Alaria and Rome, Part Two

   First up for today, it’s part two of the Alaria and Rome article, covering the similarities and differences between the two. Since it follows directly from the material in part one, it’s best to start THERE if you haven’t already read it.

   Obviously enough, what classification you fall under has a major impact on your fortunes in the Imperium. A citizen may – at least in theory – appeal unjust legal decisions all the way to the Senate, while a Bondsman has no legal recourse whatsoever. In practice, of course, the occasional Citizen will appeal on behalf of someone else, there are quasi-legal appeals for clemency – based on simply asking for pity rather than any legal argument – and foreigners are generally handled by the Legion Vigeles military courts regardless of the origin of the complaint. Fortunately for traders and merchants, the Vigeles courts are well-versed in commercial law and tend to give scant credence to complaints based on “I don’t like the competition!”. Complaints against ambassadors and such normally go straight to the upper-level imperial bureaucrats, who will usually refer anything serious to the Senate. This is rarely good news for anyone bringing a frivolous complaint.

   For example, a Guild Court may put an entrepreneur on trial for operating without a license – and, if convicted, sentence him or her to be fined, punished, or even enslaved (guild authority does not normally extend to executions, and may not extend to enslavement). However, a Robati or above may appeal to the local governor or whoever’s in charge of guilds – who may then uphold the sentence, alter it, or take the chance to restrain or punish an over-ambitious guild. A Citizen could appeal past the Governor if his or her family approved, taking the case to a relevant Senator. Given the risks of such cases, most persecutions in the empire stick with well-established precedents. After seven thousand years, the laws of the imperium are actually relatively reasonable – often harsh, unforgiving, and designed more to serve social stability than “Justice”, but reasonable. There are even some tolerably well-developed investigative procedures.

   In application, the laws and courts of the Imperium don’t recognize much in the way of exceptions. Ignorant? Drunk? Young? Stupid? That’s too bad. Being compelled by someone else isn’t an excuse either, but it is a factor in sentencing: if someone demonstratably was holding your children hostage, had you under a spell, or tricked you into doing something illegal, you’re still guilty – but you’ll probably get off with a far lesser punishment or a perhaps small fine for being stupid while the court will order the arrest and punishment of the genuinely responsible party. Children commonly get lesser punishments than adults as well – but a lot of things can be considered “crimes” for children which aren’t for adults. A child can (and usually will) be enslaved for persistent disobedience or being disruptive, an adult – or at least an adult not subject to legion discipline – will simply be banished from the relevant group.

   The Imperium holds that punishment should be as public as possible, both to shame the offender and to have the maximum possible impact on any confederates or others who might be considering similar misdeeds. Thus executions, slave-demotions and -markets, and other physical punishments are normally carried out in the city coliseums. Other punishments, such as fines, demotions, and banishments, are announced there.

   This of course, takes us to

   (5) The Games. Yes, there are games. However, the majority of events are non-lethal, ranging from things as mild as sponsored debates, music, poetry recitals, and historical tales (serving to both impress the audience with the mighty history of the Imperium and to educate the young) on through races and athletic events, and only then on up to actual punishments and bloodshed. Many youngsters appear in the coliseums several times each year to exhibit artworks, compete against other children, and generally show off. There’s something going on at the coliseums every day.

   Gladiatorial events are put on periodically, but require a good deal more finesse than they did in Rome. Atherian animals can have much more unpredictable and difficult-to-restrain abilities, and even fights between humans can be extremely hazardous to the audience when supernatural talents come into play. A highly-skilled gladiator may be a match for twenty ordinary guardsmen, while a Dernmarkian phase-cat, or Chelmian Archer Lizard may easily escape or endanger the audience. Most “gladiatorial” events in the Imperium involve free professionals giving exhibitions, and correspond more closely to boxing matches or professional wrestling events than to classical gladiatorial events – right down to the occasional nonlethal “challenges to all comers”, and even recruiting events with the more skilled legionaries showing off their training for the youngsters. There are occasional formal duels and even executions-by-combat – but such events are expensive and rare.

   Physical punishments, enslavements, slave auctions, and executions are always a show. While bidders can sometimes buy relatively minor offenders out of the executioner’s line as slaves, most of the time they are put to death in any of a wide variety of painful and creative ways – at times allowing bidders to determine how. This, along with the occasional unsavory or excessive event (such as the Linneaus Treason episode in 6540 when three families convicted of treason as a group were forced to watch their younger children being killed and eaten by animals, and then their adolescent offspring being tortured to death, before they were ritually transformed into eternally starving, tormented, undead, sealed into blocks of stone, and fitted deeply into the foundations) have given the Imperium a reputation for decadence among several of the neighboring domains. Fortunately, such events are far more the exception than the rule (both Senators involved were later executed themselves for corruption and the sentence of eternal torment was reduced to death – even if it did mean a lot of digging).

   6) The Imperium is OLD. Not just old in the “This has functioned well for a couple of centuries old”. It’s old like Agriculture, or the Domestication of Chickens. The roads, aqueducts, baths, coliseums, city walls, dams, irrigation systems, and other public works are well-established and maintained almost automatically. In fact, in most cases, they’re self-maintaining pieces of mystic architecture with secondary magical functions. The farming is well-organized, crop rotation is established, the fields are blessed and offerings are made to the fey on a regular schedule to increase the yields. The population density is high and concentrated around the cities. What wilderness areas remain are either not worth exploiting or are carefully managed, either as parks, lumber sources, or religious preserves.

   Similarly, the technology of the empire is about at its limits. There are excellent watermills, roads, aqueducts, arches, vaults, domes, and flying buttresses (allowing the Imperium to roof extensive areas even without mystic architecture), there is piping and water management, automatic floatation valves, distillation, powerful siege engines, windmills, bridges, dams, and good mining techniques. There are even basic pumps and steam engines (both curiosities rather than practical mechanisms due to the widespread use of Charms and Talismans for various jobs and to the shortage of fuel; what coal and metal exists is mostly needed for smiths and tools). Lighting is generally provided by magic, beeswax candles, and strips of pine with a minor spell on them to let them burn brightly for extended periods of time. Whether fortunately or unfortunately, “chemical” explosives will not function; due to the underlying dynamic-magical-flow physics of Atheria structural changes cannot propagate at such a rate. Magical equivalents exist, allowing the creation of items such as the Zakari Stormbow as Charms, and of versions which fire Scorching Rays as Talismans – but such devices are relatively rare. Better to learn a little magic of your own and use your charms and talismans for more practical things.

   On the subject of metal and mineral reserves, there are virtually no worthwhile mines or sources left in the Imperium – and even the better grades of stone are scarce. While trade always brings in enough currency metals to allow the mints to keep up with losses – especially given the use of Talismanic presses to turn out thin-yet-durable coins – in many places in the Imperium the easiest source for metals is the magical extraction of materials from old buildings and of lost tools from fields and the bottoms of rivers. Thus, of course, the constant temptation to invade Dernmarik, where they are somehow forever stumbling onto new mines and veins.

   While there were occasional incidents in the early Imperium of various forms of Undead attempting to hang onto seats in the Senate, or attempting to continue running businesses or families, long after their deaths, this is no longer permitted; such meddling by the dead was classified as a violation of the natural order, and banned, in 542. The occasional appearances of deceased Emperors in the Senate is still permitted – if only because they are commonly regarded as minor deities rather than spirits of the dead – but is a rarity in any case.

   The population is essentially stable: general prosperity, relatively low child mortality, easy and reliable contraceptive magic, and the tendency for excess, unsupervised, or poor children to wind up as slaves, have all combined to make having children something that Citizens do only when they’re ready – and many never are. The Robati have rather more children, but their children often wind up being sold as slaves – and slaves are relatively rarely permitted to reproduce.

   On the cultural front, the Imperium dominates much of the surrounding area.

  • The various noble courts of Dernmarik sometimes rebel to follow strange fashions imported from other worlds, but they usually follow the styles, literature, and customs of the Imperium the way that a remote European barony might follow the fashions of Paris, the plays of Shakespeare, and the pronouncements of Rome. Still, the people of Dernmarik are well aware that to fall into the fascination of the Imperium is to become – like the people of the borderlands under the sway of the Imperial Legions – second-class citizens in their own homes. The Imperium is best kept at a careful arms-length.
  • The Barbarians find the crowds, the wealth, the scale, and the complexity, of the Imperium both fascinating and – ultimately – incomprehensible. Perhaps sadly, since the products of the Imperium are in great demand in the Barbarian Lands, and they have little to export beyond the products of the forest and slaves, all too many Barbarians get to see the Imperium with slave collars around their necks.
  • The people of Chelm have a wild rainbow of reactions to the Imperium. They envy the power of it’s charms and talismans, its wealth, and its safety. They fear its legions. They pity it’s lack of understanding of the uses of Rekorathi and it’s citizens fear of death – and are disgusted by how it fails to ease the burden of the Goddess of Blood. They have little use for most of the culture of the Imperium, although they find its fine and durable products extremely useful. They are puzzled by the hatred and fear directed towards them.
  • While Kharidath is lost in its fanatical devotion to the distant past, the towns and oases near the Imperial side of the Mri Desert are firmly tied to the empire, to the point where they effectively have little or no culture of their own. They may, perhaps, have what we here in the 20’th century would describe as a faint “Arabian Nights” or “Byzantine” flavor to them, but there are few notable cultural differences other beyond a few styles and turns of phrase.

   There isn’t much easily-observable cultural feedback from the neighbors. While occasional compositions, bits of literature, original spells, and other cultural artifacts do drift back into the Imperium from the surrounding territories – especially the occasional dimensional import from Dernmarik and innovations in spices and cookery – for the most part the culture of the Imperium is twenty times older, incorporates far more people, and is immensely more stable. Other cultures tend to fit themselves around it as water flows around a rock – and with much the same result. The Imperium does change, and it does adopt new ideas, it’s just that it’s very slow to do so, and often has seen very similar ideas several times before.

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Alaria and Rome, Part One

   Due to some player requests, today it’s some additional information on the Alarian Imperium. It looks like most of the action is going to be set in its vicinity for some time, so the various institutions and social factors to be found there are likely to be important. 

   While the Alarian Imperium does resemble the Roman Empire in a variety of ways, there are some fundamental differences – and those are probably the easiest place to start talking about it.

   (1) The Imperium began as a defensive alliance, organized by one (now deified) man, rather than by conquering the neighbors. Carius Antonius, with control of the magic of the realm as an unmatched resource, simply bribed everyone else in into joining – offering health, wealth, peace, security, good weather, organization, magical conveniences, and the military superiority needed to beat off attacks from the neighbors in exchange for giving up some local autonomy.

   Still, despite this relatively peaceful beginning, the people of the Imperium are human, and they do tend to assault the neighbors at times.

  • The Imperium periodically seizes portions of the Barbarian Lands and usually maintains official control of a selection of roads and trading posts extending well into the territory. That’s partially for trade and defense purposes, partially because the Imperium finds the entire area impossibly disorganized, and – of course – partially for slaves and loot.
  • Officially the Imperium claims several hundred miles of the Trackless Forest and Parliament of Trees. In practice, there are a farms just across the border – and farmers who either walk back and forth if their farms are nearby or visit their wives periodically – and a few lonely outposts of slaves and opportunists working as loggers, charcoal burners, turpentine makers, paper makers, and miners (where any mines have not long since been worked out) deeper in the forest. Sadly, such outposts are periodically wiped out by vicious plants and animals.
  • The border with Chelm tends to be heavily guarded, but stable. It isn’t worth trying to hold Chelmian territory so – save for the occasional retaliatory raid – Chelm tends to be left alone save for the maintenance of a few roads and trade outposts which extend twenty or thirty miles past the border – and which also serve to funnel Chelmian attackers into the waiting border legions.
  • The Imperium officially claims a fair chunk of the Mri Desert, but – not unexpectedly – finds little there of worth. A few small oasis-towns do claim the formal benefits (being able to get troops sent to protect them from bandits) of being a part of the Imperium, but otherwise the area is simply patrolled to keep down the bandits and raiders.
  • Dernmarik (or whatever the place is calling itself these days) has been the principle focus of imperial attempts to expand for many centuries. It’s apparently perpetually-renewing mines and natural resources are a considerable temptation to a realm which has been exploiting the same mines, forests, and waters for seven thousand years. Unfortunately, while a fair chunk of the border reaches has traditionally accepted Imperial rule, attempts to push past that point keep running into great tracts of wilderness that appear and disappear – on some notorious occasions taking entire legions along – enemy reinforcements that appear from nowhere, assorted heroes, and other menaces.

   (2) There never was a “King” or a “Republic”. The position of Emperor carries a great deal of power – the Emperor controls the flow of magic throughout the land, can influence the spirits of the land, waters, and air within the domain of Order, functions as the head of the imperial religion, has limited veto powers as the First Speaker of the Senate, and invariably has major personal magical abilities – but he or she is closer to a chief executive than to an autocrat.

   (3) The Senate originally consisted of the assorted rulers of the various city-states that united under Carius – a collection of clan chiefs, plutocrats, hereditary nobles, elected rulers, powerful warriors, priests, and mages, guildmasters, and major landowners – all entitled “Sethari”, and mostly holding their offices for life or until they opt to retire. Carius later added “Magistrates” from a variety of popular Assemblys; basically directly-elected representatives of the population. Today, the Senate includes:

   The Sethari…

  • The Heads of the 43 great Gens (Clans) and their assistants. These are, of course, selected, and sometimes replaced by, the Gens according to their own traditions. The Gens were originally mostly regional, and usually still dominate a few of their original regions, but the members of the various Gens are scattered across the empire now.
  • A few of the wealthiest men in the Empire. Some senate seats are reserved for men of wealth – and it is possible for citizens to simply purchase a Senate seat from the Imperium. The seats reserved for the wealthiest men of the Imperium change with their fortunes, purchased seats are good for the life of the buyer.
  • A modest selection of Hereditary Sethari– the heirs of major nobles, ancient dictators, and similar figures from the time of Carius. In many cases these seats are now their holders sole remaining claim to power or influence.
  • The Silent Seatsare reserved for the heads of lost Gen, the heirs of lost noble bloodlines, and similar groups. They are normally unoccupied although, on rare occasions, the imperium-born child of an ambassador with the appropriate ancient connections has been allowed to occupy them. In theory, any deceased emperor may opt to occupy one of the Silent Seats at will, in practice this very rarely happens.
  • A selection of the major landowners. Unfortunately, while possessions outside of Alaria do count, their “value” is accounted to be only 10% of the worth of a similar property within the Imperium.
  • A selection of the most powerful mages and adventurers of the Imperium. Like the seats of the plutocrats and major landowners, the seats occupied by those with major personal powers are subject to change with the fortunes of their holders. Unlike the plutocrats and major landowners, this is relatively rare. Displacing someone who currently holds one of these seats is quite a project.
  • The Hierarchs of the major Priestly Orders (Including the speakers for the Fey and Gods). Some of these are elected by the priesthoods, some are chosen by the entities they serve, and some are simply the senior or highest-ranking priests of a particular order.

   …and The Magistrates:

  • The Representatives of the Outlying Provinces (If any): These may be elected if the area in question is sufficiently well organized, otherwise they are appointed from among likely prospects or Imperial Inspectors. Areas outside the order domain are normally unrepresented otherwise.
  • The Representatives of the Major Guilds, and the Assembleys (and any other recognized major political groupings). There are currently 62 recognized political groups, including particular areas, interests, and other citizen groups.
  • The Imperators who represent the Legions. Oddly enough, the Imperators are chosen by a direct vote of the legionnaires; they may or may not actually hold military rank.

   The senate controls taxation and the treasury, appoints ambassadors and legion commanders, regulates admission to itself (thus regulating the number of Magistrates and the official recognition of various groups), (very very rarely) grants full citizenship to someone without the full Order birthright, declares offensive wars (the Emperor or the Legion Commanders may declare defensive campaigns), and legislates. Unsurprisingly, quite a few functions are handled by committees and appointed officers.

   Each member of the Senate is permitted a modest number of personal bodyguards, enjoys immunity to a wide variety of taxes, obligations, and charges, draws a substantial salary, and can channel the magic of Order to large numbers of outsiders – including those who possess other birthrights, a privilege which extends to the immediate subordinates of the Senate (the Family Councils below the heads of the Gen, the Legion Commanders and appointed Generals, and to the Governors of cities and provinces).

   (4) The Legal System is a maze. Rather than being imposed from above based on the laws of a relatively small city, it’s been assembled from the laws of a hundred smaller domains and has been complicated by seven thousand years of precedents, rules, decisions, and regulations.

   In general, groups and areas tend to be responsible for their internal affairs within the larger framework of Imperial Law – which tends to concern itself with (1) trade, (2) major crimes, and (3) the organization of the Imperium. The Legions deal with military offenses, the priests deal with religious offenses, the rulers of cities with civic matters, and so on. There is an appeals system, but the number of available appeals is based on citizenship status.

  • The Sethari are the highest social stratum of the empire. Originally limited to sitting Senators, the Emperor, and his Family, the Sethari has expanded to include the immediate families of all sitting Senators and major officials appointed by the Senate, such as Governors and Legion Commanders. In theory, everyone of the Sethari rank is equal. In practice, the Emperor overshadows everyone, the status of Senators and the (slightly lesser) status of their Families varies with how secure their seat is, and the status of elected members, such as the Magistrates, takes an automatic hit. Membership in the Sethari requires an innate Order Birthright and carries the right to act as a Judge in cases falling under your jurisdiction, the right to appeal to the Emperor if accused of some crime against the empire, the authority to call on the services of various officials and the legions, immunity to a variety of taxes or being drafted into imperial service (even in emergencies), and immunity to a wide variety of local laws and regulations. Still, there are only a few thousand Sethari out of the nearly 24,000,000 in the Imperium as a whole – a negligible percentage for all their influence.
  • Citizens must have either a full Order Birthright OR a special vote of recognition from the Senate OR 30 years of loyal service in the Imperial Legions. Only Citizens and Sethari can be voted into Magisterial positions, manage businesses or own lands across more than one province, be placed in command of Imperial Legions, appeal legal decisions which go against them to their Senator, petition to form a new Assembly, have recognized marriage rights (marriages with the lower classes offer few rights), or study at the Imperial Academies (non-citizens may teach or serve there, depending on their special talents). They are exempt from forced service except during major emergencies, may freely sign up with the Imperial Legions, may make at least two appeals in legal cases – one on their own behalf and one if their Family thinks it worth it – and pay considerably less in the way of taxes and fees than the lower classes. In general, the offspring of Junior Sethari, Citizens, and Robati are automatically Citizens as long as they possess the Order Birthright an manage not to get into trouble (usually about 20%) or be sold as children (many are, especially among the Robati). Offspring with non-order Birthrights are Robati. In theory all Citizens are equal. In practice, they tend to be divided up by their level of wealth and influence. About 20% of the people of the Imperium are Citizens.
  • Robati are probationary citizens, and aren’t as limited a group as the Sethari and the Citizens. They include individuals with non-order birthrights and imperial patrons (such as most of the residents of the Imperium-dominated and -run borders with the Dimensional Magic domain), the recognized offspring of Slaves by Citizens (provided that they have Order Birthrights), freed slaves with Order Birthrights, and freed slaves with other Birthrights and Imperial Patrons. Robati may freely sign up for the Imperial Legions or enter Imperial Service, may appeal a legal decision which goes against them once, and may own lands or run businesses which extend across multiple cities within a province. About 35% of the people in the Imperium are Robati, mostly due to Citizens fooling about with Slaves and the border provinces.
  • Bondsmen include two basic groups – visiting aliens (including merchants and ambassadors from other realms) who are permitted into the Imperium under Bond for good behavior, residents with non-order Birthrights and no Patrons (such immigrants are generally hoping that their offspring will enter the Citizen class), those who’s births or positions are uncertain, and freed Slaves with no Patrons. Socially, they’re all in a similar position – under suspicion on general principles. Those who take up permanent residence in the Imperium are normally placed under the supervision of one of the Legions. Visitors are normally monitored by the bureaucracy and by the Legions (if necessary). In general, Bondsmen are relatively rare, making up only about 5% of the people of the Imperium – many of those make up the underclasses of the major cities or the unreported offspring of slaves and Robati from near the borders who – technically – should be slaves, and would be if they officially existed. Robati CAN sign up with the Imperial Legions given the permission of the local Legion Commander. They may also own lands, properties, and businesses, but only within the bounds of a single city or district.
  • Slaves make up about 40% of the population of the Imperium. They’re property, like any other piece of livestock. There are some laws against excessive cruelty, and against separating mothers from young children, and similar restrictions, although most of them (save for the general restrictions on selling slaves to Chelm) are simply adopted from restrictions the Fey imposed on the treatment of ordinary domestic animals. The Imperium has had quite a few slave uprisings, but generally has crushed (and severely punished) them with ease. Their masters ability to cut off the flow of order magic to them means that the Imperial side is invariably far better equipped, organized, and powerful – especially since slaves usually aren’t given advanced combat or magical training. Common sources for Slaves include the offspring of Slaves, kids who are sold as slaves by their parents or guardians (it is generally prohibited for a Citizen to sell his or her offspring into slavery unless they get the permission of a family head, but Robati and Bondsmen may usually do so freely), of Slaves and Robati, or of Slaves and Citizen or Sethari parents who don’t acknowledge their offspring (fathers often don’t, mothers almost always do), Dernmarik, the Barbarian Lands, petty criminals, and any children of citizens (or even Sethari) who prove overly disruptive. Slavery isn’t necessarily all that bad; most slaves can afford to use a charm or two of their own, live reasonably comfortably, accumulate funds and even own other slaves (although not land), and may even be able to buy themselves free given time. Slavery in the Empire is often more comfortable, and almost invariably more secure, than freedom outside it Individuals past early childhood who are demoted into slavery within the Empire are traditionally brutalized during the process (used as concubines and/or castrated if male, simply to drive it home that their bodies no longer belong to them), but Order-augmented charms can readily repair such injuries if their masters permit them to use them.

   Chelmians are not normally welcome in the Imperium, even as slaves.

Anime World Laws and the Anime Template

   The Anime Realms cover an immense stretch of territory – ranging from (reasonably) realistic historical realms on through the wildest reaches of fantasy and futuristic fantasy – but there are enough stylistic elements to unite the entire realm. In Eclipse: The Codex Persona (available as a free download HERE), just as in the Manifold setting, that usually means that there are a set of World Laws in operation.

   And here they are:

Anime World Laws

  1. Characters may take a move action using Jump, Acrobatics, or a similar physical skill once per round as a free action. If necessary, such skills may be combined with Tumble to avoid Attacks of Opportunity that would otherwise result from such movement.
  2. Minor details – hair and eye color, costumes, and similar items – are freely variable. As such, any attempts at disguise (no matter how thin) receive a +10 bonus and clothing, makeup, and hair can be damaged only by deliberate attacks on it.
  3. Characters may conceal their weapons about their persons from anything short of a full strip search, no matter how impracticable this appears, as long as they have any clothing left at all. Similarly, they never run out of ammunition and automatically gain the Anime Master feat, allowing them to wield weapons of one size category larger than normal.
  4. Everyone has +10 points of energy resistance to all forms of energy, although they will still be temporarily blackened, iced over, or electrically charged by appropriate energy attacks. This lets them wear their usual outfits regardless of how inappropriate they are for the local weather and makes blades and projectiles the most effective known weapons.
  5. Characters may use personal dexterity-based rolls, such as Acrobatics, Tumbling, Jumping, and Reflex Saves, on behalf of their vehicles.

   Now that we’ve dealt with the Mechanics, there are two Stylistic Laws of Anime as well:

  • Everything glows and/or explodes noisily, whether or not this is possible. Thus fatal wounds tend to glow, weapons charge up with energy and glow, massive explosions are heard in space, characters channeling energy glow, and stricken opponents blow up or disappear in a burst of light.
  • While other anime conventions include children often being much smarter than adults, extremely rapid healing, bandages counting as temporary hit points, death being either extremely fast or extremely drawn out (and filled with flashbacks and insights), and a certain flexibility about time, these are not particularly universal – and so such abilities must be purchased by the individual characters who wish to have them. 

The d20 Anime Template:

   Now, if we’re hauling Anime Characters out of their universes and want to keep those abilities, we’re going to want an Anime Template to apply. Ideally, to keep it at a nice, consistent, +1 ECL it should have a total value of 31 CP. So lets see what we can get.

  • Opportunist: May take a Move Action using Acrobatics, Jump, or Tumble once per round as a Free Action. This may be combined with Tumble to avoid Attacks of Opportunity (6 CP).
  • Anime Master: May use weapons one size category larger than usual (6 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment (6000 GP Value / 7 CP. All effects use-activated unlimited use at caster level one, personal only): Void Sheathe (Conceals Weapons, 700 GP), Mending (Fixes Hair, Clothing, Etc, 700 GP), Disguise Self (+10 bonus only, 1400 GP), Resist Energy (1400 GP), Fast Healing I (up to a limit of 20/level/day, 1400), and Prestidigitation (only provides glowing special effects, half cost, 350 GP).
  • Opportunist: The characters may make personal dexterity-based rolls, such as Acrobatics, Tumbling, Jumping, and Reflex Saves, on behalf of any vehicle he or she is piloting (6 CP).

Anime Identities:

   Now, for some Anime-World Identities. Interestingly, while most Identities are limited to a single world, or to a very limited group of closely-related worlds, Anime Identities tend to apply throughout the entire Anime Multiverse.

   Lingering Smoke tends to take on the role of Fire-On-The-Mountain, a young mystical monk of vaguely taoist persuasion, a tendency to “go with the flow” by meddling as whim takes him, and tremendous martial art skills. Fortunately, Fire-On-The-Mountains ability to induce a loss of recent memories with a focused nerve strike allows him to keep his reputation from spreading. As a level four identity, Fire-On-The-Mountain gains an extra 32 CP worth of abilities:

  • Enhanced Martial Arts: 1d20 base unarmed damage (increased from 1d12, 6 CP)
  • Double Damage vrs Inanimate Objects and Generic Thugs (6 CP)
  • Enhanced Strike/Focused (for a total of 2d20 +2d6 Force +10, 6 CP)
  • Enhanced Strike/ Hammer (Inflict maximum damage at +5 to hit with a single blow, 6 CP)
  • Trick/Amnesia Strike (Victims lose all memories of the last few hours, 6 CP)
  • +2 bonus to Jump (2 CP).

   As a Sidereal Exalted, Lingering Smoke has considerable experience with slipping into Identities – but has been taken somewhat aback by the Manifold’s tendency to simply drop you into them willy-nilly. Still, at least Fire-On-The-Mountain isn’t that far from his usual reality.

.

   Marty tends to fall into the role of Genin Tabard – a slightly “ninjafied” version of his usual Battling Businessman persona, with a darker-colored suit, slightly enhanced reflexes, and more skill in parrying attacks. As Genin Tabard he has a somewhat more ruthless streak than Marty, and is even more fixated on “contracts” – offers of which he seems to attract. As a level four identity, Genin Tabard provides 32 CP worth of abilities:

  • Reflex Training/Combat Reflexes Variant (+4 Attacks of Opportunity, 6 CP).
  • Improved Melee Block (DC 15 Reflex Save to block up to 60 points of damage. Unfortunately, this uses up an attack of opportunity. 12 CP).
  • Augmented Attack/+2d6 Sneak Attack (6 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment/7000 GP Value: All effects use-activated unlimited use at caster level one, personal only. +10 to Jump (1400 GP), +4 Shield bonus to AC (2000 GP), +6 Competence Bonus to all Dexterity-Related Checks (1400 GP), Scalywrath (may take lizard-man form, gaining +5 natural armor, 1d4 natural weapons, and a +4 bonus on Balance, Jump, and Swim checks, 1400 GP), and Message (700 GP). 8 CP).

   Marty is beginning to get used to the Manifold, and to the ability to adopt particular identities in it – however he still tends to default to various versions of his basic identity. While that somewhat limits the variety of abilities he gets to play with, it does have the virtue of keeping things familiar for him.

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   Kevin falls into the role of Arken of the Sands – an incredibly agile young mercenary swordsman with dark mystic powers which he usually winds up winds up wielding against far greater darknesses. Unfortunately, he tends to feel that if people don’t have either (a) the ability to protect themselves or (b) the resources to pay for such protection, then they’re obviously (c) – the property of whoever rescues them. He has no compunctions about saving a bunch of kids from demons, only to turn around and either ransom them to their parents or sell them on the local slave market. They’re better off aren’t they? Doesn’t that make him a good guy?

   As a level six identity, Arken provides 48 CP worth of abilities:

  • +6 Warcraft/BAB (specialized in Swords, 18 CP).
  • Improved Melee Block (may block up to 60 points of damage from an attack with a DC 15 melee save. This uses up an attack of opportunity, 12 CP)
  • Opportunist/can reflexively throw a transmutation spell on anyone in the immediate vicinity who’s just gone unconscious (6 CP). Arken usually throws a protective, or move-to-safety spell on allies or people they’re rescuing, and a stabilize-bind-and-ready-for-sale effect on enemies.
  • May do Stun Damage with Blades without penalty (add Strike to the Blade Expert martial art, 2 CP)
  • Add Vanishing to his Lightning Fist Martial Art (2 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment (5000 GP, 6 CP): +2 Resistance Bonus on Saves (1400 GP), +10 to Jump (1400 GP), and a +4 Shield bonus to AC (2000 GP).
  • Contacts: A local dealer in “dark” magical merchandise and a slave trader (2 CP).

   As an experienced wanderer of the Manifold, Kevin is mildly annoyed at just how strong the drag of the anime conventions are. There are a number of other identities he could try to slip into, and he could probably change things given enough time and effort – but every time he turns around in an anime universe he gets shunted back into being Arken. Not that it isn’t FUN to be Arken sometimes, but it’s a bit blatant.

Secrets of the Elders

   Have you ever noticed that, in Legend of the Five Rings, aging has no effect – and there is no requirement that a character ever actually die?

   OK, there aren’t any rules for children either – but apparently people remain hale and hearty (at least to judge by their undiminished Rings and Skills) until, it is vaguely assumed, they abruptly fall over dead at some undefined time. Obviously, aging must be voluntary – and if its voluntary, why do so many people do it? What secret techniques do the elderly gain?

   At last, the Secrets of the Elders can be revealed! Read now, and glory in, the secret knowledge of the “Courtier” SCHOOL OF SENILITY.

  • Trait Bonus: +1 Void
  • School Skills: Calligraphy, Ceremony, Courtier, Defense, Etiquette, Meditation, Storytelling, and Theology. Free choice of any two Lore skills and any two other skills.
  • Special: Any character may start taking ranks in the School of Senility at any time after reaching 40 without explanation. At 60 they may start trading in ranks in old schools for ranks in the School of Senility.

First Technique: Retiree

  • Hard of Hearing: The elder may ignore the effects of any social skill check by simply invoking the mystic mantra “Eh? What was that you said? (random sentence with a word or two which vaguely sounds like what was said)” or some variation thereof (Immunity/Social Effects, 10 Points).
  • Nearly Blind: You don’t have to see anything that you don’t want to, and thus lose no honor for “overlooking” any misbehavior or situation (Immunity/Honor Losses for overlooking things. 5 Points).
  • Querulous Demand: You may select a skill for which you may obtain Favors. (5 Points)

Second Technique: Respected Grandparent

  • You Don’t Get To Be My Age Without Becoming Very Good At Not Dying. You may increase the TN for all attacks or spells used against you by (Void x 5) at the cost of accepting a similar penalty to all other rolls except Defense. (15, -5/Limited Activities, net 10 Points).
  • Rambling Digression Prana: You may make a contested Void check against up to three targets in the immediate area. If you win, they are trapped listening to you tell some long and incoherent story of your childhood, looking at pictures of your grandchildren, or some similar digression, and may not move, attack, or take other actions unless violently disturbed for one minute, plus one minute per rank by which the user’s void exceeds theirs. While this occupies the user as well, he or she may continue to invoke the Rambling Digression Prana against any new targets who make the error of getting too close. Fortunately, an individual target may only be so pinned down once per hour by any single user (Contested Void Paralysis 10, -5 for occupying the user, +5 for extended duration. Net 10 points).

Third Technique: Doddering Old Fool

  • There’s No Cure For Old Age: The effects of this schools techniques cannot be negated, blocked, or otherwise taken away (5 Points).
  • Doddering Elder Technique: Anyone who attempts to attack you, or who lays violent hands upon you, loses honor points equal to your rank in addition to any other honor losses they would normally take for such an action (5 Points).
  • Senile Dementia: You may ramble on incoherently, saying anything you please to anyone you please, and no one will take offense. In addition, you lose no Honor for anything you say (Immunity/Giving Offense, 10 Points, plus Immunity/Honor loss for saying things, 5 Points. Unfortunately, due to your general incoherence, no one will take anything you say too seriously, -5 points. Net 10 points)

Fourth Technique: Withered Geezer

  • Moment of Clarity: Experience counts for something you young whippersnapper! During those rare moments when you focus on something properly, you may demonstrate all your old skill and insight. Gain a daily pool of (2x Void) Free Raises which may be used on any desired roll – but they must all be used on a single roll and you will lapse back into senility – unable to take any non-defensive actions on your own – for at least a minute (in combat) or an hour (out of combat) after completing the task in question. (15 Points – 5 Points – 5 Points, taken twice = 10 Points)
  • Imperious Demand: Your dementia now lets you see beyond the usual boundaries; you may select an additional four skills with which you can request Favors. Unfortunately, you must spend a Void point to invoke this privilege (10 Points, -5 for Void requirement, net 5 Points).
  • Practiced Reflexes: You have trained so long that your Kata have become ingrained: you may keep one of them active at all times, spending either the usual practice time or a void point to switch (5 Points).

Fifth Technique: Wizened Ancient

  • Obvious Harmlessness: So long as you carry no weapon and make no threatening moves, you are so obviously harmless that no one will pay attention to you, allowing you to pass where you will. At most, guards will gently steer you away from the most secure locations or keep your hands away from the most dangerous or important items. Sadly, you must either spend a Void point or spend at least fifteen minutes talking to yourself to activate this technique. In other ways it is generally similar to the Steal the Air Dragon Kiho (10 Points).
  • Blessings of the Patriarch / Matriarch: You have hordes of descendants, relatives, and connections through them. You may make a TN 20 Void check to call on a “floating” 2-point human ally once per session (10 Points).

   OK, so this is a bit tongue in cheek and stretches the rules a bit here and there – but no more than most schools. I can see some circumstances under which someone might actually want to start taking ranks in it. In heavily social games, it might even be seriously overpowered. It doesn’t have any real offensive potential, but it will let you get away with all kinds of things.

Federation-Apocalypse Campaign: Things To Do

   To help everyone keep track of what’s going on, here’s a list of the current projects in the Federation-Apocalypse Campaign. Hopefully we can get some of them checked off before we add too many more. If there’s anything I’ve left out, or your pet project isn’t on the personal project list, let me know and I’ll put it in.

   To Do Regularly: Check up on whether or not the groups magic weapons work locally, do a situation update with the House of Roses, do a situation update with Mr Leland, recruit new Thralls (both personally and via the Thralls themselves looking for new recruits), and monitor what the Thralls have found out (after all, there are currently Thralls working in quite a few places throughout the Core and the Manifold, and for many of the major factions).

   Ongoing Projects include their attempts to:

  • Gather information on, and attempt to keep an eye on, the Neanderthals, Merlin, Arthur, Arthur II and his Arrancar, the MIB and American Shadow Government, ATE, Spellweaver and the young Praetorian Wingate Girl, Arxus (who probably needs locating and rescuing), Vekxin (who seems to need locating and stopping), John Jack (who probably needs stopping), Dr Vu, Ryan, “M” and the House of Roses, the Hellstorm, the Singularites, Shayn, Darth Plageous, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Ourathan Robots, the Singular Robots, and the various other factions.
  • Get more information on and/or experiment with past life regression, the Silmarils, the power armor goons, contagious memes, the “disease and disaster” realms, the omnipresent Orcish and Italian Restaurants, the quasi-praetorian bodyguards, and that weird Kobold and Minotaur from the Underdark.
  • Visit: Rifts, Exalted, Anime Worlds, the World of Darkness, Faerie, a Zombie World, Pirates of the Carribean, a historical Robber-Baron world, Classic Star Wars, and – possibly – Benedict’s world and Greenweld again.
  • Minor things to do or keep an eye out for: odd gatherings of magical power for local uses, locate the kids from Core and Hogwarts in the Underdark, gather information on Spellweaver and the young Wingate Praetorian, pick up the Ebon Hawk, go through the Sith and Jedi Lore from the Tomb Archive system, deal with the Priestesses of Lloth, check on Hutchins, find out about the House of Roses backup team, and make SURE that the Russian AI in Singular was really destroyed.

Personal Projects include:

  • Kevin: Visit the various worlds he has Identities in (Dragonworlds, Rome, English Fantasy Zone / Hogwarts, Etc), since all of his identities have things to look after. Pick up an abandoned Core colony world as a personal base. Change some core earth laws about slavery – or at least tweak their interpretation. Recruit at Hogwarts (especially the next Slytherin class), place some Thralls with McAndrew, deal with any investigating parents of Thralls, and get his Thrall-contracts past Queen Elizabeth.
  • Marty: Expand his business branches (Core New York City, Baelaria, Forgotten Realms, Etc), bring in additional staff from Battling Business World, and kick his bosses butt without serious retribution.
  • Jarvian: Find mechs and pilots for an attempt to defeat the clans and take over a house, acquire at least a limited version of the praetorian technology, upgrade the Battletech realm’s battlemech technology to something reasonable, get into mecha manufacturing, fight some major battles, and spend more time in the Battletech universe.
  • Smoke: Smoke wants to locate his home universe, but has otherwise been pretty quiet about his personal goals and motives, at least so far.
  • Raphial: Analyze and generalize the Singular praetorian and nanite technologies and develop versions of those and his other devices which merge magic and technology so that they will work across the entire Manifold – or at least the vast majority of it. He also wants to expand and aid the New Imperium, to make sure that his employers recieve full value for the resources they are providing (a matter of integrity), and to both develop, and receive proper recognition for, his impressive technological skills.

Federation Apocalypse Session 27 Log: Fire Rhapsody

   Unsurprisingly, an open block victory party with free food and drink (even if nothing stronger than small beer) in a city that had been under siege and short of food got rather large. Kevin and the Thralls did a lot of recruiting, as well as crowd-control and food-providing. It went pretty well once word got around that they’d been the ones who took out the Minister; Kevin got 38 new Thralls and Marty got lots of local employees.

   It looked like it really was a victory party: there were still a few mages holding out here and there in the remnants of their strongholds – and one spot that might have been a secret base, since it didn’t line up with any known stronghold – but they didn’t seem to be anything the locals couldn’t handle. After all, the mages major power sources – the secondary wells and the Sunwell – had been pretty throughly drained for the next month or two.

   The reports on the ministry’s records and “Experiments” weren’t as good. The records almost all involved purely local concerns, there were only about a dozen people who’d been caught and not yet experimented on, and the experiments mostly fell into three groups:

  • Roughly 30% were severely mentally or physically crippled, some fixably, some not. Kevin had the golems offer enthrallment to the few youngsters in that group who could comprehend the choice (that would fix anything for those who were eligible) – but most of them refused: they’d had enough magical tinkering.
  • Nearly 60% were simply gone: body still functioning, but soul long departed. Nothing to do there but turn off what was left.
  • About 10% were having issues controlling their power, but their training (or execution) could probably be handled locally.

   The military was mopping up the constructs and monstrosities – and there didn’t seem to be any big reserve of souls hidden away: some had returned to their bodies, some seemed to have passed on, some had apparently been poked at magically until they’d “dissipated” (Kevin was pretty sure that “dissipated” meant “given up and gone elsewhere”; not even the greatest powers of the abyss could actually destroy a soul or hold one which had truly given up on a particular incarnation), and others had been handed over to Merlin. The mages had been experimenting with soul-magic – trying to create Arrancar (with little success), watching the effects of psychic energy sources and sinks created by souls and the remnants left behind when souls were stolen, trying to artificially modify souls, and trying to reverse-engineer souls in an attempt to create more.

   Now that was just sick and stupid.

   So: they’d been working with too-friendly weird extradimensional mages of unknown motives, creating huge magical power pools, tampering with souls, creating uncontrolled, ever-growing, magical and psychic nexi, trying to take over running the world, making golem armies, creating hordes of poorly-controlled and ever-growing monstrosities – was there any invariably-disastrous magical experiment or project in the universe which these people had NOT been trying? While they hadn’t INTENTIONALLY been experimenting with lowering the base energy level of the realm to another stabilization point draining the base energy level into artificial nexi could have easily had the same effect; magic wasn’t necessarily governed by entropy.

   That pretty much confirmed guidance from a malevolent outside force anyway, there was just no way that they could stumble on THAT many suicidal experimental paths all at once by themselves.

   Chief Battlemage Kelsier from the Southern Defense Force showed up about them; he was looking for Jarvian’s companions.

   He got a sandwich and – since the military was fairly in the dark about what had been going on – a rather lengthy explanation (clearly divided into known facts, probable facts, strong and weak theories, inferences, and speculations thanks to Kevin’s core education), the information that the group hadn’t approved and had decided to intervene, and a reference to the House of Roses – who had asked them to look into what was going on in Baelaria because their information said the Mages Guild was dabbling in some very nasty stuff. The group also recommended that the military talk with the local underworld: they seemed to be about the most functional government currently available.

   Kelsier didn’t like his world being used (or having to be bailed out by outsiders) – but offered his thanks on behalf of the Republic of Baeleria. He also felt that it might be a good idea to get the diplomats in touch with the House and provided some rings which would mark the group as Allies of the Baelarian Military.

   A mob representative turned up about then: the group confirmed that they’d accounted for all but one mage, who’d appeared to be an operative for Merlin, and gave him the lengthy explanation. He noted that Taraq felt that he owed them a major favor and headed off to talk to Kelsier. Kevin assigned them each a Thrall to help with the communications and manifold transport. To keep things peaceful, he also left one with the Alchemists, one with the Independent Mages, and one with the Government.

   Meanwhile, Marty spent some time checking the potential markets, organizing his new local employees, and checking on the import/export business they’d been setting up with Faerun. It seemed that the Thralls on that route were having issues with opening the route through the realm of Castle, and needed more weaponry – preferably firearms. There was a giant hive mind which called itself the ruler of the entire realm, was blocking the path, and wanted to eat them – but technological weapons had proven effective and gunpowder explosions seemed to disrupt the local magic for some reason.

   Well, basic firearms were easy enough to come by; a modest shipment should cover that handily.

   Back on Earth, the Thrall Kevin had left with the House of Roses for communications, testing, and evaluation was being treated quite decently; M had been supervising things personally. The House had been giving him performance tests and putting him through a few simulation trials, and he’d been performing admirably. The House would definitely like Kevin to send along a few more.

   That was a pretty good sign of approval. Kevin’s impression of the House wasn’t nearly hypocritical enough for them to be saying “these children have been horribly damned already so we might as well use them and employ the demon who’s doing it to get more into that situation as long as WE’RE not responsible”.

   Lets see… He’d just gotten 38 Thralls. Assign 5 to the local power-groups, 3 to open an office in Londinium, 4 to open and staff offices in Core Earth London, 4 to Jarvian, 4 to the House of Roses, 4 to McAndrew, 2 to the Singularites, Marty needed 2 to run offices in Waterdeep at the other end of the trade route, so that left 10.

   They opted not to try and send any more to the Commonwealth. Merlin seemed to already know more about both the party and the Thralls than Kevin would like. (A thin excuse since he was planning to go semi-public with the details and his sales pitch soon, but Kevin didn’t want the Thralls being at risk of worse than death if he could avoid it). The one thrall already working there was probably safe enough as long as he stuck to the entry-level stuff and didn’t attract attention. After all, at worst, they’d probably just filter his information and assignments even if they spotted him as a spy: the thralls were too useful to simply discard.

   They decided to wait on assigning a few to Anakin Skywalker too, at least until they actually met the man. He might take it wrong and he was against slavery anyway.

   The remaining 10 could wait for long-term assignments. Kevin had some errands for them to run anyway.

   The House would be digesting information from Baelaria for a bit. Marty sent a report to Mr Leland – and Kevin sent the Thralls out looking for gates. He’d spent ENOUGH mana for a while on Baelaria already – and it was SO conspicuous. Now, if they could find a gate to Solaris or any of the battletech worlds (How big could the place be anyway?) They could easily hit Core Earth – and from there he could hit the Dragonworlds, the Roman Imperium, and check on the situation in the Underdark.

   Londinium had four gates. Baelaria was a bloody SWISS CHEESE. One in a poor district that probably led to another Victorian or “Gilded Age” realm, one to a battle realm, the one in the guild headquarters to Singular, and one deep underground which could lead damn near anywhere. Practically everyplace had underground areas. Marty was curious, so they took the Londinium Underground.

   It did indeed go lots of places. It was a doorway into a gate network. Baelaria was labeled “Firesong” in Thai, the others were labeled in various languages. They took one labeled “Future Samurai” in French – passing up “Five Worlds”, written in English, “Ring War”, written in Tolkein Elven, and “We Made It”, written in Kzinti. The group – including The Mirage – voted for “Future Samurai”

   It turned out to be a french dub of “Samurai Jack”. It opened into a bar filled with shady looking aliens/robots/mutants and other horrors beyond comprehension. They all turned to look – and them went back to what they were doing.

   Kevin did a little linguistic transmutation. Marty ordered a vodka martini, Jarvian ordered wings, the Mirage ordered liquid helium III (but had to settle for heavy water), and Kevin and the Thralls ordered sodas, burgers, and fries. Checking the databases, it looked like the local things to do were cause trouble for Aku, help him out, hunt for Samurai Jack, get involved in some random heroics, or learn to “jump good”(?). Marty flipped a coin and voted for causing trouble for Aku – at about which point a large body came looming up behind Kevin:

   “You got a lot of nerve ordering a burger around here boy!”

   Kevin didn’t even bother to look around… “Why? Did you sell your kids for meat? I could understand that if they took after you of course”

   “Very funny! I don’t like it when your kind eats beef thinking you’re better than us Minotaurs. I makes me want to put you puny monkeys in your place.”

   It was a herd of five minotaurs, apparently equipped with switchblade battleaxes.

   Marty noted that “Hey, I’m not a monkey. I just act like one when I’m drunk. At least that’s what my ex-wife says.” – and chugged down his martini before the inevitable bar brawl began.

   Kevin asked if they had families. They apparently had entire herds of cows and kids. Good. If they were going to interrupt his lunch, they’d best have enough assets to pay for it.

   Marty wanted some steak, Kevin voted to establish “Cruelty to Minotaurs day”, Jarvian made remarks about Oxen, and even the Mirage wanted in: it had never gotten to beat up a futuristic mythological greek monster before.

   There was leaping, acrobatics, mighty swordblows, weapons fire, and many explosions. The Minotaurs exploded (like the CHAIRS?!?) when mortally wounded. Apparently they chewed “Nitrocud” because it gave them strength and power.

   OK, NOW Kevin felt superior. How could they possibly be that dumb? Injuries could be treated, exploding was kind of permanent! He voted that they find the herds and round them up for sale; if the adults were this dumb, the kids ought to class as livestock (Marty made some remarks about Veal).

   They left the battle in full swing – and Jarvian and the Mirage enjoying themselves vastly – and went to look up the herd. The barman had said they kept them in the stables just outside of town.

   Meanwhile some of Kevin’s new Thralls were running errands. There were several abandoned and out-of-contact worlds they could easily reach; one where the supernova shockwave was coming in three months, one where the colony had been abandoned, and a third that had been about to be overrun by the Ouratha. A couple of them – one pretending to be a canine-derived creature – used the one with the upcoming supernova shockwave to test the computers definitions of “human” and “property”.

   It looked like – as long as it accepted being property and was apparently animal-derived – the system simply treated it as an animal. The computers didn’t even consider obedience programming, near-human anthro forms, OR shapeshifting, but balked when confronted with full physical human form. That was weird: the uplifted species had a fair set of rights, obedience-programming (if not shapeshifting) had been around for quite a while – and nearly 25% of the population had at least minor anthro characteristics due to genegrafting. The computers couldn’t possibly be this dumb… Wait: this meant that the system had to be deferring to humans somehow – a survey or a committee or something – when judging complex social interactions. Since there was no one here to check with they were getting default – stupid – responses. Still, as long as they didn’t protest, it looked like animal-derived Anthros were simply property. Kevin could simply put Thralls into anthro forms and block shifts to full-human if he needed some property in core.

   Kevin had both of the Thralls who’d been testing head over to the Roman Imperium for a pleasure-vacation after he got their report. After all, the one had had to put up with being treated like a dog for a couple of weeks of testing.

   Checking the acceptability of his contract and sales spiel was easier: all it took was having a thrall “drop by” and ask about this offer he’d found “out in the manifold”.

   The computers apparently found the contract quite legal and acceptable – in fact, apparently very very good as far as such things went – although it did need valid consent: BOTH the computers AND their parents in agreement for small children, adolescents if both they and EITHER their parents or the computers approved, and adults (if Kevin was recruiting any) without anyone else’s approval.

   Interestingly, the computers didn’t have any major objections other than advising the boy to make very sure that this wasn’t a demon tricking him, and giving him a long lecture on how this kind of contract could affect him for many years to come, and how it wasn’t always best to make major life decisions at a young age.

   That wasn’t bad – although what Kevin really wanted was for the computers to evaluate it, find it to be a genuinely good deal – hopefully the best that was at all readily available – and start recommending it (preferably for everyone, but at least for kids who were in danger otherwise or who wanted to go adventuring in the manifold). That was why he was doing his best to make the package as good as it could possibly be, stressed the “resurrection insurance” part, and was taking a rather low price: he was after volume and repeat business with future generations.

   Still, it looked like the only ways to get around the “demon” warnings would either be to wait while the computers accumulated data or to convincing some of the major core organizations that the computers relied on for judgement calls that he wasn’t malevolent so that they’d vouch for him. Back to convincing people – and to distributing thralls to organizations.

The Order of Arelm

   First up for today, it’s another bit of background for the Atheria campign: The Order of Arelm, a group that takes care of those children who are, for one reason or another, born with a Chelmian Birthright of Blood or Shadow Magic rather than the Imperial Birthright of Order Magic. Since the player characters are currently working on and around the border, and have a soft spot for kids, they may be bumping into the Order on and off.

.

   The Order of Arelm was established during the reign of Carius Augustus, the first Emperor of Alaria – although it has been reorganized several times since then and there has never been a lot of agreement on its methodology.

   The problem confronting Augustus was simple: there were children with Chelmian birthrights who still had some claim on the Imperium. Some were fathered by legionaries, some were the offspring of kidnaped and rescued women, and others the children of citizens who were in Chelm at the moment of birth – whether due to accident, out of ignorance of the boundaries, or because the domain borders of Chelm had shifted shortly before their child was born. That happened, and happens, occasionally; the domain border with Chelm was, and is, wildly unstable compared to most domain borders. It can fluctuate by up to a dozen miles for hours or days at a time. That’s pretty rare, but it happens in limited areas at least once or twice a year.

   Yet the Imperium could not afford to give up the borders – and a certain percentage of its citizens would always be drawn to the profits to be found on the borders of Chelm.

   Still, the Chelmian Birthrights were too disruptive to simply allow in the empire. The population feared and distrusted their bearers – whether they were children or not – and their parents often wanted nothing to do with them. Almost as importantly, without an imperial patron children with any other birthright but that of Order would never be able to fully participate in the society of the Imperium.

   Ergo, he established the Order of Arelm

   The Order’s duty is simple enough. They take in unwanted children with Chelmian Birthrights and a claim on the imperium (and sometimes, depending on the generosity of whoever’s in charge at the moment, simply those with Chelmian Birthrights and nowhere else to go) and raise and discipline them. If such a child reaches adulthood without having been enslaved for some offence (a fate for which they are even more at risk than most children in the empire), having opted to accept being purchased by an honorable citizen from the interior of the Imperium, or having accepted an offer of patronage from some high-ranking imperial citizen (an incredible stroke of good fortune), they will be offered some choices. 

   They may

  • Emigrate to Chelm
  • Become bondsmen under the supervision of the border legion
  • Be enslaved and sold to anyone in the Imperium who is willing to take them on, or
  • Be given a clean death.

   There have been times when other options were available – such as being exiled to the Mri Desert for “purification” or being cursed with a compulsion to stay away from the Imperium and being exiled to the Parliament of Trees – but such options depend on the current abilities and directives of the order.

   How they’re treated while they’re growing up depends on how the Order currently sees the Chelmian Birthrights. At times the powers of Blood and Shadow have been seen as inherently evil, and the children as – rather literally – little demons. At other times they have been seen as natural enough, but easily abused. Most often, as they are now, their talents are seen as an affliction to be suppressed – and for them to be taught to be ashamed of.

   In any case, their lack of access to Order magic is almost invariably seen as a disability which classifies them as, at best, a bit subhuman.

   Unfortunately, in practical terms:

  • Their chances of being offered imperial patronage are negligible; only a high-ranking patron can channel Order magic to anyone who’s not a native of the domain, and such individuals are rarely found anywhere near the border, much less dealing with the Order of Arelm.
  • Virtually no one in the empire wants to take a chance on a slave with a Chelmian Birthright. Most of the few who claim that they will are in fact simply out to resell them in Chelm for sacrifice. For what it’s worth, the Order tries to avoid letting this happen; even if the current directors feel no pity at all, they know that each sacrifice strengthens Chelm.
  • Emigrating to Chelm usually means being sacrificed. There have been occasional attempts to set the kids up as a friendly tribe, but such tribes usually either get wiped out or become insular and refuse to accept more kids after a generation or two.
  • Becoming a bondsman with a Chelmian Birthright in the service of a legion which spends its time fighting Chelmians is throughly unappealing.
  • So is death.

   That leaves:

  • Becoming (or remaining) a slave in the service of the Order – if they need one.
  • Being taken on as a slave by some borderer who doesn’t want to pay the price for an imperial youngster, and
  • Being purchased by a trader who thinks a batch of cheap slaves is worth taking to Dernmarik – and who hopefully isn’t just out to resell them in Chelm. This is rare, such an individual only comes along – on the average – once every fifteen or twenty years.

   Mostly the kids try to cultivate a relationship with some borderer and/or a Chelmian tribe, make themselves useful to the Order, and hope desperately that someone from the interior of the Empire might want one or more of them. Occasionally someone even wants one of them as something other than a slave. It happens often enough to keep them hoping.

   The members of the Order may be sympathetic, but they also know their jobs. Carius Augustus was a decent man: there have been quite a few emperors who would have simply ordered the kids killed if Carius hadn’t already given instructions on the subject.

   Discounting the two slaveboys that Fauve just purchased, there are currently 117 children, ranging from a few months old to nearly 16 (and adult), and 28 young-adult slaves, in the custody of the Order. They’re distributed between the Orders six chapterhouses (there is a house associated with each of the six legions assigned to the border with Chelm).