Monday, January 11, 2016

[Exalted] From An-Teng With Hate - a political overview

Let's take a step back from figuring out individual locations on the hex map of An-Teng and look at the big picture. Who are the main political players in and near An-Teng, what do they want, how do they plan to reach their goals - and how are they going to react to a bunch of meddling kids Solars? This is not intended as a complete overview - but as a framework into which I can place further developments.

This is what I came up with - but I might have overlooked some wrinkle or power group. If you have more ideas, please share them - the more, the merrier!

(This also has the added benefit of motivating me to expand the Lexicon Section of the new Exalted 3E Wiki - which could use some more contributors. Hint, hint.

The Realm

The following factions from the Realm are prominent in An-Teng:

House Ledaal: The most important member of the House active in the region is Shuri the Scarlet, who is also the ranking garrison commander for An-Teng, commanding a garrison of 1,000 soldiers at Dragon's Jaws. He also has authority over the garrisons in the Middle Lands (probably at Prosperous Garden) and the High Lands (presumably at the Jade Plum Citadel) which - since they seem to be less important postings - I will peg at 400 soldiers each. Shuri communicates with their commanders once per week with magic mirrors - so if the PCs draw attention to themselves, Shuri will either hear about it from the commanders or investigate their curious silence.

He has his own agenda independent from his House - he wants to marry upwards and "is looking for a suitably malleable candidate among the young Terrestrial visitors to An-Teng, so that he can approach her parents or guardians with suitable bribes or blackmail, whichever is most appropriate." (Blood and Salt, p. 21). However, he takes his appointment by House elder Ledaal Kebok Omerger seriously and deals with native, Guild and Lintha traders in order to increase the influence of his House, although he takes little pleasure in such deals. The Ledaal Catala line also has a strong interest in the nearby shadowland of the City of Dead Flowers, so he pays well for any information about the place and hosts the occasional scholar from the House - although he will not risk any of his soldiers on the shadowland without a very good reason.

Finally, he still has old contacts in the Red-Piss Legion, which means that he might get involved in the Roseblack's bid for power. Since his garrison is already seen as "politically unreliable" by some quarters since he tends to promote based on merit instead of family connections, any attempts to remove him from his position might push both him and his garrison further towards Tepet Ejava.

House Ragara: Represented by Satrap Ragara Soras Jor, who is mainly interested in increasing his standing within the Thousand Scales, break the influence of the Lintha in the region (leading to the hilarious comic on page 111 of CoTD IV: The South), and generally increase the influence and trading deals of his house in the region, preferably at the expense of Shuri and House Ledaal. However, he also surreptitiously deals with the Lintha, in order to identify their agents. Considering that the Imperial Navy is also engaged in fighting the Lintha, he would probably love to expose any deals Shuri has with them, in order to weaken his position and have him replaced. Since House Ragar has heavy Guild connections, Soras Jor will likely plot with various Guild factors and merchant princes to squeeze Ledaal out of various markets. P. 44 of Manual of Exalted Power: The Dragon-Blooded mentions that House Ledaal frequently sends out un-Exalted members of the House as auditors to assess the current and future revenues of its satrapies - such groups could make good "random encounters" for the player characters.

So, would Soras Jor enter into some sort of secret alliance with the PCs in order to oust Shuri? Probably... not. He is unlikely to trust Anathema to keep such a deal secret (unless he is only involved through multiple layers of deniable intermediaries), and while such a deal might be able to remove Shuri, he would fear that it will be the Anathema who get to extend their influence as a result - not House Ledaal. However, once he becomes aware that Anathema are active in An-Teng he will insist that the whole might of Shuri's garrison is thrown against them. If Shuri is incapable of driving them out... well, he might know a few military commanders more suitable for the job. But if Shuri does too good a job, then Soras Jor might sabotage his efforts in some subtle manner.

The Immaculate Order: The highest-ranking abbot of the local Order, Santeris, is operating a spy network out of the City of the Steel Lotus which serves both the Immaculates and the Sidereals. Obviously, active Anathema in the region will attract their utmost attention. Their temples, which are scattered across the land, can also serve as a handy source of martial artists for a Solar-hunting posse if the nearest Wyld Hunt happens to be... delayed.

Vacationers: Plenty of Dragon-Blooded come to An-Teng not for mercantile interests, but for some Rest & Relaxation... which does not impede plotting in any way, only that the plots will be more about embarrassing rivals than business deals. Those who look for more... venereal entertainments will stick to the Shore Lands, those who are looking to further their knowledge will explore the libraries of the Middle Lands, while those who wish to get away from all the heat and the humidity will explore the High Lands. Big Game Hunting is a likely past time for the Dragon-Blooded, and they certainly won't hesitate to go after some bandits as combat practice as long it's not too much trouble to find them (they are supposed to be on vacation, after all). Finally, some younger Dragon-Blooded will probably be eager to prove their mettle against any Anathema that dare show their heads - especially if the Dragon-Blooded in question are intoxicated or otherwise engaged in substance abuse. Both Shuri and Soras Jor will want to keep an eye on the vacationers - for one thing, keeping them safe is their job, for another it never hurts to have other Dynasts in your debt because you had to bail them out after some misadventure.

The Guild

As I have outlined in my entry for Swift Rivers Crossing, the goals of the Guild are fairly straightforward when compared to the other factions. Make a profit (of course). Maintain its drug plantations. Maintain its monopoly on bulk sale of drugs. Maintain and expand its slave trade - the Guild will likely have some interesting conflicts with its sometimes-partner, sometimes-rival House Cynis in the Shore Lands.

Obviously, its main trade interests in drugs and slaves will be abhorrent to player characters arriving from Earth, and it is likely that they will serve as an antagonist in the early arcs of the campaign. However, the Guild is nothing but pragmatic - if the PCs can build their own power base and demonstrate that it is more profitable to come to accommodations with them than to insist on trading drugs and slaves in An-Teng, then they will certainly consider the offer. Whether they accept the offer depends on how much they think this will hurt their deals with the Realm.

The Locals

Prince Laxhander of the Glorious Reign: This Dragon-Blooded fanboy is going to die, though at which occasion and on whose orders remains to be seen. His encouraging visiting Terrestrial Exalted to impregnate members of his family is skeevy as Malfeas, but it is unlikely to affect the player characters much. Thus, he should die whenever the PCs drop by to visit, and like any good murder investigation there should be far to many suspects. And it is quite possible that the PCs don't care who did the actual murder and why (since Laxhander is rather reviled by everyone) - just how they can spin the fallout to their own advantage. Of course, everyone else will be doing the same...

While Prince Kiotaran of Upward View is more interested in astrology than politics (the PCs should probably not let it known to him that they arrived in Creation during Calibration! Also, him asking them about their astrological sign could get... awkward), his wife Golden Slipper has more practical concerns - in particular, she wants to turn Prosperous Garden into a major trade up, preferably one with more independence from Realm-backed interests. This will bring her (and her husband) into conflict with both Shuri and Soras Jor, although the Guild will be willing to take up the slack for... concessions. Mercantile PCs might likewise find uses for her as a contact.

Prince Josei of Notable Genius: In general, the Prince prefers to keeps his distance form the Dragon-Blooded, and prefers to deal with any local troubles on his own (or with the assistance of his nobles). He'd especially like to keep the Dragon-Blooded distant from some of the more profitable gem mines in the High Lands. However, there are some problems he cannot solve on his own - some of the Firepeak Moutains nearby host outposts of the First and Forsaken Lion, and while they are not currently hostile, they are obviously a problem that need to be dealt with. Player characters who can help him on this account will certainly have his gratitude. The recent death of his wife Dawnlit Snow also distracts him at the moment - anything that can help him with the investigation would be helpful. It is quite possible that some necromancer has bound her ghost in order to influence the Prince one way or another...

The Golden Lord generally prefers to stay apart from the politics of the Exalted. While he is ready to give good advice to all who seek his counsel, he will not involve himself in the struggles of mortals and Exalted alike unless there is clear evidence that the enemies of Creation itself are involved. While the Deathlords, Yozis, and the Fair Folk count, the Dragon-Blooded do not. This neutrality, along with the great respect he still commands in Yu-Shan, explains why the Immaculates treat his temples and his mortal worshipers with kid gloves - while they will declare his direct worship by mortals as improper, they limit themselves to words instead of direct actions. Possibly by saying that while the Golden Lord is one of the rare gods who is not tempted into inappropriate behavior by the worship of mortals, his cult is still setting a bad example, damnit!

In my old campaign, the PCs generally thought he was a great fellow - so much that they actually offered him rulership of An-Teng! But he declined by stating that it was the Solars who had received the Mandate of Heaven, and he will not break the natural order of the world so that he can do their job.

If the situation comes up again, I can also raise the question for why the Unconquered Sun has never sought to rule mortals directly. The answer is simple - the Unconquered Sun (and to lesser extent, the Golden Lord as well) was created as a being of perfect, abstract virtue. He always must be compassionate, brave, temperate and so forth, because anything else is a contradiction of his nature. Yet humans are complex and messy, and in ruling them compromises must sometimes be made - compromises which the gods are often incapable of, or only capable when denying themselves and therefore weakening themselves. Thus, the wisest course of action is to leave ruling humans to other humans.

The Pale Mistress, on the other hand, is rather more active in bringing chaos, death, and plague across the land. Her cult behaves pretty much how you would expect a cult of demon-worshipers to behave, what with their worshipers kidnapping, murdering, and engaging in human sacrifice. And indeed, the PCs might initially believe that this is a demon-worshiping cult. But for all her vileness, she is a god of Creation, and not a demon or thing of the Underworld. There will always be dissatisfied people who will turn to dark cults in their desperation, and if her cult were to be eradicated, these same people might find themselves as followers of the Yozis or the Neverborn. Thus, while the cult of the Golden Lord will preach and act against her cult, the Golden Lord will refuse to act directly against her, nor approve of any Exalted who would try to kill her.

The Lunars

In my old campaign, I introduced the first Lunar Exalted as a stereotypical "Barbarian Warlord Lunar" who was all ready and set to invade An-Teng with his Barbarian Horde™, but was willing to wait for one year as part of a bet to see if the PCs could wrest An-Teng away from the Realm first.

Bo-ring! While that did give the PCs a motivation to stick around in An-Teng and stick it to the Realm, I think I should be able to present the Lunars better now than just "barbarian warlords". I am reminded of a line by John Mørke where he said that "Lunars weaponize cultures" in order to fight the Realm. So what should they do when a Circle of Solar Exalted shows up in An-Teng?

Why, weaponize them, of course.

Encourage them to stand and fight against whatever it is that they consider bad about the Realm (and frankly, it shouldn't be hard to create a lengthy list on that account). Meanwhile, manipulate the Realm to send more and more Dragon-Blooded into the meat grinder, and ensure that both sides only hear the worst about each other, preferably with additional... embellishments. All this should be done from behind the scenes so that neither side suspects that Lunars are active in the region - which, thanks to their potent shapeshifting abilities, shouldn't be too hard (at least for the time required to get a decent war started). The Serpents Who Walk As Men beastmen in the Middle Lands seem to be useful for Lunar takeover - under Lunar direction, they will likely stay "neutral" during the struggles while secretly arming up and getting ready to swoop in once the conflict has been exhausted.

An interesting wildcard is Khadarys Shadow-Dancer, a First Age Lunar who has hidden at the bottom of the Lake of Thousand Dragons to this very day and has no one for company other than her clan of freshwater shark-men descendants (Blood and Salt, p. 33). She remains unaware of the events of the last century or so, and whoever talks to her will greatly shape her outlook on things.

Scroll of Fallen Races, p. 14 mentions a Lunar Exalt who controls large stretches of the Firepeak Mountains "between the City of the Steel Lotus and the Lap", which sounds like it would be directly to the east of the High Lands. who is very loosely allied with Shining Kren, a Mountain Folk domain directly beneath those mountains. It's probably that Lunar who watches events in An-Teng - in particular, the High Lands - the most closely.

The Mountain Folk

Speaking of which, the Mountain Folk of Shining Kren will likely largely want to maintain their neutrality - Scroll of Fallen Races mentions that in addition to their loose alliance with the Lunar of the Firepeaks they also hire themselves out as mercenaries to the "Dragon-Blooded administrators of An-Teng" - sometimes for anti-bandit activities, but more frequently as marines for anti-Lintha naval actions, which they particularly relish. Given the currently... complicated relationship between the Realm military commander and the administrator of An-Teng, it is very likely that Mountain Folk mercenaries will be drawn into the schemes of Shuri and Soras Jor. They also won't hesitate to use them against Solar player characters and their followers.

A Mountain Folk settlement directly behind the Jade Plum Citadel in the High Lands is also mentioned on p. 35 of Blood and Salt - I am going to assume that this is a colony of Shining Kren and the usual contact point for Dragon-Blooded wishing to contact the Mountain Folk, since they could hardly be expected to visit a Lunar domain unmolested. Lengthy tunnels between that settlement and Shining Kren are likely. Travel is made easier by the fact that Shining Kren has "made tentative peace treaties with several breeds of local Darkbrood, as well as the green-eyed Southern underpeople". Of course, if their numbers are not kept in check by the Mountain Folk, they might start expanding to the surface and go out at night and kidnap or murder people in remote villages - another problem the PCs could come across.

The Underworld

Unfortunately, the Compass of Celestial Directions IV - The Underworld completely neglects to mention An-Teng, so we will have to co with other sources instead. Page 19 and 20 of Blood and Salt mention the deep reverence the Tengese have for their ancestors, as well as its exorcists who use their own ancestors to deal with malignant ghosts. Interestingly, in desperate cases the Pale Mother herself is called to destroy hostile ghosts (her Hungry Dancer followers will also attack any priests of the Golden Lord present, as well as children and pregnant women) - though in that case she will attack all ghosts present, including peaceful ones! Perhaps it is her presence that have kept the First and Forsaken Lion from keeping the Underworld of An-Teng - another reason why it would be a bad idea for the PCs to kill her!

Speaking of which, the First and Forsaken Lion will almost certainly want to conquer this region of the Underworld - and subsequently, the Lands Above. And indeed, his mountain outposts in the High Lands indicate that his preparations are well underway. But to have his way, he has to deal with certain obstacles first. He also has one of his deathknights in An-Teng - Shatterer of the Way, a Moonshadow Caste Abyssal who used to be an Immaculate monk (note to self: Tie his backstory into one of the local Immaculate temples).

The First and Forsaken Lion is said not to trust Abyssals of the Moonshadow Caste, so his orders to Shatterer of the Way were probably on the lines of: "Make yourself useful - turn the City of Dead Flowers into a vassal state. But don't ask for any backup or resources until you actually deliver some results!" My expectation is that the Abyssal is probably using the threat of invasion from the First and Forsaken Lion's forces to cement a deeper alliance between the ancestral ghosts of An-Teng, starting with the teeming masses of the City of Dead Flowers. However, he is also using his Abyssal magics to secretly control that ghostly alliance from behind the scenes. When the First and Forsaken Lion does invade, the alliance will be ready... to surrender. And once he holds the Ancestral Ghosts of An-Teng in his thrall, he will have a much easier time influencing the living.

Another obstacle is the Yozi Cult of the Seven-Stranded Vine, which the First and Forsaken Lion does not wish a conflict with... yet. But he probably has no problem with someone else eradicating the cult, and exposing them to larger scrutiny and the attentions of either the PCs or the Realm sounds like a likely mission for one of his Day Caste Abyssals.

The Yozis

Many of the Yozis are, at the moment, working towards the Reclamation. With this I don't mean "the Yozis will be freed" as the end goal, as the developers have stated that this is impossible in the 3rd Edition, but the Infernal Exalted ruling and punishing Creation in their name. The major Yozi players in An-Teng are:

She Who Lives In Her Name, represented by the Seven-Stranded Vine. As she is the "Principle of Hierarchy", her cult is mainly obsessed with "restoring the proper order of An-Teng" - which means kicking all the dirty foreigners out and putting the (now demon-tainted) original royal family back on the throne. At first glance this makes them look just like another "Concerned Citizen" hate group, but considering that the major foreign groups active in An-Teng are the Guild and the Realm, they rather have a point - a lot of them, in fact. And given the politeness of the Tengese, the PCs will probably have some awkward conversations with secret cult members on the lines of: "No, I am sure you are not like all those other foreigners who pillage our land and rape our women! I am sure your intentions are honorable!" This might motivate the PCs to do something about these other foreigners... only to realize at some point that they have cleared the path for a Yozi Cult to take over the land!

Kimbery, represented by the Lintha pirates. The Lintha spend a lot of time in the Shore Lands posing as "honorable businessmen", and their various double-dealings with Shuri and Soras Jor have already been mentioned. However, thanks to the Reclamation they are now smuggling weapons and supplies to the Seven-Stranded Vine - in particular, relic weapons provided by Bitter Copal, the iconic Defiler Caste Green Sun Prince who is of the Tengese royal family himself and has shacked up with the Lintha in Bluehaven. The PCs stumbling across a relic weapon in an unexpected place could motivate them to investigate the Lintha connection.

The Sidereals

Since the Sidereal Exalted have a lot on their plate, they won't immediately investigate the player characters. The Gold Faction will of course try to recruit them into the Cult of the Illuminated, but as I have established earlier, the local Cult chapter is currently out of communication with the larger network. The Bronze Faction likewise won't notice the PCs until they begin to make a big ruckus... which, given the nature of the typical Solar Exalted, admittedly could happen fairly quickly.

However, they do have an interest in the An-Teng region, since that is where one Sidereal went missing one year ago - and his fate is of very high interest to the Bureau of Destiny. Once they become aware that the PCs are connected to him, a Bronze Faction Sidereal might even pose as a Gold Faction member in order to question the PCs. Once they learn about the cross-world portal, they will... immediately form a special committee to investigate this. Which means celestial politics with fangs. And plenty of gibbering, once they realize that the portals represent a Primordial who has gone missing since the Primordial War itself! What happens then is hard to predict as it will depend a lot on the decisions of both the player characters and the Celestial Bureaucracy - but it will certainly be dramatic.

That's what I've got for now. Any ideas for expanding on this?

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