I’ve got a lot of campaign prep to get done. In fact, I’ve got so much to do that if I don’t do it here, I’ll either never get it done in time. But first, I have to paint a picture of the background for this to be useful to the rest of Campaign Mastery’s readership.
This article concludes (finally!) the pre-existing background material needed for the casual reader to understand the new content that is to follow. In case you’ve forgotten or are new in these parts, here’s a summary of what we’ve covered so far:
- Part 1 of the trio examined the general question of why I customize races in the campaigns that I create.
- Part 2 got specific, discussing Elves, Drow, Ogres, Halflings, and Dwarves.
- Part 3 concerned Orcs, Dwarflings, The Verdonne, and Humans.
- Part 4 was the first half of an update to the history of the campaign.
- Part 5 will finish bringing the history of the campaign up-to-date and finally finish these preamble articles by quickly describing the rest of the series.
In other words, most of this five-part trilogy is about who’s who in the adventuring party at the heart of the content to come.
Some of the content may have appeared at Roleplaying Tips in the past, but I couldn’t find it when I went looking there. Johnn was kind enough, years ago, to give me explicit permission to republish the relevant materials, so there’s no problem. Some of the material dates back to the turn of the century, some of it dates from 2005, and some of it is more recent. Campaign Background material is like that – small increments of capital improvement adding up over a period of years into something massive. To be honest, if I weren’t under the gun, timewise, I would probably split this up into seven or eight separate articles. But even bundling this up into a few larger articles, there’s still more than enough to make this a very substantial series – once it actually starts, next Monday!
My players love it when I do this stuff. Not only do they get a glimpse behind the curtain, but because I have to explain things more fully to a general audiance, they frequently learn details they weren’t aware of at the time. They get reminded of details they may have forgotten long ago, and get explanations for things that may consequently have made no sense to them at the time. At least they generally trust that if I say things are a certain way, in-game, that it will eventually make sense.
Adventure 19: One A Larger Scale (cont)
After a lot of hand-wringing, the party decided to disguise themselves as undead servants to Hisago Takamuchi, and persuaded him to go along with that. Hisogi made it clear that he was still a loyal citizen of the Golden Empire, and would do nothing to undermine it, but was sufficiently convinced by recent events (and Ziorbe’s timely accusation) that the Queen OF The Elves was proposing this alliance for her own purposes and that her agenda and the best interests of the Empire might not coincide. The party very wisely kept secret their true intentions toward the Empire.
It was important to me to establish the Golden Empire as more than simply a hostile realm opposed to the PCs. I wanted it to be an environment, a place where Adventures happened that had nothing to do with its position as an enemy nation, and a place populated by all stripes of characters – good people as well as evil menaces. They were a society that didn’t understand what had happened to it, and had coped as best they could. They didn’t enjoy the protection of the Gods nor the manipulations of Thoth during the critical century following the Godswar, the way the Kingdom of Fumanor had. There was a definite and deliberate element of “the road not taken” about the place. At the same time, they were an Empire, with all the internal complexities that this entailed, and not simply an overlarge Kingdom. Different groups and localities had different agendas and styles. Parts of it were Asian in flavor, parts Indian, parts Middle Eastern, and parts more traditional fantasy Kingdom. The Kingdom of the Aquatic Elves was a more traditional monarchy. This was not only to imbue the place with its own flavor, but to highlight the administrative problems that come with the expansion of a realm to this size, and a set of working solutions – problems that the PCs native Kingdoms were beginning to experience when the campaign began.
Infiltrating the negotiations, they provided Hisogi a clear advantage in that most of the party spoke the Elven Language and were able to synopsize the side comments of the Ambassador, Gathador Enclystida, his escort, Feniel Straightarm, and the escort’s companion/pet, a miniature (hatchling) black dragon named Kalazh. Representing the Golden Empire (in addition to Hisogi) were Matugi Nashtorish, Latiko Diribatik, and Karuthi Duto-shimo.
Enclystida began by reading a message from his Queen: “Your Empire stretches from the heavens to the seas, but it nevertheless stands at a crossroads. Ally with me, and it shall blossom into an institution of scope beyond your imaginations, masters of all who live mortal lives wherever situated; fail to do so and your empire faces ruin, utter and complete. For you face enemies incomprehensibly more capable than any against whom you have measured yourself thus far. We know this because they are also our enemies, unless we are driven by the larger threat posed by your Empire to unite with them against you. Your scouting missions thus far have been in the hinterlands of your enemy; you have yet to encounter their true strength. For your enemies number legends amongst them. So says our Queen.”
The ambassador then began calling up images in the air, as he described their mutual enemies:
- Gallas & Sebastian – systematically destroying Chaos Powers and looting them of their powers.
- Licheam – a being of unparalleled tactical ability, able to enter the fray confident of victory when outnumbered ten to one.
- Aurella, a mistress of the dark arts of no small ability;
- and, worst of all, Rockerand, who dissembles as a being so innocuous you would pay him no mind, seducing the minds of all who hear him into believing his perverted view of reality.
The players found these descriptions amusing, since they were all current or former PCs in the Fumanor Campaign. Some of the abilities cited were clearly overstated, while others were – if anything – underestimates of what the characters had actually achieved. Lolth was already manipulating the truth.
The ambassador continued, “They have aroused the population with a fanatical belief in their infallibility, a belief that they are able to draw apon in order to work counterfeight miracles that to the untrained appear as the power of the Gods, and who will fight to the last woman and child in their name. Half a million religious fanatics, who even now permit themselves to be enslaved to the production of war material to raise against you. And in back of them, the thirteen false Gods who demand the servitude of the populace, and who grant their followers the power to destroy your warriors with but a word, as could any follower of a true God.”
The ambassador then demonstrated this ability by destroying one of the undead bodyguards in a spectacular explosion that rained body parts throughout the conference chamber. “To match these enemies, we too have substantial might. Our Queen knows as much of the old lore as your mightiest mages, if not more. Our army is small but implacable, and protected by arcane forces millennia in the forging. We have an alliance with the Dragons, who number fully one thousand, and with whom we are training to form a highly mobile aerial combat force, able to reach the farthest corners of your conquests in less than a day and strike far behind your lines at your capital. (He pauses to feed his pet). We have undertaken to enhance Goblins in size and strength to a measure in excess of that of humans; 100,000 of these lie hidden in camps, their numbers unknown to our enemies, awaiting the day they are told to march. Each of them contain users of magic of elementary skill. And lastly, our Queen, who has stolen many of the enemy’s secrets, including that of false divinity, as you saw demonstrated a moment ago, and given a lesser such ability to many of the Goblin Horde we have forged.
“Individually, both our Elvish Kingdom and the Fumanorian Kingdoms are almost a match for the almost-endless might of the Golden Empire. Should we unite against you, be assured that you would fall. Yet there is no love between us, and we would ally with them most reluctantly. As the enemies of our enemy, we are more stimulated by the potential of an alliance between the Elven Kingdom and Golden Empire. It is to propose such an alliance that we have journeyed hither, to the heart of your Empire.”
This presentation clearly impressed the other negotiators, but so did Hisago, who had been forewarned by the party that Lolth was likely to open with an attempt to overawe her audience. He started by challenging the veracity of the claims made concerning the effectiveness of the opposition; after all, the Empire had been overwhelmingly victorious in every encounter with Kingdom forces thus far, and it didn’t matter whether these were pitched battles or merely skirmishes. Suggesting that the Ambassador was exaggerating the effectiveness of Kingdom forces in order to rush the Empire into a treaty without fully considering the implications and terms, he pretended to be unimpressed. Nevertheless, he is prepared to listen to the Ambassador’s proposed terms of alliance.
The ambassador announced, “That which is mortal shall be subject to the faith of Beneck Wu, with which the Elvish Queen is most impressed. That which is not shall be subject to the Elven Queen, who shall adopt the title Empress. Command of the Goblin Horde and DragonRiders shall remain with the Elves, in the name of the Golden Emperor. Command of those Eternals who do not live within the Elven Forests shall remain with the Golden Empire, in the name of the Empress of Elves. All lands now and once the domain of the Elves, and the skies above and earth below, to be ceded to them. Taxes to be paid to the Golden Empire accordingly. All other lands shall be the domain of the Golden Empire.”
These were scarily fair-sounding terms to the party. Lolth was sure to have a hidden booby-trap in it, but they couldn’t spot the joker in the deck. Using a prearranged signal, they advised Hisago to stall for time and more information. He replied to the Ambassador that those terms were Agreeable in principle, but many specifics remained to be worked out before it would be known if the proposal is practicable, and something that the Empire can agree to. The Golden Emperor would require the Empress to acknowledge the overall sovereignty of the Golden Throne, and it should be understood that it was only the impressiveness of the mode of travel reportedly used by the Elvish Diplomats they has persuaded the Golden Empire to even listen. No even hypothetical agreement is possible until agreement is reached on the terms.
The Elvish Ambassador then fell back to a previously established position, i.e. the degree of threat posed by Fumanor to the Empire. To prove his point, he discussed (and dismissed) each of the members of Tajik’s Misfits as significant; they were “nobodies” from Fumanor, rogues and vagabonds and rebellious servants; “And yet,” he invited the Imperial Diplomat, “consider the trouble that they have caused within the Empire.” He then gives a very jaundiced review of the adventures of Tajik and company, blending fact with supposition and rumor, and in effect blaming everything that had gone wrong within the Empire over the past few months (however minor) on the Adventurers.
This, without the Ambassador realizing it, was the most effective thing he could possibly have done, undermining Hisago’s trust in the party. He could not help but recognize them from the Ambassador’s descriptions. Hisago was now the one who needed to stall for time; he needed to reconcile the view of the PCs that had just been offered with his own experience. All he could do was raise a side-issue as distraction to fill up the morning’s negotiations and then call a recess when that discussion wound down. “You seem remarkably well-informed,” he replied; “perhaps you have been spying on us, even sabotaging us, and now seek to deflect blame for these incidents? I find it difficult to believe that a band of ‘rogues, vagabonds, and rebellious servants’ could be capable of all that they have been accused of. Either you are lying about their true status to further your allegations of imminent threat, or you exaggerate their achievements. Either way, you attempt to perpetrate a falsehood apon the Empire – unless you have proof of your claims?”
With the negotiating positions established, the various parties withdrew. All told, it was a very satisfactory first day’s effort – from the point of view of Lolth.
On a larger scale, part 2: Acts of sincerity and deception
Immediately they were alone with Hisago, the PCs went to work trying to convince him of their sincerity, but achieved nothing more than a state of uncertainty on the part of the Diplomat. In the course of the afternoon, occasionally interrupted by other members of the Diplomatic Party gathering to discuss the proposal and Hisago’s issues with the potential treaty, several party members made further individual attempts, even while the party attempted to figure out what Lolth really wanted, where the booby-trap in the proposal might be located, and how they might derail the proposed alliance. Hisago played Devil’s Advocate, having been included in the discussion as a gesture of sincerity on the part of the party, at Leif’s suggestion, a choice fully endorsed by Tajik. “I don’t know what you think, but if I were allied to someone – even temporarily – and came to have doubts about them, being aware of secret discussions between those someones from which I was excluded wouldn’t do much to reassure me.”
Tajik explained the characterizations of the party offered by the Elven ambassador, one by one, pointing out what validity (if any) that they had, and how Lolth’s biases had colored the descriptions. He then explained that their mission is to stop the war – not to cause trouble, or destroy the Golden Empire, but simply to prevent it from posing a threat to their homelands. Along the way, they had met many of its citizens and learned a lot from them about the Empire, and its faith, and found much about it that was admirable, but they had become convinced that it had lost its way, and that it was this misdirection that was the reason the Golden Empire was threatening Fumanor. Their mission was to reform Beneck Wu and make it possible for the Golden Empire and Kingdoms of Fumanor to reach a peaceful accord where each simply left the other alone; but if it came down to a forced choice, the Kingdoms would far prefer being subjects to even a misguided Beneck Wu than subjects of Lolth, Queen of the Spiders. Eubani then spoke of the Elves, and what was happening to them under Lolth. Ziorbe related tales of life under Lolth’s authority from his youth. Of them all, it was Arron who was most effective at calming the perturbed Diplomat, describing the “alliance” his people had once had with Lolth’s former subjects. Several times, he took Hisago aside and spoke to him privately; always, the diplomat returned with refreshed trust in the party afterwards, often with a startled expression.
Mid-afternoon, as their discussions continued, Verde was reciting some of the attributes and capabilities of the Golden Empire, working to the theme “you don’t really need this alliance”, he happened to mention that the Golden Empire, through Beneck Wu, had preserved many of the lost arts of the old Empire, the common origin shared by both the Golden Empire and the Kingdoms. Ziorbe suddenly seized on the remark, and on many half-understood things that he had learned in the past, and through interrogation, was able to draw answers out of Tajik that confirmed his suspicions of Lolth’s true objectives within the Golden Empire.
What Lolth really wants is to learn the secrets of Beneck Wu, Because it permits the casting of clerical magics without the support of either Gods or Chaos powers, and therefore without being subject to the strictures and restrictions imposed by the nature of divinity, it is possible for it to be used to modify the effects of the Gate Of Goraldton. She believes that the combination of the two will permit her totally free will as a deity – and she might be right. Lolth, as a full deity without restriction, was a nightmarish scenario – the closest thing to total omnipotence that the PCs could conceive of. She would be able to directly overpower and control Gods and Chaos Powers alike – and In the process, she would obviously become the most powerful and learned practitioner of Beneck Wu, which – under the laws of the Golden Empire – would make her head of the Faith, the only person permitted to give instruction to the Golden Emperor. Furthermore, Elves once layed claim to all lands which were forested, or ever had been. How much farmland has been cleared from forests? This treaty splinters the Empire so that it can offer no resistance and reduces them to vassals under Lolth’s control – no, her Absolute Domination.
The plans proposed for preventing the alliance had started vague – “play for time until Lolth reveals her true agenda” – but were now running wild in all directions with a sense of both necessity and urgency. Simply killing the ambassadors would only delay the inevitable, unless they made it appear that the Golden Empire was responsible – something that Hisago would not support. An attempt to kill them that made it appear that Lolth was responsible seemed their best approach, but even as the party made final preparations, Eubani cast doubt on the plan that he had helped formulate. The circumstances were aligning to make this all a little too easy. The ambassador’s request to have a private meal served in his tent (the negotiations were being conducted in a temporary structure so that neither side could claim an unwarranted advantage) and his dismissal of the undead soldiers of the Empire set to guard him was practically an invitation for an assassination attempt. What’s more, by now the Ambassador would have to know that the bridge that had connected Elvarheim to the Golden Empire had been disrupted, but nothing was said – despite the obvious suspicion that the Golden Empire was responsible.
Lolth obviously knew who the party were, at least in broad; what if the Ambassador had penetrated their disguises from the first? If the party attacked, and were revealed, it would bolster Lolth’s claims of Kingdom abilities and intentions. Hisago would be branded a traitor, and removed from the negotiations at the very least; and the proposed treaty would become almost inevitable. Even if it succeeded, and the party were not exposed, it would not be difficult for a fresh negotiating team to reveal who had committed the crime, using magic, with exactly the same effect.
On the other hand, if Hisogi stayed put and simply delayed the negotiations, imposing ceremonial requirements and quibbling about conditions and terms, language and syntax, for long enough, the party could complete its original mission of reforming Beneck Wu. By seeking out, enlightening, and empowering a potential prophet of the faith, it would remove what Lolth really wanted. As soon as that forced her into a failure to comply with her promises to the Empire, any treaty would be declared null and void, if nothing more. The best solution to the problem was to do – nothing. It was also probably the hardest thing that the party had ever had to do; they were convinced of and even alarmed by the threat, and all felt the imperative urge to do something, anything, about it; and on top of that, they had a celestial cheering section of Deities encouraging them to act, and insisting that they do so.
The more closely the party looked at their original plan, and realized that “chance” had assembled the perfect force to achieve it, the more convinced they became that someone was pulling strings behind the scenes. That “someone” was almost certainly Arioch, based on what the Gods had told them – and various knowing half-smiles that Corallen had exhibited probably meant that he knew Arioch was using the secret knowledge, even if Arioch didn’t know that he knew. Except that this would make it a secret, and therefore Arioch would know about it immediately – which would certainly explain a number of the overtones in their exchanges when the Gods were addressing the party.
With that, the party “officially” abandoned their planned assassination and resumed their original mission, trusting Hisago – now an entrenched opponent of the proposed treaty – to delay events long enough for them to succeed.
In case it’s not clear – I don’t think it was to my players at the time – this adventure was all about preventing Lolth from doing to the rest of the world (i.e. doing ‘on a larger scale’) what she was already doing to the Elves.
Adventure 20: The Spy Within
The PCs again made their way cross-country, proceeding by whatever seemed to be the fastest route. They were acutely aware of the press of time, and safety was eschewed in favor of speed. Apon reaching a rive (the PCs never learned its name), they stole a boat and headed first downstream, and then turned at a fork in the river and sailed upriver into the mountains, heading for Sing Tahn Wu. Leif, as the only character with experience in sailing – the ship that the PCs had used to escape the Golden Capital had been crewed by Undead who obeyed Chrin’s instructions – took command, despite his warnings that while he had sailed, he had never commanded a ship – and sailing was different where he came from (as explained in The Flói Af Loft & The Ryk Bolti). Gravity was not a function of temperature here! Nevertheless, he was the closest thing they had to an expert, so he was given the job.
As the journey proceeded, Leif seemed to suffer a relapse of the crisis of confidence he had experienced in Luk Tow. As before, the PCs tried to reassure him, without a lot of success. Arron in particular seemed to go out of his way to be helpful, pointing out dangers that Leif may have missed and offering helpful suggestions, but – one by one – the other party members began to notice a slight difference from Arron’s usual behavior, or in Leif’s responses – instead of reassuring the young Dwarfling, Arron’s helpful suggestions seemed to undercut the confidence of the insecure Captain. It was not so much what he was saying as the manner in which he was saying it, perpetually raising doubts about the chosen course of action. Both Eubani and Tajik made a mental note to speak to the Ogre about it, without realizing the other’s concerns.
During the course of the travel, Verde became aware of something drawing him deeper into the mountains. Eubani was the next to feel it, a compulsion, an itch that could not be scratched and for which moving in the right direction brought only partial relief. Ziorbe and Tajik became aware of it more slowly, but were nevertheless also drawn in the same direction, as was Julia. Only Leif and Arron seemed spared this nagging distraction.
On their third day of river travel, they reached a point where several dangerous-looking rocks projected from the centre of the river. Passage to the left was easier to reach, but appeared shallower than the more difficult-to-navigate passage on the right. That was the point at which Leif’s confidence suffered an almost-complete collapse, delaying a decision and hindered by Arron’s “helpful” suggestions until it was almost too late. When he finally made a decision – to turn right – Arron grabbed the tiller, exclaiming, “It’s too late, we’ll have to chance the shallower passage!”. A brief struggle ensued as Arron tried to turn one way and Leif the other, until it was too late and their bow struck the jagged rocks, staving in the front. Pinned against the rocks by their forward momentum and the power of their sails only momentarily, their vessel quickly broke free and immediately began taking on water. Verde had to employ his fated abilities to the utmost just to prevent the vessel from sinking before it reached shore, something he had been reluctant to do sooner lest it worsen Leif’s problems.
With the sun setting, it was decided to set up camp and assess the damage at first light; given their natural engineering skills, and the fact that he had constructed small boats and river-craft in his youth, the party were confident that Arron would be able to make repairs, but he seemed suddenly uncertain of his abilities, bemoaning – for the first time – a lack of the proper tools, uncertainty as to the suitability of the available timber, and so on. That night, while Ziorbe kept watch on the exhausted/distraught Leif and the sleeping Arron, Eubani, Julia, Verde, and Tajik held a secret council of war. Something was very wrong – in fact, Arron had seemed quite himself for a long time. Not, in fact, since they had fought and seemingly destroyed their traitorous party member, Chrin. That comment by Eubani was the moment when things began to fall into place for the duo, when Tajik mused, “Can a Mummy become a Ghost?” to which the inevitable reply was, “You tell me, you’re the god-botherer.”
Julia provided more insightful answers, if no more conclusive ones. Normally, the answer would be no, Mummies are creatures of positive energy while Ghosts are creatures of negative energy – but that fails to take into account three factors: the mastery over undeath that the Golden Empire and its priests have, of whom Chrin was one; the circumstances and location of his death, in a place filled with streamers of ambient positive and negative energies left over from the then-ongoing creation of the new prime material plane and the collapse of the artificial elemental sub-planes created by the mad Ilithid; and Chrin’s sheer determination to succeed in his mission. A ghost is a spirit who for some reason refuses to let go of its material existence – either there is something it has left unfinished or something it feels it must achieve before they can move on to the afterlife. Contrary to popular opinion, not all ghosts are evil, or chaotic – so there is no objection in that respect either. So… maybe.
As repairs proceeded the next morning, Arron seemed unable to recognize one tool from another. Instead of directing the repairs, he placed Leif in charge and continued to do everything in his power to undermine the operation. He seemed to grow increasingly desperate to prevent the success of the mission, and his behavior became more and more suspicious, until finally Tajik’s patience began to reach its limits. As they worked on the ship, footsteps were heard approaching through the forest, which proved to belong to a young priest of Beneck Wu in elaborate silk robes.
He attempted to use Turn Undead on the assumption that since none of the party were undead, no-one would be affected if they were wrong, but if Arron really was possessed, it might force the Ghost – presumably Chrin – to reveal himself.
The tactic was more successful than could have been expected, but less successful than they might have wished, in an ideal world. Tajik succeeded in driving out a hostile spirit, but it was far too powerful to be destroyed by his turning. Dropping a Protection from Good spell over the rather confused Arron denied it the safe refuge it had been utilizing to infiltrate the party. That was when the priest of Beneck Wu, his expression deeply contemplative, surrounded the spirit in a bubble of ectoplasmic force before turning to the rest of the party. One by one he touched the minds of each of the party members briefly, taking nothing that they would not have said openly, before turning to the hostile spirit and announcing, “You may have had good intentions but you are badly misguided and have inadvertently caused great harm to the Empire. Regardless of the danger you thought they posed, you are but a Temple Guard and it is not your place to make decisions of that magnitude. I abjure you for a year and a day. Convey yourself without delay and by the most direct route to the mother temple to contemplate your sins and failings and remain there until this instruction is complete, communicating and interacting with no-one, as penance.” He then brought the full force of his belief in Beneck Wu to bear; the party were not even sure a God could have resisted that urging. Chrin certainly couldn’t, and fled in silence, his ghostly countenance indicating that he wished to speak but was held mute against his will. Abruptly the party realized that they had each heard the priest’s words in their native tongues…
What’s still to come in this Adventure
There’s still quite a lot of juice left in this adventure to be played out. While they have met a priest who might well be the Shisoteki Shidosha-No that they were seeking, they have yet to establish relations with him – he might be just as hostile toward the party as Chrin had been. There’s the unexplained compulsion to deal with. Then there is the minor matter of the imminent invasion of their homelands by hostile numbers with both power and numbers firmly in their favor, the danger of an accord between Lolth and the Golden Kingdom (which, having seen a real cleric of Beneck Wu in action and not merely conducting a ceremonial raising of undead, seems more dangerous than ever), and a couple of twists and turns that the party can’t yet see coming.
Sidebar: Why is the Golden Empire such a threat?
Contemplate a society in which Undead serve as willing slave labor. Think about the economics and agriculture. As a general rule of thumb, in the middle ages, it took the labor of ten people to generate enough food for themselves and one other person – and not at a luxury level, either. It took the labor of about 100 people for one person to live in luxury, plus about ten servants and workmen who also needed to be supported to free them to care for the Noble they serve. So that’s 10×10+100, or 200 people per Noble. But Nobles rarely live such pampered lives alone. A Nobleman’s extended family could easily comprise a dozen people who live at the same level of luxury as he does, or close to it. And he’ll need an army of at least a hundred men to defend his estates, and every ten or so of those will need a smith or fletcher or leatherworker producing armor and weapons. So 200 x 12 = 2400 to support the noble and his extended family; 100×10 = 1000 to support the soldiers; 100×10/10=100 to support the craftsmen. 2400 + 1000 + 100 = 3500 people, minimum, to support and protect 122.
Compare that with the Golden Empire. Let’s assume that an Undead worker is as productive as a Living worker, because these aren’t ordinary undead – they have full access to all the training and skill that they received while living, and higher types can continue to learn. But they don’t need to eat, and they don’t need to sleep – though they should be washed in clean water and preservative oils once a week for an hour or two or they grow smelly. Even so, that means that each undead worker is as productive as 2 ordinary peasants (12-hour working day) or 3 peasants (8-hour working day), plus they don’t need to produce food for themselves. So the product of ten peasants is enough to support ten others at a minimal standard (if the peasants don’t eat) – now divide that by 2. Five undead workers are enough to feed 10 people. To feed those 122 – even assuming that none of them are undead – therefore requires a minimum of 122/5 = 25 undead workers. Or, to phrase it another way, 3500 undead workers can support an upper class of 17,500 people.
But they don’t have just 3500 workers. All 17,500 of those people will become undead in due course – that’s the way their society works. Perhaps 5,000 of them will serve in the mines or as general laborers. Another 10,000 into the military. And 2500 into clerical occupations, the priesthood, the civil service – everything else. What the living call “work” in the Golden Empire is making decisions, taking responsibilities, and supervising the undead who actually do the work – and developing useful skills for when their turn comes to enter the labor pool. The additional security would also relieve population pressures on the living, so the birthrate would tend to fall.
Normally, adding another 10,000 soldiers to an army for every 17,500 or so citizens would be a recipe for social collapse. Even equipping that many new soldiers at once would break most societies. But these soldiers don’t need to be fed, don’t need to sleep, and other undead can produce the arms for them, and obtain the raw materials, and more safety-related corners can be cut because they are undead – so the Golden Empire can keep up. These guys are the fantasy equivalent of Terminators – they’ll never stop, they are immune to most things and resistant to everything they aren’t immune to, and the Golden Empire, in effect, mass-produces them.
Do the math: it’s been roughly 5 generations since the Golden Empire came into being. In each generation, a healthy population at a medieval standard would increase in size by about 100% (to allow for high mortality rates), wars notwithstanding. But I’ve suggested that the population increase in this case would be smaller – +80%, +60%, +40%, +30%, and perhaps +25% from now. So, if we start with 1,000 citizens, we get a first generation of +800 citizens, a second generation of +480, a third of +192, a fourth of +58, and a fifth of +15. But that’s the growth in overall population – the difference between birth rate and death rate. If the average life expectancy was, say, 50 years – given that the citizens lead a relatively secure and pampered but relatively sedentary existence – then 50xN typical citizens must equal the total of the ages at the time of death of all those N typical citizens, and if N2 citizens die in a generation then N2+Births must equal the increase in total population from generation to generation. Assuming that the risk of death is the same, regardless of age – it never is, but it makes the math easier to make that assumption – and that the population is evenly divided (initially) amongst the different age brackets then the number of deaths works out to 0.3 x N x death rate, and average life expectancy works out to 2.2 x death rate %. So for a life expectancy of 50 years, we get 50 = 2.2 x d, or d = 22.7%. Number of deaths = N x 0.3 x 22.7/100 = 68.1 per 1000 per year. At 20 years to the generation, that’s 1362 dead per 1000 alive.
Generation 0: 1,000 + 0 undead
Generation 1: 1,800 + 2452 undead
Generation 2: 2,280 + 3105 + 2452 = 5557 undead
Generation 3: 2,392 + 3258 + 5557 = 8815 undead
Generation 4: 2,450 + 3337 + 8815 = 12152 undead
Generation 5: 2,465 + 3357 + 12152 = 15509 undead
These numbers scale – so if there were 20,000 people to start with, the Golden Empire now has 49,300 living and 310,180 undead citizens; if 200,000, then it’s 493,000 and 3.1 million; and if 2 million, then 4.93 million living and 31 million undead.
The population of fuedal Japan, on which the Golden Empire was based, according to at least one source on the internet, was 126,475,664. I don’t consider that number particularly credible since the current population is reportedly 127,463,611. So let’s divide it by 100 to be on the safe side – that’s 1.265 million, which gives current values for the Golden Empire of 3,118,225 living and 19,618,885 undead – of which 11,210,791 are in military service. Call it 3 million, 20 million, and 11 million, for convenience.
Conquest would come easily to such a nation, especially when one considers that the priesthood are capable of raising the dead of the enemy to serve as shock troops. Their loyalties change, and they lose their independence of will, but retain all the skill and knowledge and character levels and abilities and feats they used to possess – so officers provide up-to-date intelligence, withholding nothing. Because they do not risk live troops in battle, they have no need to show mercy; throw in a religious component, in that they believe that they are saving the souls of those they kill and resurrect, and their conquests tend to be both brutal and remorseless. Only children are spared and integrated into the Empire and then watched very closely. The consequence is that they conquer a lot of land with few survivors to share it amongst; this encourages the development of large estates.
Another race with whom they could be compared are the Borg – the slain enemies become part of the enemy. Borg Terminators…. a cheery thought.
So they have overwhelming military force and a religious obsession, and tactics that are a literal nightmare for their enemies. Throw in clerical powers that are not confined within a controlling structure of spells and are far more ad-hoc in capability. Then add the fact that they have preserved and even advanced a lot of the arcane knowledge and ability of the old Empire; in comparison, Fumanor spent the intervening century suppressing Arcane Magic. So advanced is the Golden Empire that they can utilize high levels of arcane magic routinely on the battlefield; most military units of 1000 zombies have a mage attached to teleport them around the battlefield, cast protective and enhancement magics, and so on.
Put all that together and it forms a very potent package – to seriously understate it. The Empire is slow and patient, and it’s a good thing they are, or they would have crushed the Kingdom of Fumanor, with its population of 5 million or so, like a bug.
The Long Journey
Some time ago I generated a map of the Golden Empire, in part employing the Map Generator from Heroes Of Might And Magic II (plus a whole bunch of different techniques, some of them experimental. Not all of those experiments were successful, I’m sorry to say. I am attaching a freshly-cleaned-up hi-resolution version of that map – what’s above is just a thumbnail. It is oriented with Sunrise to the left, Sunset to the right, Sinister at the top, and Dexter at the bottom of the map – approximately. That means that the orientation is upside-down with what we normally expect when we look at a map (‘south’ is at the top) and at 90 degrees relative to what Fumanorians expect of a map. This was done deliberately to emphasize how different are the assumptions apon which maps are constructed in the Golden Empire.
It has no key. That’s also deliberate; the same line may serve many purposes. The largest red lines are Provincial Borders, and usually follow major roads, rivers, or other natural features. These were rendered in a way that was supposed to look like isometric walls rising up from the map – one of those experiments that doesn’t work that well (though it is a lot more successful in black and white). The smaller red lines are major roads and Regional Borders within the Province, though (more rarely) they may also be rivers, lakes, or other natural features. Each region has approximately the same population as a rough rule of thumb, so it can be seen that the population is far more dense on a couple of islands at the top left. These appear to bear the same relationship to the continental landmass as England does, but the truer analogy would be that of Japan and the Asian mainland. Fumanor, the origin point of the PCs and most of the NPCs, lies many miles to the Sunset and mostly in the lower third of the map, so slightly toward the Dexter. Which, of course, makes the Golden Empire to the Sinister relative to Fumanor, perpetuating their superstition.
The essential story is that the Old Empire (from whence Julia derives) was just reaching those islands at the time of its collapse. The people of the islands were newly conquered, and neither completely pacified nor integrated into mainstream Imperial Society at the time. Everything that you can see on the map was one part of the old Empire, and at least as much besides. Most of it became petty Kingdoms or suffered total social collapse during the Godswar (which was general), the Magewar (which was only in the region around Fumanor) and the Kingsway (likewise). When the Gods stopped answering people’s prayers, and the dead began rising from their graves, people panicked. The priests, not wholly converted to the faith of the Empire, found both their new religions and their old inadequate to the times, and cobbled together a strange blend of the old religion of the Islands (a little bit Taoism and bit of Buddhism and a bit of Hinduism with admixtures of Voodoo) with that of the Empire, and named the resulting faith Beneck Wu (“The Debt Of Life”).
Since the souls of the dead were no longer being carried to heaven, to await judgment and rebirth into a new life or ascension, or doom, if earned, the Golden Kingdom had spent much of its resources trying to bring peace to their newly-risen loved ones. Beneck Wu offered a different solution: rather than laboring for the Gods while awaiting their rebirth into new lives, the Gods – knowing that they were doomed – had arranged matters so that the Dead earned their place in heaven, or their new life if they deserved a second chance, through service to the mortal world. Over the centuries, these basic principles would be expanded into the complex theology of the modern Golden Empire. Every conquest brought a province or region of the old Empire from barbarism and lawlessness into Civilization. The Golden Empire grew in the course of a century to the colossus indicated on the map. It also brings with it new heretical writings which may contain a speck of truth when analyzed by the high priests of the Empire.
One correspondent who I chatted to about the concepts of Beneck Wu and its influence on the Golden Empire back in 2005 described it as a “Palimpsest mélange of intertwining & contradictory philosophies and theologies which approximates consistency by throwing away any doctrinal proposals if they do not fit the accepted model – but embraces those parts that plug holes and bridge gaps in their own romanticized superstructure of beliefs.” (I’d name-check him but that correspondence appears to be long-gone, and only a concordance of our conversations remains in my notes folder).
As the PCs have travelled, I have marked their journey on a physical copy of that map. Now, for the first time, I have generated a cropped version of the original map that shows the path taken by the PCs in their wanderings. I am providing for both them and my other readers, a high-resolution copy of the resulting map. Just click on the thumbnail below.
The Personal Quests
All seven members of the Misfits are looking for something. In some cases, they aren’t completely sure of what that something might be, but they all have a personal quest to fulfill, and that is a key element in binding the group together.
- Tajik – his Orcish racial imperative to protect the tribe has been triggered by the Golden Empire, since his Race’s tribal lands are going to serve as the front lines in the ensuing war. At the same time, Beneck Wu is an affront to everything that he believes in, Theologically and Spiritually. His quest is to protect his people and reconcile the tribal faith with his modern theology.
- Eubani – more than anything else, he now wants to understand himself, and especially those parts of his nature which were not his choice.
- Ziorbe – after rejection more acute than anything most humans ever know, and an ensuing adulthood that was as uncomfortable as he could possibly have imagined, he wants to be completely comfortable (ie wealthy), and respected, and – most important of all – to feel like there is somewhere that he belongs. The Drow tunnels aren’t Home any more.
- Julia – as a fatalist, Julia is sure that she has survived to become this mythic historical figure for a reason. As a human being, she needs there to be such a reason, or everything she has ever supported will be left empty, corrupted, meaningless, and – ultimately – forgotten. She simply has to hang on until she finds her place in this new world and can begin fulfilling the purpose that comes with it – whatever that is.
- Leif – By virtue of his adoption of Eubani as a role-model, he has been instrumental in saving those people from a terrible cataclysm – at the price of being separated from his homeland in the ways of both Ziobe AND Julia. And now that his role-model is repudiating the ideals that led to that hero-worship in the first place, he doesn’t know what he should believe in, or who he should try to become. (Yes, his story is a lot like Frodo’s).
- Arron – wants to understand it – all of it. Why his people were so cruelly enslaved by the Drow. Why his tribe were the ones to break free of that enslavement. Why people have done the things that they have done. And why he is so different even from the other members of his tribe.
- Verde – more than any of the others, he knows he has a destiny, and that the members of Tajik’s Misfits will aid him in achieving it. His quest is for an understanding of that destiny, and whether he should embrace it – or flee it.
- Chrin – wants more than anything to defend his faith and his homeland from the enemies that it has made and is making. The most patriotic of them all – and that’s what made him their irreconcilable enemy.
- The reputed Priest of Beneck Wu – at least according to reports – is on a personal quest, unable to hide from the gaping cracks in his theology any more.
Heck, if it comes to that, Even Lolth and the Golden Empire and the Kingdoms of Fumanor and Corellan have agendas. None of them can go on with things the way they are for much longer. The Seeds Of Empire campaign is the story of the fulfillment or failure of all these quests, both personal and impersonal.
The Orcs and Elves series
I’m not going to detail exactly what’s going to happen, beyond a couple of generalities that the players already know about (even if their characters don’t) plus one or two essential details. They know that somewhere in this part of the world they will meet a member of the Huyondaltha, one of the legendary Bladedancers, the heirs to Elvish Culture. These are the legendary warriors Eubani has travelled to the Golden Empire to meet, though he is no longer sure that he wants to study under them; he is finding his own life as an individual and the relationship he has with his race is diminished in importance to him as a result. The circumstances of that meeting are not something that I am going to go into in these pages – at least until it happens in-game. But, as a consequence of that encounter, and the fact that the different members of the party (save Leif) all know parts of the story that comprises the full history of the Elves, the Huyondaltha – Thalazar – is going to seize the opportunity to reveal all.
Even the Huyondaltha don’t know it all; knowledge had been lost prior to their departure from the Elven Lands which they could not preserve, and of course they know nothing of events after that departure. So the full story will be as exciting and revelatory to him as will be to the PCs and NPCs involved. (In other words, he also has a quest!)
The main series, of which this and the preceding four parts are context and preamble, is the story that the Huyondaltha will draw out from the participants. Unfortunately, it’s a story that is only partly written – and that’s where this series will fit in. Essentially, I can post the early parts (the ones that are finished) as a series of articles here at Campaign Mastery. That not only frees me from the burdensome aspects of writing one article a week, it gives me the time to work on the next parts of the story – until the whole thing is finished. It will be a blend of society, theology, culture, and history in a heavily narrative style – essentially, a historical novel of sorts. There will be surprises for both the players and the characters as the story unfolds. And readers of Campaign Mastery will get to read it as a serial, at the same time that the players do. Quite frankly, it’s the only way that it will be finished in time for play – but it also has the additional benefit of breaking the story down into digestible chunks. Some chapters will be long, some will be so short that there will be four or five in a single article. So that’s the grand plan.
The Writing Of Orcs & Elves
In writing the original Orcs and Elves narrative, I started with a long list of key events. Those events were the logical succession of dominos to result in the Elves being in the condition they are today. Many of them lay hidden in unpublished notes from prior to the start of play in the original campaign – only their consequences were included in the material provided to the PCs as racial notes. A few came from integrating adventures by third parties into the timeline because they seemed to fit – and I’ll be giving credit where it’s due when the appropriate time comes.
Each event was noted as succinctly as possible. An example might be:
“Dwarfwar III – notes page [X]”.
I then mapped those events to the Chronology of The Ages of Mankind – all the information the PCs had received on this subject was filtered through religious doctrine and more or less ignored the accounts of petty kings and great empires in favor of “more important things”. This will be the first time that any reports of what was happening to “ordinary people” during these times has been documented. I also wanted to include any consequences of the central plotline – if Human society was altered or affected by events, I wanted a subsequent event for no other purpose than showing those alterations and effects.
With this chronology as a basis, I was able to break the whole story down into 72 chapters (actually, it was only going to be 39, but a few got added to keep sizes more consistent) and place them all in a logical sequence to form a skeletal outline of the overall narrative. That’s one or more chapters to each of my original timeline events. Along the way, I was able to add specific notes for key historical events, such as “Elves discover Mithral”. To ensure that these were noticed whenever I looked for them, they were in blue text; a second pass gave me a bunch more in red. The color-coding let me see at a glance where I was up to.
Each of those big events was then broken down into essentially a bullet list of the actual major events, a step-by-step account of each of the major events. These were still in highly abbreviated form. An example reads “Drow in the age of heresies – Llolth and the Gnomish Genocide”. This is the only entry for that particular chapter, but others had up to a dozen. By continually striving to connect cause in the past with effect in the more recent past, I add more such items every time I added more text. These notes are all in purple (Fuchsia if you want to get technical).
Each such note then became a list of paragraphs and the subject matter of each paragraph. I then wrote a paragraph or more describing the events in full narrative form, from a general third-person perspective. Some paragraphs expanded to become full chapters in their own right. This version of the text was also colored blue – its easy to distinguish a couple of words in blue from paragraph after paragraph in that text color.
A Question Of Style
Finally, I went through the resulting text and determined which sentence would stem from the lore of which of the participating characters – Tajik, Ziorbe, Eubani, Arron, Verde, or Thalazar, and rewrote that sentence as though it were being contributed to the narrative by the individual in question. Sometimes, it’s very easy to identify who the speaker is, allowing the perspectives and attitudes and personalities of both the individual and their race to come through.
At least in theory…
The hard truth is that there are some sections that are nothing but the big event summary, with no details yet decided; there are some sections that are in rough note form; there are whole chapters that are nothing but outline breakdown; and, while a few chapters have been given the full treatment, most of the ones that have actually been written in full narrative form are still using a general third-person format. Nineteen of the currently-planned planned seventy-nine chapters have been written to at least a publishable standard. After the first few, I gave up on the stylistic rewriting and just concentrated on getting the story down on paper, even in outline form, and that’s the only reason things have gotten as far as they have. The longest chapter is about three pages long, the rest are smaller. In terms of the time management techniques I described in Game Prep and the +N to Game Longevity, I gave up on the artistic standard and retreated from the professional standard to concentrate on the Base Standard – but the whole thing still isn’t done even to that standard.
What’s done to a professional (ie full narrative) standard takes up 15 pages of text. I figure that I’ll break that into five articles of about three pages each, or roughly 1500-word slices. That will give me time to finish the event breakdowns and get chapter 20 (the Dwarvish invasion of Elvarheim, the Elvish homeland, part of the second great war between Elves and Dwarves) finished – there’s only 4 or so paragraphs to go – and get started on the next one. Each week here at Campaign Mastery, I’ll get as much of it done as I can – aiming to maintain that 1500 word average – and just keep going, staying one or two or hopefully three articles ahead of the published material. Even if I run out of time, and don’t get it all finished, I’ll have a lot more of it done by the time it comes up in-game. And, as a bonus, all you lovely readers out there will get, in effect, a new sourcebook on Elves and Drow and Orcs and others consisting of episodic events that you can integrate into your own campaigns, and hopefully a rousing good read into the bargain. (Sorry – for some reason I seem to be channeling Jamie Oliver at the moment).
You might think that – given the size of this article, or of most of the others here at Campaign Mastery, which average well over 4000 words each, that this will be easy to achieve. And maybe it will be, but my experience is that fictional narrative of any sort involves an entirely different creative process, and entirely different mental processes, to writing a non-fiction article. Frankly, I don’t know how long it will take to write, so I’m trying to play it safe.
And, of course, if I have to (or if I just feel like throwing in a bit of variety), I can always take a break for a week or two and throw in a “normal” article for a change.
Revelations To Come
So that’s the recipe and the plan of attack. The plot twists are about to begin, so fasten your seat belts…
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 1
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 2
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 3
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 4
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 5
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 1-4
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 5-10
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 11-14
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 15-17
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 18-20
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 21-23
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 24-26
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 27-28
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 29-31
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 32-36
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 37-40
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 41-43
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 44-46
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 47-51
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Orcish Mythology
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 52-54
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 55-58
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 59-62
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 63-65
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 66-68
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 69-70
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 71-73
- Who Is “The Hidden Dragon”? – Behind the curtain of the Orcs and Elves Series
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapter 74
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 75-77
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 78-85