The Dragon-Blooded

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Ex3: What Fire Has Wrought – The Dragon-Blooded

This was what got me back into Exalted. This book. I love the Dragon-Bloods. Yes, the Realm is an awful hegemonic imperialist superpower. But that doesn’t mean that Dragon-Bloods aren’t heroes. They are, and their heroism is born of the elements and their cooperation with each other. Where Solars are singular powers that need no aid, Dragon-Blooded are always stronger together, supporting each other and helping each other. They descend from the blood of the Elemental Dragons, but have spread throughout the entirety of Creation since ancient times. They are the dominant power of the Realm, Lookshy and several other societies, and one of the types of Exalt that has almost nothing to worry about when it comes to using their power openly. It’s pretty sweet to be a Prince of the Earth.

Our inspiration list this time has, for classics: Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, specifically citing the Oath of the Peach Garden as one of the chief inspirations for Sworn Brotherhoods. Water Margin by Shi Nai’an, as an example of iconoclast Dragon-Blodoed taking up arms against a corrupt empire. The Mahabharata, as two kinships of royal power fight against each other for power and influence. From fiction: Amber by Roger Zelazny, as supernatural heroes driven by family strife and the power of their father’s throne. Codex Alara by Jim Butcher, for an elementally powered Romanesque empire that also plays with the conceptual power of the elements as well as the literal. The Kouga Ninja Scrolls by Futaro Yamada, for the generational feud of magical ninja families (and also its manga and anime adaptation, Basilisk), and A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin for a civil war after a potent monarch’s death in which dynastic scions vie for power while overlooking the outside threat. For TV: Avatar: The Last Airbender, because…well, I think it’s obvious, and the Fire Nation especially is very good for the Scarlet Empire and its politics. Avatar: The Legend of Korra, also obvious, though they think it wasn’t quite as good as the first series.

So, what is the history of the world from the view of the Dragon-Blooded? In the Time Before, when the Incarnae raised up champions to fight their creators, the Five Elemental Dragons shared their power with mortals, creating the first of the great host of elemental heroes to be officers and champions in the armies that fought for the gods. These were the Dragon-Blooded, for their power was in the blood and could be passed on to their children. Those that survived the Divine Revolution founded lineages of power that grew and spread across the world. They served many roles in the First Age, often courted by the Celestial Exalted to serve as generals, adjutants, governors and emissaries. Still, the world was wide, and it was filled with places where the Dragon-Blooded could live unchallenged. Some joined together in oligarchies, others ruled alone and founded royal lines that would grow into broods of elemental power. Fragments of this ancient time remains in hidden pockets. The Zebremani of the South traditionally depict their heroes with crowns of fire or mantles of storm even now, and undersea palace ruled now by the storm mother Konobala was once the home of the Water Aspect princes of the Nine-Eyed Throne. The Silver-of-a-Dream Pagoda, high on the Wujian Mountain, can still only be reached by handholds carved into the living rock by the hermit Love-Is-Lightning with his bare hands.

As the Celestial Exalts fought each other, and particularly in the part of the First Age known to scholars as the Great Interregnum, the Dragon-Bloods also fought amonst themselves. And yet, this was nothing to the Usurpation, when they listened to the prophecies of the Sidereals and thousands of them gathered to kill their corrupted Solar leaders, even those who had known the Solars all their lives. Many Dragon-Bloods also remained loyal, fighting to the death for their masters, and many Exalts died in those days. With the Sidereals now withdrawn to Heaven, the Lunars seeking refuge at the world’s edge and the Solars locked away, the Dragon-Blooded became the Princes of the Earth, the lords of Creation. They raised new cities and nations, brought their power to bear on jungles and deserts, used their jade swords to face the Fair Folk and monsters of the world. This is the time known as the Shogunate. And it might have been enough to protect the world, had their internal struggles not torn it apart. The Gentes of the Shogunate that had once fought as one turned on each other, for only one person could become Shogun. Some sought the role for principle or ideals, others for fear of who might if they did not, and others for power. The towers of mighty Chiaroscuro were toppled, the island cities of Karai sank beneath the waves and the flying fortress Godswatch fell to earth.

And yet, for all their feuds, the daimyos and the gentes came together to face the real threats. When decades of Fair Folk escalation culminated in a massive invasion on the very eve of the Great Contagion, the surviving Dragon-Blooded united as one to oppose them. They died in their hundreds and their thousands, but while the battle might have seemed hopeless, it worked. They bought time. With that, a Sworn Brotherhood of heroes infiltrated the sealed manse that commanded the mighty Sword of Creation, now remembered as the Realm Defense Grid, and the one survivor of that mission engaged its powers to shatter the Fair Folk hordes. And…well, she never let that power go.

She became the Scarlet Empress, building an empire that spanned the entirety of Creation, in its way. It was built in the ruins of the old world, and it could not command the entire world, but even today, it is the only superpower in all Creation. The Empress had many children, and by carefully planned marriages, she united the sprawling gentes of the Blessed Isle into her own dynasty. Outcastes of lesser lines were gathered into the legions and the Immaculate Order. Today, the Scarlet Dynasty is divided into ten Great Houses, extended families of hundreds of Dragon-Bloods united by webs of alliance, feud, friendship and grudge. Mortal patrician families also often carry enough of the Dragons’ blood that their children occasionally Exalt, and cadet houses from the Threshold marry into the Great Houses or swear allegiance to the Scarlet Throne. Peasant outcastes often swear loyalty to the throne and join the Imperial legions or set aside their worldly ideals to become Immaculate monks. Ten thousand dragons, as it is said, rule the world.

And yet, for all their trying, they are not the sole Dragon-Blooded power in Creation. Thousands of Dragon-Bloods rule in distant Prasad, a Realm satrapy in name alone that is effectively an independent empire on the shore of the Dreaming Sea. Thousands more command Lookshy’s regiments, a nation settled by the remnant of a Shogunate Legion after the Great Contagion and which still stands with its ancient gentes to protect the Scavenger Lands from Realm expansion, still dreaming of a reborn Shogunate. In the Threshold, beyond the Realm’s power, smaller groups still exist. In the East, the assassins and poisoners of the Grass Spider clan spread terror under the rule of the Three Elite Fiends. In the south, the rogue Imperial legion of Saloy Hin gathers outcastes who seek power. In the West, the Sisterhood of Pearls offers safety to those who will accept their strict and austere life. In the north, the Cult of the Violet Fang mixes the blood of fae and the blood of the Dragons. Everywhere, there are outcastes, born to mortal families but containing sparks of the Dragons’ power. They awaken their Essence in isolation, making their mark as heroes in their little parts of the world.

Unlike Solars, who inherit the memory of their past Exaltations, the Chosen of the Dragons are not reincarnated heroes with dozens of past lives. However, the power of the Dragons can be passed to their children, and that power grows in each new generation. Unlike the Celestial Exalts, there is no limit on how many Dragon-Blooded there can be, and the Elemental Dragons, in their wisdom, created an inexhaustible power, a type of Exalted that are potentially infinite. It is believed that there are approximately 10,000 members of the Dynastic Great Houses, another 4000 Dynastic outcastes, and about 750 Exalted members of Realm cadet houses. There are believed to be about 250 patrician-house Dragon-Bloods, 2000 or so Prasadi DBs, 3000 Lookshyan DBs and approximately 5000 more foreign outcastes.

Not all who bear the blood of the Dragons will Exalt. There isn’t any reliable way to tell which will and which will not, but it is believed that strength of pedigree will increase the chances, as will accumulation of progenitive Essence. However, there are many variables in play, including luck. The Exaltation usually comes in childhood or adolescence – sometimes as young as nine, but teen Exaltations are most common. There are no records of anyone Exalting as a Dragon-Blood past age 20, and the odds get worse every year past 17. Dynastic children spend their childhoods anticipating the day the Exaltation graces them or dreading that it will not – or both. Their Exaltation is expected, passionately if not confidently. They know there are two possible futures – one in which they are blessed with power and success, and one in which they become wealthy but ultimately mortal humans. Outcastes are different. Most never expected to become what they are, though they may have dreamed idly of it in the same way you might dream of winning the lottery. It was a childish fantasy, not anything credible – and yet it happened.

Next time: Elemental Power

Elemental Flavors

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Elemental Flavors

A side note. The Immaculate Philosophy is based on First Age philosophies that actually existed and were real, but its doctrine as currently known is wholly constructed by the Sidereals as a tool to support Dragon-Blooded hegemony in the Shogunate. Several Immaculate texts are complete fabrication. Most, however, descend from a mix of ancient philosophical and religious beliefs that got subsumed into the created Immaculate doctrine after subtle alteration by the Sidereal Bronze Faction savants. The Dynasty of the Scarlet Empire and Lookshy both devoutly and truly believe, by and large, in Immaculate doctrine. It’s real to them, even if the history is fabricated, and they tend to wholeheartedly believe in the truth of the Immaculate texts and treat them as a valuable historic source.

Anyway. In the moment that a Dragon-Blooded takes the Second Breath, their nature becomes impossible to ignore. Their anima flares with life and power as their bloodline actualizes and their Exaltation awakens. Danger and peril cannot awaken it without the potential being present, and a life of utter leisure cannot prevent the attainment of your blood-granted birthright. That said, Exaltation tends to arrive when a Dragon-Blood is facing adversity, challenge or change. This is often quick, an instant catalyst to massive Exaltation, but it can be slower, building up over the course of several hours. The Elemental Dragons do not speak to their Chosen upon Exaltation, but Dragon-Bloods always feel and experience a great connection to their element, pulling them out of what they were and into something greater. The raw and uncontrolled Essence of Exaltation can be dangerous, and it is not uncommon for people to die as collateral in an elemental Exaltation. Most people are bright enough to get out of the way when a kid starts glowing with power, of course, but property damage and injuries are almost universal results.

Dragon-Bloods come in five elements, and while all five are part of every Dragon-Blood’s power, their Aspect element is the most important and its uses the most natural to them. Your Aspect element lives in you, awakening your potential and influencing your life. It should be noted – your element isn’t based on your deeds or strengths or personality. It’s…well, it’s based on your blood. Aspects tend to run in families, and the child of two Water Aspects is likely to also be Water. This tendency has been observed for millenia, and it means each Great House has maintained an elemental lineage running back centuries. However, the elements are not entirely separate. Every Dragon-Blood has the potential within them for all five elements, ready to be passed on to their children. Especially in societies where they are frequent, gossip about Exaltation “out of Aspect” for your bloodline is common, with people often looking back for “proof” that your Aspect was always the most fitting, or suggesting that your parentage is not what is claimed, but in truth it’s generally chance. Every Aspect is just part of the whole, with its own strengths and weaknesses. Your Aspect influences your skills and approach to life, and it might lead you to develop new interests and ways of thinking, but it is not an override or control over your personality. It makes somethings easier or more attractive, but will not make you something you weren’t before. A Fire Aspect that used to be meek and quiet might become more confident and passionate in resonance with the element, but it’s not going to make him a hothead or zealot. Children born in Dynastic lineages often have some idea what is “expected” from an Aspect and its stereotypes and thus subconsciously try to conform to them to some degree, but not always, and outcaste children often stray even further from these beliefs.

Air is a subtle, invisible element, impossible contain or pin down. It tends to steer its Chosen towards an understanding of the big picture, allowing them to develop complex and grand plans and solutions. The Children of Mela are often great scholars, spies or masterminds, able to plan ahead decades or centuries in advance…but they can also be distracted elitists detached from the results of their actions in the mundane world. Earth is sturdy, patient and changeless. It brings certainty, centered thinking and fondness for tradition. Little can stop a Child of Pasiap that has set their mind on something – they can often endure just about any obstacle. Their strong convictions and patience lend themselves well to being generals, crafters and monks. However, they can also become trapped in old ideas, unable to see the need for change. Fire is passionate, bold and tempestuous. Its Chosen are impossible to ignore, either at a party or in battle. The Children of Hesiesh are larger than life in their passions, driven to great joys and rages alike. They tend to have skilled and charming socialites and excellent warriors, but they can be prone to fits of temper and destruction when things don’t go their way. Water is fluid, unpredictable and relentless. It brings patience, like the tide, and the Children of Danaa’d are adaptable as well. They tend to be bureaucratic problem-solvers, balancing respectful diligence and creativity, to keep progress happening. They also have a natural talent for martial arts and grace as well as sailing. However, they can be fickle and underhanded, as well. Wood is growing, nurturing and vital. It integrates its Chosen into the world, pushing them to reach out and grow, but poison and disease are no less natural than birth and healing. The Children of Sextes Jylis are masters of life and of death, sometimes doctors or animal trainers that understand the wilds, sometimes hedonists that care only for their own pleasure or who enjoy forming webs of complex plots.

The Essence Fever of the Dragon-Blooded is one of vitality, of life and passion. It yearns to be used, and its greatest urge is recklessness. The Essence of the dragons is volatile, and it magnifies the emotions that the Dragon-Blooded feel. The heights of their love are more passionate, the zeal of their fury more terrible. Young Dragon-Bloods are often encouraged to spar and play rough with each other, to work out their powerful passions. Their Aspects shape not only their bodies but their emotions and thought processes. They are tempests, bonfires and earthquakes. A Dragon-Blood in the throes of Essence Fever is a force of nature given flesh, driving them towards the nature of their Aspect, to be larger than life.

However, there is another side of Dragon-Blooded Essence. It is not purely the fury of the elements driven to a fever pitch. The Essence of the Dragon-Bloods is also one of cooperation. They are driven almost instinctively to form families, clans, warbands, organizations. Where a new Solar struggles alone, the blood of Dragons pushes its Chosen together. A Realm Dragon-Blood has a support network, inherently. Their family is there to help them with the changes they are feeling, as are the close friends they are likely to meet at school. While they may choose solitude, at heart, a Dragon-Blooded is never alone. They seek out mutual bonds, not just with family, but with peers. This is the source of the Sworn Kinship, formed by comrades brought together by circumstance and pushed into a loyalty that becomes stronger than steel. On a more intimate level, Dragon-Blooded form passionate friendships and loves with each other very easily, as their Essence draws them to each other. On a grand scale, they form societies. Everyone can point to the Scarlet Dynasty, most know of Lookshy – but these are only the biggest examples. Dragon-Blooded have an innate drive to come together and build something larger than themselves, to form dynasties or organizations that will outlast them and provide a home for each other.

The Scarlet Dynasty is, of course, the most famous. They spread their civilization across the world, and kings and queens kneel before them. The Anathema tremble at their might. All glory goes to the Ten Thousand Dragons of the Realm, the children of the Scarlet Empress! They are the image of nobility in the Second Age, born to wealth and command. Dynasts live lives of adventure and intrigue, and their families have built the greatest military power in all Creation. All wealth and bounty flows from the heart of their empire, the Blessed Isle, and to it all returns. The Isle is a beautiful, temperate continent of abundant crops, guided and ruled by the Princes of the Earth. They have made a nation with unparalleled standards of living and education, and even mortals there live in safety and comfort – and obedience. The Realm commands the fealty of a vast empire of Threshold client states, satrapies that appease their might with tribute in return for protection. They tame the world, crushing those who stand against them. For Dragon-Bloods of the Dynasty, identity is inextricably bound to family and the tangled bloodlines of the Great Houses. These massive noble families jockey for power and prestige, wielding entire nations against each other. Their blood is strong, with each house laying claim to generations of heroic deeds and legends. Since the disappearance of the Scarlet Empress, the Great Houses have turned their attentions inward, towards succession. Each House has one or more would-be heirs who seek to guide the future of the Realm, hoarding power and cannibalizing their own empire in preparation for a civil war they can all see coming. Centuries of trade and tribute have brought them untold wealth, and while young Dynasts grow up under intense pressure to Exalt and become good members of their Houses, they also live in opulence, claiming great power and wealth simply as a matter of course. This, after all, is their just reward for their holy responsibilities, say the Immaculates. The Immaculate Order, official religion of the Realm and its satrapies, enforces a strict social and spiritual hierarchy, and the Dragon-Blooded sit atop it. They command their lessers as a holy duty, worshipping as they please. The Dragon-Blooded monks of the Order root out heresies and defeat rebel gods with their potent martial arts, and when the Anathema threaten the Realm, the Dynasts join with them in the Wyld Hunt.

”Play a Dynast if you want…” posted:

  • …to wield influence in Creation’s mightiest empire.
  • …to champion your house through heroism and intrigue.
  • …to live in affluence, and wield heirlooms of elemental might.
  • …to spread the Immaculate Philosophy through word and deed.
  • …to hunt the Anathema to the edge of Creation.

Next time: The Seventh Legion, the Prasadi, the Forest Witches and Outcastes

Dragons of the World

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Dragons of the World

The Seventh Legion of Lookshy are the greatest army of the Second Age. The Realm outnumbers them, certainly, but no one can deny the power of the city of Lookshy, the enemy that has forever thwarted the Realm’s efforts at conquest of the Scavenger Lands. The Seventh Legion have only one goal: master themselves and, by doing so, master war. They deny the rule of the Realm, defending the freedom of the Scavenger Lands. They are the inheritors of the fallen Shogunate, waiting for their chance to rise again. They honor and obey the final order the Shogun gave them, centuries ago: Preserve the Shogunate’s governance in the River Province. They pride themselves on their warrior heritage, building a system of defense contracts through the area and serving as protectors of any neighbor that will pay their price. To maintain the order of the Scavenger Lands, they are ever vigilant and disciplined, forging and leading alliances against any would-be invader or Anathema insurgent in these lands. Their bloodlines trace descent from the ancient Shogunate, gentes of heroic military excellence. Dragon-Blooded soldiers prove their worth by service, and they know – pedigree may give opportunity, but it can’t buy victory. The authority of the Seventh Legion is in their dedication to the Shogunate, and they see the Scarlet Empress as a usurper. They know a Shogun will one day appear, restoring them to glory. They will be ready. In ancient days, the Shogunate spanned Creation itself, using weapons and infrastructure maintained from the First Age. Most of this is now lost or broken, but Lookshy maintains a small stock of First Age weapons. They use them sparingly, for such wonders are often fragile or limited in use, and all are impossible to replace. The Lookshyans treat martial readiness and warfare as spiritual duties. It is by military service, they claim, that mortals and Dragon-Bloods alike seek spiritual perfection. The Immaculate sohei of Lookshy are not evangelists, favoring individual guidance in the ethos of individual service of Lookshy, and many of them serve in the military as spiritual guides and champions.

”Play a member of the Seventh Legion if you want…” posted:

  • …to serve in Creations’ most renowned warrior culture.
  • …to embrace the ancient legacy of the Dragon-Blooded Shogunate.
  • …to claim the Scavenger Lands as your home and your charge.
  • …to discover and explore lost secrets of First Age artifice.
  • …to explore self-refinement through duty.

The Empire of Prasad are ruled by living gods – gods that bear the blood of Dragons. Their ambition is great, and their lives an intricate web of caste and clan across multiple lifetimes. The Dragon Caste of Prasad were once Dynasts, but they embraced a new life in the far Southeast. Now, they are living gods, worshipped by the mortals of the philosophy of the Pure Way. They expand aggressively, claiming more and more of the Dreaming Sea. The wealth of Prasad and its great capital Kamthahar are such that even the Imperial City heard about it, and two Great Houses once competed to pacify the Prasadi in the name of the Scarlet Empress, but then conspired instead to claim it for their own. They installed themselves as its highest caste, expanded outward with Kamthahar as their center. Prasad remains a satrapy in name, and it sends its yearly tribute to the Realm, but it does not serve. The Dragon Caste treat Dynasts as distant cousins, and Dynasts sometimes visit for “exotic, yet civilized” vacation or to experience the thrill of conquest alongside their allies. Prasadi Dragon-Bloods sometimes head to the Realm for education, trade or diplomacy. The Prasadi live in discrete groups of complex, overlapping structures. Caste defines everything in Prasadi social hierarchy, but clan determines lineage and inheritance, and tribe informs one’s talents and purpose. Social groups in Prasad live in traditional enclaves, with casteless untouchables on the fringes. The twin Dragon-Blood clans Burano and Ophris rule Prasad, the one renowned for tradition and wisdom, the other for sensual pleasure and clever wit. The Empire’s ruler is inevitably from one of the two, her elected heir from the other, and would-be heirs often campaign for votes among the upper castes. For Prasad, rule over the Dreaming Sea is theirs by right, its wealth and mysteries their destiny. The area has abundance to compare to the Blessed Isle, and the Prasadi have the confidence of burgeoning empire. Beyond the edges of the Realm’s rule, they lead a holy war of expansion against ancient monsters, Raksha and older nations. The Prasadi Pure Way is a syncretic Immaculate heresy, which worships Dragon-Bloods as gods. It claims that even gods and elementals reincarnate, that even Anathema can find a place in the proper cycle. Prasadi Dragon-Bloods seek out the reincarnations of their past lives’ allies, forming kinships that last across lifetimes.

”Play a member of the Dragon Caste if you want…” posted:

  • …to be worshiped as an elemental god.
  • …to politick with gods and their offspring.
  • …to explore exotic locales, and conquer them.
  • …to live in splendor beyond the reach of the Great Houses.
  • …to champion a philosophy of purifying reincarnation.

The Forest Witches have no fear of death, for they know beauty and immortality. They are gurus, revolutionaries, criminals and more. They rule, yet they claim nothing. In the Eastern wood, where outsiders will not go, a commune of Dragon-Bloods has built a paradise. Free of normal mortality, they expand subtly and brutally alike, for they know neither doubt nor fear. The wonders of the wood lie open to the Forest Witches, for Oreithyia, soul of the living wood, serves their needs, and all its creatures obey them. They grow their homes from the living plants, their hunters need only wait for the game to wander to them. They trust their children to the woods to raise, claiming them again as adolescents. Thus, with all needs cared for, they may focus on grander things. In the deep forest, a pool grants new eyes to those that look within it. This is the Sea of Mind, a reflection of Creation. Here, the dead live on in the paradise city of Atsiluth Eternal. Living Forest Witches may enter and partake of it only at the sufferance of the dead, and wherever they go, they bring the Sea of Mind with them. Still, even these wonders have their limits. The Forest Witches must find beauty to appease the wood-soul Oreithyia and magic to feed the Sea of Mind. Many Forest Witches thus become bandits or evangelists in hopes of drawing wealthy pilgrims to the Sea of Mind, while others infiltrate and influence distant communities. All are cautious. They know their neighbors would covet their wonders, that the Immaculate Order would punish their heresies against mortality. And so, they expand anonymously, never speaking their name. They are not immortal, quite, but they do not fear death. Those that die while connected to the Sea of Mind retire to the afterlife of Atsiluth Eternal, or explore the world as voices in the Sea of Mind. They may even inhabit specially made armors to affect the true Creation. Some Forest Witches even have unique magic to direct their reincarnation, or learn to cut off their humanity and become the mist-born spirits known as numina. Forest Witches that have seen the Sea of Mind need never leave, unless the dead exile them from it. No matter where they go, they can see the shadow-reflections of that world. Frustrations fade from awareness, so all is satisfying and free of inconsequential things. To the Forest Witches, dangers are more exciting, tragedies more heart-wrenching and foes more sinister.

”Play a Forest Witch if you want…” posted:

  • …to wield the keys to paradise.
  • …to stride like a giant in the Sea of Mind.
  • …to adventure beyond death as a living memory.
  • …to infiltrate other societies across successive reincarnations.
  • …to sacrifice form and join the numina.

The Outcastes are…other. They are the face of heroism, for many societies. Kin to Dragons, but beholden to no empire. They are compelled by their blood to rise from obscurity, and each is unique, yet connected. The blood of Dragons can awaken anywhere it is strong and lucky enough, and the power of the Outcastes is their blood alone, not any nation’s authority. They wield elemental power without fear, and all seek their allegiance. They arise anywhere, and while they may lack the resources granted to Dynasts, their potential is no less. They are the freest of all Exalted. They have no fear of the Wyld Hunt and can expect good treatment from most mortals. They may forego the privileges of so-called civilization just as easily, and for each “Lost Egg” that seeks their fortune and their placeo n the Blessed Isle, another adventures in the Threshold, beholden to none but themselves. Kings and merchants alike will pay handsomely for their service, they are sought for marriage by any noble worth their time. Even other Exalts may seek their support. The Realm, above all, hungers for them. They may easily receive offers of adoption or fosterage, and the Imperial legions and Immaculate Order are always open to them. Some Outcastes were born to the societies of the Dragon-Bloods but abandoned them, as well, ronin or retirees or just people seeking freedom away from responsibility. The Outcastes could become anything, could even build their own nations.

”Play an Outcaste if you want…” posted:

  • …to be your own elemental hero.
  • …to explore the length and breadth of Creation.
  • …to bring an outsider’s perspective to Dragon-Blooded society.
  • …to stand apart from what you once stood for.
  • …to build a legacy all your own.

Next time: The Great Houses of the Realm

Sorting Hats

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Sorting Hats

The Ten Great Houses of the Scarlet Dynasty each bear the name of the legendary ancestor that founded the line. In the first days of the Realm, the Empress adopted many powerful and influential Dragon-Bloods as her daughters, elevating their families to Great House status. As she further consolidated her rule, she rewarded those of her children that proved themselves, winning her favor, with the right to found a Great House of their own. The ten that exist now are far from the only ones that have ever existed. Several Houses have fallen in the history of the Realm, struck from the Imperial ledgers in punishment of their failure or treachery. A House is more than just a family, however. Each has spent centuries gathering glory, jade, relationships, traditions and feuds. Their numbers have grown with them, and even the smallest of them has hundreds of Dragon-Bloods within its ranks. Most have over a thousand. Each house's members fight alongside the house legions and garrisons, join the intrigues of the Thousand Scales or the Deliberative, or work in business ventures across the Blessed Isle and Threshold. Each is practically a nation in itself, embedded into the Realm's political institutions. While many Dragon-Bloods consider themselves patriots, others, possibly even the majority, are of their House first and the Dynasty second. The Great Houses have always vied for power, influence and wealth, but before now, the Scarlet Empress used their conflicts to serve herself. With her gone, their ambition has no check and they all are eyeing the throne.

When a Dynatic household within a House produces many Exalted offspring and gathers great wealth and prestige, its renown stays with its children. A House matriarch may recognize these linages and elevate them to major bloodlines within the House. A member of a major bloodline will take the name of its founding matriarch after their House name - so Mnemon Rulinsei Ghova bears the name of his great-grandmother, Mnemon Rulinsei, to recognize her status as the founder of the Rulinsei bloodline. A particularly prestigious husband married to a less prestigious wife might give his name to the bloodline instead, but this is considered quite unusual, and most bloodlines are founded by women. A House bloodline might have its own distinct traditions, such as dedication to a specific part of the Imperial Service, or a noted history of a different primary elemental Aspect than the rest of the House. By and large, however, they're just a part of the House with somewhat extra prestige.

Each House's matriarch controls great wealth, power and respect. They have little chance to use it for themselves, however, as a matriarch's responsibilities are many and heavy. They must arrange for the schooling and marriages of their House's scions, manage several businesses, properties and other House assets, oversee the House treasury and hand down orders to the House's senators, ministers and so on. They are also responsible for mediating conflicts within the House or conflicts with other Houses, as werll as managing generals, admirals and strategists to oversee the House's military efforts. To accomplish all this, they have access to massive treasuries, legions, fleets - and of course the Dragon-Blooded scions of the House themsevles. These tools are not always loyal, however. Struggles for House dominance rarely escalate to open conflict, for fear of the House matriarch deciding to remove traitors from the family entirely, but in the current chaos, even that might not protect a particularly hated or incompetent matriarch. Some Houses have multiple leaders, with the matriarch sharing power and responsibility with others, either from need or tradition. The Imperial Service wants the matriarch's seal on official matters, but in all other affairs, it varies by House. A Dynastic household matriarch has similar powers and responsibilities on a smaller scale, within her own household. The Great Houses in theory leased their lands from the Empress, who owned all real estate on the Blessed Isle. The matriarch holds onto most of the leasing deeds, but may transfer individual leases, such as those for Manses, to specific members of the House or to specific households, usually temporarily. Similarly, the matriarch controls the treasury and may allocate it as she sees fit. A House's hearthstones and artifacts belong to the matriarch to be handed out to its members. However, because bonding with an artifact takes time and an appropriate disposition, a matriarch will almost certainly allow a Dragon-Blood to retain an artifact for as long as it is of use to them, especially if they've managed to awaken any of its Evocations.

Realm naming schemes are, side note, drawn from the old Shogunate naming tradition, which used Old Realm. Old Realm is a language that alternates consonants and vowels, and Dynastic (or Lookshyan) names typically reflect this, usually with lead consonants. Patrician and cadet house naming usually follows the same pattern, either due to the Shogunate tradition or just to emulate the Great Houses, but this is hardly universal. Each House also is signified by a mon, a sort of heraldic emblem in a circle, which they paint on their war banners, sew on their clothes, display on their gates and use in wax seals on official correspondence. Some of these trace back to periods of Realm history that were less aniconic than the current era, but those are far too entrenched for the Immaculates to be able to get rid of. Other mons also exist, such as the Imperial mon of the Scarlet Empress, or the mons granted to prestigion patrician houses. Each Great House also has an emblematic color pairing, though their use is currently unfashionable and relegated mostly to traditionalists or tose seeking favor with less progressive elders.

House Cathak, the Fire that Marches Against the Tide. is represented by the colors red and gold. They are a primarily Fire-Aspect House, driven to excel in the field of battle. They have a renowned history as soldiers, generals and strategists that have produced some of the finest military icons of the Realm. Only the now-failing House Tepet can rival them for military skill - but that is not all that Cathak gave her children. The legions may be the glue that holds them together, but few Cathak scions are happy to be only one thing. Their passion and discipline are their key trait, and military service just gives them many chances to learn and adventure. Almost all Cathaks have at least one tour of duty with the legions, but they are far from uncultured. Most can debate art and speak of stories from exotic lands, and they are beloved at social gatherings as a result. Cathaks are highly competitive in nealry every field, from the team sports they use to drill their legionnaires to formal dueling to strategy games like the popular Gateway, which was itself invented by a member of House Cathak. While at one time they were pragmatic about religion, they have grown more religious under Matriarch Cathak Cainan. His personal piety has bled into the House's policies, and many younger members feel like it's always been this way.

House Cathak tends to use the military as a sort of mental metaphor for politics as well, using their battlefield tactics and strategies philosophically in application when it comes to political intrigue. This does, however, mean they tend to be something of a political blunt instrument. Their manual of political maneuvering, the Silken Blade Codex, is taught to their children as a companion to the standard military textbook of the Realm, The Thousand Correct Actions of the Upright Soldier. Being predictable doesn't make them any less good at it, however. The daughters of the House are heavily encouraged to join the military, and this tends to mean they need husbands that can handle finance and administration. Cathak marriage negotiations tend be tense, because they value skill more than the normal status or pedigree, and it does give them a unique strategy - they occasionally offer lowborn sons of poorer families achance to improve their station by marrying a Cathak daughter, and so many young male Dynasts view them as a kind of romantic dream. Poetry and romances about some impoverished son of a branch family getting swept off his feet by an experienced and dashing Cathak officer to live a life of luxury and adventure are exceptionally popular in the ream. In contrast, House Cathak has very little time for military husbands. They tend to look down on the soldiers of other Houses as undisciplined, unrefined and brutish. A soldier that marries into the House will have to work hard to gain respect, and he can generally expect his wife to put him through a strict set of tests and training exercises to ensure he meets House standards. If he's from a House that doesn't already have respect from the Cathak for their military expertise, such as Houses Cynis or Nellens, the tests are going to be even harder. These men must be twice as good as a Tepet would be to earn their place among the Cathak legions.

House Cathak is engaged in diverse business ventures, ranging from salt panning to jade mining to food export, but their income is fundamentally centered on their military. Before the Empress vanished, only Houses Tepet, Sesus and Cathak were permitted to keep private House legions. Any other House requiring soldiers beyond the guards and paramilitary forces allowed to them would need to either call on the Imperial legions (and face censure for being unable to do the job themselves) or hire one of the military Houses. House Cathak has never restricted their mercenary work to the Dynasty, though, and have always offered their services to anyone that can pay and has a cause not in opposition to the REalm. When it suited her, the Empress sometimes deployed the Imperial legions alongside the Cathak to create a nearly unstoppable conquering force. While they rarely kept the conquered lands themselves, this was very lucrative for House Cathak, who usually earned the greater part of each new satrapy's resources by establishing businesses to exploit them, then selling those to the new satrap's House at premium prices. The legions also bring in money by serving as escorts for goods and personnel in the Threshold. While these fees are much smaller than, say, those earned by House V'neef for escorting shipments of tribute, they are not insignificant. The Cathaks usually have several such jobs going at any given time, and they make for a great excuse for a young Dragon-Blood to get out and see the world. The Cathak legions also make a habit of surveying all lands they travel through, recording the locations of valuble resources and military concerns. Much of the House's military might is dedicated to securing its best satrapies, allowing the less profitable ones to go their own way while maintaining much of their income. This earns less than the desperate clutching of House Peleps, but is more easily sustained...for certain values of 'sustain,' anyway. While the House may hold its tributaries in slightly less of a vise grip, it still squeezes out their lifeblood - just slower.

House Cathak has recently found a new revenue stream as well. When the Imperial legions devolved to control of the Great Houses, Cathak Cainan held a massive gala in honor of the new Cathak legions, inviting some of the most notorious gossips and rumormongers of the Realm. At the party, he hinted that he would support the first claimant to the throne that seemed likely to win, that he might ensure the absence of the Empress would not tear the Realm apart. Since then, the Cathak bureaucrats have noted their income doubling as a result of bribes, dowries, trade agreements, concessions and so on. Playing queenmaker has proven enough to ensure House Cathak's economic stability and independence...for now, anyway. They're still deeply in debt to House Ragara, but the bribes and gifts keep the interest paid, and while their income is diminished from the loss of their mercenary hiring within the Dynasty, it's enough to maintain their legions and lifestyle with only minor belt-tightening. The Cathak military juggernaut isn't gone, either. Once, its four legions were surpassed in power only by the Imperial legions and matched only by House Tepet. Now, the Tepet are much dimished and the Imperial legions have been scattered to the Houses. The Cathaks got four of them, bringing them up to eight fully trained legions led by excellent strategists, and most Houses have no desire to test them. Their military doctrine is drawn from the teachings of Hesiesh, focusing on discipline and resource management as well as reverence for the Fire Dragon. Each dragon of troops has an attached Immaculate monk to lecture them on virtues and vices revealed in battle or training, usually focusing on the importance of restraint, the joy of good timing and the rewards of service to the greater whole, as well as moral parables and the importance of knowing right from wrong. They teach that the warrior loses to the soldier, and that the hero is no match for a coordinated army. The legion, the dragon and the scale must all be heroes in their own right, not just the individual. All military service is held to be admirable, and a Cathak scion can earn as much acclaim as a trainer or supply bureaucrat as they can as a general. House orthodoxy favors direct confrontation, but only under carefully designed circumstances. Clever tactics and strategies have their place, but overwhelming force at the right moment is the House's ideal, both in immediate tactical concerns and as a long-term plan to make themselves seem invincible to their foes. One victory prevents ten thousand battles.

House Cathak tries to maintain its status as queenmaker, playing at neutrality and control over who takes the Scarlet Throne. They have no desire or ability to seize it themselves. Either House Cathak will remain unbowed until some credible claimant shows up, or someone will attack them in order to remove the biggest obstacle to claiming the throne, giving them an excuse to fight. They are natural rivals of Houses Sesus and Tepet, the other military houses. House Sesus sees them as a major threat, while the Cathaks see Sesus as inferior, focused on dishonorable spycraft and idiotic scheming over true military might, which often means they overlook the very real danger of Sesus spies or saboteurs. House Tepet is seen tragically - fallen, but poetically struggling. Practicality matters more, however, and so rather than help the other House now, thery are waiting to see if the Tepets will survive first. House Cathak distrusts the Ragara, wary of the many rumors of dark magic that cling to them, but they owe substantial debts to the Ragara banks. As a result, the Cathaks make occasional noises of support for House Ragara in its bid for rule, but commit very little to actually helping it.

On the Blessed Isle, House Cathak controls Myion Prefecture, on the southwestern coast. It's an ancient, sacred site that, in the First Age, was dedicated to the Unconquered Sun. After the Usurpation, it was rededicated to the Immaculate Dragons. It is a land of flying buttresses and airy structures, home to the ancient manse known as the Fortress of the Greatest General, one of the Realm's most fortified positions and the headquarters of House Cathak for centuries. The architectural beauty is awe-inspiring, and it has led more than one unbeliever to repent of their sins and dedicate themselves to proper Immaculate faith on the spot. The House also has several fortresses, on and off the Isle, and extensive Southern holdings. Most notably, they own Harborhead, the seat of the god Ahlat and the source of some of their best auxiliaries. While their satrapeis are usually run strictly, Ahlat's presence means they need a more delicate touch, and only the best administrators are sent to Harborhead, to maintain the House's grip and discourage rebellion without angering the god. They also control Fajad, once the Realm's gateway to the West, but now less important since House Peleps mapped out the sea routes. It's become hard to manage, and to keep the Fajadi placated despite their growing tributary demands, the Cathaks have allowed them to practice their native faith once more, which has not made the Immaculates happy. Even Fajad's satrap, a Cathak herself, is considering giving the monks free rein to suppress the heretics. The place is also home to the ancient sorcerer Aqadar, whose tower has never been entered by a Dynast that survived the experience.

The House was founded by Cathak, a mighty swordswoman and general adopted by the Empress. She was also an ascetic plagued by doubt and depression, who would often spend months in seclusion to write military texts and contemplate the spiritual, then emerge for days-long wild benders. She wrote many of the annotations to The Thousand Correct Actions, and most areas now in solid REalm control were once its enemies before she arrived to tame them. She refused to allow her private trouble to show in her public demeanor, and she was always a strict and disciplined leader who preferred plans to improvising and always put forth the air of confidence. She saw this as the duty of a Fire Aspect, in emulation of Hesiesh, and after her death, she was interred under the Fortress of the Greatest General. The house's current matriarch is a man named Cathak Cainan, a shikari educated at the Cloister of Wisdom. He married within the house as a relatively unprestigious husband to Cathak Urima, an excellent but unproven officer, and in the legions, he proved to be an inspirational leader, earning the eye of his ancestor, Cathak. As she lay dying of Yozi venom, she called him to her deathbed and explain to him his many flaws before she named him her heir, as the only descendant she saw as matching her temperament. Ever since, he has tried to liv up to her legacy and feared that he hasn't. He despairs to see the Realm fall around him and has dedicated the House to holding it together no matter the cost. He is respected through the Dynasty and many would think him a candidate for the Empress' throne if not for his increasing age - no one wants a ruler who will quickly die and set off another succession crisis.

Cathak Garel is Cainan's younger sister and the commander of the Cathak Legions for nearly a century. She is an excellent strategist and tactician, to be sure, but her true passion lies in logistics, where she is unsurpassed. She spends msot days studying legion records and debating economic policy with her husband, Peleps Kozurin. She's got a taleny for estimating the effects of specific losses in the long term, and she is very grgual about use of her trtoops, to conserve their resources as much as possible. In politics, she is unbendingly honest and seems unable to tell even a polite lie. She is honorable, disciplined and maintains the highest of personal moral standards. She is also the expected heir to the House, which she is very much not comfortable with, and while younger than Cainan, she's also growing old and privately wondering how long she has until her spinal pain forces her to retire. Cathak Elanda, on the other hand, has suffered from birth with a disease that caused her body to grow uncontrollably, and her health started to fail in her teenage years. This and abuse by her peers made her quiet, soft-spoken and awkward despite her powerful mind. Still, Exalting saved her life, allowing her to adapt to her illness, and while she remains slow and clumsy, her strength is terrifying. She graduated from the House of Bells and joined the legions, happy to find an escape from social events and her classmates. As a legionnaire, she has proven skilled in the mental and physical aspects of war, and has risen to the rank of general over several campaigns. However, she has also learned something that she refuses to talk much about - that Dynasts are often cruel, and the Realm itself broken as a society. She is extremely disillusioned by the Dynasty, but can think of no real alternatives - everything she's seen that was different has turned out worse.

Next time: House Cynis


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: DRUUUUUUGS

House Cynis, the Wood Nourished On Tears of The Fallen, is not known for its martial or scholarly skill, but for being the height of fashion. It is a Wood Aspect House whose colors are green and gold, and it dictates what is and is not in vogue in the Realm. Cynises are known for their good humor in the face of scandal, for their style and for their complete and total understanding of high scoiety. They are masters of blackmail, rumor and poison in the achievement of their ends, and they're not ashamed. They are possibly the most popular of all of the Great Houses, and also the most notorious. They don't throw parties - they host the finest galas that can last for days. They don't sell slaves - they deal in only the finest trained majordomos, the most skilled pleasure slaves and entertainers. They don't grow food - they produce the best crops and most exotic drugs in the world from their home prefecture of Pangu and their many satrapies and holdings as well as bringing it from trade with far-off lands like Gem or Halta. They do not bathe - they construct elaborate, expensive bathhouses that become the center of gossip, business and more. Their standards are high, when it comes to pleasure and lifestyle. A Cynis commonly takes many lovers, even after marriage, and the House views marriage as a tool purely for procreation, while love is a tool of pleasure. The two are largely unrelated, and as long as a Cynis is happy, the rest of the House is happy, too. House Cynis respects perfection - in any form.

Perfection is not, of course, a moral quality. House Cynis is the foremost dealer of the Realm's slaves and drugs. Its members tend to be lax or at best unorthodox in their interpretation and faith in the Immaculate Philosophy. While they are holy by definition of being Dragon-Blooded, no one expects them to act the part. They've built their reputation on scandal, to the point where it is more surprising to not hear about their debauches, affairs and ill-advised experimentation with drugs. While they aren't atheistic or overtly blasphemous, few make any effort to open righteousness or give much thought to the Immaculates. It isn't unusual to see them giving tribute at a shrine, but it's more about being a show of wealth through piety most of the time than it is any real devotion. Their irreverance has become one of the greatest obstacles for them, as the Immaculate Order will hold a great deal of sway in the choice of the next Empress, and their disdain for House Cynis is well known. They wouldn't back any Cynis candidate if any other, more pious House were in the running. However, this also means the other Houses underestimate the Cynis. They buy the wine and the drugs and the slaves, they attend the feasts, and the Cynis just smile and play along and wait for the money and information to flow into their hands.

=It is very much a working strategy. House Cynis is the largest dealer in all kinds of luxuries in the Realm, no matter what they are. The Cynis can get you anything, if you pay. They are most famous for their monopoly on the slave trade, given them at their House's founding by the Empress in order to establish their financial footing. House Cynis takes pride in finding and dealing in slaves with specialized training in difficult trades or abilities. Merchants or artisans who give up their children that show skill often get their debts cancelled, while the kids are then trained by other slave-experts until they are ready to be sold. Unskilled labor is extremely easy to find and is quite cheap, with Cynis buying labor slaves in bulk and packing them tight, whether they're military prisoners, dissidents or the dream-eaten victims of the Raksha. Their monopoly also extends to the rental of slaves. Particularly skilled or specialzied slaves are often required only for specific tasks, and so the House prepares extensive contracts to protect their interests in rental agreements, and they also rent out large groups of unskilled slaves for construction. While a significant portion of these slaves are bought from the Guild, debtors or other merchants, House Cynis is not above raiding "uncivilized" lands beyond the Realm's borders, and since the Empress' disappearance, they've even been willing to raid the less defended satrapies of other Houses.

House Cynis also deals heavily in drugs, ranging from opiates to hallucinogens to narcots to alcohol. They maintain a standing deal with the Guild on drugs, and they pay vast sums of money each year to buy and sell addictive substances of all kinds. Many hard drugs can only be legally purchased with jade rather than sivler, which in theory limits their access to Dynasts. In practice, the Cynis are more than willing to break the law. While they can't control the entire black market of the Realm, much as they'd like to, they have great influence in the underworld of the Blessed Isle. (Lowercase u, not uppercase.) Further, the Cynis doctors are the best on the Isle. They charge steep fees and so attend mostly the wealthy, but the House also deals in medical concoctions, most of them proprietary and produced by the House's experiments. They never sell their recipes, and their prices are always high, in favors or cash. Other Houses are simultaneously grateful and resentful of the service.

The military forces of House Cynis are unimpressive even at their best. Their troops on public duty and their guards are selected as much for being pretty as for their skill, and their paramilitary forces in the Threshold are mostly legbreakers and slavers first, Imperial forces second. Slaves taken by the House as children may be pressed into becoming slavers themsevles, and mutiny is not rare, but it's usually put down fast. Regardless, discipline is very much not a strong point. House Cynis claimed three Imperial legions when they were distributed, and they have been in secret negotiations with Guild agents to exchagne appointments to the Deliberative's Lesser Chamber and some influence over policy for a huge discount on Guild mercenaries from Nexus. But then, the army was never what made the Cynises dangerous. What makes them dangerous is that they control high society to a terrifying degree. Anyone who wants to maintain a social name for themselves attends their parties, and any household worthy of mentioning buys their slaves. Everyone has to eat. House Cynis has fingers everywhere, and the vast knowledge it has access to on the activities of the other Dragon-Bloods would shock even the Empress.

House Cynis knows it has no chance at seizing the throne by force. The Cathak alone could defeat their entire army along with any mercenaries they hired. Thus, they have decided to seek the throne on their terms, not those of their foes. They offer friendship while preparing the knife. Those that take their hospitality - which, shockingly, isn't everyone - know the Cynis reputation for discretion. It's well earned, and no matter what happens at a cynis party, you can be sure they'll keep your reputation safe. But they watch it all, they record it. Nothing is too small to be useful. The problem is that this information is a tool of last resort. A public release of information on a scandal means no one will let themselves go at a Cynis party ever again, and there's no way to control the spread of information once released. Thus, most Cynises keep their blackmail secret and work through rumor and insinuation. Stil;l, if a rival must be burned, well, just discreetly mention something to the monk you know, who will then find a way to censure them without bringing your name up - or, more importantly, the House's. Some members of the House use ciphered dossiers or magically sealed ledgers, while others train themselves to memorize decades' worth of scandals with perfect clarity. There is no central register of information, but trading juicy details with your kin is a common pastime in the House, and giving your elders especially useful or scandalous information can greatly help your advancement.

Further, the House's experiments with the plants and animals of Creation in search of drugs and medicine has made them the world's leading experts in toxins, venoms and poisons. Many compounds in the House vaults simply cannot be replicated without access to their wide trade network - and neither can the antidotes. House Cynis discreetly sells use of these poisons to Dynasts or criminals that will pay the fees, using their information networks to figure out who the intended victim is. If it's someone they want gone, well, no reason to act at all - they've been paid for the privilege of having a foe assassinated without them doing any work. If they want the victim to live, on the other hand, all they have to do is arrange for the victim to meet a Cynis doctor, who will make appropriate noises about summer fever or winter chill or some other made up ailment while administering an antidote. That means they've been paid twice - once for the poison, once for the cure, and of course the price of a patient's goodwill is no less worth it.

House Cynis is usually well-liked but has few deep relationships with other Houses. The V'neef buy plenty of slaves for the vineyards and marry many Cynis sons, while the Cynis buy the V'neef wines for their parties. House Mnemon buys many labor slaves for their many construction projects, and every House has people in it that have some kind of deal with the Cynis or just enjoy the parties. Their greatest problem, however, is Mnemon herself, eldest daughter of the Empress. She thinks the throne is hers by right, and the idea of anyone challenging her is a joke. A challenge by the Cynis, however, is an insult. Yes, their bloodline is worthy of marriage, certainly - but Mnemon will never allow a whoremongering, slavetaking hedonist to sit on her mother's throne. Her throne. House Cynis is terrified that she would seize their lands, ships and forces in the name of virtue and piety, and if she were to come close to taking the throne, the House might be compelled to act directly against her, for fear of losing everything.

House Ragara is another issue these days. The Cynises have always spent heavily on their parties and their general lifestyle, and far, far too many have gone into massive debt with the Ragaras' Imperial Bank. With civil war on the horizon, House Ragara is calling in those debts and are threatening to suborn many, many members of House Cynis. The House is now faced with the prospect of having to use blackmail far more directly than they'd like to counter the Ragara extortion. At least House Sesus remain an ally, often tied to Cynis by marriage and affairs. They provide vast amounts of information gathered by their own spies, while House Cynis provides them with the finest of goods, not all legal, and access to some of their own information network. Many Sesus scions are addicted to some drug or other and kept supplied only while their loyalty can be relied on. The intermarriages between Sesus and Cynis strengthen these loyalties, though it isn't clear which side has better dirt on the other.

In theory, the Cynis headquarters is the living wood castle known as the House of Trees, built atop the crypt of Cynis herself. In practice, their heart is the city Pangu, capital of the prefecture of the same name. It is home to many Cynis courts and many Cynis slaves. There's always a party somewhere in Pangu, and the tribute flaws in endlessly. The palaces there are known for their open layouts, rich carpeting and sensuous bathing. At the other end of the prefecture is the Tourmaline Monastery, named for the veins of semiprecious stone that run through its walls. It is the largest Immaculate stronghold in the area and for many years, the abbot there, Cloud Lotus, has offered sanctuary to what few escaped slaves can manage to reach it, allowing them to remain as lay worshipers and protecting them from their owners. If war were to come to Pangu, however, Cloud Lotus' neutrality and political immunity as an Immaculate leader would probably cease to protect the monastery. The chief satrapy of the Cynis is Greyfalls, the easternmost holding of the Realm in the Scavenger Lands. IT is named for the massive waterfall there and the Cynis have controlled it only briefly. It is home to one of the war manses that channels Creation's Essence into the Realm Defense Grid, which makes it a key strategic area, and it also serves as the Realm's gate to the Eastern trade routes with the Ixcoatli, the spider-ridden Kubal, the Jaguar Princes and other nations on the Golden Road. It's lucrative, but the distance from the Blessed Isle makes it hard to collect tribute or keep control. As House Cynis prepares for civil war, some of them wonder if it is perhaps the better option to leave Greyfalls to fend for itself.

Cynis was an explorer, a trailblazing merchant and hedonist. She died centuries ago of a massive heroin overdose laced with dreamstone dust. The crypt under the House of Trees is always kept decorated with fresh-cut flowers and beautiful art pieces. The House makes no secret of how she died - that a Wood Aspect was evne able to die of a drug overdose is something of a heroic feat, after all. The House is now led by a triumvirate of her daughters. The eldest, Cynis Belar, serves as the matriarch. She is a socialite of great fame and skill, known for her wit and sophistication as well as an able and celebrated painter and sculptor whose pieces often from the center of parties. Behind the scenes, she is a ruthless, secretive woman dedicated to the welfare of the House and especially of her own descendants. She uses the House's connections and information network to ruin potential threats before they can appear, and while she makes a show of her sisters being peers, they both ultimately defer to her to the point that most of the House currently assumes she has amazing blackmail on both of them.

Cynis Falen is the second of the three sisters, a financial mastermind that runs the family slave trade. While she is friendly and easygoing, she is also the most openly coldblooded of the trio, and she cares far more for maximizing profits than any semblance of morality. She is the best-traveled of the trio, often spending months at a time in the Threshold for business. While once as hedonistic as any Cynis, she has lost much of her test for wine and revelry over the centuries. The youngest of the three is Cynis Wisel, a frail poet whose beautiful appearance disguises a master of poisons that craves the safety and stability granted by poer. She runs the House's drug trade and has many contacts in the criminal underworld. Her husband, a Sesus, spends far more time drinking than he does in her presence. Her lvoer is Cynis Petalin, also her second cousin. Petalin is over six feet tall and made of muscle, with a sharp and powerful laugh. She commands the Cynis legions, such as they are, and is beloved by her men for her sense of humor, her tactical acumen and her talent for keeping morale high. Wisel intends to make Petalin the Empress, with herself as trusted vizier and, once this is done, leader of her trio of sisters.

Petalin's second in command is Cynis Laseral, known for her brilliance both as a soldier and teacher, but feared by her troops. She is a lecturer at both the House of Bells and the Spiral ACademy, with her seminars on how to profit from warfare always being well attended. She treats her soldiers as game pieces, willing to take massive casualties if it will mean victory against great odds. The only thing that can undermine her reputaiton for ruthless triumph is the deep and romantic love she has for her husband, Mnemon Oroth Takor, and he for her. The pair go to lengths to conceal it publically, and Laseral is famed for her mastery of realpolitik. She's the favorite aunt of many younger Cynis, who think that she would be an able Empress...assuming her soldiers didn't kill her out of self-preservation, should she aim for the throne. Meanwhile, Cynis Umara and Cynis Cerise are the twin daughters of a famous slaver by one of his slaves. Umara is one of the best doctors in the entire House, said to be able to replace a missing soul if paid enough. She accepts no jade in payment, though - only medical stock, which sometimes can only be found in the most remote parts of Creation. Cerise is less lucky - she had her growth stunted by an accident in youth and is barely four feet tall. She makes the best of her height, dressing in massive amounts of jewels and moonsilver-heeled shoes. She runs their father's procuring business, dealing only in the best in jewels, slaves, wine and illegal drugs.

Cynis Falen Parda, formerly an ambitious sea captain in the Merchant Fleet, now commands his own squadron in the House's navy, escorting Cynis merchants in the Inland Sea. He is a brilliant tactician and judge of character, but he far prefers negotiation to fighting and he has more than once persuaded pirates to surrender without a fight. His talents are best shown at parties, though, where his beauty and his rakish demeanor make him many friends and earn him many lovers...and enemies, as so many of those lovers tend be married.

Next time: House Ledaal

Demon Hunting Princess

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Demon Hunting Princess

House Ledaal, the Air that RAised the Bones of Giants, is the blade that guards against the night. It is Air Aspect, with the colors blue and gray. The House is fully aware that disaster is coming and that the Realm must act. There's just one problem: everyone else is geairng up for a civil war. Ladaal herself died centuries ago, and in her place she left the Flashing Tempest Council, a group of worthy elders to guide the house. Its membership includes the matriarch, Ledaal Yasmet, as well as the veteran wyld Hunter Ledaal Sivarin Vanek and the daring sorcerer Ledaal Zenitar. Historically the Council has been close-knit, but now they differ on very urgent problems, with each working to do what they think is best for the Realm's stability and the House's authority. However, they work at cross-purposes and are spreading the House thing, with even the youngest member sensing their disagreements of leadership. The council must juggle politics, its inquisitorial duties and the preparations for the brewing war. Whether they can manage to do all that long enough to keep the Realm alive is unclear.

House Ledaal's loyalty, brilliance and vigilance are unquestionable. Dynasts and patricians both trust Ledaal in business and to protect them against the dangers beyond the Realm's borders. However, their relentless obsession with hunting for danger in the dark leaves others sour. The Ledaals delve into forbidden tomes and work with strange mystics, often seeming to care more for their distant threats than the politics of home. Trusting their competence is one thing, but no one really wants to marry a Ledaal. Despite the stereotypes, the House has as good an eye for strategic marriages as anyone else. They are raised in the certainty that falling in love is a game for barbarians, idiots and Cynises. Any dalliance should profit the House somehow, whether that means getting a child, a political relationship or a lost book. The sons of House Ledaal are married off to wives whose interests and abilities align with House goals. Their daughters take husbands whose expertise is useful to them. Since the Empress' disappearance, however, House Ledaal cannot afford its usual choosiness, instead having to cement its standing where it can. The elders do not want the throne for their House, at least. Their authority as a Great House is drawn from their role as the Realm's watchdogs, and they see themselves as indispensable in that role. They would only ever seek a Ledaal Empress if they thought it necessary to secure the Realm's very survival.

The Realm protects Creation from the Wyld and the Anthema and the undead. House Ledaal protects the Realm. They obey the dictate of their founder in this, the Shadow Crusade. Ledaal was granddaughter to the Empress, daughter of Jurul, who founded House Jurul. Ledaal exposed her own mother's conspiracy - that Jurul and her conspirators had made pacts with the Lunar Anathema and the lords of Malfeas to fuel their personal ambitions. She personally led the Wyld Hunt that slew the Lunar and brought the evidence directly to the Scarlet Empress. For her loyalty and her vigilance, the Empress struck House Jurul from the ledgers and named Ledaal her own daughter, founder of her own House. Discontent to just distance themselves from Jurul's madness, Ledaal and her family took up the cause of fighting Anathema and other monsters, that their betrayal could never again threaten the Realm. House Ledaal has since become a line of demon hunters, scholars of dark lore and ancient history and crusaders against the darkness. They encourage their members to train as shikari of the Wyld Hunt, and support the Wyld Hunters with many donations of jade and supplies. In more recent years, this devotion has drawn them into a desperate struggle. The threat of civil war means even the fall of Thorns to the Deathlord Mask of Winters is merely a footnote to much of the Dynasty, and the horrified warnings of House Ledaal, their many proposals to rally the Realm's forces to reclaim Thorns and other kingdoms fallen to the Anathema - these have fallen on deaf ears. Yet the Council cannot bury itself too deeply in the Shadow Crusade, or House Ledaal will be torn to bits by their fellow Great Houses while not paying attention. They must dedicate some of their resources to playing at politics, and while they do, they see the shadows growing darker.

The ancestral home of the Ledaals is Arjuf Dominion, one of the most important ports on the Blessed Isle, and that makes the House painfully aware of how the Peleps or V'neef could destroy them with a blockade. They have a small navy for shipping cargo and their forces, but nothing that could stand up to the maritime Houses. In Arjuf city, the un-Exalted of the House manage the businesses so that most of the incoming foreign revenue flows into House coffers, with the Ledaals taking a cut from every tariff and docking fee as well as owning or sponsoring many businesses on the pier. The Ledaal ships bring in much wealth from their satrapies, which the House takes an active role in managing. They believe knowledge is the key to all strategy, and many of the House's members live in the Threshold, to better understand local culture and bring home local wealth. They aren't any more loved by the ocals for it - most of their tributaries are well aware that the House sees them as nothing but a resource or a staging ground for the Shadow Crusade. Ledaal satrapies are, at least, some of the safest places in the Threshold due to the House's constant guard against danger, but this comes with sacrifices of privacy and autonomy. The Imperial yoke grows ever heavier as the House scours its lands for Anathema sympathizers and seeks ever more resources to maintain control of Arjuf and fund the Wyld Hunts. The House also houses some money in the form of relics and texts of First Age lore. The House seeks these things out constantly and will pay a high price for them, searching for weapons against Creation's unnatural foes. Many of the Realm's greatest experts on ancient history, the powers of the Anathema and stranger things in the world are Ledaal, and the house is happy to hire them out as translators or archaeologists for a sizable fee. Lately, however, this particular income stream has been dwindling as other Houses attempt to keep their finds secret in hopes of using them more effectively against rivals.

Before the Empress disappeared, House Ledaal maintained as sizable paramilitary force designed to root out cults in the Threshold, hunt down creatures of darkness and supplement the Wyld Hunt as needed. Their specialized tradition was never intended to defend the Realm against invasion - that was the job of the Imperial legions. Now, however, Arjuf Dominion is a ripe target for the other Houses, with its rich ports, trade routes and access to the best war academy. House Ledaal feels exposed, and while it has claimed three legions, each member of the Flashing Tempest Council has different ideas about how they should be deployed. The generals have sent some of the soldiers to FAxai in hopes of achieving the longtime House goal of reclaiming the Caul, and more strike teams for the Hunt have been trained. However, the Council fights over whether to shore up satrapy defenses, as the heavier tribute dmeands have weakened the strapial militias, or if they should focus their full strength on Arjuf to defend against the threats of the Cathak legions or the Peleps warships.

Thorns remains a rallying cry for House Ledaal, especially since the total destruction of the garrison there and death of several Ledaal scions when Mask of Winters seized the satrapy. Ledaal generals do not currently have a staging ground to attack the place, however, and they have been unable to convince anyone else to help them. The Flashing Tempest Council reached out to House Peleps when Thorns fell, hoping for a joint campaign to defeat the Mask with an approach by sea from Ledaal's holdings in Incas Prefecture. However, House Peleps refused, and the elders hesitate to make a better offer for fear that their rivals will take any excuse to get their claws into Arjuf.

Ledaal has no particularly strong enemies in the Dynasty, but their reputation as zealots and their tendency to be involved with unnatural things means they also have no strong allies. With House Nellens so close, some believe the House is best served by crushing their young cousins and absorbing them, especially as House Ledaal has no love lost for the weak-blooded Nellens. On the other hand, it would leave them terribly vulnerable. Further, House Ledaal maintains a deep suspicion of the Ragara. Their careful watch has revealed patterns in Ragara business dealings, archaeological expeditions and military maneuvering that seem designed to cover up something darker. They've been quietly gathering evidence that the Ragara are misusing occult secrets and Anathema relics in order to build a case, hoping that soon they will have proof enough to demonstrate treason and destroy the Ragara before the civil war makes the bankers too valuable to take down. Some Ledaals even seek allies among the All-Seeing Eye or the Imperial magistrates. House Mnemon is the top choice of the Ledaal for an alliance - and for the throne. Mnemon's strong actions against Jiara have earned the grudging respect of the Counil, and her devout nature along with her sorcerous might makes them believe she has both the power and mindset to support the Shadow Crusade. They've made overtures of goodwill, but because Mnemon's forces are on the other side of the Imperial Mountain, some question if there'd be any real potential return on their investment, given how openly they'd be admitting to needing help.

Arjuf Dominion is the largest and most important of the Ledaal holdings. It covers the west bank of the Caracal River all the way to the Inland Sea, and it is a rich, fertile region with many skilled crafters and multiple trading ports along the coast, open to Southern wealth. The greatest of these is the city of Arjuf, perhaps the richest and most cosmopolitan place on the entire Blessed Isle after the Imperial City itself. Arjuf is the center of Ledaal wealth and power at home, and they guard it closely. They also command Howling Heart Prefecture, a mountains region with several jade mines that rely on Ledaal artifacts and engineering innovations to reduce mining dangers. The prefecture takes its name from the whistling winds through the mine shafts, though the mortal populace also use the name to refer to dark experiments run in Howling Heart City. The city's elite shikari training ground is built atop a potent demesne, and House Ledaal sends most of its shkari to study there, to better understand the ways of the Anathema and the tactics of the undead from retired hunters and scholars. However, the city also plays host to many cabals of occultists who have been pushing the limits of their power by magical experimentation for centuries. They hope to produce shikari that can fight as equals against Solars and Lunars, and their work has grown faster since the destruction of the TEpet legions. By use of sorcery and reverse engineering of Anathema artifacts of the First Age, they have developed a theoretical protocol to greatly amplify a Dragon-Blood's Essence temporarily, at the cost of much of their lifespan and blood potency. It has not yet been tested or deployed, as it would risk inciting Essence Fever strong enough to cause utter madness...but the resurgence of the Solars may prove enough to push the scholars to it anyway.

Incas Prefecture, former seat of House Iselsi, was granted to the Ledaal by the Empress when she crushed the ISelsi. House Ledaal despises the fallen Iselsi for their teachery, doing their best to further marginalize the remnants of the former Great House. The Council had hoped for a freer hand in directing the Wyld Hunt by taking over the province that houses the Palace Sublime and the Cloister of Wisdom, but between the surviving ISelsi households and Mnemon's work to move the Order's heart away from them, they've done little but increase their expenses. Still, it's nice to have a prefecture close to Thorns. Perch, in the Southern land called Zephyr, is another important holding. On the east bank of the Elidad River, it provides fine harvests - and on the west bank is the Twilight Grove, the shadowland and necropolis of the city. The dead there keep their hearts close, to recall the passion of life, and the ghostly princes known as aeons ride forth on sphinxes made from their own hungry ghosts. The satrap, Ledaal Yasmet Imara, deals as an equal with the seven archaeons that rule the necropolis, bargaining with the dead for occult secrets and Underworld lore. Besides burial rites, she forbids all interaction between the two cities, though she ignores many of the manifestations of Perch's ancestor cults. She'd love to root them out and destroy them, but Perch has had too many uprisings, and Imara doesn't want to risk another one at this juncture.

Ledaal is long dead, but her legacy lives on. The House hails her as a hero to be emulated, courageous and honest. Elders recall her as a stalwart and inquisitive woman who would never stop until she found the truth. She was decisive and accepted no compromises, and she had both an insatiable curiosity for the mystical and an unbreakable backbone, which led her not to share many of the dark things she learned - not even with her descendants. Many Ledaals dream of being the discoverer of secret journals or messages left as tests for her future children. Ledaal Yasmet serves as the matriarch. She is a potent sorcerer who spends vast amounts of money on delving into distant ruins, believing that the Realm needs occult power to survive - and that House Ledaal must be at the forefont of that power. She works closely with Liminal and Exigent mercenaries and even studies tomes of necromancy in secret. The others of the Flashing Tempest Council have noticed her growing pessimistic streak, blaming it on her second husband, the philosopher Ragara Gaiban.

Ledaal Rae is a longtime diplomat who remained within his House by marrying a patrician rather than a Dragon-Blood, and he belivees the House must put aside its old grudges against the Scavenger Lands to forge an alliance against Mask of Winters. Both of his daughters died at Thorns, and those that oppose him believe his thirst for vengeance and masculine intemperance are clouding his judgment. With the Empress gone, Rae believes that Lookshy could be convinced to sign a treaty, and he has sent his own grandson to the embassy there for preliminary talks with the General Staff without telling the other elders. Ledaal Kebok Coren is a young and untested scion, but an excellent swordswoman with a knack for controlling the weather. She is uncharacteristically passionate for the House and has some trouble controlling her strange powers, which alter the weather with her mood. Her great-grandmother, Sulco, has told her that they originate in truth from her great-grandfather, the storm demon Yan. Coren is wary of Yan and the inheritance he has left her, keeping it a desperate secret for fear that the Shadow Crusade might be aimed at her if it were revealed to the House at large.

Next time: House Mnemon

First Among Equals

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: First Among Equals

House Mnemon, the Earth Carved in the Image of One, is an Earth-Aspect House whose colors are white and purple. Of all the Houses, they are seen as the most devout and the closest to the Immaculates, renowned for their piety and particularly for the fact that Mnemon remains alive and well despite being nearly 400 years old. She established the house 350 years ago and has long relied on public devotion to the Immaculates and emulation of Pasiap by construction of some of the greatest of all temples in the Realm. Since then, they have offered shelter and protection to the Order, supporting them even in dire times and using their reputation for piety to become almost as hard to target politically as the Order themselves. Mnemons study construction, religion and sorcery, with a majority (not much of one, but a majority) of their scions receiving Immaculate training at the Cloister of Wisdom. While some become rigid, others study at distant temples and cities, getting exposure to some of the most outlandish and strange cultures and spiritual paths that Creation has to offer. The House has a flair for the exotic that is almost salacious, and their scholars are known for sometimes heretical wisdom. Despite this, their works always renew their dedication to the Immaculate Order.

House Mnemon is either wildly popular or wildly unpopular with the other Great Houses. Their piety is no lie, and the House is deeply spiritual, which means they push a hard line when the Immaculates seem to be ignored...especially Mnemon herself, the unstoppable big fish of Dynastic politics. Her descendants are charismatic dreamers and artists, and the House is full of renowned scholars of all subjects. They are legendarily loyal to their family - spouses, children and the House in general. Some also seek notoriety through the practice of the scandalous art of sorcery. But above all, House Mnemon is known for pride. After all, Mnemon herself is among the greatest of any heroes of the Dynasty, and she continues to tutor her descendants in secret arts of architecture, artifice and sorcerous power. Through her, they know they are the top bearers of the lineage of the Empress, closer to her than any other House. They've kept the blood strong with favorable marriages and are infamously tough bargainers at the marriage table, with a history of snubbing other Great Houses they deem to have less pure bloodlines.

House Mnemon was honored by the Empress herself for their skill at construction, and it brings them much of their income. Mnemon herself was an architect as a youth, working in the hinterlands of the Realm to avoid her brother Ragara's assassins. Today, House Mnemon has right of first refusal on any Imperial construction contract. It is the foundation of their wealth and the most visible proof of their piety. Mnemon architects designed many of the grandest structures on the Blessed Isle, including many of its manses, and the House is renowned for its masterful geomantic skill. They oversee and direct the work crews that make the roads, tunnels, bridges, levees, weels and aqueducts across the entire Realm, collecting a fraction of all of the funding for these projects from even the Throne itself. This has made House Ragara a necessary but distasteful business partner, for major projects require major funding, and unforeseen delays mean loans. Mnemon has always regretted her dependence on Ragara credit, and she does not trust the honor of that House at all, given its founder's attempts to murder her in her youth. The relationship is complicated further by recent problems with Mnemon satrapies withholding tribute, which is placing the House in danger of defaulting on its loans - which would give Ragara even more power over them. That's one of Mnemon's nightmares.

Before the disappearance of the Empress, House Mnemon had no legions and employed only a small paramilitary security force. In the reformation of the legions, they took five by providing proof that they had both the generals to lead them and the money to maintain them, vowing that it would their duty to defend the Realm against the Anathema. Predictably, several satrapies went into open rebellion when the legions were recalled. One of them was an Eastern satrapy of House Mnemon, Jiara, which provided food, textiles and sorcerous relics. Jiara was particularly problematic because it was the stronghold of a group of Solar Anathema that raised the country in revolt against the Mnemon garrison - not the distant threat of the Bull of the North, but a Solar outbreak right on their doorstep. Mnemon moved the bulk of her forces away from their defenses in Dejis Prefecture and other House strongholds to personally lead the reclamation of Jiara. In doing so, she delivered a scorching tirade condemning the other Houses for their indolence, which has drawn many unaffiliated Dragon-Bloods to her cause. She has left about one and a half legions at home to protect her interets and has instead invited the Order to use many of her family's homes, temples and manses for festivals, in the hopes that their presence will make the other Houses hesitate to attack.

The elders of the House would like to ally with House Pelpes. Their naval might and reputation as exemplars of virtue work well with House Mnemon's piety and reputation for magnanimity to ensure they are popular with the mortal populace of the Realm, which Mnemon's inner circle thinks will end up deciding the civil war. However, stable alliances mean intermarriage, and while House Mnemon respects the shared values of sophistication, ambition and resolve, she doesn't like the Peleps pedigree. She also undervalues the love of the people, because they have never loved her. She would rather use the Peleps as a sword against the V'neef, but not at the cost of promising them control of the Merchant Fleet. The House would also like an alliance with the Cathak, who are devout and command a formidable army. Mnemon knows that if she wants the throne, she's going to need to go through them eventually. However, she'd like to angle herself to be the only legitimate contender first, or else delay confrontation long enough to deal with the other Houses.

House Ledaal has prven an unexpected potential ally. They respect Mnemon as a potent leader and admire her for taking the fight to the Anathema personally, despite the risks. As a candidate for Empress, they believe her to be sympathetic to their goal of wiping out threats to the Realm in the Threshold. Howeve,r their major holdings and forces are on the opposite side of the Blessed Isle, which makes their ability to cooperate in battle somewhat limited. Instead, the most abiding support House Mnemon has is the Immaculate Order. Mnemon famous promised one third of her children to the Order, and the House continues this tradition, though not all to that extent. Donating public works to the ORder's care and repairing their temples at nearly no cost has earned them much affection, and while the Order remains officially neutral in Great House conflicts, its leaders privately consider Mnemon one of the few candidates spiritually fit for the Throne. They are paying vast amounts of money for construction projects right now in the quiet understanding that this money will, for the moment, go to other uses.

All other Houses are either rivals or enemies. In theory, House Sesus is an ally. In practice, they are a roadblock. While heavily intermarried with Mnemon's House, she has no belief that they will be loyal, and she knows better than to try and goad them into fighting her battles. She will retain the alliance as long as possible, but Mnemon knows that she will need, at some point, to humble the Sesus. Worse, House Cynis has them under heavy influence and is using them to further Cynis ambitions, which means they will be coming into conflict sooner rather than later. Even worse is V;neef - the woman, that is, not the House. V'neef got all of the Empress' beauty, charm and joie de vivre that Mnemon did not, which has undercut Mnemon's public persona as the image of the Empress. However, Mnemon has largely kept this grudge political rather than personal - she acts against V'neef interests in the Deliberative and sabotages V'neef careers, but has not moved any further than that. Her true hate is reserved for House Ragara. While Ragara himself is aging and retired, Mnemon has never forgotten his many efforts to kill her. She also hates the centuries of debt her House has accrued, especially among its younger generations. While House Ragara eagerly gave them credit on good terms while the Empress was around, they now squeeze the Mnemons financially and try to suborn them. Mnemon will under no circumstance whatsoever seek any alliances in the civil war that would put her on the same side as the Ragaras. She plans to decimate House Ragara and force them to pay war reparations as well as canceling her family's debts.

Dejis Prefecture is the center of Mnemon power, northeast of the Imperial Mountain. Once it was full of weak demesnes, but the House has carefully remade the geography to grow stronger ones, allowing a number of powerful manses throughout the prefecture's many hills and cliffsides. The mountains of Dejis are especially known for their temples, manses and other holy structures built by the Mnemons. The capital is Mnemon-Darjilis, built on the restored ruins of the First Age city Darjilis by Mnemon herself. Other cities include Chainbright, built into a cliff face between waterfalls, and Ajakai of the Jewels, full of museums and tombs to the siblings that Ragara slew, centuries back. They also control the vacation destination that is Halcyon Prefecture, where shepherds drive their flocks through beautiful First Age ruins and hold parties in resort towns like Iru-by-the-Sea, where the men of House Mnemon often hold court alongside the widowers that married into the House from Houses Cynis and Sesus. Painters and poets prefer toe island Aura, where Mnemon tamed the spirits and dragon lines to raise a manse named the House of Violet Pergolas, which bathes the entire island in healthy energies. A massive spay complex encircles the place, accessible only to House Mnemon and its scions' personal guests.

The satrapy of Paragon is an important holding in the Threshold. The locals there have no fear of thieves or con artists, and visiting Dynasts are welcome guests. The buildings are green-black basalt and white marble, leaid out in a perfect grid centered on the mosaic-covered palace of the Perfect of Paragon, a former scavenger prince and archaeologist who took power many years ago with the aid of a First Age relic that prolongs his mortal lifespan and binds his citizens to total obedience of his laws. His rule over Paragon is absolute, but he has never shown any sign of disobeying the satrap, as he knows that for all his power, he would have no hope of defeating the Realm's legions.

Mnemon is often seen as the closest there has been to the Empress herself. She is a brilliant, ruthless sorcerer of unmatched skill in the entiry Dynasty. For centuries, she has brought power and wealth to her House, and now she is ready to take her mother's throne. And if the Dynasty actually wanted a second Scarlet Empress, she'd have done so already. Despite her age, she appears barely over thirty, which she claims is the results of practicing the Immaculate martial arts and maintaining attunement to specially designed Earth manses, though surely sorcery is also involved. She dresses richly but severely and prefers a spartan and austere lifestyle, which she has maintained since her years with the Immaculate Order, centuries back. She has no patience for flattery and finds actions much more significant than words. She loves her family, but she truly trusts only a small handful of people enough to give them responsibility over the House's interests. Almost all of them are at least a century old, as she finds younger and more inexperienced scions to lack the knowledge she requires, and are almost all blood relatives, though a few are lovers or the spouses of her descendants. Each is bound to her, either by fear or obligation, because Mnemon knows better than to trust anyone who might be able to betray her without immediately dooming themselves. The inner circle has no official rank or standing, and it never meets formally, but its members know each other and often meet informally at family events or correspond with each other. They rarely overtly work against each other, as Mnemon has no patience for feuding. Notable members include Senator Mnemon Oroth, who has knowledge of the scandals of practically every member of the Greater Chamber within her balding head, Cynios Solado, a doctor and poisoner of extreme skill and father of one of Mnemon's daughters, and the monk Mnemon caras FArim, who keeps an eye out for Iselsi subversion in the Immaculate Order, particularly from a specific assistant to the Mouth of Peace.

Mnemon Rulinsei looks much older than her sister, Mnemon, but she is actually the younger of the two. She lost an eye and a hand to Ragara's assassins long ago, and Mnemon adopted her as a daughter for her protection. After outliving two Cynis husbands, she has retired to Mnemon-Darjilis to lead her large household and serve in Mnemon's inner circle. She is a master of geomancy and a sorcerer of middling skill who has traveled many realms, debated philosophy with the ghosts of Shogunate savants and studied architecture with demons. Her hand has been replaced with the black jade artifact Demon sTrangler, which glows with ultramarine glyphs, and she wears a patch over a starmetal eye that magnifies her second sight intensely. Rulinsei is currently placing her affairs in order, because she is completely and perfectly loyal to the sister that saved her life. She is ready to give up her own life, which she considers long enough already, to put Mnemon on the throne.

Dragonlord Mnemon Pallan is a skilled officer in the Sesus legions and a good fencer, but his real fame is as a poet. His works have been compiled and published by his wife, Sesus Elissa, and they've earned him fame among the Realm's literary circles. They focus on the might of the legions, their honor, the majesty of the Realm and the glory of death to ensure victory. These poems are sung at military banquets or chanted by marching troops, for they inspire officer and foot soldier alike. Pallan is a sight to behold in society, with his good looks, eloquence and generosity earning him many lovers. Rumor has it that he even had a night with the Empress herself, though he does not speak of it. His longest-running affair, with Ragara Sarisan, has been going on for over a decade. His family disapproves but will not speak of it, for fear of breaking the polite fiction of fidelity. The problem is that Sarisan's first child may be Pallan's, which would be a grave offense to House Sesus, who by rights have claim to the potency of his progenitive Essence.

Mnemon Rulinsei Ghova is one of the best armorers in the entirety of the Realm, but his wares are rarely in demand. This is because he covers them with phantasmagorical images - storms covered in eyes, beasts with flames for heads, vines with flowers of human hands. Some reject this because of its heretical iconism, others because it's just weird as fuck. He is inspired by opium dreams and the traumatic memories of his time in the bordermarches, where he and his Hearth quested for the Noumenon and fought the raksha Llirian-Llai, She Who Drinks the Wine of Light. Only the Wyld Hunt can draw him from his salon, temple or forge. He always wears a veil, an affectation that is tied to his private heretical belief that the Immaculate Dragons have withdrawn to beyond time itself as living bodhisattvas, ready to return in the Realm's time of need. In doctrinal debate with his family, he supports his beliefs with scriptural quotations and particularly the apocryphal Hollow Codex. While his family disagrees, they respect his views as long as he doesn't raise any awkward questions via proselytizing. Recently, he believes he's seen the Dragons themselves in an opium haze, instructing him to seek their glorious reincarnations in the Threshold.

Next time: House Nellens

The Politics of Mortality

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: The Politics of Mortality

House Nellens, the Dragons of the Blood Resurgent, have no dominant Aspect. Their colors are brown and silver, and they meet each year outside the sprawling ancestral home of the founder Nellens to tell the story of his life, on his birthday. It is an epic song of flowery verses that tells the tale of a pious warrior and the queen he loved, a love that transcended social rules but ended in disaster. The best versions include war, assassins and self-sacrifice, and it is almost purely fictional. The Scarlet Empress took many lovers and consorts over her centuries-long reign, though few were ever as controversial as Nellens. He wasn't a warrior - he was a politician, a mortal delegate in the Lesser Chamber of the Deliberative who spent his time advocated for un-Exalted Dynasts.

Nellens argued that the blood of the Dragons in the veins of the un-Exalted members of the Houses placed them ahead of peasants and patricians, spiritually. As such, they should be valued for more than just their role as potential parents of future Dragon-Blooded and should be treated as socially above the patricians legally, given their Dragon-proven enlightenment. This stance was, of course, wildly unpopular with the Dragon-Blooded senators. While Nellens carefully wrote all of his speeches to avoid problems, he still enraged and offended many, and it was assumed that one of his political rivals would have him murdered if the Empress herself didn't. Instead, she took him into her bed. Centuries after his death, she founded a Great House using his name, uniting several patrician Houses and outcaste families into one unit. Whether this was intended to honor Nellens as the father of Sesus or to serve purely as a political move to throw the other Houses off-balance is still unknown.

House Nellens has no single leader. Instead, it is run by an assembly known as the Most August Conclave. Three of the Conclave are Dragon-Blooded, including the calculating matriarch Nellens Gazal, and four are mortal. Other members of the Conclave include the famous orator and mortal senator of the Greater Chamber Nellens Odem, the Dragon-Blooded merchant Nellens Ikona who is believed by the mortal businesspeople of the Blessed Isle and the mortal sorcerer Nellens Sabine, who runs the House's marriage negotiations. As far as the rest of the Realm cares, the three Dragon-Bloods are the leaders of the House. In reality, House Nellens gives equal weight to all seven members of the Conclave.

House Nellens is often derided as thin-blooded dilettantes, even mongrels. Every Nellens knows they are disliked and mocked. As early as primary school, they have to deal with the condescension and insults of their peers. Being Nellens is a huge social handicap, but a wise Dragon-Blood turns it into an advantage, allowing detractors to dismiss them in order to outmaneuver their foes. House Nellens is unique among the Houses in that its upper ranks are mostly mortal. To improve Exaltation rates, the Most August Conclave has designed and implemented an aggressive marriage-seeking strategy that is considered so vital to the House's interests that they will occasionally reject proposals coming from outcaste Dragon-Bloods or even thin-blooded members of other Great Houses in favor of mortal Dynasts with stronger pedigrees. The House focuses on matches that strengthen the blood in general rather than cultivating any specific Aspect.

House Nellens is extremely invested in the bureaucracy and commerce of the Blessed ISle, and most of their mortal membership is raised from birth to serve in the ministries, offices and trading houses that ensure the Realm runs smoothly. Nellens children are tested at age five to determine their aptitudes, then run through a three-year program to strengthen those talents before entering primary school. By the time they graduate secondary school, they are well prepared for a professional position that suits their abilities. Those that Exalt are expected to perform above and beyond the members of other Great Houses. Some achieve ranking positions in the Thousand Scales, like their mortal brethren, but most of these Exalts are expected to become heroes of the Realm. Many serve in the legions or join the Immaculate Order. Others serve within the House as surrogates for their un-Exalted elders or as the public face of the House at Realm parties.

House Nellens is shockingly wealthy and is in fact one of the few Houses to hold no heavy debts with House Ragara. They are, in fact, growing even richer despite the current chaos in the Threshold and on the Isle. Their success is fueled by the many Nellens within the Thousand Scales, who make it very, very easy for their family to get permits, applications and financing agreements approved. While all Houses diversify their investing, House Nellens takes it above and beyond. Most f their investments are in the minor industries of the Blessed Isle, and their wealth is derived from the sheer number of them. They are involved in practically every community and enterprise on the Blessed Isle, ranging from farms and mines to the whaling fleets of the North to the fish processing plants to the salt mines to the textile factories to the fruit groves to shipping to mercantile consortiums. Everything falls under the Nellens investment umbrella, on and off the Isle. They explore every direction but the West, buying and trading in nearly every major city and many minor ones. Their greatest strength, however, is their network of favors owed by other Dynasts, patrician families, foreign nobility and merchants. Their influence in the financial, commercial and political sectors can make life very easy for their friends...and while they don't flaunt it, they can make life very difficult for their enemies.

The Nellens have never been a military House. Despite their amazing success in politics and business, they've always seen their lack of military strength as a deficiency they've needed to correct. They frequently requested the Empress grant them ability to raise a House legion and even went so far as to build an entire garrison complex near their city of Juche, but it always proved useless. With the Empress gone and the legions divided up, they've managed to acquire two legions by careful favor trading, bribes and debt forgiveness. Both are poorly equipped, understrength and lacking in adequate command staff, which is probably why they could get two at all. However, House Nellens is used to the long game. This is an investment in the future, the foundation for greater forces. Currently, the House is in negotiations with several others to secure the release of their members serving in other legions. Intolerant commanders in othe Houses have also been using the chance to arrange transfers for their outcaste subordinates to the Nellens legions, which the House loves. They've even begun approaching disgraced, discharged or dismissed outcaste officers to fill their command ranks, offering money, support or marriage to earn their loyalty.

Every Nellens child learns the House's core philosophy: if a woman is your enemy, you have not found the proper leverage. This is what drives their ambitions and allows them to bear all the insults hurled upon them without care. While every House is a rival, that's no reason to avoid profitable alliance. Only a few Houses are truly worthy of the hatred of House Nellens. The members of House Sesus consider the fact that the House named for Sesus' father has so many mortal members to be a grave insult, and they view the Nellens marriage program to be an attempt to usurp their pedigree. Since the earliest days of its existence, House Nellens has been foe to House Sesus in every respect, with the Sesus sending in infiltrators, spies and even assassins to disrupt Nellens plans.

While the Nellens have done little outright to antagonize House Ledaal, their neighbors resent them for their wealth, which they believe came at the expense of Arjuf Dominion. The Conclave has made multiple overtures of friendship, but negotiations are delicate. Likewise, the wealth of Nellens has been a constant annoyance to House Ragara, which resents their inability to place Nellens scions in debt and chafe at this challenge to their mercantile dominance. Individual Ragaras often seek out solutions, which range from partnerships to undermining Nellens efforts in the threshold to trying to suborn unhappy Nellens scions. House V'neef is also something of an enemy, as when the Empress elevated V'neef, she awarded the new House with assets stripped from Nellens in an effort to make the two youngest Houses rivals. OVer the decades, they have sabotaged and undermined each other constantly in an unbroken cycle of feuding. An alliance might be sueful, but the Conclave is very split on their views of V'neef.

Nellens has reached out recently to House Tepet, knowing the pains of being scorned. The Conclave believe that the Tepet leaders might appreciate their empahty and alliance, and it's certainly true that Nellens has the funds to outfit legions but lacks in military command experience, while House Tepet commanders are short on money, manpower and work right now and could be willing to lend their expertise in an effort to regain lost respect...but they'd probably prefer more respectable patrons. Nellens also has strong ties of friendship throughout the patrician houses and other wealthy mortals, much closer than any other Great House can claim. They hand out financial aid to struggling merchants, smooth bureaucratic snarls in the Thousand Scales and find many other ways to use their influence to gain the support of the un-Exalted. They may not have the power or direct influence of the other Houses in the battle for the throne, but the Conclave believes that their control over the masses may give them a position of importance with whoever ends up winning.

Juche Prefecture is the Nellens headquarters, and its capital, Juche, is home to most of the family. The Conclave is based out of the Villa of Seven Doorways, a massive manse that houses the Nellens libraries and treasuries. They have invested heavily in the prefecture and city, and the centuries of cold war with the Sesus has made sure the border fortresses are strong and the backroads are not known to outsiders. Juche is one of the Blessed Isle's major trade and religious centers, and just about everything there has the House's investments involved somehow. Despite their ambitions, they have few other holdings. Rival Houses see this as a sign of weakness, which is what they'd prefer. The Nellens are good at finding troubled satrapies and offering them financial aid in meeting their tithing duties. They've helped pay many tributes over the years, and so they have many contacts in all directions except the West, keeping them well informed on the actions of the other Houses.

Nellens remains a controversial figure, even centuries after his death. His advocacy for un-Exalted Dynasts earned him much hatred, but he was also a key figure in pushing several major pieces of legislation, such as the yearly limit on emancipation of slavery, which served as a compromise that ended the threat of a short-lived abolitionist movement. (What, you thought he was a completely good person?) Nellens was renowned as a charismatic and cunning compromise broker as well as a political firebrand. Nellens Sabine, at 28, was the youngest ever to sit on the Most August Conclave. She has always had an intuitive grasp of the occult and was raised to be ambitious. Her sorcerous skills have opened many doors for the family. She's now in her sixties and runs the House marriage program, working tirelessly to improve their Exaltation rates. Privately, she is also seeking ways to awaken her own dragon's blood. Her lineage is impeccable, her bloodline as pure as any the House has ever had, but she never Exalted, which she considers a personal failing. Her quest is slightly insane and possibly heretical, but she persists - if not for her own sake, than for her nineteen-year-old daughter.

Nellens Leferi has done business with all kinds of people - Threshold despots, mighty warlords and even the subterranean Mountain Folk. When she's not out adventuring and seeking new profits and trading partners, she serves as the Conclave's proxy in commercial intersts, using her massive business skills and equally massive martial arts skills to bargain with those too proud to deal with mortals. Most recently, she's been heading to Great Forks to hire Exigent mercenaries in order to reinforce the Nellens legions. Nellens Uliyah, meanwhile, is a modestly ranking official in the Righteous and Accountable Ministry of Weights and Measures, the bureau that enforces standardized weights and measures in the Realm. While mortal, her ingenuity is matched only by her audacity in using her position as a weapon. She is more than happy to prosecute Cynis drug dealers who weight their scales, using her surveying power to bleed House Sesus of territory slowly, and fining House Mnemon for the tiniest discrepancies in their blueprints. She's got a price on her head, naturally, and her survival is ensured by her god-blooded lover and bodyguard, Seventh Winter.

Next time: House Peleps

Heroic Naval Dragons

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Heroic Naval Dragons

House Peleps, the Water That Wreaths the Crown of Centuries, is one of the oldest Houses, beloved by the people of the Realm. It is a Water-Aspect House, its colors blue and black, and to every person on the Blessed Isle, there are three kinds of Peleps. One is the dashing sea captain, calmly shouting orders even in the midst of the storm. One is the incorruptible judge, who will never pass down a judgment until the truth is revealed. And the third is the daring adventurer who always arrives just in the nick of time. House Peleps is the romantic ideal of danger, adventure and honor. The family has a long nautical tradition, producing many sailors, and there is no symbol seen on more sails than the Peleps mon. They are the fist of the Realm's naval might, commanders of the Imperial Navy in its totality.

The name Peleps is a byword for both worldly knowledge and virtue in the Realm. They are beacons of Imperial honor and shining lights of adventure. They are reliable and steadfast, so that all other Houses must look up to them, even if they don't want to. Of course, the truth is more complex. For every true hero of House Peleps, there's some disgraced scion shoved to a post where no one will notice them. House Peleps may be a romantic House, but it is also one of the most ruthless, even to its own, even by Dynastic standards. Success is the only thing, and what other Houses hand out to their children as birthright must be earned in House Peleps. Success brings opulent rewards and power, however.

Success cannot be bought. Merit is all, for the Peleps. Even the most inauspicious, thin-blooded birth can rise to the greatest heights with enough skill, connections, conviction and luck. The Peleps often speak of 'the trade winds' as a reference to fate and luck, and they tend to believe that luck is earned. If the trade winds do not favor you, you must be unworthy, while if you can take advantage of them, that's a skill. It means that growing up Peleps can be cold, lonely and even hostile, but the rewards for success will make you a legend. The House's chief concerns are the Navy and the judiciary, and joining either is the fastest way to success in the House. Their focus on merit over nepotism means their judges are renowned for skill and competence, inspiring both fear and respect...which the less scrupulous ones are more than happy to take full advantage of.

The House is governed by the Rightly Guided Admiralty Board, which also sits in charge of the Imperial Navy. It is made of fifteen high admirals, each elected to 25 year terms. The current roster includes matriarch Peleps Lai, the self-declared judge of pirates Peleps Orimu and the senator Peleps Mulat Kai. Every Peleps that has Exalted or holds the rank of captain or higher in the Navy has a vote for the board, and in theory, any Peleps is eligible to be elected. In practice, the board is exclusively Dragon-Blooded women. After all, to guide the House in the Realm's politics, you must have the shrewdest of minds. The vote isn't to ensure that everyone has a say, but to prove that the winners have the scheming minds to outwit the other Houses. The Admiralty Board is currently unable to reach any accord on the matter of the Throne, but are seeking poential candidates in the House to combat their declining fortunes - whether that means the Scarlet Throne or a new Western one.

The wealth of House Peleps traditionally came from their duties on the Inland Sea. All tribute crosses that sea accompanied by escorts of the Merchant Fleet, who receive a fraction of each shipment. This money allowed the PEleps to handle the costs of constructing, supplying and maintaining the massive Imperial Navy, and their wealth was simply accepted, with few ever thinking they could lose it. However, in the Realm year 754, the Empress stripped the Peleps of the Merchant Fleet and its lucrative duties, granting them to newly formed House V'neef. Much of Peleps' income vanished into the pockets of young upstarts.

Now, the House must rely on new funding to handle the massive costs of the world's largest naval force. They retain a large stipend from the Imperial Treasury, despite the best efforts of the Dwliberative in reducing it, and they've had to crack down hard on their satrapies - better to strip those bare than to cut the military budgets, given how close the civil war is. Once the fighting starts, they can conquer the V'neef satrapies to replace their own ones that they're milking dry. The massive tributes are having a devastating cost on the Peleps holdings, and the House is also encouraging its scions to go into business ventures, while reserving the right to tax them. This has actually worked fairly well, at least, as his the aggressive stand the House is now taking on piracy, seizing contraband and ships to bolster its failing fortunes. The coffers are at an all-time low, though, and the Admiralty Board's definition of 'pirate' is growing rather loose.

Even with all that, it's not enough. They're running low on funds to pay tuition costs for their children, and other Houses are both disappointed and pleased to see the famous Peleps parties, so full of rare goods, decline in both number and opulence. Donations from Dynasts trying to earn their favor are still coming in, but not in nearly the amounts they need. The House is bleeding money, and they're considering desperate measures, ranging from raiding other satrapies to demanding tribute from any merchant ship they find. It may be that they'll even grow desperate enough to start selling off parts of the Navy to remain in the black. The main plan they have to deal with this is conquest. They know that their control of the Imperial Navy invites scrutiny and that open aggression will make enemies of the whole Dynasty. Thus, they move slowly - a trade post here, a naval base there, looking for any legitimate reason to expand their power in the West without drawing suspicion. With enough time, they hope, they could establish a Western Empire, more true to the will and legacy of the Empress and the Immaculate Philosophy than the corrupt Realm that presently exists.

When the legions were divided up, House Peleps claimed four by virtue of their high standing and power in the Deliberative. Since then, these legions have been seeded with Peleps commanders, bolstering loyalty but causing morale and effectiveness to plummet. Most of the command positions are held by former junior officers with little if any experience, and the more traditional members of the House are disgusted by this blatant nepotism. Even so, the Admiralty Board has, if with distaste, approved of it. Three legions currently drill on the Isle of Wrack, while the fourth is slowly being sent West, about a hundred soldiers at a time, over the course of the last year.

The House's true military power is and has always been the Imperial Navy, a force of thousands of vessels divided into five elementally-designated fleets. While most sailors and marines are peasant volunteers, the officers are patricians and Dynasts that attend the Realm's military academies and the serve as apprentices to officers for a few years before being raised to command rank. Most Dragon-Blooded Peleps officers hail from the House of Bells, with the occasional outcaste trained at Pasiap's Stair marrying into the family and earning a commission. Almost all of the admirals are Peleps women, and Dragon-Blooded rise in the ranks faster than mortals with more leeway for their actions...but when they fail, they fall harder and faster than mortals, too. A disgraced Dragon-Blood is often shunted aggressively to some job that will leave them useful but never seen.

The naval manpower of House Peleps is possibly equal to the entire force of all the legions combined. The other Houses are quite aware of this and always wary of Peleps maneuvers near their holdings. If the House were to deploy its forces unwisely or lose its reputation for honor, the Navy is one of the few things in Creation that might unify the Realm...against them. They are fully aware of this fact, so the Admiralty Board discourages young Peleps from blustering and making idle threats of naval intervention. The Navy is a weapon to be wielded delicately in these uncertain times. However, the third aspect of their military power is usually overlooked. Yes, House PEleps is admired and feared by many Dynasts, but many also see them as the pinnacle of the Realm's glory. A war against them could easily seem to be a direct assault on the Imperial ideals and virtue, which would bring massive numbers of idealistic Dragon-Bloods to their side. The problem is that the House's dreams of Western Empire risk compromising its reputation if they are exposed, which has been a source of much internal debate on the Admiralty Board.

House Peleps has many admirers but few allies. House Mnemon is closest, but it's mostly out of convenience and a warm but distant regard for shared virtue. Peleps is, of course, in debt to House Ragara, like most Houses. They also hold Nellens and Cynis in quiet contempt. They prefer doing business with Cynis over Ragara, but Nellens disgusts the Peleps. Once, they respected House Tepet, but now, most Peleps scions believe Tepet has revealed weakness and should have the decency to roll over and die soon. That way, they can be eulogized, remmebered as great and not drain the Realm like some kind of military lamprey.

House Cathak is the other military juggernaut of the Realm, and both Houses are quite aware that together, they have the power to seize the throne - and in doing so unite the Dynasty against them. The Cathaks seem to fear the consequences of this, but House Peleps savors the challenge. Still, Cathak Cainan has announced his neutrality, so relations between the pair are careful, cordial and distant, as they know they may well end up on opposite sides. Neither wants that war, but any misunderstanding could cause it. The true enemy, though, is definitely House V'neef. They humiliated the Peleps. V'neef herself is a young, daring and ambitious woman who competes directly with the Peleps areas of expertise. Her House lacks the sea power to directly assault the Navy, but an open war could destroy Peleps finances and reputation even in victory. Thus, the two Houses engage in games of brinksmanship in the West, trying to compete for resources and strategic holdings while finding legal excuses to sink each others' ships. Eventually, someone is going to slip up or be too threatened to care about pretense. The war is inevitable.

Voice-of-the-Tides Prefecture is the House's headquarters on the Blessed Isle, along the far western shore. Their estate is on the Isle of Wrack, perched over broken cliffs and overlooking the Blessed Isle drydocks on one side and the sea on the other. The Admiralty Board rules from here, entertaining both their own scions and those Dynasts seeking their favor. They have also commanded the satrapy Sarkarn for centuries. It is an island of pearl divers west of Thorns, which brings in exotic fish and pink pearls. With the Thorns trade failing and the demands for tribute growing ever greater, Sarkarn is sinking into despair and poverty, and its queen is desperately turning towards the autocrat of Thorns, Red Iron Rebuke, whose envoys offer the protection of Mask of Winters. More valuable is the Wavecrest Archieplago, a set of rich volcanic islands that produce exotic and expensive fruits for Dynastic tables. The shipyards there work to repair and replace the aging and damaged vessels of the Water Fleet, expanding their deep-water capabilities. Recent sabotage suggests that the V'neef have become aware of these efforts. The increased tribute demands are cutting into the archipelago's food supply, and the local royalty pressures their leader, the Feathered One, to start raiding their neighbors to solve the problem. Some even speak of rebellion. Meanwhile, the hero-priestess Kamach Aki has declared herself the Chosen of Hamoji and is spreading messages against the Immaculates, pushing her people to return to the worship of their volcano god.

Peleps was the second daughter of the Empress and probably the widest traveled of any of her siblings. She went in every Direction, and wherever she went, she made admirers and enemies, for she was a righteous adventurer and prone to seizing and conquering things she found value in. Her greatest rival and lover was always the ocean. In death, she was interred in her ship, the Spear of Daana'd, which was then scuttled off the Isle of Wrack. The PEleps still pay homage to her tomb each year, and its seals are tended to by local Dragon-Blooded monks. Some claim they can hear banging noises from it during Calibration. The current matriarch and unofficial leader of the Admiralty Board is her daughter, Peleps Lai. Lai's deeds are renowned in plays and books across Creation, but she has largely retired. She speaks up only when she feels the need to correct people, and she still believes that the Empress will return. She refuses to even consider the idea of another Empress until proven otherwise, and while she is old now, she's still got the martial skill to defeat the upstarts that try to defy her. She does support the idea of a Western Empire, however, and dreams of the day she can personally present new conquests to the Scarlet Empress.

Peleps Aramida, admiral of the Water Fleet, is a spiritual woman with a knack for translating lofty spiritual concepts in a way her sailors can appreciate and understand. Her sermons in honor of the dead are heartfelt, and she loves her crew like a strict, distant but caring mother. They love her back, even though she is never stingy with the lash. She is a genius of naval tactics, with her victories against both the Fair Folk and sea demons making her the romantic ideal of the Peleps officer, beloved by the courts for her cleverness and daring. She supports an alliance with house Tepet, believing that they are not in fact dying and could serve as the strong right hand of a Peleps Empress - which she would be happy to be, if she could get the support to do it. Peleps Sepeta Zurin, on the other hand, is the most celebrated and beloved of Immaculate missonaries. He crossed the Glassblack Wastes to bring the Immaculate Philosophy to the tribes of Porphyry, he discovered the lost temple-city of Azal-Mog and destroyed its blasphemous altar to make way for an Immaculate shrine, he overthrew the tyrant maize-god Hundredth Harvest. He is rarely on the Blessed Isle long before his next expedition, even though the House elders would love him to s tay and rally the Order and peasants to their side in the event of civil war. Recently, Zurin has set out for Thorns in the hopes that he can convert Mask of Winters to the Immaculate Philosophy, poor idiot hero that he is.

Next time: House Ragara

The Worst Fucking People

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: The Worst Fucking People

House Ragara, the Earth Slaked on the Blood of Dragons, are an Earth-Aspect House with the colors white and gold. They have always viewed the Imperial Mountain as the symbol of everything they want to be - implacable, eternal. And yet its roots go deep, where hidden wonders and horrors lurk, and even most Ragara do not realize how apt their metaphor is. They are also called the Imperial Bank by other Houses, as much out of resentment as recognition of their might. House Ragara holds debts on essentially everyone else, with a finger in just about every type of business. While all Dynasts are wealthy beyond mortal dreams, House Ragara is the wealthiest of all. At the center of it all is Ragara Banoba and his scheming allies, spiders of the web of debts and wealth. They are determined to place a RAgara on the Throne - but they want more than that. They want everything.

House Ragara cares more for power than simple wealth. Its network of sorcerers and artifact hunters covers much of the Threshold, acquiring whatever it can. House Ragara's pretext for such raiding is that everything belongs to the Empress, and House Ragara is merely her vault. They care nothing for the stability or prosperity of the Threshold kingdoms they steal from, and they love to study the ancient periods of history, with many of the greatest scholars of Anathema-made craft being Ragaras. Their fascination is far beyond what is healthy or acceptable, and they have often delved into subjects forbidden by Imperial law. Entire households have been cut off for heresey and diabolism, but in truth these were generally scapegoats. The inner circle of Ragara occultists and politicians see nothing wrong in what they did - they just want to avoid the same fate as House Jurul. To sacrifice a family is sad, yes, but it protects the House, and so most Ragara matriarchs would accept it. To reclaim the power of the Realm Before and its devil-queens would secure the future of the House and the Realm with it. Sacrifices are necessary. Thus, House Ragara delves into the depths of Malfeas and the Underworld, bargaining with Raksha and stranger beings to gain unholy power. They even compete with the Wyld Hunt in search of Anathema to capture and experiment on...or even to recruit.

For most of Creation, House Ragara is a family of bankers and merchants. Few suspect anything of them - even younger Ragara scions. Those that do tend to be brushed off as conspiracy theorists, obsessed with individual Ragara that got censured for blasphemy. The House itself has developed a stodgy and conservative reputation, though its individual members tend to be urbane, well educated and charismatic. They are natural leaders, envied by other Houses for their ease and sophistication. The house is led by patriarch RAgara Bonoba - yes, patriarch, because House Ragara was founded by a man. Banoba has around six other family members as his inner circle of advisors, and they all have about equal hold over each other. They are chosen not for fame or rank but for their talent. Some are youths, some ancient, but all are callous geniuses of occult power. They include Ragara Vna, a Spiral Academy recent graduate whse talent for mesmerising people has let her take control of several bureaucrats and low-ranking Deliberative delegates, nd the blind physician Ragara Madoq, whose lab contains disease strains that have not been seen since the First Age. They are responsible for the illict projects of House Ragara, those which can be trusted to no one else, such as Anathema sorceries, blasphemous experiments on Exaltation itself and the search for the Final Realm-Controlling Utterance.

Ragara's financial empire was built on locating and seizing undiscovered jade mines via study of pre-Contagion documents. Ragara also established the Learned Bastion, a small school in Corin Prefecture that educates adult Dragon-Bloods with a curriculum of geology and geomancy that can rival even the Heptagram. Each graduate must serve the House's Unclouded Stone Savants for five years, hunting down mineral deposits of value, and the Bastion has five centuries of distinguished if specialized and low-profile service. Thus, House Ragara has claimed many of Creations biggest and oldest jade and silver deposits, establishing its financial power. The jade mines are still a quarter of the House's income, but the rest is from interest on loans and investments. Under Ragara Banoba, much of this wealth has been used to acquire artifacts and fund occult study of all kinds.

The Empress allowed the predatory lending practices of House Ragara. The House was tied to her closely, and she saw little need to regulate them if they avoided military pursuits. She personally worked with them multiple times, most notoriously to allow her campaigns of conquest. The House would lend to desperate nations at extravagant interest rates, then sell the loan to the Empress when it became clear that repayment would be impossible. The Empress would then use non-payment as a pretext to invade. Every Great House also owes Ragara money, ranging from significant but ultimately minor loans to potentially crippling ones. Interest is sufficiently lucrative that few Ragaras actually want to see the principal repaid, and no one wants to be the House that defaults on the loan.

When the legions were being divided up, House Ragara focused on acquiring the most poorly trained, underequipped and worst legions, gaining control over three at relatively low cost. Since then, they have dumped vast quantities of jade into improving the legions, staffing them and stocking them with the best equipment. However, they have also lost most of the legions' experienced officers, and the troops are denoralized. Ragara Banoba is aware of the weaknesses of his legions, but hopes that a few years of work in the Threshold will fix things up. So far, results have been mixed, and if war breaks out soon, the Ragara legions will not be ready for it. However, Ragara scions with poor business schools have traditionally been pushed to join the legions to recoup the House's investment in them, which means they actually do have a history of distinguished military service. Now, they are trying to push those Ragara officers to lead their new legions.

House Ragara has no allies or friends. It has debtors. Still, every House eventually comes to Ragara Banoba looking for a loan. Thus, they find it hard to look on their fellow Houses as equals at all, which grates on the other Houses - especially the proud ones, like Peleps or Cathak. The exceptions are Houses Nellens and V'neef, which have worked hard to stay out of debt to the Ragaras. For that, they are as close as the House comes to recognizing equals - they're enemies. House Cathak shows polite support of House Ragara taking the Throne, but everyone knows it's just a polite fiction of convenience. The Cathaks will not be puppeted, and the Ragaras will cancel no Cathak debts.

Even so, the greatest enemies the House has right now are Mnemon and Ledaal. Mnemon herself has a death grudge against Ragara and wishes for nothing more than to destroy his House. Banoba, for his part, just wants to keep her off the throne. Only Ledaal has any serious suspicions towards House Ragara, aware of their gathering of relics. While House Ledaal wants to avoid damaging the sorcerous defenses of the past, they are very concerned about House Ragara's motivations and the temptations that power represents. They are the closest to realizing the true threat that House Ragara can bring to bear.

It is impossible, however, to stand alone. Ragara Banoba has been reaching out to Houses Sesus and Cynis, offering them favorable loans and expensive goods while slashing Cynis debts and sending his family to more and more parties. Ragara politicians sing the praises of House Sesus. Banoba has also been taking care to avoid offending House Peleps, another potential ally. He's embraced the time of crisis, and House Ragara is looking forward to the civil war as a chance to expand its power. It is mostly struggling to gather as much of House Tepet's old holdings as it can, in the guise of reinforcing them and filling in for the now-decimated Tepet administrative structure. It's entirely illegal, but the other Houses have allowed it because Ragara is, in theory, taking on debts that the Tepet can no longer repay. This has made the Sesus a rival as well, as they too are trying to seize the Tepet satrapies. Banoba is trying to call in favors with House Peleps to get the Deliberative on his side, but he's being careful not to undermine any economic ties to House Sesus. After all, if he wins this game, his troops will be spread quite thin and he may have to illegally hire mercenaries to supplement them.

House Ragara's seat is Corin Prefecture], along the southern coast. It is a barren landscape full of rich jade, silver and tin mines. Ragara Banoba rules from the Stepped Palace, a massive smelting and banking structure just outside River Quay, the city that the family uses as its headquarters. At the top of the palace is the audience hall, where Ragara and his council meet and hear requests for extremely large or dangerous loans. The phrase 'to walk the long stairs' is thus a saying meaning to take a loan. Banoba presides over the House's extensive holdings from the Stepped Palace, but they extend through much of the Threshold. House Ragara demands relatively little tribute and expects only minimal shows of loyalty, focusing more on taking minor and undesirable satrapies tht it can loot for mining wealth or ruins.

Jau Dei is one of these, a land under the mountains that produces many-colored marble, some white jade, and the tartelian, a sort of crustacean whose powdered shell is useful in alchemy. The caverns are lit by an ingenious network of sunlight refraction crystals, which once brought daylight constantly, but they've cracked and dimmed over time. Now, they provide light equivalent to the full moon each day at noon. The Jau Deians are accustomed to the dark depths more than the Ragara garrison is. Thus, rebellion has been a frequent problem, as the rebels easily hide in natural caves or the mines. While this has been kept at a low simmer in the past, the disappearance of the Empress has led to a resurgence of terror atttacks - firebombs, mass poisoning, and so on. It is a problem for the House, a drain on resources that never seems to go away. Banoba only bothers to fight the rebellion at this point rather than give the satrapy to another House because it works to hide the darker conspiracies of the House. Even the most jaded Ragars shudder at the rumors of experimentation on captive outcastes in the depths of Jau Dei.

Ragara is the Empress' oldest living child. He was always ambitious, and in his early life he learned to despise his mother and siblings passionately, hiding it below a mask and beginning a long campaign of assassination against his siblings as he began to gather his fortune. His goal was to become the only possible heir to the empire. The Empress saw through it, however, and when Sesus was born, she charged Ragara to protect the child. Specifically, she told him that if Sesus died, so too would he. RAgara had no choice, then, but to keep Sesus safe. Now, Ragara is an old man, sustained well beyond what is normal by the power of his daiklave, Blood Zenith, which feeds him with the dregs of the stolen soul of a Solar. Even so, he knows he is dying. He has retired ot Pneuma, attended by his equally aged Hearth and a few of his favored descendants. He has left his house in the hands of his second-oldest living son, Banoba. While he publically praises his son's wisdom, his real reasons for the selection have little to do with wealth or wisdom and far more to do with occult work.

Ragara Banoba is a handsome man in his middle age, fashionable and charismatic. He keeps his hair cut short and his moustache immaculately trimmed, and he is rarely seen without his consort, a distant nephew named Ragara Heral. Heral is Banoba's greatest weakness - he truly loves the younger man and would do anything to protect him. He is fully aware that this makes him vulnerable, but what can he do?

Ragara Szaya is a battle sorcerer and risk-taking merchant who loves danger and wild behavior that is just short of being acceptable. No one would ever expect someone like her to be an agent of the All-Seeing Eye, which is part of why she's so good at it. Her commercial contacts span the Threshold, feeding her information that she sends on up to her superiors in the Eye. She is married to her fellow agent, a man named Ledaal Kes, and the two have been close friends for decades. They are also both extremely gay and make no secret of it. Ragara Iuna is another sorcerer, though of no great skill. Her real talent is archaeology and the study of ancient lore. She is an idealistic adventurer who spends much of her time alone in the Threshold, recovering lost artifacts, art and literature. She wants to preserve and study it for future generations' benefit. Recently, she returned from an adventure with her new sifu, Red-Gloved Master, who has been teaching her sorcerous martial arts thought long lost in the Second Age.

Next time: House Sesus

The Worst Fucking People

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: The Worst Fucking People

House Sesus, the Fire That makes the Shadows Strong, is a Fire-Aspect House whose colors are red and black. They know that any army can be defeated, that any land can be taken, that any resources can be stolen...but knowledge is invincible. It will always exist, as long as someone is there to know it. That is why it is the greatest weapon the House could wield. House Sesus has embraced spycraft, assassination and sabotage as their tools, hiding their strength until the time is right. Sesus herself was a daughter of the Scarlet Empress and the mortal Nellens, and she was a skilled courtier. She personally caused the destruction of House Chanos and claimed its lands for herself. Her descendants follow her example.

House Sesus manages the most elaborate network of spies in the Realm outside the All-Seeing EYe itself, run by a secret cabal of elders known as the Masked Council. From the time a Sesus scion is a child, they are trained in intrigue, and before even entering primary school, they have been taught the basics of tradecraft and lies. By the time they're in secondary school, they have either showed themselves unable or unwilling to play the game of spycraft or have already begun reporting on the actions of their classmates to a handler working for the Masked Council. The other Houses have little understanding of how deep these intrigues go, though house Sesus has never been seen as trustworthy. Rumors of lies and blasphemies follow any but the most obviously upright of Sesus, and the other military Houses see them as honorless thugs. However, the Sesus socialites and artists are also renowned for their charm, to the extent that many often disregard the rumors surrounding them personally.

The Masked Council runs the espionage network of the House through layers of misdirection. Sesus scions at the lowest level receive instructions indirectly, and some do not even realize it exists until they've been working for it for years. Instead, they report to handlers, who are mroe experienced spies that provide assignments and coordinate things. The handlers report to the House's nine spymasters, each of whom is the handpicked agent of one member of the Council. The Council itself is made of nine Sesus elders...probably. It meets in masked anonymity, after all, allowing them coordinate the network while ensuring that none knows the work or identities of all the spies. Gossip about the identities of the Councilors is a common pastime in the upper ranks of the intelligence network. Most agree that at least one member is the assassin responsible for a series of poisonings in the Deliberative and Thousand Scales, and probably one of them is a demonology of some sort. The only way to join the Council is to be given the mask of a retiring member. With this comes that member's spymaster and their portion of the Sesus intelligence network.

House Sesus uses its military power and espionage skill to claim much of the trade opportunities in new satrapies, stealing them out from other Houses. Their centuries of intermarriage with the Cynis has meant they have many gifted merchants whom they have made their own. It's made them a fiscal powerhouse on par with the Nellens, but the vast sums of money the Sesus spend financing its spy network and also the common vices of its members mean it cannot equal House Ragara in this respect. They also make quite a bit of money off blackmail and spywork against the Realm's foes in the Threshold. The Guild often finds itself confronted by the work of Sesus commercial saboteurs, and the House has continually blocked their efforts to influence Realm affairs. The House legions also rent themselves out as mercenaries in the Threshold, occasionally even competing with the Guild's own mercenaries.

House Sesus commands one of the three largest militaries in the Realm, having been allowed to maintain legions even before the Empress vanished. They have taken four Imperial legions, raising their total to seven. However, even at their best, the Sesus legions were never equals to Tepet and Cathak. Sesus officers have never been known for discipline or for mastery of standard military doctrine. They are the army of dirty tricks. masters of subversion, false intelligence and murder. They can't quite match the Cathak in sheer numbers, and certainly not in training, so the House has no plans for a head-on fight. Instead, they seek the protection of an alliance with the Cynis, playing the other Houses against each other in the hopes of whittling down their forces while building up the House ones.

House Sesus has an exceptionally strong bloodline, rivaling even those of Mnemon and Cynis, with whom they are heavily intermarried. Other Houses do not like or trust the Sesus, but will happily marry their daughters to Sesus sons in the hopes of gaining more Exalts. House Cynis is easily their strongest tie, both by debt and by blood. The two Houses' scions are frequent companions and marriage partners, producing a blissfully debauched relationship. Cynis provides the exotic drugs and delicacies that House Sesus so often craves, and Sesus forces protect Cynis interests. The relationship between the two House spy networks, however, is complex, manipulative and very distrustful.

Sesus is no less entangled with Mnemon for marriages, but the relationship is strained. While the more romantic or iconoclastic Mnemon scions tend to find House Sesus alluring, the strong moral streak of House Mnemon causes most to look down on House Sesus. Further, Mnemon wants the Throne, and the Sesus elders are fairly certain she sees them as a potential obstacle. In theory, the greatest enemy of House Sesus has always been the Tepets, and the Sesus certainly helped engineer the downfall of the Tepet legions, profitng off claiming the satrapies the Tepets could no longer control. They have since taken to ignoring House Tepet - what more is left to do?

This means that House Cathak and House Nellens are the two great foes of the Sesus. House Cathak is a military rival, and the Sesus resent them for their might. They'd love the chance to ruin them as thoroughly as they ruined the Tepets. House Nellens, on the other hand, are thin-blooded upstarts whose use of the name of Sesus' father for their house is an insult to the Sesus lineage. It cannot be borne. House Sesus is also one of the few groups in the Realm to be aware that House Iselsi is still active. They keep tabs on any Iselsi agents they can identify.

Chanos Prefecture is the seat of House Sesus, their headquarters being the Palace of Burning Wind in the city of Chanos. It's one of the most important ports of the Blessed Isle, and is home to the Air Fleet of the Imperial Navy. (Note: not airships, just the fleet designated Air.) However, relations with the PEleps remain prickly - the Sesus maintain a military presence in the city to prevent the Peleps forces from decapitating the House in a surprise attack. They also control the neighboring Ventus Prefecture, a rugged and wild land with fierce winters and dangerous landscapes but plenty of lumber, furs, mined ores and rare herbs. It is also home to the mountain jail known as Ice-Above-the-Water, where dangerous criminals, rebels and political prisoners are held. The prefecture also houses Silken Diamond, a palace-manse that Sesus scions go to either to relax in privacy or to study the art of spycraft, using hidden chambers in the mountains to train in tradecraft and secret martial arts.

House Sesus also owns the Isle of Smoke, actually a small series of islands divided by tiny channels in the midst of the Tongma Archipelago. The atoll is always covered in a thick white fog that smells faintly of cedar smoke. This is where the finest officers of House Sesus are trained, using mock battlegrounds and obstacle courses. The largest islet is home to a small village where the trainees are housed, alongside the crew of slaves and peasants that maintain the facility. They have recently come into practical possession of Saltbreak, officially a Tepet satrapy on paper. It is a Northern nation that thrives on White Sea whaling and pays tribute in meat, oil, scrimshow and ambergris, plus the produces of its diamond, silver and copper mines. Since the fall of the Tepet legions, most of their garrison had to be recalled home, and House Sesus has "reinforced" it in exchange for most of the tribute. Salbtreak's satrap has been sending complaints home to the Deliberative over this highly illegal practice, but the other Houses have been ignoring it as long as House Sesus shoulders some of the Tepet debts. Still, the Sesus seem like they might renege on those, and that would trigger a massive political fight.

Sesus herself died in battle long ago. She was a master general as well as a genius of spycraft and mind games, the founder of the House intelligence network. Her crypt is hidden below the Palace of Burning Wind, and discovering its location and paying respect to the founder is a rite of passage for many young Sesus. The current matriarch is her daughter, the retired general Sesus Raenyah. She focuses her work on the military and business interests of the house, holding no seat on the Masked Council. It was her work as much as theirs that allowed the House to gain four legions, and while she is aware of the House's spies, she chooses to not engage with them at all. She still serves as an occasional lecturer at the House of Bells and Pasiap's Stair, plus is a frequent sponsor of the Immaculate Order. The House has named her as a claimant to the throne, but she refuses to rely on their spycraft for it, so much of her support actually comes from outside the house proper. Some think she will be easily controlled, while others favor the claim of her husband, Oban, who has no House - he's the son of the Empress herself, and quite charismatic.

Sesus Agelin is one of the major power players of the House, and is also known as Lady Smoke. Anyone who claims to have spoken to her is probably a liar, and her own children aren't certain what she really looks like. She is perhaps the single best spy to come out of the Silken Diamond, for good or ill. She both helps and terrifies the Masked Council, and several of its members have made it rather unsubtly known that they'd prefer her dead. The problem, of course, is that she is a mistress of disguise and impersonation. Most presume she's actually on the Masked Council, but it would be impossible to know for sure. Sesus Rafara is another problem for the House. At the age of 12, her mother slaughtered her nursemaids and tutors in a fit of rage while she watched. This triggered Rafara's Exaltation, for she had loved those servants deeply. The House sent her to the Silen Diamond for training as an assassin, and she till plays the role of the loyal spy, but in truth, she is loyal only to herself, trusting none of her family. She has in the past warned the Roseblack of an assassination attempt and covertly thwarted several of House Sesus' military efforts in the Threshold. She is still useful to House Sesus, but as far as she's concerned, she's useful to the Realm first.

Sesus Raenyah Terel is a swordsman and graduate of the House of Bells. He's exceptionally popular, with many friends and lovers, plus many more who hope that he'll accept their affections. He reports to the House about all of them. Terel is a libertine who loves to indulge in sex, drugs and...well, whatever's being offered, rreally. He's also a bully, though, and while an excellent fencer, he's never allowed himself to fight someone that might be his equal. While witty and charming, his jokes are cruel and malicious. He likes to taunt people that annoy him, goading them into fights where he has the upper hand. His friends and lovers cheer when he inevitably wins, and he goes back to partying.

Next time: House Tepet

Heroically Screwed Over

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Heroically Screwed Over

House Tepet, the Air Stained By the Blood of Legions, is an Air-Aspect House with the colors blue and white. They are a house of heroes, named for the Scarlet Empress' consort, Tepet, rather than her daughters. Tepet was at first an enemy, a warrior-poet and heir to a Shogunate kingdom who led a war against her. He sought to conquer the Imperial City to solidify his claim as Shogun, and he asked, when he failed, only that the Empress spare his armies. Impressed by his bravery, skill and honor, the Empress took Tepet as her consort and adopted his kin into the Realm. In time, she elevated the line to a Great House, headed by Tepet. Their martial skill has proven her wisdom in doing so time and again.

The House follows the teachings of Mela and maintains spiritual practices that date back to te Shogunate, teaching that the warrior's path is enlightenment, including the traditions of the sublime armigers, who wield ancient relics in emulation of their ancestors, who wielded them originally, and the yamabushi scouts, who make pacts with local gods to find strategic advantage. Strength is not enough - the Tepet must strive for excellence, distinguishing themselves from the peers by their leadership. The Tepet legions were renowned as the best in the Realm, rivaling the Cathak and even the Imperial legions. They were celebrated for their defeat of many of the greatest foes of the Empress. When they marched against the Anathema lord known as Bull of the North three years ago, another victory was expected. In its place, the legions suffered a devastating defeat, losing many of their greatest heroes, yamabushi and armigers, along with a full quarter of the House's Dragon-Bloods in general.

With the fall of the Legions, so died any respect the other Houses paid to the Tepets. Now, the regent Tepet Fokuf is an idiot, chosen as a cruel reminder of the slim chances the House has for the throne. Defeat has left them weakened, and many await the destruction of their House entirely, like Houses Manosque and Akiyo before it. OThers sympathize, but sympathy is not alliance. Marriage to a Tepet husband is like marrying an outcaste, and marriage to a Tepet wife brings rumors of covered up scandals or hidden sins that prevent any better match. House Tepet's scions have been raised from childhood in the expectation that they will earn positions of power and glory, but now their House may well die out before they do. They face this with the same determination as they have always faced their foes.

The legions had always been their primary source of income, and House Tepet was often paid by the Empress to impose peace on rebel satrapies and to secure the North at a sizable stipend, most of which they invested back into the legions. They never fought as mercenaries, but the skill of the Tepet legions was renowned across the entire world. Tepet generals and strategists were paid heavily to train and advise Threshold armies, and it was they who led the ghost-faced Ithen warriors when they marched with the Realm agaisnt the Weeping Princes. When the traitor five Thrones Hearth was defeated, it was by Tepet-trained resistance fighters. When Mogg the Devourer and her crocodile-folk were defeated by the Devil Quag marsh tribes, it was with Tepet leadership. And as a result, the Tepet now have nearly no income.

The other Houses have cut the Tepet stipend near to nothing, dividing up the Tepets' best satrapies in exchange for forgiven debts or under the pretense of providing support. While on paper House Tepet retains control, their tributes are taken by other Houses, primarily Sesus and Ragara. Of all their holdings, only Medo still pays the yearly tribute in janissaries, and that only because of Satrap Tepet Niruz being so persistent. The rest are fallen to other Houses, who mistakenly believe the House has lost its will. Certainly, they made few investments in non-military venturs. When the cost of a legion rose above the stipends given, the House always resorted to taking loans and selling businesses to other Houses. The few it retains control of include some metalworks, silk farms, and nearly played out mines of marble, gems or jade. If these are lost, House Tepet knows, so too is House Tepet.

The scions of the House have always strived to emulate the warrior-hero Mela, even from childhood. They train with weapons from a young age, often under mortal veterans who served under their mothers or aunts. They learn to read with The Thousand Correct Actions and play in childhood war games and riding competitions. A Tepet formally ends their childhood training when they choose a code of honor to exemplify their path, whether one that already exists or one they invent. Many aspire to valor and selflessness in emulation of Tepet, but a warrior's code is always her own to decide. However, once one has a code, she can't just fight - she must lead. Each scion is expected to be the perfect epitome of their code by achievement, inspiration of others through virtue and showing the nature of the ideal warrior. Tepet parents usually put great effort into securing officer's ranks for their children in the house or Imperial legions.

Unfortunately, the Battle of Futile Blood left House Tepet with only half a legion's worth of rank and file, and even fewer officers. When the Houses handed out the legions, they rubbed salt in the wound by giving House Tepet the Vermilion Legion, better known as the Red-Piss Legion due to being made primarily of bandits, criminals and drunks. Only House Cathak objected out of respect for the skill of Tepet commanders - they knew that even a single legion would be a threat. Command of the Red-Piss Legion was given to Tepet Ejava, the Roseblack. While she was once an officer in the Imperial legions, she resigned that commission to serve House Tepet. Under her training, the Red-Piss Legion has successfully hunted pirates, subdued rebels and even defeated the midnless puppets of Kejiza the Centipede Witch. While they lack the numbers of other Houses, they may end up being the salvation of the House yet.

It should be noted - while all Tepet children are raised as warriors, not all become soldiers. A sizable minority seek other work of all kinds. This is considered to be no shame at all, as long as they aspire to excellence. However, they are still held to a warrior's standards. A poet whose code of honor and ksill leads to hordes of disciples moved by her words is acclaimed, while even the most potent sorcerer is not if she can accomplish nothing of honor or leadership. Since the fall of the Legions, many of the most prominent remaining TEpet scions are those who did not join the military. Their efforts to secure a future for the House have made them nearly as admired as the fallen war heroes.

Every Great House played some role in the downfall of the Tepet, either plotting it or profiting off it. House Tepet knows it can't survive if it holds all those grudges. Marriages have grown scarce, save with House Nellens and the occasional outcaste. House Sesus, however, profited the most off the fall, with their new access to the Northern satrapies. Sesus spymasters undermined the Tepet legions against the Bull, and have continued to sabotage potential alliances. The other Houses tacitly approved, on the expectation that Sesus would take on the Tepet debts. Whatever deals they made, though, may soon fall through - House Sesus seems to be planning to refuse to acknowledge those debts in the expectation that the civil war will prevent consequences.

While there was once mutual respect with House Cathak, this ended when the Cathaks refused to march to the aid of the Tepets when the real power of the Bull's forces was discovered. House Sesus' scheming was to be expected; the betrayal of House Cathak was far more profound. They have refused all attempts at alliance and blocked efforts to rebuild. If any Tepet were to move for the throne, House Cathak would surely oppose them. Worse, while House Tepet was an ally to House V'neef from the start and V'neef's own husband is a Tepet, there is little to rely on there. Once, there would be reliable support. Now, it is a mere pretense out of politeness.

The Tepets are not entirely alone, at least. House Nellens has made tempting offers of a military alliance - they'd provide the troops and money in return for Tepet command training. Perhaps more sinister, though, are the many senior officers, household matriarchs and other influential Tepets that have receiveed offers from fallen House Iselsi. It's a simple offer: join forces against the other Houses and take bloody vengeance. This alliance would be dishonorable in the extreme, but it would settle grudges and avenge many deaths. Some Tepets may well give up their honor for the chance at a final reckoning.

The family stronghold sits in the ancient Shogunate capital of Lord's Crossing. The House's lleadership is still unstable, however, what with the lost of the matriarch Tepet Usala in the campaign against the Bull of the North. The family heads have formed a ruling council that meets in Usala's old manse, the Pagoda of Blood and Pearls. Power is shared, but largely because no one has made a decisive grab yet, playing more subtle games of influence via the younger memebrs of the House in order to maintain their honor while they plot betrayals. To the west is the Vale of Reverie, an unspoiled wilderness of primeval magic, where the spirits are strong. Packs of elementals and small gods are common, and Dragon-Bloods are welcome by ancient edict of the spirit known as the Worm-Eaten Woman, who claims them as kin. Tepet children are brought there for their first lessons on spirits, returning throughout their lives to meditate and pursue spiritual growth.

Most of the Tepet satrapies are gone now, but Dezsofi, the capital of Medo, remains, its gates guarded by mixed Tepet regiments and Medoan soldiers. Other satrapies offer only meager tribute at best or have outright rebelled. Distant Ithen is neither a satrapy nor a Realm holding, but due to treaties of non-aggression and commercial exchange after the Tepet military advisors led the overthrow of the Weeping Princes and restored their hereditary tyrant, the nation is a Realm ally. In the absence of the Empress, House Tepet hopes to make Ithen loyal to them, an ally the other Houses do not expect them to have.

Tepet is buried at Lord's Crossing in a tomb of unmelting ice. His deeds are legend, as a warrior so noble that he won the heart of the Empress even in defeat, the greatest foe she ever faced and a pious devotee of the Immaculate Dragon Mela that even devils respected. Tepet Cerino is currently the person people go to to make things happen in the House. She is a muscular, dark-skinned woman who served as the supreme quartermaster during the Northern campaign. She is the de facto House matriarch, with the devastation dealt to the high command and the respect the rank and file hold for her. She's doing her best with what money the House retains, and is focused on rebuilding the legions, though she has been unable to force a majority on the House's council of elders. She relies on favor trading and seeking out young Dynasts whose ambitions for personal glory can be used for her agenda.

Tepet Arada, the Wind Dancer, went from living legend to black sheep. He was a general in the legions, an exemplar of the perfect soldier and warrior, and he even survived the Battle of Futile Blood after slaying Fear-Eater, one of the Anathema that fought alongside the Bull. However, he returned changed. Some thought he might lead, but he has grown drunk and cynical, believing the Relam to be shattered and broken. He is not weak, however, and if the civil war does come, he will tear the Realm apart if that is what is needed to protect his family.

Tepet Niruz, Satrap of Medo, holds onto it with the fierce power of a cornered beast. They have rejected the Cathak offers of "reinforcment" and defeated the spying of the Sesus with this tenacity. Niruz is an archer of immense skill and has foresworn all gender. They are neither man nor woman, for they have sworn a warrior code that emphasizes above all else being true to one's self rather than conforming to others' expectations. Other Houses might find this strange or even scandalous, but for the Tepet, obeying a warrior's code makes the identity fully legitimate. Tepet Berel Gadurin is one of the finest playwrights of the Realm, known for his passionate rmoances and clever comedies. Since the Battle of Futile Blood, however, he has turned his skill towards crafting propaganda, seeking to influence prominent people in the Realm with dramas of heartbreaking tragedy, focusing on warriors sacrificing themselves in the name of love and honor.

Next time: House V'neef

Baby House

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Baby House

House V'neef, the Wood That Tenders the Garden's Grace, is a Wood-Aspect House with the colors green and purple. It is the youngest of all the Houses, made primarily of the adopted daughters of a woman only 60. With the Empress gone, they are beset on all sides, yet the endure. The House is well-liked, despite its youth, and V'neef herself is a charismatic woman who inherited all of her mother's savvy and beauty, allowing her to move forward with a reputation for boldness yet still not causing too much insult. The House is young, dynamic and adventurous - and it must be, to survive.

V'neef herself has only a few children, and of those only the eldest have begun their own families. Rather, the majority of the House is hundreds of lost eggs and Exalted patricians, ranging wildly in age, who were given Dynastic status by the Empress' declaration. As a result, the House practically worships the missing Empress, and most hold V'neef herself in great reverence as well as the Empress' favorite daughter. (Well, they say she is, anyway.) Popularity is not enough, however. V'neef guards her adopted children closely, refusing to risk them in battle if she can avoid it and pursuing advantageous marriages for the adopted sons to consolidate as much power as possible. Her House is at a crossroads, and there seem only two paths - on one, the throne, and on the other, death.

While V'neef made her initial fortune in wine, she has diversified her holdings aggressively, and House V'neef now runs businesses in horse breeding, brewing, tobacco, qat and safaris for wealthy hunters. Their greatest income, though, is the Merchant Fleet, given to them by the Empress on creation of the House to undercut the power of House Peleps. V'neef is thus responsible for the transport of all tribute to the Blessed Isle, and is paid a percentage of that tribute and the right to claim any prizes on hostile ships taken by force of arms. Because the satrapy system is the heart of the Realm's finance, even the tiny percentage that the Merchant Fleet is given is staggering, especially with the way V'neef has invested it.

There's just one problem: the revenue is drying up. It was stable under the Empress, but the current crises have thrown it into chaos. The maintenance of the Merchant Fleet outweighs its income, forcing the House push Westward. They now rely on luxury imports and pirate hunting while outside their traditional convoy routes to make up for their loss of stability. House Peleps, which is still furious over the loss of the Merchant Fleet, has made life as difficult as it can short of open warfare, at that. The West is a war waiting to happen as Peleps and V'neef square off.

House V'neef has only two legions, and one of them is kept stationed in Eagle Prefecture at all times. Fortunately, the many outcaste veterans adopted into the House mean that V'neef's legions are uncommonly well led and have high morale, though they're still no match for the polished machine the Imperial legions used to be. The Merchant fleet helps supplement the low numbers of V'neef's land forces, though. Less and less is actually assigned to tribute escort duty each day, and most of the ships are out in the West, jockeying with the Imperial Navy for power and wealth. While they are still vastly outnumbered, that is in some ways a good thing. The other Great House know that House V'neef can't blockade the entire Realm, unlike the Imperial Navy. Thus, House V'neef has a much freer hand to operate on the long as they can avoid the Peleps armadas.

Politically, House V'neef is in a bad place. V'neef had expected decades of her mother's support to gain strength in, and with the Empress gone, that's not going to happen. Their only real solid ally is the dying House Tepet, the House of V'neef's husband. The Tepets respected the outcaste soldiers that fill much of V'neef's House, and before the legions fell, V'neef had subtly offered support of a Tepet claimant for the throne. Now, they are nothing but an anchor around her neck. She can't afford to alienate such a loyal ally, and doing so would break her beloved husband's heart. On paper, the two Houses are still close. However, V'neef has not finalized even one Tepet betrothal since their great loss.

House Ragara undercuts V'neef at every chance, claiming they're just securing debt and need to ensure that V'neef can be relied on financially. Just about every property of any significance has been targeted by the Ragaras, either by leaning on the Honest and Humble Assessors of the Imperial Tax to adjust their valuations or by using less subtle methods like arson or sabotage. Even so, of all her siblings, V'neef fears Mnemon the most. Her elder sister is a potent sorcerous with a strong House who has spent a lifetime preparing for the throne...a throne that many of the other Houses would rather see V'neef sitting on. This makes her a target and she knows it, and further knows that Mnemon isu unlikely to suffer a threat for long. V'neef is terrified that her sister will crush House V'neef and drive them to the winds, hunting down her children the way she hunts the Iselsi. To prevent this nightmare scenario, V'neef has decided she must sit on the throne - it's the only way to keep her beloved family safe.

House Peleps hates House V'neef, but this has proven to be a benefit more than anything else - it means that Ledaal, Cathak and Sesus all have reasons, among others, to give limited support. It counterbalances the power of the Imperial Navy, after all. Eventually they'll need to take sides and that's going to be a mess, so V'neef is working hard to make friends in these Houses to better influence their decision in the end. House Nellens is a business rival, though it's never escalated past that. While it might be a chance to end old grudges, V'neef is wary of siding with such a widely disliked House. She also has strong trade ties to House Cynis, along with numerous marriage ties as a result of V'neef's efforts to push her House further towards the Wood Aspect, but they can't be relied on meaningfully. V'neef is less interested in blood ties in general than ties of need. She has made Eagle Prefecture a haven for the Imperial magistrates, in the hopes that protecting these symbols of the Empress' power will help her.

V'neef is based out of Eagle Prefecture and the city Eagle's Launch, which she is trying to make into the gate to the West, overtaking Peleps' own port, Bittern. Travel and wealth flow through the city, which has attracted plenty of smugglers and spies and made it the site of many intrigues. Magistrate Seven Cardinals, an outcaste with a talent with the knife, has been using the place to mess with the spy networks of others and establish his own, alongside a few other magistrates. He's taken out three Sesus operatives in the last year, and they are quietly preparing an operation to get rid of him. They also control the Sideshores along the northwestern coast of the Isle and have been quietly fortifying the islets there, due to the Peleps being so close. V'neef Ostoka, one of the local residents, has even made an extremely impious deal with the water elementals of the Isle of Salt-Spray to help in defense of his estate. As long as his people aren't foolish enough to report him to the Immaculates, he's sure, then he can keep at least that island safe.

Nansha is a treaty port south of Wavecrest and is a key staging ground for the V'neefs. The port sees massive amounts of wealth and is a vibrant, lively place of music and entertainment. Satrap V'neef Savatera maintains the discipline of Pasiap's Stair despite this, heading into the hedonistic homes of the locals only when she is forced to. Instead, she prefers to patron the more refined arts, most notably a theater company that she's brought in from the Blessed Isle. Her biggest problem outside of overindulgent subordinates is the constant problems with the urban poor. Once, the island had many fishing villages that only occasionally feuded, but the spread of Nansha's urban area across the entire atoll has meant that the fishers have turned to labor, and the labor gangs fight each other constantly, no matter what the garrison does. Worse, they reserve their biggest hatred for the Dynasty, and the garrison's preparations for defense against the Imperial Navy is giving them an opening to attack.

Faxai-on-the-Caul is home to plenty of V'neef, though most are not Exalted. The House needs many new members, and so they have focused on establishing a base for pilgrims and worked to prevent the Peleps from taking the city, which would greatly reduce their Western access and therefore their revenues at the worst possible time. Their main stronghold is the House of the Rootless Tree, a dockside structure that heads out over the water. Its interior is a maze of corridors and stairs meant to disorient, and it's full of weapons and supplies. If needed, the entire thing can be magically decoupled from its pilings and dropped into the harbor, then frozen solid by wards to deny access to its foes. V'neef Lanusa, an adopted Water Aspect ex-patrician, is the House's representative in the Caul.

V'neef, and her husband Tepet Igan, form the heart of the House with their handful of children. While the outcastes adopted in are legally siblings to these kids, they know that V'neef loves her blood children in a way she will never love them. V'neef is young by Exalted standards, only sixty, and some of her adopted children are much older. Igan is barely 70 himself, though he seems far older. The deaths of his cousins, sisters and mother have left him broken, and he's still in mourning three years later. He and V'neef spend most of their time in the Imperial City, where she is hard at work using her considerable charm to make friends and allies. Her House adores her, and more than one adopted child has commissioned epic songs and poems in her honor.

V'neef S'thera, a blind fencer, lost her fiance, Tepet Kedus, to the Bull of the North. She wants nothing more than to get revenge, but V'neef refuses her each time she asks to raise a Wyld Hunt. To V'neef, S'thera is better spent on having a family then on a death in the ice, and she hopes to marry S'thera to a Cathak in hopes of securing an alliance. So far it has gone poorly, and S'thera drowns her sorrow and desire for vengeance in drink and young women. V'neef Dancing Boar is a former outcaste from the Imperial Legions, adopted into the House when it formed. He's an excellent lancer and renowned for leading his wing to triumph over the rebel Six Amethysts Coalition. However, he sees no glory in the slaughter and in fact would prefer to never fight again. Instead, he serves as a trainer for the new legions and the Merchant Fleet marines, drilling them on the fundamentals so they can hold their own against pirates and House Peleps.

V'neef Agayo is a sorcerer and shipwright set to the task of repairing and building new ships for the Merchant Fleet. House Peleps has been trying to raise a scandal over the demon workforces she summons and binds to service the docks, along with her frequent consulting of demonic savants in her designs. They claim she lacks the necessary caution to properly treat with Hellish forces. She ignores it as a sign of their envy over her work. In truth, her real unwise dealings are with House Ragara, whose pursuit of First Age artifacts has revealed several secrets to the creation of magical ships. Agayo has been paying massive amounts of money under the table for the blueprints they find, and soon the debt may end up destroying her.

Next time: House Iselsi

Gone Native

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Gone Native

House Iselsi, the Water That Hides the Deepest Dark, was a Water-Aspect House with the colors black and silver. It no longer exists. What remains holds no seats in the Deliberative, controls no prefectures nor satrapies nor legions, and is spoken of solely with derision. House Iselsi is gone. But it existed, once. In Realm year 643, the elders of House ISelsi attempted to assassinate the Empress and failed spectacularly. She made a public example of them, taking the better part of a century to carve them up, but by bit, before finally removing them from the Imperial ledgers in 740. The other Great Houses tore the Iselsi apart. Only a few households yet remain, clinging to what they can - practically no better than Threshold clans.

That there should be no Iselsi was the will of the Empress, and everyone believes. In truth, however, the House lives on. It was made into a weapon, kept controlled solely by the Scarlet Empress. With her gone, House Iselsi plans to complete what they know as the Vendetta. The Great Houses did most of the work of destroying Iselsi, with the Empress simply starting the job and sitting back. It was the Empress who prevent their utter destruction, and it was she who gathered the remnant up and scattered them through the Realm. She made for them new identities, training them in esoteric arts, turning them into her secret eyes and hands. For those who were not chosen and were lucky enough to survive, other ways existed. About a quarter of the Iselsi survivors joined the Immaculate Order, officially to atone for their elders' sins. In truth, they were yet another arm of the House's espionage network. The rest took on new identities of their own make or carried on the charade of the broken House.

The hidden Iselsi go about their lives, acting as if nothing is amiss, but they watch and they wait and they plan. It can be hard for them to hide their murderous desires at times...but honestly, it's a bigger worry that they will come to genuinely care about their targets. The bonds of Hearth and of marriage are strong ones, and while no handler wants to kill another Iselsi, better that than the shame of forgetting the Vendetta. And so, many Iselsi have two masks - the one they wear in public and the one they wear among their kin. It was the Empress' will that the Iselsi should develop their hatred for their cousins in secret. She turned the entire House into a weapon to match the All-Seeing Eye...and then she vanished, without ever telling them why. Iselsi messages often speak of receiving orders from the Voice of Dark Water and the Daughter of Mist, but they don't actually exist. They are mere fabrications to prevent rival agents, like the Sesus or the Eye, from realizing the truth: the elders largely work alone, each pursuing their own methods without any orders from above organizing them.

House Iselsi is practically penniless. The patricians that remain govern nothing, collect no tax and receive none of the normal stipends of the Great Houses. What few holdings they have are privately leased, paid for by personal business ventures, lucky wealth and a small Imperial grant for the upkeep of shrines and temples in Incas Prefecture, which is in theory the final stronghold of the Iselsi. In practice, Mnemon and the Sesus have been very busy erasing that grant. While the Iselsi remain quite wealthy by peasant standards, they see themselves as impoverished - another insult to be repaid in blood.

The Iselsi have no legions, even in name. However, they do not need any. Their hidden children exist in secret throughout the Realm, watching for information on the plans of others. Once, this was the specialty of the House - inserting themselves through the Imperial Service and gathering information on everyone. This web of espionage has been battered, but it remains in places, holding onto many secrets, and now armed with vicious knives.

Most of the other Houses, given the chance, would stomp out the last remnants of the Iselsi. House Sesus in particular is devotyed to doing so, to get rid of their old espionage rivals. Mnemon would love to purge the Immaculates of the Iselsi traitors and has sponsored several bills in the Deliberative to undercut what revenue they have left. Every House but the V'neef played some part in the destruction of the Iselsi, and the V'neef exist at their expense, raised up to take their place. The ISelsi rank and file officialy shun all ideas of alliance with their hated kin, but the elders know that if they are to survive to complete the VEndetta, they will need protection unless and until the Empress returns.

House Nellens seeks to turn the Iselsi into their own weapon by offering them a chance to be reinstated, but obviously this can't be taken at face value. Covert messages to key figures in the nearly destroyed House Tepet are seen by the elders as a mere vehicle to fulfill the Vendetta. When the other Houses fall, House Tepet will be the next, snuffed out in Iselsi vengeance. The only true allies of the Iselsi are those who also nurse a grudge or those whose ambition rids them of sense. These assets can often be found in or near power, and it's rarely very hard for such practiced spies to help remove their assets' competitors, one way or the other. Outcastes are often allies of convenience, for even a disgraced Iselsi is still of a potent lineage and can offer comparative wealth or power to what most outcastes know. The Iselsi Immaculates can also suborn gods with bribery in the form of subtle alteration to prayer calendars, and several deities of revenge anf feuds serve as House patrons.

While Incas Prefecture is officially Ledaal territory now, the Iselsi manses and homes still dot its landscape, including the House of Black Waters, where Iselsi herself was entombed. The House lives openly there, to convince their cousins they are truly fallen. Elsewhere, they hide themselves away in secret places, waiting for when they can finally use their skills. The Imperial City is full of Iselsi agents, but their favorite site for drops is the Last Little Sapling, a famous teahouse on the riverfront. It is run by Kiera, a middle-aged woman and cousin to the Iselsi, who hands out notes under teacups and speaks in code to key visitors. She hears everything and passes it on to the right recipient. She knows a lot - perhaps too much for comfort - but the elders trust her. Many are unsure why, but she never explains herself.

In the mountains of Dejis Prefecture is the small Ditola Village, in theory a Mnemon mining village of peasants. However, deep in the mines, where no one else goes, the peasants meet and train with their Iselsi masters. They are slowly going blind from dust and dark, but it won't matter. When smoke chokes Mnemon-Darjilis and battle is everywhere, they will not need to see. Their sole purpose is to kill the Mnemon in a single decisive strike when the time is right. Until that time, they wait and they train.

Iselsi was a brilliant mathematician and economist who won the favor of the Empress by ruthless outmaneuvering her rivals in the Imperial Service's early days. She was a quiet woman who died on a Wyld Hunt centuries before her House fell. Her name is spoken of reverently by her descendants as they swear themselves to a revenge she would never have imagined. Iselsi Dileko lives under an assumed name, like most Iselsi, and is a member of a Sworn Kinship of other Dynasts. They believe him Naret Kikela, an outcaste fencer whom they have welcomed openly. He reports on their actions and plans to the Iselsi, but his standing orders are to wait for the signal to murder them in their sleep. This is standard for undercover assets in his position. Privately, he hopes the order will never come - playing at being a sworn brother has cut far deeper into his hate than he thought it would when he began the job.

Moonless River is an Immaculate stationed in the city of Pneuma. She has spent decades advising those seeking to emulate Pasiap, and has become so famous that she regularly dines with Ragara himself. The two are quite friendly, and she adores the Immaculate lifestyle, feeling elevated on a spiritual level by the work she does for the Order. When she slams her fingers through Ragara's skull, she knows it will not be for the House that orders it, and it will not be out of hate. It will be done to rid the Realm she loves of the symbol of greed that hangs around its neck like a stone, dragging it down. Iselsi Takura, meanwhile, has just returned from a decade of study in the Threshold, seeking out lost magics. Her face, name and even gender are new, thanks to the sorcerous alchemy she learned in the Southeast. She supplies the Iselsi with toxins unknown to the Isle - poisons that can kill passions, venoms that empty the mind, cures that can stop death for a day and a night. She has risen highly in their esteem, and none suspect yet that she serves a different master.

Iselsi Shenesh, Minster of the Imperial Gardens, is one of the few Iselsi to remain in high rank in the Imperial Service. He is old, dignified and charming as the occasion demands, and the family is unsure how to feel about him. Most assume he is one of their top agents in the All-Seeing Eye, and therefore crucial to the Vendetta. However, he was also a member of the Council of the Empty Throne, which oversaw the sundering of the Imperial legions. Suspicions that Shenesh betrayed the House's attempted coup years ago are kept unspoken.

You may have noticed that essentially none of the listed Iselsi NPCs are actually, definitely 100% loyal to House Iselsi, and most of them have explicitly gone native. It is my personal take on things - though not necessarily canon - that the entire House has gone native, and that the entirety of the Vendetta is them keeping up appearances to ensure the rest of the House doesn't realize that they are no longer loyal to the cause. I find the idea of an entire conspiracy whose every member plans to betray it for one reason or another hilarious.

Next time: The Cadet Houses

Space Cadets

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Space Cadets

Sometimes, a Dragon-Blooded family of the Threshold will reject the chance to relocate to the Blessed Isle and join a Great House. They might love their homeland, or they might prefer to be the big fish in a small pond rather than newcomers in a larger arena. Typically, the Empress found it expedient to bind such families to her by marriage. Other times, Dynasts married into mortal Threshold royalty and managed to have a lot of Dragon-blooded children. Further, when the Empress ended the privileges of the Shogunate gentes 500 years ago, she encouraged them to colonize the Threshold, particularly in the North, where the cold had slowed recovery from the Great Contagion. The Great Houses are prohibited from directly ruling Threshold states, so these families were kept legally distinct from any parent House, and they retained both their own surnames and their political independence. These are the cadet Houses, descended from the Dynasty but not part of the Great Houses. Granting and removing their status was, of course, the sole prerogative of the Empress.

Cadet House members have all the rights and privileges of Dynasts, but they lack the power and support networks of the Great Houses. Some can afford to send their children to the secondary schools of the Blessed Isle, but they aren’t immersed in Realm culture to the same extent as those born and raised on the Isle. Great House Dynasts tend to see their cadet cousins as charmingly rustic but ultimately unsophisticated country bumpkins, lacking the influence to be useful allies in most cases. In practice, their actual sophistication, wealth and power vary wildly, as do the numbers of Dragon-Bloods in each House. The smallest cadet Houses have only single digits of Exalts, while the greatest may have over a hundred. For the Empress, they served as one of several checks on Great House power in the Threshold. She groomed them for independence from any parent House, guiding them into relationships with rivals and outcastes to ensure no one House could suborn them. Some cadet Houses never even had a parent House to start with, having either married into multiple Great Houses or been adopted by the Empress. Those cadet Houses that followed the Empress’ wishes received various benefits, such as Deliberative seats or lenient loan terms.

Some of the cadet Houses have fallen, whether through migrating to the Isle and joining a Great House, accidentally fucking themselves up, pissing off the Empress or just running out of Dragon-Bloods. Still, a few dozen continue to exist in the Threshold. House Ferem controls the Northern satrapy of Cherak, between Pneuma and Medo. It descends from a Shogunate legion, similar to Lookshy, but lost much of its great power after attack by the sorcerer Bagrash Kol centuries back. They still cling to their military culture and the remnants of their armory, and a few other cadet Houses in nearby satrapies carved out of what was once Grand Cherak in past centuries share their ancestry and maintain ties.

House Desai is quite wealthy and controls the city-states of Gulmohar and Rook, long rivals of Jiara. They are primarily merchants and landed gentry, and traditionally the Desai have preferred to avoid involving themselves in governance, preferring to focus on their own leisure and patronage of the arts. However, they now find themselves split between their ambitions, the demands of satraps and royalty, and the call to the Wyld Hunt.

Clans Burano and Ophris were both Great Houses, once. They were stricken from the Imperial ledgers after their legions went rogue in Prasad, but the Empress eventually chose to acknowledge their rule there. While they are technically cadet Houses, being local rulers tied by blood to the Dynasty, their practical status is uniquely idiosyncratic.

House Yueh are the rulers of Nai Lei, a city-state of the Baihu sea people in the island satrapy of Nandao. While the Yueh monarchy there was overthrown, the House remains heavily in control of the Lamenting Stone Assembly that replaced them. They descend from a Tepet that married a Baihu prince, and the Yuehs have long considered themselves faithful allies of the Tepets. They also have profited heavily from the construction of a Merchant Fleet depot after the foundation of House V’neef. Now, however, they are terrified of getting caught between Peleps and V’neef, and are divided between their old loyalties and a search for new patrons that can actually protect them.

Next time: Life as a Dynast


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Dynastiness

The Dynasty has developed a tradition of child-rearing that is…not always very fun. The strong mother, they say, raises her child to excel, while the weak mother raises her child to be happy. Unfortunately, this is self-indulgent and cruel, for it makes the child weak. Many Dynasts take little personal hand at all in their child’s raising except to diligently choose good tutors, and this is considered normal. Loving your child is neither expected nor frowned on in most families – it is irrelevant to the goal of producing capable children. As a result, many Dynasts have absentee parents or parents who are not especially warm to them. Instead, they are raised by their social inferiors – the servants. They witness their parents disciplining servants, gently or brutally. While a child must initially obey the household servants, as those servants are obeying their parents and therefore are the vessels of Dynastic will, they are over time taught to command the servants instead. This is of course a tightly controlled power, temporarily revoked if abused or used foolishly, but it expands as a child matures. Children whose mother dies or are otherwise unwilling or unable to rear them are typically taken in by a relative, even if the father lives. Same-sex or infertile couples often adopt their House’s orphans, which provides parents for the kid and greater legitimacy for the couple. This means orphan Dynastic childhoods are typically indistinguishable from others, especially as the kids don’t usually spend much time with their parents anyway.

A good nanny is expected to be obedient, quiet and attentive to a child’s needs. The nanny is the first teacher and provider a Dynast has, after all, and is likely to be their chief source of childhood affection. Many Dynasts love their nannies dearly and remember them fondly even into adulthood. Others are cruel to their nannies, but this is considered rude and uncouth in Dynastic society and likely to cause parental punishment. No parent wants a reputation for having bad things happen to their staff. Tutors are often the strict hand to match the nanny’s love. For the very young, tutelage is in the form of regimented play until the child is able to perform more advanced studies. As they mature, the areas of study increase, usually covering coordination, combat, command, history, politics, geography and the Immaculate Philosophy, among others.

A Dynastic child will typically have young slaves as playmates, and they will also take part in the child’s lessons. Favored playmates sometimes follow a Dynast into adult life, becoming their most trusted servants. Siblings are rarely close enough in age to play with each other, though when they are – which is typical of twins, leftover children or adoptees – the relationship usually forms a hierarchy, with one sibling asserting authority and status. Children from other families, such as cousins, neighbors or the offspring of the parents’ Hearthmates, are usually brought in as a child matures, to ensure proper socialization with fellow Dynasts. Good parents also ensure their child meets many Dragon-Blooded, to inspire and educate them.

The Realm has perhaps the finest educational system in Creation, thanks to generous endowments from the Scarlet Empress and frequent donations accompanying student applications for Dynastic children. The goal of the system is to instill carefully selected virtues to generations of Dragon-Blooded who will one day hold power. The four modern secondary schools that predominate in Dynastic society are exemplars of these virtues – moral leadership and piety for the Cloister of Wisdom, occult insight and the wisdom to use it well for the Heptagram, courage and military excellence for the House of Bells and a firm understanding of the mechanics of rule for the Spiral Academy.

However, education starts well before that – around 2 to 3, when the House matriarch works with a child’s mother to select appropriate tutors. Tutors are generally patricians or young Dragon-Bloods who’ve just graduated secondary school and feel like helping a relative. These begin with the basics of proper speech, literacy, arithmetic, morals and other topics which vary by House. House Tepet starts combat training early, while House Cynis favors a curriculum including appreciation of art and music, and House Mnemon favors study of math, Immaculate doctrine and Realm history (particularly the life of Mnemon herself). All Houses also teach basic medical treatment and how to recognize the odors and flavors of common poisons, just in case. The goal of this early education is to teach discipline, obedience, respect for social superiors and how to be quiet and learn quickly. Dynasts are taught from a young age that they are the latest in a long, honorable line, and that they represent the dignity of the House. If the dominie of their primary school demands something of them, they must be able to perform – and so this is tested at childhood salons and galas.

Primary schooling begins at age nine. Occasionally, a child will continue to be home-schooled instead. This choice allows for a personalized education with lots of personal attention from tutors. It is extremely rare for this continue through secondary education, however, as doing so robs a Dynast of the chance to establish lasting friendships and connections. If it does happen, it’s because a House matriarch has specific plans for the child and either doesn’t trust educators to prepare them properly or because they don’t want social ties to get in the way of what the child was born to do. For most kids, though, it’s off to primary school out of the intense, high-pressure tutoring of youth. Once at school, the young Dynast must cope with no longer being the sole focus of multiple servants and must learn to compete for the attention of educators. Class sizes are small, but it’s still multiple kids to one teacher rather than vice versa as it was before. The transition is often stressful.

Dynastic students are a small minority at these primary schools and tend to be very quick to establish class hierarchies. Staff of all kinds, from administrators to teachers to guards, are used to dealing not just with mortal children of privilege but with young Dragon-Bloods. They are polite but firm, and do not allow Exaltation to go to a child’s head…well, not more than is socially appropriate, anyway. As time goes on and the pressure to prove worthy of Exaltation rises, the simple friendships and feuds of young childhood typically shift to cunning ambitions. Primary school is seen as a sieve, separating the wheat from the chaff – that is, the Exalted from the mortal, with both being children below the age of fourteen. Everyone is aware of the importance of the next few years, especially as kids start to Exalt and dominate their classes. Mortals in their fourth or fifth year are often obsessed with Exaltation. Every primary school has their own secret traditions and rituals meant to encourage Exaltation, handed down among students since the distant past. Some are dangerous, and some students die while trying to force themselves to Exalt. The Dragon’s blood cannot be forced if you don’t have it, but the stress and danger of these rituals triggers the moment of Exaltation just often enough to keep the legends going. Teachers and parents usually do what they can to prevent these traditions, but the stakes are just too high.

When a student Exalts during primary school, their lives fundamentally change forever. A young Dragon-Blood is separated from the rest of the student body until they learn to control their new abilities, and when they return, they often don’t fit in well with un-Exalted friends. Some turn to bullying and tormenting those who’d picked on them before, while others drift away to form new cliques with older students that understand what their new power is like. Others retain their mortal friends as sycophants, sidekicks or hangers-on. There’s hundreds of primary schools on the Isle, plus a few lesser ones out in satrapies with large Dynastic populations or cadet Houses. These boarding schools are intended to give noble children their first taste of the wider world, and depending on the school and family, this may be a huge step down in standard of living, though still suitable for the social rank of the students. Uniforms are washed each night and ready each morning, the food is served three times a day and is nutritious and filling, and the school grounds are guarded by professionals, typically retired veterans of the legions.

Next time: Life at school.

What If High School, But With Superpowers

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: What If High School, But With Superpowers

Even the worst and least prestigious primary schools are walled compounds designed to cater to everything the students will need for most of the year, outside holidays, including a small temple and usually a resident monk. Wealthier schools will often have extensive gardens, menageries, pools and so on. The more prestigious a school, the greater the proportion of its students will be Dynasts, and schools in backwater areas may not have any but patrician children. These are often not well prepared to handle it when one of their students unexpectedly Exalts. No matter what, however, the curriculum is the same, mandated by the Illustrious Compilers of the Perfected Curriculum. It covers anything from geography and culture to melee combat. Every student must complete at least one advanced course on political or religious studies, and the syllabi have generally not changed in centuries. Tradition, after all, is the cornerstone of the Realm, and for all that Dynasts crave novelty, they know the importance of the classics in establishing their worldview.

Besides this unified core curriculum, primary schools typically specialize in some field, such as architecture, naval strategy, poetry or combat, to make themselves more attractive to parents and their Houses. A school aimed at governance might specialize in satrapial economics and spiritual concerns, and might even organize field trips to the satrapies to study them firsthand. Rarely, the more prestigious schools might even get a Dragon-Blood on sabbatical to teach a guest lecture or two. A school day will begin with devotions led by the monk (if there is one) or the school’s dominie (read: headmaster). After breakfast, the morning is intense study in the core curriculum, with afternoon classes being smaller and more individually focused. Afternoon classes are also segregated between mortals and Exalts, as is dining hall seating. They’re usually focused on practical knowledge, such as music, riding or martial arts, based on a student’s talents. Exalted students also often train in how to use their elemental power. After dinner, study continues with metaphysics and natural studies, such as astrology and geography, until curfew. Studying past curfew may be seen as diligent or as poor time management, depending on the student’s performance the next day.

Some students are simply not able to be controlled properly in normal primary schools, even with Dynastic discipline and the formal training of primary school teachers. In these cases, if the parents can be made to admit their child is beyond help of the normal system, there are typically two primary school options left: the House of Ancient Stone and the Palace of the Tamed Storm. These are more like prisons than schools, with harsh punishments that are known to do one of two things. Either they mold the students into stern, disciplined people who excel in places of rigid authority, or they break students and make them unable to serve in most roles at all. Well, or the third option – they kill the kid. If a child is considered to be unruly enough to be sent to one of these institutions, typically it means their mother and House consider it a risk worth taking.

For those fortunate few that Exalt in primary school, the House matriarch will meet with their mother personally to decide on their future. They will consult reports from servants, teachers and spies detailing practically everything of the Dynast’s young life, their choices and talents, and what deficiencies they still must correct. Together, they will arrange for the child to study at one of the four great secondary schools of the Realm, with their decision made for the good of the House, the Dynasty and the child, in that order. Of course, acceptance into a secondary school isn’t guaranteed, so a child’s mother and matriarch will go to some effort to make the kid stand out. There is no tuition for secondary school, but “generous donations” from a student’s House are expected. In theory, this has no influence on admissions. In practice, the best way to get in is to give money. Each school has a specialized curriculum that focuses on a specific approach to power, though they do also provide education outside that focus to ensure well-rounded students. After all, a general still has to know how to talk to people and a sorcerer should still know self-defense. Secondary schools are also valuable places to build social networks. Young Dragon-Bloods in secondary school often form friendships that will serve them throughout their entire lives, and those friendships often have far more influence than any amount of legislative or bureaucratic debate.

Most students attending the four great secondary schools are Exalted, but with some regularity each school does also take exceptional mortals. To even compete, a mortal student must demonstrate thorough excellence throughout all of primary school and have a motivated mother and matriarch both pushing for them through backchannels. Thus, pretty much all mortals in these schools are un-Exalted Dynasts, with only the most influential patrician families with ranking members in the Thousand Scales able to compete. Even after acceptance, a mortal must continue to excel. Unlike primary school, there are no segregated classes for mortals and no lowered standard. They must be able to hold their own against Dragon-Bloods or be dismissed, which is a stigma that will follow them forever. The Exalted students are rarely happy to have mortals competing with them, and so any such mortal is likely to receive twice as much hazing as a normal student, on top of that. If they manage to survive the gauntlet and graduate, however, they have proven more than able to make up for their spiritual failings and will certainly be valued by their House.

Not even all Dragon-Bloods get accepted into the four great secondary schools. Some lack the wealth or birth to make the cut, while others are simply considered unsuitable for education by decent schools. Some even get chosen for other paths by their matriarch. For them, other, lesser institutions still exist. Most are designed to prepare students for a life in the legions, the navies or the Thousand Scales, such as the ministerial schools that cluster around the Spiral Academy and are known as the Outer Coil. Most of their students are mortal Dynasts or patricians, and so are the vast majority of their instructors, though one or two at the most prestigious lesser schools may be Dragon-Blooded. Dragon-Blooded Dynasts that attend these schools, whether by choice or by flunking out of a more prestigious one or because they Exalted too late and failed to get a transfer to a better school, will likely be at the top of their social strata in the school but lack the high society connections enjoyed by their fellows at better institutions. On the other hand, their strong connections with the mortal nobility are also assets to be used for decades to come.

Below the second-string schools are the schools of the Threshold. These are primarily attended by members of cadet Houses and the children of satrapial advisors, plus some of the children of their province’s wealthy and powerful mortals. Dynasts rarely attend these schools and even when they do, most would never admit it. Besides these alternatives, there is also Pasiap’s Stair, the military academy for those lost eggs who take the option of legion service. Its curriculum is extremely focused and difficult, and a certain number of Dynasts deliberately enroll there as a test of their own stamina.

Next time: The Cloister of Wisdom

What If High School, But With Monks

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: What If High School, But With Monks

The Cloister of Wisdom is built around a single lesson – the first lesson they teach each student: Master yourself, master your Essence. All things flow from this. The faculty are patient, and they teach patience. First-years spend much of their time in meditation, though their other lessons are not neglected. As they advance in the school, they will study the Immaculate Texts, commentaries on them, ethics, rhetoric, oratory and many other subjects. First priority, however, is always ensuring that students cultivate a meditative state and master their Essence, which the Cloister treats as fundamental to all education. The Cloister is a humble monastic compound in Incas Prefecture near the Palace Sublime. It gets fewer students each year than the Spiral Academy or House of Bells, and many of them are lost eggs who take the razor. The students live a monastic life, eating only rice and vegetables and rising with the sun for prayers before spending the day in study and meditation. Almost all faculty are Immaculate monks, and it is considered one of the highest honors to be invited to teach there.

The monks enforce the same discipline they follow onto the students. Young Dragon-Bloods are often high on their own power when they arrive, but at the Cloister, they are treated as the lowest novices, even by mortal monks. The mortal monks, while very respectful, never hesitate to inform their spiritual betters of the errors of the students, and it is not uncommon for unruly students to be sentenced to hours of meditation to calm their Essence, and if they don’t improve, this can stretch out to days or even weeks. The monks are very good at taming the pride of young Dragon-Bloods. Those Exalts that lash out at their instructors discover that while they may be strong, the monks are stronger yet, capable of terrifying martial feats. Exposure to such skill is one of the chief benefits of Cloister education. All students receive combat training as part of the curriculum, featuring options of both the famous Immaculate Dragon styles and more secular alternatives, by the best martial artists the Realm has. This cultivates mental and physical discipline, teaches self-defense and helps them master their Essence.

When students graduate, they typically emerge on the other side with a serenity uncommon outside of Immaculate monasteries. While the world rages, the Cloister graduates maintain a calm to the depths of their Essence, centered and aware of the universe. They are ready for anything, even the quiet espionage work that a few of them always get earmarked for. After all, an Immaculate monk can be spotted at a glance, what with the tonsure and the clothing, but someone who serves the Order without taking the vows can walk unnoticed by even the most wicked, passing on what they learn back to the Order. Less than half of all graduates actually take the monastic vows of the Order, but they almost all remain sympathetic to its aims. The Order takes pride on being well informed, and those students they mold into their image of virtue are some of the reasons why.

The Heptagram is the school of the sorcerer, requiring great wisdom, fortitude and ambition from its students. For those who have the aptitude and have families that will allow their study of such strange arts, the Heptagram is ready. Those who are accepted into it travel to the Isle of Voices for seven years of highly personalized tutoring from what the Dynasty considers to be the best sorcerers in the world. When they come out, they are never truly the same. Sorcery takes a strange place in the Realm, as it is seen as both morally questionable and also so great a boon it cannot be ignored. The only place in the Realm where it is celebrated without reservation is the Heptagram. The school takes up much of the windswept island, which is little more than a craggy outcropping on the northern coast. It is impossible to approach except by one path, sealed and warded by bound demons, elementals and other sorcerous protections that drive off those who arrive under false pretenses. The school proper is six towers encircling a seventh in geomantic harmony. The outer towers are full of labs, summoning circles and rare equipment for magical practice. The central tower is the faculty and student housing, plus the single lecture hall, where each student has an assigned seat. Food and the grounds are both handled by bound elementals and demons, warded heavily for obedience.

The Heptagram never has more than a few dozen students at any time, and a little more than half as many sorcerers and scholars on staff. Occasionally, one of them is a visiting Sidereal, their identity concealed from all but a chosen few. Study is a mix of careful guidance and autodidactic self-directed work, as students pursue their own course once they have mastered the basics. No sorcerer can truly walk the same path as any other, after all, and despite a unified design, the Heptagram allows students to find their own path, advancing individually. Classes have no fixed schedule, but lectures are announced well in advance and are often attended by the entire student body. Practical courses are similar and happen whenever their teachers feel like it. Vast libraries in the school are organized based on utility and danger, tiered to determine which students qualify to read them. One entire tower is nothing but scrolls and books and tablets.

That the study at the Heptagram is self-directed does not make it easier. You have seven years to master sorcery, period. That’s it. Despite the fact that there are many teachers, they’re still swamped with requests to review theses, help with rituals or any number of other things. Independent study and experimentation have to be balanced with attending lectures and practicals, and there’s just not enough time. There’s never enough time. Graduation from the Heptagram is not promised. Not all have the potential to learn sorcery, let alone the self-discipline or drive. Most students manage to complete their course of study one way or another, but a handful go home in disgrace…or don’t go home. The graveyard beyond the walls, tended to by the spirits, is a warning to work harder.

Sorcery itself is a strange thing for the Realm. Dynasts tend to find sorcerers off-putting, with their strange powers and frequent dealings with demons. Sorcerers have powers others do not understand and cannot predict, especially because so much of the Realm’s sorcerous knowledge is concealed from those that do not pass the Heptagram’s strict grading. Sorcerers are therefore not trusted. Patricians follow the lead of their betters, and peasants have any number of terrified superstitions about sorcerers and their demonic servants. However, sorcery is also a valuable asset that no House will willingly give up. Sorcerers will have their needs provided for, but they will not ever be popular. Most of society is inconvenient for them to deal with, and thus the stereotype of the sorcerer locked away in her tower, up to Dragons know what. It’s not always just their tendency to be solitary – they are often driven to be solitary out of ostracism. Visitors invariably want something from them and leave as soon as they can. Dynastic sorcerers tend to be rather lonely.

Next time: The House of Bells and the Spiral Academy

What If High School, But With Even More Cliques

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: What If High School, But With Even More Cliques

The House of Bells is the school for legion officers, the premier military academy of the Realm. They teach courage, discipline and strength. It’s not an easy course, but what comes out the other side is a well-rounded commander that will be respected by their subordinates and obey their superiors. The House’s campus sprawls over hundreds of acres near Arjuf, by far the largest of all four main secondary schools. It has massive fields, forests, marshes and other landscapes painstakingly recreating potential battle conditions. At the heart of it all are the barracks, mess hall, classrooms and faculty housing. Along the coast is an artificial bay for naval training and boarding maneuvers. Nearby villages are used for urban warfare practice, housing for the staff and limited recreation activities for the students. The grounds are encircled by a low boundary wall. Students are not permitted to leave without the dominie’s permission, but requesting permission is a quick way to earn the disdain of your fellow students. The wall does not, in fact, prevent anyone from going over it, after all. You just have to not get caught.

Hundreds of students, spread out over the seven year curriculum, attend the school. They are divided up into five-man fangs that sleep in the same barracks and are graded as a unit. This promotes a sense of communal responsibility and ensures that even those not ideally suited for the House of Bells make it through alive. Accidents do happen, of course, and it’s rare year that doesn’t see at least one major injury or even death among the cadets, but those who do are given reverent ceremonies and posthumously graduated with full honors. Failing out is significantly more common, because the House of Bells has no desire to earn a reputation as a killing field. Traditionally, the legions rejected any House of Bells dropout from ever holding an officer’s post, but the new house legions are less picky. Still, they’d much prefer proper graduates, even to the extent of promoting them over those that buy their positions. Graduation from the House of Bells is a mark of merit, and anyone that can claim it will be welcome in any army.

The House of Bells is a very tough school, draining on the mind, body and spirit. Cadets get up at sunrise for physical training, which includes calisthenics, stretching and a three-mile run. The elder students usually drive the younger ones before them lest they be caught flagging by the faculty. The rest of the day is intense study or practice of military maneuvers. Cadets must prove their skill with small-unit tactics, strategy, military history, logistics and command ethics, among other things. Older cadets specialize and work closely with faculty whose experience matches their goals. A would-be naval commander, for example, may train under Peleps Nalani, renowned for the seven notches on her belt – each representing the head of a Lintha captain she took on a pirate-hunting campaign. A promising cavalry recruit might train with Iruga Nagor, an outcaste who literally wrote the text on countering Marukani horse tactics and, it is rumored, secretly maintains his own shrine to the god Hiparkes. The day does not end until well after sundown, when the students collapse into bed, rising a few hours later to start the next day.

Two of every seven days at the House of Bells are dedicated to field maneuvers. This typically means being divided into two armies, with the older cadets taking command ranks and squads of younger cadets serving as rank and file. Field trials may alternately include free-for-all combats, naval or shipboard maneuvering, and hunting down and killing condemned criminals, who have been offered the chance at freedom if they can escape the grounds without the students killing them. The field maneuver armies have no official names, but squads often have preferred titles for themselves and their forces, and commanding officers selected from such squads will make sure their subordinates know what their banner is. These titles have a tendency to follow squads even after graduation, and may occasionally serve as the name for a Sworn Kinship.

The Spiral Academy is the school of subtlety, precision and understanding. No ruler can control what they do not understand. The Realm is as complex as any person, its blood and Essence replaced by commerce, information and power, its heart and mind formed by the ministries of the Thousand Scales. The students of the Spiral are not taught the inner workings of the Imperial Service because they will work in it, but because if they want to rule, they must understand it. It sits at the heart of the Imperial City, surrounded by tall walls. Students are not sealed in, but their sheer workload means they have little time to take much advantage of it. They must study culture, forms of government, moral theory and the practical mechanics of rule. What time they do not spend studying is spent handling paperwork as “apprentices” of the Thousand Scales or local merchants. The Spiral Academy charges a modest fee for student labor, which means it is by far the richest of the four schools, which it uses to get the best faculty it can, who might otherwise busy themselves making money on careers. Even a few years of teaching at the Academy is enough to make a teacher very wealthy.

Most students believe they’re being trained just to be paper-pushers, and a few graduates each year do end up doing that, but most do not end up serving the Thousand Scales. Instead, they typically serve in satrapial, provincial and gubernatorial posts or administrative roles within their House. For the best, it used to mean joining the Empress’ own circle of ministers, whose duty was translating her edicts into law and passing it on to the rest of the government. The Spiral Academy also serves as a finishing school for spies. All students learn the basics of cryptography, observation and other tradecraft as part of the basic diplomacy courses, and in theory these skills are meant for use against the native governments of satrapies, but even the stupidest student understands that every Great House spies on the others. A secret curriculum of advanced espionage, called the Garden of Unheard Words, also exists within the school. Students are admitted to it when and if they discover it exists.

While every secondary school has some manner of secret society passed on from older students to younger, the Spiral Academy has the most extensive network of them. Specifically, it has at least seven active, major secret societies. The Sorority of Dutiful Dowagers pledges to uncover corrupt judges and officials, while the Jewel-Strung Web is there to coordinate for mutual benefit and prosperity. Secret codes, handshakes and even secret languages are used, all to add to the mystique and camaraderie of the societies. Thanks to Realm primary school being a social meat-grinder, most Spiral Academy students are ready to view each other as stepping stones to power and prestige, and the secret societies are perfect vehicles for ambition. For the elders, who maintain their ties through faculty and staff at the Spiral Academy, the new members are extra bodies they can use in their personal scheming, and so students often end up caught up in the schemes of ranking officials, sneaking through the Imperial archives or attending exclusive parties in the name of their elders for reasons they can usually only guess at.

Next time: Pasiap’s Stair

What If High School, But Hell

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: What If High School, But Hell

Pasiap’s Stair is primarily a school for outcastes. Every outcaste encountered by the Realm has, traditionally, been offered two choices: the razor and the coin. Those who take the razor shave their heads and join the Immaculate Order. Those who take the coin are destined for a period of legion service before becoming fully members of the Dynasty. They train at Pasiap’s Stair, a school known for its torturously difficult curriculum. Unlike the House of Bells, it does not rely on donations from the Great Houses at all. It occupies an ancient fortress-manse in the Mhaltin range of mountains, near the Dragonswrath Desert, and specifically is located on top of Gray Mask Mountain. It is barren of comforts, and looks the part. The stairs the academy takes its name from climb around the mountain face, wide enough for two to walk abreast, and the storerooms and barracks of the school are hewn deep in the rock. Classes and field exercises require descending the stairs to the desert’s edge.

Life at the Stair is unpleasant at best. At worst, it is intolerable. The course of study takes ten years, and it refines the rough, diverse outcastes into an elite, disciplined force that has held much of the world for seven hundred years. The Stair has a few hundred students at any given time, with a similar number of support staff and faculty. Other services are provided at the town of On-Sha, nearby. Students are grouped in fangs of five, and all punishment is collective. Drills last morning and night, with the time between taken up on tactics, math and the Immaculate Philosophy, plus other subjects intended to prepare the outcastes for Dynastic society despite their upbringing. Older students get paired with younger ones as advisors, to train them and bring them into the spirit of the legions. Studies are focused on strategy, tactics and the realities of warfare, with entire courses existing to handle proper sword-using or how to handle poor terrain. More advanced students drill the new cadets, to help them prepare for training enlisted men in the legions. There are no failing students at the Stair – you either graduate or die. (Occasionally, this means your fang murders you for holding everyone back and throws you off the mountain. These deaths are typically recorded as sleepwalking accidents and referred to euphemistically as ‘walking off the mountain.’)

Outcastes with a talent for sorcery are trained in battle magic. While no sorcerers are on the permanent staff, faculty from the Heptagram, sorcerers on sabbatical or retired legion sorcerers are called in as needed. Each term ends with the Feast of Spears, a final exam in which the students are pitted against each other in a gigantic battle, serving as officers in an army staffed by slaves or local legion soldiers, with the tenth-years being the generals and younger students filling out the officer corps. The battle is followed by a massive feast, where graduating students finally get to relax a little…for the day or so before they’re shipped off to the Imperial City to be sponsored into the legions. However, the legions are not now what they once were. Now run by the Houses, their leadership quality has plummeted as unqualified Dynasts are promoted over experienced but outcaste officers. Graduates no longer have a guaranteed job, and while receiving a commission was once a formality, it’s now a bureaucratic nightmare as the House legions find excuses to reject applicants from the Stair.

Regardless of secondary school, graduates are almost always 21, the age of adulthood for both Exalted and un-Exalted Dynasts. This makes them full members of their Houses, with all the privileges and responsibilities thereof. Coming of age for a Dynast is always marked with a grand gala, though the un-Exalted ones are rather less lavish or well-attended. Galas for Exalts are grand parties, and part of the pomp and ritual of them is the formal amendment of the family registers to signify the new Prince of the Earth’s status. And this, of course, is when the pressure to serve the family starts in earnest. A sizable portion of attention on the gala will be from parents sizing you up as a potential fiancée. The coming-of-age party is the start of marriage negotiations, which typically last a decade or so. Arranged marriages are, after all, complex bargains not to be embarked on lightly, and definitely not without an idea how both sides will pursue their careers.

After the gala, though, young Dynasts get their first real chance to relax. They will spend some time consulting with their mother and matriarch about their future prospects, weighing information from all factors, reports of their past and so on. Sometimes, they may even be allowed personal input, which is a sign of great trust but also high expectations. Those who graduate from the House of Bells have traditionally been guaranteed a legion commission or a post in their House’s paramilitary forces – usually as a scalelord, but those with well-connected parents were occasionally promoted beyond their experience. Their more experienced subordinates usually call such Dynasts ‘unhatched eggs.’ If they are unable to find a legion position and don’t want to work for their House’s forces, they will often take a sabbatical and travel, either for fun or as part of a Wyld Hunt, until a post opens up or they impress an officer with enough pull to bring them on as a staff officer.

Failure to complete secondary education hugely limits your options, as it restricts you from holding various Thousand Scales posts and also ruins your reputation. If you go on to pursue further education and a career, your family won’t ignore you, at least, but you’ll still not be invited to important social functions. No one wants to show off the kid who never quite made it. More often, your best option is in fact to forgo Dynastic life and head out to the Threshold. A Dynastic dropout that does well out there can win acceptance from family and peers, and once you finally settle down, a lot more doors will be open for you. Similarly, while most Dynasts take a family job or work in the Thousand Scales right after graduation, many choose to delay entry into their careers to relax a bit after a childhood of grueling study. This is practically expected of young Dragon-Bloods and has no shame attached to it whatsoever. No one offers a job to a recent graduate without knowing it might be a year or two before they actually show up. While most families will expect you to end your sabbatical after the first few years, those that travel far and wide for it are given a much longer period. Dynastic families believe strongly that broad experience is healthy for a young Dragon-Blood and may be willing to put off your work for a decade or more as long as they know that when you return, you will be far more capable than if you’d taken up the job immediately. However, with the threat of civil war looming, many messagers have been sent out through the Realm and Threshold. Healthy experience is one thing, after all, and the throne is another.

Generally speaking, the Empress’ disappearance has changed things up a lot for everyone. Military-trained kids will almost always find a job waiting for them in their House legions and perhaps even forbidden to work elsewhere. Those without military training, especially if they business skills, are often put to work in their House commercial interests, usually without their consultation. Those who show special skill with politics and socializing may instead be guided towards the Deliberative or Thousand Scales. Sorcerers, of course, will receive all the resources they need to practice their art, but are unlikely to be called on except when the House needs their skills or when they are to be married. Even relatives tend to hold the Realm’s general distrust of sorcery.

Even now, though, the Grand Tour continues. It is common for young Dynasts to tour the Threshold after graduation, to better understand the world they command and enjoy it. Traditional routes include heading out to Arjuf and then to the wealthy Southern states and the pious Southwest. See the orreries of Varangia, the towers of Chiaroscuro and the stelae of Zephyr! Delight in the food and sex tourism of An-Teng, hunt the beasts of the Silent Crescent! Test your skill outside of school! Return home more experienced, more sophisticated, and with trophies plundered from foreign lands. You’re a Dynast. Enjoy life.

Next time: Realm Society

Life After High School

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Life After High School

The Great Houses take their time figuring out marriage options – it may take several years to find and push for the best match. In that time, many young Dynasts spend their time adventuring, while others move into careers immediately. Unmarried Dynasts rarely stay in one place alone, however. It is normal for them to attach themselves to existing households run by older relatives, where they’ll live as members of the household and make their talents available while attending local social events as needed, whether as tutors, guard trainers or spies. They do not, generally, work for money. Dynasts don’t ]i]need[/i] to. Only the Empress, after all, could outshine the Houses’ fortunes. All Dynasts, when they come of age, receive a House stipend, enough to live in a manner that won’t embarrass them. (And enough to boggle the mind of most patricians.) It might be enough for a small country manor or city townhouse, or an apartment in the Imperial City. The stipend is increased for married daughters, who are expected to support their husbands, and increases more for each child until those children come of age. It may also be increased for noteworthy labor or working over a decade for the House businesses, so elder Dragon-Bloods often pull in a shockingly large amount of money.

Dynasts that do find outside work or work in the Imperial Service can supplement their stipend with income, allowing them room to spend even more lavishly. Not that they carry cash – that’d be gauche. They take what they want and their stewards or seneschals arrange for payment. The payment is rarely on par with normal prices, of course, but it is expected that most shopkeepers will appreciate the honor of receiving patronage from a Dragon-Blood…which actually can be worth a lot of jade if it’s repeat patronage, because a reputation for serving Dynasts is going to bring in a lot of business. In the Imperial City, you can find just about anything you want to buy with that patronage, too, from anywhere in the world.

We get a sidebar on formal dueling in the Dynasty. It is an ancient, if not necessarily legal, practice. The Empress forbade death duels between Dynasts, you see, preferring her children kill her enemies. She personally charged violators of this law with dangerous, difficult and often humiliating responsibilities. However, since the Empress disappeared, violators with powerful family or friends have often been able to secure pardons that the Empress would never dream of having granted, which means there’s been a resurgence of death dueling in the past few years.

Dynasts rarely travel alone. They have their aides, bodyguards, valets, flunkies and so on as entourage, which can stretch how far that stipend actually goes. Most of the entourage are probably patricians, though Dynasts have been known to pick up peasants and foreigners that catch their eye, too. Even the most sycophantic likely has combat training of some kind or otherwise valuable practical experience, since you never know when an assassin or impromptu Wyld Hunt will happen. Adventuring Dynasts tend to be able to live off their stipend fairly easily despite this, since they live lives of relative modesty. Many supplement their stipend by serving others, though never through menial labor. That would be beneath them. Carving the pillars of a temple is one thing, but a Dynast never tiles the roof, as it were.

Even with the stipend and supplementary income, some Dynasts manage to outspend their means. No House wants a debtor, since it’s an easy source of pressure on the Dynast to make them work against the House. House Ragara, especially, thrives on the debt of their cousins, but they’re not the only ones. The Imperial Courts have been known to force debtors to serve the state, assigning them work for the Dynasty that will let them work off the debt, and Houses will often reduce the stipend of those that spend too much, or assign them seneschals that will tightly control their finances to keep the hole from getting deeper. For truly legendary cases of debt, a debtor may be effective exiled for a few years to the Threshold while the House settles their accounts and smooths over the problems they caused.

The Blessed Isle is a busy place full of high society meetings. The Realm has developed a sophisticated party taxonomy, though many are a blend of various types. Salons are informal private parties, at least by Dynastic standards. Attendees still typically get hella dressed up for them and show off as much as possible, after all. A salon is usually arranged by a single Dynast and may run for several days. They can have any purpose, such as telling war stories, holding a Gateway tournament, gossiping about politics, competing with poetry – anything you like. There’s almost always plenty of time to relax and get drunk, high and full. Business is sometimes done at salons, but it’s almost always informal dealings. Salons are where you go to cut loose away from the prying eyes of mortals and free of the demands of House and family…officially, anyway. It’s not easy to ever really forget your responsibilities to your family, but you can pretend.

Galas are insanely formal. They are arranged by a House or a group of Dynasts, and they tend to start early and run late. Very late, at times – a gala may last for days. No one ever wears less than their best for a gala – and never the same outfit twice – unless the whole point is provocation and flaunting your disregard for others, or you’re hopelessly inept. The hosts spare no expense, and a gala is essentially made for conspicuous consumption. Politeness dictates you invite every Dynast in the region, whether you want to or not. The best way of avoiding someone you don’t want to invite is to make sure to schedule it on a day they can’t come, and then loudly lament the fact when this is “discovered.” Smaller galas, for birthdays and such, are slightly more private. In these cases, you can reduce the guest list to family and friends and people you’re trying to build connections with. Some Great Houses, like the Nellens, also make a habit of inviting patricians to their galas occasionally, while others, like the Mnemon, practically never do. It would be unthinkable for a patrician to reject an invitation, because one gala can charge the course of their career. Galas are not for business, but may celebrate business deals that have already happened, especially for wedding galas. Weddings are highly ritualized, featuring an Imperial judge officially registering the new couple, and they are probably the single fanciest galas in the Realm, as both Great Houses (or both households, if the marriage is purely in-House) competing to outdo each other. Monks are traditionally part of the ceremony as well, but legally are not required. The judge has little chance to enjoy the party, sadly, as they are usually swarmed with partygoers trying to persuade or bribe them over upcoming cases.

Celebrations are public festivals, which even peasants may attend. Dragon-Bloods rarely spend much effort on them as a result, and they’re often planned by patricians or un-Exalted Dynasts. They are less lavish than other parties, and the fashions are as a result less ostentatious. Dynasts are always careful to mind their behavior at a celebration, because the peasants are watching, and no one wants their parent to be called in front of the matriarch to explain their failure to instill proper decorum in their child. Assassinations, in particular, are almost never carried out at celebrations compared to other parties, and if they do happen they are almost always disguised as accidents or rely on slow-acting poisons.

Next time: Going Visiting

Meeting Your Friends

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Meeting Your Friends

Visits are all social gatherings that aren’t parties, but you are hosting someone else. This might be a business thing of any kind, or they might just be in the area and stopping in to say hello and borrow your spare room. Visits are usually arranged in advance, and they start with leisure time. You hunt, enjoy a private performance or otherwise hang out together in a fun way. If the visit is about business, the day will pass without discussing it at all until dinner, when negotiations begin. If the visit takes multiple days, this pattern will repeat each day. Negotiations exclusively are for after dinner, and it is a sign of poor etiquette or desperation to discuss things openly before that. Anything prior is coded language, oblique references and so on, so both sides usually do know what’s going to be discussed, at least. Not all visits have a purpose, though. For these, the visit is more like a small, highly exclusive salon and you just have fun, or pretend to. Traditionally, a host must accept a guest without complaint and provide for all their needs. To fail in this is a mark of shame on you and your House. Obviously they never have to repay you, but tradition dictates they give some kind of gift to you for hosting. Only if a guest greatly outstays their welcome, greatly violates the rules of hospitality or refuses to provide an appropriate visiting gift may you withdraw hospitality, and even then you need some appropriate excuse for why the house cannot take them right now. Of course, those who abuse the rules of hospitality are likely to have their House find reasons to not let them leave home, to avoid the constant embarrassment.

Some side notes: The Scarlet Empress made a habit of rewarding the businesses owned by those she wanted to make prominent or whose goods she liked. She would hand out Imperial patents, allowing them to display her personal mon by the door in order to proclaim that they did business with the Empress herself. Great House matriarchs and major bloodline leaders have followed her example, issuing their patents to business in the Imperial City and their prefecture capitals. Everyone in the Realm knows that the number of mons at the door of a business is a sure sign of quality, and the owners of those stores know they can sell at a significant markup. The penalty for using a mon without the appropriate patent to do so is, naturally, death.

Gateway, meanwhile, is the favorite game and hobby of the Dynasty. It’s a complex strategy board game played on a tiered board using many kinds of piece, typically in the form of animals carved from gems or ivory (for Dynasts, anyway, who can afford that) or with abstract pieces made of wood or metal for less expensive sets. It can be played by two to five players, and depending on their skill and tactics a game may last hours, days or weeks. Students in secondary school, especially at Pasiap’s Stair and the House of Bells, will often play prolonged games in which only a few moves are made each day to hone their strategic ability, and the game is often played at social events. Legionnaires, children and foreigners often use the board for other, less complex games as well, such as the aggressively-paced Hunting Cat, the treacherous alliance-building Guardian Gate and the allegorical solitaire game called Spirit-Frog.

Anyway, marriage. The blood of Dragons is the most valuable asset any House has, and it is the duty of every scion to pass it on. This is a religious and moral obligation, a patriotic duty and a simple fact: Exaltation must not die with you. This simple fact forms the core of the Realm’s web of political connections and alliances, reinforcing its stability and aiding the Houses. Thus, marriage is traditionally a duty matched in seriousness only by the Wyld Hunt. These days, it is a much higher priority than the Hunt itself. In the years between graduation and marriage, a Dynast’s family will negotiate and scheme to find the best possible match, usually of a similar age range. Each family is trying to get the best of the deal – ideally, a son is matched with someone of higher station, and a daughter with someone of strong bloodline. Both families gain political connections out of the deal, but only the wife’s House gains new Dragon-Blooded children. In exchange, the bride’s family will pay the husband’s stipend for the duration of the marriage. This is, of course, generally a poor trade for the husband’s family, so typically the husband is of somewhat lower status than the wife to compensate. Particularly prominent men often have trouble finding good matches, as no one wants their daughter to be overshadowed by her husband. These men often end up married to women of greatly lesser status, for whom the political alliance involved is the main factor and who often pay heavily in dowries.

The great majority of Dynasts accept arranged marriages without complaint, never doing more than idly daydream about anything else. Even the few that want to marry for love are rarely able to convince their elders to allow it over a carefully negotiated selection. A handful do manage to succeed, whether by clever negotiation with both families or because they’re too stubborn and insignificant to be worth pushing it over. In these cases, the young couple usually must manage with just the explicit withdrawal of family protests, which are usually rather exasperated and annoyed. Particularly reckless scions, though, try to marry without permission. All Dynastic marriages must be overseen by an Imperial judge – or three judges, if the partner is either a peasant or foreigner. This is normally not a problem, but if attempted without familial permission, finding a willing judge is hard, because they risk retaliation from your House – possibly two Houses. Marriage between a Dynast and slave or a Dynast and one of the dispossessed is entirely illegal short of an exemption granted by the Deliberative or Empress. Marriages usually last until one party dies, but they can be ended prematurely by agreement of both House matriarchs or an Imperial judge if the couple fail to produce offspring after 25 years, or if one partner is guilty of a serious crime, such as attempted murder of the spouse or children, murder of a Dragon-Blood, or treason. Beyond that, though, it is until death do you part.

The Realm is largely matrilineal. Children belong to their mother, gaining her social rank and family name. When a man marries, he joins his wife’s family and is expected to show total respect and obedience to his mother-in-law, also called the second mother. Husbands typically retain their family name on marriage, but because peasants and outcastes typically don’t have one, those that marry a patrician or Dynast usually take their wife’s family name. When those of different social status marry, the lower-class spouse is elevated to the social class of the higher, officially. In practice, they’ll probably get snubbed for a bit. Husbands that outlive their wives return to their families after the mourning period ends, but any children remain with the wife’s family, typically to be adopted by her kin. Widowers may choose to remain with the wife’s house with consent from the matriarch, which is commonly given to patrician or peasant husbands, but a Dynast who does so risks the anger of his own family. Sometimes, a talented male Dragon-Blood will be married off to a mortal, that he might return to his own House after a mortal lifetime. Others marry within their own House or to client cadet or patrician families to avoid divided loyalties.

A man is expected to transfer all personal loyalties to his wife, her household and her House, but a man Is raised in his mother’s House and will always bear that with him. Now, in a time of chaos, Dynasts may be forced to oppose their birth House directly, either in debate or battle. Some husbands go to great lengths to prove their loyalty to the wife’s House or their mother’s. Others prefer to avoid trouble and just try not to get into situations where their loyalties might be tested. Historically, many husbands in the Imperial Service made a point of putting the Empress over all other loyalties either way, which is now causing them some problems. Social expectation is that you work for your wife’s House still, but a Cathak husband in the Sesus legions might well get fired to keep him from betraying them in a crisis, or be forced to fight his own wife if he works in the Cathak legions.

Same-sex couples face a certain stigma over reproduction, but nothing else. If they manage to produce a kid, whether through adoption of an outcaste, undesirable or orphaned child, using a surrogate or using sorcery, then their duty’s handled and there are no problems whatsoever. They become as socially acceptable as any other marriage, with their homosexuality being only an amusing quirk, like raising dogs or collecting swords. This is because the Dynasty accepts that the Dragon-Blooded are hot-blooded and passionate, with many historical Dragon-Bloods choosing their beloved over House and tradition when pushed, often to the extent of killing. Better to keep that from happening and hope for children against the odds than to demand more than is bearable and lose the one you’ve got already. Even so, failure to follow familial obligation is hard to forgive, as in all matters. Thus, a Dynast set on a same-sex marriage has to fight tooth and nail for the privilege, just like any Dynast looking for a love match. Many are unwilling or unable to risk that, or just don’t give a shit, and so marry against their sexuality and just have affairs. Either way, in a same-sex marriage, the younger partner marries into the family of the elder, carrying on the masculine role in religious and legal capacities. A mortal marrying into a Dragon-Blooded family takes on the masculine role regardless of age. A sidebar notes that PCs should never be forced into a marriage or betrothal that their player does not want. Players always have an out.

Next time: Having Kids

How To Be A Magic Mom

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: How To Be A Magic Mom

First, pregnancy rules: there aren’t any. Exalted are superhuman and so being pregnant actually just does not cause them any problems whatsoever. Signs don’t even show up until the third or fourth month, and will not become obvious until the seventh. Pregnant Exalts may remain physically active until several weeks before giving birth. Because of their vitality, Exalts never die in childbirth, and stillbirths and miscarriages are considerably rarer than among moratls. That’s the total text devoted to pregnancy.

The blood of Dragons is not a physical trait; it is a spiritual quality of Essence. Those who don’t have it cannot pass it on by any means, not even Solar Circle Sorcery or shapeshifting into the form of a Dragon-Blood. Further, it cannot be passed on casually. Progenitive potential in Dragon-Bloods begins building at the moment of the Second Breath and, once it is expended, requires years to regenerate to its peak. Mortal potential remains constant, neither waxing nor waning, though compared to an Exalted parent their potential is weak and fickle, especially in mortal/mortal pairings. No child is 100% guaranteed Exaltation, but the more potent the parents’ blood, the more likely it is. However, if it has only been a few years since your last kid, the odds of your next child’s Exaltation are exceedingly small. These children are highly prejudiced against in Dynastic society, known as “leftover children” because they are, it is said, made from the leftovers of their elder sibling. Even if they do Exalt, the stigma remains to a certain extent, as their bloodline is considered inferior. (This has no basis in reality; their blood is no less potent if they manage to Exalt.) The parents will also face social consequences for “wasting” their potent Essence. It is considered a mark of irresponsibility, often gossiped about.

Progenitive Essence passes on involuntarily at the moment of conception, not at birth or Exaltation. This entirely exhausts the Essence of the parents, which must renew itself from nothing over time. Potency is slow to gather at first, with almost none accumulating over the first few years, then accelerates as you near the maximum of the cycle. This gathering of Essence potency is a mystical process, applying equally to children created by non-sexual means such as sorcery as to those formed in the more normal manner. Because males can sire children so much more easily compared to women, promiscuous or unfaithful men draw more censure in the Dynasty than women. Taking lovers is practically expected, and for a man to do so is not remarkable – indeed, even the most faithful man will be assumed capable of adultery. Women can less easily hide pregnancy, so female Dynasts are generally considered above reproach as a matter of course, for if they wasted their Essence, surely everyone would know.

Because same-sex or sterile lovers can’t have kids, they are generally considered to be a natural and good part of Dynastic society. Having an opposite-sex affair is somewhat shameful, though politely ignored if you are discreet or in barbaric lands, but a same-sex affair is worthy of remark only if you are extremely indiscreet about it. Preferring same-sex companions is not worth commenting on unless your marriage fails to produce children, which will probably cause rumors. A fresh couple gets about 20 years of grace period before any rumors are likely to start, however.

Also of note: because the Scarlet Dynasty and most other Dragon-Blood cultures adhere to the Immaculate Texts, it is considered a matter of simple fact that a trans person’s gender identity is true, period. The Immaculate Dragon Danaa’d was a trans woman, and so being trans is just as holy and proper as anything else. Thus, trans Dynasts marry according to their gender identity, and while they are often incapable of producing biological children, there is no lessened expectation of producing an heir. Adoption or surrogates are common for them as well as any other couple incapable of normal conception. Further, the Realm permits use of sorcery to have children, albeit a bit warily. The Empress enshrined this herself by using sorcery to bear some of her own children, including Ragara and Mnemon, with her first husband, a trans man named Rawar of Arjuf. Since then, trans Dynasts have had Imperial sanction, called the Precedent of Rawar, to use any magic they desire to produce a child.

Any child born within a decade of their nearest elder sibling is considered a leftover child and will face prejudice, while their parents will be considered reckless with their Essence. If more than twenty years have passed, people will start hinting that maybe it’s time to have a kid again. Ideally, a Dragon-Blooded marriage produces five children before the parents turn a hundred, if they live that long. It is widely regarded that 12-20 years is the correct period for regenerating progenitive Essence. After the fifth, more kids are welcome but not necessary. Twins, triplets and other multiple births face a strange problem. Only one of them receives the progenitive Essence of the parent, but it is impossible to tell which one. If one Exalts, any others born at the same time are treated as leftover children, but it is not that rare for multiple such children to Exalt, especially if they have excellent pedigrees.

When a woman bears a child, there is no question of parentage. It doesn’t matter who the father is, or even if that father is someone clearly not her husband, or even if she’s not married. The child is always legitimate and belongs to her, period. A man has no claim to any child he sires outside marriage. Occasionally, a female Dynast may publicly acknowledge a lover she’s not married to as her official consort. This consort will be legally acknowledged as the father of any children he sires, if male, and may establish as much of a relationship with them as Dynastic society allows any parent. Unmarried men may take patrician or peasant consorts, but outside of House Cynis doing so is seen as sordid and desperate, a sign of masculine intemperance. Men are expected to cut all ties with consorts before marrying and to avoid having children with them.

A Dragon-Blooded man having a kid with a peasant or patrician woman complicates things. To prevent having to deal with these legal complexities, the Dynasty has developed the polite fiction of the fictional pregnancy. Typically, what happens is the man will tell his birth House matriarch about the problem, and she will select a female member of the House, typically one in a marriage that can’t procreate, and have them pretend to be pregnant over the next nine months, complete with either a padded waistband or pillow or an extended trip to the Threshold “for her health.” This adds another potential Dragon-Blood to the House, after all, and helps the man avoid the potential wrath of his wife and her family for as long as he can keep the lie going. It is considerably less common for a husband to inform his wife about these little problems, but when he does, she or a member of her House is likely to be the one to wear the pillow, and the husband is also going to face quite a bit of her anger. For the duration of the false pregnancy, he will likely be forced to handle every menial task of household management, carefully attended by a family seneschal to prevent him from actually getting any personal opportunity from it. His travel and social engagements will be extremely restricted, not only for the pregnancy but for years after, and when allowed to participate in Realm society he will be watched like a hawk. Some wives will go so far as to assign their faithless husbands a valet to accompany them indefinitely and carry maiden tea, so that in the future, there will be no excuses for having children outside of wedlock.

A young Dragon-Blooded who becomes pregnant before marriage will usually work closely with their matriarch to hide the pregnancy, in order to avoid damaging marriage prospects with the appearance of intemperance. In these cases, another member of her House will probably wear the pillow and adopt the child. No matter what happens, though, Dragon-Blooded parents are rarely very present in their kids’ lives. Many children grow up knowing their servants and tutors better than their parents. This emphatically does not mean the parents do not love their children. Rather, the Realm teaches that the greatest gift a loving mother can give her daughter is a strong House and respected family. The memory of a mother’s caring voice simply cannot match up to it, says the Dynastic culture. Sacrificing one’s relationship with one’s children is considered a solemn and sad duty in the Dynasty, a commendable sacrifice of one’s own desires for the good of the family. It is a common topic of poetry, songs and stories, often ending with the parent realizing, satisfied, that it was worth it to see the benefits the child gains from it in adulthood. Most Dragon-Blooded parents choose to make this sacrifice, though not all. Those who do not are seen as lazy or self-indulgent. However, legally, an Exalted parent has no further responsibility to their children beyond providing tutelage and the necessities of life. Anything after that is given by choice.

Next time: Outcastes

The Razor’s Edge

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What Fire Has Wrought: The Razor’s Edge

First, a brief sidebar: the vast majority of Dragon-Blooded are young. While they can live for centuries, few do. Most die in battle or of various misadventures before their first century ends. At any given time, most of the Realm’s DBs are young and of the current generation, outnumbering a smaller number of middle-aged and elder Dragon-Bloods.

The outcastes, by the reckoning of the Dynasty, are those Dragon-Bloods who cannot trace their lineage back to the Scarlet Empress and have not been adopted by her or a Great House or married into one. The Scarlet Empress referred to them as lost eggs, the prodigal children of the Dragons who could be brought into the nest of the Realm and rightly guided by that wisest of all living Dragon-Bloods, the Empress. By imperial law, all outcastes are distant kin to the Empress, and therefore they are wards of the state. They are above mortals, but below Dynasts. The Realm recognizes three cartegories of outcaste. First are the Exalted patricians. Second, lost eggs born to peasant, slave or dispossessed classe.s Third, foreign Dragon-Bloods from off the Isle. All are treated rather differently.

Patrician Dragon-Bloods occupy a bit of a strange position. They are educated in the same primary school system as Dynasts, and so they are capable of making the jump up from their own class to the Dynasty, either by adoption or fosterage. Adoption is the more common of the two, and it’s a slow, deliberate thing. The new Exalt’s family will negotiate a sponsorship deal with a Great House, often one that is their long-term patron, in which the patrician family gets some combination of wealth, favors and the promise of future support in exchange for the Exalt. The patrician Dragon-Blood is sent to secondary school and faces the challenge of having to outdo their peers, who have had better preparation, get treated somewhat better and often look down on them. Only after graduation from a prestigious secondary school will their sponsor House officially adopt them. If they graduate, there are no problems. Whatever their personal circumstances, though, they never quite shake the stigma of their less prestigious background, and can expect to have a life full of minor snubs. They must work twice as hard as their new family for recognition and make half as many mistakes, though few will openly say so, as that would exceedingly crude and so frowned upon. Marriage prospects will also be somewhat more difficult.

A patrician Dragon-Blood that fails to attend or graduate after being sponsored will be accepted as a client, not a full member of their sponsor House. (They’ll almost never be outright rejected unless they are spectacularly incompetent or rebellious.) Clients must earn full adoption, though in most cases as long as they can maintain barely adequate behavior they’ll eventually get accepted into some minor, possibly dying branch of the House within a decade or three. If they impress the House, well, then they’re as welcome as any other adoptee, with only a minor stigma as a “practical” type with “no head for books.” On the very rare occasion that a patrician Dragon-Blood turns out to be entirely undesirable, the sponsorship agreement is rescinded and their family reclaims them, with the full expectation that the sponsors will be repaid for all they offered and more. Even if the patricians are able to do that, the sheer disgrace is crippling for both the patrician family and their Exalt, forming a massive obstacle to any future adoption sponsorships the family seeks as well as the Exalt’s possible marriage prospects.

Fosterage is rarer, done only when the patrician family is powerful enough to hold its own in negotiations. It is also sometimes done by cadet Houses, with much the same costs and benefits (that is, a full Dynastic upbringing, superior to what a client House can usually offer their kids) and often eases the social stigma of client House membership. The cost to a patrician family in fosterage is high, as it must match the expected value of a lifetime of service. This may be a hefty fee, contracts to supply a House with goods and services, large political favors, land deals or arranged marriages favorable to the House. If a family cannot afford this, they may promise the fostered Exalt’s services for several decades. Just about any agreement will include a few years of service at least, which will also include tutelage in the responsibilities of an Exalt. In return, the Dragon-Blood receives sponsorship and funding to attend one of the four great secondary schools but will get to retain their own family name, allowing equal education to a Dynast and equal chance to gain connections to be used in later life. The patrician family gains a loyal Exalt and retains control of their Exalt’s bloodline. Many patrician families dream of strengthening their line with the blood of Dragons to such a level that they are adopted wholesale into the Dynasty. It’s rare, but has happened in the past, after all. With the vanishing of the Empress, though, the fosterage system has seen a sharp decline in use. Few patrician families have the wealth or power to arrange it.

A less common third option is for a devout patrician family to donate their child to the Immaculate Order. This is an extraordinary show of piety, and the Order knows it. They won’t show any overt favoritism, but if the patrician family is ever disadvantaged through no fault of their own, the local Immaculate leadership will take a strong interest in the situation. Children donated in this manner are treated exactly like any other outcaste that chooses the razor.

Lost eggs from the common people gain many privileges not usually available to the common people of the Realm. They are in many ways treated as equals to proper Dynasts in theory. Each is considered to some degree to be the adopted child of the Empress herself, which legitimizes them. However, the status has a price. They must obey their foster mother, and in her wisdom, she decreed that all of her found children must make a choice: the razor or the coin. Whenever a lowborn outcaste appears on the Isle, the Splendid and Just Arbiters of Purpose take charge of them whether they like it or not. They hold all authority over the new Exalt until they move on either to the Cloister of Wisdom or Pasiap’s Stair. A delegation is sent to retrieve them from one of the many officers the Arbiters maintain on the Isle, and only in the most remote parts of the Isle does this take more than a week or so from the time the child Exalts. They then take the child back to their headquarters at the Obsidian Mirror in Juche Province.

At the Mirror, new Exalts are schooled in the fundamentals of Dynastic society and the options they have going forward. Those who take the razor will join the Immaculate Order, while those who take the coin serve the legions. By forcing all low-class outcastes to make this choice, the Empress strengthened two of her most potent organs of societal control. After their first full year as Exalts, the outcaste children attend the greatest feast they have ever had: the Feast of the Elect, held annually. Here, the Humble and Munificent Master of Orphans offers each one two silver platters, one containing an elaborately made jade razor (to symbolize the bald head of the monk) and on the other, an ornamental jade obol stamped with the image of the Empress (to represent loyalty to the throne and payment for military service). In the morning, the young outcastes head off for their destinations and new lives. Those who are unable to choose at the Feast are given a few days of grace period, but if they prove unable to decide at all, the Master of Orphans chooses for them.

All lost eggs that take the razor are sent to the Cloister of Wisdom, where they are taught as any initiate would be. They dine alongside Dynasts, and while the life is simple, it is often one of the best and most energizing things they have ever done, for they are now accepted as equals to the Princes of the Earth. Unlike Dynasts, however, the lost eggs cannot withdraw from the school for any reason nor refuse to join the Immaculate Order when they finish. Each will serve as a monk, exemplifying the enlightenment their Exaltation represents. They typically receive specialized instruction beyond that of other students, and in their final year they are formally admitted as acolytes of the Order, as are any Dynasts that chose to become monks. Unless they fail their tests and need more training, they become monks of the First Coil upon graduation. Outcaste monks that get expelled from the Order have traditionally been remanded to the Empress for punishment or the assignment of alternative duties of service. Also of note: in the chaos following the Empress’ disappearance, Immaculate monks that encounter newly Exalted children have been quietly sending them directly to the Cloister after preliminary training at a local temple or monastery, rather than reporting them to the Arbiters. The Order deems this a justified action despite being illegal, because as the law seems to be giving way to chaos, they will need all the strength they can get.

Next time: The Coin

Counting Coins

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Counting Coins

For those that take the coin, life is rather less subtle and rather more brutal than it is at the Cloister. Pasiap’s Stair, after all, is not a nice place. It will forge them into weapons in what was, at one time, the greatest army in the world. Once, any graduate that survived the Stair could be assured a legion post, usually as a scalelord but occasionally very promising recruits might be commissioned at the rank of talonlord. They would then get shipped out to whatever satrapy their legion was assigned to, to crush the foes of the Empress. However, far too many promising outcaste officers were dismissed during the partitioning of the legions, and there’s now little room for outcastes whose loyalties are directly to the throne rather than to the Dynasty. Mortal tours of service in the legion last 20 years, but for a lost egg, a tour is 50 years, as their longer lifespan and greater power required greater commitment to the Empress.

While they certainly suffer more than those that take the razor, the outcastes that take the coin have one great advantage. Once their tour is up, they can choose to retire from the legions – and you never retire from the Immaculate Order. Traditionally, any lost egg cashiered from the legions was penalized or assigned new duties by the Empress. In her absence, it is not entirely clear what they’re going to do. Either way, though, an outcaste that does well in the legions may find marriage opportunities in a Great House. They get to decide their own marriages, of course, having no matriarch to advise them, but they must still get the judges to approve, and there’s often not many Great Houses that want to marry outcastes into their line, as they usually have poor pedigree and no real political leverage. Dynastic marriages to outcastes are often because the Dynast involved is disgraced, in love, or both. Senior officers and heroes can leverage their skills at the bargaining table, to be sure, though they will get fewer concessions than most Dynasts. Patrician families have traditionally been better for outcaste marriage prospects, eager to gain Dragon’s blood at all. These marriages make the outcaste a big fish in a small pond, but they don’t gain the status that they’d gain by marrying a Dynast.

Those that manage Dynastic marriage are considered Dynasts in all legal respects, not lost eggs. They must complete their tour of service if they haven’t, though, and they’re going to suffer a greater social stigma than adopted patricians face, between their low birth and lack of an upper-class education or training in noble etiquette. At that point, the outcaste’s life comes under control of their adoptive mother and House matriarch, as if they had been born in to the family. This becomes complicated due to the need to adapt to Dynastic society and social rules without the lifetime of preparation a Dynast usually receives, though, or they might disappoint their new family. Alternative to marriage, an outcaste can also be formally adopted into a House. This has traditionally been very rare, as power over adoption was vested in the Empress, who would use the Deliberative to rubber stamp whatever she felt like doing, whether that meant gifting new heirs to a House or saddling them with useless assholes. In her absence, the power belongs to the Deliberative alone, and given they are made of squabbling Dynasts and patrician politicos, they get little done and mostly want to adopt lost eggs as expendable soldiers for the coming civil war.

As a result, modern adoption requests are a hell of intrigues and political maneuvers. New Dragon-Bloods are bargaining chips in the House struggles, offered up to various Houses as part of compromise deals or left unclaimed because one group is blocking another from claiming more Dragon-Bloods in the preparations for war. Even in the case of deadlock, though, the offer of adoption may well influence an outcaste’s loyalties in the coming conflict.

Not all outcastes who finish their tours of service are elevated to patrician class or Dynastic class by marriage, however. They often take patrician, peasant or foreign spouses, and so over time a number of lost egg households have developed. Usually, what has happened historically is that some major event clears out most of the lost egg households, with the most recent being the formation of House V’neef, in which most of them were declared Dynasts and given to V’neef as adopted children by the Empress. Since then, the population has been slowly rebuilding as legion officers muster out. They are now a powerful wildcard that every House wants to control. Most were not bound by Great House patronage until very recently, as when it became clear the Empress was not returning any time soon, the Great Houses began scrambling to enlist as many outcastes as they could, even those previously considered beneath notice, as long as they could find a way to get control of their loyalties.

Adoption has always been a slow process, so some Great Houses have gone for faster methods of recruiting lost eggs. Formerly it was mostly a curiosity, and today it’s still a sign of desperation, but sometimes they will even take the grossly illegal step of forging a Dynastic identity. It takes skill, cunning and insane amounts of courage to attempt, as Dynastic birth and death records are extensively documented for inheritance reasons, and falsifying them is grounds for an entire household to be stricken from the ledgers. With the Empress gone, though, and with her the sole authority to order such a punishment, the identity trade is growing. The first step of an unofficial “adoption” is to have an identity ready for them – usually a young Dynast that died in some kind of misadventure, left unmourned. Once the name is free and a lost egg that roughly fits their description has been found, all that needs to be done is train them until they can pass themselves off as a born Dynast. (Specifically, the one whose name they’re stealing.)

Foreign outcastes are often said to have fallen out of the nest, and of all lost eggs, their lot is usually the worst. They may be celebrated lavishly, but their peers often see them as little more than exotic props. Their only real paths to find a place are to join the Immaculate Order, join the legions, or marry into a Great or cadet House. Some foreign Dragon-Bloods are defectors from Lookshy or other more admired foreign lines. This is rare, and while these outcastes are seen as more cultured and capable, they are also less trustworthy, which usually relegates them to the same paths. Foreign outcastes may not be directly adopted into a House by law, and may not marry or be adopted into a patrician family. Typically, the best way for them to get into Dynastic society is a quick marriage to a low-rank Dynast, though they’ll typically still have some trouble adjusting to their new life and will face social stigma for their background. If they are unable or unwilling to find a Dynastic spouse, the only options are, as ever, the razor and the coin.

Next time: Sworn Kinships

The Power of Friendship

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What Fire Has Wrought: The Power of Friendship

There is nothing more central to Dragon-Blooded relationships and adventures than the Sworn Kinship. This is the heart of the heroic Dragon-Blood, a group that brings together many heroes into a perfected union that is greater than the sum of its parts. No single Dragon sustains Creation – it is all five, working in harmony. Thus too is the Kinship. A Sworn Kinship is family – beyond House, beyond blood. The oath of the Dragons and the spiritual fulfillment it grants supersedes all other loyalties and bonds. Your Sworn Kin are as close to you as your own sisters, if not more. You would invite them to your deepest sanctums, would work with them and help their parents and their children, just because they ask it. Hospitality to your Sworn Kin goes without saying, and to throw one out of your home is like throwing them out of their own. There’s a reason a Sworn Kinship is also known as a Hearth. It is a warm place, where familial love is a matter of course, expected and not discouraged. Hearthmates might fight or disagree, but in almost none do they hate each other without equal affection for each other.

Hearths are often named for the place their oath was sworn, such as the Hearth of Eastern Faxai or the Shrine of the Gardener’s Grace Hearth. Others, however, take their names from historic events or great deeds, such as the Three Winters’ Hearth or the Hearth That Slew Roaring Mantis. Hearths form bonds of friendship and camaraderie that transcend House lines. This does divide loyalties between blood and friendship, which the Empress found very useful. As a result, she helped to enshrine the Sworn Kinship tradition into Realm culture. Betrayal of your House in favor of your Hearth is tragic, but not treasonous, by Realm judgment. It is no disgrace, merely to be mourned.

The kinship oath is a mystic thing, born from the power of Terrestrial blood and Essence. It is a sacred birthright, natural to the Dragon-Blooded. The greatest gift the Dragons gave to their children was that they might fight together as one, and so swearing the oath of the Hearth is a serious responsibility, never done lightly. It may be sworn quickly, as Dragon-Bloods form ties of friendship quickly and may decide on the spur of a moment that these are the people they would die for, but no Exalt would ever swear it frivolously. A proper oath, sworn with the right concepts and intent in the right order, is binding, sealed by anima and a statement of finality. In the Realm, the kinship oath is considered legally binding, and oathbreakers will face legal consequences and censure from their own House. Hearthmates are kin, after all, and every House considers the betrayal of the kinship oath to be a sign of treacherous and untrustworthy nature, a sign that you would turn on anyone.

Most Sworn Kinships are formed early, often during the period of adventuring that most Dragon-Bloods have after graduation. Hearths arise when friendships are forged in battle or difficulty, much of the time, and while it is rarely a hasty decision, there are always exceptions – especially among the young. While various Dynastic families may treat it different ways, everyone knows the Hearth is sacred, and to swear the oath without consideration is to accept a heavy obligation without knowing who you’re dealing with. To renounce the oath is equally grave, for to lose that connection to their souls means to lose a part of yourself. Most Sworn Kinships spend years or even decades working together after the oath is sworn, traveling and facing danger together. They often roam the Realm or Threshold to promote a favored cause, such as hunting Anathema, searching for occult lore, protecting people from monsters or searching out rare and delicious food. Later in life, Hearths often have little time to see each other, between careers and obligations, but correspond and visit each other when they can. They regard their active days wistfully.

A Sworn Kinship breaking up is uncommon, though it does happen – especially in plays and stories, where it serves as a tragic element of the climax. More commonly, they just drift apart over time as duty and honor tie them down. They’ll come together every so often to do things like help a client state fight a war or go on a Wyld Hunt or tell old war stories about the good old days. In everyday life, they form a sort of refuge from the cutthroat politics of the Realm, a group of people you can relax and hang out with or go on vacations with without any worries or cares. Retirement, however, does not always mean a Dragon-Blood is physically incapable, and it is a celebrated practice in the Realm for retired Hearthmates to reunite in their elder days to travel and adventure once more. The Sworn Kinships reforged in age are especially well remembered, and it is not rare for a personal oath of rededication to be sworn at those times, though unlike the original oath it has no mystic significance. Crowds that witness this are often moved to tears by the joy of it.

The actual form of the kinship oath can take many forms, but it always involves reciting the names of those forming it, a statement of their intent, and a vow of dedication spoken as each participant’s animas flare. When the ritual is over, the new companions can sense the tie in their bones. Hearths typically can’t have more than five members, but GMs can make exceptions for PC groups that are larger. It is possible to join a pre-existing Hearth by swearing loyalty in the presence of all members. Dragon-Bloods can sense the presence of their Sworn Kin and some of their Charms give additional benefits when used on them. The death of one of your Sworn Kin is immediately and unmistakably sensed as a sharp shock in the soul. You may rescind your oath by informing all members of the Hearth, singly or as a group, that the oath is no longer valid. The traditional form of this is ‘The Hearth is shattered,’ in the Realm. All bonds are severed with your former Hearth, giving you an instinctive sense of finality and leaving nothing where your kin could once sense your presence. A deliberate betrayal of one of your Sworn Kin or the Hearth as a whole shatters your ties to them. You lose all Willpower points when you do it, but unlike a formal renunciation, your Sworn Kin do not immediately realize the bond is broken, and will continue to sense your presence until the story’s end.

Next time: The fighting retirees

Grandpa Has A Sword

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What Fire Has Wrought: Grandpa Has A Sword

Most Dragon-Blooded don’t make it to retirement. They die of violence, misadventure or murder, well before their hundredth year. Those who live to see it, however, find retirement rewarding. Typically, by the time a Dynast starts to think about retiring, they have accomplished enough to distinguish themselves and bring fame or wealth to their House. Most will have enough personal wealth to support themselves long after they stop receiving a salary, especially because a retiree’s House stipend is drastically reduced. Most retirees choose to do so while they’re still fit enough to enjoy their retirement. Travel is a common pastime, and many use the chance to go see the world and spend time with friends and family they’ve lost touch with. Those that prefer a more active life may try to recapture their youth by setting out with old companions on new adventures. Often, they become hunters, ruin explorers or delve into the underground world of the Mountain Folk. Many, though, prefer a quieter and more leisurely retirement. They focus on their hobbies or projects they hadn’t had time for or couldn’t begin due to political pressures. Those that can afford it often relocate to remote areas where they will not be disturbed.

Other retirees decide to make a protégé into their project. They seek out promising students to advise and shape into the next generation of power, usually of their own House but not always, as they may decide to teach the descendants of a Hearthmate or a stranger that impresses them. A pupil’s successes are the successes of their mentor, after all, and it is often a matter of friendly competition among retirees to see whose goes the farthest in life. For young Dynasts, this is an excellent way to benefit from your elder’s resources and wisdom, and the hunt for a respected mentor has driven fierce competition.

Not all Dynasts retire quickly, though. Some prefer not to because they think they can still do their jobs or because they lack the funds to support themselves without their salary and stipend to depend on. This is acceptable for a time. However, if age or senility become a risk to their House, there are measures to push Dragon-Bloods into retiring. Diplomats may find their workloads increasing exponentially, while military figures may be given more and more dangerous assignments. Aging Dynasts that suffer this usually choose to retire or end up dying. Either way, their obligations are over. Occasionally, a Great House may offer financial incentives to retire, and many Dynasts hold out in hopes of such a payout. It’s risky, however, because a more callous matriarch may decide that murder is more cost-effective.

Imperial law governs inheritance fairly strictly. When a Dragon-Blood dies, half of their wealth and assets are passed on to their spouse, if there is a surviving one, or to their eldest Dragon-Blooded child otherwise. The other half is then divided into shares, which are split amongst the Dynast’s children. Exalted children receive four shares, mortals get one. Few Dynasts rely on inheritance for any financial planning, because a Dragon-Blooded parent may well survive for centuries. It is possible for a Dynast to bypass this inheritance allocation by preparing a will in advance, dividing up their assets however they please. This practice is not customary and is fairly rare. If a will denies any heir a substantial part of what they would normally receive, they’ll usually conspire to forge the will and bribe witnesses to it or find a way to make the will get conveniently lost and have a judge pronounce it invalid.

Realm funeral practices for peasants, slaves and the dispossessed are essentially short affairs that end with the cremation of the dead on a wooden pyre and the erecting of a small monument on top of their ashes and bones to placate their lower soul. It is said that Hesiesh is briefly incarnate in the flames, taking the higher soul on to its next life. Dynastic funerals, on the other hand, are grand and expensive. They will often last for weeks before the body is disposed of, using skilled physicians or sorcery to prevent decomposition. However, embalming is rare, often seen as a disruption of the natural cycle. A hero’s plaque carved from jade will be displayed with reverence, then later enshrined with a solemn procession, and the youngest Exalt in the House will usually be called forth to recite the lineage of the deceased. Patricians and wealthy peasants emulate these practices, though usually their funerals are more plain and less well attended.

Mourners will come from across the Blessed Isle for a Dynastic funeral, or even from the Threshold. The House will generally commission grand works of art or poetry to commemorate the deeds of the dead, embellishing them as needed. Besides the politics of it, there is a persistent if not orthodox belief among Dynasts that the Immaculate Dragons observe funerals and may be swayed by these accounts to bring the soul of the dead into unity with them rather than guide them to reincarnation. Flattery also helps prevent the lower soul from getting upset, which is usually wise when it’s got the leftover power of an Exalt. Vigils are usually held over the body, which may last days. Especially grief-stricken family or Hearthmates may stay by the deceased’s side until they pass out from exhaustion as a dramatic show of grief. Fasting is also a common way to show respect and grief. Once the vigils are over and all the political dealing is done, the body is prepared for its final departure. Most Dynastic funerals opt for the common cremation rite of Hesiesh, albeit more lavish and elaborate than the peasant version, with a cenotaph prepared bearing the name of the dead and usually their great deeds in life. The remains are placed in a special urn unless the deceased left instructions to scatter their ashes somewhere.

There are other funeral rites, however, meant to emulate the other four Immaculate Dragons. They are considerably less common except among Immaculate monks, but pretty much every Dynast knows about someone that chose to be honored in a funeral rite to a specific Dragon. The rite of Pasiap is mummification, the only Realm funerary practice that uses embalming. It treats the body as the Dynast’s final great work, a physical monument left by their soul. The body is prepared by experts, usually from Sijan, in a weeks-long process, and then entombed in a grand mausoleum, which may be personal or, in the case of House Mnemon, part of the great tomb-complex of Mnemon-Darjilis. The rite of Danaa’d is sea burial, with the body sewn into a shroud of canvas if mortal or silk if Exalted. The shroud is weighted and lowered reverentially into the water. House Peleps has a long tradition of these sea burials for naval Exalts, even if they died on land. The rite of Sextes Jylis involves preparation of a grand garden. The body is prepared and laid to rest in a compost mound, placed for maximum geomantic harmony. When the funeral is over, an honor guard is left and, after some months, the mound is reverentially dispersed to reveal only fresh soil, with not even bones left. The decomposition process is hastened by the power of geomantic Essence, see. The soil is then scattered over the garden to join with the Essence of life. The rarest practice is the rite of Mela: sky burial. The deceased is left to the birds and beasts of the air, which pick the bones clean. This is usually done on special towers, but any space open to the sky can be used. The skeleton is collected, broken up and ground into dust, which is then mixed with wheat meal and scattered for the smaller birds.

Most Dynasts do not, unlike mortals, have the luxury of dying of old age. They fall in battle or intrigue. For those whose bodies cannot be returned home for the funeral rites, it is the job of their Hearth, legion, crew or other comrades to care for their corpse. A field burial is usually cremation, as it’s fast, though a sky burial isn’t much slower and the bones can be transported back to the Realm for a proper funeral. No matter what, a funeral is held on the Blessed Isle when word of their death arrives, which follows the same forms as normal but without the body. They still get the special cenotaph in their honor.

Next time: Land of the Seventh Legion

Power Armor Sparta

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What Fire Has Wrought: Power Armor Sparta

Lookshy dates back to when the world was on the brink of destruction. The Shogunate, weakened by decades of internal warfare, was broken by the Great Contagion, a civilization-ending disaster from which none could recover. Right as it hit, nigh-infinite numbers of the Fair Folk poured into Creation, to finish what the Contagion began. The Wyld’s creatures caused widespread chaos before an ancient god-weapon of the Anathema turned the tide. However, while the Shogunate was in ruins, it was not utterly wiped out. The Seventh Legion, under Taimyo Nefvarin Gilshalos, made their way west despite being vastly outnumbered. They gathered as many survivors as possible from the husks of the River Province cities. They came out of the distant East, making their way towards the ancient city Deheleshen, fighting the fae all the way. When they arrived, they found the local daimyo long dead and the city ruined beyond hope of repair. Despite this, Nefvarin had his orders, and he intended to follow them to the letter. Until the day when the Seventh Legion was wiped out, they would serve as provisional governing body in the stead of the Shogun. And this, their descendants teach, was the founding of Lookshy.

The city itself is built on the ruins of ancient Deheleshen, on a rocky outcrop at the mouth of the Yanaze. It is both fortress and city, with huge walls patrolled by Dragon-Blooded officers against intrusion by land or sea. Its massive wells and granaries can withstand protracted siege. The secure harbor at the base of the cliff is home to the Lower City and the Lookshyan navy, who protect foreign merchants that come to trade. From there, you can ascend via lift tubes to the many other districts, always under watch of the guards The city is divided into four major quarters, each higher than the last and less friendly to outsiders. The Fourth Ring has outer gates that open onto Lookshy’s farmlands and pastures, and is mostly home to the crafters, mercenaries and merchants. Above them is the Third Ring, home to the more refined artisans, the training schools and the heavy industry. The Second Ring is home to Lookshyan homes, military barracks, warehouses and administrative buildings. The First Ring, also called the Old City, is home to most of the First Age structures of Deheleshen, including the ancient Lookshy Manse, renowned as unbreachable. It is home to the city’s leaders and the offices of the Shogunate Bureaucracy.

In the centuries since the Contagion, Lookshy has risen from the ashes of its past to become one of the most powerful city-states in the province. It has changed over the years, in part because of some of its ancient wonders decaying or breaking down, but its masters have developed a reputation for their ancient traditions and fighting skill. It is the largest Dragon-Blooded enclave outside of the Realm, with an unusually high ratio of Exalts to mortals. The General Staff offers heavy incentives to have children, and it is aggressive about recruiting new Dragon-Bloods. Lookshy has always been pragmatic, and large amounts of Exalts are favored over smaller numbers with stronger bloodlines. Unlike the long marriage negotiations of the Realm, Lookshyans are encouraged to marry young and have children as early as a decade after Exalting.

The most influential of the Lookshyan Dragon-Bloods are descended from the old, respected military families with political power. They are known, collectively, as the gentes. In theory, all can trace their lineages back to ancient Shogunate aristocrats. In practice, several can’t. Some are not especially wealthy, while others are extremely rich, especially by the standards of River Province. Some are very recent additions to the rolls, while others can trace their lineage back to the city’s founding. All members of the gentes are citizens, though being of a gens offers only a few extra privileges. A citizen who dies with no immediate kin has their belongings devolve to their gens if they have one, for example, otherwise it goes to the government. Still, membership in a gens is highly prestigious. Officially, Lookshy is a pure meritocracy, and the Seventh Legion works hard to prevent the more blatant forms of nepotism, but the gentes undeniably benefit from family power and influence.

If a family can be named a gens or not is solely the domain of the General Staff. A group of immigrant Dragon-Bloods might be offered gens status as a bargaining chip, or a minor household might earn it in recognition of one of their members performing some great service to the city, their production of many Dragon-Bloods or their gaining enough wealth and power to attract Legion notice. It is not legally required that all Dragon-Blooded join a gens, but nearly all do. The General Staff, if you’re wondering, are the governing body of Lookshy as well as the directors of their military strategy, policy and law. Officially they are led by a chumyo, who is the general of the Seventh Legion, and consist of the chumyo and their six most senior officers. They are supplemented by the Administrative Staff, a group that fluctuates but is largely composed of two dozen respected officers, Directorate leaders and other noteworthies of the city. The Administrative and General Staff are advisory bodies to the chumyo, but their advice is weighed very carefully, because the General Staff may remove the chumyo by simple majority vote. The current chumyo is Maheka Dazan, a brilliant commander and extremely traditional member of the Mercenary faction of the city. Since the fall of Thorns, he’s been increasingly opposed by Interventionists on the General and Administrative Staff, and he fears they will remove him to advance their cause.

The gentes are divided into the Gentes Major and Gentes Minor. Currently, five families are recognized as Gentes Major, but there have in the past been as many as eight and as few as three, which have not always been the same families. Gentes are patrilineal, but women are not meaningfully impeded by this, and Lookshy is generally egalitarian about its treatment of the sexes, including for all senior posts. The most prominent elder of each gens is called the imperator, and is similar to a Realm matriarch save that there is no bias towards either sex. The Gentes Major are deeply entrenched in Lookshy’s leadership, and the overwhelming majority of the General Staff are from them. The gentes use their members’ positions to advance their political agendas, which can lead to different Directorates pursuing very different agendas and handing out budgets to very different projects, even if they appear publicly neutral. As you might guess, this creates an essentially constant imbalance of power. Once a gens has a member on the General Staff, they will tend to leverage it to their advantage, building up even more power. Losing a seat is a massive loss of power, as well. Legal adoptions disproportionately favor the Gentes Major.

Lookshy’s politics are dominated by five factions. The Mercenaries are the most conservative and currently most powerful politically. They want to maintain the status quo, seeing it as the optimal path for the city. Yes, the return of the Shogunate is the goal, but they’re willing to wait for a proper heir to show up. In the meantime, they rely on Lookshy’s strong forces and mercenary contracts with other nations to ensure prosperity, and believe the best thing Lookshy can do is to just keep doing what it’s always done in protecting River Province. Interventionists argue that Lookshy should take a more active role in the region, and they interpret Nefvarin’s Directive to mean that the Seventh Legion is not meant to just protect the province but to establish hegemony, strengthening the Legion politically and militarily. They are seen as somewhat radical, but less so than the other factions. Many of their policy decisions overlap with Mercenary positions, especially since standard Lookshyan doctrine allows proactive intervention in foreign affairs if there seem to be consequences for the River Province, and the city has never been shy about training other regional forces. As a result, the Interventionists often seem to just be a natural extension of the army’s tendencies.

Isolationists believe that Lookshy has been misinterpreting the intent of the founders, either by accident or by deliberately expanding the scope of ‘the Shogunate’ to include all of River Province. They believe that Lookshy cannot effectively police the entire region and should not be expected to, as they have enough issues in the city itself. Many would even argue the Seventh Legion should shift off its constant wartime footing of hypervigilance to a peacetime economy, pursuing longterm commerce. Most of their support is from the merchant families of the gentes, who have a vested interest in increasing trade and normalizing relations with the city’s traditional foes, such as the Realm.

Imperialists believe that the absence of the Scarlet Empress means opportunity, and they want to use the chaos to advance Lookshy and its goals via aggressive expansion. A few have even put forth the idea of allying with key Dynastic Houses to take over the Realm’s lands. They want to make the Seventh Legion into an empire and start a new Shogunate. At present, they are not supported by many within Lookshy. Purists, on the other hand, are the faction of religious zealots. They believe Lookshy has stagnated because the General Staff are too pragmatic and too willing to overlook corruption in the name of survival. River Province, they say, can only be protected if it is saved from its own moral turpitude. They want to cleanse the depravity of the region, such as the open rule of humans by the gods of cities like Great Forks or the hive of criminality that is Nexus. While they are a fringe group at present, the Purists are gaining ground as the Solars return more and more visibly.

Next time: Gens Amilar


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What Fire Has Wrought: Gensetics

Gens Amilar, the Air That Rushes Towards Tomorrow, is a relatively new Air-Aspect bloodline to the Gentes Major. Its founder, Vondy Beulen, was a former Realm general who denounced his work and defected to Lookshy with the bulk of his forces during one of the Realm’s centuries-back attempts at invading the River Province. His descendants are now the greatest scholars of Lookshy, renowned for their strategists, engineers, theologians and teachers. Gens Amilar’s reputation for intellectualism and planning have been vital to ensuring the growth and legacy of Lookshy. While Amilars are often brilliant thinkers who are more than willing to try new approaches, they also have a reputation for turning from tradition simply because they find it restrictive and also for ignoring morality in pursuit of knowledge. Their strategists have been known to suggest tactical use of poison and disease, not only for military ends but just to further their study of toxicology or epidemiology, and their sorcerers are known for frequent demon summoning. (Not that that’s especially rare, among sorcerers.)

The gens has also produced a number of skilled field occultists, often found exploring the ruins of River Province in search of First Age ordnance to bolster the dwindling stockpiles of the Seventh Legion. They also collect rare tomes and lesser wonders, in hopes of studying them and gaining useful insights. Of the Gentes Major, the Amilar are easily the least invested in maintaining the status quo. Many are Interventionist, with far-reaching plans for River Province. If seeing those through means sacrificing a commitment to archaic traditions and taking a more direct role in the world? That’s fine. Others are Isolationist, seeing the wars of the Scavenger Lands as a wasteful distraction from research. The sohei that draw from the gens have often been intellectuals as well, focusing more on the ideology of the Immaculate Faith than on its effects on real human beings. The Purists have found this to be fertile ground for recruits, and many Amilar sohei are members of the Purist faction in recent years. They seek to increase Lookshy’s influence in the River Province not to materially benefit the city proper but in order to use the Seventh Legion as a sword to enforce the Immaculate doctrine and defeat heretics.

Gens Karal, the Fire Burning Brightest, is probably the most well-know of the Gentes Major, a Fire-Aspect bloodline that has become a symbol of Lookshy’s ideals. They are the fire that the people of Lookshy gather around for warmth and safety, able to trace their origins all the way back to the first liaison officer of the Deheleshen camp. They have retained his strong sense of duty, and while they are neither the wealthiest nor most powerful of the gentes, they are easily the most respected. Even their enemies praise them, for their conduct on and off the field is almost always above reproach. They do, however, have quick tempers and a very protective attitude toward the family’s prestige. In a city already known for martial excellence, more Karal scions are career soldiers and officers than any other gens, and the pressure to excel is strong – especially for those that go into the military.

Gens Karal is by and large straightforward about its political goals and intentions for the city, but they are by no means bad at politics. They tend to be quite good at navigating the web of allegiances that binds the Seventh Legion and River Province as a whole, negotiating truces with the same skill they perform strategic maneuvers. Operations and Liaison Directorates are their most common employment if they choose not to remain in direct military service after their compulsory tour. They are passionate about the needs of the city’s people and the greater good of the province, but also are often the source of equally passionate opinions about what those needs actually are and how to best address them. They often have very strong opinions about when and how to intervene against aggressors or what side of a trade war to support. Quite a few Interventionist Karals want to extend Legion power and authority in the region, but they’re prone to disagreement over specifics. Most of the family, however, is staunchly Mercenary, happy with the status quo of stability. Regardless of how they may fight over politics in private, though, the gens has a strong tradition of presenting a unified public front to the rest of the city.

Gens Maheka, the Earth Unbroken by Armies, is the dependable spine of Lookshy. The Earth-Aspect bloodline has produced some of the finest builders and crafters of the city, descended from one of the original combat engineers of the Seventh Legion. They are renowned throughout the province as creators of elaborate mechanisms, fortifications and artifacts, while their more commercial members oversee the smithies and foundries that produce the tools of the Seventh Legion. No matter what, a Maheka handles problems with utmost care, and they are often very slow to decide on a course of action. Once they decide, though, they use all the force at their disposal to make their vision real. Sometimes, their slowness to act comes at the worst times, and if they are pushed beyond the limits of their moral code, they are often stubborn enough to dig in and refuse to do anything. Other gentes find this extremely frustrating, especially when a fast response is urgent.

The Mahekas are well-known conservatives, though they consider it rude to bluntly announce their political opinions. Instead, they allow the other gentes to argue over details while quietly adhering to the letter of Legion ideology and the ways of the Immaculate Faith. Of the five Gentes Major, they are probably the most loyal to the city and its ancient traditions. Many of the city’s sohei and sorcerer-exorcists are Mahekas. They tend to be extreme supporters of the Mercenary faction, seeing it as the best way to be true to the ideals of the Lookshy Directive. They have worked for centuries to achieve that goal, and there’s no need to fix what isn’t broken. Certainly, some of the gens probably does not agree about how best to run Lookshy, but they’re smart enough to keep that to themselves and avoid the disapproval of their imperator.

Gens Teresu, the Water Flowing with Jade and Silver, established their control of Lookshy’s naval forces early in its history. The Water-Aspect bloodline derives from a Shogunate admiral who led his command from the North to the Inland Sea in order to join the Seventh Legion at Deheleshen. They maintain their wealth by investing in expansion of Lookshy’s sea trade and the Legion’s influence in other regions, making them vital to the city’s economy. They are the wealthiest and most widely traveled of the Gentes Major, and their shipping empire is what keeps the city going, bringing in riches from the Yanaze River and the Inland Sea. They are on friendly terms with the Guild, working extensively with Guild factors to make money, but the Teresu elders are confident they can keep the upper hand in those dealings. They tend to be rather less concerned with morality than other gentes when business gets involved, and aren’t overly concerned with law so much as appearance and standing. Most outside the family believe they are obsessive about keeping up appearances to the point of improper flaunting of their wealth.

Politically, the naval and commercial branches of the family do not agree with each other. The career naval officers are staunchly Mercenary, seeing the current state of Lookshy as acceptable and in no need of change. The merchants, however, are strong proponents of Isolationism. They want to see Lookshy withdraw from its stance as the peacekeeping force of River Province, which they feel drains the city coffers uselessly. They’d much prefer Lookshy refocused on becoming an economic giant.

Gens Yushuto, the Wood Whose Roots Grow Deep, is a Wood-Aspect line descended from a sorcerer-engineer of early Lookshy. It sees itself as the nurturing roots of the city, spreading growth and contributing in unseen and often underappreciated but vital ways. They are known for their generosity and humility, with cool heads and excellent social skills that lead them to often serve as mediators in disputes. On the other hand, they are often inconveniently soft-hearted at the most inopportune times. The elders of the gens encourage its members to seek out their own paths, contributing to the city’s greater good in their own ways. They believe self-improvement and personal growth are the best way to maintain Lookshy’s goals and stability, which means they end up having scions that excel in all kinds of jobs. Still, Lookshy is ultimately a martial culture, and most end up serving the Seventh Legion somehow – as infantry, strategoi, justiciars, sorcerers or more. The Yushoto are most common in the ranger corps, as it tends to benefit from their broad skillsets.

Due to their open, relaxed approach, Gens Yushuto has no predominant political leanings. The majority are Mercenary, but it’s not a large majority, and every political faction is represented within the gens. Unlike Gens Karal, however, the Yushutos are more open to letting all of their members do whatever they want. The one thing they forbid is to do things detrimental to the Seventh Legion. Thus, no one expects any real political unity from Gens Yushuto.

Next time: The Gentes Minor


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What Fire Has Wrought: Genseral

Besides the five Gentes Major, there are over a dozen Gentes Minor. Their numbers have grown and shrank over the centuries, with some families entirely lost and some just fading in and out of power. Often, a major gens will serve as patron to a minor gens. These cycles of obligation and favors influence Lookshyan politics quite a bit. The game lists only a few of the Gentes Minor, leaving you room to come up with your own if you want.

Gens Kiraga, the Earth That Upholds the Shogun’s Bastion, is an Earth-Aspect line that traces its lineage to a distant cousin of the Daimyo of Deheleshen. They are an ambitious gens with a dream of empire, hoping for a new Shogunate to rise in River Province by steel and power, rather than just to serve as mercenaries. Kiraga was once a Gens Major with great influence among the rank and file, but they are now recovering from heavy losses in wars suffered through the past century or two, which allowed Gens Maheka to supplant them. The Kiragas remain common in the infantry forces, respected for their loyalty and spirit. Many are outspoken Interventionists or Imperialists, which often has them facing off against their more conservative rivals in the city.

Gens Nefvarin, the Air That Fills the Wings of Dragon, is an Air-Aspect line descending from the founder of Lookshy. They were heavily invested in the Lookshyan Sky Guard. In the golden years of the Sky Guard, they were skyship officers and sorcerer-engineers specializing in skyship maintenance. However, as the Lookshyan fleet of skyships dwindled over time, so too did the importance of Gens Nefvarin. The final blow was the loss of their top officers in the Gunzota Incident, from which the gens has never recovered. (The Gunzota Incident was the action of an internal conspiracy of Lookshy dedicated to removing nepotism and corruption from the ranks; in RY 615, they used a First Age weapon at Gunzota Redoubt to transform everyone inside the Redoubt into crystal, as well as anyone who goes in to explore the place. It was ruled an accidental discharge, but the conspiracy still exists in an effort to prevent nepotism from returning, and investigation of the incident could well reveal them and spark a massive scandal about the legitimacy of the current General Staff.) Gens Nefvarin, once the patron to Gens Yushoto, is now its client. They continue to produce skilled sorcerers and do still maintain the last, mothballed remnants of the sky fleet in case they are ever required. Most are Interventionists that want a more aggressive foreign policy, while others hope to meddle in the Realm Civil War in an effort to seize the Imperial Palace for the Seventh Legion. The latter group is not well-supported politically, but the Nefvarin name does still carry respect, and if they can produce a legitimate strategy, they may be able to find the support they don’t currently have.

Gens Nerigus, the Wood Whose Roots Clutch Riches, is a Wood-Aspect offshoot of Gens Teresu. They see themselves as the quartermasters of Lookshy, devoting themselves to overland trading. They have strong if somewhat complicated ties to the Guild, allowing them to bring in food, wood and Nexus steel, but they’re constantly fighting the Guild over the prices of those very contracts, plus Lookshy’s tariffs, exchange rates and so on, as each side tries to get the upper hand over the other. Most of Nerigus holds important roles in the Stores Directorate, but they try to avoid showing obvious favoritism to Nerigus-owned businesses. Despite this, they profit quite well off the arrangement. As a gens they lean Interventionist, in the belief that increased involvement will mean increased economic leverage.

Gens Sirel, the Water of Distant Shores, is a Water-Aspect gens descended from a Blessed Isle gens that defected to Lookshy around 500 years ago, when the Empress was still conquering the Realm. They disliked her dismantling of the old Shogunate social structure, and their distant relations to Gens Teresu allowed them to get into Lookshy, which they’ve been loyal to ever since. Today, they are still a client of Gens Teresu, backing the naval wing’s Mercenary politics. Sirels are pushed to excel, possibly as an overcompensating effort to get out of the Teresu shadow, and there have even been Sirel admirals in the Lookshyan Navy. Others rebel against the family’s pressures and become heretics or louts on the fringe of Lookshy society, occasionally as cover for membership in the Intelligence or Security Directorates. The Sirels still maintain ties to Realm patrician families and cadet Houses that they share bloodlines with, which can be quite useful for diplomacy or business, plus intelligence on Realm internal affairs. However, many Lookshyans see these ties as a source of potential disloyalty in the gens.

Gens Taroketu, the Heirs of the Wandering Blade, have no strong aspect. They take their name from “One Cut” Taroketu, a famous outcaste who appeared in a key battle to help stop the most recent Realm invasion. The family has few Dragon-Bloods, but they have a lot of wealth due to their heavy intermarriage with wealthy merchant families. Between this and the legends surrounding Taroketu, they retain surprising influence. Mortal Taroketus often feel driven to keep up with their Exalted peers, which can mean grand and dramatic gestures, unorthodox strategies or even unethical and illegal scheming. They have a good relationship with the Guild, and make for an excellent (if very quiet) middleman between Guild factors and Realm Great Houses. While the Taroketus have no real interest in changing the status quo, Taroketu’s wife was an exiled Vanehan noble, and so the gens does have a distant and theoretical claim to the throne of Vaneha. With the Realm in chaos, the Interventionists of Gens Taroketu see a chance to pursue that.

Gens Toriki, the Five Dragons Guarding the City’s Walls, also have no strong aspect. They claim descent from the survivors of Deheleshen and its former garrison commander, and as a result they don’t really see themselves as part of the Seventh Legion. The gens is more concerned with the defense of the city and its day-to-day governance than anything else, and while the Torikis are loyal servants of the Legion, they see the defense of River Province as a whole as a waste of lives and money. They are powerful within the Shogunate Bureaucracy and the Justice and Security Directorates, and they maintain the temple to Tu Yu, old city god of Deheleshen. They are a focal point of the Isolationists, which should be fairly obvious.

Gens Yan Tu, the Fire That Sheds a Thousand Sparks, is a Fire-Aspect line descended from Taimyo Nefvarin Yan Tu. They see their true legacy to be strategy and the art of battle. Many of its members are sorcerers, while others focus on cavalry combat or engineering. Yan Tu has a reputation both for great skill and great theatricality, on and off the battlefield. They like to be seen as direct and ingenious, but in truth, their reliance on frontal assaults and sorcery in battle or insults and seduction in court tends to be a ruse, designed to distract from their actual goals. The Yan Tu tend to be Mercenary or Interventionist, but that’s less out of politics and more because they enjoy a good fight, ideally as over-the-top as possible.

Next time: Life in Lookshy

Constant Warfare

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Constant Warfare

Lookshy’s people are divided into five castes. Citizens have full rights within the city. They may own land, vote in the district councils and may choose to leave the city when their mandatary term of military service is completed. All members of the gentes are citizens, and any noncitizen promoted to officer rank in the Seventh Legion or inducted into the Shogunate Bureaucracy becomes a citizen, which they retain even once retired. Helots are a hereditary underclass. They may have salaries and own property, but they cannot own land. They may attend district councils but may not vote or speak at them. They may request work transfers, but must ultimately labor where they are assigned. They may earn citizenship by devoted or heroic service, and make up the majority of enlisted soldiers. Metics are foreign residents of Lookshy. They may only rent land and are subject to travel restrictions within the city, but have no particular social responsibilities and may leave at any time. Indentured are those who voluntary accept up to five years of indentured service to a citizen in order to pay off debts or remove criminal charges. All indenture contracts are handled by the Directorate of the Adjutant General. Slaves are owned by the Seventh Legion, not individuals. Most are prisoners of war who were unable or unwilling to be repatriated after the war ended. Slaves are given room and board and may own non-land property, but they otherwise have few rights in Lookshy, are closely supervised at nearly all times and are harshly punished for disobedience. Their children are generally freed as metics upon reaching adulthood, but this is not strictly legally required.

The Seventh Legion draws its cultural foundation from the Shogunate legions. Thus, it assumes that Dragon-Blooded are naturally leaders in both mundane and spiritual matters, but its prime focus is military. Because of its history, it is even more martial than the Realm, seeing no particular difference between the Seventh Legion and the city proper. Thus, military service is both a civic duty and sacred charge for all Dragon-Blooded, as is obedience to the last standing order of the Shogunate. This is known officially as the Lookshy Directive: “Maintain Lookshy as a Shogunate city under Seventh Legion authority, and hold your post until a new Shogun emerges.” The Dragon-Blooded of Lookshy are brought up from an early age to be soldiers and officers. They are taught that their great destiny is to work and fight for the greater good of the Seventh Legion, and rather than focus on individual skill or personal glory, they tend to be taught to value honor, moderation and consideration of others, to better produce people who can join the most disciplined military force in the world.

Training and formal education begin at age five via private tutors. By age eleven, Lookshyan children are enrolled in academies, of which there are over a hundred within the city, each with its own specialty. These academies teach combat techniques, weapon skills, tactics, modern and ancient literature, River Province history, and math, among other things. The best and most desirable academies see social decorum and presentation as vital to success as soldiers or scholars, and many electives are designed to refine students’ social skills. Tea ceremony may be part of a class offered with lectures on statecraft or the workings of the Shogunate Bureaucracy, for example.

The General Staff keeps an open door for outcastes that wish to enlist, and they are given generous payment. A large portion of the Lookshyan budget is dedicated to recruitment, with bonuses offered to successful recruiters. This isn’t just for armed combatants, either – Lookshy will take any outcaste willing to work for it, whether that means they serve as a field cook, a sorcerer or a merchant. Outcastes are heavily encouraged to seek sponsorship and adoption by a gens, to help them acclimate to Lookshyan life and be properly trained. In the past, groups immigrating together sometimes used their numbers to gain recognition as a Gens Minor – most notably, Gens Taroketu did this – rather than dispersing among the various city gentes. If petitioning for permanent residency alone, though, outcastes are encouraged to join an existing gens via adoption or marriage. There is no official penalty for failure to do so, but it will limit social mobility. Adoptions are overseen by the Directorate of the Adjutant-General, with final approval in the hands of the General Staff, who are usually inclined to place outcastes into the Gentes Major. This entire process is meant for screening recruits and filtering out the potentially dangerous or problematic outcastes, because any gens that adopts them will be held responsible for their actions.

The social hierarchy of Lookshy revolves around citizenship status, and citizens hold all high ranks in the Seventh Legion. Military service is compulsory for all citizens and helots for a minimum of five years. However, that is not the end of service to the Legion, even for those that muster out after their term. All Lookshyans not in active service are considered to be reserve forces, and they attend regular training, practice drills and wargames throughout the year to ensure their readiness in an emergency. After your five-year term, though, plenty of doors open to you if you’re Exalted. You can voluntarily re-enlist, for one. The rank structure of the Seventh Legion has not changed in centuries beyond what has been made necessary, such as the relegation of the Sky Guard to purely ceremonial status due to the lack of skyships. Unit compositions are in multiples of five, much like the Realm – five soldiers to a fang, five fangs to a scale, five scales to a talon, five talons to a wing, five wings to a dragon, and five dragons to a legion. Mortals are rarely able to rise above the mid-tier ranks, but ambitious and skilled Dragon-Blooded can easily expect to reach the General Staff one day, if they are wily and survive the wars and if they dedicate themselves to Legion ideals.

Most missions are outsourced via contracts between the General Staff and various nations within the River Province. The type of action you see depends on your posting and field force. First Field Force, for example, is mostly recon and quick-response units, and tends to get sent to the most dangerous areas. Most Lookshyan forces are citizens or helots serving compulsory terms, but metics can also join the foreign field forces, which consist of former janissaries, ex-mercenaries, runaway slaves, criminals evading justice and so on. Most of them have never actually seen Lookshy proper. They receive one year of intensive training, which either gets them up to the Legion standards or weeds them out if they can’t cut it. The foreign legions of Lookshy are not nearly as well-equipped as the proper Seventh Legion field forces, nor as disciplined. They operate largely on the outskirts of the province and in the East at large, occasionally under the guise of independent mercenaries.

Dragon-Blooded may remain in legion service for decades if they seek a military career. Some become strategoi, as the Legion’s chief tacticians are known, while others join the ranger corps to serve as Seventh Legion special forces, who do the most dangerous and classified missions. Most of these are operations the Legion does not publicly acknowledge, such as sabotage, assassination, deep-cover infiltration or so on. Sorcerers and artificers often serve as sorcerer-engineers and maintainers of Lookshy’s First Age ordnance, which is vital to the city armory. Some seasoned infantry officers also take jobs outside the city to train armies for other city-states in River Province or to command the redoubts the city maintains throughout the Scavenger Lands.

As with the Realm, Lookshy has a strong tradition of magic. Its foremost sorcerous school is the Valkhawsen Academy of Sorcery, which uses Shogunate-era techniques that rely on formalized and ritualized meditation, poetry and ceremonies to empty the mind and achieve unity with Creation itself. The city makes far more use of sorcery in the day-to-day than much of Creation, and has more Dragon-Blooded sorcerers than almost any nation that isn’t the Realm. They are fully integrated into all levels of command in the field forces, and it’s not rare for special forces units to have a sorcerer assigned to them. However, most are forbidden to summon demons or elementals, a task that is exclusively the realm of the elite sohei known as sorcerer-exorcists. While the Legion sees most sorcerers as battlemasters, not social pariahs, the sorcerer-exorcists are handled with great care.

Not all Lookshyans serve in the Legion proper, however. The Seventh Legion has established seven directorates to manage its support staff. The leaders of each directorate bear the rank of taimyo, equal to that of field force commanders, and while there is some degree of overlap between their responsibilities, each handles different kinds of support mission. They make up the basis of much of the city’s civil service. The Directorate of the Adjutant-General handles issues of personnel, from administrating the academies to assigning and reassigning soldiers to helping retired soldiers find civilian work or medical care. The Intelligence Directorate is in charge of obtaining information on potential enemies’ capabilities and assess the threat they pose to Lookshy, if any. The Justice Directorate enforces the laws of the Seventh Legion, both within Lookshy and in the field. Their white-robed justiciars keep the peace, and their judges investigate crimes and oversee tribunals. The Liaison Directorate negotiates with other governments on behalf of the Seventh Legion, both on the grand scale of politics and the details of minor contracts for renting land for a field encampment.

The Operations Directorate handles military strategy and tactics, coordinating campaigns and analyzing results of battles. The Security Directorate handles all counterintelligence and military security, from arranging guard rotations to tracking down All-Seeing Eye spies. The Stores Directorate organizes acquisition, storage and distribution of Legion resources, from field kit to food to First Age weaponry. They maintain the armory as well, which covers a number of artifacts, including ancient siege weaponry, Hearthstones retrieved from the four manses of the city and its holdings throughout the River Province, and the legendary gunzosha armor. Elite mortals who have undergone ritual blessings and surgery can attune to these powered armors and wield their Evocations as if they were Exalts, at the cost of drastically shortened lifespans. Access to the armory is carefully controlled and earned by service, with the rare First Age weapons (including the city’s handful of functioning Warstriders) available only with approval of the General Staff.

Other Dragon-Bloods find work in the Shogunate Bureaucracy, the last remnants of official Shogunate government. Their position is mostly ceremonial, but their symbolic authority is immense, as the Lookshy Directive names them as the cultural inheritors of the Shogunate itself. If a bureau of the Bureaucracy were to go against the Seventh Legion within its sphere of influence, such as by refusing to sign off on a budget, the Legion would lose massive face with the city’s people. However, the Legion is capable of direct action against the bureaucrats, such as by using military reassignment against them, if they are pushed too hard, so mostly the two groups stay out of each other’s way.

Next time: Money and Faith

Keeping The Faith

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Keeping The Faith

The gentes are not totally analogous to the Great Houses of the Realm. Gens members do not receive any stipend from the family, though their essential needs are met and they can ask for additional resources in certain circumstances or in exchange for a favor owed to the imperator. In Lookshy, at least in theory, your contribution to the Legion is more important than the mere fact of your Exaltation, and even Dragon-Bloods are expected to work. The biggest source of income for a Lookshyan is likely to be a career in the Legion proper, the directorates or the Bureaucracy. You can also make money running a business or being an artisan, and Lookshy makes almost as much off trade as it does from military contracts. The gentes do maintain a web of ongoing businesses and are happy to finance new ventures, but commercial income is riskier and less reliable than a soldier’s paycheck. Further, basic living expenses and military discretionary pay is untaxed, but all money from trade or other sources is subject to a flat rate tax set by the Liaison Directorate. Few Lookshyan Dragon-Bloods actually survive to retirement age. That handful that manage it usually retire either to the gens compounds within the city or a private estate nearby. Even then, they tend to remain active, usually involving themselves in the lives of their descendants, networking with other elders and calling in favors on behalf of their family before their deaths.

Like the Realm, Lookshy worships the Immaculate Dragons. However, the Immaculate Faith of Lookshy (and the Shogunate before it) is practiced very differently than the Realm’s Immaculate Philosophy. Some differences are smaller than others – the Realm’s take is aniconic, while Lookshy uses vividly illustrations of the Immaculate Dragons, which can often be found on decks of cards in their many barracks. Both groups emphasize the proper role of spirits in the Perfected Hierarchy, though the Faith is somewhat less rigid on this than the Philosophy. The biggest difference, however, is that the Immaculate Faith is not a state religion. It does not exist to justify the rule of the Seventh Legion, but to be a guiding path to mortals and Exalts seeking spiritual enlightenment. Many Lookshyan Exalts consider it a vital part of their spiritual lives, but largely unrelated to politics and governance. The Faith has no governing body beyond the Bureaucracy’s administration of temples and schools, and the sohei, as Seventh Legion chaplains are called, have no temporal authority, unlike the monks of the Immaculate Order.

The Immaculate Faith states that while Exaltation may be a reward for excellence and leadership, in and of itself it is not deserving of extra respect. A Dragon-Blood must be judged by their deeds rather than their blood or the elevated spiritual position of their soul. Most modern sohei hold that all people travel the path of enlightenment at their own pace. You cannot drag a mule to a river and force it to drink, and neither can you force your beliefs on others. Some sohei advocate a more direct approach, believing that increased acceptance of the Faith outside of Lookshy would help stabilize River Province, but most take a pragmatic view towards their neighbors’ tendency to worship specific gods. Still, while the Faith’s practitioners may claim this is primarily a stance of principle, this tolerance is as much rooted in political compromises as anything. After all, Lookshy has to be more tolerant to be able to cooperate with the often god-riddled nations of the Scavenger Lands. The Purist faction reject this approach as inherently corrupt, and if they could, they would enforce the Faith at the edge of a blade.

The traditional expression of the Faith in Lookshy is the Shogunate-era doctrine of the Code of the Righteous Warrior. The Righteous Warrior is the pinnacle of the Faith’s ideals, an enlightened soul that lives by the five Immaculate Pillars of Honor, Loyalty, Prowess, Conviction and Compassion. They are the ultimate warrior, who can win any battle but also understands that the blade is not always the solution. Some state that even the Immaculate Dragons were not Righteous Warriors, but merely came within a hair’s breadth of achieving it. The Righteous Warrior is the ideal all Dragon-Bloods should strive for, though they may never reach it. The Pillar of Honor demands impeccable action and honesty. Honor also means a sense of personal dignity. The word of a Righteous Warrior is always true, and it must never be given cheaply. Mela showed by her deeds that only via honor can true victory be achieved. The Pillar of Loyalty teaches that loyalty must be absolute. The Righteous Warrior’s first loyalty is to Shogunate ideals, then to one’s commander, then to one’s family. Pasiap taught that loyalty was the foundation of all things – from a peasant family even to the Shogunate itself. The Pullar of Prowess states that all actions must be done with perfect skill and timing. The Righteous Warrior kills only at the appointed time, doing nothing needlessly. Hesiesh embodies the Pillar of Prowess, keeping his almighty power tempered with restraint. The Pullar of Conviction means that you cannot doubt that your cause is just. The Righteous Warrior never acts without believing wholly in the cause for action, for to do otherwise risks death for an unworthy cause. Danaa’d showed that true conviction can defeat even the greatest foes by her persistence in swimming to the sea floor to seal away the Anathema. The Pillar of Compassion holds that the virtues that ennoble the Righteous Warrior are brotherly affection, sympathy and charity. Sextes Jylis taught that a compassionate warrior cannot lose to a heartless foe, for the Righteous Warrior has something greater to fight for.

Sohei begain their training in academies owned and operated by the temples. These provide a classic Lookshyan education centered on Immaculate theology, including the history of the Faith, its roots in the Shogunate and the workings of the spirit courts. They also cultivate and tame their Essence, studying meditation and the Immaculate martial arts. Only those who gain basic mastery of themselves may advance enough to master the spirits, after all. This can include subduing spirits by combat, but a sohei’s job is to be an intercessor with the supernatural, which doesn’t have to mean violence. Many sohei commit themselves to the Faith’s temples, which are mostly in Lookshy, though a few exist in the Scavenger Lands, or they tend to the Legion, but there are always tales of wandering monks that travel the land to bring the Faith to the outskirts of civilization and to fight the rogue demons and gods that terrorize mortals.

Despite the many religious and political differences between the Realm and Lookshy, they always agreed on the Wyld Hunt. Lookshy sees the Anathema as a threat to the security of River Province, and that cannot be allowed. They regularly intercept the Wyld Hunt when the Realm sends its shikari to the River Province, but they have never turned the Hunt back. Instead, the mortal soldiers working with the Wyld Hunt will be replaced by Lookshyan troops from the local field force. The shikari are then escorted to their destination with all respect and assistance of the Seventh Legion. Before the Empress vanished, Lookshy and the Realm would even undertake joint operations to take out particularly dangerous or well-defended Anathema, with the All-Seeing Eye sending word ahead of the Hunt’s arrival. Today, Wyld Hunts are often formed in haste and there is no time to contact the General Staff, so collaborations on a large scale have become rare.

When dealing with the rest of Creation, Lookshy tries to present a unified front. Open politicking is rare, and the political games of Lookshy are usually built on a web of favors owed and debts collected. Senior officers often help out those new recruits that seem to match up with their philosophies, and while arguably this is not quite nepotism, the young Dragon-Bloods will remember the good words put in for them and are likely to return the favor when they get a chance. While members of the various factions debate, sometimes to the point of grudges, outright violence and blood feuding is nearly nonexistent in Lookshy. The Seventh Legion forbids dueling, and Lookshyan pragmatism discourages it anyway as an unacceptable loss to the Legion. Thus, those seeking to rid themselves of rivals are forced to act through less lethal means. Bureaucratic mismanagement or rumormongering to goad people into overplaying their hand are common tactics.

Lookshy and the Realm have been enemies for centuries, fighting over politics, religion and other things. Still, most Lookshyans don’t actually hate the Realm unless they’ve personally witnessed its worst cruelties. Lookshyan policy is to avoid direct confrontation but be vigilant for Realm spies. Realm visitors are allowed in Lookshy, but must remain in designated areas and should not cause trouble. Immaculate monks and Dynasts are often restricted to the foreign quarter of the city alongside the merchants. The General Staff allow only one exception to this general rule – Dynasts with diplomatic protection may travel under strict escort to the Second Ring, where their embassy is located. Traditionally, Realm ambassadors to Lookshy have been retired outcastes loyal to the Empress, appointed as a reward for their service and accompanied by four handpicked advisors, as a satrap would be. House Ledaal has recently claimed the post via Deliberative favor-trading, in the hopes of better coordinating the Wyld Hunt and to seek revenge against Mask of Winters for the loss of Thorns. Most Lookshyans have little sympathy for the fall of Thorns itself, having had to fight Thorns’ forces almost 20 years ago at the Battle of Mishaka after Thorns’ forces invaded the Scavenger Lands; most Lookshyans lost a friend or relative at Mishaka. They recognize Mask of Winters as a threat, but were never fond of the Thorns garrison.

Lookshy and the Guild have always had a tense relationship. The tacticians of the Legion recognize the Guild’s activities as economic warfare, and the Guild are well aware that their mercenaries are no match for Lookshyan regulars, let alone Lookshyan special forces. However, the General Staff is also aware that the Guild could put a lot of economic strain on the city if they wanted, which would greatly impede their ability to maintain operations in River Province. Thus, neither side trusts the other, but pragmatism and mutual unwillingness to start a fight and risk their respective power bases has caused a mutual, if grudging, understanding.

Lookshy’s City Mother, Tien Yu, takes an active role in the politics of the spirit courts of River Province, advocating for its interests. She takes the form of a soldier with jet black skin and silver hair, wearing dragon armor made from moonsilver and black jade. Her predecessor, whom some say is her father, son, brother or lover, is Tu Yu, the City Father of Deheleshen. Once, he was a great tactician and sage of battle, but the god lost much power when the Old City fell to the Contagion and the Fair Folk, and his former duties have largely been assumed by Tien Yu. Tu Yu often comes off as a doddering old fool these days, but his pride is unbroken, and he owes a great debt to the Seventh Legion for reviving the fallen city.

Next time: Outcaste Societies

Life On The Outside

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Life On The Outside

Many outcastes never go to the Realm – most, in fact, of those born outside Realm satrapies. Most never go beyond their Hearth…or, for the unlucky few that never form one, themselves. Even one Exalt can be enough, though, when they’re the only one in the region. The Threshold is full of stories of wandering heroes and warriors, and many of them are born from the legends of an outcaste passing through the region. An outcaste might leave home for adventure for any number of reasons. The vast majority of Creation’s people are peasants that live as their grandparents ever did, but Exalts are destined for greater things by their very nature. Most can bear the village life only so long. Others are born into harsh lives and claim their freedom with their new power. Still, even those that stay at home usually leave eventually, if for no reason other than their family being mortal. After only six or seven decades, they die, and the Exalt is left alone, their grandchildren grown and with families of their own, nothing left to hold them back. A few are even forced into adventure by those that resent the Dragon-Blooded due to their associations with the Realm. A local god may cast out a Dragon-Blood rather than watch a rival grow, or a Lunar warlord may seek to kill them out of anti-Dragon-Blooded racism, or a local chief may decide to kill them while they are young to avoid a later challenge. Rather than fight, many outcastes end up fleeing and plotting their later vengeance when they are stronger.

Some outcastes rise up to rule over a region, inspired by the deeds of the Scarlet Empress. So far, none have been able to match her, but many conquerors dream of it. Power draws in followers, and the outcaste have power. Those that go to war end up leading massive forces, as people flock to their banner to better themselves by proximity to the powerful. Many end up starting families or deriving from families of Dragon-Bloods, which gives them companionship and people like them. Outcastes, even more than others, thrive in the company of peers. Some join Sworn Kinships that contain Dynasts, getting drawn into the Realm’s intrigues but able to call on Dynastic resources for their own struggles. Other Hearths are purely outcaste, beholden only to their kin, gaining camaraderie and freedom.

The Cult of the Violet Fang is based out of the wastes of the Northwest, and specifically a massive cathedral with stained glass windows cut from gems and gargoyles carved from opal. They descend from a group of Shogunate Dragon-Bloods who reached an armistice with the Fair Folk invaders. They are reclusive and secretive Fae-bloods, with the Exalts of the Cult devoted to honing their bodies and Essence in preparation for a ritual quest into the Wyld to face their Raksha ancestors every seven years. Those that return do so with alien blessings and treasures…or with their minds and souls torn to shreds, depending on if they won or lost against the Raksha. It is not always easy to tell them apart.

The Grass Spiders are a clan of assassins based from the edge of River Province, a mix of Dragon-Bloods and mortals. Some of them seek out the life of a killer, while others are kidnapped and indoctrinated shortly after Exaltation. As with any such secret sisterhood, more than a few have ended up in love and raised their children in the group, too. Their hidden fortress-manse, the Unrepentant Sinner Palace, is home to the Three Elite Fiends. These are believed to be elder outcastes, though no one really knows for sure, and they train their subordinates in the killing arts, primarily the use of poison. When they kill, it is a work of subtlety, of grace and most importantly, of art.

Heaven’s Dragons descend from the small population of mortals and Dragon-Blooded that remained in Yu-Shan after the Primordials were cast down. They have lived for millenia in the service of forgotten or absent gods, or otherwise making a living on Yu-Shan’s periphery. They dwell in tightly knit extended families in tenements made from subdivided palaces or the slums of the unemployed gods. A few rise to power as freelance agents of Heaven, gaining work in the celestial bureaucracy or serving a divine patron’s will. Some become criminals under the laws of Heaven, and these are exiled to Creation, bitterly plotting their return to the heavenly palaces. Poverty in Yu-Shan is considerably nicer than poverty in Creation, after all.

The Khamaseen Battalion traces its origins to the Great Contagion and the fall of the Shogunate. General Khamasi Tala, seeing her city die around her, deserted her post and led her garrison into the steppes of the far Southeast. The descendants of her lost legion still travel the steppes and foothills of the Summer Mountains, speaking a language long dead in other lands. They reject the idea of service to Lookshy, because they know there is only one punishment for deserters, and the Khamaseen are certainly deserters. Instead, they devote their lives to mercenary service in the Southeast, maintaining their martial traditions as best they can.

The Rogue Legion of Saloy Hin is descended from the seven legions that disbanded rather than allow themselves be divided by the Great Houses. For a given value of “descended,” given how recent that was. Rumors quickly sprung up of one of the seven legions wandering the Southern deserts, seeking out unclaimed manses and gathering large stores of firedust under the leadership of Saloy Hin, an outcaste graduate of Pasiap’s Stair. Once renowned for his daring tactics and rigid discipline, Saloy now recruits Dynastic exiles and outcastes to his banner, alongside Exigentts and God-Bloods. He and his legion sell firedust across the South, seeking to destabilize the region and establish a foothold there in preparation for Saloy Hin’s ultimate plan: conquest of the Realm.

Yatani’s Children are a strange clan of savants, spread in diaspora. They dress strangely and speak strangely, but their claims are stranger yet. The Children of Yatani claim that they and their lineage of Dragon-Bloods are not of Creation, but rather refugees from another world, cast out by a terrible and ancient disaster. They are savants and scholars, hunting for any scrap of lore they can get. They are desperately searching for any evidence that their own legends of their lost home are true – and if so, if they can find a way back.

Next time: The Wanasaan and the Sisterhood of Pearls

Dragons of Frozen Death

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Dragons of Frozen Death

The Wanasaan are called on across the Northwest, by those who know of them. They are called when the dead rise to threaten the living, to dominate and command them. Where others might make great lines of salt, pacify with worship or call on the monks of the Immaculate Order, the fishermen in the lands beyond Fajad gather a great bonfire and cast something precious into it, whispering the name Wanasaan. The first sign that their call is answered is the mists rolling off the sea, blanketing the area with thick fog. Only when the fog puts out the bonfire will the Wanasaan exorcist appear, wrapped in thick cloaks and with a straw hat hiding their eyes. Moisture drips off all surfaces in the presence of an exorcist, and the many totems and talismans on their arms jangle wildly. The locals give the exorcists the best of everything, telling them of the problem the community has with the dead or the dark. When the elders finish speaking, the exorcist listens, then nods, then names a price. The price is always paid – to refuse the Wanasaan once means they will never come again, and they do not tolerate competition.

The Wanasaan stand between living and dead, in both a metaphorical and literal sense. Each Dragon-Blood of the family, on turning 25, is ceremonially drowned in a freezing cold lake on the Silent Isle, which is forever shrouded in fog. Sometimes, an initiate is too weak to survive this rite, but the family does it anyway – it’s the only way they have to maintain their status. Mortals born to the Wanasaan may petition to undergo the drowning rite, though they are much less likely to survive, and so can those who wish to join the family as adoptees. A survivor, when resuscitated, brings death back with them as a chilling ice in their heart from the inhaled water. This is both a source of sorcerous enlightenment and a hungry pit to consume the souls of the dead.

Family legend holds that 200 years ago, Wanasaan Adiura found the Silent Isle. Whether she fell into the Spring of Echoes or drowned herself by choice is unclear, but the enlightenment it gave her has been clear through generations. Her descendants, being rather more mercenary than Adiura was, now hold the Isle in a kind of reverence as the key to their monopoly on exorcism in the region. They have made it their citadel, and while not all Wanasaan live on the island, enough do to make it the heart of their family and their tiny culture. For the sake of keeping the blood fresh, they marry outside the family at least a few times each generation, treating it in almost the same way they do all other business dealings. Those that sail off to marry the Wanasaan rarely return. The current family head, Kemra, is an old but still powerful Wood Aspect who claimed the island from her brother, Shiga, in a bloody coup that left the family decimated about 30 years ago. Custom says she should now direct the family from her guarded retreat on the Silent Isle, never leaving it to do exorcisms herself. However, with barely a dozen Dragon-Bloods left, the family is strained to keep up its business. Much of her time is spent recruiting outcastes for fear of losing the bloodline entirely, and she’s unsure if it’s working. Even her greatest loyalists wonder if the cost of victory over Shiga was too high.

The Sisterhood of Pearls was founded some two centuries ago when a pair of Immaculate missionaries went to the Isle of Fevers. They hoped to spread the faith and teach proper society on the island, which was dominated by a few thin-blooded outcaste families ruling an undercaste of peasants. Rising Flame’s passion and Willow’s Strength’s generosity won over some of the people, and within a year, they built a small temple. Within five years, they were teaching the children to read. In the meantime, they debated the Immaculate Philosophy with each other. Year by year, Flame and Willow refined the issues they had that separated them from the mainstream Philosophy, the Five Insightful Criticisms that redefined their worldview. Their fervor drove them on, and their message of absolute equality won over the peasants. Soon, the old rule was abolished, and the rulers either converted or fled. Sister Flame and Sister Willow rebuilt the island as their ideal paradise.

According to the pair, they are the response of the world’s cycle of reincarnation to the excesses of the Dynasty, a pearl formed to protect the truth. The example of the pearl forming to protect a clam is often used in their sermons and even forms the name of their sect. The Sisterhood of Pearls seeks to perfect themselves, as a pearl is sand perfected. The First Insightful Criticism is: “All souls are part of the cycle of death and rebirth; all souls are therefore equal.” The Sisterhood believes that all beings with a soul are equally worthy, and that to kill any interrupts the lessons of their life. All members of their community are vegetarians and prefer to avoid violence whenever possible, though they are not afraid to defend themselves or others if need be.

The Second Insightful Criticism is: “The Essence of the Immaculate Dragons is the Essence of enlightenment, but though the enlightened may be wise, and may help to guide others, their souls are no greater in worth.” While Flame and Willow are Dragon-Bloods and lead the Sisterhood, those two facts are not directly connected. The remaining outcastes on the Isle do not treat the mortals there as inferior, as they did when they ruled. In practice, Dragon-Bloods are still deeply respected, their words given great weight, but any mortal may speak out against them or criticize them if they seem lacking in enlightenment.

The Third Insightful Criticism is: “To divide the community according to place and purpose is to ignore the fundamental equality of all souls; abolish, therefore, all divisions.” The Sisterhood are still Immaculate and still believe that the job of life is to instruct the soul. However, they disagree fundamentally with how society is organized in the Realm. Within the Sisterhood, all property is held in common outside of a few personal possessions, and none may gain wealth or power over others. Those that join the community must give up their valuables, either throwing them into the sea or donating them to the Sisterhood’s arsenal, largely based on how useful the stuff is. The Sisterhood is for complete gender equality, and all decisions are made by the community after extended religious debate. Anyone may argue for what they believe best aligns with the Five Insightful Criticisms.

The Fourth Insightful Criticism is: “Dragon-Blooded who squander their enlightenment on the material have turned aside from the True Way; they imperil their souls in doing so.” Rising Flame and Willow’s Strength have always been disgusted with the excesses of the Dynasty, and both joined the Immaculates to escape that. Seeing how the Order’s rules had failed to fix things, they refused to allow their new people to fall prey to the same petty troubles. All labor is done in common, with duties rotated among the people. Dragon-Blooded are, if anything, expected to live far more ascetically than mortals, rather than be corrupted by luxury.

The Fifth Insightful Criticism is: “The path to enlightenment is not a straight road but a turning wheel; the most high may be reborn as the lowest.” Dragon-Blooded Exaltation is not, per the Sisterhood, a reward for past lives. It is a transient state of grace. On death, the soui may be reborn in any role, even an Anathema, in accordance with the harmony of Creation. Mortals must therefore be treated with respect, as a cruel Dragon-Blood may well suffer the same treatment in their next life. The Anathema are wicked, and so the Sisterhood forgives the sin of killing one in the Wyld Hunt, but even they are deserving of as much compassion as can reasonably be given.

The past century has forced Flame and Willow to rely closely on each other. They do their best to support their community and they love each other deeply, but they have been divided for decades over one major issue: what should the Sixth Insightful Criticism be? Rising Flame says: “Even a pearl was once a grain of sand; so too must the Sisterhood soothe the ache of the Dynasty’s misrule.” Willow’s Strength says: “Even a pearl was once a grain of sand; so too must the Sisterhood be complete in itself.” This disagreement has flowed through the entire Sisterhood, pushing other disputes to the surface. Flame and her followers want to proselytize, first in the West and then, ideally, across the world. She believes that Willow’s objection betrays the First Insight and places the Sisterhood’s enlightenment over the needs of Creation. Willow believes Flame is ambitious, and while her purpose is noble, she imperils her soul – which Willow cannot allow her love to do. She and her followers condemn any expansion off the Isle of Fevers. The argument is deadlocked, and they both know it. They both know they will not give in. Only their love for each other and their community is preventing things escalating further. Each is terrified and saddened that they may destroy it all, but they cannot turn from their faith. Their factions, meanwhile, grow increasingly radicalized and may end up making the decision for them.

e: Just gonna make this explicit, this is very much Lesbian Elemental Lenin and Trotsky here.

Next time: The Temple of the Reverent Whisper and the Seven Storms Brotherhood

Dragons of the Gods

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Dragons of the Gods

The Temple of the Reverent Whisper lies in the city of Great Forks. Great Forks is a city of many gods, constantly celebrating them by day and seeking pleasure at the blue-lantern shops by night. The Temple of the Reverent Whisper hangs blue lanterns and streamers at all times, however, and exists not for mortal hungers but divine ones. It is dedicated to all gods and to none, for here, any god can come for any worship they desire…for a price. It doesn’t matter what kind of prayer they need, what kind of ritual they crave. The Temple can provide it. Small or large, dangerous or safe, they study all prayers and know how to perform them. While some gods enjoy tantric sex rituals, most care far more for prayer and worship than any physical pleasures, dreaming of the rush of ego and power that comes from obeisance. The more strenuous and austere the worship, the greater the rush.

Of course, mortals can rarely endure the most exotic, demanding worship rituals. For this reason, the Temple accepts only Dragon-Blooded or rare Exigent priests, for only Exalts are resilient enough to service their clientele. Outcastes in service to the Temple are greatly in demand in Great Forks, recognized in the city as only slightly below the gods they serve in social status. The Temple is nearly always busy, with gods coming to the city from far and wide for its services. Once a year or so, a god may even descend from Heaven for the sole purpose of attending the Temple. This exclusive clientele means the priests are very good at networking, learning all manner of divine gossip. Information is valuable, but the priests know the equal value of discretion. They never speak of what they learn to outsiders. Instead, they “advise” what may be auspicious or not, with an entire wing of the Temple dedicated to this consultation. This wing is the only one in which mortals may enter.

Obviously, the thriving business of the Temple of the Reverent Whisper makes some jealous. Even in Great Forks, where the gods walk the streets daily, these intimate ties with the divine are valuable. Historically, the Temple does not allow competition, and so far it has always succeeded at using its great wealth and the favors owed it by many gods and mortals to stamp out anyone else on the market for rare and exotic worship. The current Headmistress, the outcaste Riela Tenan, has crushed at least three attempts in the century she’s been in charge. She is wise and beautiful despite her advanced age, and she is entirely ruthless in protecting her Temple’s monopoly.

The Seven Storms Brotherhood is a band of thieves and bandits that prey on the merchants near Lake Makrata in the Southeast. They are led by the Seven Storms, a group of outcastes who have terrorized the region for a decade now and are growing in ambition. The Guild and local governments cannot appease or stop them, and the bounties on their heads are always going up. The region has been a pirate haven long before they arrived, of course. Caravans and trade ships are tempting targets, and the region’s mountains and caves make for excellent hideouts, plus Lake Makrata is full of narrow channels, valleys and bridges that make great ambush spots. About a decade ago, two outcastes showed up at the lake, calling themselves Sky-Choking Scirocco and Spring Squall. They were exiles, seeing opportunity in the region for freedom, wealth and power. They made a reputation for themselves as daring and audacious robbers of great skill, attracting many ruthless or disenfranchised followers.

As they gained Exalted lieutenants, they named their group the Seven Storms Brotherhood, each claiming a type of bad weather for their name. Since then, they have gorged on the wealth of the merchants, slaughtering rich and poor alike when they choose. Villages offer them tribute and governors send their armies, but the Storms still rage. They drive refugees out of their farms and into the cities, which struggle to accommodate them. The Immaculates beg the Breath of Mela, the Order’s administrative wing for military defense, to send monks able to defeat or convert the outcastes. Merchant princes hire peacekeepers and guards. It is all in vain, even the massive bounty the Guild has placed, and people are now pooling dwindling resources in the hopes that someone – anyone – can stop the bandits.

The Seven Storms Brotherhood infamously descends from the mountains without warning, vanishing without trace just as easily before any force can go after them. Their outcaste leaders enforce military discipline and are masters of predicting their foes’ moves. When chased, they flee into the mountains, where the terrain and their traps serve as ample defense. Once they have occupied a village or boarded a vessel, they brutalize and rob their victims as they see fit. If angry, they may order other crimes, such as kidnappings or mass murders. Hostages are left guarded by mountain hyenas, which some claim are men and women turned into beasts, for they cry and shout like humans do. Others believe the Seven Storms are Anathema who’ve evaded capture by taking animal form and hiding in the hyena packs. They have many hideouts and extensive knowledge of the mountain caves, but their primary base is a Shogunate-era tower overlooking a collapsed pass along the road to Varangia. Once, the tower’s bell would ring with the sound of elementals bound in the mountain depths and bind them together in chorus, but after centuries of disuse, it has warped, and its noise enrages the elementals, often causing deadly rockslides or avalanches.

The Storms prey on the weak and vulnerable, and any that would work with them must be no less ruthless and bloodthirsty if they want to avoid betrayal. Their leadership accepts only Dragon-Blooded with the will to take what they desire, with no mercy or regret. Sky-Choking Scirocco is their leader, an Earth Aspect of dusky skin and quiet demeanor. His tactical skill and merciless reputation have combined to enforce the discipline the Brotherhood needs to operate at its current level, making them the dominant gang of Lake Makrata. He has defeated most of his lieutenants in single combat by his mastery of Steel Devil Style and his powerful jade daiklaves, the Dark of the Earth. He attempts to manage the gang to keep their appetites manageable, which has not been easy since he’s starting recruiting younger and more impetuous Dragon-Blood lieutenants. He demands that all members of the gang forswear their past, following his example. They know he’s an educated man who prefers to trick soldiers and the Guild to actually exploiting his victims, and some believe that when he gets enough power, he will reveal his true plans for the Brotherhood. No one dares speculate in his presence, however.

Spring Squall is a tanned Wood Aspect who smells of hyenas and poppies. He has trained the local hyenas to mimic human voices, using them for ambushes and distractions as well as keeping captive villages under control. While no slouch with his spear, the hyenas are easily his biggest weapon. His appetites have shaped the Brotherhood’s choices of targets, and he is a novelty-seeking hedonist who often travels the region in disguise to scout or just have fun. While he is often genial and friendly, he has no patience for frustration or mockery. He likes the idea of rulership and is pushing Scirocco to consider seizing territory to rule together.

Blinding Bolt is an Air Aspect and unofficial second in command after Scirocco and Squall. Before she joined the band, she’d already become an infamous pirate on the lake. She is a bald, pale woman with many piercings and tattoos, and her mere presence is enough to terrify most locals, who think her some kind of ghost or death omen. She has studied tactics under Scirocco, mastering the skills he teaches and applying her natural charisma to make most of the bandits more loyal to her than to the Brotherhood. Her own loyalty is unquestionable, though she dislikes the idea of claiming or ruling land. She thinks this will only weaken the bandits, and if Scirocco decides otherwise, she might well challenge him for the right to lead.

A sidebar gives brief suggestions on the other Storm leaders for ideas as PCs or NPCs. Depths That Betray is a spoiled, arrogant noble who makes clever traps to torment victims and evade pursuit. Rain of Ashes is a cruel and aggressive warrior who wears heavy armor to conceal their shameful past. Cold Harvest is a thrill-seeking killer whose loyalty was won in a martial arts duel with Scirocco and who aims to surpass him. Heady Monsoon is a rowdy youth who’s trying to emulate the older Storms in order to conceal their doubts about banditry and their role in it.

Next time: Playing a Dragon-Blood

Rock the Dragon

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Rock the Dragon

Dragon-Blooded character creation differs from Solars in a few respects. First, each Aspect has only five Aspect Abilities – you don’t get five out of a larger set, just the five of your Aspect and five Favored Abilities of your choice. Airs get Linguistics, Lore, Occult, Stealth and Thrown. Earths get Awareness, Craft, Integrity, Resistance and War. Fires get Athletics, Dodge, Melee, Presence and Socialize. Waters get Brawl (and Martial Arts), Bureaucracy, Investigation, Larceny and Sail. Woods get Archery, Medicine, Performance, Ride and Survival. You may notice that this gives every Aspect at least one ability that is useful in combat, though Earths don’t get a direct attack ability, unlike the rest. Dragon-Blooded Charm trees also tend to be somewhat more flexible in how they can be used – which is to say, you can get combat effectiveness magic out of Lore and Performance, as examples. It’s a lot harder to make a Dragon-Blood who straight can’t fight than to make a Solar who can’t. This is not new to this edition – DBs have always had better spreads.

They get the same amount to spend on Abilities, and the same three Specialties – but then, after that, depending on your background, you get two additional specialties in any of three abilities based on your background. If your DB studied at the Cloister of Wisdom, they can take specialties in Integrity, Lore or Martial Arts. If the Heptagram, you get Craft, Lore or Occult. If the House of Bells, you get Archery, Melee or War. If the Spiral Academy, Bureaucracy, Presence or Socialize. If Pasiap’s Stair, Athletics, Resistance or War. Lookshyans get Integrity, Lore or War. Clan Burano of Prasad gets Bureaucracy, Integrity or Resistance. Clan Ophris of Prasad gets Athletics, Performance or Socialize. Forest Witches get Integrity, Occult or Survival. For other Dragon-Blood cultures, you work with the ST to pick a list of three abilities and you get two specialties that can be in any of those three. If you can’t figure out a list or don’t want to or specifically want to be from, like, the ass end of nowhere with no useful background for…some reason, you get one free specialty in anything you want.

Dragon-Bloods get extra Merit dots, too, because they’re cool. They get 13 base, plus another 5 to spread among Backing, Command, Contacts, Followers, Influence, Language, Resources or Retainer if they’re Dynasts, Lookshyan or Prasad Dragon Caste. Because they’re cool. Beyond that, chargen is fairly similar to Solars, except that the Charmsets are way more fun to read. Oh, and you start at Essence 2, not Essence 1. Because Dragon-Bloods get significantly more training, by and large, and also tend to Exalt much younger. If you’re playing newly Exalted DBs, you get less stuff and will be notably weaker.

We get two new Merits:
Sobriquet (2, Purchased): You must have Influence 1+. You are famously known by a title or epithet, such as Bull of the North (real name: Yurgen Kaneko) or the Roseblack (real name: Tepet Ejava). You decide your sobriquet and the reputation tied to it. Once per story, when you get a stunt bonus on social influence that would benefit from this reputation, you can increase the stunt rating by 1. I mean, for two dots I guess that’s not bad?
Well-Bred (2, Innate): You have exceptional Dragon-Blooded pedigree. Whenever you make a bargain check where your bloodline is a factor, such as a Dynastic marriage contract or bargaining with noble families that care about that, you get an automatic success. You get +1 Resolve against bargains when bloodline matters, too. Neither of these is a bonus from Charms.
And a new Flaw:
Thin-Blooded: You must be a DB. Your blood is very dilute. You get -3 on all bargain rolls where your lineage is a factor, and get -1 Resolve against similar rolls.
Note that the game specifically says that your kids Exalting or not Exalting is basically in the hands of the GM entirely, so these are almost purely social benefits/penalties for pedigree. Also we are told that the average Dynast has Resources 3 just from their stipend; having less probably means debt, living beyond your means or not being liked by your family for some reason. Cults are forbidden to Realm and Lookshyan DBs by law, but not Prasadi or outcastes.

Air Aspects draw on the subtlest of elements, ever-present and all-encompassing yet rarely seen. It can be felt, but it can’t be grasped. And yet, air must not be overlooked, for its domain is the tempest, the chill and the thunderbolt as much as the breeze. Air Aspects often gain new perspective after Exalting, seeing things from the lofty view of idealism and grand dreams over conventional wisdom. They often find short-term goals to be less worthy than grand, longterm plans. Their boundless creativity inspires. In battle, an Air Aspect is a tactical genius and a strategic mastermind, elegant and deadly, yet so subtle few notice them. In society, they are visionaries and schemers whose plots span decades, steps ahead of all others. They have the greatest affinity for sorcery and the spirit world of all Dragon-Bloods, as well. They look at their Sworn Kin and see not what is present, but what they could be. They inspire the Kinship to greatness, push them to improve on themselves and show them what they might become. They bring innovative solutions to problems, sweeping away traditions that are no longer needed. Their Aspect markings often take the form of bluish or whitish skin, often cold or cool to the touch. They may smell of fresh breezes, fallen snow or ozone. Their eyes may crackle with lightning when feeling inspiration or strong emotion, or they may always have a breeze about them even when the air is calm. An Air Aspect anima is typically blue or white light, whirling like wind or clouds. Some gleam like light on ice or are jagged and erratic as lightning. Their iconic anima may depict things like air dragons, whirlwinds, thunderstorms, hail or winged beasts. They are associated with the color blue, the Maiden of Serenity, the monthly cycle of Air and the North.

Earth Aspects use the power of the pillars of the world. Earth is enduring against chaos and physical force alike, stable and balanced. When all else fades, earth remains. Earth Aspects gain its stoic calm and endurance. They ignore trifles and bad ideas easily, appreciating the wisdom behind traditions and rituals, passed down by generations of other Exalts. They value things that last, whether longstanding friendships, manses that will survive millennia or crushing defeats their foes will never recover from. They tend to be slow to reach decisions, but once they do, they cannot be shaken from them. They stand firm against all adversity, weathering it no matter how painful it might be. They will not yield to pain or temptation when defending their allies or ideals. In battle, they are strict, traditional and unstoppable. In societies, they build lasting marvels and sense what needs to be repaired. In a Kinship, they form a pillar of strength for the others, supporting them no matter what. They understand intimately the value of the Kinship tradition and the importance of its harmony. They may be the group’s arbiter, judge or disciplinarian in times of strife, for they maintain the strength and stability of the Hearth as easily as they do the stability of their people. They uphold what works and mend what does not. Their Aspect markings often take the form of marble-pale, dirt-brown or stone-gray skin, the smell of loam or clay, or gemlike eyes that sparkle brightly. Some have hardened, textured skin, from chalky to exceptionally smooth to pebbled. Dust may rise where they walk. Their anima banners tend to the white or yellow, shifting like sands or glimmering like diamond. Some rumble like earthquakes or pulse like a volcanic heart, and their iconic anima often takes the form of earth dragons, mountains, towers, or animals known for their stubbornness or toughness, such as badgers or bulls. They are associated with the color white, the Maiden of Battles, the monthly cycle of Earth and the Center.

Fire Aspects wield the energy of Creation, dynamic and restless. Fire engulfs all it touches, consuming it and spreading until there is nothing to burn. Fire does nothing by halves, has no restraint, and even reduced to smoldering ash it can easily spring up once more. And yet, fire is not wholly unsubtle, for no shadow can exist without the flame’s light and no smoke without fire. A Fire Aspect feels everything stronger after Exalting, passions burning brighter in even the calmest heart. They embrace their spontaneity of emotion, doing everything with all of their passion. Nothing is meaningless for them. In battle, they are graceful and brutal in equal measure, flickering across the field with ease. In society, their passion moves hearts and minds, their schemes hidden in the burning light of others’ hearts. They lead from the front, inspiring others to follow, and they are never satisfied with the abstract theory when they can put it into practice. In a Sworn Kinship, a Fire Aspect brings passionate loyalty even in times of conflict, challenging assumptions or playing devil’s advocate but never without a core of love and joy. If they bring chaos, it is only to remind others of their purpose. They are forces of social change, burning away what is not needed so that what is true and right prevails. Fire Aspect markings may include a constant flush to the skin, noticeably higher body heat than normal, or the scent of smoke, incense or ash. Their eyes may glow like embers or they may exhale puffs of smoke. Their anima banners tend to red, orange or yellow, blazing like a bonfire or smoldering like coals. Some cause the roar of a forest fire or the scream of a blast furnace, with iconic animas depicting fire dragons, volcanic eruptions, explosions or animals such as tigers or falcons made from fire. They are associated with the color red, the Maiden of Journeys, the monthly cycle of Fire and the South.

Water Aspects have a power without shape or form, adapting to all things. Water can never be stopped, only diverted, finding another path to its goal. It needs only the tiniest crack to wear down any barrier, and with enough time, it can grind away even a mountain. Its depths conceal much, for good and ill. Water Aspects Exalt and find themselves breaking down what is stagnant, adapting themselves easily to all circumstances. They see from all perspectives, and if conventional methods fail them, they are unafraid to try other ways. They are as happy with dishonorable means as honorable, if it will achieve the required end. Challenge and conflict make them grow stronger. They navigate criminal networks and battles with equal grace, always learning and countering the tactics used against them. Everything they do in society is one step closer to their goals, and their persistence helps them solve mysteries with ease. In a Kinship, they share that persistence with their Kin, helping them grow in the face of adversity. When their Hearthmates are ready to give up, the Water Aspect is there, encouraging them and finding the way forward. They solve problems in any conflict, navigating treacherous paths with ease. Their Aspect Markings tend to a blue-green skin tint, sometimes even skin of deep green or black of all shades. They may smell of fresh running water or the sea spray or even the earth after rain. Some have watery eyes or perpetually damp hair, or their clothes may billow as if underwater. Their touch can leave surfaces slick with condensation. Their animas tend to deep blues, greens and blacks, rippling like water or rolling like waves. Some give off the roar of surf or the silence of the depths. Their iconic displays may include water dragons, whirlpools, tsunamis, schools of fish or sea beasts like the siaka. They are associated with the color black, the Maiden of Secrets, the monthly cycle of Water and the West.

Wood Aspects wield the power of life itself. Wood lives, grows and dies in an eternal cycle, the only element to do so. It sustains and nourishes, and it kills with equal ease. Wood unites the elements together, drawing nourishment from all. A Wood Aspect experiences everything strongly, moreso than any other person. They feel every sensation with a depth that none can match, feeling grand epiphanies in all new things. All experiences and sensations are to be relished in their own way, giving the chance for self-discovery. The sensuality of a Wood Aspect can be found in every aspect of life. In battle, they discover the truths of their own strengths and weaknesses. In dealing with others they learn the secrets of the heart. They almost instinctively understand the ways of plants and animals. They care for their Sworn Kinships the way a gardener cares for flowers, tending to their growth while minimizing their flaws. Each of their Kin is irreplaceable as part of the whole, and their bonds must be nourished to achieve their greatest potential. Wood Aspects are masters of bringing out the finest growth in others as well as themselves. Their Aspect markings tend to a greenish tint in the skin, hair, lips, eyes or blood. They may smell of flowers, pine, fruit or other plants, and some have leaves or flowers growing in their hair or even a light layer of bark on their skin, usually along the back or shoulders. Their animas tend to bright greens, waving like grass or blossoming like flowers. Some are wild and untamed, others arranged like gardens, and they may be followed by the moaning of wind in the trees or the scents of living plants. Their iconic banners may display wood dragons, massive tangles of vines or thorns, huge trees or flowers, or forest beasts such as wolves or foxes. They are associated with the color green, the Maiden of Endings, the monthly cycle of Wood and the East.

Next time: Anima powers

Literally On Fire

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Literally On Fire

Unlike the other Exalted, the anima of a Dragon-Blood isn’t just a lightshow. When a Dragon-Blood hits Bonfire-level anima, their elemental power rolls forth from it as pure destructive force, known as anima flux. While at Bonfire anima, a DB rolls one die of Withering damage against all non-DBs in Close range at the start of each turn, gaining no Initiative from any damage they deal. Crashed or trivial targets instead take one die of Decisive lethal damage. Outside combat, anima flux deals one die of Lethal per minute. Anyone with Hardness 1 or higher is immune to anima flux damage. Anima flux may damage scenery when dramatically appropriate, and because of this, Dragon-Blooded societies tend to favor sturdy stone buildings for their homes or other areas where anima flare is likely.

Any anima effects are considered to be of the user’s Aspect element for purposes of Elemental Aura; more on that in a bit.
All Dragon-Blooded can spend one mote to:
Air Aspects can:
Earth Aspects can:
Fire Aspects can:
Water Aspects can:
Wood Aspects can:

Much like Solars get Solar XP, Dragon-Bloods get Dragon XP each session. Like Solar XP, Dragon XP can be spent on anything except native Dragon-Blooded Charms. You get two chances to get Dragon XP each session – the Expression Bonus and the Aspect/Role Bonus, each of which gives 2 Dragon XP, for a max of 4 per session.
Expression Bonus
You can get the Expression Bonus by doing one of the following during a session:

Aspect/Role Bonus
You can get the Aspect/Role Bonus by doing one of the following during a session:

Unlike Solars or Lunars, Dragon-Blooded do not have Limit. Their Great Curse is, you see, weaker. The greatest portion of the curse struck the Solars, and the Dragon-Blooded received the weakest part. It still influences them, but its manifestation is wholly in the hands of the player. The main thing you get out of roleplaying the Great Curse is a chance to get Dragon XP, but the entire group must appreciate your actions on an OOC level to do so. If you make it less fun for people, no reward for you. Each Aspect also manifests the Curse slightly differently.

Next time: A less mindbreakingly bad Charm section.

Prince Charming

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Prince Charming

Dragon-Bloods are somewhat worse off than Solars and Lunars for some Charm stuff. Specifically, Excellencies. Dragon-Bloods get five free Excellencies for any five abilities from among their Aspect and Favored; they must buy the rest as they would any other Charm. This kinda sucks! I usually let them operate on Solar rules for that – they get all Caste or Favored they have any points in the Ability of, plus any Excellency for an ability they buy Charms for. It doesn’t break anything. (That said, it’s also not required because the DB Excellencies also tend to do something slightly cooler than just adding dice.) Dragon-Bloods also can’t add as much with Excellencies – a Solar can add up to their (attribute+ability) for a roll, but a DB can only add (Ability+Relevant Specialty) – so a max of 6 dice added, not 10.

Dragon-Bloods have one major unique Charm-related effect to care about : Elemental Aura. Any Dragon-Blood can enter an Aura of any of the five elements, regardless of personal Aspect. The Aura is visible in your anima banner as long as it’s above Dim. If the Aura matches your Aspect, your anima intensifies dramatically. In the Aura of any other element, your anima shifts to become a mix of the two elements, such as lava for an Earth Aspect in Fire Aura or a kelp forest for a Water Aspect in Wood Aura. To enter an Aura, you must only use Charms and powers of that element (or neutral ones) during your turn. If you do that, at the end of your turn you enter the appropriate Aura. Aura lasts for a scene, but ends prematurely (and instantly) if you use any Charm or power from another element. While in Bonfire, you cannot enter any Aura except your native element. If you are in Aura when you hit bonfire, your Aura shifts to your native element. Why does this matter?

Well, some Charms grow more powerful when you are in a specific Aura. Others, which have the Aura keyword, can only be used in the Aura that matches their element. Some Aura Charms also require you to expend your Aura as part of their price. Others have an Aura-based duration, lasting for as long as you remain in the Aura. Charms with the Balanced keyword can be used freely regardless of Aura – they don’t prevent you from entering an Aura or take you out of it, regardless of what their element is. Likewise, non-elemental Charms don’t ever cause problems for you. Martial Arts, Sorcery, Evocations and similar are always considered elementally neutral, even when they have elemental abilities, because they are extrinsic to your Essence. There is only one exception: the Immaculate Dragon Styles of Martial Arts, which are uniquely designed to harmonize with Dragon-Blooded Essence and so count as elemental for Aura purposes. They’re special. The purpose of Aura and elemental charms is to limit DB access to their most powerful effects – either you can use all of your stuff together for maximum flexibility, or your aura stuff for max power, but it’s not easy to do both at once.

Further, each Ability also has five Signature Charms, one for each element. You may only learn a single Signature Charm per ability normally, though it need not match your Aspect. They also have no Charm prereqs – just need the Ability at 5 and Essence 3. At Essence 5, you may learn a second Signature Charm for each of your Aspect and Favored Abilities. Every DB Charm has an Element, defined by their keyword; some may be used through multiple elements. These count as whatever element is most advantageous to you in a given moment. Also note, most Excellencies – possibly all – are Balanced, so you can use ‘em freely. Balanced Charms just still have elements.

Archery! Archery’s Excellency is Unobstructed Hunter’s Aim (Wood) – on top of adding dice, when used against living or undead targets, it also reduces penalties. Other interesting Charms include: Sky-Calming Draw (Air) which can extend Archery attack range to Long (for stuff like flame weapons) by causing the wind to pull your shots further or get a bonus to the roll if it already was able to attack at Long range. Death From Nowhere (Air/Water), which makes your arrow semisolid and lets it ignore some soak. Harvest of the Hunter (Wood) lets you create usable ammo for a bow or crossbow from any plant that happens to be handy.Arrow Thorn Technique (Wood) increases the Overwhelming of Withering attacks or the damage of Decisive attacks if you aimed by making thorns grow on your arrow. Life-Swelling Sap Strike (Wood) causes your arrow to explode into vines mid-flight, entangling the foe with a Distract gambit that makes it harder for the target to move for the rest of the scene. This can also instantly destroy undead you Crash with it, as long as they aren’t super powerful or Exalted, and any mortal you kill while they’re entangled can’t rise a hungry ghost. You can use this on dying people without shooting them to cause that, too, and in Wood aura you can use it to make a normal Decisive attack rather than a Distract gambit. Arbor Sentinel Technique (Wood) lets you turn your bow into a small tree full of arrows, which you can still attack with but also get Heavy cover from and can’t be disarmed of. Because it’s a tree. It has infinite ammo, too. Your only problem is it’s a tree, so it can’t move until the Charm ends, and the Charm ends if you leave Close range of it. Dragonfly Finds Mate (Wood) lets you shoot down enemy ranged attacks with reflexive clashes, and can get a Fire upgrade, Salamander Swallows Flame, to let your flamepiece eat fire-based or magical attacks to reload itself.

The Signatures: Horizon-Spanning Arc (Air), which lets you, once per scene, expend Air Aura to spend two turns aiming and then make a Decisive attack out to Extreme range with the aim dice becoming successes, as long as you can see your foe and they’re no more than five range bands away. If you manage to take out your target, you then get to reflexively aim at someone else. Earth’s Judgment Awakened (Earth) lets you, once per scene when you dodge an attack while standing on an earthen surface, make a reflexive Decisive counterattack that can target Resolve or Defense and deals damage based on your Presence, ignoring Hardness. Blazing Phoenix Pinion (Fire) lets you spend a turn aiming and then fire an explosive incendiary shot as a Decisive attack with bonus damage, and if you have at least one 10, the explosion goes off as an unblockable (but low-damage) attack on everyone near the target that also knocks them over and sets them on fire, dealing damage each turn until they put it out. Fang-of-the-Depths Draw (Water) lets you ignore penalties for firing into water or firing while underwater, even with flame weapons, and in Water Aura it lets you try to autostealth yourself before attacking once per scene while underwater, to make your attack also count as unexpected. Heartbeats Before Death (Wood) lets you, once per scene, reflexively aim at a living or undead target and ignore their cover, and if you aimed the round before, it can even shoot through full cover. There are a total of 21 Archery Charms over 5 pages.

Athletics Excellency: Effortlessly Rising Flame (Fire), which adds successes rather than dice and also gives you bonus non-Charm dice for rolling 10s. Interesting Charms: Bellows-Pumping Stride (Fire) gives you an explosive burst of speed, giving bonus non-Charm dice to a Rush based on the 1s the opponent rolls to resist, and you can expend Fire Aura to leave a fire trail behind yourself as an environmental hazard when you reflexively pursue after a successful rush. Strength of Stone Technique increases your Strength by 1 for as long as you remain standing on the ground or a natural stone surface. Perfect Climbing Attitude (Earth) lets you use your reflexive move to climb up or down a range band on an earthen or stone surface, carving handholds for yourself with your bare fingers, no roll needed even for sheer surfaces, and with Athletics 3 and Essence 2, the handholds don’t crumble when you’re done if you want them to stay.

Signatures: Soaring Zephyr Flight (Air) lets you leap two range bands up, then hover there. From that spot, you can fly around horizontally with your normal movement or hover in place as you like, but it costs Initiative each round you maintain the Charm, and if you get Crashed, taken out, lose Air Aura, or willingly end the Charm, you drift harmlessly to the ground. Unshakeable Mountain Stance (Earth) can only be used once per day when in contact with earth or on the lowest floor of a building that’s touching the ground. You double your Strength for a single instant for purposes of qualifying for feats of strength and get a bonus to the roll, with an extra bonus if your doubled Strength is more than needed to perform the feat. Inescapable Blazing Advance (Fire) gives a bonus to a rush as flames streak behind you, and you drain Initiative from the target based on the 1s they roll, and if this Crashes them, you set them on fire with your speed. Dragon Surmounts the Waterfall (Water) gives a bonus to movement rolls while swimming, lets you ignore penalties and Difficult terrain from going against the current, through waves, across whirlpools or similar, and you can swim up vertical flows like waterfalls (but they count as Difficult terrain). Further, any feats of strength you do underwater get a bonus and your Strength is considered higher to see if you can attempt them. Graceful Dryad Dance (Wood) lets you walk on any living plant-based surface with perfect balance, even twigs or leaves, even if they could not normally bear your weight. You never need to roll to keep your balance this way, and you get a bonus to Evasion while on plant-based surfaces, and you can use your reflexive move to go one or two range bands up or down on a tree or similar plant-based surface, as long as you can end your movement on a horizontal surface or you use Incense Smoke Ladder (another Athletics Charm) to keep going. There are a total of 17 Athletics Charms over 3.5 pages.

Awareness Excellency: Precision Observation Method (Earth) can do either dice adding or success adding, your choice. Interesting Charms: Deep-Listening Palm (Earth) lets you hear things directly though barriers as if they weren’t present by sensing sound through Earth Essence, with no roll if they’re stone or weaker. Even on a failure, you get fragments. Dragon’s Crushing Gaze (Earth/Water) lets you activate it when opposing stealth or a disguise to reduce the foe’s successes by literally weighing them down with elemental Essence. Feeling the Dragon’s Bones (Earth) lets you sense anything out to Medium range, even if walls are in the way or they’re underground, by reading the vibrations of the floor. In stone structures or underground, it extends to Long range. Sense-Destroying Method (Earth) lets you touch someone and turn off their senses. It has an upgrade, Essence Disruption Attack, that lets you make the target have to pay more motes to use Charms, because you calcify their Essence flow.

Signatures: Horizon-Spanning Echoes (Air) lets you throw your senses into the wind, naming a specific person you want to listen for the sounds of or specific sound you want to find, such as a specific phrase or the sound of wagon wheels. You then go into a trance and detect the target anywhere within several miles (more, if it’s very loud) and you can make a roll with bonus to detect its exact location. The Charm lasts until you make that roll, so you can sit there meditating for days waiting for some specific person to wander close enough to hear, I suppose. One-With-Earth Embodiment (Earth) lets you literally enter an earthen surface, moving through it as if it were water. You can do it in combat as your movement action, but you have to either keep using it until your surface or you get ejected at the point you went in and fall prone and take some damage. While inside the surface, you get full cover against all attacks without an appropriate stunt, gambit or feat of strength to create an opening to reach you. Eye of Blazing Truth (Fire) makes your eyes burn with flame. Once per scene, when you make a vision-based Awareness check, you get extra dice based on the 10s you roll, ignore all penalties from poor lighting or darkness, and if you beat an opposed Larceny or Stealth roll you can shoot eye lasers at the person you detect to deal some damage. If they were hidden, their concealment ends due to the flames and they have to make a new Stealth roll at a penalty to find a new hiding spot, but this isn’t a move action if they can find it within the same range band; otherwise, they use up their movement doing this. Also, if their hiding place was flammable, it’s on fire now, and if they were in disguise, it burns away if they took any damage.

That was long so, line break. Serpent-of-the-Depths Discernment can be used while underwater to displace your hearing to any location within the same body of water and within a few range bands based on your Essence. You can hear everything as if you were at that location and get a bonus to any Awareness checks you make while in the water, and Socialize checks to read intentions of anyone you’re eavesdropping on. (This gives no special power to breathe underwater, so you’re going to want to be Water Aspect or have some other means to do it for extended eavesdropping.) Dragon’s Flaring Nostrils (Wood) gives a bonus to all scent-based Awareness rolls and Survival rolls to track by scent, as well as Medicine rolls to diagnose poison or disease, and Socialize rolls to read intentions of anyone you can smell. Your sense of smell extends several range bands based on your Essence, and you can tell people apart by scent and tell how long it’s been since a scent was left. In combat, successfully smelling a concealed foe or danger also gives you 2 Initiative. There are a total of 17 Awareness Charms over 4.5 pages.

Next time: Brawl, Bureaucracy, Craft, Dodge, Integrity

Drowning In Charms

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Drowning In Charms

Brawl Excellency: Become the Hammer, which can boost both Brawl and Martial Arts attacks, clinches and parries, lets you deal or block Lethal unarmed, and reroll 6s on damage dice. Interesting Charms: Pounding Surf Style (Water) lets you get an Overwhelming bonus (and Withering damage, in Water Aura) from the foe’s Onslaught penalty, which plays into DB teamwork stuff heavily. Oaken Thew Exertion (Wood) gives a bonus based on Stamina to your Withering damage and grapples, and in Wood Aura it gives a further bonus if you max out your dice boosts on a grapple control roll. Currents Sweep to Sea (Water) lets you turn any nearby source of water (or your anima banner) into a grappling tendril to drag foes near you. Drowning Embrace (Water) lets you, once per scene, cause someone you clinch to start drowning on Water Essence for as long as you keep grappling them (but you can choose not to have it kill them).

Signatures: Flying Whirlwind Razor (Air) lets you kick a tornado at someone once per scene as a Decisive attack out to Medium range. You can either stay where you are or fly with the tornado to move close to the foe, and the damage ignores Hardness but is lower than a normal Decisive attack. Crater-Making Impact (Earth) lets you either make a Decisive smash attack or a Decisive throw to knock a foe back one range band and send them prone, plus cause difficult terrain where they land and smash any breakable scenery. If you do enough damage they go farther and take fall damage as well. Erupting Fury Barrage (Fire) can be used at Initiative 15+ to unleash a bunch of attacks with a single Decisive attack roll, with slowly draining Initiative per attack until you run out of attacks. (You get a number of attacks based on how many 10s you roll.) Each hit also creates an Ignition Point in the victim’s Essence that lasts for the scene. You or any of your allies can set these off with Decisive attacks, with each Ignition Point detonated doing more damage cumulatively as they explode with Fire Essence. Embracing the Violent Flow (Water) lets you draw out water from a local source or your anima to make a cloak of water tendrils, which let you attack at range as well as do athletic stuff with them like climb or lift things, and which count as unarmed attacks for all Martial Arts styles. Body of Deadly Talons (Wood) lets you, once per scene, grab someone and turn your anima into thorns, impaling them. You get a bonus on the grapple roll and you can combine restrain and damage effects while grappling them, and you get no penalty to Parry while grappling due to the Essence thorns and you get bonus soak from them, which counts as soak from armor so doesn’t stack with worn armor. There are 24 Brawl Charms over 5 pages.

Bureaucracy Excellency: Geese-Flying-South Administration (Water) adds successes rather than dice, and also rerolls 6s. Interesting Charms: Confluence of Savant Thought (Water) lets you introduce facts about mercantile or bureaucratic organizations with Bureaucracy instead of Lore. Finding the Water’s Depths (Bureaucracy) lets you read intentions with Bureaucracy to tell what would be needed to get the target to consider a bargain influence action and the strongest Intimacy, if any, related to the theoretical deal. Shells-for-Silver Ruse can make people think you’re poorer or richer than you actually are, and lets you take advantage of this as if it were a Minor Intimacy via social influence. Blazing Hoard of Hesiesh (Fire) gives you a bonus to social influence depending on how much richer you are than someone rather than using Appearance. Drowning in Negotiations Style (Water) lets you bind a contract so anyone that breaks it drowns briefly, suffering a bunch of damage, and is marked by ink-black Essence stains visible only to you and the other parties of the contract for several years.

Signatures: Humble Exemplar Attitude (Air) lets you do a project or bureaucratic task that upholds one of your Defining Principles and get a bonus to all Bureaucracy rolls involved, in order to shame your subordinates into following your example. Once the project starts, all members of your organization know what your Principle is as if they’d read your intentions. When you finish, you gain 3 Willpower and all members of your organization gain the Principle at Major. This cannot be resisted except by resigning from the group. Graven Stone Edict (Earth) lets you carve a rule or law for a group you lead or have rulemaking authority in onto a stone tablet or monument. The rule must be a singular task, prohibition or requirement related to the group’s bureaucratic function. Whenever any member is faced with the prospect of breaking the rule, they can’t unless they either enter a Decision Point and resist by calling on a Defining Intimacy or formally resign from the group; once they do, the rule no longer has sway over them. Further, anyone in the group acting in their official capacity is considered to be wielding or touching iron for purposes of resisting the Wyld, so long as they obey the rule. Seething Firebreak Technique (Fire) lets you, once per story, make a passionate speech or create propaganda, rolling Bureaucracy at a bonus against all members of your organization, to root out traitors. Anyone whose Resolve you beat is suffused by Fire Essence. If loyal they display this as passionate enjoyment of work; if planning to betray the organization, they experience intensely passionate dissent, and cannot take covert or stealthy action against it. Instead, they must be open, overt and honest about it, unless they enter a Decision Point and call on a Defining Intimacy in order to show discretion for the rest of the story.

These are wordy!! Distraction of the Babbling Brook (Water) lets you, once per story, make a bargain roll but conceal one condition or requirement of the deal from the target by hiding it in a mess of spoken or written words. The target cannot recall the condition, so cannot call on Intimacies to raise Resolve against it or resist it in Decision Points, but also can’t have their Resolve lowered by Intimacies against it. You reduce the number of successes on your roll based on the severity of the clause, however, and the target can spend 3 Willpower to be able to recall it and resist its power for several days; otherwise, they rationalize why they must have agreed to it if they become aware of it and must comply, no matter how harsh the deal. One Forest, Many Trees (Wood) lets you, once per story, display your mastery of networking by rolling Bureaucracy to get a bunch of temporary dots in Allies, Contacts, Followers, Mentor or Resources for the rest of the story. There are 24 Bureaucracy Charms over 6 pages.

Craft Excellency: Masterful Dragon-Artisan Expertise (Earth) which does its thing but also gives you Silver XP if you get a stunt on a roll it boosts once per scene. Interesting Charms: Stone-Carving Fingers (Earth) lets you work stone or earth in basic or major project without need for tools or workshop, and if you have tools, you greatly reduce the time you need. A later upgrade, Shaping Hand Style, lets it work with any non-artifact material if you’re good at the relevant Craft, with element based on what you’re working. Flaw-Finding Examination (Earth) lets you make a Perception-based Craft roll before a repair project or feat of demolition to get a temporary specialty (or a bonus if you already had one) and massively increase your speed of work. Touch of Unmaking (Earth) greatly increases your Strength for purposes of qualifying for feats of demolition, and if that puts you over what you need, you get a bonus to the roll. Passion-Inflaming Artistry (Fire) gives a bonus to making art objects or ornamental/aesthetic stuff (including food) and lets you use the Craft roll as an inspire social action, which remains supernaturally potent to anyone that engages with the object for several days after you’re done making it. (A painting would presumably retain normal “written” influence after but would not have the magically puissant craft-based influence after that.)

The Signatures: Ephemeral Form Composition (Air) lets you make a magical holographic blueprint before starting a project to reduce the Craft XP required to make it, once per story. Eternal Omphalos Forge (Earth) is usable once per story and increases how many rolls you can make on a superior or legendary project, and if you finish early you gain Willpower. Blazing Dragon-Smith Arete (Fire) lowers how many rolls you can make in a Superior or Legendary project but gives a non-negligible bonus to all rolls in that project, plus you gain 1 White XP on top of all other rewards if you succeed. Fortune-From-Flotsam Ingenuity (Water) lets you, once per story, make a single Craft roll to jury-rig a Major project in the span of seconds from whatever is lying around, with reduced Silver XP cost, even if it should be utterly impossible, such as making an army’s supply of arrows out of twigs in the span of 30 seconds. Imago-Hatching Realization (Wood) can be used once per story, and it lets you reroll failed dice on a single roll of a project, causes what you make to get an unexpected but useful feature chosen by the GM, such as a longbow also functioning as a flute. If used with an artifact, it introduces a new but related theme from which Evocations can be developed. There are 17 Craft Charms over 4 pages.

Dodge Excellency: Threshold Warding Stance, which boosts Evasion, adds successes to Dodge checks and lets you ignore all environmental penalties to Evasion or Dodge checks. Interesting Charms: Virtuous Negation Defense (Wood) which lets you Defend Other with Evasion, has reduced cost when defending Sworn Kin, and in Wood Aura lets you reflexively move around to get in range of allies to protect this way, effectively extending your defense range. Ember-Amid-Smoke Misdirection (Fire) boosts Evasion slightly and deals Withering damage to anyone that you dodge the attacks of, which with an Essence 4 repurchase you can expend Fire Aura to gain Initiative from. Bonfire Shadow Evasion (Fire) lets you turn your bonfire anima into a blinding flare, reducing successes on attacks from slower enemies based on the 1s they roll and, if they are dropped to 0 successes or made to botch, blinding them for the scene.

Signatures: Safety Among Enemies (Air) lets you redirect Decisive attacks you dodge to another target in range, as long as your Initiative is high enough, causing it to be rerolled against them with all the original effects it had enhancing it still there. Unmoving Center Enlightenment (Earth) lets you, once per scene, make a Stamina-based Dodge roll to unleash spiritual pressure on all foes in Close range, and everyone whose Resolve you beat immediately has to make a Disengage check at a penalty and, if they succeed, move away from you. If they fail, they can’t do anything but try to disengage on subsequent turns until they manage it or pay Initiative and Willpower to resist. Unassailable Body of Fire (Fire) lets you, when you use the Charm Hopping Firecracker Evasion to jump away from attackers, make a fiery Dodge-based counterattack against them that can set them on fire. Flow With Strife (Water) lets you reduce Decisive damage by losing Initiative as you flow away from the attack at the last possible second, with the costs reduced if you’re in driving rain or at least ankle-deep water. If you completely reduce the damage, you count as having dodged and literally flow around the attack despite seeming to be struck. Swaying Grass Elusion (Wood) lets you trade Initiative for increased Evasion and raises the cap for how much you can raise Evasion, plus if you dodge a slower, non-trivial foe you can expend Wood Aura to regain some of that Evasion. There are 16 Dodge Charms over 3.5 pages.

Integrity Excellency: Granite Curtain of Serenity (Earth) can boost Resolve or add successes to Integrity checks, and also slightly reduces penalties from wounds, deprivation or poison. Interesting Charms: Frozen Heart Prana (Air) lets you calculate Resolve with Intelligence instead of Wits against a single roll, and resist high Appearance bonus dice with the best of your Int, Lore and Resolve, because of your icy reason. Unquenchable Battle-Passion (Fire) lets you automatically inspire yourself when targeted by any social influence that’d cause you to not fight or make it harder for you to fight, using the emotion to bolster your Resolve for the scene. If you get tagged anyway and spend Willpower to resist, you gain Initiative based on the Willpower you had to spend. Ten Thousand Dragons Fight as One (Earth) can be used once per scene when you witness another DB in risk or danger of any kind, instantly forming a Minor Tie of Loyalty to them or strengthening one you already have. For the rest of the scene, you get a bonus to Resolve above and beyond that Intimacy’s normal bonus against anything that’d weaken the Tie or dissuade you from supporting them and gives a bonus to the first influence check or Join Battle roll you make to assist them.

Signatures: Ascendant Ideal Inspiration (Air) lets you, once per story, pick one of your Defining Principles that represents your ideals. Anyone trying to weaken it or get you to act against it has to make two influence rolls and use the worse one, and you get a bonus to instill the Principle in others or persuade them to act in support of it, but you lose all Willpower if you act against the Principle or voluntarily weaken it and the Charm ends. Flawless Diamond Heart (Earth) reduces the Willpower cost to resist social influence opposing a Major or Defining Influence, once per story. Immolating Phoenix-Soul Fury (Fire) can be used once per story when a Psyche-keyword effect would cause you to act against an Intimacy. Instead, you go into a berserk frenzy, suppressing the Psyche effect for the scene and preventing you from doing anything but start a fight and keep fighting for the same duration. You can do anything in that fight except withdraw from combat or accept surrender, and the only social influence you may attempt is to threaten foes. If you aren’t in a fight, you must dedicate yourself to either seeking out a specific foe or provoking people into a fight. You cannot end this Charm voluntarily. If you defeat whoever caused the Psyche effect while under this Charm’s effects, the Psyche effect ends permanently and you gain 2 Willpower.

Phoenixes are wordy fuckers. Waves-Swallow-Mountains Persistence (Water) reduces incoming social influence based on the number of 1s rolled, and the more you use it in a scene, the more it can reduce and the more numbers on the die count – on the second use in a scene, 1s and 2s are counted, not just 1s, and so on. You can only use this on a single character per scene, but can use it any number of times you want against them in the scene. Roots-of-the-World Meditation (Wood) lets you spend several hours meditating and then make a Willpower roll to heal yourself of damage, poisons, disease or Derangements, once per story. There are 18 Integrity Charms over 4 pages.

Next time: Investigation, Larceny, Linguistics, Lore, Medicine

The Mighty Power of Crime Explosions

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: The Mighty Power of Crime Explosions

Investigation Excellency: Indisputable Physical Analysis Technique (Water) adds successes and rerolls 6s. Interesting charms: Revelation-of-Associates Hunch (Fire) gives a bonus to Investigation rolls and lets you tell if evidence is related to the crime you’re investigating in the form of a flash of heat, with the strength of the heat telling you how large the criminal conspiracy was (with nearly nothing for a single offender and a bonfire’s heat for a hundreds-strong conspiracy). A Face in the Fog (Water) is activated when you succeed on a scene-casing roll against someone’s attempt to conceal evidence, and it gives you a misty, fog-filled vision of the perpetrator – not enough to recognize them, but enough to get a sense of some combination of height, build, gender, age or other distinctive features, and if you meet them and successfully profile them you know it’s them and gain a Willpower. Scent-of-Crime Method (Water) lets you smell guilt on people, getting a bonus to Awareness, Investigation and Survival rolls to detect the presence of anyone who’s made a Larceny check in the last few hours. Profiling someone tells you if they’re the source of the guilt scent.

Signatures: Warrant of Divine Safety (Air) lets you bind any spoken offer of hospitality or invitation into a place, even an informal one, given by someone whom custom says has the authority to give it. As long as you and your companions do nothing hostile, no one can violate the offer of hospitality without being punished by the element of Air somehow. The consequences, decided by the ST, are directly related in strength to the severity of the violation and are sufficiently dire to negate most attempts at harm, though people with Essence higher than yours can still fight after being hit, albeit with penalties or obstacles. The protection only applies in the area that hospitality was offered for, and ends when you leave. Echoes Caught in Stone (Earth) can be used once per story to meditate on a piece of evidence and make an Investigation roll to hear a relevant conversation that occurred near it in the past few months, though you must know beforehand the object is evidence of the crime you’re investigating. Shadow-Immlating Talon (Fire) lets you, once per scene, make a Decisive attack on someone with a bonus and damage bonus while asking a question or making an accusation, and if your attack also beats their Resolve, the victim also has to answer you honestly and without deception or half-truth, though if doing so violates a Defining Intimacy they can pay WP to be cryptic or incomplete. If they don’t know enough to be useful, the Charm fails but you don’t pay any of its costs.

Many words! Clear Water Prana (Water) lets you, once per story, case a single small area with a large bonus over the course of a minute, and on top of clues, you detect anything hidden in that area unless concealed on someone’s person, though not stuff that was just lost rather than hidden. It does contest even normally perfect concealment magic, though. Death-Unraveling Eye (Wood) lets you examine a corpse that’s not been dead for more than a few years as if casing a scene, and on top of any clues you discover, you may mentally rewind the decomposition of the corpse to view it as it was at the time of death, and get a bonus to Medicine rolls to analyze injuries or medical conditions present as well as being able to potentially ID the body. Also, you automatically notice any information that’d conflict with what you know already, such as if a corpse was hidden in ice to slow its rate of decay; you’d know it was dead longer than it seems. There are 20 Investigation Charms over 5 pages.

Larceny Excellency: Underground River’s Flow adds successes; its primary alternate benefit is that it has the Mute keyword so it doesn’t add to your anima banner. Interesting Charms: Naked Thief Style (Water) lets you hide anything on your body small enough to hold in one hand, or an entire set of thieves’ tools like a disguise kit or lockpick set, and no one can even try to find them unless in Short range of you or they have magic that extends their sensory range. Wandering Thief Technique (Air) lets you throw your voice to anywhere in Short range for the duration of a single social influence roll or about ten seconds of speech, and does not break your concealment if you’re hidden when you speak. Bramble Purse Technique gives a penalty to all attempts to pickpocket or disarm you from Close range, and if the roll fails, the penalized target takes damage from invisible thorns piercing their hand bloodily. Vaporous Visage Evasion (Water) lets you, when your disguise is pierced, hide your face behind a cloud of mist drawn from your anima, obscuring your identity perfectly for the rest of the scene. Incendiary Accusation Approach (Fire) lets you, when you use Waters-of-Honesty Method to detect someone cheating at a game or doing a crime, cause a small fire to start on their person, dealing minor damage and revealing their misdeeds. Exploding Evidence Technique (Fire) causes it so when someone tries to find evidence you’ve concealed and failed, the evidence explodes as an environmental hazard to everyone present that obliterates almost all remaining evidence.

Signatures: Vault-Emptying Whirlwind Heist (Air) lets you, once per story, spend an hour casing a site for a planned heist, then make a Larceny roll to build a pool of successes you can spend to give bonuses to you or your allies in doing the crime, reduce some Larceny charm costs or retroactively leave a calling card for people. Dragon Snatches Jewel (Earth) lets you, once per scene, make a disarm gambit with Larceny with a bonus, and reflexively ready the weapon you steal and get your Initiative back. If it’s an artifact, you reflexively attune to it for free for the rest of the scene, breaking the original owner’s attunement. Alternatively, you can steal a hearthstone out of a socket and steal its attunement instead. Burning Sins Seduction (Fire) lets you make a Larceny-based inspire roll to convince someone to do crimes or ignore the law, with the target choosing what emotion is inflamed and what Intimacy tied to that emotion they’d be willing to break the law for. The action they take as a result of the influence must be a crime or equivalent social transgression upholding that Intimacy, and resisting doing so requires a Decision Point with an Intimacy of equal or greater strength.

This is wordy, too. Flowing God-Dragon Stance (Water) makes your body fluid once per day while you’re in Water Aura, letting you flow through locked doors or wall cracks, escape non-magical grapples and getting a bonus to Evasion and Stealth, especially while underwater. You take some damage if the Charm ends while you’re somewhere too small for you, and you get shunted out to where you entered from. Terrifying Forest-Devil Mask (Wood) lets you put on a mask and become a fictional or archetypal figure as a disguise check with a bonus and gaining temporary specialties related to the role for as long as you maintain the disguise, as well as a Defining Intimacy the role would have, which cannot be changed or weakened while in disguise. Anyone that fails to see through the disguise also gets treated as having a Minor Tie to your persona with appropriate context for their culture and circumstances. In combat, removing your mask requires a very difficult gambit, but ends your charm. There are 28 Larceny Charms over 6.5 pages.

Linguistics Excellency: Lightning Quill Mastery (Air) adds successes and rerolls failed dice based on your 10s. Interesting Charms: Cryptic Essence Cipher (Water) lets you create a code readable only by either one specific person or anyone who shares one of your Principles (or close to it), which anyone else has to make a Linguistics roll to break even if they have codebreaking magic. Wind-Carried Words Technique (Air) lets you transmit a spoken message several miles to a specific person, which cannot be overheard by any mundane means, and the range gets much longer the better at Linguistics you are. Speech Without Words (Air) lets you and your Sworn Kin communicate silently via body language amongst yourselves and a number of other people of your choice, with motions so small that it’s essentially telepathy that can be noticed if someone is specifically looking for it and is still not understandable if they do. Reading the Unspoken Words (Air) lets you make a Linguistics-based read intentions check to know what someone expects you to say to them in the current circumstances, which can give a bonus to impersonating someone. Intoxicating Lotus Manuscript (Wood) lets you write a story so sensually gripping and viscerally thrilling that it literally makes people gain a Derangement addicting them to your works, causing them withdrawal if they can’t get more of it. The Charm ends if you stop releasing works, but you can make them prohibitively expensive if you want. (Note that ‘sensual’ is not necessarily ‘sexual’ with Wood stuff. Sensual as in ‘of the senses.’ Even their seduction stuff specifies that if the target’s just not into you sexually, they only want to talk to you and be your friend.)

Signatures: Flashing Saga Flourish (Air) gives a big bonus to a written Linguistics roll once per story and dramatically reduces the amount of time it takes to make a written work – a book takes you only one day to write, for example, and anything shorter only seconds. Unshattered Diamond Parables (Earth) lets you call on one of your long-form written works that you’ve made during play, such as a novel or poetry collection, during a Decision Point as if it were a Major Intimacy. You summarize its moral or theme in a short phrase to define the phantom Intimacy. However, you can never use the same work twice. If a work has significant role in the narrative before you use it, it instead counts as a Defining Intimacy. In Earth Aura, you can also expend the aura rather than pay Willpower when doing this. Wildfire Words Technique (Fire) lets you, once per story, make a written instill check with a bonus to create an Intimacy based on strong emotional passion. Anyone who gets hit by it cannot alter or remove the intimacy for several days, but can weaken it. However, the next time they talk about the topic, they are filled with an urge to spread it and must attempt their own instill roll, which also gets a bonus, though the magic is not itself contagious past that. Rewriting the Truth Technique (Water) lets you, once per story, make a written instill action that rerolls 5s and 6s and gets no penalties for any implausible claims, targeting a specific person. If you succeed against them, they gain a Major Principle of belief in whatever lie you wrote, which costs a lot of WP to resist entirely and a little to voluntarily weaken. Enthralling Lotus Calligraphy (Wood) lets you, once per story, make a written instill, persuade or bargain check targeting a specific person, which they are magically compelled to read unless they spend Willpower as soon as they see the document, though it will not force them to abandon a pressing task to do so – just read it as soon as possible. Once they begin to read, they must read long enough to be affected by the influence. Resisting the Psyche effect to read does not give immunity to the written influence, which is itself unaltered. There are 24 Linguistics Charms over 5.5 Pages.

Lore Excellency: Careful Insight-Gathering Study (Air) adds successes and gives a bonus to introduce or challenge facts. Interesting Charms: Opening the Mind’s Gates (Air) lets you make a Lore-based instill roll to make a character gain a phantom Major Principle of “I must seek out education” for the scene, which is harder to resist than normal when exploited by you. Elemental Bolt Attack lets you channel your Aspect element into an elemental blast with Archery or Thrown, with bonus effects for each element. You can learn the other elements with small XP expenditure. Yes, this is a Lore Charm. Thunderstruck Charlatan Imprecation (Air) makes it so that when you challenge a fact with a spoken rebuke, if your roll beats the target’s Resolve they form a Minor Tie of respect, fear or similar to you, or strengthen one they already have, and for the rest of the scene they can’t speak at all without entering a Decision Point to resist this and the Intimacy they use is stronger than their Tie to you. The Wind Turns lets you expend Air Aura to draw in the world’s Essence in a brief hurricane of power, restoring motes to you and all nearby Hearthmates and resetting you to base Initiative. Dragon Vortex Attack lets you, once per story, unleash an Aura to create a massive environmental hazard of the appropriate element, which hurts everyone but you and your Sworn Kin and gets special effects based on element. (Air gets a lightning storm, Earth gets an earthquake, Fire gets a sudden pyroclasm, Water gets a giant tsunami wave, Wood gets a sudden briar growth.) Your Sworn Kin can also expend their own Auras to stack elements on the hazard, but you can’t stack the same element on itself.

Signatures: Fulminating Thunderhead Brilliance (Air), once per story, makes your eyes crackle with light as you make a special roll to introduce a fact. Rather than name a fact, you name a goal, like defeating a rival or investigating corruption in a group, and make a Lore roll. On a success, the GM introduces a relevant fact that will help you, which you experience as a flash of sudden insight, with more successes making it more relevant and specific. Truth-in-Stone Binding (Earth) lets you make a special Lore gambit against a Raksha or other Wyld native, with success petrifying them in inanimate form engraved with binding words describing what is trapped within. The target or targets aren’t dead, and will be freed if the words are scratched out or destroyed. This can also be used to bind environmental hazards of the Wyld, rendering them inert and harmless. Particularly powerful creatures might only be able to be bound temporarily. Ten Thousand Minds Ablaze (Fire) lets you make a Lore roll that both introduces a fact and serves as an instill roll against everyone that can hear you to gain an Intimacy of interest or fascination with whatever you’re talking about or the field it relates to, which costs a lot of Willpower to resist or weaken. Ink-Black Ocean Depths (Water) lets you read and absorb an entire book or similar information record in minutes, and then you can if you want to roll Lore to siphon out crucial facts and details so later readers cannot gain any useful information from whatever you read. They can make a roll to tell the document has been altered, but not what it used to say, which requires specific restoration magic and an opposed roll. Root-and-Branch Wisdom (Wood) lets you, once per story when training or mentoring someone, give the student a positive Major Tie towards you by gaining a positive Minor Tie toward them. If you maintain this Tie for the story, you permanently gain a free Lore specialty related to your student or what you taught them. There are 23 Lore Charms over 7 pages.

Medicine Excellency: Master Healer Meditation (Wood) adds dice, and if you cap the dice limit it gives a further bonus to the roll. Interesting Charms: Poisoner’s Deft Hand (Wood) makes any poisons you use have longer duration. Dread Infection Strike (Wood) lets you make a gambit to give someone any mundane disease you’ve ever treated before in play, or even magical ones with a repurchase at Essence 5. Flesh-as-Stone Inducement (Earth) lets you numb an ally to reduce wound penalties or numb a foe’s limbs to cause penalties to its use. Wound-Closing Technique (Wood) lets you turn someone’s lethal wounds into bashing ones, or heal bashing damage.

Signatures: Purity-of-Mind Method (Air) lets you treat and reduce the power of Derangements via extended therapy, guided meditation and mystical alignment of their Essence. Marmoreal Body Fortification (Earth) lets you massage someone’s pressure points to give their skin a pale cast as they gain temporary health levels and increases their soak if unarmored due to stony skin for the rest of the day. Unbinding the Inner Flame (Fire) lets you strike someone’s heart chakra to increase their Strength and Decisive damage temporarily as well as make them gain motes and Initiative each turn, but at the cost of taking some Aggravated damage after the scene ends. Body-Cleaning Ablution (Water) lets you mystically bathe someone or wash their wounds with pure water, reducing their wound penalties for a whole day and boosting resistance to any diseases or poisons you’ve diagnosed in them. Rebirth of Flesh and Ivy (Wood) calls forth plants from your anima once per story to help bind and heal someone’s wounds, instantly healing some damage and/or crippling effects. They may choose to have the healing leave a permanent plant-based scar on them if they feel that’d look cool, such as bark-like flesh or green interwoven with their normal skin tone. There are 19 Medicine Charms over 4 pages.

Next time: Melee, Occult, Performance, Presence, Resistance

Frenzy of Flame

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Frenzy of Flame

Melee Excellency: Stoking Bonfire Style (Fire) can boost Melee attacks or Parry, and it gets cheaper to use against someone whenever you successfully hit or parry but resets if you miss or get hit or go a round without using it. Interesting Charms: Blinding Spark Distraction (Fire) lets you blind people If they fail a Resistance roll when you parry or clash by throwing sparks in their face. Demon-Crushing Wolf Bite (Wood) boosts your Overwhemling (and damage, In Wood Aura) based on your Stamina by sprouting Essence thorns on your weapon. Dragon-Graced Weapon lets you bless an Artifact weapon with elemental power or just turn an element into a weapon, with each element giving different buffs. Root-and-Hand Working (Wood) causes roots to grow out of your wrists and weapon, locking it in place so you are very hard to disarm and get a Parry boost. Mela’s Flashing Tongue (Air) lets you, once per scene, make a bunch of Withering attacks based on a foe’s onslaught penalty, and in Air Aura the final attack is a Decisive lightning burst. Dragon Soul Burst (Fire) lets you aim, then stab someone to set them on fire with a Decisive attack that deals minor damage but ignores Hardness, with extra damage in Fire Aura.

Signatures: Steel Tempest Strike (Air) lets you advance on a blast of wind and make a Decisive attack against a foe once per scene, ignoring Difficult terrain, without it counting as your attack for the round. Falling Mountain Fang (Earth) lets you massively increase gravity’s hold on whatever you hit, either making a weapon super hard to lift or making armor give a huge mobility penalty or causing a fragile or uneven structure to collapse. Harnessed Firestorm Attack (Fire) lets you, once per scene, make a number of Decisive attacks based on your Dexterity or Strength, each at half normal damage, but only needs to pay the cost to enhance them with other Charms once total for all. Roaring River Slash (Water) lets you make a Decisive attack once per scene which is followed by a ribbon of cutting water, allowing you to roll damage twice and combine the results. If this is combined with a power that sets people on fire, the water unfortunately puts the fire out. Aura of Gasping Branches (Wood) lets you ignore some onslaught penalty each round for the rest of the scene, and in Wood Aura you don’t gain onslaught from attacks you fully parry. There are 25 Melee Charms over 5.5 pages.

Occult Excellency: Hidden Secrets Whisper (Air) gives bonus dice and rerolls failures based on 10s rolled. Interesting Charms: Soul-Fire Cremation Whisper (Fire) burns a mortal corpse to ash, ensuring they cannot rise as a hungry ghost, though one that already exists is only affected by needing to find a new place to avoid sunlight since it has no body to hide in. A normal ghost can choose whether or not to accept emotional catharsis and reincarnate. If not, it gets a positive Minor Tie to you that it can’t remove until the story ends. Seed and Salt Warding (Earth/Wood) instantly creates a ward of salt or germinated seeds with an Occult roll, causing ghosts and other undead to be unable to cross unless their Resolve beats your roll, even if they’d normally be able to cross salt or seeds. Blazing Purification Chant (Fire) sets possessing entities on fire with a burning ofuda but doesn’t harm the host. Five Winds Raiment (Air) turns your anima banner into a whirlwind that increases your Defense and Hardness while shaping sorcery, with increased Hardness in Air Aura.

Signatures: Hundred Devils Whirlwind (Air) lets you roll Occult with a bonus to make a mystic spirit-wind vortex out to Medium range that either repels spirits and immaterial beings or draws them in, moving them in the chosen direction and preventing them from teleporting away while in the whirlwind, which is also Difficult Terrain for them. Sage of Iron Meditation (Earth) lets you, once per story, meditate for up to several days, and while you meditate, the Wyld’s power is stopped completely out to Short range of you, unable to cause mutation, addiction or other warping within that range. You gain a lot of Hardness against Wyld beings while meditating and they lose Initiative while near you each turn, or take Aggravated damage if Crashed. (Your buddies will be doing most of the fighting, though, because…you have to keep meditating.) Smoke Ascends to Heaven (Fire) lets you cast an offering into fire, giving a bonus once per story to any persuade check to influence a spirit in person or via burnt offering, which they will always hear if done in their temple or with oversight by one of their priests but otherwise the GM decides if they hear it. Any Intimacies you leverage for purposes of getting them to do stuff are considered one level higher, and if none apply you still count as leveraging a Minor Tie towards you.

Lots of text. Crashing Wave-Dragons Warding (Water) blesses a body of running water once per story, consecrating it for several range bands up and down stream. Any demon, undead or fae that enters the water is attacked by dragon-shaped waves as an environmental hazard, get a penalty to all physical actions while touching the water and take extra Withering damage from attacks. If their Essence exceeds yours, they can spend Willpower to take an action freeing themselves dramatically from the dragon-waves, but it counts as both their attack and movement for the round. Eternal Death-Banishing Blossom (Wood) channels life through your anima banner once per day, which spreads it like the branches of a great tree. You must be at bonfire, and you get a Defense and soak bonus, which is increased against undead foes or necromantic attacks. On your next turn, your anima blooms in a storm of petals, expending it to make the petals fall out to Medium range. They are harmless to the living, but cause Aggravated damage to any undead that fails a difficult Resistance roll, even if they are immaterial, and trivial undead foes are just destroyed. Damage is capped against powerful undead, like Deathlords, or undead Exalts, like Abyssals. There are 23 Occult Charms over 5 pages.

Performance Excellency: Audience-Enthusing Display (Wood) adds successes and lets you ignore penalties for targeting multiple characters with social influence. Interesting Charms: Invisible Street Performer Technique (Air) lets you roll Performance to become completely impossible to notice by anyone whose Resolve you beat while you continue to put on your performance, which you can flurry with other actions. This ends if you stop performing, Join Battle or overtly draw notice to yourself by, say, brandishing a weapon. Dance of Flashing Swords (Wood) lets you roll Performance to convince bystanders that anything they’re witnessing is, in fact, an artistic performance, even if it is, say, a real fight. Irresistible Whirlpool Diversion (Water) lets you make a Performance roll at a bonus to make it so everyone watching you gets a penalty to notice anything that’s not you for as long as you keep performing. Vibrating Strings Defense (Wood) lets you, once per scene, clash a physical attack against you with a Decisive gambit in the form of a musical sting on an instrument, and if you win, they lose Initiative and if Crashed have Resolve 0 against your next Performance-based influence roll. Three-String Sword Prana (Wood) lets you make a Decisive attack out to Medium range by playing music, which creates phantasmal weapons to attack your foe with Performance and gets bonus damage.

Signatures: Thundering Dragon Proclamation (Air) lets you shout loud enough to be heard clearly out to Extreme range for the scene once per day, though you can only make inspire or threaten influence checks using it. They ignore all environmental or distance penalties, and all voice-based Performance or command rolls get a bonus. You can choose to not project that loud if you want, and must do so if you want to make non-Performance-based influence rolls, but you get no bonus if you’re not being loud. Tears-From-Stone Eloquence (Earth) lets you, once per story, make a Performance-based inspire roll. Anyone affected must choose a response to the emotion you cause that will affirm, support or protect a social institution they have an Intimacy towards, and if they don’t have one, they immediately form one at Minor, and if resisted with a Decision Point, they need to use at least as strong an Intimacy as the one affected. Immolating Passion Alleluia (Fire) lets you, once per story, make a Performance-based inspire roll at a bonus, and while anyone affected still chooses how they respond to the emotion, they must do so in a way that is at least on the level of a Serious task. It costs more to resist than normal, too. Mesmerizing Siren Call (Water) lets you make a Performance roll at a bonus to hypnotize everyone watching you, once per story. You can spend your successes to create illusions that they see, with more complex ones costing more successes, and you can pick different ones per target. They see them for as long as you continue to perform, and they can only spend Willpower to resist if they find evidence that the illusions are false, such as by trying to touch illusion fire and not being burnt, or if the illusions would make them act against a Major or Defining Intimacy. Life-Spirit Symphony (Wood) lets you and all allies out to Medium range ignore any plant-based Difficult terrain for as long as you perform, once per day, and you can make a Performance roll to resist environmental hazards for your buddies. You can also direct nearby plants to grab and entangle foes with a Performance-based gambit, causing them to be unable to take movement actions until they cut the plants away, at which point the plants become Difficult terrain. There are 30 Performance Charms over 6 pages.

Presence Excellency: Glowing Coal Radiance (Fire) adds successes and gives more bonus dice based on 10s. Interesting Charms: Unbearable Taunt Technique (Fire) lets you make an inspire check to piss someone off, and if you win, they must immediately respond in a hostile way of their choice. In combat, this instead requires the target to pay Willpower and Initiative to attack anyone but you. Passion-Transmuting Nuance (Water) lets you make a Presence-based inspire roll against someone already feeling strong emotion to change that emotion into a different one of your choice, with the strength of a Major Intimacy if it was weaker. Aura of Invulnerability (Fire) literally makes your self-confidence into an aura of flame that gives you bonus health levels and soak, though once it ends any damage transfers to your normal health track. Minds Like Fertile Fields (Earth) lets you make a Presence roll to say something so placid and general that your target goes into a trance, making their Intimacies not affect their Resolve at all against the next social influence aimed at them.

Signatures: Haunting Words Infliction (Air) lets you make a Presence roll at a bonus to instill an Intimacy you have into someone else, and even if the target resists or you fail, for the next few weeks, whenever the target learns something that supports your argument and would let you make another attempt at the instill action, they roll Presence against themselves with a bonus to instill your Intimacy into themselves, which they cannot choose to fail. This ends if they manage to resist their own roll with Resolve. Virtuous Mountain’s Shadow (Earth) can be used when you see someone making social influence you want to dispute, letting you make a counterargument based on one of your Major or Defining Intimacies. Everyone that hears you may use that Intimacy to boost their Resolve or in a Decision Point as if they had it, though if they do they gain it at Minor. Terrifying Fire-Dragon Roar (Fire) lets you, once per scene, breathe a blast of fire as an unblockable Decisive Presence-based attack out to Medium range, hitting everyone in a line. The attack also doubles as a threaten roll against any enemy targeted to terrify them into fleeing. You divide damage between everyone hit evenly, ignoring Hardness and doing extra damage to battle groups, who don’t count for the division of damage. Also, you set anything flammable in the scenery on fire.

Wordy, and I want to let FIRE BREATH sit on its own. Fluid Recollection Insinuation (Water) lets you make an instill check to convince someone that you’ve met before in an encounter that never happened, inserting a false memory up to five minutes long into their mind. The memory is about some interaction solely between the two of you, and instead of a dice penalty for implausibility, there is a success penalty. If they never met you before, they form a Minor Tie towards you with context based on the nature of the false memory, and they can’t resist the false memory until the Intimacy is gone. They also can’t voluntarily weaken it. If they already know you, they form a new Minor Tie towards you still but don’t have to erode it before they can pay Willpower to realize there are discrepancies. Spirit-Cultivating Leadership (Wood) can buff anyone with a Defining Tie of loyalty to you, increasing their Resolve against anything that’d weaken that Tie, getting three temporary specialties of your choice and getting an extra Willpower each day that can be used only to resist social influence. There are 23 Presence Charms over 4.5 pages.

Resistance Excellency: Purifying Blood Ascendancy (Earth) adds successes and rerolls 6s. Interesting Charms: Untiring Earth Meditation (Earth) lets you ignore any fatigue penalties as long as you’re in contact with the ground or stone. Earth Bears Witness (Earth) lets you reduce a Decisive attack’s damage against you by transferring the force into the ground, which may cause Difficult terrain or break scenery. If there is a dramatically significant source of stone nearby, such as a stone pillar or boulder, you reduce it further and pass the force into it, possibly making a crater shaped like your body. At Resistance 5, you can also get Water and Wood variants that work based on nearby water or plants, respectively. (Element) Protection Technique lets you pick an element and gain increased Soak and Hardness against it – wooden spears for Wood, firewands for Fire, hurled rocks for Earth, whatever. You also reduce the damage of appropriate environmental hazards. However, whatever harm has to directly relate to the element – Earth won’t stop metal weapons, for example, and Fire won’t stop sun lasers.

Signatures: Body-Like-Clouds Meditation (Air) renders your form partially gaseous, reducing Withering damage and stealing Initiative from anyone that hits you with a Withering attack but deals no damage. Perfected Scales of the Dragon (Earth) turns your body semi-crystalline, increasing your Hardness significantly and stealing Initiative from any Decisive attack that is negated by it. However, the turn after using this, you can neither attack nor move, though you can take other actions. Raging Fire-Dragon Spirit (Fire) increases your Strength, lets you ignore some wound penalties and gives a bonus to attack, rush or do feats of strength, but reduces your soak and causes you to lose a bit of Initiative at the end of each round. Fathomless Depths Resplendence (Water) lets you meditate for an hour to make a Stamina roll that gives you temporary health levels based on successes, which remain after the Charm ends if damaged and heal before any others, vanishing once healed. However, their wound penalty increases the longer they go unhealed. Well-Tended Garden of the Soul (Wood) lets you perform a series of mudras once per day, ending with an anima flash that causes every plant out to Medium range to become radiantly strong, with faint hints of green anima. Any diseases or blights they have are healed, and those dead of winter frost or drought might revive. On your next turn, as long as you haven’t been Crashed, taken Decisive damage or been forced into a range band with no plant life, you make a Stamina roll and heal yourself based on the successes, absorbing life from the plants you blessed. There are 24 Resistance Charms over 5 pages.

Next time: Ride, Sail, Socialize, Stealth, Survival

Dragon Horses

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Dragon Horses

Ride Excellency: Scattered Pearl Hoof Falls (Wood) gives successes and reduces your horse’s mobility penalty from barding. Interesting Charms: Heaven-Racing Leap (Air) lets your horse jump one range band horizontally as its reflexive movement, gives a bonus to movement rolls when jumping as part of them, and in Air Aura also lets your horse instead jump one range band vertically if there’s a surface that can hold its weight to land on. Cloud-Harnessing Technique (Air) lets your mount run and stand on surfaces that wouldn’t bear its weight normally for one turn and lets it ignore Difficult terrain by, essentially, hovering just off the ground. Dance of the Jade Bridle (Wood) lets you make a Ride roll against an animal’s Resolve to force it to respect you, allowing you to ride it and making it form a Minor Tie of loyalty to you. To fully tame a wild beast will require more interaction and probably Survival Charms, but at least you can ride your wild crocodile. Ass-to-Elephant Method (Earth) makes your horse stronger based on how fast it is for a single feat of strength. Seven-League Gallop (Wood) makes your horse’s Speed bonus partially into successes in combat, and greatly increases its overland speed outside combat. Trail-Blazing Dragon Steed (Fire) makes your horse leave a burning trail of fiery hoofprints behind it as an environmental hazard that also sets stuff on fire. Horses-Like-Dragons Stampede (Wood) lets you round up a herd of ridable animals and lead them into battle, where they trample over your foes and deal a ton of Bashing damage before they disperse into the wild. You can learn variants for the other elements that instead let you lead stampedes made of natural disaster, such as an avalanche for Air, a rockslide for Earth, a grass fire for Fire or a rushing river for Water.

Signatures: Untethered Pegasus Spirit (Air) lets your mount run on thin air as long as it never stops moving and makes you and it immune to falling damage while mounted. Mountain-Trampling Hoof (Earth) lets your mount smash through an at least human-sized object as a feat of demolition with a bonus, and if they spend turns beforehand building up speed by galloping at it, you reduce the Strength requirement to attempt the feat. Also the feat takes only seconds, even if it’d normally take longer. However, the mount takes damage based on 1s rolled. Charge of One Hundred Generals (Fire) lets you make a mounted rush at a foe between 2 and 4 range bands away, bringing all allied mounted characters with you for the charge and giving all your charging buddies free Initiative. Ride Beneath the Waves (Water) lets your mount breathe water and swim or run underwater or in water with no penalty, plus you get a bonus to Ride checks to control it while underwater. (This gives you no ability to breathe water, so you’ll want that beforehand.) Dragon-Among-Horses Exaltation (Wood) marks your horse with your blood, transforming it in your anima. It gets a bonus to your choice of rolls of any one physical stat (plus Withering damage for Strength or soak for Stamina), +1 Hardness and extra health levels. You can only bless one mount at a time, but the XP cost to do so is refunded if it dies. Rare horses with elemental blood can have this used on them with no XP cost, but such horses are extremely rare even on the Blessed Isle, and cannot be purchased with Resources – they’re going to involve favor trading and politics to get ahold of. There are 24 Ride Charms over 5.5 pages.

Sail Excellency: Fine Passage-Negotiation Style (Water) adds successes and rerolls 6s. Interesting Charms: Dragon Mariner Attitude (Water) lets you pick what naval archetype you seem to fit at any given time. Carousing causes people dealing in drink, gamble or do drugs to seek you out, to give them to you or tell you how to get them. Heroism causes people that need a seafaring hero to solve their problems to seek you out to ask your aid and treats them as if they had a Minor Tie of trust towards you. Leadership makes all sailors serving under you and all seafaring trivial characters get treated as having a Minor Tie of respect towards you and gives a bonus to inspire and command checks targeting them. Menacing gives a bonus to threaten checks and temporarily applies the Hideous merit to you. Seven Seas Wind-Luring Chanty lets you sing a bawdy song with a Sail check, reducing penalties from bad weather or calling up a sail-filling wind in good weather. Pirate-Masquerading Method (Water) causes other ships’ crews to see your ship as if it was of the same allegiance or type as theirs if they fail an Awareness/Investigation check against your Sail. This can also be used on yourself to make members of a specific group of sailors think you are a member of their group, giving a bonus to disguise checks and Guile to avoid being noticed as an outsider.

Signatures: Storm-Singer’s Reprieve (Air) lets you call out to the sea gods for mercy, making a Sail check with a bonus once per story when faced by a weather-based maritime hazard or other troubled waters. Success causes the hazard to just…go away. Failure means you have to actually navigate it. Hull-Shattering Avalanche Impact (Earth) lets you, once per day, perform a ram stratagem in naval combat with a bonus, enfolding your ship in your anima to make it deal extra damage. Out of combat, you can use this to demolish obstacles or structures by ramming them with a Sail-based feat of strength that gets a bonus based on your ship’s speed. Dragon Sets the Seas Ablaze (Fire) lets you discharge your anima through your ship’s weapons once per scene, giving a bonus to a broadside stratagem and making it set the enemy ship on fire. Shipwreck-Strewn Tempest Wake (Water) churns the sea into a frenzy once per story when you are making an extended roll to escape pursuit or using an escape stratagem. You make a maelstrom or other hazard that requires a Sail roll to navigate and damages ships that fail as well as throwing them off course, keeping them from following you for several days. Benediction of the Living Ship (Wood) reawakens life in the timbers of your ship once per story, causing roots and branches to grow and repair its damaged hull and making flowers or fruits sprout to feed your crew. You heal the ship’s damage with an Essence roll, and all people aboard heal some damage due to the bounty of the ship, plus you have enough food to last the rest of the story if you didn’t before, and everyone gets a bonus to any roll to resist poison or disease for the rest of the story. There are 19 Sail Charms over 5 pages.

Socialize Excellency: Loquacious Courtier Technique (Fire) adds successes and boosts Guile, and it’s Mute. Interesting Charms: Wary Yellow Dog Attitude (Fire) lets you roll Join Battle with Socialize if a fight breaks out during a social interaction, and gives a bonus if you’ve influenced or read any of the enemies’ intentions in the scene. Sweeten-the-Tap Method (Fire/Wood) can be used when you supply drinks to a group. Everyone that drinks gets -1 Guile and is treated as having a positive Minor Tie towards all other partygoers. However, anyone in the scene that botches a social action gets the phantom positive Tie everyone has to them turned into a phantom negative Tie by anyone who witnessed the botch. Rippling Mirror Face (Water) can be used whenever someone tries to read your intentions, allowing you to make them think they succeeded if they fail but instead revealing an Intimacy anyone else in the scene has that you’ve found with prior read intentions check, passing it off as your own. In Water Aura, you can use this after you know they failed rather than before their roll.

Signatures: Clear-Eyed Courtier’s Scrutiny (Air) lets you, once per day, make a read intentions roll against everyone you can perceive, with a bonus. You can either determine all of their intentions in the current scene or identify all their Intimacies towards a single topic. Even if you fail to beat someone’s Guile, you don’t have to do anything to reset your read intentions against them – you can just focus on them personally rather than reading the entire group. Unfaltering Pillar of Unity (Earth) lets you, once per story, make a Socialize roll at a bonus against any number of people from a single culture or social group to instill a Tie of loyalty towards a that group, and to resist they must enter a Decision Point and use a Major or Defining Intimacy. They cannot voluntarily weaken the Tie you make for several weeks or do anything in that period to oppose it unless doing so supports a Defining Intimacy. Wildfire Scandal Revelation (Fire) requires you to know an embarrassing or damaging secret that would have major negative consequences for someone if revealed. Once per story, you can use it when you reveal that secret to make a Socialize check with a bonus to instill a negative Tie towards that person or weaken a positive Tie. You simultaneously instill a negative Tie or weaken a positive one towards a culture or social group that person belongs to of your choice, and for the rest of the story, anyone you affected this way gets the benefits of having a relevant specialty whenever they make an influence roll to spread the secret.

Wordy! Ego-Dissolving Deception (Water) lets you spend an hour meditating once per story to rewrite your own memories of a single event or relationship, gaining a Major Principle to support this false belief. You may treat anything that would weaken this Intimacy as unacceptable influence. At any time you may reflexively end this Charm to restore your memories to normal even if you don’t remember using this Charm, but the Intimacy remains in place until you erode it normally; while it is in place, you have both sets of memories. At Essence 5, you can expend your Water Aura to reflexively use this whenever something targets your Guile, altering your memories to produce falsified information even if they succeed. Poisonous Sneer Approach (Wood) can be used once per day when you witness someone else making social influence. You mock or deride them and expose the flaws of their argument with a Socialize roll, with each success giving them a penalty to their influence roll. If this drops their pool to zero or if they botch, their influence does the opposite of what they intended on everyone whose Resolve was beaten by your Socialize check. There are 24 Socialize Charms over 5.5 pages.

Stealth Excellency: Distracting Breeze Meditation (Air) gives successes and is Mute. Interesting Charms: Shimmering Heat-Mirage Tactic (Fire) makes your outline blur and you leave afterimages, giving a bonus to Evasion, ending when a nontrivial foe attacks you but rolls no 1s, except in Fire Aura, where instead it ends when someone attacks you and has both no 1s and has 10s in the roll. Burning Shadow Double (Fire) lets you, while concealed, create a mirage clone of yourself that appears exactly like you, but can’t speak, touch things or make noise and must be within Medium range of you at all times. It dissolves when struck and can’t easily dodge stuff at close range, where it also can be detected as a fake with an Awareness check against your Stealth. In Fire Aura you can create multiple decoys. Zone of Silence Stance (Air) weighs the air down around you, making you and everything in close range perfectly silent, undetectable even with supernatural hearing. In Air Aura, you can slowly expand the size of the silence zone. Mela’s Hungry Jaws (Air) can only be used while concealed and within Medium range of a foe that is not aware of you. You steal their breath, causing them to immediately begin asphyxiating, and trivial foes just fucking die. You can’t move while maintaining this, but the foe has to make disengage checks to move any distance at all, and they can only break free by discovering you with an Awareness check, moving to Extreme range away from you or having their friends find you and smack you, as this ends if you get hit or if someone attacks you and rolls no 1s, even if they miss.

Signatures: Whispering Dragon Soul (Air) lets you pay extra Essence on any Air or Balanced Charm to give it the Mute keyword, and you can spend minor XP per element to expand this ability to other elements, but you can only use it on a single element’s Charms in any given instant (and Balanced Charms). Sleeping Dragon’s Lair (Earth) lets you sink into the ground, concealing yourself inside the earth just under the surface. You cannot be seen or heard without magic that can do stuff like sense heartbeats or similar, and any scent trail abruptly ends where you entered the earth. While entombed, you can’t use your senses or move without use of appropriate Charms, and you only bring enough air to breathe for five minutes, after which you’ll need to hold your breath. When this ends, you erupt forth in a cloud of dust you can hide in, and if you expend Earth Aura, you blind all foes in Short Range unless they make an Awareness check, which lasts for the scene or until they spend a turn and some Initiative clearing their eyes. At Essence 5, this even works on solid rock as long as it’s unworked, natural stone, and your Earth Aura emergence from solid rock causes a shrapnel spray that both blinds and is a brief environmental hazard.

That’s a long one! Flame-Becomes-Shadow Technique (Fire) lets you make a Stealth roll against the Resolve of anyone with an Intimacy that supports deference or submission to you for any reason. They become incapable of perceiving you at all until you take hostile action or choose to reveal yourself. Depth-Stalking Discipline (Water) can be used once per scene and gives a bonus to Stealth rolls while in Water Aura. If surrounded by water, such as driving rain or swimming, the bonus is bigger and you cannot be detected by scent at all even with magic. Shadow-Stalking Predator Spirit (Wood) can be used once per scene while moving through or hiding in light foliage or other vegetation. Enemies within Medium range (or Long range, in areas of heavy growth) get a penalty to oppose your Stealth based on their rolled 1s, because the plants move to conceal you. When you make an unexpected attack against an affected enemy, you can expend Wood Aura to end this Charm and get a bonus to damage and the duration of any poison you inflict with it. There are 15 Stealth Charms over 3.5 pages.

Survival Excellency: Ration-Enhancing Method (Wood) adds successes and, if used to forage for food, provides enough to eat for a day for one person per success rather than the normal amount. Interesting Charms: Wild-Wandering Forester’s Charm (Wood) lets you introduce facts about wilderness regions you’re familiar with via Survival. Invoking Nature’s Forgiveness (Wood) lets you spend 5 minutes teaching your Sworn Kin and a handful of others how to handle an environment, giving them a temporary Resistance specialty related to it and reducing environmental penalties they suffer from there. Vanishing Tracks Technique (Air) rerolls 6s when trying to cover your tracks and lets you use your roll to hide your Sworn Kin if it’s better than theirs. Dragon’s Nest Shelter calls on any one element to create a shelter for you – vines secure your tent of leaves, the earth forms a hut, falling snow builds itself into an igloo. It is large enough for you and your Sworn Kin plus a handful of others, and forms itself over the course of an hour, and it protects against environmental hazards and dangers of the element you used. Multiple DBs that know this can cooperate, each adding an element to protect against and making the thing slightly bigger. The protection can stop, say, hurricane-force winds from entering a cave (via Air) or rockslides (via Earth) but offers no protection against elemental magic or deliberate attacks. At Essence 5, the shelter also prevents any warping by the Wyld within border or middlemarches, though not the Deep Wyld.

Signatures: Cunning Beast-Mind Inspiration (Air) lets you make a Survival roll on your familiar’s turn, giving it a bonus based on your roll to any one action, and it can reflexively use Defend Other to protect you as well. Also, if it attempts a Distract gambit to benefit you, it gets a further bonus. Earth-Moving Kata (Earth) lets you unleash a pulse of seismic Essence to move an obstacle aside. Any natural earthen scenery barring your path can be moved, such as fallen rocks blocking a road or a boulder in front of a cave mouth or a pool of quicksand. This has no effect on masonry or other man-made obstructions. Alternatively, you can conjure up an earthen bridge or stair to cross a gap or chasm. Wildfire-Taming Technique (Fire) lets you divert the path of a wildfire with a Survival roll, making it continue to burn but avoiding you and your companions. It will not directly obstruct you for the rest of the story, period, and you can order it to track down a specific person if you want to, using your threshold successes in place of a normal tracking roll. The fire may track its quarry magically, allowing to even trail a Solar using Traceless Passage, despite being an unintelligent fire. In ideal conditions, a fire moves up to 150 mph, but it must have a path of burnable fuel to move along. Roaring Dragon Font (Water) lets you stomp once per story, calling a spring of water out from the ground with a Survival roll, even in a desert. Normally, the spring is permanent, but in sufficiently harsh regions it might last only several days. It can only be used on the ground, not inside boats or buildings. In the scene you use it, the waters are blessed with Essence and anyone that drinks of it and either has or accepts a positive Tie towards you gets a bonus to Athletics, Resistance and Survival rolls for the rest of the day. Stalking Apex Predator Technique (Wood) lets you ignore Difficult terrain made of plants or foliage and removes the penalty for attempting concealment in combat in such terrain, and you can attempt a rush while conealed. You also get a bonus to concealing your tracks. Once per scene, you can expend Wood Aura when making an unexpected Decisive attack from plant-based concealment to get a bonus to the attack and damage. There are 21 Survival Charms over 4.5 pages.

Next time: Thrown, War, Martial Arts

Kung Fu Dragons

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Kung Fu Dragons

Thrown Excellency: Seeking Throw Technique (Air) adds dice and ignores Defense from light cover, and in Air Aura it ignores part of the bonus from heavy cover if you aim first. Interesting Charms: Armor-Rupturing Fang (Earth) lets you embed your weapon in the foe’s armor with a Decisive attack, reducing soak and increasing mobility penalty. (This doesn’t work on unarmored foes unless they’re extremely durable, like a robot’s armor or a tyrant lizard’s scales.) Removing it requires a feat of strength to negate the penalty, and in Earth Aura you can stack multiple embedded weapons in someone. Arcing Levinbolt Precision (Air) sends a bolt of lightning ahead of your throw, reducing the enemy’s soak and Hardness based on the mobility penalty of any metal armor they are wearing (including magical materials). Smoke Burst Eruption (Fire) causes a Decisive attack to create a smoke cloud within Short range of the target, providing concealment for anyone inside the smoke and giving a bonus to unexpected attacks you and your allies make on people in the smoke. Whirlwind Shield Technique (Air) lets you, once per scene, throw a weapon in such a way that it makes a tornado, which then follows you around and intercepts attacks for you.

Signatures: Persistent Hornet Attack (Air) lets you make a Withering attack that turns your weapon into a self-animated thing if it hits, attacking your foes for you until it runs out of Initiative, gets hit by a Disarm gambit or lands a Decisive attack. Devastating Avalanche Barrage (Earth) causes stones to rise, once per scene, and orbit your weapon as you make a Withering attack against a single foe, which also becomes an unblockable Withering attack against them and anyone nearby due to the rocks. If there is no stone present to use, you can use your anima. The second attack can’t do more damage than the first, normal attack but can’t be soaked. You gain no Initiative from it. Anyone Crashed by it is buried in rubble and can’t stand from prone without a feat of strength. Exploding Weapon Technique (Fire) lets you make a Decisive attack while at Initiative 12+ that gets a damage bonus because the weapon explodes. Artifact weapons are fine after explosion, but mundane ones are destroyed. A repurchase at Essence 5 lets you also detonate weapons embedded in your enemy via Armor-Rupturing Fang for more damage, and to use this when you use Thousand Razor Wind to boost its damage with weapon explosions. (Its normal effect is a storm of Decisive attacks with weapons you’ve previously sent into storage.)

Many words. Fatal Riptide Style (Water) removes any penalties for throwing weapons through water or similar liquids and gives bonus damage to unexpected attacks made underwater. Further, once per scene, when you make an unexpected attack against a slower foe underwater, you can expend Water Aura and pay WP to make it an ambush. Hundred Thorns Blossom (Wood) lets you, once per scene, distract a foe and then fire off a barrage of concealed weapons from an unexpected body part, like your hair, fingernails or throat. A slower foe has to roll Awareness against your Guile, and if they fail you make a reflexive unexpected Decisive attack with damage based on their failures. There are 21 Thrown Charms over 4.5 pages.

War Excellency: Tactics Mean Everything (Earth) gives bonus dice and rerolls 6s. Interesting Charms: Roaring Dragon Officer (Earth) makes your voice echo across the field, letting you flurry command actions (but not with attacks), and in Earth Aura reduces flurry penalties. Choking Weeds Tactic (Wood) lets you empower your troops via guerrilla raids of supply lines and base camps, making the opposing general’s stratagem roll harder and, if you win the roll, giving a penalty to enemy battle groups due to poor supplies. Enfolded in the Dragon’s Wings (Earth) lets you, once per scene, reflexively roll War when a nearby allied battle group is attacked to boost their defenses by giving them the strength of mountains. Phantom Fire-Warrior Horde (Fire) lets you turn your anima into illusory soldiers of smoke and flame to add numbers to your ranks when rallying for numbers and also lets you use your rally roll as a threaten roll against all enemy battle groups that see you do it to make them retreat away from your forces.

Signatures: Storm-Calling Strategos (Air) lets you, once per story, summon a lightning storm or other angry weather as a unique magical stratagem, forcing the enemy to deal with hostile weather which causes an environmental penalty to all enemy battle groups and a smaller one to other enemies, but does nothing to your allies. Further, at the start of each round in that combat, if you have 12+ Initiative you can pay some Initiative to reflexively create an environmental hazard targeting a battle group, such as a lightning strike or avalanche, and if you take out a battle group with it you gain Willpower. Ramparts of Obedient Earth (Earth) lets you Join Battle with War if you’re leading a group of troops and you can spend successes on your roll to reshape the battlefield, doing things like tearing open sinkholes under enemy battle groups to slow them, create earthen barricades to gain the benefits of a Fortifications stratagem, sap enemy fortifications or even wholly reshape the field to your advantage if you did a Strategic Placement stratagem and roll really well, letting you create traps and obstacles to hamper foes in the fight. Deadly Wildfire Legion (Fire) makes flames dance along your soldiers’ weapons for an instant once per scene, giving a bonus to a single command action and increasing the battle group’s damage, plus allowing them to act immediately even if their turn would come later.

Many words near the end indeed. Fog-of-War Misdirection (Water) lets you summon a heavy mist as a unique magical stratagem once per story, forcing the foe to fight in confusion and disarray. When you Join Battle after successfully using this, you designate a point on the field as the center of the fog, and everyone within Long range of that gets a penalty to vision-based checks and attacks at Medium range or beyond. Enemy battle groups caught in it also get a penalty on rout checks and it costs Initiative to give them orders, which is done at a penalty. You gain Initiative if a battle group dissolves while in the fog, too. Normal weather cannot get rid of the fog, but magical weather manipulation or magical wind can. Hidden Thorn Treachery (Wood) lets you insert a traitor into the enemy ranks as a unique magical stratagem, as long as you have spies or traitors at your disposal. After that, you can reflexively reveal the presence of your double agent in a battle group at any point in the battle. However, battle groups with Might 2+ or perfect morale are immune. Once you reveal the betrayal, the battle group automatically routs as its most notable or ranking member is revealed to be your agent; any that are not rallied by an enemy commander become a battle group on your side next turn. There are 17 War Charms over 4.5 pages.

Now, let’s talk Martial Arts. The Immaculate Martial Arts were developed shortly after the Usurpation, because when the Dragon-Blooded sought to claim control over Creation, they found they lacked the raw might of the Solars and that the small gods defied them, either from loyalty to the fallen or their own selfish beliefs that they could do it and survive. To tame them, the greatest Dragon-Blooded martial artists and their Sidereal teachers developed the Five Immaculate Dragon styles, martial arts that perfectly exemplified the elemental Essence of the Dragon-Bloods. Monks that master one of the Immaculate Styles are able to transcend the limits of Terrestrial martial skill, and they are terrifying to demons, ghosts and rebel gods. The Immaculate styles differ from other Martial Arts in a few ways to represent this.

First, they have elemental aspects as Dragon-Blooded Charms do, and several of them can benefit from Elemental Auras. This does not allow any non-Dragon-Blood that learns them to enter Elemental Auras; they just can’t get access to those benefits. Second, the intensely demanding nature of the Immaculate Styles means that they can only be learned either by Dragon-Bloods or by martial artists who are not bound by the Terrestrial keyword, such as Solars, Lunars or Sidereals. Third, because they are designed specifically for Dragon-Blooded Essence, they have no Terrestrial or Mastery keyword effects. Finally, once a Dragon-Blood learns the Form Charm of an Immaculate style, they harmonize that style’s element with their martial arts. As long as they are in any Martial Arts Form, they may expend the Aura of the mastered style’s element to ignore the effects of the Terrestrial keyword on all Martial Arts Charms for one tick.

The Dragon Styles are mostly learned, these days, at the Cloister of Wisdom. However, that is not the only place you can learn them. Immaculate monks will occasionally train lay Dragon-Bloods that earn their favor, and beyond the Realm, both Lookshy’s Immaculate Faith and Prasad’s Pure Way retain knowledge of the five styles, as do the Sidereals. Further, some ex-Immaculates start up heretical, renegade dojos, and some lost scrolls from the Shogunate era exist as well, offering instruction to anyone that finds them. Basically: yes, these are the signature styles of the Immaculates, but you don’t have to be Immaculate to know them.

Air Dragon Style emulates the wind, elusive, intangible and yet omnipresent and devastating. Its students master acrobatics to gain awareness of their body movements, and they study breath control in order to lighten their bodies and move without sound. Air Dragon is also the only style the Immaculates have that can strike from a distance, due to its signature use of chakrams. The unarmed strikes of Air Dragon focus on chops and spinning kicks, and they also use chakrams, either as ranged weapons or wielded as light weapons in close range. Air Dragon unarmed attacks can be stunted to deal Lethal, and the style is compatible with light armor. Occult is a useful ability to have with it when fighting spirits, while Dodge and Stealth are useful in general to help outmaneuver foes. It has 12 Charms over 3.5 pages.

Air Dragon’s Sight lets you read a foe’s movements via disturbances in the air, ignoring some Onslaught penalties and penalties to Evasion, plus ignoring the Evasion reduction of surprise attacks (but not ambushes). The effects are increased in Air Aura. Cloud-Treading Method lets you walk on cushions of air, reducing penalties from terrain or moving while concealed, plus it lets you walk on stuff that wouldn’t normally bear your weight as long as you end your move on stable footing. In Air Aura, it even lets you walk on liquids or any vapor that isn’t thin air, such as a campfire’s smoke, as long as you end your move on a stable surface like the ground. Wind Dragon Speed lets you flurry a Disengage with an attack without penalty, and prevents Initiative loss from it if you end up at Short range from all foes. In Air Aura, you can instead flurry it with an aim action, allowing you to move and aim in the same turn as long as you use the aim for an Air Dragon Style attack. Breath-Seizing Technique boosts a Decisive attack, letting you make a Withering damage roll before rolling damage normally, though anything that doesn’t breathe is immune. Spirits also lose motes as well as Initiative, as their breath is Essence. Air Dragon Form makes your Withering chakram attacks more accurate, boosts Evasion and gives a bonus to Disengage and Stealth checks, and can be auto-activated whenever you deal enough Withering damage to drop a foe from higher than your Initiative to lower.

Shroud of Unseen Winds boosts a Stealth roll (with successes at Initiative 12+ or dice otherwise) and, with a stunt such as throwing a flash bomb or handful of powder, lets you do it even without a place to hide. In Air Aura, the boost is always success rather than dice if you aren’t Crashed, you don’t need a stunt – you can just vanish into thin air. Avenging Wind Strike boosts a Decisive damage roll and makes it knock foes back up to two range bands and send them prone. In Air Aura, they always go back at least 2 range bands, or 3 with enough damage. Lightning Strike Style causes lightning to flow over your form, letting you make a Decisive attack at one range band further than normal and boosting its damage, as well as making it ignore any Hardness from metal armor (including artifact armor). In Air Aura, it also ignores cover from metal objects or structures, including allowing you to attack through metallic full cover. Thunderclap Kata lets you clap your hands to produce a massive roll of thunder that forces everyone nearby to roll Resistance or take Bashing damage. The shockwave hits immaterial beings and does extra damage to spirits, and while it only hits out to Medium range, it can be heard for miles. Tornado Offense Technique lets you attack as a tornado, attacking everyone in a specific range band with a Decisive attack, doing somewhat reduce damage, but with a bonus if it was unexpected. In Air Aura, if it hits every target, you gain some Initiative after resetting to base. Wrathful Winds Kiai lets you attack once per scene by shouting a giant wind blast as an unblockable Withering attack against everyone in a 90-degree arc out to Medium range. Anyone damaged gets knocked back and falls prone, and if Crashed they can’t move next turn at all. You gain no Initiative and 10s also do some backlash damage to you from the force of your breath, but the attack deals Decisive damage to spirits rather than Withering, and they can be hit even if immaterial. Hurricane Combat Method lets you pay extra when entering Air Dragon Form to increase its Evasion bonus and its bonus to Stealth and movement checks, plus allows you to pay Initiative while in it to make reflexive attacks once per round.

Next time: The other Dragon Styles

Dragon Hammer

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Dragon Hammer

Earth Dragon Style wields overwhelming force with meticulous thought. Its every technique is slow, sure and devastating. Students undergo rigorous training to strengthen their bodies, hardening their fists by spending hours striking barrels of gravel and mastering resistance to pain by sleeping on beds of nails. This tempers them into nearly invincible warriors, able to withstand equally the rage of unruly gods and the power of the Anathema, answering in kind with their giant fucking hammers. Earth Dragon unarmed strikes are solid, powerful blows with the elbows, knees and two-handed hammering blows, and the style also uses testubos. Unarmed attacks can be stunted to deal Lethal, and the style is fully compatible with armor. It often relies on Occult to deal with spirits and Athletics for feats of strength. There are 12 Charms over 3 pages.

Stone Dragon’s Skin reduces wound penalties to Parry and increases soak and Hardness, and it gets cheaper the less armor you’re wearing. Force of the Mountain boosts attack damage and gives your unarmed attacks the Smashing tag. In Earth Aura, it increases Withering damage further. Stillness-of-Stone Atemi boosts your Withering attacks’ Overwhelming and causes a mobility penalty to the foe based on your rolled 10s on damage at the cost of you spending Initiative. In Earth Aura, you also can spend Initiative based on rolled 9s to cause penalty. Unmoving Mountain Stance lets you reduce the Initiative your foe gains from Withering attacks and prevents knockback from low-damage smashing attacks, increasing the effects in Earth Aura. Earth Dragon Form gives a bonus to smashing attacks and attacks on prone foes, plus increases your soak. It can be auto-activated when someone slower than you hits you.

Ghost-Grounding Blow can be used when you Crash a spirit with a Withering attack, forcing them to materialize and preventing them from teleporting away or dematerializing again for several rounds. Earthshaker Attack lets to strike the ground once per scene at Initiative 15+, making an unblockable, undodgeable, unclashable Decisive attack against everyone in Short range that forces everyone to make an Athletics check against your roll to not fall over. Anyone that fails is prone and takes some Bashing damage, and any battle group without Might automatically fails. Anyone that takes enough damage is also knocked back and takes falling damage. In Earth Aura, you can reset your Initiative to deal extra damage rather than just the minor Bashing damage. Shattering Fist Strike lets you either make a Disarm gambit that destroys mundane weapons if it hits or get a bonus on a feat of demolition and decrease how long it takes. If you expend Earth Aura, you can use this on artifact weapons to break their wielder’s attunement and render them unusable until repaired. Weapon-Breaking Defense Technique lets you, once per scene, reflexively clash an attack with a Disarm gambit that benefits from Shattering Fist Strike without it counting as your action for the round, but it cannot clash unarmed attacks or anything with the Natural tag. In Earth Aura, you don’t have to expend your aura to target artifacts with this.

Avalanche Method lets you make a bunch Decisive attacks if at Initiative 12+, as long as your foe has any mobility penalty at all. You attack them a number of times based on their mobility penalty or until you miss, whichever comes first. Enemies aren’t knocked back by your smashing attacks in that until the flurry of blows ends, and then they all stack at once, letting you launch them multiple range bands and causing falling damage. If trapped with Hungry Earth Strike, they take falling damage but don’t move. In Earth Aura, missing doesn’t end the flurry. Hungry Earth Strike lets you, once per scene, make a Withering attack, either against a prone foe or as a smashing attack, with a damage bonus. If you Crash a foe standing on soil, stone or similar (or knock them back into it) the ground swallows them to the waist, preventing them from moving and causing them to be treated as prone, plus dealing minor Bashing damage each turn. Spirits trapped this way also suffer the effects of Ghost-Grounding Blow. Anyone that dies while trapped like this is entombed in the earth. Breaking free is an extended Athletics action, which allies can help out with. In Earth Aura, you can use this on people you don’t crash if your attack drops them from above your Initiative to below it. Protection of Earth Body lets you enhance Earth Dragon Form to turn your skin rough and stony, boosting your damage with smashing attacks and against prone foes, making you immune to wound penalties and crippling penalties based on precision blows such as Joint-Wounding Attack, and increasing your soak and Hardness if unarmored.

Fire Dragon Style requires its wielders to be both able to unleash terrifying violence at any moment and to have intense, amazing self-discipline. Its students master the rhythm of combat, performing drills and sparring to the time of various pieces of music. They learn the speed and grace of a dancer, knowing when to withhold force and when to unleash it entirely. Fire Dragon unarmed strikes are rapid barrages of punches and chops, plus powerful kicks. The style also uses short swords, traditionally wielded paired. Its unarmed blows can be stunted to deal Lethal and it is compatible with up to medium armor. Occult is a valuable skill, as always, for fighting spirits. There are 12 Charms over 3 pages.

Flash-Fire Technique lets you roll Join Battle twice and use the better roll, but you have to pay for any Charms boosting the rolls separately for each. If you win Join Battle and make a Decisive attack on turn one, you get a bonus to damage. Searing Edge Attack causes extra Initiative loss on successful Withering attacks, but you don’t gain it, as your killing intent radiates as painful heat. Flame-Flicker Stance increases your Parry based on 1s rolled by the attacker, and if you successfully block a slower foe, you don’t gain Onslaught. In Fire Aura, you can use this after the attack roll. Perfect Blazing Blow gives a Decisive damage bonus against slower foes and especially Crashed foes. In Fire Aura, the bonus is increased. Fire Dragon Form makes flames glow in your eyes and causes your Onslaught penalty to be applied before your attack rolls against slower foes and increases the Initiative lost when you parry Decisive attacks. You can auto-activate it when you win Join Battle.

God-Immolating Strike makes your Decisive attacks deal Aggravated to spirits and makes your Initiative count as higher for purposes of Charms that give benefits against slower foes, and any spirit you deal damage to while using it has its Essence set on fire, dealing even more damage next turn, especially if they’re immaterial at the time. Essence-Igniting Nerve Strike boosts a Withering attack made against a slower foe. You get half as much Initiative from it as you normally would, but the enemy loses motes based on 9s and 10s rolled, and if this Crashes them, their drained Essence is set on fire and they take some Lethal damage. You can expend Fire Aura to gain Initiative normally. Overwhelming Fire Majesty Stance causes flames to surround you and penalize attacks against you, plus they damage foes at Close range if they attack you. In Fire Aura, the cost is reduced slightly and it can be used even while Crashed. Fiery Blade Attack lets you make a Decisive attack that, if it does any damage at all, causes a bonfire to engulf the victim and continually burn them until they Disengage, even if no one is at Close range of them. Breath of the Fire Dragon lets you, once per scene, make an unblockable Decisive attack against anyone in a 90 degree arc out to Close range, plus additional range bands based on your Initiative. This hits immaterial foes as well, and it deals extra damage to battle groups. Anyone that takes enough damage is set on fire, and dematerialized spirits take Aggravated damage and become visible to all as long as they’re on fire. Scenery also catches on fire and becomes a bonfire environmental hazard for the scene. Smoldering Wound Attack makes 10s on your Decisive damage roll also count as Withering damage, or extra Decisive damage against crashed foes that still gives you Initiative. In Fire Aura, you can use this after damage is rolled. Consuming Might of the fire Dragon causes flames to erupt from your crown chakra, improving Fire Dragon Form to increase your effective Initiative for when you act and for Charms that care about you being faster than foes, and it further increases your attack damage and causes minor damage to anyone attacking you from Close range. All bonuses get better the more nontrivial foes you take out.

Water Dragon Style teaches that everything is flow. A fight’s rhythm, a body’s blood, Creation’s Essence – all is flow. Its students learn to block, redirect and impede these flows, manipulating the conditions around them to seize victory in battle. It emphasizes a fluid defense and the outmaneuvering of foes with quick footwork while performing repeated strikes to wear down the foe, exploiting even the smallest injury. Water Dragon unarmed attacks rely on fast sequences of punches, kicks and claw strikes, and the style also uses tiger claws. Unarmed attacks can be stunted to deal Lethal, and the style is compatible with up to medium armor. Occult is useful for fighting spirits. There are 12 Charms over 2.5 pages.

Flowing Water Defense lets you flurry a full defense and an attack together without flurry penalties to Defense, and in Water Aura, if your attack hits, the Initiative cost of the full defense is refunded. Rippling Water Strike boosts Withering attacks and lets you determine damage with Dexterity, plus if you Crash someone with them, all nearby foes get Onslaught penalties. In Water Aura, damage is from combined St renth and Dexterity. Drowning-in-Blood Technique boosts Decisive damage by sending blood into the lungs, and if it does enough damage, the foe starts choking on their own blood, increasing their wound penalties. This can be stacked on spirits, whose blood is Essence. In Water Aura, damage is boosted further. Shrugging Water-Dragon Escape boosts rolls to resist grapples, Disengage, oppose a Rush or escape from restraints. In Water Aura, it also gives Initiative if you succeed. Water Dragon Form gives you a bonus to attacks based on your target’s wound penalties and increases your soak. It can be auto-activated whenever you cause enough Decisive damage to raise a non-trivial foe’s wound penalty.

Theft-of-Essence Method lets you steal motes when you Crash a foe, draining them from the enemy into your own pools. Bottomless Depths Defense causes your body to ripple and deform like water once per day, reducing Decisive damage with a Stamina roll at the cost of taking 1 Aggravated. You can expend Water Aura and 1 WP to completely nullify the attack’s damage. Essence-Dousing Wave Attack can be used once per scene when you make a Decisive attack against a Crashed foe; if you do enough damage, you can turn off one of their combat Charms. You can expend Water Aura to use it against non-Crashed foes. Flow Reversal Strike causes all moving fluids in the target’s body to reverse direction as a Decisive attack, requiring the target to roll Resistance. If they fail, your Decisive damage is increased and they also take Withering damage based on their wound penalty, which you gain Initiative from. Spirits get a large penalty to the roll based on their wound penalty, as their Essence is disrupted. Crashing Wave Style lets you, once per scene, make a number of Withering attacks against an enemy based on their wound penalties until you miss; against battle groups, you go until you either miss or drop them to 0 Magnitude. In Water Aura, crashing a foe with this also does some Lethal damage. Ghost-Restraining Whirlpool Stance creates a spirit maelstrom around you, preventing spirits nearby from moving away from you without Disengaging and stopping them from teleporting, and you gain any Initiative they lose from Disengaging. Further, you drain Initiative from any spirit that does not move closer to you or get right in your face. Water Aura extends the whirlpool’s range. Tsunami-Force Shout lets you make a kiai of spiritual pressure once per scene at Initiative 20+, making an unblockable Decisive attack against all foes in a 90-degree arc out to Medium Range, plus any spirits currently trapped in Ghost-Restraining Whirlpool Stance, dealing quite a bit of Bashing damage based on enemy wound penalties, especially to battle groups. Further, anyone damaged suffers knockback, though spirits can’t be forced out of the Whirlpool Stance if in it and instead take falling damage if they hit its edge. Enemies that take enough damage are knocked back two range bands and take falling damage.

Next time: Wood Dragon Style, Golden Janissary Style, Mantis Style

Mastery of the Soul

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Mastery of the Soul

Wood Dragon Style is the most esoteric of the Five Immaculate Dragon styles, for it embraces the cycle of life and death. Students of the style must undergo grueling training in which they are brought to the edge of death, fasting to their limits while taking massive amounts of hallucinogenic and entheogenic drugs. When they return to the living world, they return with mysterious insights. In battle, they draw on their mystic enlightenment and an extensive knowledge of pressure points and Essence flows to both subdue foes and heal friends. It is rumored – correctly, as it happens - that the masters of the style have a technique that can destroy the soul itself, instantly killing its victims. Wood Dragon unarmed strikes are precision finger jabs to target pressure points and nerve clusters. The style also uses the staff, and students learn to wield a bow in close range combat, using it as if it were a staff. Wood Dragon Style cannot be used with ranged bow attacks, but no action is needed to swap between using a bow properly and using it as a staff to hit people. The style is compatible with light armor. Occult is as always handy for spirits, and Performance to distract and misdirect foes. There are 12 Charms over 3 pages.

Wood Dragon Vitality increases soak and reduces Decisive damage slightly, with increased bonuses in Wood Aura. Eyes of the Wood Dragon increases Withering damage and allows you to make piercing attacks with any Wood Dragon Style attack, with no Defense penalty for doing so if in Wood Aura. Mind-Over-Body Meditation can be used once per scene (and only during combat) to channel your body’s Essence into your wounds, healing some of them. Soul-Marking Style enhances a Decisive attack; if it deals any damage, you always get the benefits of aiming at that foe for the rest of the scene, as you place a thorn of Essence into their soul. Spirits also take a minor crippling penalty to their actions for the rest of the scene. Wood Dragon Form realigns your chakras, giving you some temporary health levels for the scene, though after the scene ends, any damage flows to your normal healthbar, and resets your use of Mind-Over-Body Meditation whenever you take out a non-trivial foe with a Decisive attack from 12+ Initiative. It can be autoactivated whenever you heal enough damage via magic to reduce your wound penalty.

Spirit-Wracking Method gives a Withering damage bonus against spirits and makes them also deal Decisive damage based on 10s rolled. Spirits Crashed by this double wound penalties and the penalty from Soul-Marking Style while Crashed. Death-Pattern Sensing Attitude gives you the benefits of full defense against anyone marked by Soul-Marking Style and removes the Defense penalty against their surprise attacks. You can also spend Willpower to get limited Defense against their ambushes. Spirit-Rending Attack gives a bonus to Decisive damage against spirits marked with Soul-Marking Style and makes the attack deal Aggravated damage. It also gives you motes if you take out a spirit with it. Unbreakable Fascination Kata lets you make a Performance-based inspire roll against foes that can see you, preventing them from moving away from you unless you Disengage and preventing them from attacking on their next turn. Spending Willpower only immunizes to the attack part, and it costs more to resist if marked by Soul-Marking Style. Enthralling Blow Attack can be used to reflexively make a Withering attack against all enthralled foes at Close range after using Unbreakable Fascination Kata. Damaged foes cannot make move actions next turn, and anyone Crashed suffers the full effects of Unbreakable Fascination Kata while Crashed. In Wood Aura, you can gain more Initiative from this.

Wood Dragon Succor can be used when at Initiative 12+ to touch an ally and activate their Essence via pressure points, healing them based on an Initiative roll. You take Bashing damage based on how much you heal and reset to base unless you expend Wood Aura, in which case you only lose Initiative based on how much you healed them. Soul Mastery wreathes your weapon in a black-green swirling aura once per scene, and can only be used on someone struck by Soul-Marking Style. You roll a gambit against them with a difficulty based on their Essence, Willpower and wound penalties, but always a minimum of 6 – pretty dang hard. Success kills them. Period. They just fucking die. Spirits are permanently destroyed, undead crumble to dust and ash, the living die and have their souls sent into Lethe immediately, preventing their rise as any form of ghost. Constructs or other beings that are neither living nor dead are immune.

Golden Janissary Style is the ancient martial art of devil-fighting sages, who long ago pledged to protect Creation from the dark. It combines weapon katas, dance-like movements and meditation on the nature of light and shadow to teach its students how to properly fight the foes of the world. It is most often studied by holy ascetics, warriors on the borders of the shadowlands, or tribes that live in demon-haunted areas. It is also a common style among Dragon-Blooded shikari. Golden Janissary unarmed attacks use sweeping movements, and it is compatible with the spear and the staff. Unarmed attacks enhanced by its Charms can be stunted to deal Lethal, and it is compatible with light armor. Occult and Athletics are both useful for its practitioners, given their hunting of demons and reliance on mobility. It also, finally, defines Creatures of Darkness. A Creature of Darkness is any being the GM determines to be innately a foe of Creation, stalking the dark places of the world. Demons and undead count by default, but the GM is free to include or exclude other beings – a benevolent ancestral ghost might not be a Creature of Darkness, while a horror from the depths of the earth empowered by forbidden gods probably is. There are 8 Charms over 2.5 pages.

Where-Is-Doom Inquisition gives a bonus to Join Battle or detect hidden threats in combat, with a greater bonus based on any 1s rolled by creatures of darkness, though it won’t tell you which foes are creatures of darkness. Solars also get a bonus to move and attack a creature of darkness on the first turn if they win Join Battle. Rotten Leaf Arrested increases Overwhelming and causes a Withering attack to knock its target prone if it does damage, with increased damage against creatures of darkness. Anyone Crashed by this can’t move next turn, and creatures of darkness Crashed this way also can’t attack. Cleansing Flame Strike increases Decisive damage, and causes Aggravated damage and a greater bonus against creatures of darkness. Golden Janissary Form increases soak and gives a bonus to rushes, and also increases Parry and more soak against creatures of darkness, as well as giving bonus Initiative when you land Decisive attacks on them. It can be auto-activated when you land a Decisive attack on a creature of darkness.

Devil-Slaying Spear Dance lets you reflexively rush when you incapacitate a non-trivial foe, with a bonus and it not counting as your movement for the round. It gives bonus Initiative against creatures of darkness. Solars instead instantly teleport to their target and can make a free Decisive attack against them, and can keep doing this as long as they keep taking people out. Paralyzing Combustion Imbuement lets you make a Decisive attack that causes the target to erupt from within with glowing light and the sound of bells, penalizing Stealth like a glowing anima banner and increasing wound penalties. If penalties get high enough, they also can’t Disengage for as long as the light lasts. Creatures of darkness also take Aggravated damage each turn while the light lasts. The light ends when the scene does, or if the victim Crashes or takes you out (or lands a Decisive attack, with the Terrestrial keyword in effect).

Light-on-Dark Shield lets you clash an attack with a Withering attack which has limited damage but also causes Aggravated decisive damage to creatures of darkness, though Terrestrial keyword causes it to count as your attack for the round. Lone Spark Lights the Conflagration lets you make a Decisive attack against anyone glowing from Paralyzing Combustion Imbuement. It makes your weapon glow white-hot and leave afterimages, giving a damage bonus, increased against creatures of darkness. Non-trivial creatures of darkness damaged by this flare with light, causing ghostly bonfires on all creatures of darkness within Medium range of them, which deal small Aggravated damage and afflicts them with the effects of Paralyzing Combustion Imbuement as if they’d been hit with it. It is once per scene with Terrestrial keyword, and Solars can use Devil-Slaying Spear Dance whenever to rush and attack each target caught in the ghostly fires when they KO a creature of darkness with this.

Mantis Style focuses on grappling and rapid blows, seeing no clear distinction between attack and defense. It uses painful joint holds to leave foes unable to fight and deflects blows to leave enemieso pen to attack. Immaculate monks often study the Mantis Style in order to subdue foes without killing, but it is also widely practiced through the East and Southeast in general. Unarmed strikes use three-finger mantis hook strikes, aiming for weak spots, grabbing foes and blocking with them. They also use knee and elbow strikes. Mantis Style is compatible with batons, kamas, nunchaku, seven-section staffs and war fans. Unarmed attacks enhanced by Mantis Charms can be stunted to deal Lethal, and the style is incompatible with any armor whatsoever. It has 9 Charms over 2 pages.

Iron-Arm Block gives a small Parry bonus and causes Onslaught on the attacker if you successfully block. If you are grappling, a successful block also prevents you from losing rounds of control. Solars also do not gain Onslaught themselves if they successfully block. Crushing Claw Technique gives a bonus to a grapple gambit or a Decisive attack, and a bonus to grapple control rolls or Decisive damage. Mantis Form gives a bonus to Parry, and any time you try to block but fail, you get increased soak or Hardness against the attack. You also get a Decisive damage bonus against slower foes and foes you are grappling. You can auto-activate it whenever you win control of a clinch against a non-trivial foe.

Leaping Mantis Technique gives a bonus to rush and lets you move further when the reflexive rush move is triggered. If it brings you into Close range, you can reflexively make a Decisive attack or grapple gambit on the foe with a bonus. If they do not provoke the reflexive move, you can make an unblockable Decisive attack or grapple gambit next turn with a bonus, assuming you are in range to do so. Solars also gain Willpower if their rush and attack succeed. Joint-Locking Technique lets you deal Withering damage when you restrain a foe in a grapple and it doesn’t cost you any rounds of control. Solars can also turn the Initiative they gain from this into extra rounds of control. Grasping Claw Method lets you automatically disarm a foe when you win control of a grapple, and Solars get a bonus to the control roll based on their attack roll’s threshold successes. Grasping Mantis Defense lets you clash an attack at Close range with a grapple gambit, with a bonus to the control roll, but Terrestrial keyword means it counts as your attack for the round. Joint-Breaking Attack lets you savage a foe as a fairly difficult gambit to deal minor Lethal damage and break one of their limbs as a crippling injury. Arms give a penalty on anything requiring both hands, while legs cause the foe to treat all terrain as difficult, and either way they get increased wound penalties for the scene. This can be used reflexively when Joint-Locking Technique Crashes a foe. Terrestrial keyword limits its use to once per scene. Unfolding Retribution Attack can be used once per scene when in control of a grapple and at Initiative 15+. You end the grapple with an unblockable, undodgeable Decisive attack in the form of a flurry of blows, with each round of control given up increasing its damage and onslaught penalty. Terrestrial keyword limits how many rounds of control can do this, and Solars that take out the foe with this get a bonus to their Initiative after resetting to base.

Next time: White Veil Style and Sorcery

I Refuse To Play Along With This Stupid In-Joke

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: I Refuse To Play Along With This Stupid In-Joke

White Veil Style is one of the most irritating things in Exalted to talk about because the way it’s presented has become an in-joke. The text surrounding it is always ‘if White Veil existed, which it doesn’t’ because it’s a secret martial art used by a society of secretive assassins who rely on subtlety and being largely undetected. And this has gone from a minor joke to all-consuming, to the point that it’s not just characters in setting but the out-of-character text and, indeed, the fans that talk about it this way. I refuse to put up with this. It is annoying. White Veil Style is practiced by the White Veil Society, a loose-knit martial arts association of spies and killers in the Realm and beyond. The style has spread over time to those who were willing to pay out the nose to learn it and to rival martial artists who discovered records of its techniques. It is used at dinners, salons and galas to kill people without anyone ever noticing, sometimes silently and sometimes screaming in pain, days or weeks after a brush with a user. White Veil unarmed strikes are precision blows to pressure points, and it also uses garrotes and hand needles. It is not compatible with armor, and it relies heavily on Socialize and Stealth along with its combat abilities. Now, pretend I made a pretense of it not existing and using every sentence to negate its existence and talk about what it would be like if it existed, and you have some idea of how this style, which has become a fan favorite, is discussed. It has 10 Charms over 3 pages.

Birdsong Over Blades lets you conceal your attacks. After you land a Decisive attack, you can choose to make no damage roll and not reset to base; the attack deals no damage, but any poisons on your weapon are applied, as are any Charm effects that don’t directly enhance the damage roll. Onlookers (including the victim) must make an Awareness check to even notice you attacked, and if you attacked from concealment, your stealth is not broken by doing so. Solars cause a penalty to resist the poison or other effects of the strike. Owl Clutches at the Night can be used when you miss with an attack, forcing everyone (even your victim) to have to make an Awareness check to notice you attacked, and if you did so from concealment your stealth isn’t broken as long as no one succeeds. Solars gain a Willpower if no one succeeds. Alehouse Memory Stance lets you relax your demeanor, getting a bonus to a Stealth roll based on your Guile, and as long as no one has witnessed you attack this scene, your roll doesn’t suffer the penalty for trying to enter stealth in combat. White Veil Form gives a bonus to Evasion and Guile, and it removes all penalties for flurrying if your flurry contains at least one Socialize-based action. You can also use Manipulation instead of Dexterity to calculate Evasion or when rolling to withdraw, disengage or enter concealment, and you force enemies to use the lower of Awareness or Socialize when they roll Join Battle in response to your actions. (For example, someone poisoned outside combat has to roll Join Battle; they don’t know they were poisoned but it gives them an Initiative buffer before the poison starts doing actual damage to them.) It can be auto-activated whenever you successfully land a surprise attack on a nontrivial foe.

Blithe Unruffled Plumage gives a bonus to soak or Hardness based on Guile, and if the attack it is used against misses or fails to do any damage, you can conceal it as per Owl Clutches at the Night. Solars can also steal Initiative from their attacker when this happens. Blinded By Laughter lets you, once per scene, attempt an ambush even from plain view of your target by using a Socialize roll with a bonus to represent seeming like you’re just socializing, targeting Resolve. If successful, this is also your Join Battle roll, and if you beat your opponent’s Join Battle, you ambush them as per normal; otherwise it’s just an unexpected attack. Solars get bonus damage on a successful ambush. Tickling the Dragon’s Throat causes your Decisive attack to target a pressure point or weak spot, causing a penalty to Defense and all actions until onslaught wears off, and Solars that max out the penalty can also make onslaught last longer.

The Dragon Dies in Bed lets you make a Decisive attack and apply Birdsong Over Blades to it for free. If it hits, you inflict a supernatural disease named Subtle Mercy. It can kill Exalts, and on top of the normal effects of disease, its Minor symptom causes weariness and lethargy that applies a small fatigue penalty to all rolls unless the victim gets at least 12 hours of sleep per day, and diagnosing the disease is quite difficult. As a Major symptom, the penalty increases cumulatively each day the victim goes without 12+ hours of sleep and they no longer heal damage naturally if they remain active, but the diagnosis gets slightly easier. As a Defining symptom, the victim must now sleep at least 20 hours a day to avoid fatigue penalties and to recover Willpower, but the diagnosis becomes easier again. The Dragon Dies Screaming lets you lace your strike with a very deadly poison once per scene as a Decisive attack. It deals Aggravated damage once the victim Crashes, it lasts a decently long time and it has a pretty hefty penalty, since that’s based on your Manipulation, which is probably very good. Also, using Birdsong Over Blades on this attack is free, and rolls to diagnose the poison are at increased difficulty. You may choose to delay the onset of the poison up to several weeks if you want to, in which case the diagnosis is even harder. The Dragon Succumbs lets you make a Decisive attack against someone who is suffering from a poison or disease, and it’s free to use Birdsong Over Blades on this attack. If you hit, the victim makes a single Resistance check against all disease they currently have; if they fail to beat any disease’s morbidity, that disease gets one step worse immediately, or deals 1 Agg if it was already Defining. The victim also immediately suffers the damage of one interval of a single poison in their system, plus more based on your attack successes; you pick which venom applies if there’s multiple. This does not reduce the poison’s intervals, but it can’t do damage more times than it has intervals remaining. Solars make it so a disease that gets worse from Defining kills the victim after a few turns unless someone who’s diagnosed the disease makes a Medicine roll to save them as a miscellaneous action. The Terrestrial keyword, on the other hand, makes it so this Charm can only be used when you are able to make an ambush.

Sorcery! First, we get several new Shaping Rituals. Student of the Heptagram is the most common form of initiation at the Heptagram, but not the only one; you could be a graduate without it if you wanted.
Merits: Geomantic Prodigy (3): You can add your Occult to a Craft (Architecture or Geomancy) roll once per week due to your practice with sacred geometry. These count as dice from Charms.
Spirit Speaker (1): You are trained to deal with spirits and magical beings. When you roll a social action against such beings or use Resolve or Guile against them, you benefit from any relevant Occult specialties as if they were in the relevant social ability.
Words of Binding (2): You get a bonus to any roll to bind summoned demons or elementals.

Wanasaan Essence is the awakening of sorcerous potential via the ceremonial drowning of the Wanasaan exorcists on the frozen spring of the Silent Isle.
Merits: Eyes in Both Worlds (3): You may perceive dematerialized ghosts as if they were material, because you lingered longer on the edge of death than most.
Breath Without Air (3): You have drowned, and so you cannot do it a second time. You may breathe underwater. If Water Aspect, you ignore minor wound penalties while underwater as you shed the weaknesses of the living.

We also get a bunch of new Terrestrial Circle spells, many of which are elemental in nature. Beckoning That Which Stirs the Skies calls giant chitinous limbs from the sky, which weave the weather to your will with an Occult roll, harder the more severe or weird it is for the region, which controls the area around you for several miles and lasts for several hours. No one can use this spell to change the weather again until the first one ends, and an Occult or Survival roll will reveal the weather as unnatural. As a control spell, you may have the weather follow you as you move if you shorten the duration and shrink the area. Distorting the spell reverses the weather to be equal and opposite to what was intended. Floral Ferry turns a leaf, petal or fruit into a boat that can hold a ton of cargo and comfortably carry up to six people. You name a destination, and if you have even approximate knowledge of its location, the boat will sail as close as it can, using your Occult for any Sail rolls. However, it lacks the intellect to engage in naval combat or pursuit; it’s just a boat. Attempting to sail it normally gives a penalty to go anywhere but the destination, and no matter what, on arrival, once empty, it shrinks back to what it used to be. You can charge it with Essence to harden its hull against damage, leave sticky pollen to penalize people chasing you, or double its speed. As a control spell, you can awaken evocations with the boat. If you distort it, you can pick a new destination it’ll try to reach instead.

Impervious Sphere of Water calls forth a dome of water around you out to Short range to protect you and your allies. Anyone within can breathe it as easily as air, and while it is translucent, it provides full cover against attacks from outside to in and vice versa. Moving into or out of it requires an Athletics roll, and if you move or take any non-reflexive action, the spell ends and the sphere collapses into normal (and drinkable) water. As a control spell, you can move without ending it, and it moves with you but doesn’t drag anyone in it along. Distortion makes the water non-breathable, and it no longer provides full cover against attacks from outside (but still does from inside), and you can get in (but not out) without a roll. Also, the dome remains in place even if the caster does stuff that would end the spell early. Keel Cleaves the Clouds allows a ship to sail on mist, fog and other such vapors as if they were water, ascending vertically until it reaches the surface of such vapors. With sufficient mist it can even reach the clouds. It can’t get Speed from oars or currents while airborne, however. If it runs out of mist or the spell ends, it descends and lands harmlessly on whatever is below it. As a control spell, you are surrounded by mists at all times unless you will them away actively, and you can walk on mist or fog as if it were solid but difficult terrain. Distorted, the spell envelops the ship in a thick cloud, making it nearly impossible to see outward and penalizing Sail checks as well as preventing anyone from noticing when the supporting mist might be running out.

Sculpted Seafoam Eidolon lets you shape foam and watery reflections into a lifelike, convincing replica of a person, animal up to the size of a horse or object up to the size of a wagon, rolling Occult to determine the quality of the illusion. It moves normally, can use simple speech and has scent, body heat and other appropriate sensory qualia, but cannot do anything that’d need a roll. While you are present you may direct its actions, but if you go more than Long range away, it reverts to realistic but uncomplicated patterns of default behavior. An Awareness check can determine it is false, and touching the water-eidolon gives a bonus to such a roll. Reading its intentions can also reveal this. As a control spell, you can make multiple illusions with one casting. Distortion takes control of the illusion away from the original caster. Spoke the Wooden Face lets you go into a trance and project yourself into a tree that has your face carved into it, which you have prepared beforehand. You may see and speak through the face regardless of distance, and can make Perception checks and influence rolls through it, but cannot boost them with Charms. You can sense nothing through your own body nor take actions with it unless you end the spell early, and taking damage automatically ends it. While you aren’t speaking, your presence cannot be detected without magic, but if the face is destroyed you can’t use it any more. As a control spell, you can project into multiple faces at once. Distorting this requires being near the tree and it makes the face blind, deaf and mute, causing the caster to lose 1 Willpower due to total sensory deprivation.

Stalwart Earth Guardian lets you draw a geometric figure in the soil or draw it in chalk on stone over a few minutes, warding yourself and your allies. The figure spreads out to Close range from its center. Anyone within gets a bonus to Defense and Resolve against attacks from outside, and anyone not in the ward but within Medium range suffers a low-damage environmental hazard as the earth itself turns against them, and anyone that takes damage from it in a round also treats it as difficult terrain. Also, it increases the mobility penalty of anyone in it and causes enough noise to awaken anyone sleeping in the ward if someone triggers the attack. As a control spell, you smell of plowed soil and clay and can use your fingernails to etch stone. Distorted, the spell inverts itself, causing its hazard within the ward and nothing outside it. Thunder Wolf Howl calls forth the echo of an ancient, slain behemoth, summoning the winds. You pick a point within Medium range to be the center of a massive thunderclap that extends out to Short range, forcing anyone within it to make a Resistance roll, which battle groups get a penalty to. Anyone that fails takes some Decisive bashing damage and you reset to base. Anyone that takes damage is deafened until they get medical treatment and gets a crippling penalty based on the 10s in the damage roll for the next few turns. Fragile objects of wood, glass or similar may break. As a control spell, you get increased difficulty to resist and increased damage, and when you are overcome by strong emotion, your voice booms and echoes like distant thunder.

Unslakable Thirst of the Devil-Maw opens a horrific gaping mouth on your hand, with tourmaline fangs and a green tongue. It leeches water from the air and anything living you point it at, making an unblockable, Dccult-based Decisive attack against everyone in a 90 degree arc out to Medium range, which battle groups also can’t dodge, and which deals relatively small but Aggravated damage. Any foe without body moisture, like a skeleton or fire elemental, is immune, while enemies made of liquid, like most water elementals, take extra damage. Trivial plant life in range is utterly desiccated and dies. The moisture is siphoned into a sphere of solid water that floats over your hand for a few minutes, which you may put in a container or use however you like. Even without victims, you can still gather water from the environment this way in all but the most arid place. As a control spell, you have the mouth on your hand permanently, allowing unarmed attacks with that hand to deal Aggravated damage and have the Piercing tag against foes with body moisture, as it drains through armor, and making your unarmed attacks do extra damage to water elementals and similar. Viridian Guardian of the Flame pulls a flaming sword from your heart, then shapes it into a fiery sentinel to guard you, collapsing it into a will-o-the-wisp, which you may conceal by ordering it into a lit torch or lantern. If you are attacked, it turns back into a sword and protects you with Defend Other, and it can even detect threats you don’t notice, with its defenses and abilities based on your stats. Any wooden projectile or weapon it successfully blocks burns to ash, and if it parries unarmed or natural attacks, the attacker takes minor damage. No matter what, its flames increase your soak against any attack that isn’t unblockable. In battle, it uses your Join Battle result to determine its Initiative and can take no actions of its own, just defend you – its Initiative is just there to tank Withering attacks. If it is Crashed, it vanishes for a scene and reforms after. If its health track is filled with damage, it is destroyed and cannot be resummoned until the spell ends. As a Control spell, you can awaken Evocations with the sword, which might enhance its defenses or let it be used offensively. Distorted, the sword’s protection is stolen for a scene by whoever distorts it.

Next time: Artifacts of the Realm

Family Heirlooms

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Family Heirlooms

Calumny is a 3-dot green jade wrackstaff. Two centuries ago, the thief known as Artful Tanuki maddened the Great Houses. Hidden by her signature mask, she stole the rarest treasures and most forbidden secrets, selling them to anyone that would pay and spreading chaos in the Dynasty. Peasants and Dynasts alike speculated about her skill and motives, and magistrates and assassins sought her head, but after years of infamy, she just vanished. It was then her real work began. Behind the mask, no one knew her for what she was – a daughter of the Cynis, who used her stolen secrets to begin a career in politics. Many spoke of her insolent tanuki mask, but few recalled her staff. It is an unassuming length of bamboo cut from the slopes of the Imperial Mountain, banded with green-and-brown speckled jade. It has since been passed down through generations of Cynis blackmailers, offering up its secrets to those that can keep it glutted on them. It has a single hearthstone slot.

Calumny can be collapsed into a six-inch-long jade-tipped rod, gaining the Concealable tag while it’s small, or extended to its full length again, both reflexively. It also eats secrets. The intensity of a secret is the same as the level of task that would be required to persuade someone to reveal it – inconvenient, serious or life-changing. A secret may gain or lose intensity due to circumstances, such as if it is widely revealed.

Rustling Grapevine Whispers cannot be purchased with XP. It awakens for free when you whisper a serious or life-changing secret of your own to Calumny, or an inconvenient secret if you’re a Cynis. It may be used whenever you hit or touch someone with Calumny, causing it to vibrate with secrets, whispering a one- or two-word clue to the target’s most potent or immediately relevant secret to you, decided by the GM. This gives you a bonus to any read intentions or profile character roll to uncover the secret, and only you can hear it. If resonant, this can be used at Short range by using shared contact with plant life, such as vines, tall grass or a tree rather than direct contact. Unassuming Ornament Camouflage allows you to use the DB Charm Naked Thief Style while Calumny is collapsed to conceal it as a small mundane object without a roll, rendering it totally undetectable by any means short of Eye of the Unconquered Sun or similar. Salon-Spider Entrapment lets you bind someone in their secrets if you hit them with a Withering attack, forcing them to pay 1 Initiative to take a movement or combat action until their next turn, and if resonant they can’t take movement actions at all if Crashed. If you know their secrets, you can keep smacking them each turn to maintain the binding but raise the Initiative cost by 1 each time, capped based on how strong the secret you know is.

Swallowtail’s Grace can be used when you parry an attack by an enemy whose secrets you know, letting you make a Decisive or Withering counterattack with a bonus based on the secret’s power. If resonant, you can instead make an influence roll leveraging one of their secrets and steal their Initiative on top of its normal effects. The ultimate power is Ripened Bitter Fruit cannot be learned if dissonant and can only be used once per day. You must know one of your opponent’s secrets, which you whisper to Calumny as you make a Decisive attack, which then poisons them if it hits, with the poison being stronger based on the secret’s power. Anyone poisoned this way cannot speak above a whisper while it’s in their system, and anyone killed by it has their heart grow hard and black, like a fruit-stone. Whatever secret you use as a poison can no longer be used to power any of Calumny’s Evocations.

Daring Venture is a 3-dot green jade powerbow. When V’neef was young, she loved to explore the hills and forests of the Dragon’s Blanket, which intrigued her more than her studies. Despite her tutors’ best efforts, she would often vanish for days on end, returning covered in dirt, smiling and ready to talk about what she’d found for ages. Her father recognized this curiosity as useful, a seed of wisdom, and so he had the bow made as a gift for her 14th birthday, to protect her on her travels. At 17, during one of her explorations, she discovered a great wolf, made giant by some ancient magic and wounded by a hunter’s lance. While it snarled and snapped at her, she calmed it by plucking out notes on Daring Venture’s string, then tended to its wounds and won its affection. She named the wolf Hundred Rivers, and he has been tied to Daring Venture’s legend ever since. The bow is a tall, slender thing of opaque emerald jade, etched with scenes of wild splendor that shift to reflect the wielder’s recent journeys. It craves exploration of the wild lands and the sight of new vistas, and its Evocations reflect this, rewarding discovery with power and access to Hundred Rivers’ aid. V’neef, now a matriarch, has little time for youthful adventure, though she still enjoys occasional trips of exploration. She gives her bow out to young scions with kindred spirits to her own, charging them to go forth and discover the House’s future.

Daring Venture gives a bonus to Survival rolls to navigate unfamiliar terrain. Also, any Dragon-Blood of House V’neef gains its first Evocation free: Song of Sunlit Dreams, which gives a bonus to Performance or Presence rolls to influence wild beasts and to Medicine rolls, as the bowstring vibrates with V’neef’s legend. If resonant, it can also be used reflexively to enhance any action taken by an animal familiar or to boost its defenses, but doesn’t stack with any other familiar-boosts. Seeker’s Heart Intuition can be used to seek guidance into the unknown. If you seek an unknown location you can name, like a town or natural feature, the bow tells you what direction it’s in relative to you. If you want novelty and the unknown, it will point you instead towards an undiscovered or forgotten place of significance or power. If resonant, once per week this Charm also gives you 1 Willpower that can only be spent to activate Ride, Sail or Survival charms being used to help go in the indicated direction.

Beckon the Wandering Wolf causes you to gain Hundred Rivers as your familiar when you learn it, and when activated it causes him to be called to your location. He will travel there, no matter the distance, as fast as he is able. If resonant, he counts as one of your Sworn Kin at all times. Wolf-and-Dragon Bond upgrades the DB Charm Mother-of-Beasts Mastery, reducing the time required to use it to train Hundred Rivers and removing the XP cost to awaken his magical abilities, refunding any already spent before you learned it. It cannot be bought with XP, however – it awakens for free when you risk your life or undertake great hardship to defend, heal or help Hundred Rivers. The ultimate power is Packmate Devotion, which cannot be bought with XP; instead, it is gained free when Hundred Rivers’ Tie towards you reaches Defining. Any influence that would cause Hundred Rivers to alter or weaken this Tie becomes unacceptable to him, and he will only ever weaken it at the end of a session if you betray him outright. He gains Initiative whenever he witnesses you take Decisive damage.

Hundred Rivers has a page to himself because he’s a fucking powerful wolf. He begins with a Minor Tie of kinship to you when you first summon him, and at the end of any session he has a positive experience with you in, this goes up one step. At the end of any session in which he has a negative experience with you that he thinks is your fault, it goes down one step and he heads off into the wilderness to be alone for a while, and you can’t summon him again via Beckon the Wandering Wolf until a week passes. He yearns to explore Creation, and he refuses to enter buildings. He also doesn’t like paved surfaces, and he loves sweet citrus. He is exceptionally tough and fast, will allow anyone he has a Major Tie to ride him, is super strong and good at tracking, and can be trained in any latent or magical abilities a wolf possesses. He’s pretty good at keeping people from moving away from him, he considers his master and any Sworn Kin they have to be his pack and his attacks get better when they’re nearby, and he’s a really good sniffer. Anyone who sees you and your companions in his presence is considered to have a Minor Tie towards you, with its context based on how they view the giant wolf of legend – positive if they marvel at him or are impressed, say, or negative if they find him a distasteful and savage beast. Also, he gives a bonus to any Survival rolls to track people or to find food, water or shelter.

Faith’s Pillar is a 3-dot white jade grand goremaul – a giant fuckoff hammer, remember. Mnemon Beral, son of Mnemon herself, set the House standard for proselytizing. He traveled across Creation, and when he had been to each Direction, he went underground, to the secretive cities of the non-human Mountain Folk. The Jadeborn, as they are also called, do not speak of their religion much with the Dynasty, but they always speak of Beral with complete and total respect. He never returned home from that final trip, however. Instead, the goremaul did. The Mountain Folk had carved it as a symbol of their respect for his wisdom and his courage against the unholy monsters of the depths, and he wielded it in battle alongside their warriors. When he died defending one of the Mountain Folk subterranean cities, the Jadeborn gifted the weapon to House Mnemon. It is a glittering white obelisk made in representation of the Imperial Mountain, with symbols of each Direction on its faces. At the end of its long haft, the pommel bears the symbol of the Center, representing the mountain’s deep roots. The Pillar is traditionally wielded by monks of House Mnemon, who consecrate it using a Mountain Folk dedication ceremony known to the House’s savants. It has a single hearthstone slot.

On attunement, the wielder chooses a Principle of religious belief or social order to dedicate the Pillar to, giving a bonus to Resolve against influence that opposes this Principle. The Principle chosen may be shifted once per story via a ritual rededication. The first Evocation is gained free by a Dragon-Blood from House Mnemon after the first dedication ceremony: Faith Maintains, which lets you consecrate the ground you stand on. As long as you do not move from that point, you get a bonus to soak based on the strength of the Principle and a bonus to Hardness. Dragons Provide lets you draw the goremaul through earth, loose stones or even solid rock to draw them into a boulder that serves as the hammer’s head. This increases Withering damage based on the strength of the Principle, and can be forced to end early by a gambit targeting it. If resonant, it also removes the Initiative cost of smashing attacks with the hammer. Orison of Thunder is gained free when you join battle against a nontrivial foe that has violated the Principle the Pillar is dedicated to. It channels Earth Essence into a Decisive attack, causing a resounding boom. If the target is hit, they are deafened to everything but your voice for several rounds, and get a penalty to Resolve against you. You may choose to end this Dragons Provide when you activate Orison of Thunder to explosively detonate the boulder formed by Dragons Provide, getting a bonus to damage.

Foundations of Sand can be used when attacked from Close range by a foe standing on earth or stone. If you successfully parry, the attacker is sucked into the ground up to their waist, suffering the effects of being prone and requiring an Athletics roll to get free as move action. You may choose to end Dragons Provide on a successful parry boosted by this Charm to instead shatter the surface the attacker stands on, earthen or otherwise, and make a hole one range band deep, which they fall into if they fail an Athletics roll to catch the edge. If the attacker defied the Principle the Pillar is dedicated to and stands on ground consecrated by Faith Maintains, the difficulty to get free or catch the edge goes up based on the Principle’s strength. Iniquity’s Reward causes a penalty to Disengage from you, and if resonant and standing on ground consecrated by Faith Maintains, causes additional Initiative loss for disengaging. The ultimate is Pasiap’s Gentle Embrace cannot be learned if dissonant, and can be used once per day immediately after Crashing a foe. You pray for earth and stone to entomb the fallen, reflexively rolling a moderately difficult gambit. Success seals the victim in a lightless, airless tomb of rock in which they cannot move at all. Shattering it requires a moderate feat of strength, made harder if the victim violated the Pillar’s dedicated Principle. Outside combat, such a roll takes 20 seconds, which is notable because there’s no air so the victim is asphyxiating. Ghosts, demons and other creatures of darkness suffocate and die as if mortal, sending ghosts into Lethe and destroying other beings permanently, except for Yozis, Deathlords and other very potent beings. More wholesome spirits reform, if able, but are sealed in the tomb until freed. If resonant, you can use this without a gambit when you kill a spirit with a Decisive attack, sealing them in automatically. (Which is when a non-creature of darkness would reform locked in the tomb and the creature of darkness would die forever.)

Next time: Heavenly Typhoon, Pyre of Legions, Sea’s Verdict

True Lies

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: True Lies

Heavenly Typhoon is a 3-dot blue jade infinite chakram. Many Dynasts know of it, but few know its true legend. The common story among House Ledaal is that it was made in the ancient past by a Dragon-Blood who wielded it against the Anathema. It is said this ancient crafter was inspired by a summer gale and so made it to cut down the unjust like thunderbolts, as a storm tears down trees. The truth is more complicated. The Typhoon dates back to the First Age, when the Solar Sees-in-Shadow made it for her spymaster and occasional lover, the Dragon-Blood named Rising Storm. Together, they hunted out plotters, corruption and infernalist blasphemers. Rising Storm passed her drive for justice to her children, and during the Usurpation, her granddaughter used the weapon to slay its creator, Sees-in-Shadow, who had grown wicked in the centuries since Rising Storm’s death. It cost her life to do it, but she managed to kill the Solar. Over a thousand years later, the chakram was discovered by a distant descendant of the line and member of House Ledaal, drawn to it by the power of the lineage and its legacy of Anathema-slaying. The chakram is made of cloudy, marbled blue jade with orichalcum inlay resembling a thunderbolt from one angle and a pattern of bared dragon fangs from another. It has a single hearthstone slot.

Those that attune to it get the first Evocation free: Righteous Enemy-Slaying Strike, which causes the golden etchings to glow when activated on a Decisive attack. An enemy struck by it is marked as condemned permanently. This can only be revoked by the wielder, but new wielders get no benefit from past wielders’ condemnations. Heavenly Typhoon has increased Withering damage against condemned foes. If resonant, this is free to use on creatures of darkness. Storm-Shield Bulwark upgrades the DB Charm Seed and Salt Warding, allowing the line to be drawn with the chakram’s edge as an Air Aspect Charm, creating a line of rippling air pressure that affects both undead and the condemned. This is gained free by members of House Ledaal. Demon-Slaying Zealot’s Mantra can be used once per scene when a condemned target attacks you. It causes a ring of gold script to surround them, causing fear and despair as you make a Withering counterattack. If it does enough damage, the attacker’s Hardness is set to 0 against attacks from Heavenly Typhoon for the rest of the scene.

Searing Wind-Razor Bolt lets you make a Decisive attack against a condemned foe of lower Initiative with lightning trailing after the Typhoon, getting a bonus to damage based on how much faster than them you are. If resonant, you also knock them back a range band if you do any damage. Standing in the Storm’s Eye upgrades the DB Charm Hundred Devils Whirlwind, causing it to affect condemned foe as if they were dematerialized spirits. The ultimate is Ten Thousand Typhoon Burst, which can’t be learned if dissonant and can be used once per scene. It makes the Typhoon roar like a whirlwind, splitting into a dozen afterimages of cutting Essence. You make a Withering attack against a condemned foe, and also apply it to every condemned foe within Short range of them. You only roll damage against the original target; all others lose Initiative based on the number of 10s rolled for that, and you are limited in how much Initiative you can gain from them. If resonant, you gain Willpower if at least one enemy is Crashed by this.

Pyre of Legions is a 3-dot red jade grand daiklave (recall: giant fucking sword). Its original wielder, Cathak Falu, was not beloved by her comrades or commanders in the Cathak legions. She was an adequate officer but not exceptional, unequal to any of her fellow Dragon-Bloods regardless of how much she studied or trained. This could be forgivable, but she was also lacking in social skills, standoffish and taciturn, prone to brooding. She was most in her element in battle, and she spent most of her time isolated from her legion. Her fellow Dynasts often wondered why she’d not been quietly married off and never spoken of again, and rarely cared if she heard them do so. At the Rainbow Scales, however, she won the admiration of her entire House. Cathak Falu died that die, defeating the entire invading vanguard. Her blade was recovered from boiling river that had been the Rainbow Scales, and Cathak Falu is today celebrated as the pinnacle of a soldier’s virtue. Cathak elders show Pyre of Legions to young heirs in its resting place within her tomb, her burning handprint still visible upon the hilt. It has two hearthstone slots.

Falu’s desperate final thoughts were burned into Pyre of Legions when she died, carved into the burning jade itself. Any who wield it feel these emotions as their own, gaining a Defining Principle of “I will give anything to protect my comrades” which cannot be weakened or altered while attuned. Members of House Cathak also get the first Evocation free: Loyalty-Kindling Warmth gives a bonus to damage against battle groups, and if resonant you can pay extra to use it against slower individual foes. All-Consuming Guardian Stance causes flames to leap from the sword to protect your allies, allowing you to Defend Other from Medium range, and if used with the DB Charm Flame Warden Stance, extends that Charm’s range to Medium, too. If resonant, it also gives +1 Parry when defending someone against attacks from battle groups. Army-Routing Aegis lets you take a bit of Aggravated damage to explode into a bonfire of flame that extends out to Short range around you and moves with you, lasting until next turn. It is an environmental hazard but you take no damage from it, and if you used it last turn, you reduce the cost to use it this turn. If resonant, the fire deals more damage.

Unstoppable Heart-Stoking Incandescence reduces the cost of your War Charms based on your wound penalties; if you don’t use Ability Charms, the discount applies to any Charms related to leading battle groups or defeating enemy strategies. (Mostly this is Lunars and probably Liminals.) Somber Pyre Conflagration is gained free if you aren’t dissonant when you uphold a Major or Defining Tie of Loyalty when confronting a significant threat alone. You burn away your anima banner and take some Aggravated damage, leaving behind a towering inferno visible for miles. For the rest of the scene, battle groups don’t add their Size to attack or damage rolls against you and treat you as if you were a battle group with Size based on the higher of your Strength and Essence to determine if they can pass you without disengaging. Further, you no longer pay any health levels to use Army-Routing Aegis while this is active. The ultimate is Ashes Feed the Seeds, which cannot be bought with XP. It is gained free when you are dropped to a -4 health level while upholding the innate Principle of the Pyre. It may only be used once per story, and it has no cost. For the rest of the scene once used, you ignore all wound penalties, you can spend Willpower instead of health levels on any Evocations for Pyre of Legions, and you are considered to have a -4 wound penalty for purposes of Unstoppable Heart-Stoking Incandescence.

Sea’s Verdict is a 3-dot black jade longfang (read: trident). When the wheel-priests of Zumachi sacrificed to the Vortex of Scales, they were begging him to wreck an incoming Peleps tribute ship. He did, and they assumed they’d won a few months respite safely. An hour later, they were proven wrong, as Peleps Lirel stalked out of the waves, dragging the elemental’s serpentine carcass with her. Soaked and glaring, she recited a list of charges as the three head priests threw themselves down at her feet, begging for mercy. They promised her anything she desired, and the young judge dragged all three up to the secret jade monolith on which they sacrificed their youths. She bound them with silver chains of devotion and she waited for the tide to come in. The final judgment she submitted to House Peleps added the charge ‘attempted bribery.’ The sacrificial stone was dismantled to build Sea’s Verdict, a jet-black trident engraved with silver serpents and capped in prongs of moonsilver. It has been wielded by poets and pirate-hunters alike, facing off against the Lintha, desert bandits and many other evildoers. To those that understand its use, it is a reminder that the romance of the sea is a pleasant illusion, and its spirit remains unmoved by the pleas for mercy from those it condemns and brings to justice. Its victims, even if innocent, are mere drops of blood in a great black sea, and the sea returns only one verdict. It has two hearthstone slots.

Sea’s Verdict has an anima banner of its own, which increases one level whenever the wielder spends at least 5 peripheral motes on Charms or Evocations to enhance a single attack or parry using it. As the anima intensifies, the silver engravings writhe and dissolve like broken chains, and the jade itself starts to crack, expand, rumble and leak or spray dark water. When its anima reaches Burning, it gains the Smashing tag. At Bonfire, its wielder no longer has to pay an Initiative cost for smash attacks with it. Its first Evocation is gained free when wielded by a Dragon-Blood from House Peleps.

From the Depths upgrades the DB Charm Elemental Sheath. Whenever Sea’s Verdict is called forth from a large body of open water, it enters the scene at Glowing anima. Further, when you are in Water Aura, its anima can be spent in place of yours to pay for your Charms. Kraken’s Gavel can only be used when Sea’s Verdict is at Burning or higher. It hurls the pressure of the sea at foes, letting you make a Decisive or Withering smash attack with no Defense penalty. If it hits, all other foes at Close range must roll Athletics or be knocked back one range band. Hull-Breaching Tsunami Swipe lets you unleash a wave of force when attacking, reflexively also rolling a feat of demolition with a bonus based on Sea’s Verdict’s anima level to destroy an object in the foe’s range band that isn’t being carried, which can reduce cover (even full cover) before the attack resolves. If resonant, Sea’s Verdict’s anima also gives a bonus to your Strength for purposes of what feats of demolition you can attempt. Lost Blade Riptide can only be used once per scene if dissonant. It causes the trident’s prongs to spin and twist, firing a whirl of black water as you make Decisive attack. If an enemy tries to parry your attack, you first get to reflexively make a disarm gambit with no Initiative cost, and if they are disarmed they can’t parry your attack.

Awaken the Tide awakens the dark ocean within the trident. While Sea’s Verdict has at least Glowing anima, enemies in Close range are slowed as if moving through difficult terrain if they’re slower than you. At Burning or higher, the difficult terrain penalty also applies to rising from prone, as the pressure of the sea holds them down. At bonfire, the penalty rises to -4. Gaol Without Fathom causes the air to flicker and massive pressure to build as you slam the trident to the ground, fraying its chains. You roll a Decisive attack against all foes in close range, but don’t roll normal damage. You may pay 2 Initiative per enemy hit to knock them prone and grapple them automatically, pinning them down with spiritual pressure. There is no Initiative cost to do this to already prone foes. Each victim rolls for control separately against your attack roll. You may only restrain them, and as long as they are grappled, they are kept prone and rendered mute, deaf and blind by the sea’s depths. While Sea’s Verdict is at bonfire, restrain actions cost only one round of control. You lose no rounds of control for being attacked or damaged, but a grappled foe may spend a round doing nothing but struggling free to remove two rounds of control.

The ultimate is Thunder of the Abyss. When this is used, black water sprays from every crack in the trident, swirling around you in a great maelstrom that you can collapse into a hammer by dissolving its silver prongs. When you do this, you end Gaol Without Fathom by making a Decisive slam on all grappled foes, dividing your Initiative between them for damage and ignoring Hardness. You get no bonus for remaining rounds of control. Instead, you may expend one level of Sea’s Verdict’s anima for each round you’ve maintained the clinch, dealing that much Bashing damage to each victim on top of the attack. Those killed by this attack vanish, later to wash up as water-bloated flotsam on a distant shore. The trident reforms once this has been used, its silvery chains wrapping it as tightly as possible. Its anima resets to dim and cannot go above this for the rest of the scene.

Next time: Smiling Razors, Vengeant, Horizon Cleaver

Revenge Claw

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Revenge Claw

Smiling Razors is a 3-dot pair of red jade short daiklaves. Sesus Kalama, the Grinning Wicked Flame, received them as a gift from the Empress herself in recognition of exceptional service to the Immaculate Order. She wielded them in many Wyld Hunts, stalking and killing Anathema as a flickering, deadly shadow that left terrible, burning wounds. She loved the Hunt, but she grew discontent with life as a monk, and she publicly spoke out against the Order, using her anima to burn off her robes and profane an Immaculate altar of offerings. She declared herself a force against those who clung to order and tradition, publicly challenging monks to duels to demonstrate the fallibility of the Immaculate Texts and seducing Dynasts to apostasy. The Order declared her Anathema, and a Wyld Hunt was sent after her, led by her cousin, Sesus Bajo. Kalama was ferocious, maiming many of the shikari sent after her, but in the end, she died. Her death was made an object lesson to young Dragon-Bloods about the dangers of heresy, and the flame-devil remains as a threat whispered to rebellious young people and disobedient children. Bajo retrieved the Smiling Razors from her corpse to return them to the House. The cruel blades were unsuited to his temperament, but he made a show of publicly wielding them to cleanse them of the stain of blasphemy. Once the House’s reputation was deemed repaired, the Razors were turned over to the vaults. The Masked Council selects wielders for them, reforging the Grinning Wicked Flame’s legacy into one more suited to their spycraft. They have two hearthstone slots.

Surprise attacks made with the Smiling Razors get a bonus to the attack roll. The first Evocation is gained free by DBs of House Sesus: Still-Burning Ember Ambush gives a bonus to establishing concealment in combat. If resonant, any surprise attack made on the turn after entering concealment with this Charm gets a bonus. Coiling-Smoke-Plume Deception upgrades the DB Charm Vanishing Wind-Body Technique, allowing it to be used as a Fire Charm to make you immune to detection via body heat rather than air movement, with enhanced benefits in Fire Aura rather than Air Aura. Inviting Fireside Distraction upgrades the DB Charm Rose-Among-Thorns Distinction, allowing it to be used as a Fire Charm to gain a specialty in a non-criminal organization you are targeting for infiltration, theft, assassination or similar uses of Larceny and Stealth.

Searing Pain Infliction Tactic causes smoke and coiling flame to roll across the Razors’ blades. To use it, you must be in concealment, and you make a Decisive attack against someone who can’t perceive you. If it does enough damage to increase their wound penalties, their wound penalties double for the rest of the scene. If resonant, this lasts until they’re healed of at least one level of Lethal damage after the scene ends. Soul-Burning Mark lets you make a Withering attack against a target as the blades glow with heat. If it deals enough damage, it brands them with a mark that lasts until the scene ends, with a maximum number of marks on any one victim based on your Essence. Decisive attacks with the Smiling Razors get a bonus for each mark a target has. If resonant, you automatically cause a mark when you hit with an unexpected attack using this, regardless of damage. The ultimate is Drifting Smoke-Cloud Passage, which can’t be bought with XP. Instead, you get it when you kill a non-trivial foe from ambush. It can’t be learned if dissonant. Once per day, you can turn your body into drifting smoke, passing through any space that smoke could get through in a single move action on your turn and ignoring all difficult terrain and environmental penalties. If you’re in concealment, you do not need to make another Stealth roll as long as you end your movement in concealment, and you can even rush while in concealment.

Vengeant is a set of 3-dot black jade razor claws. It is made of reforged ancestral blades of the Iselsi. Part of it is Petal Glider, the vanity-driven daiklave that defeated the Grass Dancer at the Battle of Three Crossings in the name of friendship with foreign merchants. Part of it is Crow’s Friend, which defeated the Gutter Water Gang, giving the Iselsi an opening to get involved in Nexus. Part of it is Amara, which cut open the cheek of Sesus in revenge for a now-forgotten night of adultery. But all that remains now is Vengeant. Many of the ancestral Iselsi blades were destroyed by the Empress as punishment for the Iselsi plot against her, and she had fragments of each forged into this new weapon, to remind the Iselsi of her mercy and the existence she had forced on them. They have taken the lesson well. They built dynasties with their old blades, but Vengeant ends them. It has two hearthstone slots.

Vengeant remembers those who have wronged its wielder – and their descendants. The wielder can focus the killing spite of the weapon against a specific person or group, marking them as despised, after one of two things happens. First, you can reveal your identity and hatred to the object of a negative Tie to mark someone as despised, or if you are of House Iselsi, you can discover that someone or their ancestors has wronged House Iselsi and mark them. Vengeant gets a bonus to Overwhelming against despised foes. Marking someone as despised lasts indefinitely, until they are either destroyed or you rededicate Vengeant to a new despised person or group.

Still Waters Hide Fury can be used once per scene while you are in concealment. You pick a target unaware of you. At the start of each turn, you roll Stealth against their Awareness, gaining Initiative if you win, but you get a cumulative penalty each round after the first. If you fail, the target detects you via Vengeant’s killing intent. This ends when you are detected by the target or leave concealment. If you make a Decisive attack against anyone other than your target, all gained Initiative is lost. If resonant, you reduce the cost to use this if you have a Major or Defining Intimacy that’d be furthered by killing the target. Ember-Smothering Convolution gives a bonus to rush someone you have a negative Tie to, and you gain Initiative if you succeed. If resonant, you can pay a mote to make this Charm last all scene against a despised foe, enhancing all rushes made against them. This can be used multiple times, each time against a different despised foe. Earth-Eroding Tactic can only be used if you’ve used Still Waters Hide Fury against your target this scene, and enhanced a Decisive attack. If it hits, the victim’s onslaught penalty does not refresh at the start of their turn for several turns based on how long you surveilled them with Still Waters Hide Fury. If resonant, your Decisive attacks with Vengeant ignore the victim’s Hardness until their onslaught penalty refreshes, as long as they are despised.

Breath-Denying Vengeance Current fills the victim’s lungs with black bile made from hateful Essence as a gambit. If successful, they start asphyxiating until they make a Resistance roll to clear the blockage as a miscellaneous action, which may take a few tries. If resonant, against a despised foe the gambit also gives you a bonus to oppose their disengage checks until they clear the blockage. Drink the Lesser Seas can only be used once per scene while you’re in concealment. You make a Decisive attack against a foe unaware of you with a bonus to damage due to Vengeant drinking the fluids in the target’s flesh. If resonant, the bonus increases against despised foes. Hundred-Generation Forest Desecration can only be used once per story and can’t be learned if dissonant. When you use Still Waters Hide Fury against a despised target that you’ve interacted socially with in a prior scene, you can pay extra to treat each such scene as a turn studying them from concealment, making only a single Stealth roll for all of them but gaining Initiative for each one, and failure doesn’t reveal your presence on this roll. The ultimate is Dragon-Shattering Restitution, which can’t be bought with XP, or learned if dissonant. It is gained free (and can be used for free) when you slay a despised foe you have a Major or Defining negative tie towards, as long as they are aware of your presence and your Intimacy. You may only use this when you kill a despised foe, leaving them as a reminder of the hate of the Iselsi. Relatives and Sworn Kin of the victim that discover the body must roll Integrity. On a failure, they form a Minor Tie of horror towards House Iselsi that cannot be weakened or altered until the story ends. If they already had one or a related Intimacy, it is instead strengthened and protected in the same way for the story.

Horizon Cleaver is a 4-dot blue jade grand grimcleaver (read: giant axe). When the Dragon-Bloods and Sidereals overthrew the Solars in the Usurpation, their fury stirred the heavens into great storms. Inspired by the strife and chaos, the Sidereal Echo Gyre forged this massive battle axe to honor those storms, giving it to her trusted lieutenant, Ashen Tiger. The haft is a six-foot rod of blue jade wrapped in black rubber and braided steel. The blades resemble a jagged moon, with inlays of red jade in the form of poetry extolling the virtues of the Usurpation. The axe hums even at rest and in battle it is wreathed in blue lightning, requiring intense discipline to be properly directed. Ashen Tiger carried Horizon Cleaver as she led her forces against the Lunars, and her daughter, Song of Ivory, used it to raze a rebel city. It was wielded by one of Tepet’s sisters in the ill-fated siege of the Imperial City, and she took the axe with her when she joined House Tepet. Its most recent wielder, Dragonlord Tepet Yasenar, died in the campaign against the Bull of the North. It is unclear where the axe ended up – some say it sank into the White Sea, others that it was seized by the Bull, and others say that Yasenar’s daughter Tepet Mareja now carries it in hopes of regaining the Tepet glories. It has two hearthstone slots.

Horizon Cleaver gets a bonus to chopping attacks due to its constant lightning. Any unattuned character that draws it from its ebony case becomes thunderstruck as per its first Evocation for the rest of the scene. Any Dragon-Blooded member of House Tepet gains the first Evocation free: Brilliant Reproach, which unleashes the lightning as a Decisive attack. If it deals damage, the victim also loses Initiative (but you don’t gain it) and they become thunderstruck for the scene, getting a penalty to all physical actions. However, if you roll too many 1s and 2s, you lose control of Horizon Cleaver and the attack is redirected at a random target in range, which can include you or your allies. If resonant and you have a Principle reflecting a code of honor, you can roll more 1s and 2s without losing control based on the Intimacy’s strength. Arcing Death Stance lets you pay extra when using Brilliant Reproach to extend its range to Short, which also extends the range of possible targets if you fuck up. If resonant, at Essence 3 you can extend it to Medium and at 4 you can extend it to Long at additional costs each time.

On Wings of Deadly Lightning can be used on your turn to reflexively rush a thunderstruck target within Long range. On a success, you instantly teleport to Close range of them without crossing the intervening space, and if you use Brilliant Reproach to attack them, you get a bonus to its roll. Intemperate Tempest Fusillade cannot be learned if dissonant, and it lets you pay extra when using Brilliant Reproach to apply your Decisive attack roll to several enemies in range, dividing Initiative between them for damage and ignoring Hardness. If you lose control of the lightning, it hits multiple randomly chosen targets. The ultimate is Maelstrom-Taming Warrior’s Code, which cannot be learned if dissonant. It permanently boosts the axe: Horizon Cleaver now gets a bonus to damage against thunderstruck targets, you gain Initiative after resetting to base when you take out a non-trivial thunderstruck target, and only 1s count towards loss of control rather than 1s and 2s.

Next time: Imprimatur, Perdurant Vault

A Sword You Can’t Draw

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: A Sword You Can’t Draw

Imprimatur is a 4-dot white jade daiklave. In the final year of the mortal Nellens’ life, the Empress gave him a blade to protect his legacy. Before all of her daughters’ proxies and politicians, she gave him Imprimatur, sheathed in a scabbard of stone from which it could never be drawn, bound by a crimson tassel. Inscribed on the blade she had carved a message that she declared only the heirs of Nellens would ever read. Nellens died soon after, but despite the proclamation, no one received the blade. It remained in the Empress’ armory until the day House Nellens was formed. Since then, it has been wielded often by Nellens Dragon-Bloods, carried at heated debates and negotiations. For nearly a generation, the duelist Nellens Zijiren wielded it in battle to humiliate high-ranking foes, until his recent death. The sight of Imprimatur, for other House,s always means an upstart Nellens that thinks they’re equal to the others and has a weapon to prove it. Imprimatur has two Hearthstone slots, and it deals Bashing damage because it cannot be drawn.

Imprimatur’s sheath is a seal of the approval of the Empress. This is measured by your Renown score, which begins at 0 and is increased by its Evocations, with a max based on your Charisma and Essence. Dragon-Bloods of House Nellens add one to their maximum Renown. Renown resets to 0 at the end of each scene. The first Evocation is learned free on attunement: As Two Strangers Upon the Road gives a bonus based on Renown to Withering damage, and you can give up Initiative from the damage roll to gain Renown instead. Sibling-Humbling Placation boosts a disarm gambit. If it succeeds, the Initiative roll for it is also treated as a persuade roll to convince the foe to end or deescalate hostilities or an inspire roll to fill them with shame, embarrassment or frustration – your choice. If resonant, the influence targets all witnesses to the disarm, with no penalty for multiple targets. The Matchmaker’s Cockerel Stride lets you flurry a full defense and disengage check, gaining additional Parry from it. Until your next turn, you gain 1 Renown whenever you successfully parry. If resonant, if you flurry a full defense and disengage and you succeed on the disengage, neither action costs Initiative.

Youngest Son’s Inheritance cannot be learned if dissonant. Once per scene, you reflexively clash a Decisive attack at Close range with a disarm gambit, with a bonus based on Renown, and you gain Initiative from it if you win. This doesn’t count as your attack for the round. Alternatively, you can oppose someone’s influence roll with a Presence roll with a bonus based on Renown, and if you succeed you stun the target into silence with your wit, making them unable to attempt another influence roll until they take a miscellaneous action to compose themselves, and you gain 1 WP. The ultimate is The Final Words of Queens, which cannot be learned if dissonant. Once per story at Initiative 15+, you can activate this. For the rest of the scene, you may reflexively spend Renown to give a bonus to Decisive attacks. Further, each time you use this, you receive a vision of a unique message etched on the blade in Old Realm, an excerpt of the Empress’ message to the inheritor. You may choose one message to gain the benefits of for the scene, as long as you have built up enough Renown for it. When you learn this, you and the GM can work together to create a new unique message discovered by you that fits comparable to preexisting ones. Preexisting messages are:

Perdurant Vault is a 4-dot white jade thunderbolt shield. It is a reflective disk of milky white, made by the occultist Ragara Lasime during the House’s solidification of its control of banking. As part of the many deals House Ragara made, Lasime went into the Underworld to treat with the ghost-queen Hymn of Shackles, who once monopolized the trade of earthly goods through Stygia. No one is sure what he offered, but he gained much. The shield is four feet in diameter and strung with obsidian chains, ornate and fashionable. Its polished surface occasionally reflects an ethereal city, a secret world hidden in the depths of the shield. Perdurant Vault has been used by bureaucrats, politicians and occultists of the House, and it has often been used in occult experiments of the Ragara inner circle. It is often given to scions heading out on important business that requires total discretion and strong will. It has a single hearthstone slot.

Perdurant Vault gives a bonus to all Appearance rolls. Its first Evocation is also free for DBs of House Ragara: Clairvoyant Mirror Technique lets the shield reflect the hearts of those that engage you. Whenever you resist an instill action, you may activate this to make a reflexive read intentions check against the person that made it, with a bonus. Success reveals the most relevant Intimacy they have to their attempted influence. Unblemished Petal Prana gives a bonus to resist disease and poison and also reduces the penalties of poisons it helps against. Subliminal Sanctuary increase Resolve against influence or removes the penalty to Guile for being unaware of the observer for a single roll, hiding your mind behind a spiritual wall. If resonant, it reduces the cost to use this Charm cumulatively each time you use it in a scene as well. Protect the Empress lets you conceal your beliefs from everyone, even yourself, once per story. When someone beats your Guile with a read intentions check, you can use this before anything is revealed to seal away one of your Major or Defining Intimacies within the dream-realm of the City of Opal Unstained within the shield for several days, during which it has no effects on you whatsoever. Hidden Intimacies manifest as spirits of appropriate nature in the City, with Minor Intimacies being about as strong as a first circle demon, Major being a second circle’s strength and Defining stronger than that, though their form is determined by the content of the Intimacy. If resonant, you can use this at will rather than only in response to social influence, and doing it that way doesn’t count towards your once-per-story limit.

Banish the Afflictions cannot be learned if dissonant. Once per week, it lets you meditate over the shield in a place of serenity, banishing a disease or poison within you. You make a Resistance roll, reducing diseases one step or banishing them into the City of Opal Unstained if Minor, and reducing poison duration. When a disease or poison is completely purged this way, it manifests as a spirit in the City, as per Protect the Empress. These spirits linger for several weeks, attacking any visitors they meet in the dream-realm or trying to corrupt them. Destroying such spirits gives you a bonus to further Resistance rolls against that disease or poison for as long as you remain attuned. The ultimate is Traverse the Secret City. It can’t be learned if dissonant, and can’t be bought with XP. It is gained free when you achieve a major character or story goal despite the efforts of your foes to influence you, impede you with poison or disease, or set similar narrative obstacles. You may now activate this to enter the City of Opal Unstained, a timeless dream-realm of white marble, alabaster and jet, full of villas and theatres. It is a private retreat and storage space, with many places to meditate and put things. The locals are only the spirits you banished into it. While using this, your body physically vanishes from Creation, manifesting in the City with all of your gear – including Perdurant Vault itself. The City may or may not, at the GM’s option, contain artifacts or narratively significant legacies of past wielders hidden within it, known to the resident spirits and able to be bargained for. Any changes visitors make to the City disappear once all visitors leave; spirits count as visitors and prevent this reset while present. The City cannot be entered by mundane means, but it may be entered while this Charm is active as if it were a spirit sanctum by any dematerialized beings or others who can use sanctum-opening magic at the spot you entered the City from. When you wish to leave, you and your companions reappear instantly at that spot. Companions, because if resonant, you can bring any willing characters in Close range with you when you enter the City.

Next time: NPCs.

Important People

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Important People

Amon Mora is probably the most important patrician in the entire Realm. He is Keeper of the First Imperial Seal, entrusted by the Empress to oversee the day-to-day function of the Imperial Palace. Under his management, the Palace staff are among the most efficient and least corruptible servants and officials in the entire Realm, even now. Entering or leaving the Palace, itself the size of a small city, or removing any of the treasures, documents or artifacts within, is practically impossible without his approval. Mora began his career as a Steward of Imperial Assets, and weighed down by the Amon family name. His parents were the last of a long line descended from a former Shogunate gens whose privileges were swallowed up by the Empress and the Great Houses. Mora was their only Exalted child, and he refused to join any Great House by marriage or adoption. While he was never openly seditious, he maintained a vocal pride in his family’s Shogunate heritage. His persistent and rigid obedience to the rules of the bureaucracy eventually earned him the trust of his fellows, and he rejected backroom dealing for advancement in favor of honest labor. The Empress noticed this and found it useful.

Mora has never had Exalted children, and his only marriage was over two centuries ago. He is not of a Great House nor any of the influential patrician families that dominate the Imperial Service. As a result, he has a reputation for impartiality, being that rare Dragon-Blood with no close relatives to sway him. He guards this reputation fiercely and is careful to avoid showing favoritism even towards his friends and proteges – or even the few remaining Amon cousins. He steps in only to find suitable mentors or teachers for young relatives, usually people who will work them hard but reward skill. His old friends hope that he will back a claimant to the throne that will give power to the patricians at the expense of the Great Houses, playing on his frustrations with them and their corruption. While he is tempted, he’s yet to be convinced. After all, despite the Realm’s many failings, Mora always admired the Empress greatly. She built a great empire from the ashes of the Shogunate, and while he may be hidebound, he’s not stupid. The Realm cannot just pick up where she left off without her, but he hates the idea of changing his precious system. Every current candidate is either too reckless or too mired in tradition, and he can’t stand either one. Amon Mora gives up as little control over the Palace as possible, doing nothing to legitimize any claimant to the throne.

Mora looks quite old, but even with his bent back and cane, he towers over many younger Dragon-Bloods. He dresses plainly for his station, and he keeps his hair tied back in a style that was out of fashion a century ago. More than one young Dynast has mistaken him, on first meeting, for a particularly well-dressed servant. Day-to-day obedience of his orders falls to his many deputies and proteges. Mora prefers to avoid attention, going unnoticed when possible and acting unseen when he must act personally. Only a very few things demand his personal attention, though, like the legal requirement that he lead the Imperial Force, the law enforcement body which brings Dragon-Bloods before the Imperial Courts, if it must do its duties in the Palace. Mora is very hard to bribe – he has no interest in advancement or money and he’s asexual as hell. However, he is also nearing the end of his life, and he’s terrified that his anti-corruption measures will die with him.

Amon Mora is an Essence 4 Air Aspect, not much of a combatant but excellent socially and at administration and codebreaking. He can fight, mind, he just isn’t more than competent. Fortunately, he’s usually accompanied by the Imperial Palace guards. His Intimacies are: A Defining Principle of “Law and order must be maintained,” a Defining Tie of admiring loyalty to the Scarlet Empress, a Major Principle of “The Imperial Service is the backbone of the Realm,” a Major Principle of “Bureaucratic corruption is a mark of poor moral character,” a Major Principle of “The Realm needs change to survive,” a Minor Tie of trusting loyalty to his old ministry friends, a Minor Tie of distaste for Dynasts a Minor Tie of benevolence towards his proteges and former proteges. He bears the First Imperial Seal, a 4-dot artifact that serves as the key to the Palace, and which he can use to stamp someone’s palm glowing red to mark them as his underling. Anyone not officially welcomed by Mora or one of his underlings will be targeted by the Imperial Palace’s sorcerous defenses as an intruder, and he can revoke this welcome at will (though his underlings cannot). The Seal is also a literal key to several important rooms. However, any lineal descendant of the Empress is automatically and irrevocably welcome in the Imperial Palace, as are any agents she personally extended immunity to; this has not been rescinded by her absence. Also, Mora has an Evocation that vastly improves his defenses against intruders to the Imperial Palace while inside it.

Berit is a daughter of the Empress, yet she has no House. House Berit never existed, did not fall into obscurity. Berit is alive and well, a decorated general in the Imperial Legions who was once a rival even to Cathak in terms of battlefield acclaim. She is now a cautionary tale of being too good at your job. She had a sterling reputation, the respect of her troops and peers, and the fear of the Realm’s enemies. For years, the Empress herself expressed confidence in her skills. As word of her brilliance spread, Berit made it known that she desired and clearly deserved her own House. The Empress ignored the petition, much to her frustration. Meanwhile, for nearly a decade the Lunar Evisa Drinks-the-Sky harried satrapies at the edge of the Realm, defeating thousands of soldiers sent to draw her out. Berit led a legion into Evisa’s domain, forcing the locals to cooperate and draw the Lunar into battle. The two fought, and Berit killed Evisa in single combat.

The Empress rewarded Berit for her victory with parades, acclaim, medals, gifts. But no House Berit. Berit and her mother quarreled bitterly, first by letter and then in person. Any witnesses to their final argument are long dead by now, but Berit left the Imperial City to live on the island of Iora, the capital of Wading Crane Rookery Prefecture, and has lived there ever since. Her exile is believed to be self-imposed. After all, the Empress sent no assassins. Berit currently lives in the House of the Rusted Sword, a manse overlooking Iora City. She rarely leaves, and many Iorans go their whole lives without ever seeing her. She rarely goes out to meet her friends in the city or to pursue scholarly interests; the rest of the time, the only way to meet her is to go to her manse. The locals say that anyone who vanishes on Iora is “taken by Berit” though it’s unclear what she’d be doing with them if it is her grabbing people occasionally.

With the Empress missing, Berit sees her chance. There have been significantly more people coming to Iora under the auspices of the Great Houses – or bearing no flag at all, but clearly people of great import. All are aiming for Berit’s favor, perhaps to bring her to their side and earn her military skill in service to their favored claim to the throne. Berit has not forgotten her own ambitions, though, and if she could get her hands on a sizable force, she’d be willing to claim the throne herself. She appears to be just past middle age, with gray showing up in her blue-black hair. She speaks and carries herself as if still a general of the legions, having lost none of her demeanor despite her century of exile. She is formidable and cool with Dynasts, making no promises but always listening intently to their words.

Berit is an Essence 5 Water Aspect, very tough and skilled in battle and socially. She is also a skilled sorceress, escorted by her elite guards much of the time and served by various elementals she’s summoned and her lieutenant, the outcaste Riven Dusk. Her Intimacies: A Defining Principle of “The Realm is my home. I am still loyal to it, even if it isn’t always loyal to me,” a Defining Tie of pride to herself, a Major Principle of “Hard work is not its own reward; my efforts deserved better recognition,” a Major Principle of “Mastering the enemy general is no challenge compared to mastering oneself,” a Major Tie of feelings of betrayal towards the Scarlet Empress, a Minor Principle of “The battlefield is where I belong,” a Minor Principle of “I have done much for the Dynasts. Now what can they do for me?” and a Minor Tie of jealous resentment toward V’neef.

Cathak Cainan was handpicked by Cathak as her successor, and he is well over 300 now. He can barely remember his youth of training to join the Legions. He Exalted when he started feuding with his bully of a big brother, scarring him forever. Fearful and full of guilt over losing control, Cainan turned to the Cloister of Wisdom, where he learned to control his mind and emotions, that he might serve his peers safely. When he returned to the legions, he continued to grow in power until his devotion led to Cathak’s decision. He takes his role deadly seriously, especially as he knows the power the House holds to influence the Realm. He seeks to preserve Cathak’s legacy and stabilize the Realm as it slowly crumbles around him. He will work with other Houses to achieve his ends, such as suppressing rebel satrapies, strengthening the Wyld Hunt or securing his House’s position if civil war comes, but he won’t make any deal or alliance that mars the honor of Cathak. Upholding that honor and the values of his predecessor is the most important thing.

Because of his advanced age, Cathak Cainan has no plans to take the throne. That would only prolong the Realm’s suffering, if he died before it was stable. He does know the Realm needs a leader, however, and he will back any viable contender, which to him means someone tenacious enough to survive, strong-willed enough to use the power of the throne against foes of the Realm and honorable enough to place the needs of the Dynasty over any House or personal desire. So far, no one’s convinced him they fit those criteria. Cainan himself is a tall, muscular man who bears his scars with pride. His every move is purposeful, with the subtle grace of someone aware of his body at all times. Only the streaks of gray in his long, braided red hair and the wrinkles around his eyes betray his age, which he holds at bay with exercise, age-staving cordial and a family history of long life. He can still feel himself slowing.

When Cainan speaks, he is confident, measured and careful. He prefers to fully think through his words before he speaks, but even silent, he is intense. His mere gaze is often enough to silence a room, and his eyes glow like embers when in battle, but are otherwise shockingly warm. He treats all matters with fairness, but he has no time or patience for the laments of the satrapies about raised taxes or imposed order, and he favors making violent examples to prevent rebellions. He is seen by his kin as an honorable man, devoted to the Immaculate Philosophy, and he has no tolerance for underhanded dealings even from his own family, replacing anyone he discovers is party to such plots.

Cainan is an Essence 5 Fire Aspect, tough as hell and extremely good at fighting and talking to people. He’s more of a battlefield commander than a socialite, though, relying on his sheer presence to get things done rather than any honeyed words. He has many elite bodyguards and is rarely found without a young Cathak scion nearby to help him. His Intimacies are: A Defining Principle of “Self-discipline is everything,” a Defining Principle of “Creation should be ruled by the firm grip of the Dragon-Blooded,” a Defining Tie of pride to House Cathak, a Major Principle of “No mercy for enemies of Creation, enemies of the Realm, or heretics,” a Major Principle of “The truth of the Immaculate Philosophy is unquestionable,” a Major Tie of pious obligation to the Immaculate Order and a Minor tie of respect to his wife, Cathak Urima.

Next time: Cynis Cogen, Ledaal Kes and Mnemon

Grandma’s Got This

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: Grandma’s Got This

Cynis Cogen is not like most Cynises. For most, only profit and pleasure matter, at the end of the day. Cogen has decided to ignore the House’s hedonist philosophy entirely. He is the grandson of Cynis via one of her older daughters, and he was raised in the Cynis vineyards, drinking wine like it was water. In youth, he had over a thousand lovers, some say the first hundred within a week of his Exaltation. He was a duelist and dilettante, a spy and a hedonist like any good Cynis. He was not a devout follower of the Immaculates, paying it no more than the normal amount of homage and ignoring it otherwise. When one of his lovers died to an Anathema, Cogen rode in the Wyld Hunt to chase it down, then went about his life as normal. However, by his 200th year, he found it all…boring, the sex and drugs and scheming. Slowly, he pulled away from it all. When his wife, who had given him three Exalted daughters, died of old age, he turned to the Order to find meaning in his life.

Cogen has found his meaning outside the cloisters, as a wandering monk. He travels the Blessed Isle and the Threshold, teaching the Philosophy and rooting out heresy. He collects the knowledge he finds in his travels and brings it back to the Order to better perfect their tactics. Anyone looking at him might just see someone’s grandfather. He wears a tatted blue cloak, likes to tell stories, and always carries a snack in his satchel (plus some secondhand romance novels). However, that cloak conceals terrifying muscles, and Cogen is unstoppable in the face of threats to the powerless or himself. He knows he doesn’t have a lot of time left in him, so he fights as though he has nothing to lose, and he has fun doing it. His enjoyment of combat and lack of self-preservation make him very, very dangerous. Still, he cannot wholly turn his back on his old life. His daughters still come to him for advice, his friends for help in their plots. He can’t quite shed his old affections and loyalties, even knowing they are able to sway him from his devotion to his new life. All too often, he ends up involved n Dynastic intrigues once more.

Cynis Cogen is an Essence 3 Water Aspect, tough and decent at social stuff, but excelling at unarmed combat. He practices both Mantis and Water Dragon Styles and is surprisingly sneaky for a monk because of his old life. His Intimacies: A Defining Principle of “Selfless devotion to the Immaculate Philosophy is my true path,” a Major Principle of “Deceit can be used for more than selfish means,” a Major Principle of “Empty pleasure gnaws at the soul,” a Major Tie of nostalgia for his old friends and colleagues, a Major Tie of affection for his daughters, a Major Tie of obedience to the Immaculate Order, a Minor Principle of “Truth to tell, at times I miss the scheming and debauchery,” and a Minor Tie of troubled loyalty to House Cynis.

Ledaal Kes was already renowned for his skill at Gateway when his family decided to have the 8-year-old boy play against the Empress. She played him with no less focus or respect than she’d shown against the older Dynasts she’d beaten earlier in the day. While Kes ultimately lost, the tale of their match spread like wildfire. His Exaltation a year later made him one of the youngest Dragon-Bloods recorded. Many speculated about what he would one day accomplish, and he was determined to excel at anything he did. His skill with math and finance easily earned him a job with the Imperial Treasury right after graduating. He was sought after to attend society events due to his childhood fame, and he developed an eye for watching people, learning to spot deals in progress, conflicts forming and more. While it was frustrating to be dismissed for being so young, Kes has learned to use his youthfulness to his advantage – a skill he continues to use even now, because while he is no longer young, he still looks far younger than he actually is even by Dragon-Blooded standards.

As Kes has grown older, he has gotten more into exotic drugs, fine food and fine men. He knows how to be charming and occasionally scandalous, and his romantic pursuits are common gossip, as he seems to have a new man each season. While it’s been decades since his youthful fame, he’s still welcome at nearly any party. Shortly after graduating, he married his friend and Gateway rival Ragara Szaya. The pair are both intensely intelligent and inventive, and they see each other as valuable intellectual partners; the fact that both are extremely gay and not into each other doesn’t matter. They are known for their strange inventions, many of which are produced by them working together feverishly for several days straight thanks to mind-boosting or mind-altering alchemical drugs. The two pursue affairs with each others’ blessing, having produced multiple Dragon-Blooded children as required by custom.

Kes uses his position as a ranking member of the Treasury and member of the Treasury head, Bal Keraz’s inner circle to manage the flow of coin and goods in and out of the Realm so that the Treasury remains aware of what economic factors are in play where. He has been watching how the money flows between Houses, who has debts and who they owe them to. To him, it is all a giant, fascinating game of Gateway, and it all is quite useful to him in his other job: agent of the All-Seeing Eye. He still resents how other Dynasts tend to dismiss him, the sexist comments that he pretends not to hear. No matter what he does, his appearance of youth means he gets underestimated, and that still stings, for all that he’s learned to use it to his advantage. At least he has his puzzles – the Gateway board, the Treasury, the Eye. He finds great joy in putting puzzles together and he’s very good at it. While he’s in his late 60s, Kes still has the appearance of youth, with many believing it’s the result of drugs or his many lovers keeping him young at heart, or perhaps sorcerous deals with demons or just a lot of cosmetics. His clothes are always at the cutting edge of fashion, and his closets are the size of peasant houses. He prefers understated looks and dark tones, but all of his outfits have at least one flash of color or intricate design to catch the eye.

Ledaal Kes is an Essence 3 Air Aspect, kind of wimpy and not more than a decent fighter, but excellent at socializing and investigation. He rarely has bodyguards with him, but on the road he takes a few household troops along, and he often has some Dynastic friends around for the ride. His Intimacies: A Defining Principle of “The world is a puzzle I will solve,” a Major Principle of “It’s my duty to serve the Realm,” a Major Tie of respect and admiration for Ragara Szaya, a Major Tie of loyalty to Bal Keraz, a Major Tie of loyalty to the All-Seeing Eye, and a Minor Principle of “Underestimate me at your peril.”

Mnemon is likely the most revered and resented person in the entire Realm. She is the eldest living daughter of the Empress, nearly 400 years old now and still going strong. Her bloodline is impeccable, and the manses she has designed and raised are often some of the best on the Isle. Her House’s prestige is unquestionable. She makes no secret of wanting the throne, and some talk of her as the de facto Empress, though rarely with much joy. Mnemon is ruthless and uncompromising, more like her mother than any other contender for the Scarlet Throne. The thing is, the Great Houses don’t actually want a second Scarlet Empress, especially one who holds grudges against some of them.

When Ragara was born, his birth was heralded by a meteor shower. Mnemon’s birth, however, was heralded by an earthquake that shook the Imperial Mountain. She was given the best education available, and her Exaltation at age 15 happened during a sparring match with an Immaculate monk who was in fact a secret Sidereal, placed in her retinue at the orders of Chejop Kejak himself. It was the most dangerous period in her life, after all. Ragara, with no desire to be overshadowed by a new heir apparent, started assassination plans for his sister, starting with her 16th birthday present: a suit of poisoned armor. When this failed, he went for less subtle methods. Mnemon fled the Versino, the Realm’s old sorcerous school before the Heptagram, and found shelter with the Immaculates. Under their protection, she refined her martial and sorcerous skills. This is in large part why she’s who she is now – wary and distrustful of outsiders, always vigilant. Even when she is unarmed, she isn’t defenseless, for she surrounds herself with guards, invisible demons and potent sorcery. Her knowledge of sorcerous magic is peerless, and she always wants more. She collects knowledge and artifacts, most notably the potent demon-binding tool called the Emerald Thurible.

Mnemon is a devoted follower of the Immaculates that took her in. She has personally funded many monasteries and was influential in the selection of the current Mouth of Peace. Several Wyld Hunts have ridden with her at their head, and she’s paid for tons more. She also makes a point of living by Immaculate precepts, though possibly she is focused more on the letter than the spirit. House Mnemon scions that become monks always receive a private audience with her to congratulate them and instruct them on how they can best serve both House and Order. While Mnemon remains unmarried, she has many consorts and many more would-be lovers. She selects her partners carefully, based on their pedigree and power, and she is very affectionate with them until she can find them a marriage that better suits her goals.

As matriarch, Mnemon is intimately involved in the personal lives of her descendants. Every single member of her House receives her wisdom, scolding, comfort or scorn as they deserve. She is the heart of her family, and to go against her is never a good idea. Her descendants tend to be clannish in general, thanks to the culture she’s fostered, and they are the pillar of her power. There have been many nights when she’s gone sleepless to fuss over the marriage of a great-great-grandchild or to take time from her life to counsel a young Dynast who’s nervous about going away to school. It’s rare that anyone outside her House ever sees her as anything but a terrifying sorcerer or general, but House Mnemon knows – she’s exacting and demanding of them, but generous and kind in equal measure, with a very witty sense of humor and a true devotion to them. It is little wonder, then, that she is one of the stronger claimants to the Scarlet Throne. It is endlessly irritating to her that she’s ‘just’ a claimant, however, and not the heir apparent.

Mnemon is an Essence 5 Earth Aspect. She’s very good at most anything she wants to do, though her combat abilities are focused heavily on defense rather than offense. She never goes anywhere without elite bodyguards, bound demons and sorcerous defenses, and rarely has less than one Dragon-Blooded family member around. She is an exceptionally potent sorcerer, and her artifact, the Emerald Thurible, lets her summon and bind Second Circle Demons (but not any other Second Circle Sorcery). She also has two Evocations through it – one that lets her fill a range band with the sickly-sweet smoke of the Demon City, which makes it easier for demons to materialize, and one that gives her a bonus to binding or using social influence on demons. Mnemon is good at demons. Her Intimacies: A Defining Principle of “I alone deserve to be Empress; I alone can restore the Realm’s glory,” a Defining Principle of “My devotion to the Immaculate Philosophy is unwavering,” a Defining Tie of authoritarian pride to House Mnemon, a Major Principle of “I crave the secrets of the First Age,” a Major Tie of admiration to the Scarlet Empress, a Major Tie of gratitude toward the Immaculate Order, a Major Tie of hatred toward Ragara and his House, a Minor Tie of pragmatic wariness towards the Anathema, a Minor Tie of mistrust toward the Sidereal Exalted, and a Minor Tie of resentment toward V’neef.

Next time: Ragara Benoru, the Slug and the Roseblack

The Fat Man Sings

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

What Fire Has Wrought: The Fat Man Sings

Ragara Benoru has always had an overly strong sense of morals. Even as a child, she would criticize moral failings in her instructors with as much conviction as she did her peers, and with absolutely no sense of tact. Even her parents found it hard to put up with, but no punishment or argument could deter her commitment to making a more just world. Thus, it surprised absolutely no one that knew her when Benoru rode out to join the Bloodied Scythe Uprising, siding with the peasantry against a cruel Dynastic prefect. With the Cypress Mountain rebels, she went from an idealistic girl with no stomach for hypocrisy to a powerful woman beloved by the people. She was one of the Seventy-Two Heroes of Cypress Mountain, commanding the righteous militia in lightning raids against the prefect’s forces and daring stratagems that confounded the legions sent to put down the rebellion. Imperial agents came, then, offering clemency for Benoru and her peasants from the Empress herself, if she would surrender to the Empress’ mercy. Benoru did…and was made a magistrate for it.

For fifty years, Ragara Benoru has lived in austerity, without wealth or title beyond that of magistrate, witnessing the humble lives of the peasants and the decadence of the Dynasty as they seek to sway her. The years have honed her instinct and gotten rid of her bravado. She has sought out criminals of all kinds – from those who fixed exchange rates for agricultural goods to traitors against the Great Houses. To this day, peasants still tell stories to their children of the Corvee-Swallowing Mountain Devil, Sixteenth of the Seventy-Two Heroes, Ragara Benoru. Officially, these stories are not allowed, but that’s never stopped anyone. However, with the Empress gone, the world of the magistrates has been upended. Rather than wandering the farming villages, Benoru must now lean on the hospitality of Dynasts, balancing their contempt for her with their fear that her death in their homes, even without an Empress, would destroy them. After all, few magistrates are so beloved by the peasantry as Benoru, even without the Empress’ protection.

Empress or no Empress, it is Benoru’s duty to ensure justice, and she will do that, come Hell or high water. Her family is safely sheltered in Ragara lands out in the Threshold, so she has no reason to not use her power to keep order and punish the cruel and spoiled children that seek to profit off the Empress’ absence. After five decades, her experiences as a rebel leader are useful again. She once led starving peasants against the soldiers of the world’s greatest empire and won, and if the rich and powerful think she will be easy prey, they will learn otherwise. She is a weathered woman of dark skin who has spent years living off the land in the poorest parts of the Isle. She is almost a century old now and starting to show her age, far more than her peers who have led softer lives in high society. Even in the company of other Dynasts, Benoru dresses simply and practically, preferring clothes that are easily mended or replaced over tracking style and fashion. She wields a white jade firewand (a flamethrower rifle, remember), but it actually belongs to her wife, Ledaal Quya, who is a strong supporter of Benoru’s efforts within House Ledaal. Benoru carries herself with the air of a peasant, but when acting as a magistrate, she has the booming voice of a drill sergeant, which often takes most people off guard.

Ragara Benoru is an Essence 3 Earth Aspect who excels at investigation and combat over social niceties. She largely travels alone barring her scribe, the sarcastic monk Horizon Turtle, but she can call on Realm archons if she needs martial assistance or spying. She is very good at sniffing out lies, as well. Her Intimacies: A Defining Principle of “The powerful must protect the meek,” a Major Tie of camaraderie to the Seventy-Two Rebels of Cypress Mountain, a Major Principle of “I shall not be deterred from the path of justice,” a Major Tie of love for Ledaal Quya and their children, a Major Tie of righteous fury towards those who abuse their power, and a Minor Principle of “I don’t believe in peasant superstition, but why risk bad luck?”

Sesus Nagezzer, the Slug, lives out of what is now called the Fungal Manse. Once, it was the Throne of Roses, but its life as a nightly pleasure palace and mysterious lair of dark desires and lowlives has taken its toll. In the middle of it all, the Slug watches. He’s gigantic – over six feet tall, practically spherical. His fashion sense is impeccable, he’s ostentatious and meticulous in his grooming, but he’s fat as hell. He’s surprisingly fast despite his bulk and maimed leg, and he is very strong. He makes no apologies for his loves of food or sex, both of which are legendary. He can eat an entire table of food at each meal, and he’s used to multiple partners each night. At court or Dynastic parties, he speaks little while others approach him to curry favor or drunkenly gossip. When he speaks, it is most often to end the awkward silence when someone realizes they’ve made a faux pas or told him too much, and even then he’s brief.

Nagezzer knows what a hero must be, because he used to be one. He was a graduate of the House of Bells and an officer in the Imperial Legions, where he acted the part of the martial paragon of his House. That all ended the day he chased down the rogue god Wind Across the Savanna and was maimed and nearly killed for his troubles. He sees his younger self in fledgling heroes, and he knows the power of having leverage on them – an unpaid debt, a loved one in prison, a sense of obligation to a kind if unpleasant mentor that saw promise no one else did. Nagezzer was discharged from the Legions and sent to the Cloister of Wisdom to heal, but in his time with the monks, he realized he’d never achieve the power and peace he desired by conventional means. He might not ever lead a legion again for the Empress, but he could instead make a silent army, hidden and underestimated.

He inherited the Throne of Roses from his mother, transforming it from an elegant sanctuary to a vice den, the capital of his hidden empire. He holds court with criminals and lackeys whom he’s carefully groomed as set dressing to disgust those that seek his aid. From behind the veil of the fat layabout of vice, he rules over a shadow network of spies and assassins that goes all the way to the Imperial City, while his mercenaries in the threshold, under command of his cousin, Sesus Warru of the Red-Piss Legion, fight for causes he selects under the anonymous banner of the white rose. He’s vital to the workings of several prefectures, conquering his enemies by becoming indispensable to them. Despite his massive criminal wealth and underhanded methods, however, he is no mere crime lord. For the Realm and Scarlet Empress, he would sacrifice everything, just as he would have had his legion career not been cut short.

Sesus Nagezzer is an Essence 4 Wood Aspect, skilled at a bunch of things but excelling only at social stuff and strategy. He’s surprisingly decent at fighting given his wounds, but he’s not a warrior any more, despite his practice of Wood Dragon Style. He has a hearthstone that tells him if anyone he sees shares his total loyalty to the Realm over all else, which is handy for him to find allies. He almost never leaves home without mercenary guards or his two Western concubine-bodyguards, the assassins Spinda and Echo, or his teacher, the Dragon-Blooded monk Autumn Spiral. His Intimacies: A Defining Principle of “I serve the Realm, and nothing else,” a Defining Principle of “I delight unashamedly in pleasures of the flesh,” a Major Principle of “Understanding others’ desires is the key to my triumphs,” a Major Tie of self-pity to himself, a Major Tie of distrust to House Sesus, a Minor Principle of “I devote myself to the Immaculate Philosophy,” a Minor Tie of trust to Sesus Warru, and a Minor Tie of enmity to Anathema.

Tepet Ejava, the Roseblack, is possibly the greatest hope for House Tepet to reclaim its lost glory, and she’s always hated House politics. She was born while her mother was in the field, and she was raised with war as part of her life. It set a tone. As a child, she excelled at games of strategy and war, and her Exaltation made her attuned to the violent nature of life. As she grew, she found herself ill-suited to Dynastic politics and society, especially after she inadvertently destroyed the rose garden of her school’s dominie. That’s where the name Roseblack comes from, but she took the nickname as a reminder of humility rather than an insult. It stayed with her through her time at the House of Bells and her work in the Imperial Legions, where she put down rebels, bandits, Fair Folk and Anathema. By the time she was promoted to winglord, it was a name of pride.

Then the Battle of Futile Blood hit. Ejava wasn’t with the House legions when it happened, and she still regrets that. When the word of their fate came, her world was destroyed. She had lost friends, comrades and soldiers – and the Realm she loved so had been defeated. Even those Tepets jealous of her growing popularity know she is one of their most capable surviving officers. She has been promoted to general, put in charge of the infamous Vermilion (or Red-Piss) Legion foisted on the House. Many officers would dread it, but the Roseblack saw opportunity. Over three years, she’s forged them into a competent, disciplined force equal to any legion of the other Houses.

Ejava is the poster child for Dragon-Blooded officers. She is resolute, professional and while her House may not like her putting off marriage for her career, she believes the field is exactly where she’s needed right now. Her closest confidant is the prefect of Chanos, Ragara Nova, a socialite who once tried to win her hand in marriage. Besides Nova, she has few close friends. Her home is the battlefield, and her soldiers are her family. She has no time for anything else. She is a tall, imposing woman with long, red hair similar to that of the Scarlet Empress. In the field, she’s rarely seen outside her full suit of green jade plate or without her daiklave, Thorn.

Tepet Ejava is an Essence 3 Wood Aspect, very tanky and an amazing fighter with barely competent social skills outside of strategy and shouting at people. She’s an excellent commander, and Thorn gives her access to an Evocation that lets her anima stab people with thorns as she slashes them, increasing her damage pretty well unless the foe accepts a crippling injury. When not with her legion, she usually has a young Dragon-Blooded officer and some elite guards with her. Her Intimacies: A Defining Principle of “A Dynast’s only honor is defense of the Realm,” a Defining Tie of impatient frustration with House Tepet, a Major Principle of “I have no time for romance,” a Major Tie of contempt for those who sold out the legions for political gain, a Major Tie of camaraderie to the Red-Piss Legion, a Minor Tie of irritated respect for her grandfather Tepet Arada, a Minor Tie of friendship to Ragara Nova and a Minor Tie of loathing to her uncle Tepet Fokuf.

The End.