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[Exalted] the Realm is here!

Isator Levie

Registered User
Validated User
Okay, drawing a direct comparison first off, I’m extremely glad that the section on these does not begin with an interminably long description of the procedures for resolving jurisdictional disputes. I’ve always wanted to like the Thousand Scales as an organ of the Realm, but somehow I’ve never quite felt that the books were interested in giving a strong sense of what they were and where they were located. You got scattered references to their concerns in the succession crisis, but never really something as direct and consolidated as introducing them with a description of struggling fiercely to hold their departments together in governing the Realm while the Exalted elites are focused on dividing territories and possessions up. It illustrates them as an institution that functions in its own right, rather than just another arena for the Dynasty; more on that in a bit.

First off, it helps me to actually picture their bureaucratic functioning to be given a description of not just the sizes of ministries, but the kinds of offices that they operate within (as well as where they’re located in the Imperial City and around the Isle, and what reason there is for some devolution). I find the more dynamic character of the Blessed Isle to be reflected in the matter of how rural offices for ministries might be assigned, as it implies to my that they’re not infrequently moved around (and I chuckle at the image of some recently relocated bureaucrats needing to settle in to an appropriated country manor). Similar goes for how the Empress’ process of checking the power of individual bureaus creates scenarios such as division, absorption and some needing to temporarily take on additional duties when an especially offensive one has to be dissolved and reconstituted from scratch.

So, for the matter of the Thousand Scales as something that stands largely separate from the authority of the Scarlet Dynasty, I think a lot if helped by them really doubling down on the prominence of the patricians in them; for one thing, it provides a clear picture of exactly who the bureaucrats are. It also gives a basis for some patrician families to have a standing of mortal gentry of long history, even if they lack things like direct land holdings, rather than coming across solely as the lackeys of the Dynasty. The matter of unExalted Dynasts entering the Scales only to find that they’re suddenly the smaller fish who need to make more subservient appeals to patrician families (helpfully given a number of names to latch onto) isn’t just a fun reversal, but lends mortals more agency and authority even in the Realm itself. And setting it up as a prize for Dynasts to fight for control over helps to give it a stake in the conflict and make it more of a player on its own standing.

The description of entering the Thousand Scales is also a step up, foregoing a lot of words about how attractive it is across class lines and instead presenting the actual procedure, and the practical obstacles for people of lesser means managing to so much as take the exams, let alone present a respectable image of themselves should they do well enough to be given an opportunity. It makes the matter seem less like deliberately dangling peasant applicants on the end of a string, in a way that made the government of the Realm look a bit too underhanded and duplicitous. No, I prefer this idea that it generally amounts to a way of giving the wealthy a means of forging connections in the bureaucracy by sponsoring their way through the doors. I could actually see it as covering the First Edition point of giving the ministries a large pool of potentially talented candidates to select from at the same time as it encourages the higher patricians and even the Great Houses to foot some of the bill.

The description of advancement through the ranks reads a lot more deft and nuanced to me; assassination to create openings is still there, but there’s none of this talk of it being treated in the cavalier manner of “personally killing a superior is considered tacky”. Yes, I’m recalling the main things that I found frustrating about the original write-up; between the amount of words devoted to how hard it was to peruse the regulations defining everybody’s job (with those gigantic three thousand page books) and the idea that they’re constantly embroiled in scheming to murder one another (there’s a reference to treating it like a spectator sport), it was hard to envision them ever actually getting any work done. No, keep it short and sweet; the idea that they’ll often target people a few steps up the ladder to create an opening immediately above while making it harder to trace is clever enough. That and the attention given to all of the forms of leverage that can be applied against a superior or colleague who remains alive. There’s a fun subversion to the idea that, in the current uncertainties, assassination actually becomes a less surefire way to seek promotions as the Deliberative appropriates the power to fill emergency vacancies and the whole thing becomes deadlocked with Dynastic scheming and simple paperwork inertia. It’s a nice touch of humour to end on the image of somebody successfully murdering a superior, just to find that the only way they can try and secure advancement is through taking the exams.

The ministries themselves have firmer ground to stand on. The Treasury in particular always struck me as one of the stronger written organs of the Realm’s government, and Bal Keraz (now given a fancy title of Empress’ Exchequer, and now the successor of a mother instead of father) was somebody I always wanted to know more about. As such I’d say it needed little adjustment; what changes are made, the ministers who started misappropriating funds, were purged by way of Keraz’s alliance with the All-Seeing Eye, and have thrown in their lot with the Dynasty where they can, looks to me to be all for the good of increasing the Treasury’s presence in the oncoming conflict. The Edition’s greater considerations for financial practices having an expression in the form of the value of the treasure-manses (another fine old element) being something transferable despite lacking the means of penetrating their defences to access the hard currency is another fun dimension to how canny the institute’s managers are.

The Humble and Honest Assessors of the Imperial Tax is obviously a good place to reiterate how everybody is engaged in the game of trying to conceal their assets from the government, and it gives a little something extra to the surveyors and collectors with that idea that they might often make their rounds in disguise and could do with a grounding in self-defence (something about that reads strangely familiar to me, and I don’t think it’s how they were written in the past… I have the oddest sense that a similar idea came up in forum discussion a long time ago). I like the tension underlying how the person in charge retains integrity while his department becomes rife with corruption, and find the newly defined attitude that Cathaks bring to business to help envision Curuk’s personality and actions a bit more. He also comes across as a figure more willing to fight for the future of his charge.

Of the three financial ministries, the Foreign Office appears to have made the transition with the least alteration, hardly any at all really; it’s still the body concerned both with coordinating assessment of the satrapies’ worth and advising on how to exploit them without causing too much damage. The major change seems to primarily emerge from the overall Edition’s modification of how the satrapy system works; Ledaal Arnis’ main frustration remains that the tribute is not flowing correctly, and she’s even still presented as unable to see a way out of her position, but the concern has gone from the satrapies asserting increasing independence to the manner in which the Houses are both not remanding the state its share of the tribute and heedlessly sucking their holdings dry. It’s still a fine example of a more prominent department of the government, and I’d say it’s okay to present at least one of the people in charge as being a bit crushed under the pressure of the state collapsing. And it’s particularly fitting to this one, since the question of how the Houses are implementing sustainable foreign policy would be the most out of her hands, compared to the other two grappling with their own subordinates who are present on the Isle with them.

Oh, okay; the enormous Imperial Registry is still around. I still maintain that the approach, even the placement, here prevents it from giving the Thousand Scales an image of being tremendously ponderous. Everything about the interpreters remains the same, but expressing it with this brevity helps contribute to the sense of efficiency. I’d also say that this is a ministry in both a tangential and important enough position to be afforded some of that extreme violence in its punishments. Nothing much to say about Wave Akeru, but I like how her duty is both given some activity and used as the means to convey how the Registry is distributed.

(This would be where I realised I needed to break it up)

There are a few things I like about this art piece. The lighting is very nice and it’s good to be given a scene of what the bureaucratic activity actually consists of. I like the way the whole thing is centred around a single colourful individual who is implicitly Exalted, which can also give a sense of the prominence they hold in a given office. And the fact that most of the people featured are women (although that does make me notice how there hasn’t yet been a statement on them being more prominent in administrative positions).

Errrr… okay, I’m going to handle the main ministries first, and then go back to cover the ones in sidebars.

Now, the imperial judges. This would be another one where I often felt as though there were a lot of mentions on them that never quite covered basic information like where they’re based out of or how cases are brought before them, so I’m happy to see that addressed here. Given the description of how the Black-Helms often have the authority to punish wrongdoers or resolve disputes, the ideas for the forms of pressure that have them remand cases to the courts sound interesting, both in terms of what convinces them to not exercise their own authority and instances in which it’s impressed upon them to not let an offence slide with a warning. The judges themselves still have the issues inherent to the matter of pulling double duty as prosecutor while there’s no involvement of legal counsel, and the law code sounds sufficiently complex that it’s not the thing that can be inscribed on public monoliths and made readily comprehensible. But the matters of how they employ investigators and are ascribed skills such as forensics and interrogation at least implies that they’re expected to be comprehensive in judging cases, and the power of magistrates to unilaterally overturn verdicts sounds like an incentive to do due diligence; I can imagine that it was often an embarrassment to have one of the enforcers of the Empress impugn your honour and authority like that. My queries about the form of punishments is handily addressed here; I imagine that fines are by far the most common form of punishment (and a handy source of prefectural revenue), and that beatings (which I presume includes things like lashing) are typically for those who couldn’t afford them. If it’s one judge per prefecture, I can readily see how House Peleps Exalted or mortal scions could be prominent among them without straining their numbers (the Exalted in particular seeming well suited for the level of activity ascribed), and I like a bit of intrigue entailed by the upper classes getting a special appeals court; the whole thing also gives a nice picture of how the Houses would be looking to appoint judges firmly in their pockets. Last of all, I find the sidebar on their role in Dynastic marriage to be amusing, that notion of being favoured for eloquence and often being a sinecure for older ones.

The Honourable and Humble Caretakers of the Common Folk would be the last major one detailed in First Edition. I find that nothing in their remit has been particularly changed, rather elaborated upon to give a clearer picture of the daily practicalities (which is precisely the kind of thing that I would want from a write-up such as this); how they monitor crop yields and designate food stock assignments, assess infrastructure and war manse upkeep, determine which prefectures have the greatest need for resources for the Guardians and audit prefectural finances to ensure that local officials aren’t squeezing their charges or not giving the state its cut. It strikes me as a very effective meeting point between the Realm’s devolved government and central control, and something liable to generate a massive quantity of paperwork. I particularly like being given a clear instance of the deliberate overlap in purviews with how their assessment of taxation clashes with that of the Humble Assessors. The matter of the replacement for the murdered Custodian being blocked by the Deliberate feels stronger in the context of their wider practice, and I like how we’re given particular examples of the consequences of that lack of leadership, giving a clearer picture of the Realm’s gradual diminishment; it’s also interesting to see a bureau being brought down not by unchecked corruption of its officials or being divided up among the Houses, but the simple disarray coming from how their command structure is being gutted and there are private interests that would merely ignore them. Bal Keraz and Cathak Kuruk taking responsibility for trying to give some direction for the flailing ministry is the sort of thing I always liked about them.

The Stewards of Imperial Assets are new, and appear quite fitting to the focus elsewhere on the Blessed Isle’s sophisticated infrastructure (and this nice new emphasis on the Realm Defence Grid as a more distributed system). I find that I can easily reconcile the statement that there’s fierce competition for construction and maintenance bids with how What Fire Has Wrought ascribes House Mnemon the right of first refusal for contracts from the Throne with an idea that the Mnemons simply… refuse a sizable number of projects, either because they’re committed elsewhere or a given project isn’t lucrative enough (either that or it was meant to be even more literal and refer to personal commissions from the Empress); in any case, the idea of firms violently clashing or sabotaging one another enriches the character of the Isle a bit, as well as being very true to what is typical of the history and conduct of construction workers. ;) It’s interesting to me how the current situation represents a likely hitherto unrealised implication of the disruptive policies of the Empress; there might have been circumstances in which all of the Stewards needed to be disbanded and the Caretakers temporarily took up their duties, but I’d say there’s never before been a case in which one ministry technically survived but had been so compromised that it crashed into a closely related other one executing its duties. The connection to the Realm Defence Grid in particular probably gives the ministry a particularly strong commitment, if their institutional culture is strongly indoctrinated with the idea that the key defensive weapon of the empire, the one that literally saved the world, was in their charge, and that lends a compelling touch of desperation to the idea that they prioritize maintaining the war manses above all else. That ministry head Rose Adal might have insight into its functioning from a lengthy career makes the Sword a more engaging and versatile target than the inscrutable single manse that has been focused on before, and it strongly appeals to me that a figure of such focus for the agendas and appeals of the Great Houses is a mortal and patrician.

The Sagacious and Scrupulous Registrars of Sorcerous Puissance are something technically new, although they cover a familiar element of the setting: the obligations of sorcerers to the Scarlet Empress. Really, with their broader array of powers in the form of workings and the manner in which sorcery might be a bit more widespread among the populace and tolerated from the lower classes, keeping a comprehensive registry of them would seem more important than ever; I think it gives some interesting activities to ascribe them consultant sorcerers who help to assess the activities or presence of others. I find something particularly fun about the idea that the Great Houses value unregistered sorcerers for being able to come at one another from unforeseen angles, and the idea that there would be ones who find the prospect so unappealing that they go out of their way to become part of the official record. Not much to say about the Obligations themselves, beyond an appreciation for some of the guidelines given behind the history of how the Empress exercised that authority (particularly waiting quite a while for them to become powerful enough to have a greater breadth and depth of services to call upon). I find Rein Melana to constitute a fun contrast with the wider perceptions of sorcerers; that while they themselves carry a certain stigma, there’s something seen as exciting and mysterious to an official who is charged with management of them. Along the same lines as sorcerers looking to register, I quite like the idea that they’re doing as much as the Houses are to appeal to Melana with the hopes that she’ll make them sound less desirable to exploit toward the ends of the Realm’s elite.

As I said when it was brought up in What Fire Has Wrought, the Righteous and Accountable Ministry of Weights and Measures struck me as a bureau that previous Editions treated a bit humorously with its flowery title and mundane portfolio, being redeemed with a more serious attitude to the implications of enforcing standardisation. I see that as being effectively built upon and expanded here, with points such as how standard measurements of length are not only employed in things such as land assessment and boundary resolution, but determining the purity of coinage being offered in tribute (tying nicely into the updated description of the importance of silver to the Realm’s economy). Even the most direct applications of measurement standards sound more important here, whether it be ensuring the proper construction of buildings or how keeping merchants weighing goods keeps the economy flowing smoothly. Hence, it builds a lot of credibility for it being an institute whose ministers are ripe for corruption and traditionally a strong target for the magistracy. I like the idea that an outcaste brought up on Peleps principles might be liable to have gone far enough in trying to keep the ministry honest to invite an assassination attempt, and think there’s something interesting to the implication that the Dynasty attempting to interfere with this branch of the bureaucracy would be especially crossing the line; that it’s one thing to not be sending the government its due, and another entirely to try and obfuscate exactly how much is owed or being sent in the first place.

The Splendid and Just Arbiters of Purpose are basically identical here to their presentation in What Fire Has Wrought, even if a description of the ministries would be incomplete without them. The main important thing I’m getting is the Master of Orphans and the agendas of the Scarlet Dynasty concerning the ministry; I think Agama Orir having personal ties to House Tepet and directing outcastes in their direction is both another good addition to giving that floundering House a bit more of a fighting chance, and a reminder that corruption isn’t always an unsympathetic thing. And I have a particular liking for the idea that the Empress’ policies towards outcastes, at the expense of the Dynasts, would be something they’d resent enough to want to eliminate the bureau altogether and finally have direct access to the found eggs; the idea that Mnemon’s austerity and high concern for its pedigree would leave them so concerned with not being saddled with the thin-blooded or leave them to be snatched up by rivals that they would advocate for the Arbiters is just gravy.

My but this is lengthy. I’ll be a bit more reserved in assessing the sidebar ones, unless any jump out.

Okay, we’ve got a couple of additional finance ministries to probably establish that area of government as the most intentionally convoluted in the Realm. The Empress’ Private Purse reminds me that there has thus far been no reference to the old rituals entailed in taxation, so between that and referring to the cash as integral to the Realm’s economy and future (particularly somebody acknowledging that it’s what they’d need to pay the common soldiers in) I’m happy to declare them dead, and the scrip itself raised a bit from the idea of it being a kind of elaborate con to have the populace deal in worthless money*. Meanwhile the Bursars of Barbarian Tribute help to further place the matter of collecting silver from the satrapies into context, especially with the manner in which the Realm employed it; I particularly like the idea that it was mostly stored for the sake of backing instruments used in dealing with merchants and foreign princes, not only for how sensible that would be in place of dealing in large quantities of coinage but the implication that an indirect means for the Empress to exert control in the Threshold, even beyond the borders of satrapies, was by controlling the currency supply (not to mention tying those who would deal in Realm bonds more closely to its trade, as such documents were probably harder to enforce among other merchants than they would be back on the Blessed Isle). I like how the Dynasty would prize the reserves for their potential in hiring foreign soldiers to supplement their divided legions and exert more direct power over their Threshold possessions, and enjoy the ingenuity of the patrician head trying to appropriate the money towards raising a private army to assert her house’s own position should the worst happen.

Not much to say on the Compilers of the Curriculum beyond liking that it’s there to showcase centralised authority over education, while the Devoted Wardens of the Empressi Wilderness are a good reminder that bureaucracy isn’t all about administration of the inhabitants. In a place with the size and diverse ecology of the Blessed Isle, I would imagine that overseeing the wilderness and safeguarding against wildfires is a particularly invested responsibility, and I get a kick out of the idea that dealing with a group as privileged as the Scarlet Dynasty would provide an especially tense motivating factor to ensuring that the forests are kept populous with game (it’s also nice to have a name for the people that poachers would be concerned with dodging). I can even see it as having an unstated overlapping responsibility with a few other ministries; I have to imagine that being responsible for safeguarding against, say, earthquakes or floods results in jurisdictional disputes with the Caretakers and Stewards.

Huh, I wasn’t expecting genealogies to be something that the Realm would place under government control, although its importance to tracking and assessing the Dragon’s Blood makes sense as something that the state would want to keep track of and keep honest. I’ll have to think about how this might complicate my ideas of the forgery of such records as a fraught subject for intrigue… okay I’ve thought about it; it adds an extra layer of complication to such activities in the form of things like coordinating heists or bribes to have such records placed in official storage (adding even more motive to cover-ups or fighting investigation as it can go beyond undermining marriage negotiations and into outright concealing criminal activity), and I would see the charges for access to records as being the kind of thing that might incentivize those trying to determine somebody’s lineage to seek alternative avenues (as well as a clever additional means for the Empress to have bilked money from the Houses). I also like the infighting inherent to Sesus working to prevent Nellens from accessing the data that would assist its quest to improve their pedigree.

I enjoy the idea that the ministry behind issuing permits for crossing prefecture lines has limited prestige or meaningful power, but is a big enough deal in the lives of even people who can be quite wealthy as to make positions therein lucrative. And while the Imperial Post was elaborately detailed elsewhere, I find this chapter’s context to give stronger weight to the point that, for all the power of the Great Houses, maintaining the lines of communication with the human assets that even they are limited to (let alone the operations of the Blessed Isle as a whole) is so integral to the function of the land that it’s the one ministry that can be relied upon to be allowed to function and keep its operating budget in this Time of Tumult (despite the efforts of its Master’s House). Last is the ministry dedicated to collecting dubious relics; I’m guessing that their being so poorly fitted would be a combination of such an area being ultimately a low priority in the Realm’s administration for the limited practical value, as well as how much of that purview is already handled by private interests. It’s another one where it’s good to have a name for the people behind preserving sanctioned historical accounts. I also like being given another reference to the clandestine research of Ledaal and Ragara.

Finally there’s the sidebar on sorcerous societies. The basic principle behind them, that stigma in the Realm creates an environment for them to band together and have their own network to coordinate or simply socialize without apprehension, that always seemed like a good extrapolation from the characteristics of sorcerers in this place and basis for drama. Yet in practice they’ve never quite grabbed me, for reasons of often seeming to be overlooked and a few of the examples being a bit banal (it also wasn’t helped by first placing them at the tail end of the chapter about the life of Dynasts). I’ll admit that I don’t think this rendition gets to the best start with the Sorcerers of the Scarlet Throne, who I find to just be a tad too Magicians’ Alliance in their demands to be taken seriously (although there is something fun to the idea of the Empress amusing herself by exploiting their conceits to put their powers to menial tasks); there is at least something helpful to throw into the buildup to war in some of them making overtures to the Scarlet prefect, although none of this is quite new. Similar with the Watchers, although the original premise being replicated here was at least a bit more interesting, employed to police their compatriots against letting their weirder powers get to their heads (especially as regards demons) and sinisterly eliminating them. The one original addition, the Cabal of Righteous Midwives, has a lot more going for it in how they fold into this intriguing new dimension to Dynastic society, and I do like the descriptions of how binding and commanding the relevant demons to fulfil the task satisfactorily would entail specialised knowledge.

Hhhhowever… I do feel a need to be a bit critical of this sidebar on the grounds that it feels a bit at odds with itself. Societies are introduced largely as something like subcultures to allow sorcerers outlets despite the manner in which they’re marginalized in Dynastic society, but then the examples we get make them seem a lot more like trade guilds trying to ply specialized services to that society for prestige or profit. It’s not helped by having two out of three of them dedicated in particular to serving the Scarlet Empress. The idea of trying to organise themselves to coordinate or more effectively advertise making their powers available as is the typical remit of sorcerers in the Realm, that would be fine but I would want it to be how they were summarized (and maybe one more example given that wasn’t dedicated to the Empress). If you’re going to introduce them as subcultures, I feel as though it would be much stronger to convey them in terms of outlooks and practices that arise from them sharing their particular unusual insights and personal experiences. Heck, even the ones given could fit into that with a few adjustments in the wording; I would find the Scarlet Throne one a bit more compelling if there was a better sense that their conceits and ambitions were a direct response to the usual marginal status, or if the Watchers were described not as a result of official commission but emerging from a few sorcerers who got together and concluded from shared anecdotes that, hey, sorcery represents a unique spiritual danger to its practitioners and people of the Realm at large, and maybe we should keep an eye on our fellows.

But, leaving all of that aside, the description of the Ministries is quite to my satisfaction. I think it does a lot to convey the mechanisms of the bureaucracy both in terms of how they’re engaged by the paper pushers and interacted with and impacting the populace at large. It strengthens their sense of importance to the operation of the Realm, effectively sets them apart from the Great Houses in a manner that makes them both target and rival (even when Dynastic scions are incorporated into their structure), and there are a reasonable number of hooks into the incipient conflict strewn throughout. It has overt and covert references to the in-built structural weaknesses that feel credible, and incorporates the idea of killing one’s way up the ladder without extending it to the level of caricature (and worse, eating up a majority of the word count). In short, this is a description of the Thousand Scales of the kind that I’ve always wanted.

(As should be apparent from this particular entry having been so long. Like, analysing Charms long, it’s ridiculous. But informative.)


*Okay; having looked back at the credits gave me the slightest glance at the word “money” in the table of contents, reminding me that there’s still a lot of dedicated information to provide about the flow and handling of currency in the Realm and the policies therein, so I understand that I’m not quite out of the woods yet. Optimistic outlook: such will be an opportunity to provide a direct layout of the desired changes, or at least frame the old models in a manner that reads more sensibly or comprehensibly to myself.
 

Isator Levie

Registered User
Validated User
The All-Seeing Eye would be another element of the Realm that I thought was always pretty solid, so I wouldn’t require much beyond invigorating the language and a bit of tidying up. The introduction is nice, conveying the point about the organisation serving as a national panopticon with the added novelty of being a subject of adventure literature (which also helps to characterise the Realm’s culture a bit more), and it uses just enough colourful language without hyping them up too much. I again like the reference back to their origins in the Realm’s tumultuous beginning.

I find the idea that the organisation officially doesn’t exist, being written off as the subject of an overactive public imagination, to be cute, and I find that image to be helped a lot by the idea that it operates in a decentralized enough manner as to not have bureaucratic operation or oversight, which I suspect has often historically been true of secret police and state intelligence. I like seeing that point made about the range of backgrounds that its operatives and informants can be drawn from, and the humbler origins it might have, which matches up nicely with a point made about how only a minority are career Dragon Blooded; this part does read like a departure from First Edition to me, where it seemed to be saying that most of the agents were Exalted, and this version is something I find both preferable and sensible. That works well with providing a clear picture of how the Eye is structured, that pyramid of assets to agents to handlers to intelligencers: that the primary activity of agents is likely to be the recruitment of and communication with assets who do the bulk of the literal spying heavywork, the agents reporting to and being coordinated, directed and assessed by handlers, who process it into key information given to their own superiors for report to the Empress. I think it’s helpful to give this description, since the obvious clandestine nature of intelligence work means that the actual practicalities of how it functions are not necessarily familiar to people. With all of that in combination with the point of how a particular focus for the Eye is the River Province, where they’re in competition with Lookshy’s rangers, I’d say that we have all the necessary makings for an Exalted John LeCarre novel (while there are still the Bond-esque dedicated and well-furnished Exalted assassins). I would imagine that, in the absence of a formal support network to do analysis work, the upper levels of the pyramid find a lot of exercise for their supernatural talents to make up for it in sheer data processing.

It would seem from that sidebar that the role of the All-Seeing Eye in the Wyld Hunt is being downplayed a bit. The biggest thing standing out to me there is that the utility of astrologers in identifying the incarnation of Celestial Exalted appears to have been scaled back significantly, which I find to be both in keeping with the Edition’s general approach to such magic, and something to make the Realm historically a bit less omniscient when it comes to the identification of Anathema, which I would say helps a lot with being able to present the Lunars as operating more in the Threshold. I like how it ties into the Realm’s diminishment with the idea that, in the absence of a well-funded Wyld Hunt to concentrate significant force on Anathema, it’s falling more and more on Eye operatives to try and come at those enemies sideways; it also gives a nice picture for how Lunars in play might respond to facing an unfamiliar distribution of force.

The artwork there is very good, possibly one of the best in the book so far (maybe even out of all of these books); the colours, lighting and resolution convey a very sinister tone, which complements how well the man’s expression is drawn to depict the terrifying uncertainty of receiving a token from the Eye. The way that the background consists of his view of the object in his hand is an especially nice touch, since it both symbolically conveys to the reader the manner in which he’s being figuratively observed by something unidentifiable and dominating and conveys the character’s own perspective on what he’s looking at; that to see an object printed with that insignia is to feel as though you’re holding an eye that is literally watching you. The manner in which the object and background are aligned also gives this nice impression that the token is being projected out and above him. It’s a very good accompaniment.

On that note, there’s a repeat of the familiar recruitment process in which promising agents are left the symbol of the Eye and judged based on their capacity to keep quiet about it, murdering those who fail. I like how the association with assassination is one in which the group needs to police outsiders leaving false calling cards, both for the logical extrapolation from their practice and how they’d have a concern with people getting the wrong impression about who ends up targeted. The stronger focus on how the group is structured lends itself to this being another one where the top ranks were personally promoted by the Empress (probably implying that this would be a bit like the magistrates in terms of the value of cultivating a more direct form of loyalty), and it’s useful for continuing to fit them into interesting times with how the system of promotions is something that they’ve had to start taking internal responsibility for.

Okay, so before I look at the final section that fully summarizes their position in the Time of Tumult, I want to go over the things that have most drastically changed from their original presentation and why I like them, because there are actually quite a few more than I expected.

First, the way that their being less formally instituted means that they aren’t given a narrative of facing the issues of long-time domestic enemies who resented their intrusions gutting the structure through eliminating agents and cutting their funding. Looking back, I really think that was something that made them not feel distinct enough from the likes of the legions, the ministries and especially the magistracy; that whole point of “what they’ve been doing has earned them a lot of enemies who are now only too happy to use being unrestrained to eliminate them” that is way too close to the core conflict of the magistrates. It also kind of undermined the point that the Eye was supposed to operate in utmost secrecy. I quite like how the relationship to Bal Keraz has changed from “he’s basically the only person they can think to report to, and he’s kind of screwing them over” to being somebody courted as an ally because they have mutual interests. I think I get what the intent was in having given them a specific focus on financial auditing (including possibly a reference to the origins of the US secret service), but even within the scope of the Realm’s idea of multiple overlapping authorities it felt a bit redundant. I think that both the All-Seeing Eye and House Iselsi benefits a lot from the downfall and regression of the former being moved way along the timeline, for a number of reasons: playing into the distinctions between the Imperial Service and the Scarlet Dynasty, letting the Eye feel more diverse than just being an organ of a particular Great House, and for that matter letting that House have a more distinct identity than being imperial spies. Between all of that and having no reference at all to Sidereals, the All-Seeing Eye feels like a much stronger autonomous system with higher agency, which I think gives it more character and potential in the long run.

{happens to range ahead a bit trying to scout out the end of the chapter: sees the “Behind the Eye sidebar}

Oh goddammit. Fine, leave out, like… a quarter of that prior paragraph. I stand by the stronger sense of distinction from House Iselsi, as they’ve gone from being the primary composition of the Eye to just the background of several of its handlers (which at least does seem like a sensible place for them to have been posted by the Empress), and the Vendetta certainly adds an interesting plot hook to Iselsi attempting to transform the All-Seeing Eye into their own domain so that its power can be directed towards their enemies (between the idea that their very long exile made them almost synonymous with the Eye and the statement that this was an open secret among the Dynasty, before it felt a lot more like a liability and a contributing factor to why the Houses were trying to bring the Eye down). The presence of Sidereals isn’t absent, but it’s at least downplayed, and the idea that part of what the few Star Chosen intelligencers do is direct cells towards their own agendas at least has an air of sinister mystery to it.

Moving on! The description of their status in the Time of Tumult gets a good start right out the gate by distinguishing how they’re faring from the severely embattled magistrates. I like the idea that the source of the Eye’s disarray isn’t that it’s being sabotaged procedurally by opponents in the Realm’s system, but a form of uncertainty and inertia in their own mission; that the people in charge are adrift, and the whole group is being sapped of initiative and cohesion. Yes, I think it makes them a lot more distinct and interesting to go from yet another branch of the Imperial Service that is being gutted (which is emphasized as more difficult due to the decentralized structure) into one in which a lack of clear direction from the top, not to mention an operating budget, means that a lot of the cells are breaking away to direct their talents towards their own benefits. I’m… pretty sure that’s actually true to how a lot of intelligence services break down, whether it be from things like the authorities trying to decommission them or a major change in the guiding ideology, not to mention outright government collapse. So it’s not only very resonant with reality, and some of the essential anxieties of such groups existing in the first place, it makes the All-Seeing Eye a lot scarier within the setting, and a richer source of hooks and complications not only within the Realm’s conflict but throughout the setting; there’s a lot of dramatic potential to mine from the idea from the idea that a circle acting in the Threshold is in opposition to a rogue network of Realm spies commanded by experienced and ruthless Terrestrials trying to carve out a dominion for themselves with covert operations.

I think enriching the All-Seeing Eye like this is pretty damn great. It really speaks well to the work ethic of the writers, that they took this thing that already held up fairly well and redesigned it significantly to address a few shortcomings, give a stronger sense of the group’s function and identity, and a very compelling place in the setting’s layout and future. I think this might well be one of the strongest cases for the presentation of the Realm as having a lot more fight left in it than it was given in previous Editions, to go from a description that made its intelligence service feel as though it was in dire straits into this powerhouse.

I’m aware of people in the past who said that they would never buy The Realm because they just viewed it as getting the same information for the third time in a row. I already thought they were being foolish for the projected inclusion of things such as satrapies and the Caul, but this, this is the kind of thing that they ought to be made aware of so that they can understand exactly why they were not giving the developers and writers the credit that they deserved.
 

mindstalk

Does the math.
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I need to read up again on how fast services such as the Pony Express or Mongol post relays could carry messages, just to have a sense of the regularity that could be maintained.
In my notes:
pony express, 1900 miles in 10 days, so 190 miles/day or 310/km/day, riding day and night.
mongols; 200-300 km/day, so 120-180 miles/day
Persian angarium or Royal Road: 2699/km in 9 days vs. 90 days on foot; 300 km/day, or 180 miles. Herodotus claimed they rode at night.
Roman cursus publicus: a couple data points of only 30 mile / 50 km per day; couple experts saying typical was 50 mile / 80 km per day. The wiki page suggests they stopped at night.
Umayyad barid: almost 100 miles/day

So if you have enough horses and changing stations and can ride safely at night, up to 300 km/day.

Late stagecoaches could do 8 miles / 13 km per hour, which might be useful for slower bulk mail... except 13*24 = 312 km/day. Ah, a page says the Pony Express alternated between trot and canter, not full gallop.

So I guess if you have enough horses, can ride at night, and have good enough roads for wheeled vehicles, up to 300 km/day for a coach-worth quantity of mail, vs. the 20 lbs or so you might get on horseback.

If you can use magic to get "tireless horses" at gallop speeds, that's 30-60 mph, or 1100-2200 km/24 hour day! (Some horses gallop faster than others.)

The idea that Exalted physicians (which as we’ll recall, are prominent in House Cynis) are the caretakers for the unExalted on grounds that they need to be kept in the very best shape for the sake of the bloodline
Oh, I guess you were talking about unExalted Dynasts. I was going to note that at least in 2e, one altruistic DB could cure quite a lot of disease. 1 mote and a fast Charm to cure any normal disease.

4) It's kind of surprising at times how long a culture can go along with all the parts of something we'd think would work and not putting them together, like Mesoamerica and the wheel, or movable type beyond Korean in East Asia.
Or Asian sky lanterns and hot air balloons. All the latter really needs is cloth, basketry, and fire, so it's been buildable for the past 10,000 years.

Korea's hangul would have adapted better to movable type than the countries using mostly Chinese characters.

Buttons apparently existed for centuries as ornament before someone thought to use them as fasteners.

Late stage Europe resisted simple cures for scurvy, and doctor hand-washing, despite their being actually demonstrated.
 
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Isator Levie

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So, as I’ve said at a couple of points already, I’m interested in seeing the Deliberative, as there seems to be set up for a few alterations made to its place in the Realm (I already know of one redaction in particular).

The origin is more or less the same, if maybe given a bit more specificity in connection to some instability and criticism in the wake of the failed Scavenger Land invasions (I get a chuckle out of the statement that making a concession for the critics was more practical than boiling them in oil). The function or lack thereof of the Deliberative is retained more than I expected, although I do discern a subtle, if meaningful, change; the description of how the Empress engages in machinations with regards to the Deliberative to give herself a more firm basis for disregarding their suggestions when she doesn’t want them. Its power is still an illusion, but the Empress was less obvious about it. I do think that lends itself to how the Deliberative is rising in the presence of a head of state that won’t deny them; it’s the most overtly political form of power still functioning in the Realm, although still probably quite distinct in being something where the scions of multiple Houses gather together.

The description of the Deliberative’s buildings sounds attractive, and it’s helpful to consolidate all of the appointments that the body is empowered to make in one place (along with being clear on what is beyond even nominal authority, the power to raise or strike Great Houses standing out particular now that the history of that practice has more emphasis). I think the matter of how long their functional commitment is provides an avenue to dot characters with the title of senator around the Realm as needed, and it’s nice to be given a firmer number of how many Dynasts are committed to that position. I like how the Deliberative’s Guardians indicate that it’s a particularly rowdy variety of parliament; I like their uniforms especially.

Not much changed to the actual composition of the Greater Chamber, although in the usual spirit we’re at least given a personality to make one of the positions a lot less abstract. I think it also helps to give the body a bit more life by elaborating on how it has internal divisions by House, and particularly with its cliques and factions; I like the way that they’re used as a bridge for the subject of Deliberative concerns over who the successor for the Empress might be. It’s also nice to be reminded of one of the new additions in the race to the top with the Sesus matriarch, particularly how she’s got some cross-factional support. The process for introducing and debating legislation also remains functionally the same as it ever was, if given with a lot more brevity that I personally find more inviting to read. I have always liked how such descriptions make little references to the uncomfortable tedium of lengthy sessions, and the little jeering rituals of legislators. About the same goes for the Lesser Chamber, although I like how it’s Master Tide Lojan is attributed with a particularly lucrative and slightly dubious political legacy (as well as affiliation with a specific Great House), and I’ve always been fond of how the Chamber as a whole prefers throwing its weight around to acquiescing to the Exalted above.

Yes, the description of how legislation used to be passed or vetoed is the prime spot to indicate that the whole incident of the Empress having once violently purged an especially intransigent Deliberative has been quietly removed. And Fokuf seems to have been afforded the slightest additional degree of dignity, insofar as he’s savvy enough to at least be portrayed as understanding the situation he’s in and just quietly sitting back to enjoy himself while everybody else fights over power. Nothing to say about the senatorial uniform besides the nice touch of personalisation in being able to add sashes to it. The accompanying picture makes a very good show of them, a nice depiction of how such proceedings can be enlivened just by the vibrant appearance of the Dragon Blooded, and it gives a strong indication of the rambunctious debate with how in each other’s face they are. I think it’s clever how it uses a number of little touches to make the place visually reminiscent of popular depictions of the Roman Senate, while still retaining its own distinct look underlying those details.

Hmm, yes, there didn’t turn out to be much to say on the Deliberative, it’s a direct and to the point aspect of the Realm’s governance. This entry actually does look short, and… I do always like the stuff to do with money…

But first, a sidebar on a few hanging points around the Deliberative. I’ve always liked how the whole subject of holding a funeral for the Empress is a distinct source of debate in the Realm, with the supernatural concerns standing alongside the common issue of Dynastic custom, and the way that the possibility of her still living causes a lot of apprehension; the added point that a funeral has long been in the works and would be ruinously expensive is a nice reference to the likes of Qin Shi Huangdi, as well as another basis to be reluctant to actually initiate proceedings (I imagine that the Empress made such arrangements because she wanted to ensure she was memorable in the event that some Lunar or other assassin got lucky). As for Fokuf, I hadn’t considered how his low status would intersect with House Tepet’s particular new standards of honour and drive, but they make sense as something that would leave him an especially diminished figure; that as a basis for him being an especially defeated failure to Exalt adds an effective sympathetic dimension. Heh, still, he wouldn’t be Fokuf if a little bit of extra dignity didn’t still ultimately leave him as a thoroughly undignified person; it’s nice that he’s at least folded into another point about how the peasantry has a capacity to rise in even greater revolt. And I both like how it retains that bit of the Scarlet Throne coming to life and rejecting him when he dared sit on it, and the note of ambiguity on whether or not such a thing might be folklore or metaphor. I kind of prefer the idea that it didn’t, if only for the image of Fokuf having a single moment of feeling a bit pleased with himself and deciding to try the seat out, only to look out over the room from the lofty position and it very quickly dawning on him exactly what he was doing, creating a build-up of nervousness before bolting off of it.

Now for the money. I like how it starts off with a description of all of the basic structural ways in which the Empress could harness her wealth to exert power over the economy of the Realm. The idea that she could drive commerce through her taxation demands is reminiscent to me of accounts of imperial Chinese encouragement of peasants doing things like raising silkworms to have the necessary silver, and it’s interesting that the process for distributing currency came from paying it directly to her servants and ensuring that others around the Realm would sell them things. I also like how there’s an interplay given to Dynastic incomes with the idea that altering their stipends could influence their prefectural tax policies, not least for how it emphasizes that newly clarified point on how the Houses derive wealth from the Blessed Isle, and the idea that stationing portions of the military could invigorate the economy gives yet another purpose to the activities of the legions in the domestic sphere. Also nice to see the ways in which the Empress’ Purse could use financial engagements to manipulate a variety of cultural factors, which strikes me as another source of inspiration for players of characters in (or looking to build) a similar position.

It's a reasonable offset to the worst consequences of imperialism to make a few references to the Realm’s military deployments helping to create some environments in which it can thrive more, although those are effectively balanced by references to the Empress employing predatory national finance practices that recall ways in which modern imperialism and its successors have exploited parts of the world that were subjected to colonialism. I also like that idea that one of her easiest methods for curtailing uprisings was to give amnesty on loans. All of this reads like a very careful balancing act, the kind of thing that could have occupied a lot of her time (and both the bureaucracy in general and any personal staff she possessed).

And it’s all grand to give a summary of how this system, while harmful, was so deeply invested that its dramatic removal is having disastrous cascading effects. I like the idea that Peleps and V’neef competition in the West has reassigned enough naval resources to allow an eruption of piracy the most among these.

Ah, the salt rate. I’ve always been a fan of it as one of the most prominent instances of tying the setting’s fantastical qualities to mundane resource considerations, especially for invoking old references to the distribution of vital salt. That and the idea that it’s so important that its gods can wield a disproportionate amount of influence is just fun. This is another one that has been solid from its inception, and so requires no adjustment here (and thus no more words than necessary).

Hmm… yeah, save the sidebars for the end again. Oh, I don’t know why it took me so many looks to see that last section was saying “Finance in the Time of Tumult”, I kept seeing it as just stating the Realm and thinking it was going to talk about the banking and such. No, yeah, another dedicated subject on how things are being set up for the future is great. So while there was a concession given to how the withdrawal of Realm military power creates dangers for markets, we’re given the other side of the coin in which less capacity to lean on satrapies gives them greater financial autonomy than they’ve ever known, for better or worse (now that some are ready to start conquering neighbours without restraint); it will be interesting to see any follow-up to that in the chapter about satrapies (also nice how there’s a note on satrapies retaining a hint of caution in the event that their overlords return with a vengeance).

Okay, so the matter of peasants becoming dispossessed is being brought up, but the background is different; it’s not about deliberate Dynast schemes to seize control of peasant lives or lands, it’s an emergent consequence of how uncertainty is causing debts to be called in urgently before they end up quite certainly defaulted. I like how it retains the spirit of the old danger to the lower classes while placing them in a more sophisticated context, as well as the picture it paints of the Realm’s instability and how creditors can even expect to be repaid. With that established, now I feel confident in committing all of the familiar taxation systems and their associated schemes to history. And while we did get the point about how decreasing confident in traditional credit is creating a much higher demand for hard currency, I appreciate a spotlight being shined on the human consequences of this, particularly the manner in which slaves are being worked to the bone to acquire the raw materials. Finally, it’s very clever how it ties all of these concerns into plot hooks for conventional high adventure, with examples of the ways in which the martial prowess or cunning of the Exalted can be harnessed towards numerous financial opportunities, which nicely complements the earlier descriptions of the economic benefits to Realm military patrols. I do particularly like the image of that one about buying businesses in an endangered city and then letting their value increase when the crisis has been resolved, if only for the idea of the way in which it can obligate characters to stick around and invest their energy in a community that might have otherwise been thrown away, as well as the simple mental picture of a given charming representative business increasing in prosperity over time; it’s reminiscent of things that I like in several video games. Still, building up a fleet out of captured prizes is not without its charms.

The sidebars look simple enough; the credit one is basically an expansion on the core’s point on informal economies by illustrating how that extends to general attitudes towards the greater convenience of financial interests and overall honourable agreements to actually transactions in tangible money; it’s a good reminder that this is the kind of thing that people have always done in one form or another, rather than merely being a modern innovation enabled by computerisation. For the Immaculate perspective on interest, I think it effectively elaborates on the faith’s general outlook for their condemnatory attitudes towards predatory lending to include touches of intrinsic condescension towards the lower classes, a reminder that they’re not necessarily looking out for the best interests of commoners for the right reasons. While the idea that they view accepting a loan with exorbitant rates constituting a hope or expectation of status rising to be able to meet it is a clever way of giving the doctrine of the Perfected Hierarchy some additional dimensions.

Yes, chapter two has been quite good. Where it looked at things that worked well in the past, it gave them new life with a bit of revised agency or deeper, more distinct character. Where there was something that didn’t work so well or was given insufficient attention, it extracted cruft and replaced it with a greater sense of purpose and activity, and more energetic involvement in the affairs of the Realm. The new take on the All-Seeing Eye does really stand out and has probably the most intriguing future prospects, but I do still have to give the crowning achievement to the write-up of the Ministries for the manner in which they’re invested with greater narrative power, more interesting personalities, and general attention to the question of what they do with an eye towards making it interesting. The chapter does a grand job of taking what might seem to some to be the dull matter of how the empire runs and making it into a viable stage for high adventure.

If I’m meant to read that credit for Lea at the start as a literal reference to this chapter’s title, then he gets a cookie.
 

Isator Levie

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This next chapter fiction constitutes an interesting snapshot of a lot of what I’ve been praising about references to the legions over the past couple of chapters; how the Blessed Isle is a bit wilder and more dangerous, and using soldiers to address the subject of brigandage. One thing that I like is the way that peasant informants are referred to as being hard to leverage for such a military officer, as their lifestyles don’t lend much to being paid in money or official favours, as it both calls attention to some diversity in lifestyles and the manner in which that can derail even powerful individuals. I also think it’s a good depiction of an unExalted Dynast’s perspective on the Dragon Blooded, between denying oneself too much apprehension about not having inherited the power and having ideas of what they can do of mixed accuracy. And while it’s a compelling story with a sympathetic protagonist, it conveys what is likely to be a significant issue in the Time of Tumult, how the reassignment of the legions among the Great Houses is resulting in more than a few inexperienced officers appointed by political expedience over veteran troops. The accompanying art is sharply detailed (especially nice are the clear distinctions between armour types between ranks), and I particularly like how it appears that their arms aren’t a direct reference to any one real world style, but a mix of influences from different regions and times.

So, chapter three, The Might of the Realm. The idea of this subject getting a whole chapter to itself is quite exciting; I’m hoping that this will consolidate a lot of official and semi-official information on the composition and operation of Realm military forces, as well as answer a few of my specific questions.

Okay, introduction with the basic thesis of the Imperial Legions as the great armies of the Realm directed against internal and external enemies that have been broken up into lackeys of the Great Houses… history of being remnant Shogunate forces and various conscripts and militias converted into full legions with a loyalty focused on the throne rather than devolved to various lower interests. I’m glad to see it stated outright and up front that the majority of officers were outcastes, both for how that clarifies the legions as a force distinct from the Great Houses and frees up a lot more Dynasts fro filling that particular slot, to provide more plausibility to larger numbers appearing elsewhere. Much of the rest is standard information: the fluctuating numbers of legions, the process of cutting off their funding and distributing them among the Houses, the purge of unaligned officers. Something that is new is finally giving the legions a form of centralised command in the form of these nine Crown Marshals, so that’s the first of my lingering questions resolved; the absence of a staff intermediary between the Empress and the generals always struck me as an awkward gap, especially in light of a system where preventing generals from possessing too much power in opposition to the Throne would seem to be a major concern. So I’m glad that a little something has been added to the backstory to fill that space, as well as providing a few additional interesting figures to bring into the civil war.

It’s nice to get a little sidebar putting together the information on exactly how many legions each House has gotten, to save the need to go back and forth between their descriptions in What Fire Has Wrought. I think it’s amusing that some of the Houses have taken a stopgap measure for low loyalty and morale in the form of pouring a lot of money into their legions, particularly for how that can tie into extracting more wealth from a different sector. I think they’re making much better use of the “disbanded”/rogue legions here than they have in the past; adding another outcaste general abroad with an agenda on top of a reminder of Saloy Hin is all well and good, but the real standout is the idea that many troops have disappeared into less accessible portions of the Blessed Isle, to give the dangers of banditry quite a few more teeth. The notion of the Realm’s elites being concerned that a rogue legion might have pulled itself together in secret within their own borders is quite fun, although I particularly like the idea of an interchange of troops between legions in the form of prefects remanding captive deserters to the forces of their own House, rather than back towards the House they might have fled from.

Right, we’re given some nice context for why exactly the legions of the three military Houses were still never quite up to the quality of the Imperial ones, something I find necessary in the face of altering the military history of the Scarlet Dynasty such that all of the Houses no longer had their own troops. It also helps to round out the presentation of the original House legions in What Fire Has Wrought, where isolation from the greater military context made it a bit uncertain just how powerful they were and how much they were employed for active warfare. It also lends itself to understanding the function of the Imperial Legions themselves, with the idea of a greater frequency to doing battle abroad, particularly against the forces of Lunars (nicely complementing Fangs at the Gate). It’s also very useful to describe the existence and format of paramilitary forces in this structure, especially to free the legions of all stripes from satrapy garrison duties. Given the modification to satrapies, I like how it can still add in a bit of Imperial appointments for the sake of checking local power in the form of garrison commanders coming from Houses other than the ones that run the satrapy, and I think it adds a nice bit of tension for those commanders to recruit even more troops from the local populace who can be reliably loyal to themselves. I take the final form of House soldiers to often be something like largely ceremonial personal and household guards, in addition to those small, specialized forces that could be trained in a House’s distinct style while remaining too small to engage in the kinds of operations that proper legions could (excepting how the navies of Peleps and V’neef include marines). I’m guessing that the value of those Sesus and Iselsi commandos was being able to have forces for projecting their clandestine power in addition to Exalted scions, while Mnemon siege engineers sound like they would have been professionals to be hired out to particular legions as needed. I think all of this is good for covering necessary expansions on the Realm’s military, adding a bit of diversity, and placing the new facts of traditional Great House forces into context. I find it to be a richer viewpoint than before when it was all Imperial Legions, plus all of the Houses had legions that would be hardly referenced and sucked, except for three of them.

Let’s see, what does this sidebar have to say about Tepet… oooh, there’s some very good information here. Updating the background of the scheming that undermined the Tepet campaign against the icewalkers looks solid, bringing up the point of this being the latest occurrence of the Empress handling a House that was growing too strong, and making good use of the addition of an Imperial military staff in the exact form of the sabotage. Whatever my feelings in the past about the idea that winning against the Tepet legions inflicted severe damage on Kaneko’s forces, I find the description of it here to be compelling; I can buy into the whole thing more when it’s conveyed in terms of a determined Tepet force making a lot of progress even without proper support and that Yurgen was pressed into giving battle. And sure, even a circle of Solars would be taking a lot of risks when locked into close quarters with so many Dragon Blooded. Eh, it helps the mandate of improving the credibility of the Realm to make a significant military victory of prominent Solars less absolute, and if realistic military considerations don’t go out entirely in the face of Exalted powers, they at least get some recalibration. The major thing here is to convert Tepet’s policy and business of training up regional military forces into more of a leg for it to stand on in the coming conflict. I like the way that whole thing diversified militaries that could be found in the Threshold a bit, and it’s interesting to consider how Tepet’s lofty reputation could return dividends for it at a point when their peers would write them off. Plus, I’m always a fan of military campaigns consisting of big, diverse forces from multiple geographic areas marching under a common banner. Heh, get them in line with Tepet quickly enough to make them a lot more attractive to V’neef again, and there would be the makings of quite a tidy full-scale military going there; maybe even options for imperial establishment outside of the Blessed Isle for them to set themselves up with (which would certainly give V’neef an option for survival besides becoming empress). Good job there.

Right, the long-touted war tourism; it’s not quite what I expected from the name (more of a practice of Dynasts as private individuals involving themselves in Threshold conflicts for fun and profit) and isn’t quite consistent with the real word use of the term, but the important thing is that it’s a basis for making Realm military activity in the Threshold more frequent and dynamic, and a source of more consistent outrages to fuel, say, the motives of Lunar Exalted. I like how it references the capacity for colonial operations to function at a loss as the basis for doing this, both in acknowledging the potential for imperialism to be unprofitable and as a logical drive for such lower-scale militarism. My question about how House militaries going so far as full-blown conquest is addressed on the point of how authority over such territories was assigned by the Empress, which puts me in mind of interesting situations in which a House might end up winning more than it expected or wanted; I’m thinking of how during the Jin-Song wars, the Chinese Song ended up withdrawing a lot of forces in the face of Jin defeat, leaving their enemies in the awkward position of needing to annex large territories filled with a sizable hostile populace, that stretched their capacity to administer or defend (I’m seeing something like Cathak defeating a neighbour more thoroughly than they expected, resulting in a new satrapy going to enrich a rival House).

I also find that it adds another interesting layer to the differences between House militaries and the true legions; that in the Threshold, the involvement of the greater power of the latter would be perceived as a severe and terrifying escalation. I like the choice to use this matter of ongoing House military activity as the place to introduce the military policies of the Empress. As for those policies themselves, I appreciate the way that it has priorities that enable the setting to have been home to some more tense international relations and elaborate systems of arguing in war’s favour despite the overwhelming power of the Realm; you can have scenarios in which smaller, but decently powerful neighbours were or are locked in a tense balance between asserting themselves and presenting a difficult nut for the Realm to crack, and needing to not come across as too dangerous as to let the Realm claim itself provoked. That also adds a nice background tension for Houses past and present, engaging in schemes intended to make a neighbour commit sufficient force so that they could hand the Empress a justification to annex on a platter, but not overreaching in a manner that left the House needing to call in help or clean up their messes. I would imagine that the Realm has never functionally lost a satrapy, but occasions in which provoking a neighbour into conquest or liberation was severe enough that the legions needed to go in and… remind a satrapy of whom its overlords were (owing to having no local establishment to do so) in addition to dealing with the other kingdom that forced the necessity, I can see that as having been the very downfall of a House.

I think that at a time like this it’s useful to provide a reminder that big wars can take place in very small areas. Look at the map of Third Edition Creation; if you’ll look at the area around the Lap, you should see a small dark green splotch of trees just above it. I believe that’s more or less the size of the Levant, which means that in terms of the military capabilities common to the Second Age, you could have a series of military conflicts with all of the intensity of the Crusades in there. See that island just to the left of An-Teng? I think that’s about the size of the Low Countries, which has been home to numerous major conflicts, not least being the Eighty Years War. Err, the Duchy of Burgundy was pretty small and was a focus of significant conflicts from neighbours in France, Germany and Switzerland for centuries. You get my point, even on the areas of the map closer to the Inland Sea you can fit a lot of places where a lot of this intrigue and very lengthy and invested military campaigns could have occurred while still only advancing the Realm’s control over the map by inches at a time.

Aaaand I think that’s a good place to leave it for the moment, right before it starts getting into the intricacies of legion structure. It’s good looking stuff so far, in how it’s expanded the backstory and added some good directions for the future in play.
 

Isator Levie

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The basic composition of the legions is the same as it ever was. Apparently that includes the point of how their missile troops are all put together in the status of low value skirmishers; they don’t have the specific line of being held in lower esteem than the baggage train slaves, but still at half pay and expendable. Scott Taylor once commented on this as indicating a failing in Realm doctrine arising from having not really fought serious wars over the centuries, which could clash with their greater military activity… buuuut Rome apparently got by without a very strong emphasis on archers, so I wonder a bit at how accurate his sentiments were. I suppose it comes down to whether or not anybody is supposed to have the heavy firepower of 14th century Welsh longbowmen.

A focus on supplementing with auxiliaries seems to be new. I think the composition of the leadership, with how officers have seconds and staffs was often an idea held behind the scenes that hardly ever made its way into actual text, so it’s nice to have it fully laid out here. I’ve always liked how the game is something that brings attention to how, practically speaking, a legion will operate below full strength; in addition to everything it says here about losses due to leave or casualties, one thing I’ve learned from my reading is that an army on the march will often have troops who simply fall behind due to needing to stay and guard something like a supply wagon that’s being repaired, or being behind schedule in rousing the troops from billets.

I like how the backgrounds given for some of the legion nicknames are used as a way to not only characterize them, but further describe Creation to us, and giving an overall picture of typical legion engagements, and reading about the standards (which have the basic features for pride and practicality) led me to learning what the word chryselephantine means; I wouldn’t have considered before how Immaculate aniconism would work with a standard, but limiting them to variations on dragon figures makes a lot of sense.

Good to get that breakdown of how the legions go about recruitment, and the general process of advancement within a legion; I can imagine that campaigning abroad is one of the most steady sources of a continuous stream of immigrants to the Blessed Isle. I find it curious that the usual disqualifications can be disregarded if sufficiently bribed, but I suppose it’s a plausible basis for letting legions include the occasional misfits, and a lot of officers could probably do with the money. The matter of how the officers of individual legions have responsibility for recruitment, rather than there being a dedicated government agency for it, makes sense, but I still like it being stated outright; I also find it interesting how this is folded into informal assessments that will be made by high ranking prefectural officials. The idea of Dynasts who try to make a gesture of entering the legions as a recruit not being taken seriously has existed before, but I don’t think that it was ever quite stated in terms of them not actually being bound. And I like this idea that foreign Exalted who might see the legions as a means of getting to the Realm (and its attendant privileges even for those of their kind from humbler origins) being required to first command among the auxiliaries and then spend some time as a regular soldier; I wonder if any established Dragon Blooded who immigrated in that matter hold a grudge towards their officers. My one mild criticism of this part would be how it references the matter of soldiers taking an oath, but doesn’t feel like it fully introduces it.

For weaponry, I was wondering if they would go with what was apparently an old idea in the game’s development, where line soldiers employed axes instead of swords, but it would appear not. It gives a good picture of how the legionnaires are gotten into fighting shape with daily hard exercise, and I quite like the description of the way that individual training in the use of the weapons is a secondary concern to getting the soldiers to effectively fight in close, flexible formations.

The picture there has a few things to commend it: I find the generally muted colour scheme colour scheme to both emphasize the grind of such warfare and make the more vibrant colours of the fantastical elements stand out more. The Exalted all stand out well; it’s a good look for all of the five Dragon Blooded to have varying differences from the standard military uniforms to set them apart (the one with the helmet being the closest to the footsoldiers to the point that it took me a couple of looks to recognise them), and the Lunar looks very imposing without her proportions being too exaggerated, and I like her fur clothing, braided hair and expression. The Artifact weapons being rendered in this style has a very interesting effect; they’re very large in the usual manner, but they feels very natural to me. It’s a kind of effect of them not feeling out of place until I’m suddenly struck with how large or stylized some of them are; the blue weapon carried by the hooded Terrestrial works especially in that regard. And I just like the principle of showing a clash between the Realm and a Lunar.

The sidebar putting us in the shoes of a legionnaire beginning their daily routine is a good way to begin providing a picture of the lifestyle of such a soldier that occupies the majority of their time in lieu of fighting; I especially like the concern given for being camped somewhere that doing laundry will be possible. For the section as a whole, I like having a place to look back at for reminders of these kinds of routines and the hard living, especially the very thorough consideration given to the source and quality of food since those are pivotal to the functioning of an army. I would think it would mostly be useful for giving an image of what the home base would be like for player characters who are in the field with a marching army (as well as their disposition for those spying or attacking them from without). I appreciate being provided with the circumstances in which legionnaires can actually spend their pay, and it’s interesting how the gender mix of their composition is addressed by the availability of maiden tea for the event of fraternization. On that whole subject of payment, it’s good how an illustration is provided for the resources that can be brought to bear by a national entity versus the resources of a private entity with even the means of a Great House. I like the added tension to the matter of how Houses that are falling behind with armies that are used to prompt payment are beginning to look on their new troops with concern, and the way that the restraint of the legions might play off of a decreasing esteem in the Threshold and stronger motivations for opponents. The punishments for infractions sound appropriately brutal.

All right then, the matter of introducing the concept of an oath is forgiven for the sidebar containing the actual wording. I really like how this incorporates elements of Immaculate theology into the terms for how soldiers conceive of their place and bind themselves to punishments for failing to uphold it; the idea that a sworn legionnaire should regard a treacherous fellow as Anathema is a particularly nice touch. Also like seeing a reference to the ideal of the Upright Soldier being in there.

Now, retirement benefits strike me as often being one of the stronger historical incentives for joining an army, so let’s see what they get. Let’s see… it would seem that a lot of the benefits are indirect; there’s no outright pension, so soldiers who manage to live out their full term (which seems to have a reasonable enough survival rate, given the time required) seem to be dependent on effectively saving their salaries, and maybe working to stand out from the ranks so they can get things such as promotions, bonuses from the pillage and commendations to the powerful on the Blessed Isle. Still, the description would seem to imply that even for the lowest ranked soldiers, pay is generous enough that one can save reasonably while still living comfortably in the barracks, and the opportunities for promotion and better pay seem reasonable enough. Oh, on my first read I missed how it referred to the existences of officers who’ll opt to elect to provide additional bonuses on honourable discharge, so that is probably not infrequent. I think it’s interesting how decoration for gallantry can come in a form as ornate as diadems, and the most interesting thing to me would be how it can serve as a means of the commoners earning the attention of elites in the Realm, creates a particular sense that the legions in deployment might be a place where the usual social strata are loosened a little bit. It’s different, but I’d say that it works with how the Realm’s land distribution works, and it has benefits enough for the soldier who is prudent and diligent.

Now, for the officers. It gets some very compelling information out immediately with the point of how the usual severe discipline along the chain of command is becoming more lax as the structure of legions becomes reorganised to suit House appointments who are less expedient to punish. I’m very glad to have it finally stated outright that officer ranks above scalelord are purchased as a commission. That plays off in a particularly distinct way with the matter of how a majority of Exalted officers used to be Found Eggs, whose commissions are paid for by the Empress; where in real life the point of commissions was to limit military command to the aristocratic class, on the general principle of ensuring only those with independent means would join so that they wouldn’t treat the military as an option to enrich themselves, here it reads to me as more of a form of discouragement for the Dynastic Dragon Blooded, an emphasis on how there are more lucrative opportunities elsewhere and leaving more space open for the outcastes, while tying those with imperial sponsorship more closely in a sense of obligation. The matter of how there are explicitly 40 to 60 Dragon Blooded, and how this includes seconds-in-command, suggests to me that as a practical matter the Exalted officers are concentrated towards the top (generally no lower than winglord), it’s just that the top has been made a bit heavier. I’m okay with that, on the whole; I’m mostly just happy that we get clear statements, and that it helps make the legions sound powerful. The benefits that can be granted at retirement sound like a lot of interesting backstories that can be given to outcaste functionaries. On the other side of things, I like the statement that there are mortal officers who were capable of rising even as high as dragonlord. It’s all effectively punctuated with the way that the legions being appropriated by the Houses are disrupting usual systems of appointment and promotions.

Heh, the matter of how Exalted contributions strengthen the legions is emphasized with the statement that they typically lead from the front, and I like the reminder that doing so puts them at very high risk whatever their power. If the description of the life of soldiers develops a backdrop, I’d say that the duties ascribed to junior officers conveys how the likely position of player characters interacts with that backdrop, while the socialising of the more senior officers is not only a thing that such players can rise to, but an idea for the kinds and motives of characters that can appear in such social scenes from another character’s perspective. It’s cute that such a position can bring on an especially strong series of marriage proposals, and it adds to the sense of the legions as a means of advancement for officers from peasant backgrounds to also receive such (if probably hardly ever so highly placed). The kind of leave that can be taken by Dynastic officers further helps ensure that the legions don’t absorb so many of them, and I like the second-officer system ensuring that such a thing doesn’t leave legions distinctly understaffed.

Right, let’s look at some of these sidebars. The format of encampment sounds fairly standard, though I like the hint given for how the evolution of such fortifications served as the seed for establishing a lot of settlements around the Realm. I like the way that the sidebar on the morning routine of an Exalted officer establishes things such as their more ornate, personalised uniform, the practical elements of command, and not necessarily eating much better than the ranks (although they’ll at least be cleaner and better groomed). And the advice on how to run battles with legions is about how I would do call it; that you don’t run the player characters (and their armies) as clashing with one or more legions all at once, but break down the engagements to a closer level (with more manageable numbers of Exalted) to focus on combat at a more surgical level, which can be strung together to influence the shape of a larger battle or campaign. I think such a thing allows greater warfare to retain significance to the game while not creating circumstances in which it elevates beyond the scope of the usual adventuring into an outright wargame, and I’d say that even a single dragon of medium or heavy troops commanded by Dragon Blooded and accompanied by a battle group of missile troops/cavalry and an auxiliary can be quite formidable even to Celestial Exalted.

That seems to about cover the core fighting forces of Realm legions, so I’ll cut off there.
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
In my previous 1e/2e campaign, I always felt that the Dynasts and their legions eventually ceased to be a threat to experienced Solars, and I am curious about the dynamics of 3e in this regard.
 

Patkin

ougikawa
Validated User
The matter of how there are explicitly 40 to 60 Dragon Blooded, and how this includes seconds-in-command, suggests to me that as a practical matter the Exalted officers are concentrated towards the top (generally no lower than winglord), it’s just that the top has been made a bit heavier. I’m okay with that, on the whole; I’m mostly just happy that we get clear statements, and that it helps make the legions sound powerful.
This does make sense when considering how the Command merit operates in 3e. Like the lowest Size of a battlegroup you get with that is on the talon/wing border, so inherently any Dragon-Blooded in a position of legion authority will be at least a talonlord, more likely winglord or above.

Considering in previous editions I played, where it was possible to just be a fanglord, it is a decent battlefield promotion to say the least.
 

insomniac

Registered User
Validated User
Scott Taylor once commented on this as indicating a failing in Realm doctrine arising from having not really fought serious wars over the centuries, which could clash with their greater military activity… buuuut Rome apparently got by without a very strong emphasis on archers, so I wonder a bit at how accurate his sentiments were.
ROME: "Hmm... so if I min/max my production by droping ranged units and cavalry, I can pop out the best heavy infantry on the planet and shore up the gaps by hiring on subjects and allies."
CARTHAGE: "HAX devs nerf plz"
 

Black Flag

Dweller on the Threshold
Validated User
ROME: "Hmm... so if I min/max my production by droping ranged units and cavalry, I can pop out the best heavy infantry on the planet and shore up the gaps by hiring on subjects and allies."
CARTHAGE: "HAX devs nerf plz"
Yeah, pretty much.

It sounds nuts if you’re thinking of a single city-state or kingdom, since we know combined arms are important and all, but for a large empire that can rely on local subjects for more specialized roles, it actually makes a lot of sense.
 
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