Tuesday, January 27, 2015

23 Things About Masks of the Empire (Part Two)

This is second half of my entry for this month's RPG Blog Carnival, "A New Year, A New World." You can see the first half here. For a new collaboratively built campaign arc, I drafted a "player-facing" set of information. I tried to mix a clear statement of goals, hints at secrets, and suggestions about the nature of the world. 

I used to be one of those dudes who wrote up mammoth gazetteers, crafted extensive histories, and developed lengthy background essays. I'm talking about objective, third person pieces. I've got a ton of that I haven't dropped on the blog, even when I couldn't come up with anything for a post. What shifted my thinking- and I'm sure most of you already had some form of this revelation but it was "bolt from the blue" for me- was my wife's head shaking. We'd just put together a website for my fantasy world. This would be about '98. I'd started to go back and rewrite certain entries and bemoaned the work I had to do to flesh out obscure corners of the wold.

"Don't do that." Sherri said. "You're writing all this stuff that maybe your players will read. But it doesn't hit the table. Write stuff for the table."

I'm consolidating the conversation and leaving out the part where I desperately clutched my print-outs to my chest. But she was right. I'd focused in the wrong area to get the result I wanted. Info dumps didn't make for interesting play in my games. I needed to approach things with the idea that we needed to actually connect with them. There's phrase we started to use, "Don't paint where you can't see." We paint miniatures and I do them to table standard, not display standard. If you pick them up, you can see the rough bits, the undersides where I rushed things, the tricks I've used to conceal. But they look good on the table. 

Mind you, changing my approach in practice took more years than I care to consider. 


12. Travel in the Empire: Perhaps the single most important invention keeping the Empire running on a smooth course is the Dulcet Crystal Interval Gate. Through it, officials, citizens, and merchants can travel over vast distances in a matter of moments. For governors and military officials control and maintenance of these gates represents a central concern.

The gates function by drawing on harmonic ties of the elements. They require elaborate sympathies be established in order to function. In practice, this means that twelve main branches radiate out from the capitol, roughly corresponding to the hours. Any particular gate ties to one of the branches, and to move from one to another requires travel to a junction where the lines move perpendicular to the main branches. While it is possible to move to the central hub and then further from there, the Empire reserves that traffic for the most important figures to reduce risk and overflow.

Any gate can transport someone to another gate on that branch, distance is irrelevant. Weight and size have a greater impact however. A lesser gate can transport perhaps ten men with gear, while a greater gate can move two or three times that. The larger the material transported, the longer the time for the gate to recharge—taxed fully and on a strong sympathetic line, a gate might take a few hours to recharge. For weaker and further out lines, it might take days. Gates require a skilled operator to activate them. At one time, the Empire held the secrets of this process closely, but over time, it has spread out and those with the inclination and resources can learn the procedure.

13. Rulership in Palatine: Before the raising of the barrier, Pelatine possessed several important sources of authority. You may wish to seek out and discover if these remain intact or if they’ve been destroyed. The Empire of Hours recognized and supported the Crown of Sibilance, which designates rulership over the Dominion. At the time of separation, King Mindos of the House of Wisegrain sat upon the throne. His family had held that position for three generation, following the extinguishing of the previous line in the Shadow Sea War. Three other noble houses held significant positions and controlled regions: Allblood, Mightscrye, and Zeckt. They were respected and may offer potential contacts or support. Consider also that the many faiths of the region organized under an Arch-Pontiff, at last record Croet of Bronze. They catalogued, recognized, and officiated divine ceremonies from the Grand Cathedral at Inque. Other groups, such as the Dwarves and the Tangled submit to the authority of the Crown of Sibilance (and therefore the Empire), but also maintain their own rights and laws.

14. Of the Interval Gates: A gate has four major parts: the base, the frame, the pallet and the crystal. The frame is made up of four arching sleeves of metal, aligned to the hours. Connected to the base, they meet at the top, creating a metal sphere. The pallet is a round bottomed metal stand within the gate. Since the gates transport all things within a gate, the pallets have to be of standard size—given that they exchange position with other gates during transport. Over time, the wear of foot traffic and the clipping of the inconstant field effect means that the pallet must be replaced.

The most important portion of the gate is the crystal, which resonates and creates the transport effect. Each one must be carefully synchronized and lined up with the best point of sympathy in an area. This can create grave problems at times. For instance, the gate at Hardaru is nearly two hundred feet off the ground. A great structure, built with special materials so as to not interfere with the signal had to be constructed. Enormous stairs lead down off from that gate. The crystal is placed into the Void at the center of the gate, removing it from human sight and touch. Once placed, any movement of it will destroy the crystal—a dangerous thing to do if the harmonics have built up within it.

Setting up a gate requires specialized survey using devices held closely by the Empire. Forerunners in the furthest lands look for new possible points to set up gates, but must be careful. Aside from the destruction of a gate and the time needed to recharge one, there is no way to seal a gate. Since they generally must be built without too much material surrounding them, an enclosure is impractical.

Generally citizens are permitted to use the gates, but must obtain a statement of permission. The gates are not used for commerce transport—but merchants often arrange to travel by them to make deals in distant lands. After that they fall back to the common system of the Grand Imperial Riverways and the roads.

15. A Minor Request: If the opportunity presents itself, Lady Redgod, High Keeper of Sands, has requested that you check on the current state of Ivorybranch, one of the great fortresses of Pelatine. Her great-grandfather aided in the lifting of a siege there and spoke of the great beauty of its construction, chambered and delicate, akin to a sea shell. Pelatine possesses several important castles and fortifications. We can assume that should they still be standing they will be of strategic importance.

16. Mythical Oceans and Waters: The poet Ithegra traveled through Pelatine to the far west and saw the ocean. His notes upon it spawned generations of pilgrims who tried to follow his path and find those great waters. Most vanished in the travels, lost to bandits, the Hezakhan, and other trials. Some believe his words about the exposed ocean to be a fantasy. Seas exist below ground, with rivers and streams connecting to them. These surface formations are like veins of the lifeblood which runs beneath the surface. They point to the heroism of the aquatic explorers who have made contact with the deep pool peoples and travels via the submerged caverns and tunnels through which rivers run from Dominion to Dominion.

17. Beware Rumors: You will note that we have avoided the question of how the barrier arose around Pelatine. We still do not know what caused this. It is of more concern to us that the Dominion is secured, reassured, and explored. Eventually we will need our agents to turn their attentions to the causes and preventing this from happening again. As a note, you may have heard rumors surrounding the person of Lord Myso, uncle to the Empress and the suggestion that he may have been involved with the raising of the barrier. These rumors should be discouraged. They represent old bad blood between Myso and the House of Kalikos.

18. The Unsleeping: While many focus on the importance of Pelatine as a pathway to the Western lands, others within Imperial authority worry about the Unsleeping. This Dominion possessed a large number of these intelligent magical machines- ranging from human-sized laborers to massive constructions like the Verdant Walkers, travelling gardens which range across the land. As you know the Unsleeping come from The Time Before and as such remain precious. They’re highly resilient, but untended can be lost to the environment and suffer minor breakdowns. The presence of the Argent Gnomes gives us some hope that many of the Unsleeping remain intact. They number among the few peoples with skill in repairing these machines. On the other hand, the Gnomes are known to scavenge and rework the Unsleeping if they have the opportunity. This is contrary to the Empress’ express edicts.

19. Other Orders: Besides the Masks, there are two other orders who also defend the Empire and are marked by devices. The Fists of the Empire represent the military side of the Empire. These are the leaders, strategists and planners for military operations. Each Fist bears a unique gauntlet inscribed with a singular aspect representing the bearer. The exact number of Fists varies from time to time, but estimates suggest there are about 3,000 at any moment. Each gauntlet shares several key powers, including a superb sense of the disposition of forces, as well as talents unique to each. When a gauntlet is destroyed, the bearer dies and vice versa. Usually killing the bearer is significantly easier than destroying the artifact. The destruction of a gauntlet allows the forges in the capitol to make a new one, imbued with some of that essence. Though the exact nature remains unclear, it is said that this pool of energy is the limiting factor in the number of gauntlets existing at any one time.

On the other hand the Torcs of the Empire differ from the Fists and Masks of the Empire in possessing three internal divisions. Like the others, the Torcs possess singular items representing their rank and role, in this case a band around the neck. The design of the torcs among the three divisions is uniform, unlike the variety of designs found elsewhere. The three divisions of the Torcs are the Senate of the Hours, the Accountants of the Minutes, and the Keepers of the Seconds. The Senate and Accountants voluntarily take up their devices and can remove them. Both serve at Center, rather than ranging out. On the other hand, the Keepers are the senior functionaries, operatives and agents tied to the maintenance and management of Imperial affairs outside the capitol. Torcs of the Keepers are closed and cannot be taken off. While somewhat resilient to harm, these torcs can be broken, requiring the Keeper to return to present themselves for assessment.

These torcs possess three properties-- first, they carry a sigil used to mark messages and to denote authority for reports. Second, it allows Keepers to communicate privately at a distance with a Senator (or the Empress) if they are called upon. Lastly, a Keeper can, with a verbal command, create a recording of an interaction. The duration of this recording depends on if it is purely auditory or includes visual information. Keepers can only keep one recording in a torc at a time, but any recordings made are also stored at Center.

20. Consider the Spirits: Remember that as important as the physical bodies are within Pelatine, the Spirits must also be considered. The forces exert a powerful influence. We can arm you withz an index of the writs, names, and roles of the most potent of these, but they will likely avail you little. In the eight decades of isolation those contracts will have fallen away and the spirits themselves will have transformed in the release from those bindings. The locals will undoubtedly have reshaped them through new agreements.

I hesitate to mention this, but another matter concerns us regarding spirits, in particular the souls of the departed. As you know when we die, our spirits sink into the depths of the Spirit Realm. It is a deep sea into which we sink as time passes eventually becoming washed clean and changed before swimming on to the next realm chosen by the gods. In that time of sinking, trained Priests and skilled Wizards can contact the spirit, communing, questioning or even summoning it. While the barrier was up, many attempted to swim through the spirit depths to reach the souls there, but none succeeded. This is a vexing question…where did they go?

21. Sealing the Pass: Warden Tyrtyra holds control of the pass at Kytessa. He has been instructed not to allow any traffic through in either direction without Imperial Sign of Signet. You will be given marks for passage, as well as additional markers you may distribute to important persons or agents of your choosing.

22. Lost Masks: Reports differ, but there may be as many as five Masks present in Pelatine at the time of the sealing. The nature of their work and the privacy of the orders makes it difficult to say. The only known message to have escaped from the barrier came from a Mask known as Andralla Ta. Decades after the closing, she managed to pass on a report. However the Empress sealed away that away after reviewing the substance of it. Rumors exist, but Agents should not be concerned with those. Any surviving bearers might be a great asset. Should you encounter Andralla Ta, for example, it might be best to send word back to Center before engaging with her.

23. A Last Word: Be aware of the importance of this mission. The hands meet across the Clocks of Prophecy. Depending on how you measure the dates, we enter into a period of divine change- a switch between states. To the Far East, the Tenebraeum has been ringing bells and sounding clarions across the Burnings. It calls the last of the Untrue to come forth. In the South, the ice has begun to move and shift. Sections have swallowed dominions at the edges, yet we’ve also heard of what has been revealed- old things of old ages buried away with reason. In the North, some speak of an accord reached between the Hundreds and the Shouting Ones. If that is the case, then we will have to turn our attentions to those bastions. The West must remain secure. The Empire can ill-afford another front. 

23 Things About Masks of the Empire (Part One)