Sorry for the missing posts the last couple weeks. I had some technical difficulties.
I should be back on my weekly schedule, now. It’s less than a month until ManCon, a small gaming event held by Ideology of Madness own Aron Head. You may wonder why that matters. Well, I’m going to be running an adventure in this setting at the event. It will actually be the first time I’ve run a game in this setting since the last one I went to 2 years ago. I’m pretty excited. I always like getting back to this Universe.
Without further ado…
Following are several of the important organizations, whether political, ideological, religious or mercantile within the Ravnivori Empire.
Children of the Eternal Night – Undead creatures who believe that their wisdom and intelligence entitle them to rule the Empire. The Children of the Eternal Night began in the foggy annals of history. As Ravnivorous was uniting the clans, tribes and nations of his home continent he was approached by a young, ambitious undead woman. This woman had no interest in playing the politics necessary to rise in the ranks of the world of vampire, wraiths and mummies that hid beneath the surface world of society. Instead, she saw Ravnivorous and what he was doing as a quick path to power. She managed to be quite persuasive and convinced the future Emperor that she could be useful to him.
While Ravnivorous continued to conquer other lands, Ellebetta worked behind the scenes, meeting with the undead rulers of the various lands they encountered and either swaying them to her cause or stealing their power from them. This latter was done either by destroying the undead (generally indirectly, alerting the living to their presence) or by convincing the lower ranking members of the group to join her and Ravnivorous.
As Ravnivorous’ Empire expanded, so did Ellebetta’s power. Unlike those who went before her, however, she did not reign over a shadow empire. She and her followers interacted with the living just like everyone else, gaining and losing power, honor, fame and fortune just as their still living brother citizens.
Of course, the undead did, inherently cluster together, at least when they weren’t paranoid about being betrayed by their fellow undead and Ellebetta capitalized on this, creating the Children of the Eternal Night. Like most fraternities, the group was little more than a way for like individuals to gather together and help each other.
That changed when Ellebetta was assassinated. In the midst of the Ravnivori war with Almatia, the venerable Mother of the Children of the Eternal Night was slain during one of the many balls she held each year in the capital. Her lifeless body was found in a secluded area but her murderer was long gone.
Ellebetta’s replacement was a Shan Vampire named Fzou. Fzou had a very different idea about the Children of the Eternal Night’s place within the Empire. Fzou believed that the short lived mortals who ruled the Empire were incapable of running the Empire as well as the immortal and wise undead. Fzou has rallied several followers to his cause. Though they do nothing illegal and do not openly subvert the authority of the Empire’s officials, they are doing all they can to maneuver that power into their hands.
Tzhou Family – Shan Clan who possess an Emperor approved monopoly on black powder weapons in the Empire.
The Tzhou were not the first people to discover black powder, but they were a powerful and influential family when it was discovered. The clan immediately recognized the potential of the discovery and began maneuvering themselves to gain authority over it. Through a combination of political machinations, economic maneuvers and even physical intimidation, the Tzhou managed to eliminate their rivals in the field of black powder weapons. After consolidating their power for a couple generations, the Tzhou had built up enough leverage to force the Shan Emperor to grant them an official monopoly over black powder production. Given the fact that they already controlled almost all the black powder production anyway and that they could cripple his army by denying him access to more, the Emperor grudgingly agreed. However, to remind the family that he did not like to be trifled with and that he was still the true power in the nation, he forced 1/3 of the males of the family to join the army and sent them off on a suicide mission against the Shan. At the same time, he forced 1/3 of the females of the family to marry various soldiers in his army. To increase their shame, he ensured that none of them were allowed to marry a soldier with a rank higher than sergeant.
Though the blow was bitter, the Tzhou took this punishment in stride and quickly moved to shore up their power and prestige. By the time the Ravnivori conquered the Almatians, they were second only to the Emperor’s family in honor and respect. In fact, two of the Emperor’s wives were Tzhous as was his grandmother.
The Ravnivori were less than pleased with the Tzhou when the war between the Empires began. The weapons the Tzhou created were responsible for a ridiculous number of Ravnivori casualties and the invading empire quickly began to target the family to eliminate this edge they gave to the Shan.
It took only a few of these slaughters before the Tzhou began to reconsider their position in the war. Without informing the Shan Emperor, they made a deal with the Ravnivori and began supplying both sides with weapons in the war in return for promises that their family would not be targeted.
Once the war was over, Ravnivorous allowed the monopoly that the Tzhou had been granted to continue and they are still the only people allowed to produce black powder in the Empire.
Peers of the Silver Shield – Knightly order who revere the honor and tradition of the Empire’s past.
The Peers of the Silver Shield began as a group of noblemen in one of the early kingdoms that Ravnivorous claimed. Already a knightly order, they threw their lot in with the Emperor when their king (also a member) surrendered to the invading force. For decades, only these original members and their descendants were allowed to join the order and those descendants had to be pure of blood. Any child produced by a marriage with anyone who was not a child of the Silver Shield was considered tainted and incapable of maintaining the high ideals that the Peers of the Silver Shield felt their order stood for.
Inevitably, their numbers shrank as potential candidates grew fewer and fewer. Worse, many of those who were eligible proved themselves completely incapable of living up to the standards of the Knightly order. Not that this kept them from inducting these young men and women into their ranks and then covering up their foibles.
Finally, instead of seeing their legacy fade into nothingness, the Peers of the Silver Shield decided to induct people who were not descendants of the original members of the group. Still, they didn’t throw their doors open to just anyone who wanted to join their organization. Instead, they were careful to approach only the highest ranking members of the societies that made up part of the Empire. Of course, it was often up to a great deal of debate about who the highest ranking members happened to be. Eventually, a set method of voting and lobbying arose to decide who would be invited to join their organization.
The Peers of the Silver Shield grew once more and expanded as the Empire did. The lobbying and manipulations that go on to determine who will join the brotherhood and who will lead it continues to this day.
The Peers of the Silver Shield are lead by the Lord of the Silver Shield, a man (or woman) who has not only proven his skill and valor on the battlefield but also managed to secure and hold his political position in the group. At times, it is much more important for the person to manipulate the political aspect than it is to be successful on the field.
Legion of the Abyss – Originally a legion of mercenaries that Ravnivorous hired early in his campaigns of conquest, the Legion of the Abyss was eventually absorbed into the armies of the fledgling empire. Officially labeled the 6th legion, they were integral to the Imperial war efforts, proving to be the deciding factor in more than one campaign, until after the fall of the Almatian Confederation. Just after the peace accords were signed, Ravnivorous ordered the Legion of the Abyss disbanded and the soldiers of the Legion were offered the choice of retirement or being reassigned to other units. Rumors abound that the Emperor did this because the Legion was gaining too much military power. Other rumors suggest that the Legion serves as the Emperor’s secret police within the military. For the esprit de corps was too strong for the Abyssal Legionnaires to give up their identities. The Legion of the Abyss, rather than fading into history became an elite military brotherhood. Now, there are Legionnaires in every military unit in the Imperial military, though the title is technically only honorary. The Legion of the Abyss has its own traditions, rules and rituals and only the best and most savage soldiers are invited to join. What happens after this invitation and the initiation rituals are secret, but Legionnaires are legendary for being loyal to the Legion, highly skilled and single-mindedly vicious. The leader of the Legion of the Abyss is chosen by and from the highest ranking officers within the Legion when the current leader dies and he is known as the King of Pain. The current King of Pain is a Dracotaur named Dunbar Liggett.
The Four Fingered Hand – Officially, the Four Fingered Hand no longer exists. Even unofficially, most people believe that they are more myth and legend than an actual organization.
Originally an Almatian trading family the Four Fingered Hand gained a reputation as being ruthless in their pursuit of power and profit and not at all above breaking the law to do it. Their brutal methods proved quite effective and they quickly outstripped most of their competitors and killed off others. Perhaps the only thing that rivaled the family’s cold blooded efficiency was their utter loyalty to each other. The name for the group arose when one of their members was captured. Her captors began to torture him for information and removed one of his fingers a joint at a time before he was rescued but the woman was rescued but she refused to talk. Inspired by this story, other members of the organization began cutting off one of their own fingers as a sign of loyalty and bravery.
The reign of the Four Fingered Hand in Almatia came to an end soon after the Ravnivori conquered the continent. Though they prospered when the war was going on by selling weapons and information to both sides, they were just as defiant and law breaking under the rule of the Empire as they were under the confederation. The Empire was less inclined to suffer this defiance, however. It did not take long before many influential members of the family were arrested for one crime or another and when the remaining family members began a campaign of revenge they were quickly branded as traitors with all that implies. The Empire’s assault was as swift and brutal as any of the Four Fingered Hand’s had ever been. Within a week, the family was crushed and the Empire claimed that it was completely destroyed.
However, a handful of members of the family survived the oppression and vowed a vendetta against the people who had destroyed their way of life. The remnants were smart enough to know that they could not face the Empire directly, however, and set out on a campaign of assassination. Scores of officials fell to their weapons before the Empire once more stamped them out.
But the Four Fingered Hand has proven to be a disease that simply will not go away. Periodically, cabals of assassins are found who claim to be members of the Four Fingered Hand, though whether these groups can truly trace their origins back to the original family or if they are simply capitalizing on the myths that have grown up around the group depends on who is being asked. Of course, the Empire long ago banned membership in the group and anyone claiming to be a member of the Four Fingered Hand is considered a traitor.
Gray Hearts – The Gray Hearts are often known as the left hand of the Emperor. A group of men and women who serve as special investigators and inquisitors for the interests of the Empire, the Gray Hearts dedicate themselves to the Emperor’s service. Gray Hearts are seldom the greatest fighters but they often find themselves in danger and are well trained and skilled in getting out of it.
Their real skills lie in the realms of investigation, both physical and social. They are adept at picking up clues at crime scenes as well as following up on rumors and social conflicts. While it is possible to keep things hidden from a Gray Heart, it is generally quite difficult.
Gray Hearts have their own ranks outside of the military. They are not subject to military authority, though most of the work with the military rather than against them, finding both officers and common soldiers to often be valuable resources.
Gray Heart authority is almost unbounded and they can, theoretically at least, order the captain of a Void Runner ship to take them wherever they like. Likewise, they have the authority to enter and investigate the homes and businesses of any citizens of the Empire.
Of course, the Gray Hearts do not have absolute authority. They are still subject to the Emperor’s will and often receive orders directly (or only slightly indirectly) from him. By the same token, if Gray Hearts are accused of abusing their powers, they are investigated by a triad of Ki’Li’Lee and any inappropriate use of their authority is considered treason, with the usual punishments.
For that matter, the main purpose of the Gray Hearts is rooting out treason in the Empire. The function of the Gray Hearts is to protect the security and sovereignty of the Empire with a focus on dissent from within. It is not the duty of the Gray Hearts to expand the Empire, only to ensure that it remains stable and does not lose anything that it has gained.
Once, the Emperor hand picked the members of the Gray Hearts. That is no longer the case and high ranking members of his government do the job for him, but Ravnivorous makes a point of meeting and assessing every Gray Heart before bestowing their badge upon them.
The Gray Hearts get their name from this badge. The coin sized brooches are made from simple stone and, as might be expected, are carved in the shape of a heart. This badge symbolizes that their hearts are as hard as stone towards enemies of the empire and as neutral as the color gray in the service of their duties.
Cult of Balticimus/Balticimeans – Although all of the religions of the Empire and most of those that they have encountered on other worlds assure their followers that there is some sort of afterlife, there has never been any definitive proof. The summoning of demons is possible and they have often been questioned by the curious about what happens after a person dies. The results of this questioning has been mixed with even what is assumed to be the same fiendish creature giving different answers at different times, apparently based more on its mood and agenda more than any need to tell the truth.
However, while there is no proof, there is a great deal of evidence that the souls of individuals killed by the Possessed continue to live as long as the Possessed does. What this existence is actually like is up for some debate, but many people will take the chance to exist indefinitely over the possibility of expiring with their mortal shell eagerly.
This potential for an afterlife was first noted and advanced by an Almatian man named Balticimus soon after the Ravnivori began their invasion of the Almatian Confederation and the Almatians first encountered the Possessed. Balticimus was fascinated by the powers demonstrated by the Possessed and their potential for immortality. He quickly pledged his allegiance to the Empire and, almost as quickly, sold his services to one of the original coven as an indentured secretary and advisor.
In the years that followed, Balticimus made the most detailed study of the Possessed and their daemons ever performed. Even now, several centuries later, the insights and discoveries made by this scholar form the basis for most of the understanding of daemons and their interactions with their hosts and none have surpassed the amount of knowledge on the subject he obtained.
As age overtook him and his life was coming to an end, Balticimus became ever more convinced that the only way for him to achieve immortality was to either become Possessed himself or to have his soul taken by a Possessed. The former path seemed very unreliable as he was no fighter or killer and, even when a person killed a sentient being in the presence of a Possessed, they were not guaranteed of getting a daemon. As such, he decided to convince his master to kill him and take his soul.
Even so early in the Empire’s history, the rules for slavery were already highly developed and Balticimus’ master insisted that he would have to commit a capital offense for her to take his life. Balticimus, already a century old, quite frail and almost blind from age, “declared” himself an enemy of the Empire and made an “attempt” on his master’s life, one she was easily able to foil.
Recognizing his actions for what they were, she declared him a traitor and his life forfeit.
A Possessed must claim a soul through violent means but Balticimus’ master did it as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Over the following decades and centuries, the writings of Balticimus and his beliefs slowly spread throughout the Empire. Though, even today, it has not achieved the same popularity and level of dedication that any of the religions associated with the gods of the Empire have, it has become a respected religion.
The growing worship of Ravnivorous as a divine being has lead to some problems with the Cult of Balticimus, or Balticimeans, as they are more politely called. While they worship all Possessed in their way, Ravnivorous, as the last of the remaining 13 has pride of place. Ravnivorous’ church is somewhat conflicted by these worshippers. On the one hand, they consider welcoming them into the fold to increase their flock. On the other, many in the clergy consider them somewhat unstable at best and want to distance themselves from the cultists as much as possible.
The relationship between the Possessed and Cult of Balticimus, has always been somewhat complex, as well. Though Ravnivorous has not officially endorsed the religion, he has also done nothing to stamp it out. In fact, his only real attention to the Cult is that he has codified the method for their “transcendence” as Balticimeans call being slain by a Possessed and having their souls taken by them. Ravnivorous is not entirely comfortable with the obviously dark nature of the cult but, also cannot deny the value of a steady stream of willing souls to not only keep he and his fellow Possessed alive but also making them ever stronger.
To ensure that those who sacrifice themselves do not do so on a whim, or as a momentary act of fervor there is a formal, stylized ritual that a Balticimean has to go through to satisfy the legal rules for becoming a traitor and being slain by a Possessed rather than simply becoming a life slave. The Balticimean has to declare his intention on or before The Feast of Souls and cannot achieve transcendence until the next Feast of Souls or after.
When that day comes, the Balticimean declares his “intention” to overthrow the Empire and “attacks” the Possessed. This is generally a very stylized process and the Balticimean is usually easily disarmed and slain, quickly if the Possessed if kind or generous but sometimes slowly if the Possessed is particularly cruel. Many Balticimeans are of the belief that the more they suffer as they die, the more proof of their dedication and the more sublime their afterlife as a part of the Possessed who kills them.
The Purifying Flame – The history of the Purifying Flame goes all the way back to the Almatian Conquest. With the arrival of the Possessed and their “unholy parasites” splinter groups from the churches of several of the gods of the Almatians banded together as inquisitors and paladins specifically dedicated to slaying the invaders and their superhuman abilities.
They called themselves the Purifying Flame and, as the years went on took to burning their victims to death when they were able, to, though they were never above killing a Possessed in any way possible. They remained some of the most stalwart opponents of the Ravnivori even after the leaders and people of the Almatian Confederation conceded defeat and submitted to the rule of their invaders.
Understandably, Ravnivorous and the other Possessed were rather zealous and violent in rooting out members of the Purifying Flame. In fact, an Imperial Edict made aligning with the group or claiming membership in it a treasonous offense. In an act of cruel irony, the Possessed began burning the members of the Purifying Flame in turn.
Despite the harsh punishment that comes with affiliating with this group, the Empire has never been able to wipe it out, entirely. Instead, it has become an underground secretive group. There are always though who find the power the Possessed, physical, social and political offensive and it takes little effort to convince these individuals that destroying them is a divine mandate.
In fact, members of the Purifying Flame point to the fact that many in the group are given divine powers by the gods as a sign of their approval for what they consider a holy quest. If questioned as to why there are just as many Possessed priests who are also able to access holy energies, the members of the Flame claim that the Possessed are actually channeling infernal forces and use it as further evidence of their Evil nature.
Members of the Purifying Flame go through a secret initiation ritual when they are first brought into the ranks. As part of this ritual, they are branded with the sect’s symbol, a stylized fire. This brand is always placed directly over the member’s heart.
The powers that be know of this telltale mark and when rumors of a Purifying Flame plot surface, it is not uncommon for Imperial officials and security officers to begin strip searches to find conspirators.