The Mandate of Heaven

   Here we have another player-requested project from the Legend of the Five Rings campaign – a unique school designed to help the user rule wisely, justly, and well. Thanks to his extensive efforts at arranging assistance in its development, the school has already reached its final form. Little remains except to polish the techniques a bit. and put them into practice.

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The Mandate of Heaven

   This “School of Proper Rulership” is a special project of Ninsei’s – albeit drawing heavily on the assistance of the Naga, on the Church of Merenea’s studies on the Proper Uses of Power, and on the assistance of a variety of ancestor and celestial spirits – along with some advice from his relatives and the Senior Crane Ambassador. He has not yet traveled very far along the way – but the path is laid out before him.

The Mandate of Heaven:

   Overlord Courtier School

Trait Bonus: +1 Awareness

School Skills: Courtier 2, Theology 2, Calligraphy, Ceremony, Etiquette, Investigation, Battle, and Defense.

School Techniques:

  • FIrst Technique / The Disciplines of Leadership: Favors (Courtier, Lore/Area Ruled [the spirits of the land will notify you of major events, dimensional incursions, and disruptions within the area you rule as one favor per day], and Theology [you may gain immediate responses to appropriate rituals and subtly influence the climate and large-scale events within the area]. Unfortunately, you will tend to attract hangers-on and will find that your ever-increasing staff makes it almost impossible to go anywhere without being immediately recognized (10 -5 = 5), you gain SR free Raises with the Courtier, Etiquette, and Investigation skills (10), and may double the Style bonuses you gain from the Courtier Skill (5).
  • Second Technique / The Superior Man: Immunity/The Corruption of Power (5), Psychic Power / Truthsayer (Those who attempt to lie to you and fail lose two void points, which you gain. If they can’t afford to pay the possible penalty, they can’t lie, 9), and Precognitive Dreams (6).

  • Third Technique / Favored of the Celestial Realms: Anyone who attacks you will lose honor points equal to your rank in addition to any other losses attacking you would normally cause (5), Finding/Personnel (You may intuitively locate the best available person for any given task, 9), and Danger Sense (+3 bonus to Initiative, may make a check to sense upcoming attacks, 6).

  • Fourth Technique / Blessed of the Kami: You gain a daily pool of free raises equal to your Theology skill which you may use on any roll. Unfortunately, you will also be recognized as a great man – and thus will become a priority target for assassination during any dispute (15, -5 for targeting, -5 for half effect). Fortunately, if you have a bodyguard nearby, you may spend a void point to negate all damage from any single attack (15, -5 for conditional).

  • Fifth Technique / Tongue of the Heavens: If you spend ten minutes speaking to a group who formally acknowledge your leadership, they may each recall your advice up to (Int) times later – gaining a pool of free raises equal to your rank, and two bonus void points, to use on rolls related to the topic of your speech. These must be used within 24 hours once activated, but the bonus void is not subject to the usual spending or pool limits. (15 for any topic, -5 since it can only be used on those who formally recognize your leadership, +10 for the recipients being able to call on this bonus up to (Int) times later on = 20 points).

   The Mandate of Heaven is versatile – but it primarily relies on having a major official position. Non-rulers may be able to find the best people around for various tasks, but they may not be able to recruit them. There’s no point in knowing what’s going on in the lands you rule if you don’t rule any – and you can’t give bonuses to your followers if no one acknowledges your rule.

   On the other hand, if you do rule an area, this school certainly ought to help you do it well.

d20 Fourth Edition Review

   OK: I’ve read through d20 Fourth Edition – or at least the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and a fair chunk of the Monster Manual – a couple of times now, played around a bit with making some characters, and tried it out. Ergo, it’s time for a bit of a review. There are a thousand other reviews out there, but here’s mine – and I may spread it around the net a bit to help provoke some comments. If there are any major elements I missed, I’d like to hear about them and revise this bit appropriately:

   Fourth edition looks like a decent game system for tactical skirmishes and a semi-satisfactory one for noncombat encounter mechanics – although that end suffers badly from the limited number of skills available and the fact that the one or two characters who are good at any particular skill can be expected to have quite similar scores. Expect each character in a group to find a quick excuse to use their two or three best skills during any skill-based encounter. The stock excuse list won’t take long to compile.

   Sadly, it’s essentially crippled as far as anything else goes. With everything – including the damage from environmental effects and exotic maneuvers – tied to level, only the special abilities and skill selections really distinguish characters – and there really aren’t very many of either. The game handles world development by ignoring it: none of the parts of the world really interact, there “aren’t very many adventurer’s about” (except when someone wants to bring in a new character, in which case anything and everything is instantly available) and thus the impact of their abilities on the setting need not be considered. Even death is no real penalty, so combat carries no real risk – and combat without real risk is only exciting for so long.

   For their part, the monsters are not supposed to attack anyone who goes down – despite the fact that the healers in the group are almost certain to get them back up again momentarily. Evidently their goal is to make sure that the player characters all get to fight – not to win or even to survive.

   There’s no trace of a mechanism for researching or balancing new abilities, no origin suggested for the ones that exist, no lost secrets of particular items to quest after, no training to seek out, no ecology, no economy, few or no special abilities of use in day-to-day life, NPC’s are virtually ignored, and – for example – you can’t try to grab a handful of dirt and throw it in someone’s eyes without the appropriate special ability. Heaven forbid I should be looking for strategic planning or – horror of horrors – a flexible magic system. I certainly can’t afford to let the players go off anywhere they feel like when I need to make sure I have an appropriately detailed encounter map ready in advance.

   This is a world of magic. My character should have MORE options and abilities than I do in a fight and in their lives. What in the game world STOPS me from throwing dirt in someone’s eyes?

   You can’t even readily add such options: given the stress on “budgeting” encounters, you (1) cannot make a character less focused on combat without unbalancing the encounters, (2) cannot make a character more focused on skills without unbalancing the non-combat encounters, (3) cannot make a character who controls or influences creatures or NPC’s since this will – again – unbalance BOTH kinds of encounters, and (4) cannot even add breadth to a character’s abilities by adding noncombat abilities. After all, since the number of abilities is fixed, and you can’t reduce a characters effectiveness in encounters without unbalancing the system, adding powers that were useful outside the encounter system would require upping the effectiveness of their remaining encounter abilities – meaning that (1) their abilities would be notably better than those available to other characters (annoying every other player) and (2) that they could opt to focus on those improved combat or skill-encounter abilities and thus overshadow the other characters.

   Given the reliance on encounter budgeting, I just don’t see any way to make anything but variations on combat builds work. If you see a good way, let me know; I’d be pleased, but surprised.

   Overall, if I want a few throwaway encounters, and a good fight or two, Fourth Edition is a good choice for an evenings gaming – but I can’t see it becoming much more than that, or much chance of keeping the players interested in a fourth edition game for very long. Given the lack of clear guidelines for letting the players come up with their own new material, adding more character individualization for the players will either mean enormous amounts of work from the game master or constantly spending more money on new books – and I’ve got plenty of other good games which don’t require either.

   What made Dungeons and Dragons – in several different incarnations – appealing to many gamers was the way in which it lent itself to the creation of fantasy worlds. The background and depth of those worlds made them fascinating, and the players lent them vitality. Fourth Edition is a nice tactical system, good for small-scale combats and dungeon-crawling, and specified encounters – and I may use it that way – but I really was hoping for a lot more than that.

Federation-Apocalypse Week by Week

   Since things can get pretty confusing in a multiverse-setting game like the Federation-Apocalypse campaign, here’s a condensed brief week-by-week timeline for the game. It hasn’t yet been editied by the Game Master, so you shouldn’t treat it as gospel yet – but it should provide a reasonable idea of how the various events in the log relate to each other.

FA Session Eighteen: Rumors of the Void

   With the group finally established in Baelaria – and in possession of three warehouses and a place of business to use as a base of operations – it was time to bring out the old “to do:” list. They wanted to set up a regular trade route to the Underdark, talk to the mages guild, see what spell effect had been used on Arxus, see if lesser (and more generally useful) variants could be developed from the Praetorian technology, see about importing some staff from Battling Business World (well, OK; Marty wanted to look into that), investigate Spellweaver (ar at least to find out what he was wanted for and what he was supposed to be able to do: the mages guild had to be telling people something if they wanted him caught), visit Hogwarts (well, Kevin wanted to make his regular recruiting-trip there), and continue setting up their own intelligence network.

   First up was the spell that was used on Arxus. After all, they had him right in front of them. He was a bit hostile, but willing to let them work divinations on him… That made it obvious that his soul had been ripped out and was no longer tied to his body. The speed with which it had been done was especially impressive, almost like pulling the tablecloth off a table without disrupting the dishes. It looked like he should either have died or turned into a basic phantasm – but he was sustaining himself through the continued perceptions of others, and thus was trying to grab all the attention he could. He had a well-developed personality with nobody home. Random inputs derived from others rather than from internal direction. Rather depressing really…

   With the local mages stealing souls, the desire to go and visit them in person diminished sharply. Raphial thought that maybe he could send his robot – but it was linked back to him. Maybe some extra warding on the link? It wasn’t like they had any specific defenses against soul-stealing – or any at all that were likely to stand up to spells that powerful. Time to check on how the local magic worked – and on any local countermeasures.

   That research project led to these little “stones” that the Ministry of Magic used – but nothing about where they came from. Well, if they weren’t fakes created by the mages they might well be creations of the priests. Off to the priests first: they were probably REALLY unhappy about soul-stealing magi anyway. Arxus came along: he’d been listening in, and was pretty upset about the mages having stolen his soul – but the others wanted more information before they tried anything too drastic.

   The Holy Guide was a bit put off by Arxus, but was pleased enough to see everyone else. The Guides were aware of the problem – but hadn’t been able to prove it to the satisfaction of the Ministry of Magic. Besides, even if they had proof, there was no guarantee that the Ministry would really do much; it might be some joint project. He wasn’t too clear on why they were doing it either – but he had been hiding children from the mages. He also knew that the mages were focusing on children, the weak and the elderly. He had yet to hear of them managing to steal a soul from a healthy adult. He didn’t know of any link to the neanderthals (or, indeed, of what they might be) – although the Guild had been working with some strange outside group.

   As for the limitations of the local magi – they cast magic by drawing the appropriate diagrams. The basic effect was determined by the underlying symbol. Modifiers were added as additional symbols. The complexity of the spell was a matter of the time and skill put into casting it, while its power was determined by the talent of the caster and his available reserves. It was a bit time-consuming, but there were shortcuts – such as using predrawn symbols. Some magi could even speed-write or perform one spell with each hand… Symbols drawn in the air were good for only one use. Symbols drawn in lasting media such as wood or iron could be used many times. Precious metals were used for near-permanent enchantments.

   Sadly, the Church did not have the resources to take on the Guild – hence what aid they could offer would have to be kept under the rose.

   The mages were definitely showing some new abilities. Some of their new recruits were completely immune to magic (and were apparently specialists in killing non-guild mages), others could focus elemental power – albeit usually of only one element. Last were the Zeromancers, the most powerful – and mysterious – mages in the guild. Fortunately, there weren’t very many of them.

   In any case, magical countermeasures included counterspells, disconnection from the local magical axis (difficult to undo locally), and using magic-absorbing talismans made from Voidstone. The local alchemists supposedly knew how to process the stuff, but no one really knew where it came from. It was supposedly compressed nothingness, and incredibly dangerous to handle unprocessed. Once processed and properly set it was an excellent absorber of energies, although prolonged exposure tended to drain your life force. Finally, there was holy power. Unfortunately, most priests could only generate enough to make an effective shield while on Holy Ground.

   Kevin felt that the local government was either made up of idiots, under control, or very frightened. The path the mages were taking would inevitably end with the guild attempting to make itself the sole authority – and any sensible government would already have taken action. Since allying with the priesthood was the obvious first step in taking action, and the government had yet to do so, it was likely that no action was being taken… No doubt the magical advisors were being reassuring and denying everything, those who spoke up tended to have nasty “accidents”, and the place didn’t have a free press. The whole thing reminded him of Hogwarts and that idiot Voldemort. At least the Robots had raided and sealed up the dig site in Singular – which was probably pissing off the mages no end. Obviously they were used to getting their own way unchallenged.

   Raphial wondered if the Arrancar had any Voidstone available. They had all kinds of nothing – and visiting them would be a fairly short hop.

   Well, they could always consult the house and look for more backup… Unfortunately, if the guild was after Adrian Mercati – that “Spellweaver” guy – it looked more and more like their initial conflict with him had been a mistake. Well, given a ravaged planet and an invasion for a backdrop, that kind of thing would happen.

   The group decided to go hunting for Voidstone (possibly for wholesale importation) – and the first step seemed to be checking with the Alchemists to make sure they could properly identify it. The Holy Guide recommended meeting with Maxwell Stenson at the alchemists guild – and to tell him who’d sent them. He should then be willing to discuss the matter discretely (the mages were on the lookout for anyone looking for the Voidstone – which was at least some indication that the stuff actually worked).

   On the way to the Alchemists Guild the streets suddenly got very empty and foggy – and they were attacked by several small steam-tanks and a bunch of shapeshifting soulless phantasms that were very difficult to destroy (easy to confuse or mindwipe though) – until Arxus started absorbing them. The Mirage was busy trying to deal with the fact that it had a boiler and all its weapons ran on gunpowder, but the local tanks weren’t that dangerous anyway – particularly after Kevin started releasing the bound elementals that powered them. The Mirage suffered some damaging misfires, but managed to take out the tanks anyway – and they even captured one tank-occupant (a 16-year-old boy with definite supernatural qualities. His hair was a bright blonde that almost seemed to glow, his eyes were a deep piercing blue and everything about him just seemed to radiate a bit) – but couldn’t tell if there was a connection between the nanite goo they’d found earlier and the phantasm things without a sample to analyze.

   That absorbing thing was interesting… It looked like Arxus was absorbing the psychic energy invested in the phantasms and using it to become stronger. His age, clothing, weapons, and armor had all improved. He said that that sort of thing just happened when he defeated other phantasms or made more friends. He might be on his way to becoming a “young avenger” psychic nexus or something… Remaining alive after your soul was ripped out was a very unnatural state of affairs, and might well create a psychic void which would absorb other energies: something had to be actively keeping the soul from re-manifesting – which meant an active pull that had to be counterbalanced somehow.

The Enthralling Accounting

  Kevin, as an Unseelie Fey, a potential Demon Lord, and would-be Dark Godling has been making every effort to collect and bond Thralls – mystical servants infused with powerful energies. Unfortunately, until recently, he could only keep a few bonded directly to himself, and still cannot directly bond anyone of above level zero – restrictions which, for the most part, limit him to children and adolescents. Still, he has collected quite a few over the past ten years or so – and, since they’re fairly powerful pawns in the great game of intrigue going on across the Manifold, here’s a complete accounting for them:

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Kevin’s Thralls:

   Now that Kevin has reached the point where he can maintain direct links with large numbers of Thralls, he’s attempting to expand his operations considerably. Exactly how far depends on (1) how quickly he can get things snowballing, as existing Thralls recruit others, and (2) what the upper limits on his abilities turn out to be. Even a “Horde” is probably limited to a few hundred (Likely Cha Mod x 50 or similar) per level. That won’t stop him from recruiting more of course, but the additional ones won’t get the benefits of the Positive Levels he usually bestows. Kevin did sell some Thralls outright early on, but he currently prefers to retain ownership and simply sell their services for a time.

   The Thralls currently get a 2 CP bonus – most likely a level worth of Dimensional Adaption (1 CP, reduces the cost of Identities by 1 SP) and Enthusiast, Specialized in Relics (1 CP, allows them to have a 1 CP relic of choice if someone else helps them make it). Currently Kevin doesn’t even know about this, so whatever minor relics they come up with are entirely up to them.

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Current Thrall Assignments:

  All Thralls have general orders to gather information, be generally helpful (if only to help establish a good reputation), to recruit additional thrall-prospects (showing off when they feel like it or it would help, checking slave-markets in worlds with slavery, scooping up street children in rougher worlds, and simply talking to likely youngsters), and to have fun. They are expected to try and keep at least half their Mana and Power pools in reserve – and to refrain from spending Mana unless it’s either (a) really necessary or (b) they’re already near their accumulation limits. If they have a family emergency or urgent personal business, they should call for a relief Thrall and take care of it.

   Any of them working outside of Core will be taught to maintain a local identity for the worlds they’re assigned to.

With the Group (6)

   Daniel, Gerald, and Bard (core youngsters picked up in Crusader): Currently getting advanced training in the English Fantasy Zone (and getting indulged in the Roman Imperium). Normally personal assistants/servants/bodyguards/pets for Kevin.

   Meara (from a core colony world, rescued from the Arena in the Roman Imperium) and Tanis (a young noblewoman from an Egyptian world): Healers, witchcraft backup, and concubines at night. During the day, they normally remain in ferret-form in Kevin’s pockets.

   Jaiden Kehail: A girl assigned as assistant/servant to Jarvian.

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Core (18):

   Marty’s New York Offices: 8. Six in two three-man mission teams (working as manifold tour guides/bodyguards/escorts, gate-openers, search-and-rescue workers, and import-export staff). Two alternating manning the desk and providing demonstrations for possible customers.

   House of Roses, London: 3. One liaison (and a subject for their examination, since Kevin knows they will) and one as an aide to the “Followup Crew” – or wherever the House assigned him, and one currently awaiting assignment.

   Roaming Assignment (Earth/Solar System): 3. These are scattered around as agents for returning very small children, cookie monsters, and other strays to where they belong, communications contacts, and monitors. They’re generally assigned to (1) carry out odd jobs as needed, and (2) to be generally helpful – especially during manifold incursions. They’ll be spending a good deal of time recruiting.

   Roaming Assignment (Major Core Colony Worlds): 4. Pretty much as above.

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Working for Other Factions (4):

   One each currently working for: Advanced Technology Exchange, the Commonwealth (King Arthur’s domain), the Oracle Archona, and the Necropolis. These are currently in entry-level positions, and are primarily just gathering general information and keeping a line of communication open. While they’re unlikely to be trusted with too much, they’re just too useful for the various factions to ignore.

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Trade Representative Teams (15):

   These groups are working on establishing trading outposts, making local connections, and getting lists of cheaply-available and hotly-desired commodities. As things get moving, they’ll become coordinators and gateway operators, leaving the basic sales work to local employees. They normally work in groups of three. Currently there are groups assigned to Baelaria, the New Imperium, the Old Empire, Faerun (The Red Wizards), and Faerun (The Underdark).

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Reliefs (3):

   Currently this consists of three Thralls who are relieving others while they go in for advanced training – or go on short leaves to handle family emergencies and such.

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Caravan Escort Teams (8):

   Currently (8, all from Baelaria), assigned to opening up the Baelaria-Faerun trading route. The initial cargo is going to be Aluminum/Mithril in exchange for bound elementals.

   Their local 3-point identities are mostly devoted to acquiring minor mental defenses (6 CP) and to acquiring Dragonfire (6 CP) and the Eye of the Dragon (6 CP).

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The Roman Imperium (2):

   Ardiff, slave-selector and trainer, originally from the Linear Developments Realm. Since business is picking up there, he’s also been assigned a new assistant.

   Ardiff’s Imperial Identity is an occult expert in slave-training and trade. His assistant can tell which slaves are ensouled, and thus prospective Thrall-candidates, with a mere glance and has a variety of local connections for getting to inspect incoming slave caravans – and purchase his choices from amongst them – before other prospective buyers get a chance to do so.

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The Dragonworlds (2):

   Lysira (Gold Dragoness Role): Kevin’s estate and harem manager, defense coordinator, and bait for young male metallic dragons. Now has a new assistant, Elkien, a core youngster with a draconic Role who – not realizing that Kevin’s estates belonged to a powerful adventurer rather than being a generic prize for claiming – attempted to simply seize the place.

   The Thralls here have invested their local Identities in simply being Dragons. That suffices to soak up their identity points all by itself.

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The Wylds of Faerie (1):

   Dernulf (originally from core): Kevins communications link with Lord Darcia, of the Unseelie Fey. Other than that, his job is mostly to (1) stay out of trouble and (2) to enjoy himself.

   Dernulf’s local identity mostly revolves around having gradually accumulated many favors from the Fey (Major Favors, Bonus Uses, Immunity to the Fey calling for favors in return, 18 CP total). He mostly uses them to quietly get the numerous other mortal youngsters in Faerie out of trouble.

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The English Fantasy Zone (2):

   The two Baelarian Thralls assigned here turned out to have some talents for artificing and transmutation, and are helping the other Thralls make their own relics, providing divinatory magical support for the group, managing the estate, providing a link with Hogwarts and some of the other schools of magic and groups in the area, and managing the defenses. It’s always good to have some intelligence backing those “Occult Wards and Guardians”. Kevin just isn’t high enough level yet to provide anything too powerful.

   Not too surprisingly, the local Identities for these Thralls resemble Kevins local Identity – giving them access to a Sanctum with Occult Wards and Guardians (15 CP; grants access to Privilege/Major [trainers who can supply a high-end Package Deal, 6 CP], Privilege/Neutral Meeting Place [3 CP], an extensive Library [bought as Double Enthusiast and Adaption, 9 CP], and Witchcraft/The Sight [6 CP]), as well as 3 SP worth of local wealth and knowledges (3 CP).

Non-Thrall Followers and Properties:

   Eofram: An ensouled Silver Dragon from the Dragonworlds: Currently kept in the English Fantasy Zone as Kevin’s personal steed – and very very happy with that situation considering the alternatives.

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Slaves:

   Kevin has quite a few slaves: he regularly buys ensouled youngsters on the markets of the Roman Imperium, from the Goblin Markets – and numerous unscrupulous traders – of the English Fantasy Zone, from the Crusades, from the Dragonworlds, and from wherever else he happens to go – and, at least initially, the percentage who take his offer of Thralldom is relatively low (it eventually reaches about 25%). Some of those who don’t get sent home (wherever that may be), some are troublesome and are resold to take their chances, and a very few insist on attempting to “win their freedom” doing extremely risky things (rather than just saving up to buy themselves out) – but a solid majority (50-60%) simply become servants and workers at his various estates. Yes, they’re property, and the Thralls are entitled to order them around – but they get life extension, supernatural medical care, a relatively light workload, occasional indulgences, and a decent lifestyle. If they work on it, they can earn their freedom eventually. Even if they don’t, most of them will soon build up a local identity – giving them enough local perks to become quite comfortable right where they are.

   In the English Fantasy Zone there are about 150 (and another 50 or so who’ve bought their freedom, but who find the pleasant country lifestyle congenial), who handle all the usual tasks around the manor – tending the horses, trimming the hedges, planting and harvesting, cooking and cleaning – albeit with the help of minor local magics. A fair number are from Core, but most of them are from the Manifold – usually either purchased from slave traders or – occasionally – offered to Kevin in exchange for magical aid (he usually accepts such offerings: better with him than with anyone who’d be willing to offer up a kid – occasionally even one of their own – in such a fashion).

   In the Roman Imperium, there are about 800 – enough to staff a sizable series of plantations and houses. While there isn’t much in the way of modern or magical conveniences here, at least most of the really heavy fieldwork is handled by anonymous phantasms – and it does offer agelessness and the usual benefits of working for Kevin. A fair number are from core, but – as Kevin has sold a number of Thralls to the imperial legions, allowing them to start pushing out beyond the borders more easily again – an increasing percentage are from neighboring regions of the Manifold.

   The Dragonworlds only support 28 ensouled slaves – mostly forgotten half-drow and half-elven offspring of passing core “adventurers”. It does, however, include several hundred phantasmal draconic slaves and concubines. In fact, while Kevin’s physical and draconic wealth is no match for that of an elder dragon, it’s far enough above the normal levels for a juvenile dragon to attract a steady trickle of young male challengers – who become slaves and wind up as harem attendants, being bonded to Thralls as steeds, or being sold outside of the Dragonworlds.

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Older Thralls:

   Over the past twelve years, Kevin has bonded and either contracted out or sold outright some 743 Thralls – 323 recruited in the Roman Imperium (about 204 from Core, the rest from neighboring areas of the manifold plus a very few born there), 206 from the English Fantasy Zone (147 originally from core – and 153 from Hogwarts: virtually all the Slytherin’s, and a scattering of the others, sign up pretty much every year. The remainder were mostly offerings from mages and purchases from local slave traders), another 37 from the Dragonworlds (almost all purchased on the slave markets), 72 from the Linear Development Realms, and the remaining 105 from an assortment of slave-traders, casual pickups in various worlds, and recruit-referrals from Thralls and Contacts. He expects to get most of all of them back eventually…

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Of those 743:

   The Legions of the Roman Imperium are employing 108 as aides, messengers, gate-operators, healers, and military mages (they also check out the new slave-stock for referral to Kevin’s purchasing agents). Another 104 are serving major figures in the Roman Imperium as personal bodyguards, healers, and babysitters. 237 are serving as companions, servants, entertainers, and breeding-stock in Faerie. 16 are serving as crewmen for Captain Rata and Navigator Maui (see Contacts), 11 are working as gate-operators for Orman Valif and his trading operations out of Core (also see Contacts), 123 are serving as bodyguards/familiars for various mages (mostly in the English Fantasy Zone and mostly in animal forms), 23 are working for Xellos, 67 are working for various caravan- starship- and sailing- masters to facilitate cross-manifold trade, 8 are working for Dumbledore at Hogwarts, and the remaining 46 are working for people who were wealthy and powerful enough to be able to purchase them through secondary dealers in the earlier days, when Kevin was still learning. Note that most of their masters know how to resummon them if they’re killed – so they have few compunctions about putting them at risk.

Recent Thrall Origins (56):

   3 Core kids picked up in Crusader, 8 Core youngsters who tried to go adventuring in the Underdark, 5 Half-Drow slave children from the Underdark, 28 from Baelaria, 8 from the Roman Imperium (5 young Manifolders, 3 from Core colonies), 3 from the English Fantasy Zone (all from core), 1 from the Dragonworlds (a core youngster with a draconic ID who thought that swiping Kevin’s properties would be an easy way to move up).

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Older Thrall Origins (5):

   The Linear Developments Realm (1), The English Fantasy Realm (1), Core (2), and The Roman Imperium (originally from elsewhere in the Manifold, 1)

   Their local 3-Point Identities normally include relevant Commercial Favors (3 CP), 1 SP each in Wealth, a Local Language, and Business Operations (3 CP), upgraded defenses against Magic and Mental Influences (6 CP), and 6 CP worth of abilities of choice – normally one with Sanctum (for putting various defenses and resources in their place of business), one with local divination and an upgraded ability to detect souls, and one who makes local contacts. 

The Ecumenical Council

   There have been some questions about the details of the Federation-Apocalypse setting – most notably, about the development of the Core educational system and about the Ecumenical Council. A it happens, both of those are fundamentally related.

   The modern Core educational system was born of necessity. Back in the early 21’st century, it was becoming easier and easier to build fusion bombs – in fact, in the foreseeable future, they would be something that individuals could build in their garages.

   It was fairly clear that, in its current state, the human race might survive that – but that civilization would not.

   Ergo, a concentrated effort was made – a search for genetic corrections for the ancient irrationalities and problems embedded in the neurology of the human brain, for ways to reliably identify environmental and developmental instabilities in early childhood, and for an optimized universal computerized educational system – fully recording, evaluating, and analyzing the results from every student for generations – with a curriculum stressing logic, analysis of postulates, compromise, and the finding of common ground. Since no such program could be perfect (including Teacher – the final freeware version released centuries later), the monitoring programs used for infants were gradually expanded – until the human race thought nothing of being monitored by their expert-program “nannies” from birth to death.

   It worked. Humanity survived to colonize other worlds and the most dangerous extremes of human behavior faded into the past. There was a price of course; glorious obsessions, the works of mad or tortured geniuses, and similar creations faded into the past as well – but the benefits were considered well worth that cost.

  There were side effects though – and one of them was the Ecumenical Council of 2064. In the face of the challenges of cosmology, genetic engineering, animal genegrafting, artificial life, widespread social disruptions, and many other challenges, many of the worlds major religious leaders begin to discuss their core beliefs. Looked at rationally, most of the worlds religions had a great deal in common. They almost all believed:

  • In the existence of immortal souls, and of life after death – whether in the form of one life or many.
  • That the creator or creators cared for their or its creation, but allowed the souls they had created to make – and learn from – their own mistakes.
  • That there was both Justice and Mercy in the universe, as well as in the minds of men.
  • That there were greater and lesser powers of both darkness and of light in the cosmos, that both valued souls, and that both powers occasionally responded to and aided those who truly believed.
  • That messengers of the light – however misunderstood – had been sent repeatedly.
  • That eternity awaited every man.
  • That no darkness was without end, or could hold a spirit forever.
  • That the dreams of men could be achieved.
  • That people should care for each other and for the world about them.
  • That no loss or pain was eternal.
  • That no separation of those who sought each other could forever endure.
  • That forgiveness and redemption were always possible for those who sought it.
  • That authority over the world had been given into the hands of its inhabitants.
  • That miracles had occurred before, and would occur again.
  • That no deed ever passed unrecorded – whether to be redeemed or rewarded.
  • That the infinite might wear many masks, but that it lay at the end of every path.

   It took a century more, but eventually there were a scattering of cults and traditionalists, and one major faith – the Universal Church, an organization related most tracably to the influence of Buddhism and the Roman Catholic Church.

   Belief had its rewards. Faith became once again, as it had been when mankind existed in scattered tribes, a force that bound the race together rather than tearing it apart. Moreover, with universal record-keeping, evidence gradually accumulated: there were occasional events that science did not seem to be able to explain – and the belief that it could eventually do so was acknowledged to be just as much a statement of faith as the beliefs of the universal church.

   And then the Manifold opened. The existence of both souls and miracles, of eternity and the importance of faith, of the thousand masks of god and of the power of sentient minds to shape the structure of reality became verifiable facts, rather than statements of belief. It became apparent that every sentient race in the cosmos had been given both eternity and everything of which they would ever dream as a free gift. That both death and separation were indeed no more than illusions.

   That Darkness existed, always answered those who knew how to call, and even allowed you to “buy on credit” – but always insisted that you pay, whereas the Light often demanded no payment, but answered only those requests it deemed worthy. That nothing was ever forgotten, and that every deed influenced your future existence. That the universe which made the existence of a benign creator or creators so blatantly obvious was also so structured as to make it pretty much impossible to say anything much more for certain about him, her, it, or them.

   Abruptly, virtually every principle of the Universal Church turned out to empirically testable and – to all tests to date – accurate. It’s theology went from a comforting, stabilizing, and socially useful set of gentle philosophical beliefs to a scientific Theory, on a par with Gravitation, Evolution, and Electromagnetism.

   Oddly enough, that meant that religion faded into the background for a sizable majority of the human race. They recognized and acknowledged the truths that it contained, and acknowledged the achievements of the men and women who’d deduced those truths, founded faiths, and invoked the powers of the Manifold with nothing more than faith and will to work with in the past – but they no longer really needed it to help control themselves, and it didn’t look like the true creator – whoever he, she, it, or they might be – really demanded much from anyone. Even if you made mistakes, you had eons to make up for them. Infinity and questions of faith were fascinating as mysteries and as abstract ideas. Gazing into the infinite on a regular basis – like the infinite depths of the night sky – was something that soon faded from the most people’s consciousness. That might be merely a result of immaturity – it might well be some eons before the average person was ready to contemplate the depths of infinity and the great questions of life – but for the moment, such willful blindness is a part of life in core.

   The churches are still quite active however. The percentage of the population is small, but there are still those who do not turn away from the mysteries of the infinite, who feel an obligation to dedicate their lives to the service of others and to things greater than themselves. The most dedicated – or incautious – may become Field Theologicians – dedicating themselves to cataloging the aspects of the divine, to attempting to penetrate the most abstract realms in search of its purer aspects, to finding out whether the Dark Powers are a fundamental aspect of the universe or are simply the creations of mankind, to discovering how long a soul can be held in darkness and whether or not the acknowledgment of having been wrong is sufficient to obtain release or whether such spirits can be aided, to exploring the faiths of alien races, and so on. Such rare individuals have one of the most dangerous callings in the cosmos.

By Special Request

   Next up for today, it’s a special-request character for a visiting player. Many of the the background characters in the campaign have no formal character sheets; there are notes on various figures, on the nature of various “gods” and their assorted minions, and on many other topics in the campaign background – but most of them will never be involved with the characters, so the details are unimportant. On the other hand, since the request fit tolerably well into what (little) information there was available from some Inuit myths – and since all characters must fit into the campaign (and never just appear or disappear) – here’s a detailed writeup on this particular shamanistic demigodling – Senca, a guardian at the portals of the spirit world.