This entry is not complete. Treat it as a series of notes for the moment. Feel free to comment.
The Strategenesis is a powerful and mysterious game board that rotates among an unknown group of players. The moves made on the board affect reality. When the board appears to you; you get one move, with the board preventing illegal moves. You have a week to make your move. Once the move is made (or the week passes), the board vanishes, appearing to the next player. Pieces on the board come and go, but no one knows who changes them.
The board and its pieces are constructed of all five magical materials, as well as some of the lesser magical materials, with a slightly disproportionate amount of starmetal. The board is slightly difficult to look at, and has defied all attempts to represent it in artwork. Masters of other board games, such as Gateway, inevitably describe the board as a "highly modified" version of the board in their game of choice, but clearly they cannot all be correct. The board contains multiple levels, usually four, but has been seen with as few as three and as many as seven. Spaces appear on each level of the board to hold pieces, often in a grid, but other patterns have been seen, particularly when a level is an odd shape.
Pieces tend to be abstract shapes, and over five hundred have been cataloged. There are assumed to be many more, possibly an infinite variety, and all appear to have their own rules for movement and capture. At least a few follow rules that vary with the configuration of the board.
It is unclear if the size of the board and the pieces remains constant. Most recorded sightings have described the board as a standard size for a tabletop game. One appearance, however, suggests that the board may scale itself to the size of the entity to whom it appears.
It is assumed that someone knows the rules of the game, but most of the players do not. Most assume that the ever changing pieces represent certain things in Creation. Usually, pieces represent people, but sometimes are cities, spirits, regions, even buildings or ships.
Some think the point is to capture pieces. This happens only occasionally, but when it does the player removes the captured piece from the board and keeps it. It remains when the board vanishes, and usually contains some sort of potent, though narrowly focussed magic.
Moves have effects in the real world. At least, most think they do.
Mistral and the Covenant
The first public mention of the Strategenesis comes from Mistral Uken, a young terrestrial during the early days of the Shogunate. An experimental sorcerer, he wrote letters detailing the board's arrival, appearance, properties and disappearance in order to solicit opinions from a large number of fellow sorcerers, including his teachers, colleagues, various academic institutions, even a number of minor gods and anyone else who would listen. One of the man's experiments went wrong a few months later, immolating him.
With such wide distribution, however, the letters eventually caught the attention of a number of people to whom the board appeared, some of whom created a secret society dedicated to the study of the Strategenesis. Known loosely as the Covenant, this group has spent centuries trying to unlock the secret of the board and determine its exact rules.
The Bo-Arlen Letters
About 300 years after Mistral's death, a player named Jarwin Bo discovered that an acquaintance, Wyn Arlen, was also a player. In a series of letters, they compared information to try to find more out about the game. In so doing, they discovered one instance where Jarwin had a move immediately after Wyn. Having tracked the times of arrival and disappearance of the board with anal precision, they knew that the board appeared to one player the second it disappeared from the other; however, some of the pieces on the board were in different positions when they arrived than they were when they disappeared, two new pieces appeared and one disappeared. This single event, known as the Wyn-Bo Transfer, and the letters in general, form the core of much of the information that the Covenant knows about the Strategenesis and its rules, the letters having been uncovered by them after Wyn's death.
No one, absolutely no one, is certain who all the players in the game are. It is clear the roster is not constant, as a number of known players have died over the centuries the game has been played. There are also known players who made a single move and then have never seen the board again. It is also widely believed that the order in which the players move is not linear, but shifts constantly. Some players go years between moves while at least three players have made three moves in as many months. It is suspected that beings with greater power get to move more often.
Given the mystery with which the board arrives and works, many players are reluctant to even admit the game exists, much less to being a player or discussing the game. Players broadly fit into one of several categories, largely differentiated by how much they discuss the game. The Covenant uses particular labels to loosely identify the "types" of players. These are:
Not really players at all, those derided as "sheep" by the Covenant still move the same, after a fashion. Sheep are those who have heard of the game and seek to know more about it, but have never actually played. They have been responsible for countless conspiracy theories, tomes of babbling guesswork and more than one religious cult. Even though completely uninformed, sheep are some of the few who actually talk about the game and, therefore, control much of the perception about it. In terms of measurable events in Creation, perception of the Strategenesis may be responsible for much more than the Strategenesis itself. One of the Imperial invasions of the Scavenger Lands, for example, may have been largely a cover for an effort motivated by mere rumors of the game.
While most sheep are mortal thaumaturges with a little knowledge and a lot of self-importance, some sheep are more formidable. While pointedly saying nothing about the Strategenesis to others, Mnemon reportedly obsesses over the game and is furious she's never been offered a move. Raksi, Queen of Fangs, may also be sending out feelers relating to the game, but the Covenant believes her to be a sheep because her efforts have been confined to dealing with other sheep, including several who are notoriously far off the mark, one of whom she abducted, tortured and supposedly devoured.
Those that the Covenant calls "proclaimers" have made knowledge of the game available to the public. Proclaimers tend to be mortal thaumaturges, attention-starved terrestrials or people extremely naive in mystical matters. In one case, the leader of a barbarian tribe was given a move, and announced it to all to enhance his status. Most proclaimers, however, are not so grandiose, instead making their involvement known by naively asking around broadly for help in explaining how this game board magically appeared and what to do with it. Some wait so long for advice that the board disappears before they can take their move. As a result, most proclaimers become so on their very first move. There are some, however, who have played a number of moves before speaking publicly about the game. These usually do so as part of broader machinations (such as political advancement or blackmail schemes against other players) or in an effort to call attention to "the conspiracy".
Mistral Uken is considered the first, and probably the most vocal, or the proclaimers and is single-handedly responsible for planting the seed of rumor and conspiracy surrounding the board in occult circles that, in fact, know very little about the board at all.
In the centuries since then, fewer than a two dozen proclaimers have been found, leading the Covenant to suspect that either something about the board makes a new player very tight-lipped, or the board tends to avoid appearing to those who might be talkative. Even these few proclaimers, however, have been enough to create grand conspiracy theories about "a mysterious game board". This has naturally given rise to false proclaimers, which irritate the Covenant to no end.
In general, all of the proclaimers have met ill ends, most not long after making their move. There are a few theories among the Covenant about what is happening to these people. One is that it is simply coincidence, given the small number of the group over such a long time. Another theory is that the board itself, known to alter fate, gets revenge on those who talk about it. Still others think that other players seek out and kill proclaimers for reasons unknown to the Covenant. Whatever the reason, the fates of the proclaimers serves to fuel the conspiracy even more, but also may have the effect of silencing new players as well.
It is worth mentioning that the Covenant does not consider Jarwin Bo or Wyn Arlen to be proclaimers. Though they were not members of the Covenant, their letters were exchanged in secret, and remained so until the Covenant found and decoded them.
The Covenant is a group of players who keep the existence of the game secret to the public at large, but discuss it a great length among themselves. The Covenant is largely made up of terrestrial exalts. Rightly or wrongly, the Covenant assumes that most players in the game (whoever they may be) know much more about the game's purpose and meaning than they do. They share all knowledge they can about the game in order to discern its rules and meaning and "catch up" to the other players. When the board appears to a member of the Covenant, deciding on and making the actual move is the privilege of that member alone, but everything else about the event, including what move was actually made, is shared. The member may or may not involve the others in his thinking. Some members only share information after the move is actually made and the board moves on. Others hold parties for the group when the board arrives and endlessly debate what to do.
Becoming a member of the Covenant is tricky. While the group will seek out proclaimers, they tend to keep them at arms length. Instead, the group has fed into the various conspiracy theories that circulate through occult communities, planting various names and locations into the local lore. Should the board arrive to a new player, the idea is that the player might do his own research into the board and be led on a trail that ends at the feet of the Covenant. Much of this lore is completely fictitious, usually emphasizing the "great danger" that awaits any who pursue the path under false pretenses. For example, one rumor invented by the Covenant is of a hidden rock that can only be touched by those who have seen the board, disintegrating all others. The Covenant plants such a "rock" and keeps tabs on who shows up to touch it (usually with elementals).
The "share all knowledge" agreement of the Covenant doesn't sit well with some. Occasionally a new player will get contacted by the Covenant, but the player will reject their pact, preferring to work alone. Some members of the Covenant have also left after a time, convinced they had learned something that gave them an advantage in the game. In a few cases, the Covenant has discovered players that, for one reason or another, they elected not to contact. Those that are known for a fact to be players by the Covenant, but who refuse to discuss the game are called the "silent" by the Covenant.
For the most part, there is little animosity between the Covenant and the silent. Most in the Covenant know that they are ultimately sacrificing something by sharing information about the game. Only in a few cases (usually involving someone leaving the Covenant to become silent) is there conflict. Lack of animosity, however, does not prevent both sides from spying on each other, which is generally pursued with much vigor, and thought by some to be even more fun than the game itself.
The Strategenesis first appeared to Tepet Arada during his schooling at the Palace of the Tamed Storm. He made his move without much consideration and thought no more about it until it appeared to him later in life, while training at the House of Bells. While considering his move, the board was seen by one of his instructors, who was a member of the Covenant and convinced Arada to join. He shared several more moves with the Covenant, mostly trying to determine the board's military applications. After doing some soul-searching with Icewalkers, however, Arada announced to the group that, should the board appear to him again, he would refuse to take his move. In his opinion, the board was a test that they were all failing. It offered the ability to meddle with the fabric of Creation and Fate, but it was a trick, a corruption. The more moves that were made, the more the corruption grew. The only defense was to avoid moving and, thus, keep the board from altering the world for at least a week. When the board appeared to him again, he shared its presence with the Covenant, honoring the oath he took on joining them, but refused to take a move. After a week, the board vanished, and many in the group considered Arada a fool. Some were of the opinion that if you skipped a move, the board would never return to you again. Most just ignored the incident, however, as the rantings of an ignorant soldier.
The board, however, continued to appear to Arada with the same regularity. Each time, he shared information about it, but refused to take a move. When he took down Jochim the Anathema and became a general, many took notice and considered Arada more seriously. Even though no one could prove any connection between his success and the board, none could deny that he had gained more political and social power within the Empire than anyone else in the Covenant. For some, this was enough to follow his example regarding the Strategenesis. Others began to believe his corruption theory and refused to move as well.
Within the Covenant, any player who refuses to move, but still shares information about the arrival and configuration of the board, is called an "Aradan", regardless of their reasons for doing so. Aradans are a small, but vocal and involved, minority within the Covenant. Now retired, Tepet Arada continues to get board visitations, continues to share information about them, and continues to refuse making a move.
Since the game began, a number of beings have been rumored to be players in it. Given the maximum move time of one week and the intervals between moves, the Covenant knows that there are many more players in the game than they know of. These they call the "faceless". Most in the Covenant assume the faceless are more powerful beings than themselves, granted a visit from the board by virtue of their influence in Creation. Some rumored players are:
- The Scarlet Empress
- The Mask of Winters
- The Bull of the North
- Prince Japhthia
- Neshi of the Double Whips
- Judge Nehemeth
- Princess Kyema
- Shikuzi the Weaver
- The Perfect
- The Emissary
- Chejop Kejak
- The Roseblack
- The Celestial Incarna
- Various demons
The Covenant can only guess if those who created the game are players, or if they influence the game at all. Most assume that they do not actually play, but influence the game in other ways. The Covenant has spent long hours debating the identity of the game's creator(s) and purpose(s). Some think the game was built by the Celestial Incarna. Others point to its emergence after the Usurpation as proof that it was created by First Age solars who escaped. A vocal minority believes the came to be a tool of the Yozis, used to somehow manipulate Creation to their own ends.
Using the Strategenesis
The Strategenesis is obviously intended as a plot device, but not an overt one. You could, of course, build a whole campaign with the Strategenesis as the centerpiece, with PCs who actively track down and study the game, perhaps even having made moves themselves. More often, however, the Strategenesis is better used as something that silently supplies motivation to major NPCs in a campaign that would not otherwise be logical. Say, for example, you really wanted your campaign to involve a strong, but secret, alliance between the Halta and the Lintha for some perverse reason. This really makes no sense in canon Exalted, since the two groups are so far apart (both geographically and ideologically). But suppose the leaders of both groups have figured out something about the Strategenesis. If what they know (or what they think they know) is compelling enough, it might explain such an alliance. Or, less unbelievably, suppose within the inner circle of the Cult of the Illuminated, there exists an even more secret group whose real purpose is related somehow to the Strategenesis, and they are using the Gold Faction and the cult for their own ends.
Key to this idea of the game as motivation is the idea of perception of reality being more important than reality itself. Even very powerful players of the game are unlikely to know if their ideas about the Strategenesis are correct. Some may be moving events merely to try to prove a theory one way or another. More fun are those who are sure they are correct in some obsessive notion about the game, and move nations because of it.
As a sort of "secondary effect" of the game, the Covenant is certainly real, tangible and understandable, even if the Strategenesis itself is not. The Covenant is clearly motivated by the game, but could be set up in a campaign such that the players get entangled with them long before they even hear of the Strategenesis. As the Storyteller of such a game, you would know how the Strategenesis is driving the Covenant, but the players could remain ignorant of this for a long time, possibly forever. The Covenant is a particularly good method of building games with mixed circles, as any of the diverse interests within the Covenant could easily nominate their own agent to represent them in a unique team, even if the team is ignorant of the Covenant's influence.
A large number of conflicting theories circulate about the Strategenesis. To use it, you will need to decide which of these people have even heard of. You might even want or need to decide which of them is true:
- Pieces represent individual entities.
- Pieces represent organizations.
- Pieces represent artifacts.
- Pieces represent abstract concepts.
- Pieces represent trapped souls, trying to reincarnate.
- Rather than representing a particular thing, a piece represents the collective intimacies of that thing.
- Rather than representing a particular thing, a piece represents the collective resources of that thing.
- Rather than representing a particular thing, a piece represents the collective opinion that others have of that thing.
- Rather than representing a particular thing, a piece actually is that thing, trapped on the board.
- Moving a piece manipulates fate such that choices available to whatever that piece represents erode, leaving only the choice to make the move represented on the board.
- Moving a piece throws something like an astrological effect on whatever that piece represents, that is, aiding or hindering it in performing a certain type of task.
- Moving a piece entwines the fates of whatever that piece represents with the one who moved it.
- Capturing a piece destroys or makes irrelevant whatever that piece represents.
- Capturing a piece places whatever that piece represents outside fate.
- Capturing a piece frees it from the prison of the game.
- Capturing a piece unleashes it onto the real world.
- The powers of a captured piece are related to what the piece represents.
- The powers of a captured piece are determined by the conditions of the move that captured it.
- The powers of a captured piece are related to why the board appeared to the player that made the capturing move.
- The boards represent the cardinal directions.
- The boards represent the planes of existence (Creation, Yu-Shan, the Underworld, etc.).
- The boards represent Virtues, or other philosophical points of view.
- The game is a sub-game within the Games of Divinity.
- The game is a mechanism by which the players control the cycle of reincarnation.
- The game controls an alternate reality. (Inevitably, this comes with the idea that some other game in a different reality controls this reality.)
- The game is a prison.
- The game is a demon.
- The game is a hoax.
- Tepet Arada's theory about the board being a test is correct.
- Tepet Arada's theory about the board being a test is incorrect.
- The Masters are the Celstial Incarna.
- The Masters are Yozis.
- The Masters are the Guild, conducting an elaborate hoax with illusion and gimmicks in order to control those more powerful than them.
- The Masters are Neverborn.
- The Masters are Sidereals.
- The Masters are Fair Folk (not as far-fetched as it sounds, if you think about it).
- The Master is Autochthon.
Fascinating, and a very much inspired concept. The only thing that stumps me is how to effectively integrate it into an existing saga - whilst a plot based on the politics and study of the game would be an interesting alternative focus, I'm stumped on how it would avoid being a diversion in other games. Perhaps you could provide a few ideas? Regardless, a great read...DeathBySurfeit
Thanks. I think it can have several uses in a campaign, the most obvious being a McGuffin that drives the plot or provides major NPCs with motivation. Ultimately, a Storyteller needs to make a couple of choices to get the most use out of it. One of these is: what do moves actually do? That is, how do they change reality, by how much, and with what degree of certainty? Secondly, they need to decide: why does this board exist? This might require deciding who made the board. Also, what do captured pieces do? PCs are much more likely to run into them first. Once you make some choices about these sort of things, it should be more obvious how it fits into a campaign, whether that be as the centerpiece, a behind-the-scenes plot driver or idle curiosity. One thing it can be useful for is to provide incentive for people that would not normally cooperate to get together, or to connect completely tangential plot elements you like together. For example, maybe you want to have Halta be strongly allied with the Lintha for some perverse reason. You could use the board to build a rational, even plausible, explanation. In all honesty, I came up with the idea without really having a practical use for it. It just wouldn't leave me alone until I wrote it down. I guess the question for readers is: what would you do with it? -- Wordman
Very nice! Echoes the sort of... mystery and wonder of Exalted(especially early Exalted!). Kind of reminds me a bit of Jumanji, oddly, even though it is nothing like it. But it is Hard to use, like DBS said, ... I think partly because it tries so hard to be mysterious. You know, the pieces changing between two players, the total lack of knowledge of what a roll does... it seems to make the players not matter, really; Pehaps making it equally arcane, but a little less mysterious, would be a good shift. After all, anything that makes a player, in any definition, not really matter should be anathema for Exalted! ~ GoldenCat