BackgroundIn a certain galaxy, there is a certain region of space where someone has broken physics. The region spans about the width and breadth of a spiral arm — approximately 1600 light years in diameter, but perhaps only 150 ly in depth. The region is called a Wellspring, and the broken local physics have some interesting properties that make possible a Magic from Technology which can be used for terraforming, interdimensional communications and travel, and a host of other things. The Wellspring is initially inhabited by a group of Precursors who take advantage of the local properties of the Wellspring to experiment with spacetime and use starsystems as play-doh. Shortly before they get bored and depart to seek out another Wellspring in the galaxy, a group of wandering generationships full of cybernetically enhanced, genetically engineered humanoids who call themselves Wanderers arrive at the edge of the Wellspring. The Precursors invite the Wanderers to settle in and watch the pyrotechnics; eventually the two civilizations settle down nicely together. The Wanderers, who like to name things, eventually give the precursors the moniker "Founders". The Founders decide to completely reengineer their entire species to be able to interbreed with the Wanderers, out of bloody-minded curiosity and to add the Wanderers' best qualities to their genetic and cybernetic repertoire. This proves to be a serious mistake. The hybrid species comes with a collection of fatal flaws: for one thing, their Puberty Superpower is familicidal psychosis. Coupled with average intelligence far surpassing both parent species, this flaw ends up triggering three centuries of brutal warfare laced with rampant genocide on both sides. Fortunately, the genetic and cybernetic chaos that manifests in these Founderlings causes them to be short-lived, and their successor generation retains many of the benefits of the hybridization while losing the Ax-Crazy. The Founders have already spent far more time here than they planned to. They bequeath all of the starsystems they've been monkeying around with to the Wanderers and their offspring and pack up to leave. In their impatience, they neglect to leave behind the secrets to much of the technology they'd been using to prop up the fledgling Wanderling civilization. Thus begins the Empire of the Wellspring.
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The Age of Silence
Bereft of its shiny interstellar communications technology, the Empire promptly fragments politically, if not culturally. The first few dynasties situate themselves on Lunawell, a planet isolated by the volume of space surrounding it that is inexplicably impassable except at sublight. Within a few centuries, the colonized planets have been left to their own devices. The Lunawell dynasties proceed to become insular and self-interested, extending their authority to other planets only to exploit them. In this period, the first of the Great Weathermakers is identified by one of the mysterious mandala artifacts left behind by the Founders. According to a loose accumulation of what are believed to be prophecies, the mandalas will identify the greatest of the Weathermakers - ones who are destined to carry on the legacy of the Founders. Naturally, very few people believe in the prophecies, but after some of them get fulfilled with surprising accuracy, Imperial historians begin to wonder if they aren't elaborate plans set in place by the Founders. Andrina Warren is the first person to be identified as a Great Weathermaker, on the largest of the mandalas on the planet Phoenixwell. Nobody knows what she is supposed to do, per se, so they appoint her Temple Lord of Phoenixwell. Given that she was already a Scholar of some renown, the role suits her well.
The Seherithan Restoration
In the waning years of the seventh Lunawell dynasty, all of the momentum of the Founding has been lost. The Houses now rule on their own with little intervention on the part of the Imperial government; their governments are economically precarious and prone to destructive civil war. Imbalances of trade are the rule rather than the exception, and multiple planets are on the verge of ecological collapse. One such world is Phoenixwell, and its young Archduke Antony Seherithan is desperate to do something about the rampant disaster. His mother brought him up to believe in the potential of the Empire of the Wellspring, or more importantly, the potential of galactic civilization. Seherithan entrusts Phoenixwell to his mentor Grancaryen Jocaine, picks up the rest of his House Court, and journeys to Lunawell. There, he pays his respects to a corrupt Emperor and promptly finds himself stuck in a gluetrap Court, although it takes him a year to understand just how impossible it would be to return home again. Seherithan catches on to the fact that the Court is deeply corrupt at its highest levels, viciously oppressed at every other level, and the few nobles who haven't succumbed are weak and disorganized. Two men, largely dismissed by all as incompetent, disgraceful leeches, are quietly and ineffectively attempting to organize some form of resistance. They are Sinclair Taigne, in exile from his House over family troubles, and Richard Madira, still officially in charge of his House. Their efforts are meager at best, and they spend most of their days sketching out pie-in-the-sky plans and most of their nights in drunken dissipation. Seherithan seizes their initiative and drives it all the way home: in a short period of time, he founds a proper La Résistance and drags it kicking and screaming to victory, and justifiable regicide. He spends the briefest possible amount of time as Emperor before handing over the reins to his supporters and going off the deep end by betraying his closest friends and dragging their budding aristocratic careers through the mud. Most of the "Seherithan Restoration" named for him was actually the work of S.Taigne, R.Madira, and dozens of other bright stars in the Seherithan Court, rather than Seherithan himself. Most accounts quietly sweep this fact under the rug, since said bright stars unanimously attribute their own works to him. S.Taigne and R.Madira establish the Courier Service, chartered as a neutral information carrier, support network, and diplomatic agency for the Imperial government and all of the House governments. It doubles as a watchdog, with specific components of its constitution aimed at unveiling the inner workings of the civil service and the civil aristocracy.
The First Imperial Age
That this period is separate from the Restoration is a convenient political fiction. Most events and trends are contiguous to the Restoration. Many of the Great Names of the Restoration have moved on into bureaucratic positions, most in the Courier Service working to enforce the new strict Imperial laws. It is at this time that Guild pilot and then-commander Jui Reinhardt founds the Guildhall, after playing around a little too long with banned cybernetic technology. He finagles himself an appointment to liaison duty in the House of Sihaya, where he hopes to persuade the captains of Sihalese aerospace industry to support his endeavor to embrace underdeveloped technology rather than locking it up in the closet. He is a Fish out of Water in the realm of interstellar politics, and sick with several untreated neurological illnesses besides, but he succeeds at establishing the Guildhall and making a name for himself in the interstellar aristocracy. At around the same time, the House of Madira and the House of Phoenixwell are locked in spiraling economic warfare and shameless rivalry on the interstellar stage, to the point where aristocrats and civil servants of both Houses are getting themselves slapped with exile orders left and right by baffled and annoyed Imperial officials. Ambassador Sinclair Taigne has met with one simply for having the misfortune to get assigned on the Phoenixwell side of the diplomatic Gambit Pileup and being known to have Richard de'Madira, assigned to the Madiran side, for an occasional lover. The planetary aristocracy of Madira are hashing out a plan and trying to come up with a candidate for the ducal throne who won't immediately be voted down by the House Council. Out of this mess emerges several people, only one of whom is actually a candidate for Duke, and a number of situations that indicate to all involved that Reality Is Out to Lunch. The upshot of this tangled and bizarre mess is the appearance on the scene of one Lucretius Inga, the spoiled, over-emotional son of an out-of-touch rural provincial, identified by the Shining Mandala of Madira as one of the Great Weathermakers. Inga is in fact a genius wardmaker, if he would only set aside his personal melodrama and focus. As Phoenixwell and Madira are wrapped up in melodrama of their own, this is a poor time for Andrina Warren to attempt to pay a visit to Lucretius Inga, who is only the second person ever identified as a Great Weathermaker. Nevertheless, she tries to do so, and in a sequence of events that would be laughable if it weren't so tragic, Inga and Warren become bitter enemies, terrified and contemptuous of each other at the same time. Warren ends up banished from Madira after a nearly successful attempt on Inga's life is attributed (not entirely incorrectly) to her. For a while, it seems like this Kudzu Plot of politics and personal drama is hanging fire, but after a while everyone involved realizes that the rest of the galaxy has moved on.
The New Revolution
A few thousand years down the line, the Empire has settled the worlds granted it by the Founders. The Founders took a great deal of their high technology with them before anyone else could get around to copying it. Unfortunately, this includes the terraforming techniques used to render the Empire's planets human-livable and metastable. The Empire is left with two options: either hope that the planets are correctly built and will last as long as natural worlds, or entrust the Weathermakers with the duty of maintaining the technology that keeps the planets functioning. The Weathermakers have inherited but a fraction of the Worldmakers' powers: so small are their abilities, relatively speaking, that they lack even the capacity to understand just how unsuited they are to the Impossible Task of maintaining and repairing the work of the Founders. A dozen planets fall out of equilibrium. Several of them experience The End of the World as We Know It. The Weathermakers and the Imperial Temple are blamed for this. Most Houses divest them of all responsibility and privilege related to their ancient duties. As a group, Weathermakers begin to suffer plunging approval ratings. Public anger about the destruction of populated worlds and the deaths of millions of people translates into political repercussions and eventually violence. It is in this environment that a pro-Weathermaker Empress succeeds the Throne on the strength of her experience and qualifications, despite public protest. This is exactly how the meritocratic system designed by the Seherithan Court is supposed to work: the monarch is selected without recourse to ideology or popularity. Unfortunately, the Empress' own Court is laced through with people who have put ideology and anger over their sacred duties. Factions conspire in secret and corruption has propagated through the highest levels of the Imperial Court, including the Guard. The Courier Service continues to serve the Court, doing nothing but primly point out countless incidents of corruption with mild disdain. Its ideology of official neutrality is widely interpreted to mean non-interference. The people who were around for the last round of Imperial failure grow uneasy, but as many of them are Weathermakers themselves, they find themselves shut out. The Empress' lover, a fanatical anti-Temple/anti-Weathermaker activist named Kalyhata Zan, attacks her in the bath and cripples her. The Guard does nothing to prevent this. Zan uses the strength of the various anti-Weathermaker factions, including the Guard, to prop her up as a "regent". The Empress receives treatment for her wounds adequate to keep her alive, but is deliberately kept immobile and noncommunicative. In the first few years, very few people outside of the Court are aware that a coup has even occurred, since long Court tradition has allowed suitably qualified Consorts to serve regencies for monarchs. The usurper quickly seeks to subvert the military Services and the greatest of the Houses (the former fall more readily than the latter). The Empire has long since begun to rot from the inside out. The House of Sihaya is split in twain, with one half succumbing readily to conquest, and the other resisting at the expense of millions of lives. The House of Madira is conquered by its own Navy and Army in a stunning betrayal. Lucretius Inga is among the first to hide and aid Weathermakers while acting as a Reverse Mole race-traitor puppet for all of two months before the usurping administration attempts to have him executed by firing squad for the crime of existing. He fakes his own assassination and goes underground for good. The House of Phoenixwell holds out for considerably longer after it purges its military leadership with extreme prejudice. Andrina Warren is remarkably ambivalent about the anti-Weathermaker movement, given that she is theoretically one of the greatest of the weathermakers. As it turns out, she has come to believe that the Founders were in fact literal gods, and that far too many of their descendants have abused the Founders' gifts to frivolous ends. Although she believes that weatherwork should be restricted to only a handful of people, she doesn't remotely endorse the Red regime's method of doing so, which at this point amounts to genocide. When Phoenixwell falls, Andrina Warren disappears as well, taking a leaf from Inga's book and burning her own Temple to the ground in a staged suicide. She tracks down Inga and forces him to create a ward that will seal off the Wellspring and bring all of humanity's weathermakers down to almost no power. This takes even genius Inga almost a decade to do, while the Empire succumbs system-by-system to the Red regime's forces. Billions of weathermakers are slaughtered: the most powerful and prominent of them and their allies in the civil aristocracy are captured, tortured, and violated by the Empress' personal troupe of madmen and sadists. Now is exactly the wrong time for a new Great Weathermaker to be identified on Lunawell, but just as that House is falling, a monk named Jonas Ondein activates a great mandala on Lunawell and is promptly captured by invading forces. In one of several attempts to escape, his back is broken. Eventually, weathermakers get him smuggled out of the system and he briefly joins Warren and Inga on Lunawell. He comes away from this with a burning irrational hatred for both of them, and shortly disappears. It is believed that he was one of the anonymous voices instrumental in guiding the united Sihalese faction to victory. In the unconquered part of the Sihaya Consortium, a handful of surviving nobles put together a resistance, using the so-far uncorrupted military services intelligence agencies (MSIA) as their network. They assemble a pirate fleet of former Navy ships and begin to retake relay chains one node at a time. With control over most of the communications network, they are able to isolate conquered planets and coordinate resistance activities on all of them. When the Red regime turns on the Courier Service for its unwillingness to hand over Weathermakers amidst its ranks, the Service finally signs up with the revolution. A number of key defections from the upper ranks of the Empress' cadre trigger a chain reaction tipping the board in favor of the Sihalese faction and its extensive array of allies. Part of this chain reaction is the final implementation of Inga's Wellspring seal, which makes it impossible for the Red regime to find Weathermakers. The Empress succumbs to extreme paranoia, believing that her government is being infiltrated at every level and that when the time is right, someone will crack the seal and let the infiltrators destroy her utterly. Instead, it is an ordinary agent, leading an ordinary (albeit highly trained and heavily indoctrinated) tactical team, who finally assassinates Kalyhata Zan in her own bedroom. From then on out, the Red regime falls like a house of cards, having already been overextended, fragile, and subject to the Ax-Crazy whims of the Red Empress and her certifiable minions. The Sihalese faction assume regency and work feverishly with the Courier Service in a series of enormous public conventions to draft and implement a strict new Imperial constitution to prevent such a usurpation from ever happening again. These new laws are called Blood Codes for their brutal treatment of traitors in the civil aristocracy and the civil service. At the same time, the Courier Service drafts a set of looser documents that impose an ideology of strict transparency and correct behavior on Courts: these are the Protocols. Lucretius Inga never releases the Seal, in part because Andrina Warren won't let him. Weathermakers still exist, but their powers have been reduced to parlor tricks and minor pyrotechnics. The Weathermakers' "home planet" Tchaliska, after decades of constant destruction, is abandoned, and then laid under official interdict as one giant, world-sized memorial to the billions who have been slaughtered.
The Second Imperial Age
To forget the horrors of the revolution, the Empire enters into a long age of expansion and colonization. The original settlement effort confined itself only to the planets that were ideal for colonization, leaving behind dozens that were only marginally less suitable, and completely ignoring a large fringe of planets at the edge of the Wellspring. At the edge of the Wellspring dwell several other civilizations, whom Imperial colonists studiously ignore. At the time, said civilizations also studiously ignore the Imperial colonists, since the planets they are colonizing are ecologically of no interest.
The League War
Arc Words: "I serve!" The alien civilizations of the Rim for one reason or another decide that they need the interstellar resources that have been occupied by Imperial colonies. Unfortunately for them, these colonies are now well-established Imperial worlds, complete with fully functional House governments and metastable economies. Furthermore, the Imperials who dwell on them are highly uninterested in picking up and leaving their homes to be digested into raw materials. The outer civilizations organize themselves into a military alliance which the Imperials call "the League". This doesn't happen suddenly: it's a gradual transition that occurs through two lengthy Imperial dynasties, and very few people are aware of it. Empress Landry St. Clare foresees disaster, and terminates her dynasty by appointing an improbably young, charismatic Prince as her successor. Iuki Yohana assumes the throne with only vague hints from his mentor as to what lies in store for him. Not ten years later, the situation with the League has plunged through the floor and the Empire stands on the brink of interstellar war not, as it has faced in the past, with itself, but with a civilization that seeks to invade it and destroy it utterly. The Military Services, primarily the Imperial Navy, now have precious little time to Take a Level in Badass from small regional forces mostly aimed at stopping piracy and monitoring shipping lanes into a full-scale counter-invasion force. Luckily, the League is not nearly so prepared to invade as it thought it was: the arms race starts out only slightly skewed in their favor, and their scale-up works only slightly faster than on the Imperial side. For nearly seven years, every single minor battle goes to the League, but the Empire is able to see past their smaller losses without any extensive demoralizing effect. In fact, the Empire chalks up these losses to the curious fact that the technologies used by the respective sides are quite incompatible: Imperial defenses are like paper against League weapons, but the reverse is also true! Over a decade passes before each side finally implements a solution to the problem, mostly by technology theft rather than research. The middle decade of the War proves perilous to the Empire's many space habitats. As the League completely perforates Imperial space, travel between planets becomes expensive, difficult, and dangerous. The Navy must escort every unarmed vessel from orbit to orbit, or risk losing vast quantities of Imperial trade, supply, and passenger travel. Furthermore, the League establishes colonies in in uninhabited reaches of Imperial space to get a foothold on resources and territory. An enormous amount of pillaging is done on both sides. Towards the end of this decade, the League pulls off a large number of massive assaults cutting right to the heart of Imperial space: attacks on Taigne, the Sihalese Kwenduori, and finally an extensive raid on a large fleet assembled in the Phoenixwell system itself. The last attack leaves that House's defense devastated and strikes fear into the hearts of many, for if such an attack can be executed on Phoenixwell, it can be done on any planet in the Wellspring, including the Seat of Empire itself. But these campaigns are eventually found to have temporarily drained and sapped the League war effort; they were disproportionately expensive for their strategic value, and they resulted in vast casualties and plunging morale. In short order, Emperor Yohana is able to negotiate an armistice which, in retrospect, proves far more trouble than it's worth for everyone involved after six years. Neither side expects it to be permanent, but the Imperial military experiences a sudden hemorrhage of troops and can't implement stop-loss orders fast enough; furthermore, the funding and purchasing of new equipment gets extremely complicated. Meanwhile, every other Imperial citizen spends the duration in an extended jubilee. The League has wasted a lot of money and forces on spectacular assaults that were quite effective at nailing Imperial morale to the wall, but the Armistice ends up squandering the precious little strategic gain, and causes major political rifts between the separate entities that make up the League. The Armistice ends unspectacularly, almost as though the two sides have finally, grudgingly agreed to sit down and get back to work. Six months later, however, the League pulls off another couple of stunning attacks right at the heart of Imperial territory: a raid within the atmosphere of Madira that wreaks major destruction on several mainland cities, and the complete annihilation of three Taigne lunar arcologies. Again, though, these attacks are only superficially successful and come at great cost. The League can only keep up for another seven years before the Empire begins to roll them over with extreme prejudice. Thirty-two years after it began, the League War ends and Imperial forces sweep into League space. The post-war period will see the Empire attempt and somewhat succeed at occupying and pacifying the League until subsequently losing interest, preferring to tend to its own wounds and eventually indulge in petty infighting.
The Great Crisis
- Arc Words : "I'll show you what my House can do!"
The Third Imperial Age a.k.a The Age of Wonders
- Arc Words : "You would regret it for the rest of your immortal life."
The Imperial MetacultureThe Imperial metaculture is a hybrid of Wanderer and Founder cultures. It incorporates a strong element of communalism which informs the whole superstructure of society. The metaculture is most evident in the pan-Imperial organizations, although many of the more powerful macrocultures have their fingers in some of the pan-Imperial pies.
The Imperial GovernmentThe Empire is a mishmash Feudal Future meta-civilization with multiple centers of power: in the Monarchy, which has direct authority over the Houses and Sovereign Services but not the Prefectures, and in the Houses, which have direct authority over the Prefectures but not the people, and the Prefectures, which are mostly representative governments. The Houses and Sovereign Services are constitutional aristocracies that operate on a universal meritocratic system established during the Seherithan Restoration. House rulership may be hereditary, but a bloodline heir must demonstrate the same political aptitude under the civil service examination system and serve in meaningful lower posts in order to secure the confidence of the House's internal elector system. Many Houses use a system of adult adoption to meld purely merit-based rulership with familial succession. Most Imperial governments, including the monarchy, have Standard Royal Courts with many of the usual trappings. The Monarchy's main role in the Imperial system is to govern the Houses amongst themselves, overturn illegitimate, oppressive, or ineffective Houses, and (post-Revolution) enforce the Blood Codes and Protocols, which are documents much like a constitution that outline the Imperial ideology. The monarchy is traditionally seated on one of three planets called "Imperial Wells": Dragonwell, Phoenixwell, and Lunawell, although after the Red Revolution the Sihalese provisional monarchy briefly retreated to the Sihalese capitol planets known as the Kwenduori. Relevant tropes:
- Royals Who Actually Do Something : And how. The Court is always busy with the affairs of the Empire. During the War, the aristocracy is saddled with so much work and so many crises on top of crises that by the end of the League War, the civil service is thoroughly broken in spirit and suicide rates amongst professional civil servants shoot up precipitously.
- Meaningful Titles : Some are conditioned by Court culture, others appear by historical accident or are given affectionately by courtiers.
- Requisite Royal Regalia : Depends on the dynasty. The monarch's signifying color is green, but pretty much anyone associated with the monarch is expected to wear it once in a while. Some dynasties are notoriously stingy with the "regalia" despite the Protocols explicitly stating the symbolic importance of the Court for the image of the Empire.
- Succession Crisis : Deliberately planned for and averted by countless redundant systems. The regular succession can reside at Court, and usually participates in rule, but the emergency succession is dispersed throughout the Empire and rigorously kept up to date on their qualifications and knowledge of affairs and policy. Imperial successors are guarded by the Imperial Guard, the Courier Service, and House Guards of whoever hosts them. Punishment for violations of relevant Codes and Protocol is almost unanimously death — anyone who tries to interfere with the correct succession gets tried as a traitor.
- Warrior Prince : Upper-level aristocrats who abdicate have next to no career prospects in the real world and are stuck with highly intrusive security requirements. The solution is to have them enter the military at the top levels and become Warlords. Warlords form the web that knits together separate House militaries into unified Imperial forces. Most enter the Courier service, where their training as bureaucrats is most useful. Warlords also come up from the House rulerships via the convention that most people who have planetary rather than prefectural citizenships have multiple careers and one of those careers is usually with a Sovereign Service.
- Awesome Moment of Crowning : Depends on the dynasty, but there are a few sturdy traditions to it:
- My Fist Forgives You : Done in the style of a knighting, the outgoing monarch ceremonially strikes the incoming monarch. This is a tradition that dates back to when Emperor Seherithan I, who was being more or less forced to abdicate because of his declining mental health, punched his successor (and former good friend) in the face. In recent centuries, the blow takes on a different significance: the outgoing monarch is displacing the cumulative frustrations of office onto their successor (who can't hit back), rather than the bastard who foisted off said frustrations on them in the first place (who should not be hit). Some monarchs have a lot of frustrations to displace. In some ways, the blow is also a warning: This Job Is Not For The Faint Of Heart.
- Nice Hat : The monarch, regardless of microculture, wears their hair unbound under a green crochet cap for the duration of the lengthy festivities.
- Sliding Scale of Libertarianism and Authoritarianism : Governments of artificial habitats are more libertarian, because resources are more plentiful and artificial environments easier to maintain. Governments of planets and moons are more authoritarian, because natural planet ecologies are larger, more complex, and more sensitive to abuse.
- City Mouse / Country Mouse : The trade-off is that while hab-dwellers are on average materially richer, have more sophisticated technology, and are better educated, planet-dwellers are healthier, more culturally diverse, and have fewer social problems. Additionally, there is a strong institutional bias in the aristocracy favoring people born on planets.
- Furthermore, the two-tiered Imperial system imposes strict and authoritarian laws on House and Prefecture governments so that House and Prefecture governments are required to take a more libertarian attitude to the citizenry. The Empire comes down hard on any government that descends into tyranny.
- Utopia Justifies the Means : The Blood Codes and Protocols are the only laws under which people can be sentenced to death (usually by firing squad) for their crimes. Even a minor violation of the Codes can result in a centuries-long ban from the civil aristocracy. It doesn't matter how vast a landslide vote was that put a Prefect into power, the moment the Codes get broken Regime Change will shortly ensue. If the prefecture begs to differ, an occupation is probably in the forecast.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist : The people who penned the Codes and the Protocols decided that they had to be this, as they were working during the aftermath of a massive military takeover of the Empire driven by Fantastic Racism against weathermakers, during which billions of people both weathermakers and ordinary people died by genocide and a decades-long fratricidal war.
- Balance of Power : Some very elaborate calculus goes into making sure the larger Houses (especially the Sihaya Consortium, industrial juggernaut with 63 planets in its sphere) don't steamroll over the smaller ones. The calculus can be a little slow to catch up with shifts in the dynamic, as evinced by the major political chaos that ensued following the League War.
- Lesser : A smaller territory of one planet or less. May have as few as one vote on the Council, and may share sovereignty with another House. About two thirds of all Houses are "Lesser".
- Greater : A larger territory of one system or more.
- Noble / Patron : A territory of no particular size. The House professes a particular specialty to which its territory is particularly devoted. For example, the House of Madira is a patron of fine arts and craft manufacture. The House of Sihaya is a patron of engineering industry and exports technology and hardware.
- Imperial : There are three, the Houses of Phoenixwell, Dragonwell, and Lunawell. Each rules over a planet designated "Imperial Well", i.e. a potential seat of the Imperial government. Ordinarily, the current seat of the Imperial government has a token House ruler and next to no autonomy from the Imperial palace.
The Sovereign ServicesThe Military Services
- The Imperial Navy : One of the first of the military services to be created, it is the largest and best at sustaining itself. Its domain is large capital ships, although they are usually equipped with small-craft squadrons for reconnaissance and defense. The Navy's headquarters is the planet Phoenixwell; thus, the Navy takes on a lot of the cultural characteristics of Phoenixwell such as matriarchy and prejudice against males.
- The Imperial Army : Armies are raised and maintained at the House level, and little Empire-wide infrastructure exists. Cooperation only occurs when the Imperial government appoints Warlords to oversee multiple House armies on expeditions of adventure. Armies are organized into prefectural legions and rarely leave their planets of origin.
- The Imperial Guild : The Guild is an aerospace force also organized largely at the House level. It fields small aerospace craft and carrier forces and operates mostly within star systems for planetary defense. Carrier groups frequently go in convoy with Naval fleets.
- The Guildhall : The Guildhall was once a sub-branch of the Guild, but became independent at the behest of the highly charismatic Lord Jui Reinhardt with the assistance of its patron, the House of Sihaya. The Guildhall serves as a testing and proving service to the Guild, mediating between the manufacturers of aerospace hardware and the House Guilds. Guildhall uses an Unusual User Interface to fine-tune custom partial-AI systems for sophisticated aerospace craft; this interface eventually causes Disability Superpowers in its users, a form of epilepsy. The Guildhall is headquartered in the House of Saolo, whose three planets are all fairly arid.
- The Maintainers' Service: While the Services all do at least some of their own support activities, the Maintainers' Service is a flexible logistics Service adjoined to all of the others to carry out the bulk of support work. Its primary reason for existence is to supplant any possible military-industrial complex.
- The Imperial Guard : The Guard is tasked with the domestic protection of the Houses and the Imperial government. It provides bodyguards for the civil service and the aristocracy. Unfortunately, its collective betrayal of an Empress, leading to the Red Revolution and a century-long reign of terror, put a black mark on its record. It now takes a back-seat to House Guards and the Imperial Courier Service.
- The Military Services Intelligence Agencies : The MSIA is a fragmented paramilitary intelligence service partially under the other services and partially independent. It is sovereign in name only. It was founded by Sinclair Taigne and Richard de'Madira during Seherithan's overthrow of the first dynasty. It overlaps considerably with several Secret-Sacred Societies and acts as a watchdog to the military services and the societies alike.
- The Imperial Temple : Along with acting as an umbrella organization for organized religions of all types, the Temple provides structure to Weathermakers. The Temple is the first and foremost defense mechanism between the secular and religious realms: it protects religion from government, government from religion, and religion from religion.
- Seeking Sanctuary : It is forbidden in the Protocols to engage in any kind of mortal combat on Temple grounds. Since the Protocols were enacted, many people have tried to have this law written into the Blood Codes and made more absolute.
- The Imperial Courier Service : The Courier Service abides strictly by a creed of objectivity and openness. It conducts and stores all government communication and maintains a vast body of standards and measurements. It is, through great effort, culturally and politically neutral. Despite its bureaucratic nature, however, it too has elements of the paramilitary.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience : Imperial Services mostly use nine-rank systems but the Couriers have colors instead of numbers. In order from lowest rank to highest: red, orange, silver, violet, green, blue, black, yellow, white. Confusingly, the Service figures paygrades separately from the colors, requires civil service ranks for almost all personnel, and selects its aristocracy regardless of all of these. On top of all that, the service is so vast that seniority is sometimes reckoned by the date of one's commission down to the second.
- Lawful Neutral : It doesn't matter how well you mean, if you fall afoul of the Codes and Protocols, the Service will be all over you.
- The Diplomatic Service : A subbranch of the Couriers, the Diplomatic Service conducts all official diplomacy in the Empire. The Service mediates everything from commerce to warfare and enforces agreements and sanctions.
- Highly Conspicuous Uniform : The Courier Service's uniform colors are already white and saffron, but the Diplomatic Service really goes overboard. Ambassadorial uniforms, depending on the occasion and the culture of the ambassador in question, are impressive.
- The Metchalc : Formed of the remnants of the MSIA's illegal pirate fleet after the Red Revolution, the Metchalc are technically illegal, but abide by a code of honor that is stricter than any Imperial constitution. They tend to involve themselves in situations where the MSIA ordinarily would, except for whatever reason don't. Although the Metchalc began as a force against the monarchy, after a certain dynasty every monarch is not only aware of its existence, but is granted a direct line of contact with the organization.
- The Knight Kitchen : An organization composed of the servants of Imperial and House palaces. Their function is to monitor the private doings of aristocratic governments to report abuses and corruption, protect whistle-blowers, and act as a bastion of defense against illegal seizure of power. Anyone from the lowest groundskeeper all the way up to Lords Chamberlain may be a member.
- The House of Talliser : After the actual House of Talliser was disbanded, this group formed in secret to protect and assist the disgraced aristocrats. Afterwards, this shadow government took up the task of Witness Protection: providing new identities, anonymity, and legal shielding to people who need to escape persecution and want or need to disappear for legitimate reasons. The House does a remarkably good job of avoiding harboring criminals and debtors, so it is recognized as a legal entity by most Houses.
- Lunawell Revolutionary Soldiers : A highly illegal group involved first on the pro- side of the Red Revolution, then on the counterrevolutionary side, then subsequently hijacked by Jonas Alhaiss Ondein and used repeatedly to attempt assassinations on Temple leadership of multiple planets.
- The Strana : A monarchist group that monitors the opposition and feeds information to the Courier Service, the Guard, and the monarch about potential plots. Notable for having direct, physical access to the monarch. Stands counter to the Knight Kitchen.
Major MacroculturesThere are two ways of delineating macrocultures in the Wellspring Empire: the political method, and the academic method. The academic method outlines cultural groups by a salient feature of their material culture, the most common form of dress. Some criticize this method for oversimplifying the distinctions into Culture Equals Costume, but alternative methods are too involved for anyone but a serious anthropologist.
- The Robe Cultures: Radiating "southward" from Dragonwell, Robe Cultures wear various forms of wrap-robes on a daily basis. Ironically, although Dragonwell is held up as the canonical example of a Robe Culture, it is so cosmopolitan after millennia of being the seat of Empire that its daily dress conforms more to the tunic-style clothing of the Founder-culture.
- The Coat Cultures: Radiating "northward" from Madira and Phoenixwell, the Coat Cultures all have some form of long coat as their main mode of outerwear. Again, Phoenixwell is held up as the primary example but it too wears the Founder-style tunic under its frock-coat.
- The Kilt Cultures: Mostly within and around the Sihalese Consortium, the Kilt Cultures do not wear pants and are in fact highly annoyed by pants as a general rule.
- The Yoke Cultures: This group is scattered compared to the others, but its centers are in the Houses of Lunawell, Saolo, and Taigne. The titular "yoke" is usually a short, sleeveless mantle covering the upper body, but it can also appear as a towel-sized garment draped rather than fastened around the shoulders.
- Dragonwell : Its people are characteristically tall, slender, and leanly built. Most of them exhibit seasonal pigment changes in hair, skin, and eyes to accommodate the planet's extreme seasonality. In the summer, Dragonwellers' skin darkens and their hair lightens, and in the winter the opposite effect occurs. Dragonwell is a temperate world: many of its inhabited regions have cold-wet winters, warm-wet springs, hot-dry summers, and cold-dry autumns. Dragonwellers have an equal balance of the three sexes, but are widely gender-neutral. Except for a bureaucratic caste system by economic status, Dragonwell is an egalitarian planet.
- Economy : Dragonwell is strictly divided into urban and rural areas. Rural areas are settled with extreme environmental care, and farms are clustered around towns. Due to a strong rural university system, farm-dwellers average better educations than city-dwellers, and rural towns are noted for their quality libraries.
- Madira : It shares a genetic sub-group with its rival/sister planet Phoenixwell. This genetic group is characterized by stocky build, height, and greater fertility than average. Madira, like Phoenixwell, is a net exporter of population. Madira has four continents, of which two share the bulk of the planet's population. The "mainland" continent is vast and sparsely populated, and has a more conservative culture. The continent commonly called "North Coast" is one dense, vast city-state, and its culture is liberal and eclectic. The House of Madira is a patron House of arts and craft-manufacturing, so Madira exports consistently high quality artistic and cultural products, including pottery, furniture, fine art, music, entertainment, and literature.
- Taigne : Its climate is semi-arid, and its populated areas are largely subtropical. A greater percentage of its surface is oceanic than any other planet in the Wellspring. Its population is a highly-integrated mixture of seven genetic groups. The planet is an eclectic mix of dozens of other cultures; settled late, it is a net importer of population and takes immigrants freely from Madira, Phoenixwell, and other planets inhabited by high-fertile genetic groups. However, it shares most major cultural features of the House of Saolo.
- The Convoyer culture : The three star systems of Madira, Dragonwell, and Taigne are situated in a close triangle, with a gap of only five days' thirdspace travel between them. A significant subculture has developed in the wealthy and middle class of these worlds of people who spend their lives traveling constantly between them. Aside from a much larger than normal number of interstellar habs between these planets, there are nearly constant convoys of freight and passenger vessels in transit. Convoyers are usually wealthy (but sometimes not), sophisticated, multilingual, and unrooted.
- Matriarchy : Phoenixwell is notorious for its matriarchal culture. Communes public and private are centered on females, and females hold the majority of political, economic, and familial authority. Because Phoenixwell is the headquarters of the Imperial Navy, the Navy is influenced by this cultural trait.
- Economy : Like Dragonwell, Phoenixwell is strictly divided between the urban and the rural. Rural manufacturing, rather than agriculture, is the biggest segment of the Prime world's economy.
- Culture : Spread across sixty three planets, Sihalese culture is not remotely monolithic. Sihalese people speak fifteen thousand distinct languages in twenty-nine language families. A certain culture gradient does exist ("west" and "east" are used as a convenient but ultimately meaningless shorthand), however, and Sihaya does have its own particular take on the Imperial metaculture. The capitol planet of Sihaya is the semi-arid world Kwen der Saulk; therefore, the culture of the House leadership tends to take on the characteristics of desert folk.
- Economy : Sihalese worlds are run with a slightly more command-oriented approach to economy, due to the greater ecological strain generated by heavy and intensive industry. As the patron House of industry, Sihaya supplies the Military Services with hardware and exports designs and parts for consumer machinery, tools, computers, and cybernetics.
- Praetorian Guard : The House Court deploys an elite guard unit called the Pawitduori, who are loyal unto death to the House and whoever they are assigned to. Honor guards of Pawitduori are granted as rewards to Sihalese citizens who exhibit faithful duty to the House, its allies, and its ideals.
TechnologyCybernetic and Genetic Engineering The Wanderers had already been engaging in germ-line genetic engineering and cybernetic engineering for millennia when they settled in the Wellspring, and the drastic measures taken by the Founders in order to meld the two species constituted a massive leap forward in that regard. The resultant species, called Wanderlings, incorporated a number of major properties. Immortality: Wanderlings mature slowly, achieving puberty between the ages of twenty and thirty, and don't reach full physical and emotional adulthood until about forty-five. Their life cycle lasts between 160 and 200 terrestrial years (which are about half the length of Imperial standard years). Towards the end of a life cycle, a Wanderling experiences five or six years of severe and rapid decline in physical health and often severe mental illness. The transition from one life cycle to the next is a violent, painful illness that may last as long as three or be as brief as a single night. A Wanderling nearing the transition will withdraw from contact with friends and families and may enter a monastery or wilderness retreat. After the transition, a Wanderling spends a good decade readjusting, and experiences a second youth with all of the associated irresponsibility and reckless self-indulgence. Cybernetics : Wanderlings have metagenetically heritable bionic systems built into their bodies from birth. Some have more than others, but most have the basic set of enhancements. The most important component is a small organ tucked behind the brainstem which is capable of dissociating the person's quantum consciousness from the physical substrate of the brain and releasing it into thirdspace intact. Other notable features of the Wanderling cybernetic repertoire include augmented reality, Unusual User Interface, Artificial Limbs, enhanced healing and bodily function, a second, smaller backup heart tucked into the back of the ribcage, memory backups, and Magic from Technology (Weatherwork). Weathermakers have a further set of unusual characteristics related to their gift and the use of their abilities, such as tolerance for electrical shocks and need for up to ten times as much salt and other minerals in their diets. Hermaphrodites : The Wanderers had long since engineered a third sex into their species-level genome. The Wanderlings finally work out the last of the flaws, so most Wanderling androgynes are fully functional... that is, are fertile at the same rate as males and females, which by now is extremely low. Designer Babies : About half of all Wanderlings who bother to reproduce do so with People Jars. Any combination of two sets of genes can be used to create an embryo, so same-sex unions and unions between normally infertile individuals are normal. People Jars are used for countless other medical purposes, making them a standard feature of intensive care wards.
Weathermakers and Weatherwork
- Equivalent Exchange : The laws of physics across the constructs of secondspace and thirdspace mean that nonregeneratively pulling energy from either into firstspace contributes to the eventual heat-death of the universe. Also, pouring a huge amount of waste heat into an inhabited atmosphere isn't a good idea either.
- Explosive Overclocking : The absolute practical limit for weathermakers is 10-15% of the theoretical physical maximum. Pushing to 18-20% is possible but rare and dangerous. There are techniques for processing wards faster, but most of them are tricky to pull off and some are massively hallucinogenic.
- Magic from Technology : Strictly speaking, it's all sufficiently advanced technology, but as a psychological and visual shorthand, weathermakers format their wards as recognizable "magical" items, drawing mostly from fantasy stories and Wanderer mythology.
- Ontological Inertia : A lot of people write conditions in their wards to force them to dissolve. Additionally, when you screw up a ward in progress, its effects dissipate very quickly.
- Powers as Programs : Literally written into the subatomic fabric of whatever items are conveniently at hand. Contrary to the trope, however, you can roll your own if you really want to. Why bother when there's an ample library of standardized, modular wards with surprisingly good documentation?
- Whatevermancy : Technourgy. Why waste a ton of effort pulling a huge amount of energy out of thirdspace when you can just use your Imperial seal to get authorization to take control of an x-ray laser with your brain instead?
- Actually a Doombot : Weathermakers can create fairly useful illusions of themselves — during normal day-to-day activities, you could tell it was fake, but in the midst of a heavy fight you can't tell until you stick a knife in it and it looks confused instead of dying. The training for this involves some heavy duty psychological acrobatics, because most people have distorted self-images, and would also have a hard time keeping up with a fight entirely in the imagination. It is impossible to create even a marginally convincing dupe of another person.
- Mundane Utility : You can't use this trick to skive off work and do something fun, because the dupe requires constant control, but if you don't feel like getting out of a hot bath on a cold day, you can send your dupe to go answer the door for you. You have to be careful to keep it clothed, though.
- Amulet of Concentrated Awesome : You can jam a lot of different wards into mundane objects. Bombs, sensors, triggers, even recording devices.
- Applying similar techniques to clothing can make an old shirt as impenetrable as steelsilk, an ordinary sword into something legendary, and the emblems of the Temple, the Chain-Censer and Chain-Lantern, into "holy" artifacts.
- Batman Can Breathe in Space : With sufficient knowledge of physiology and chemistry, as well as a finely honed personal barrier ward, a weathermaker can do this. It takes a huge amount of concentration and is kind of pointless, since putting on a hardsuit takes about three minutes for someone with even rudimentary training.
- Blow You Away : Manipulation of the properties of air is an intermediate to advanced technique, depending on the scale.
- Jump Physics : A very key technique for physical combat, weathermakers can generate midair stepping stones with variable levels of elasticity, mobility, and friction. A true master of the so-called "jump squares" can run on ceilings, although other techniques are required if they want to cancel out gravity's normal pull.
- Light 'em Up / Power Glows : Some weathermakers like to make their stuff glow in realspace for visual reference. Light generation is a basic and practical technique.
- Shock and Awe : The subset of techniques dealing with electrical manipulation range from the most basic to extremely high theoretical. A moment to learn, a lifetime to master.
- Wave Motion Gun / Pillar of Light : Weathermakers can do this using their own bodies. Comes in handy when people start throwing heavy stuff at planets.
- Third-space : Of the two known hyperspaces, third-space is the shortest of the shortcuts. Thirdspace jump drives are accurate on target and quick to power up, but cannot be scaled to traverse craft larger than a hundred meters. Larger ships must make use of fixed gates. During times of war, the fixed gates are unfixed, and their locations are kept secret. Thirdspace gates cannot be fixed too close to gravity wells, so they are usually stationed between fifteen and twenty AU "above" or "below" the plane of a solar system.
- Second-space : Second-space is the longer of the two hyperspaces, but it operates just as well within gravity wells as without. Second-space jump drives can be scaled to larger craft, but the technology is unreliable at best: larger drives can fall into useless cycles of "wallowing", which can leave warships vulnerable to attack, and they're inaccurate on target. Second-space jumps are used to avoid wasting weeks of time maneuvering in-system, but pose such a risk from their inaccuracy that ships still have to spend days in safer sublight transfer to actually achieve orbit.
- Hyperspace Is a Scary Place : There are a number of cognitive hazards associated with second- and thirdspace, at least for those with cybernetics in their brains. The in-system jump, which can happen up to a hundred times in one traversal between two planets, causes a brief and mild dreamlike state which — like normal dreams — can be affiliated with positive or negative emotions. With training and practice, these altered states of mind can be turned into powerful lucid experiences. Only weathermakers know what it's like to come into contact with the hyperspaces unmoderated by ship-walls and shielding, and it's believed that one of the many reasons J.A.Ondein is Ax-Crazy is his experiments with thirdspace. A.Warren's similar but more restrained attempts with secondspace are the verified (published in a peer reviewed journal) reason for her being a little obsessive.
- Relay nodes come in three types: repeaters, routers, and roots. Routers link separate chains and sort messages accordingly; repeaters simply maintain signal strength across distances, and roots sit in local planetary orbits and accept original and terminal transmissions from satellite networks.
- Weathermakers, Guildhall pilots, and others who are sensitive to the effects of thirdspace experience slight euphoria and positive health effects from being in close proximity to relay nodes.
- In the history of the relay system, only twenty-nine relays have ever been destroyed, and no relay chain has ever been severed even for an instant. Relay chains are at least doubly redundant, and backbones between core worlds can be as much as sixfold redundant. When a relay node is destroyed, it expels an extraordinary amount of energy and causes localized Negative Space Wedgies and for any cybernetically-engaged sapient beings in the vicinity, a period of Mushroom Samba hallucinations and extreme disorientation that can last for over a week. However, the other relays in the chain will automatically relocate themselves to cover the gap.