“The sun never sets on the Ballikari Empire, as the trite phrase goes. But the trite phrase holds much truth in it, for the Ballikari Emperor rules over at least a quarter of the globe, most likely more, his power founded on the arcanum airships, the musket regiments, the cadre mages and the dragon knight corps. In Europa alone the Ballikari rule over some ten additional states, some annexed in recent times and some absorbed into the Empire over a hundred years ago.
And so, the political and economic capital of the world must lie in the heart the Ballikari Empire, as it does in Lerial, the crown. And the jewel to that crown is Naalera Zephol, the Nightless Palace- so called because just like the Ballikari Empire itself, it never sleeps. It is here that the fate of nations is decided, far more than in mere battles or wars, for statesmanship determines the course of history. Bear that in mind as you contemplate the honour of standing here, at the heart of all things, the centre of the Forbidden City- and at the entrance to the Naalera Zephol itself.”- Allenor Perikal, High Steward to the Nightless Palace
The Nightless Palace
The Nightless Palace
This is the winter palace of Emperor Mathius Dormekant, supreme leader of the Ballikari Empire. It is widely known as the diplomatic capital of the world, and its outer wings are host to ambassadors, representatives and even leaders from myriad different states. It also features extensive accommodation within the inner sanctum for the Imperial family and his most favoured aristocratic lieutenants and generals. The Palace also features ballrooms, banquet halls, extensive gardens and all the other facilities needed for the entertainment of the elite. There are several hundred servants in attendance, with their own quarters and rooms “below stairs”.
The palace is garrisoned by around two hundred of the Vodenal Musket Guard, as well as a cadre of fifty mages and a wing of twelve Dragons with attached Knights and support staff. The thirteen Alamarius, magically enhanced bodyguards who excel at both personal combat and high magic, guard the Emperor himself. Three Alamarius each guard his heirs. These bodyguards are orphans taken from birth and indoctrinated to the roles; they are infamous and considered loyal, determined and nigh fanatical protectors who are almost unparalleled. However, they are only the most blatant way that the Emperor ensures his own safety. The chance of any harm befalling the Imperial family from a direct attack is slim at best.
The Nightless Palace is the base location for all representative missions to the Emperor, and ambassadors spend most of their time here, though they may sleep and live in their embassies. It was an extremely comfortable location, with vast swathes given over to foreign visitors and their entertainment. However, there is also a strict code of conduct, as follows. These are only IC rules, so you can break them, at your peril:
1: Do not use force under any circumstances, for any reasons, except in strict self-defence. This includes ritual or honour duels of any kind, by either leaders or bodyguards. There are no exceptions to this rule, and the punishment for transgression is severe. Assault or threat of the Emperor or a member of his family will result in disgraced exile at least, or at most execution regardless of any diplomatic immunity.
2: The Emperor is in final authority, within his palace and within his Empire. Likewise, the Imperial family have considerable powers and the commanding servants of the Emperor, such as the High Steward and the Commander of the Guard, have final word within their fields, with full Imperial authority to prohibit specific areas, confiscate weapons and lay down rules.
3: The Inner Sanctum areas are by invitation only, and trespass is specifically and forcefully forbidden by night. The barracks of the Palace garrison and related squads are strictly off limits unless specified otherwise. The four High Towers and the Imperial Catacombs are also prohibited areas.
4: Within the Imperial Palace, Ballikari Law with the modifications noted here applies fully and without reserve.
5: The Emperor is to be addressed with the due respect accorded to a supreme royal personage, and expects this courtesy to be extended to his children. In return, the royal court will show full respect for the titles and personages of any and all guests.
6: In return, the Emperor solemnly vows that any and all guests staying in his Palace are under the shield of the Ballikari Empire, and under the shield of his own regal authority. They will be extended full courtesy and hospitality for as long as they abide by their part of the covenant, and any blow struck against them is a blow struck against the Emperor himself, to be investigated and punished with the full might of his Imperial Authority, whoever the perpetrator might be. All representatives and guests are likewise under the aegis of Palace security at all times.
7: Representatives may be housed in the Outer Wing of the Palace, within their embassies or in any other suitable location, at their pleasure.
8: Representatives may make unlimited use of the facilities available to them, both for the purposes of business and for relaxation, within the Outer Wing and any other free areas, for as long as they retain their position.
9: A representative party has a right to up to two full members, and three bodyguards of any kind pending Imperial approval. Further aides, attachés and additional bodyguards may be housed at the embassies within reasonable limits.
10: A representative party’s airship may make full use of the hanger structure connected to the Nightless Palace. Likewise, steeds, mounts and magical creatures any larger than a man cannot be taken into the Palace itself, but will be accorded housing and full respect as appropriate.
As you may have guessed, you’re all playing a new representative party. But first of all, you must draw together a few brief ideas from the nation you represent. The ground rule is that there is no player nation the Empire could not destroy. However, some may give less or more trouble to that goal. Remember, the emphasis in this BW is on diplomacy and there will be no fighting- your nation is merely a background to show the motivations and goals of your characters. There are a few major archetypes:
1) National Power- an independent power with enough significance to pose a genuine difficulty should the Empire chose to angle expansion that way. These, while inferiors, are the closest the Empire gets to partners. They favour, in general, seeking trade deals, alliances and similar favours from the Emperor.
2) Independent State- a lesser independent country that could be invaded fairly easily by the Empire. They are far more vulnerable and generally aim to secure their boarders and maintain favour with the Empire.
3) Annexed State- an independent state, large or small, which has been invaded and conquered by the Empire within the last hundred years. Forced to open subservient dialouge with their conquering power, they seek the withdrawal of as many Empire troops as possible, concessions to autonomy and independence.
4) Province of the Empire- an independent state which has been with the Empire for over one hundred years and is reasonably stable, or one of the large regions of the original Ballikari. Again, greater autonomy is often sought, though these regions are generally realistic in expecting no full independence in any short term. Generally seek to influence further Imperial policy outright, in ways advantageous to them.
Once you have your Empire sketched out, the next step is your party. You can have up to two aristocrats, diplomats or any other suitable candidate labelled your two representatives. These are the individuals who participate in active diplomacy and carry the weight of the BW. As well as this, you may have up to three bodyguards. Unlikely to see combat, these are support characters and may also have additional useful skills, enabling them to further aid their masters.
Type: (representative or bodyguard)
Rank or Title: (general, duke, count and so on)
Equipment of Note: (includes any weapons and armour)
Combat Abilities: (keep this brief, as it is largely background material. Your characters should not see any combat besides the remote possibility of an assassination attempt.)
Notable Skills: (linguistic abilities, socially interesting talents and so on)
Note that I have omitted both “backstory” and “personality”. You can include them if you like, but I’d prefer these things to be unknowns that we must all find out the hard way.
Every representative generally comes to the Palace with a specific goal in mind. These are again undisclosed, but I ask you to consider them and act upon them as the BW progresses. The best representatives will always be working towards this objective, taking advantage of unexpected events as best they can. Completing this objective allows you to be intensely smug, and embarrass your competitors- provided your goal was suitably lofty to begin with. Aim high! Examples are included below:
1) Establishing a rapport with powerful figures in the Empire hierarchy can have great returns, both personally and for your whole nation. Making individual allies is a viable and significant objective. The ultimate culmination of this is attempting to woo and win one of the three children of the Emperor, in a marriage that would effectively result in a powerful permanent alliance. Note that between the calculating intelligence of the children themselves and the reservations of the Emperor, this is a very hard objective.
2) Alternatively, macropolitical issues can be tackled, such as economic agreements, treaties, non-aggression pacts and so on. An independent power may ultimately seek a permanent alliance, while a power controlled by the Empire would seek independence. Both are intensely difficult to obtain. Personal favour will be needed, just as the ultimate personal favour can only come alongside macropolitical approval.
3) Lobbying Imperial policy is a third area of importance. Many parties could benefit hugely from gaining influence over Imperial decisions, allowing them to represent their own interests and even execute their own objectives through the might of the Empire. Once again, though, this is inter-linked- personal approval and governmental approval are both needed to have a sway over policy, just as one who provides sound and intelligent advice will gain personal and governmental approval. The most successful of lobbyists can become governmental ministers, gaining great power- through great difficulties.
4) Bring It All Down- an option for the anarchists amongst us, this is a more sinister objective from one who has nothing but malice for the Empire. Many would love to see the Imperial order crumble and will stop at nothing to achieve this goal, sowing chaos and disorder from within and ultimately hoping to strike at the Imperial family. Such individuals lead very dangerous existences, where even suspicion can be dangerous and any evidence can result in execution. However, the stakes are great; killing the Emperor himself would strike a great blow and the destruction of the entire family and any potential leaders could quite possibly cause the collapse of the Empire. However, this must be achieved through cunning, not brute force- indeed, using excessive combat to achieve this goal will result in the Palace Guard killing your characters outright for trying to take on an army.
Note that this is a very, very long way from a comprehensive list, and there are as many possible objectives as you can think of. Likewise, there is no need to disclose or formalise your goal, or even stick to one. It is up to each player to try and work out what the others are up to- and interfere if need be, it’s every man for himself. This is especially true of those who intend harm to the Imperial family; by invalidating a vast majority of other potential objectives by default, they are a powerful threat to those who prefer peaceful means of change. So watch each other carefully.
From the Imperial family to the lowliest footman, there are quite a few NPCs in the palace, some of which will be allies to us, some enemies. I will create a fair supply of these folks, and all players can likewise create NPCs as they please provided they do not unduly or unrealistically aid the player. Like the players themselves, all these NPCs will have their own objectives, some benevolent, most merely self-serving, a few outright malicious and bad news to some or all of us. As such, you’d do well to keep half an eye on them as well- the Palace holds many secrets, and more plots. Below is a list of NPCs with brief notes on them, starting for now with the royal family only- with scant detail, once again you must do research the hard way for specifics of personality. As time goes on and we meet new, relevant NPCs I’ll try to update this list for ease of reference:
The Royal Family
Emperor Mathius Dormekant- at the age of forty-six, Mathius is an ageing but still determined autocrat. In his youth he was a potent warrior and military leader, overseeing the annexation of several small independent states and many other armed conflicts. His swordfighting skills have, of age, fallen off, but he is still known to be a potent mage with a healthy paranoia that has protected his life thus far.
Empress Lamira Dormekant- forty-two years of age. Originating from the family of a powerful province, Lamira naturally married for politics. She has a reputation for being astute and level-headed.
Prince Rodrigez Dormekant- aged twenty, the heir to the throne. Rodrigez like his father before him has been cutting a path as a military leader, amassing an impressive record. However, in recent times of relative peace he is spending more time at court. Has a reputation as a fierce swordsman and mage.
Princess Satarthia Dormekant- aged nineteen. A full-fledged lady of the court, rarely seen outside it. As such, details on her are sketchy.
Princess Neriolla Dormekant- aged seventeen. Like her sister, Neriolla is largely confined to various palaces and is an unknown quantity to most.
It is October, and the closing of the high campaign season coincidentally marks the beginning of the diplomatic season in the Empire. All the players are representatives newly appointed to the court, arriving just in time for the beginning of the diplomatic “season” as marked by the Fallglade Ball, one of the biggest social events on the calendar. So we arrive, dust ourselves up, sort out our quarters, and prepare for some dancing, as the ball’s the introduction point for our NPC friends and indeed each other.
1) No combat. I mean it. No joke. No combat. The only possibility is assassination, and even that is likely to be done by poison or similar, nothing so clumsy as a frontal attack.
2) Conversation will drive the Boardwar, but conversation is hard to do in BWs without the thread becoming a chatroom fest. As such, I’m going to lift the usual rule on controlling other characters for conversation purposes only. If the other person gets your character hopelessly wrong, then your character was probably adopting a façade or lying through their teeth- ambassadors do that- and can reveal a truer face (or not) in your own post. Ninja editry may be needed if things get too implausible.
3) What the Emperor says generally goes. Disrespect his authority at your peril. Plea-bargaining your way back into a palace is really, really embarrassing.
4) Character development will likely drive the boardwar (that term is so wrong for this one). Feel free to have your own internal plots, but remember to interact as well.
5) Always be ready to chase up information on the backstory and personality of NPCs and players alike. These things must be discovered the hard way but can be invaluable.
6) No one, and I mean that, will nessecarily tell you the truth. NPCs often have good reasons to lie, as do we. Trust no one, m’kay? And enjoy.
Nation: The Seraphi Illumati, a state annexed by the Empire twenty-five years ago. Has just emerged the loser in a wide-spread war for independance, the third since the occupation, this time in such a bad state that it has been forced to crawl back to the Empire for mercy. The aristocracy is dominated by the "Summoners", specilist mages who can conjur powerful magical creatures. They are a matriarchal society, as the vast majority of summoners are female, where many have at least rudimentary magical talent and lack of this is seen as a fatal weakness. Summoners are guarded by Swordsmen or Women, a male-dominated institution of magically enchanced, well-equipped warriors, generally with magical powers in addition. They act as bodyguards to the summoners. In recent times both forces have been much reduced in number. The Seraphi are currently caught between those who want to continue to resist and those pragmatists who would rather broker a deal with the Empire.
Nation: Seraphi Illumati
Rank or Title: High Summoner, one of the Council of Twelve- due to her potent abilities and more importantly the chronic lack of summoners due to the war.
Equipment of Note: Staff.
Combat Abilities: Balanced magical abilities in elemental magic, especially light, healing and other lores. Mediocre runic magic. Can summon "Zion", a powerful dragonlike creature, and other such entities.
Notable Skills: Has learned Ballikan, the Empire tounge, though her command of it is still shakey. Can ride a horse or Zion. Is a fine singer with several songs memorized, and has a greater than usual knowledge of ancient Seraphi legend.
Nation: Seraphi Illumati
Rank or Title: Swordsman
Equipment of Note: Wears arcanum armour. Equipped with a bespoke arcanum Blade-Carbine, combining the function of a sword and a magic gun.
Combat Abilities: Magically enhanced to be a superhuman warrior, and possessing considerable skill with his weapons. Has no magical ability of any use.
Notable Skills: Can sing reasonably, typically in duet with Rebenkessa and to annoy her. Can ride a horse and carry a heavy load without complaint. Excellent field survival skills and a practical knowledge of the world.