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The Chessmaster / Tabletop Games

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Chessmasters in tabletop games.

Examples With Chess Motifs

  • BattleTech is filled with them. among the better known: Julian Tupelo, Myndo Waterly, Hanse Davion, Ulric Kerensky, Sun-Tzu Liao, Jaime Wolf, Thomas Marik (both of them), Katrina Steiner, Morgan Kell, Quintus Allard, and many more. There's a reason so many of the novels involve a Gambit Pileup.
    • Sun-Tzu in particular actually does play chess on what can be safely assumed to be a fairly high level and uses the occasional chess comparison or metaphor, as seen in the novel Highlander Gambit.
  • The yugoloths, a race of neutral evil fiends in Dungeons & Dragons, were typically cast as executing secret, evil schemes across time and the multiverse, particularly in their most fleshed out appearances in the 2nd Edition Planescape campaign setting. In one source book, an illustration (by the impeccable hand of Tony Di Terlizzi), a pair of arcanoloths, the most Affably Evil of these fiends, are shown playing chess with pieces that resemble other races from the setting.
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  • In Old World of Darkness, Kindred in Vampire: The Masquerade makes this about as literal as it gets. Powerful elders are known to play chess against each other; sometimes by themselves, others by Dominating skilled chess masters to play for them. The Jyhad being what it is, few games are actually played for fun. In the more complicated games, each piece has a corresponding real world henchman, location, or valuable resource. When that piece is taken, play is halted so that the attacking player can arrange for the relevant resource to be seized. Should a player advance a pawn, he can promote it to a piece previously taken and the matching objective is restored or released. And according to Camarilla social mores, to quit or forfeit a match should the losses become to severe would result in such a massive loss of status that it becomes less painful for the loser to see it through to the end and lose his stakes rather than quit and become a laughingstock. Such games can become so complex as to be microcosms of the Jyhad and can take years, if not decades, to play out completely, moves being sent to each other through trusted agents, letter drops, burnt into the skin of the ghoul assassin you sent against him whose body is left on your doorstep, etc. Savvy characters can learn much about an elder's political situation and resources just by seeing his chessboard.

Examples Without Chess Motifs

  • Changeling: The Lost has the Contracts of the Board, which allow the user, by utilising some form of strategic game, whether it's chess or cards or Candyland, to read opponents, send orders, and tweak fate through correspondences and the odd bit of cheating.
  • The Dungeons & Dragons rulebook Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells explicitly compares Asmodeus' plans to a game of chess. Supposedly his plan to topple heaven is a few centuries ahead of schedule.
    • Also, the rulebook Lords of Madness: The Book of Aberations describes mind flayers - a.k.a "illithids" - and their leaders the Elder Brains as often being this. They are manipulating politics and slowly working towards reestablishing the illithid empire that was lost long ago.
    • The Illumians, introduced in Races of Destiny, are a species of humanoids organized into cabals where they study and manipulate the world around them, ultimately hoping to accumulate enough power and knowledge to ascend to godhood.
    • Dragons play xorvintaal, the Great Game in which they use mortal servants as chess pieces to compete for each others' hoards. The game itself is far too complex for mortals to understand (a dragon that is killed as a result loses, of course, but seeing as only the most powerful dragons play it, that rarely happens), but in the small term can shape entire lives. In the long term, it shapes continents - World War I would have been a particularly complex xorvintaal maneuver, with World War II being a good counter-move. Just as a consequence of powerful creatures to who We Are as Mayflies getting bored.
      • An example: Dragon A uses his magic to cause a volcano to erupt, wiping out a town but forcing Dragon B to evacuate her hoard and leaving her vulnerable to attack by PC mercenaries hired by Dragon A. This would be considered a crude, noobish maneuver. A master of xorvintaal, such as Dragon C, would rush to the volcano, see a family trapped in a burning house, and use just enough magic to save the boy. Over the coming years Dragon C supports the boy as he hones his skills as an adventurer, nurturing his hatred of Dragon A until he's ready to form a party to avenge his parents, afterward continuing as a loyal supporter of Dragon C. That's a character whose entire life was played like a chess piece in a game he may never become fully aware of. And Dragon B? The mercenaries that would have attacked her were instead wiped out by a party sent by Dragon D, a young vassal of Dragon C who is now owed a favor by a powerful rival, who Dragon C only wants around as a buffer against Dragon E...
  • Exalted has the most powerful gods spending their time playing "the Games of Divinity".
    • These games explicitly don't have anything to do with manipulating anyone - that's the job of the Sidereal Exalted, who constantly act as Chessmasters to ensure Fate follows its proper course. Memetic Mutation has cast the Games of Divinity as a cosmic Xbox.
    • Meanwhile, the Deathlords are plotting and scheming against Creation (and each other), dragging the world into Oblivion one Shadowland at a time. And sometimes their grand schemes work, too: just ask the people who died of the Great Contagion.
    • 2e's Ebon Dragon, on the other hand, is playing a speed chess variant of the game, what with his new 50 Infernal pawns and his marriage to a certain prominent woman.
  • This article outlines typical manipulators' methods in Forgotten Realms. Some even legal.
  • Leviathan: The Tempest: A Leviathan's divine nature is hardwired to work through minions and proxies. This is especially pronounced in Ophions, Leviathans whose divine nature has displaced their human and bestial natures. Not to mention that any Leviathan that survives long enough, and indulges the divine nature enough, to become an Ophion is going to have to be a pretty skilled manipulator and strategist.
  • In the storyline of Magic: The Gathering, Urza is this. After witnessing the might and horror of Phyrexia as it slowly corrupted his brother Mishra, Urza uses his newfound nigh-godhood to concoct a 4,000 year plan to defeat the Phyrexian invasion of Dominaria. Most notable among his machinations is the creation of the Legacy, a collection of artifacts that, when fully utilized, created a burst of white mana so intense that it vaporized the demonic god of Phyrexia, Yawgmoth, along with the entire northern half of Dominaria itself.
  • The rilmani, introduced in the Planescape setting, are like this on a cosmic scale. A True Neutral race that seeks to preserve what they refer to as The Balance, they make sure no side of a philosophical conflict (such as Good versus Evil, Law versus Chaos, and other minor ones) ever dominates the other. They usually don't act directly in this goal, however; usually throughout history they use disguise, subterfuge, and covert skills to infiltrate governments and empires, posing as advisors or military leaders to either help or sabotage them in order to aid whichever side of the overall conflict is losing until it evens out. They honestly believe that if there was any definite winner in any of these conflicts, the state of the universe would be broken and it wouldn't work.
    • One rilmani of note is Jemorille the Exile, the rilmani assigned to Sigil. He's supposed to be a chessmaster, but if what he says is true, all of his attempts to preserve the Balance have caused Epic Fails, causing disasters and cataclysms. (For example, he claims he taught the halfling Rajaat magic, which if true, means he's indirectly responsible for Athas becoming the place it is today, although he insists it wasn't his fault. He was assigned to Sigil because the other rilmani thought that would be an easy job, but he even managed to mess that up, starting the chain of events that led to the Faction War.
  • 7th Sea has a whole team of them—Novus Ordum Mundi—and the biggest and baddest of them all is none other than Alvara Arciniega.
  • Traveller: Cleon Zhunastu, founder of the Third Imperium, manipulated thousands of planets and countless individuals into forming an empire that stood for over a thousand years. The Hivers are arguably an entire race of these, "Manipulator" is a title they all strive to achieve, though many of their manipulations seem benevolent.
  • In Vampire: The Masquerade, the elders are like this. Their schemes unfold over centuries.
  • In Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, the Chaos entity Tzeentch is the god of Chessmasters. His followers commonly favour such tactics, but considering that Tzeentch tends to use them as his own pawns in his own schemes, which are both plentiful and occasionally contradicting, it all just comes back to him eventually. It's rumored that Tzeentch is the only force stopping the Immaterium and universe from merging as part of an elaborate plan roughly forty-six thousand years in the making.
    • Other grand schemers of the forty-first millennium include the Eldar's Laughing God and the C'Tan known as The Deceiver, prompting fan debates over who is responsible for any given plot, what happens when they work against each other, or who is simply a guise of another. There are also the Eldar Farseers, who use their prescient abilities to manipulate galactic events in their favor, and the Chaos Space Marines of the Alpha Legion, renowned for using sabotage, propaganda, or infiltration when their colleagues would just charge in with weapons blazing.
    • Possibly also the Emperor - it is hinted that not only did he anticipate the Heresy but also plans to be reborn when his phsycial form dies (which may well be soon)
    • Cypher. But with a name like that...
    • Asdrubael Vect? is the guy in charge of the largest Dark Eldar kabal in the galaxy, but he actually started out as a lowly slave. How did he manage to do it? He manipulated and backstabbed thousands, including one of his own consorts Aurelia Malys, to climb his way up into a position of power as a lowly Archon of a lowly kabal, the Kabal of the Black Heart, then he set his plan in motion. First, he focused his piracy efforts in one part of space known as the Desaderian Gulf, simultaneously adding to his wealth and power while also provoking the Imperium. Eventually, the Imperium sent a Space Marine cruiser, the Forgehammer to investigate, which he ordered crippled with haywire bombs and transported to Commorragh. Vect then manipulated rival Archon Xelion into trying to claim the contents of the Forgehammer for himself, knowing that his forces would be woefully under-equipped to take on the Space Marines waiting inside. Vect also allowed a Librarian on board to send a psychic beacon, attracting a huge Space Marine force to reclaim the cruiser. During the following battle between Dark Eldar and Space Marine forces which razed most of upper Commorragh and caused ridiculous casualties on both sides, Vect manipulated battlefield communications, battle strategies and reinforcement allocations in such a way that the city would defeat the Space Marine attackers and also leave the leadership of every single noble house and major kabal in Commorragh dead. This created a power vacuum and left Vect's kabal the most powerful in Commorragh, allowing him to easily seize de facto rule over the entire dark city. Just as Planned.


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