingly, endorsing Eskarne as both her successor and the founder of the new dynasty, thus enshrining her line as the second among the Magi. After this, and after Eskarne drove the armies of the republic from the heart-river and proved the power of her army, the archmagi and the governors were forced to at least acknowledge her as their empresses, though there are many who pay little more than lip service to their rightful ruler.

Eskarne’s successors have ruled wisely in the face of tremendous challenges: the Republic remains as strong as ever, and presses upon the inner lands along their networks of spies and saboteurs, while the horrors of the Mountain Regency come down to wreak havoc among those who remain loyal to the empress-in-flesh. Despite constant upheaval and the limitations created by the previous regimes, the Urbina dynasty has steered the ship of state steadily towards brighter futures for the past hundred years.

May they last a hundred years more!

Ten Artifacts from the Ten Eras of Known History

1. From Before the Arrival of Humanity

The bone-white scale of an elder dragon, its kind wiped out by the encroaching tide of humanity. The size of a shield, heavier than a block of stone ten times its size, resistant to magic, and nigh-unbreakable.

2. From the First Empire:

A golden narcissus flower from the Lady’s personal garden, it will never die or grow less beautiful if you continue to water it with tears.

3. From the First Interregnum

A pair of weddings bands from rival archmage families, never worn.

4. From the Electoral Empire

One of the enchanted clay tokens used to tally votes during elections; it’s well-crafted enough that it still changes color, though it does so at random nowadays.

5. From the The First Great Dynasty

The petrified bone skull of a Lady Davena Howling. Her titles and crimes were carved upon the white stone of her brow and imperial rubies were affixed in her eye sockets.

6. From the Horror Years

A bombard from the vault of Empress Arlet the Half-mad, its bronze spout carved with scenes of victory that never came to be.

7. From the Long Retreat:

A prototype engine of steel and steam - merely a toy, but one that shows the incredible power of such technology.

8. From the High Judges:

A legal brief from the Imperial Magistrate of Munteculma County which states that the local Archmage family is not entitled to demand a toll from the river bridge, and that such proceeds are instead owed to the townsfolk who built it. Given that the brief is three centuries old and the Archmagi have not yet ceded control, they legally owe a signifcant amount of resitituion to the town.

9. From the Caged Empresses:

A battle stanard of the Mariner’s Republic. It had been carried by the Eleventh Regiment of Fusiliers in the battles of Vermello Coast and waved over the city hall of Dez Árbore after the thousand-day siege.

10. From the Modern Era

Solomon Weaver’s Treatise on the Shape and Structure of the Empire over the Past Millenia, the introduction of which is quoted at length above. One of less than a hundred copies in existence, an unpopular bit of dry, turgid babble, worthless.

August 8, 2019

The Overpowering Influence of Delight (a Troika! supplement)

Age of Wisdom by Alphonse MuchaAge of Wisdom by Alphonse Mucha I’d forgotten about the #SwordDream Jam on itch until its last day, unfortunately. So, I hopped onto to wikiart.org and looked around for inspiration. Luckily, Alphonse Mucha came through for me in the end. I decided to write up some Troika! backgrounds based on a few of his most evocative paintings. All six backgrounds are witches, but I think they’re distinct enough to make any of them interesting to a prospective player. Here’s the link to my game: The Overpowering Influence of Delight

And here’s a sample background from it.

Dance by Alphonse MuchaDance by Alphonse Mucha

3 The Whirling Witch

Life is a song, and though you can’t choose the melody, you can write the lyrics. So you sing a jolly aria over a mournful tune. You sing like your voice is fading because it is. You dance like you’re going to die because you will. You fly like you were born with wings, because you wish you were. When trouble comes, when darkness falls and the words to your song stick to the dry walls of your throat, then you can just fly away somewhere else, can’t you? It’s what you’ve always done before.

Possessions

Nothing but the Clothes on your Back and the Music in your Heart

Advanced Skills

  • 3 Dancing
  • 3 Flying
  • 3 Singing
  • 1 Spell - Levitate Other (lasts for 3 hours)
  • 1 Spell - Tornado (as hurricane)
June 26, 2019

Harry Clarke Project (The Jeweler’s Kiss)

The Jeweler’s Kiss - Harry ClarkeThe Jeweler’s Kiss - Harry Clarke

The Jeweler’s Kiss - Level 3; Touch; Permanent

The curse begins, as most things do, with the heart. Over the course of a day, the victim’s heart will turn to that stone which is best attuned to the caster’s personality - diamond for stoic, gold for the greedy, alexandrite for the clever, etc… The stone heart will continue to beat blood through the victim’s veins, but all feelings of love and longing will fade away.

The disease will move through their organs over a series of weeks — killing their appetite as their stomach ossifies and their anger as the bile of their liver hardens into shards of crystal. Then the curse moves into their nervous system, renders their spinal column into stone, makes their movements sluggish and unsure - as though they were half-asleep. As their brain ossifies, they lose all their memories and any sense of self.

Over the next month, the curse seeps into the bones, blood, flesh, and skin, turning the victim into a priceless statue. Many collectors will pay quite a lot of coin for such statues, since no sculptor could so closely mimic life.

A powerful enough magic-user could likely break the curse. But, for those without the magic to break the spell, the only cure is to find the caster, cut out her heart, and swap it for the stone heart of their victim.

This spell was made for the Harry Clarke project and it’s licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

June 25, 2019

Introductions (and 1d6 strangers on a train)

Who am I?

I’m a student, gamer, and writer. I spend a significant portion of my free time wandering around fantasy worlds in my head, so I figured I should put them to paper. Lloyd Alexander is my favorite fantasy author, though he’s not very active these days (death ruined his productivity). As for contemporary writers, I’m a fan of Helene Wecker, Susanna Clarke, and Josiah Bancroft. I play RPGs regularly, and lurk on the edges of a few OSR and SWORD DREAM discords. I spend much of my free time trying and failing to write, mostly in my own fantasy setting, which leads me to…

What is The Seventh Empire?

The Seventh Empire is both what I call my setting as a whole, and the name of a particular polity within that setting. I’m going to discuss the Seventh Empire as it exists within the setting in a later blog post, I hope.

The setting itself is reaction against some of the genre conventions of standard RPGs. Technology has progressed far beyond the medieval era. Rail and telegraph lines stretch across the landscape. Hedge witches, clerics, and wandering spearmen drink coffee alongside union organizers, civil engineers, and crusading journalists. Feudalism is unheard of in this setting. Instead, the continent is divided between feuding imperial functionaries, religious fanatics, and slaver republics - though undercurrents of abolition and anarchism threaten to bring the whole corrupt structure down

It is a contradictory setting, with where capitalists hire brave men and women to clear coal mines of dragons in exchange for company shares, where archmagi summon demons to spy on their corporate rivals, where adventurers carry spears and six-shooters in equal measure.

What is this Blog?

I intend for this blog to serve as a collection for my writing - from world-building, to reviews of books and RPGs, to GM advice and AP reports, to fiction. I have diverse interests, and so there will be a lot of different kinds of posts, but I intend to include game-able content in all of them. The Seventh Empire is the main setting that I base my fiction and campaigns in, so it’ll be featured most prominently on this blog. I’ll try to have just as much content regarding other settings and topics.

Well, Where’s the content I can use for my games?

If you insist:

Night on the El Train - by Edward Hopper, 1918Night on the El Train - by Edward Hopper, 1918

Id6 Shady Travelers on the Train to the Imperial Capitol

  1. A pale-faced, shivering young man huddles against the window and stares blankly at the passing countryside. His forehead is hot and his breath comes quick and shallow. He needs a surgeon to excise the curse-stone that burns under his skin.
  2. A bounty hunter, cloaked in wool and cold arrogance, cleans her father’s favorite sword. She’s come to the capitol to kill two men. The deserter deserves it. The abolitionist doesn’t, but the job pays damn well.
  3. A short man in a threadbare suit carries a portrait of a distinguished older woman wrapped in red cloth. The craftsmanship is shoddy, but the paint was mixed with enough blood and spellwork to captivate any viewer.
  4. A graying government bureaucrat of little standing and less ability smokes a pipe and tries to ease the heavy weight of the love notes in his back pocket. His superior would kill him if they were found, but he can’t bring himself to burn his last connection to her son.
  5. An ancient woman slowly pages through a book of magical theory, marking off errors in theory and in syntax as she goes. The cat in the carrier beside her meows angrily at whoever will listen, begging them to turn him human again.
  6. A thin man with a wide hat prays alone. He has two shots of whiskey in his gut, and six shots of lead in his gun. His wallet is empty, his children are hungry, and there’s a lot of well-dressed people on this train.