May 2022


Pope Courtland I, elected in 1216, had previously been known as Cardinal Benedetto Terreno di Corte; his preferred rental name stemmed from his high regard for Adrian IV, the only English Pope, who had been reigning when he became a priest. Coming as it did amid the turmoil of the late 12th century, Courtland’s relatively long reign was noted for its many oddities, as the pontiff seemingly preferred to obsess over minor matters whilst ignoring greater ones. As the chronicler Rolando Allucingoli noted, “Pope Courtland was oft referred to as the new Nero, who meddled while Rome burned.”

The pontiff immediately banned the color yellow as “sinful,” based on a then-current agreed point of canon that Judas Iscariot had favored the color. He also prohibited dancing on Tuesdays after misinterpreting the Book of Leviticus, probably due to a shoddy Aramaic edition in circulation at the time.

Courtland was known for sour disposition, but harbored a secret love for card tricks that courtiers could use to improve his mood. Allucingoli writes of a time when a “thunderous tirade” against a Scandinavian envoy was immediately forgotten when the legate in question was able to perform an unspecified slight-of-hand with the Ten of Swords. This may also have been why he appointed the first, and possibly only, Vatican court magician. This, and his love of card tricks, were both couched as “research” into frauds and charlatans claiming false miracles.

His reign of 12 years was among the longer ones of the era, and unlike many of his contemporaries he was not sexually active and had no known children. He did, however, lavish favors on his dissolute grandnephew whom he hoped would succeed him as Courtland II. The young man was, however, defrocked in the aftermath of his great-uncle’s death, and the name Courtland II would not be used until 1502.

Allucingoli writes that the pope was also fascinated by automatons and contraptions, and would be well-pleased by the gift of a suitably made one. One such gift, a “mechanical magpie,” remains in the Vatican collections, though the mechanism no longer works. It is thought that, when it was originally gifted to Courtland by the Byzantine emperor, the magpie would “sing” using a small bellows.

Before he became pope, he was a canon lawyer and often played “devil’s advocate” in trials and investigations. Courtland built on this reputation as pope, and was very proud of his role in blocking canonization of four different “unworthy” saints. The last such proposed saint was so unworthy that it allegedly sent Courtland on an hours-long tirade which led to him suffering a stroke; he remained bedridden for the last three months of his reign before his death. He was succeeded by Gregory IX, whom he had personally promoted to cardinal—allegedly after a particularly impressive sleight-of-hand trick with the Fisherman’s Ring, according to Allucingoli.

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Aleztrazian the Strict
The most orthodox and organized of the exilarchs, there are few muroid settlements without at least one Aleztrazian Subaltern. The latest in a long line of orthodox exilarchs claiming a direct lineage back to the Garden World, Aleztrazian and his predecessors emphasize that the Garden World is a spiritual as well as a physical place, and that muroids who lead virtuous lives will return there after death. In turn, they tend to be intolerant of other muroid beliefs and often hostile to sapient outsiders of any species.

Scuttlebane Broodfather
If Aleztrazian is the respectable, civilized, and traditional Exilarch, Scuttlebane is the very opposite. He, and his predecessors in the Broodfather priesthood, emphasize absolute freedom, the innate superiority of muroids, and their destiny to claim all creation as their own. This encompasses both militant sects like the Devourers and more peaceful groups like the Broodspreaders.

The Eternal Pup
Regarded as the whimsical protector of all young muoids, the Eternal Pup is often syncretized with other Exilarchs, at least for the purposes of entertaining pups and the widely observed holiday of Pupmas. Uniquely among the Exilarchs, the Eternal Pup is believed to be bodily reincarnated, and a new incarnation is sought out when the old dies. Those who follow the Pup as an Exilarch tend to value nonviolence, large families, and a more rural lifestyle.

Empty Chair
Many muroids do not hold to any Exilarch, and are therefore said to “serve the empty chair.” The name comes from the philosopher Holovius, who when asked why he had no faith, pointed at an empty chair and said “I am merely waiting for a worthy deity to fill it.” While most Empty Chair followers simply are irreligious and uncommitted, some particularly nihilistic and militaristic sects like the Sons of Oblivion have also arisen.

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After the Garden World’s abandonment by the other sapients, an ecological niche was opened at the top of the food chain for an intelligent civilization that was able to adapt to and thrive in the ruined and ecologically devastated envioronment. This niche was taken by the muroids, also known as the ratlings or ratfolk. Evolving from small scavengers that were left behind after the exodus of most other sapients, the muroids were forced to abandon the Garden World in turn after their own numbers grew and worsened the ecological catastrophe that had driven the others away.

As a result of this evolutionary crucible, the muroids have far greater tolerances to heat, cold, and variable oxygen levels than their cousins. They are also able to subsist on a wider variety of foodstuffs, and have powerful gigestive juices capable of neutralizing many pathogens. These adaptations have allowed the muroids to be equally at home in extreme climes, on normally habitable worlds, and in the margins of large settlements.

Often disdained as dirty or diseased by other sapients, the muroids theoretically owe fealty to a number of Exilarchs, who serve as religious leaders and prophets for their people. Muroid spirituality often emphasizes a connection with the natural (or unnatural, as may be the case) world, and the Exilarchs serve as intermediaries and conduits between the lost Garden World and the worlds on which the muroids now find themselves.

Muroid exilarchs include Aleztrazian the Strict, Scuttlebane Broodfather, The Eternal Pup, and the Empty Chair, which serves as a symbolic rejection of the concept by non-believing muroids.

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Heavenly Empire
Also known by its formal name, the Dihuang Imperium, by far the largest and most powerful human nation with a strong cultural, spiritual, and religious hegemony over the others. The Heavenly Emperor is regarded as divinely descended and divinely ordained, although the actual day-to-day power rests with the Imperial Chancellery and its massive bureaucracy. In practice, limited local independence is tolerated as long as Heavenly Empire taxes are paid, Heavenly Empire bureaucrats are not harassed, and major directives are obeyed without question.

Xianhue Alliance
Presenting itself as a democratic counterweight to the Heavenly Empire, the Alliance is often accused of being little more than the same ethnocentrism with an egalitarian coat of paint. Though a fully functional representative democracy, the Alliance political sphere is dominated by money from corporations, special interests, and other concerns. The Heavenly Empire, for its part, portrays the Alliance as a wayward vassal, albeit a powerful one.

Nanhai Commerce Guild
Less of a nation, state, or government than a supranational entity, the Commerce Guild regulates interstellar trade between a number of human polities, as well as non-human polities. With contracts to serve as the Heavenly Empire Postal Service and Alliance Parcel Post, its fleets rival that of other major powers with military assets to match. The Guild maintains that its navy is strictly for escort purposes, but it has been known to take off-the-books mercenary contracts as well. All power is vested in its Board of Directors, which are elected by universal suffrage on behalf of shareholders and employees; one vote per share. In practice, shareholders and stock splits have left the company almost entirely in the hands of a few unnamed shadow investors.

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Core League
Made up of Elven polities and planets that favor a stronger central government, the Core League is set up as a confederacy in which each polity has one vote and a 2/3 majority is required both to elect a Hegemon and to pass any binding laws. The result is that no Hegemon has been elected in 223 years, and only non-binding suggestions have passed for 188 years. In the meantime, a series of weak Acting Hegemons have sought to keep the League intact, with varying success.

Verge League
The Verge League is committed to independence and armed neutrality, and bands together only for mutual defense and to present a united political front against the other leagues, particularly the Core League. Weak by design, the League only elects a Hegemon during times of war and only seats its representatives every 10 years. In the meantime, any neccessary decisions are made ad-hoc. This decentralization makes the Verge League both difficult to control and difficult to defeat.

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House Ignin
Ruled by an autocratic Lord Ignin, though restrained by both tradition and an elected Council of Notables, House Ignin is the largest and among the most traditional on the Council. While the exact power varies from lord to lord, with some being more despotic than others, all assert their divine right to rule and are generally in favor of stronger union among the Great Houses, with themselves as first among equals, of course.

House Etamor
Baron Etamor is a toothless figurehead, with power being officially held by a fully democratic Thing. In practice, though, the Thing is controlled by the numerous businesses and financial concerns in Etamor space. The concerns of commerce and industy have made the Etamors very wealthy, easily the wealthiest of all Great Houses, but their mercantile spirit disgusts many of the others on the Council. They are often accused of trying to buy friends, and some maintain that their democratic facade wavers when confronted with horrifying conditions in their mining concerns.

House Diment
A full vassal to the Heavenly Empire, Archduke Diment is a puppet with a seat both on the Dwarven Council and the Heavenly Emperor’s personal cabinet. The Archduke therefore constantly pursues policies meant to unite the Great Council with the Heavenly Empire. The benefit of their close relationship, access to the Heavenly Navy, keeps them in power despite widespread discontent with their rule.

House Borol
Earl Borol is elected from among the male-line descendants of the founder of his house by an assembly of notables, and the last four Earls have been tough, politically-minded royals with an eye toward external expansion as a route to unifying their people. With wide territorial claims that overlaps with many others, Borol is sometimes accused of being a swollen garrison state.

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Herenids
Descended from Dame Herren the Wise, the Herenid halflings are known for their pursuit of research and knowledge. This makes them stereotypically excellent scientists but also hoarders of information and, occasionally, brokers in stolen secrets. Notably, the Imperial Librarian of the Heavenly Empire is a Herenid halfling.

Sollians
Descended from Lady Sollia the Fair, the Sollians are typically regarded as being appearance-obsessed and fashion-conscious, with a taste for the finer things in life and a weakness for creature comforts. While this is a generalization, Sollian halflings do own and operate the famous bespoke tailor Waschbaer of Procyon.

Grishnekhs
Descended from Mother Grish of Nekh, halflings of this lineage are often tarred as thieves, criminals, and gangsters. Mother Grish was famous for telling her children “do what is neccessary,” and the stereotypical Grishnekh does just that. Most major crime families on Nekh to this day descend from Mother Grish.

Lananids
Descended from Madame Lana, halflings regard Lananids as being predisposed to mystical careers as religious leaders, seers, fortunetellers, and the like. Madame Lana herself was a powerful psionic, and many halflings skilled in those arts are of her line. The great halfling stage magician Mungo Moudin is a direct-line Lananid, for instance.

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Green Fleet
The largest and most powerful of the goblin fleets, Green Fleet is primarily a mining and merchantile fleet with a powerful security arm. Currently in the process of extracting minerals from the ring system of Ados VI, Green Fleet is large enough that it has several sub-fleets deployed at any one time to advance goblin interests in the galaxy at large. Green Fleet operates on a strict social credit system, with various duties required of members to build up credits to spend on personal advancement or luxuries. Most Green Fleet members operating independently do so to accumulate credits to spend when they return.

Blue Fleet
The goblin Blue Fleet operates on the fringes of the known galaxy, charting and claiming planets and systems that are then sold on to other interested parties. It engages in limited mining, usually for highly valuable materials in easily accessible deposits, but is focused more on scientific inquiry for profit. The fleet does have a strong defense element, especially its midsize escort corvettes. In terms of governance, Blue Fleet is best described as a meritocracy with strongs attached, as most promotions and appointments are made by committees that are open to outside influence.

Red Fleet
The most scattered of all the goblin fleets, Red Fleet rarely gathers in strength except at a congress once every ten years. All other fleet business is managed through interstellar communications. Red Fleet specializes in mercenary work, with a large complement of agile fighters and other such small craft. They are not above the occasional piracy or protection racket, though the Red Fleet’s command prefers plausible deniability in such circumstances. By far the most egalitarian of the fleets, Red Fleet is socialist and communalist, with officers elected by their subordinates and most day-to-day business being handled by small committees, which report to larger ones, all the way up to the powerful Fleet Board.

Yellow Fleet
Yellow Fleet is made up entirely of goblins who have chosen to remain associated with the orcs, albeit no longer as slaves but ostensibly as equals. Reviled as traitors and worse by other goblins, they nevertheless are widely respected by other sapients for their skills in cargo transportation. Indeed, close to 50% of all orcish cargo is carried by Yellow Fleet, even though goblins make up less than 10% of the sapients in orcish settlements. Yellow Fleet is structured like a corporation, though it does include a military component, and about 60% of its managers and executives are orcs despite nominal goblin oversight-proof, detractors say, of Yellow Fleet being a puppet to such interests.

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Dashhur School
Living by the precepts of Dashhur Ik-Nomi, this school is rigidly utilitarian and defines its philosophy as bringing the greatest happiness to the greatest number of orcs. As such, it is governed as a direct democracy, with every community member having a say in decisions. However, there are no minority rights among Dashhurites, which leads them to tolerate sometimes deplorable conditions for some under their control if they perceive it as improving quality of life for others.

Saqqua School
Saqqua Nya-Nar taught that the individual was the most important part of society, and that any restraints imposed on an individual represented a grievous miscarriage of justice. Therefore, in Saqquan territory, there are few if any laws limiting individual behavior: regulations are sparse and murder is often legal. However, as Saqquans themselves are free to point out, freedome from rules does not mean freedom from consequences, and the fallout from hasty actions can be devastating. This often leads to a very harsh situation that nevertheless offers many opportunities for advancement and profit.

Aamana School
Aamana Dis-Ath taught that the physical world is an ephemeral illusion, and that the only true structure in the universe was the mind. As such, Aamanans place a great deal of importance on mental acuity and tend to be ascetic in their daily lives, sometimes to the extreme. Monasteries with draconian personal rules are common, and even less-observant Aamanans tend toward fasting and a rejection of ornamentation.

Ur-Ulum School
Ur-Ulum, who abandoned their family name as part of their teachings, believed that the cosmos in general and the Cassandra Galaxy in particular represents a single, living being. Seeing to the health and harmony of that being is of the utmost importance, as its sickness or death would lead to the end of the universe. Therefore, Ul-Ulamites are environmentalists who shun many modern conveniences and use others only sparingly. Some go so far as to reject all FTL travel, while others will only purchase but never build ships or shelters. Through this wide variety of practices, though, the central tenets remain firmly established.

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