Thursday, May 22, 2014

Fallen Empire - In the Summer of the White Mouth Dogs (Hooks)

I think this is video game concept art
Below is an initial attempt to flesh out the ideas behind my fallen Empire Post of last week.  The idea behind Fallen Empire/Empire of Rag and Bone is to create a setting where high magic of the most absurd and potent variety exists, but is both rare and mysterious.  I have tried to include a few setting hooks into the letter below, which may verge on “Bad wanna-be fantasy author territory” rather then game content.  I also try to pull the game ideas (Stone Ships is explicitly from this world) from actual historical events (take a guess what the three below are).

Dearest County Cousin,

In the Summer of the White Mouthed Dogs

The summer of the 14th year of the Reign of his Imperial Luminosity Just the XIX, the weather is fierce and the river low.  The guard’s cistern had to be drained to keep the roof ponds, and their bounty of frogs from drying out, though the frogs are neither as numerous or juicy as might be hoped.  At least the guards won’t mind the lack of water, as Warden Quinn has moved into Sister Astix’s chambers, which will be a scandal, but it’s not as if there are any left in the capital of the right blood for the poor girl to marry anyhow and if there were we have nothing worth a dowry these days.   Quinn’s five men deserted last year to join the plundering trade, and only Gorg has returned, the white haired man stood at the gate the first day of spring, naked and a bit cracked, but the Patriarch’s pride will make sure he’s fed, and has a place by the kitchen fire.   

Most wondrous news, and I know how you enjoy news from the ‘Great Capitol’.  The low river prevented a great many of the barges from finishing their journey this year, at least the ones whose masters didn’t ride the spring flood.  It was a bad year for scavenging, so bad that a daughter of one of the mercantile families approached me by the Twinlight Gate, you remember the old archway where we sat that fateful autumn of the last year of childhood and watched the soldiers burn where that Resurgent fool tried to take the wealth of the Red Factory by force.   It is still covered amber moss and tiny white flowers that smell of musk, and out of its shadow a veiled woman made a gesture of acknowledgement.  Do not worry she was wrinkled and coarse as all the crafters are, in her 40’s and worse her hands exposed to the sun in childhood. 
Yet the woman, I never learned her name, do you think that rude, or would learning it have been too familiar?  Had an offer.  Her family had some paintings, and wines and good brocades and they wished to know how our larders were.  I brought the deal to the Patriarch and was most forceful, so in the end we all have a new set of linens, two new footmen, and the entry hall has a fine monumental ½ scupture of Vizer Tel, who was my 12th Grandfather’s patron.  
The negotiations took the weeks of late spring, and I was the chosen representative for the house.  In many hours of conversation I learned much news from the townswoman.   Here are the bits I remember dearest cousin:
­X) An expedition by the Resurgent Templar King, a title so absurd I had to pretend I was ill for an hour after I first heard it to stifle the laughter, set out from some port in the New Provinces and landed on the Isle of Enmity* seeking souvenirs.  They did not return of course, but their supply ship escaped and reported seeing an archon striding along the beach.  Imagine a creature of that nature still exists from the First days of the Successor Empire and the battle against the demons of the False Corrector.
X) The Resurgent Kingdoms war with each other again, but one clever barbarian despot has managed to marry his daughter to a family of border barons, I think it was a rustic branch of the Green Sash, and brought in their war machines**, a brass colossus and a few lesser automatons into the war, enlarging his Kingdom.  I wonder if this is a victory for Imperial culture or a loss, but I know so little of the province I cannot say.  
X) I have saved the best for last! The Imperial Road Wardens*** are still active, while I accept that the highways may be in poor repair in places I believe that this fact alone shows that the highways are still safes.  With taxes being paid to the wardens for their upkeep, the roads must be clear of the sort of riff raff and dangerous beasts that would trouble a young man of my station.  I plan to depart next spring, after the roads have thawed but before the torrents.  I believe that the crafter family can secure me a place on a barge that will take me past the riotous districts and then it will simply be an idyllic ride through the blooming countryside to your father’s lands. I think I will bring my valet, and old Gorg, and the freckled footman who is excellent at bringing down birds with a strap and stones, as company and in case I meet with commoners that can give directions. I cannot spoil the surprise I have planned for my arrival, but I will say that I have instructed the footmen to spend time between their fishing expeditions on making the dower suite habitable again.

Until I see you, know that I have not forgotten our time together those many years ago when your father visited the Capitol.  I trust you have not forgotten either, and expect to see you before the summer next.

Pepinot Vex, Hereditary Peinkernes Extraordinary
*The Isle Enmity was once a fortress island in the ancient war the destroyed the True Empire.  The demon legions under the command of the Imperial Bureaucracy and the False Corrector had fortified the island when they realized that their tactics of resolute attack were failing.  Spending over a year using magic and alchemy to carve the entire island of heavy volcanic rock into a network of fortresses, the battle to capture it’s strategic ley nexus and port was one of the worst of the war.  So fierce was the conflict that the forces of the Cadet Emperor had to summon archons and offer them a pact to take the island. 

It has remained untouched, unplundered and largely unexplored since and represents a treasure of both the ancient magical weaponry and more mundane valuables, striped from at least two provinces buried in the fortress vaults by the Corrector’s armies.   

** The remaining frontiers of the Imperial Central Provinces are protected by scattered and corrupt garrisons, lucky if they have a fifth of the soldiers they claim on paper, and ancient arcano-technic automatons in the hands of the nobility.  The various colossi and titans are the greatest of these, and even broken (as most are) they are engines of destruction without equal and capable of single-handedly leveling any fortress built in the last 1,000 years or destroying all but the largest and most magically potent of armies.  That some such devices might fall into the hands of the Resurgent Powers bodes ill for the Empire, as they are the only force protecting it from wholesale plunder.  The Resurgent Powers are ripe for military adventurers, with kings, high inquisitors and khans willing to hire almost anyone with the right Imperial accent who claims to know something about the recovery, use or repair of ancient Imperial Weaponry.

*** The Imperial Road Warden were originally bands of tax collectors, rangers and excise agents who were paid to maintain and keep the roads clear of banditry and dangerous fauna.  They do still exists, as the Warden families and hamlets have themselves grown into their own communities over time, and now take their duties and right very seriously.  Originally empowered to tax based on a certain percentage based on the expected profits of a trader’s stock and to take this tax from the stock itself if coinage was not available, and then issue a stamped lead pass entitling the merchant to Imperial protection form future taxes (market taxes, province taxes and noble’s road taxes) the Wardens have devolved into a type of genteel banditry.  Still able to quote Imperial law (several centuries out of date) and well versed in the ancient value of various goods or the price of passage in extinct coinage, an encounter with Wardens will typically result in the loss of a trader’s entire stock and a traveler’s possession.  Wardens are not as hated as the bandits that also infest the roads, because they are punctilious in their duties and never steal a traveler’s horse, wagon or clothes, and always issue stamped lead passes, which are still honored in a few trade towns.  Moreover the presence of Wardens, many of whom still carry at least a few pieces of ancient Imperial weaponry, tends to mean that the road is free from mundane bandits.  Larger merchant caravans have been known to hire groups of Warden’s as guards or employ an Imperial Barrister to argue law with any wardens encountered.  All of these methods have meet with varying degrees of success, depending on the nature of any the Wardens encountered.

Merchants may undertake these methods, and simpler tactic of deception or violence to protect themselves from Warden bands, but they never forge the Warden’s simple lead passes, because it is a known Warden tactic to infiltrate family members (the Warden bands are almost all familial in nature and all Wardens see themselves as kin of a sort) into caravans to ferret out dishonesty.  Merchants who cheat or attempt to deceive wardens will be strangled at night by these imposter travelers, and a signed death warrant for a variety of crimes against the Imperial Code left on their bodies.


  1. I like it! " high magic of the most absurd and potent variety exists" sounds great. I don't think there's enough of this in old school settings. I wouldn't worry about the "wannabe fantasy author" part. Do what you want. Haters always gonna hate, man.

  2. I have read a shit-ton of bad, bland and banal stuff, both while working for a publisher and for researching through the Public Domain for my own projects and this was by no means bad. The core concept is quite engaging and well worth exploring. Run with it. Make cool stuff happen. Have fun!

  3. the art is from some Shadow of the Colossus concept art