Far West: The Empire and the Secession Wars

Sorry that it’s been so long since my last update. Things have progressed a bit on this end, and we’ve actually already begun playtest. More on that in another installment, however. As promised, this entry will take a closer look at the fictional setting of Far West.

I’ve gotten various comments (In email and on fora) which indicate that there is still a bit of confusion regarding the setting of Far West. Some folks are still operating under the assumption that what I’m doing here is a historical fantasy, where the Wild West features more a wuxia influence.

This is not so. The world of Far West is a fantasy world — one that has no relation to our own. This isn’t historical fantasy, it’s just fantasy. The explanation that I gave my playtesters was this: Middle-Earth was J.R.R. Tolkien creating a fantasy world inspired by the cultures and myths of the Anglo-Saxon, Finnish and Celtic peoples. The world of Far West is what would have resulted if his inspirations were instead Spaghetti Westerns, Wuxia, and steampunk.

There are still features of the world that I haven’t yet decided upon — for example, I’m not entirely sure what to do about any Indigenous population (in other words, is there a culture analagous to Native American Indians in this world?). The reason I’m not sure if I’m going to include something like that is twofold: one, the Spaghetti Westerns seldom used Indians in their plots (mostly due to a lack of European actors who could convincingly play Native Americans). Two, there’s also no similar feature in any of the wuxia tales. So yeah, I’m not sure.

Some things I have decided on, though. Here’s an excerpt:

—–
They say that the Empire has stood for a thousand years, and that might even be true. Who can say? Regardless, it sits, powerful and majestic, spread along the coast of the Eastern Ocean — port cities, filling with thronging multitudes, the seats of the great mercantile houses, the centers of culture and art and industry and Imperial power.

Over the years, the Empire grew. The push West. More and more territory under the Imperial flag. Each of these territories had their own rulers, of course, to handle day-to-day affairs. A hundred Princes, Barons, Presidents, Mandarins and Ministers, all with their own petty thrones, yet all bending their knee to the Emperor — each designated as the Governor of an Imperial territory. Collectively, these outer territories, nearly but not quite independent, were referred to as the Periphery.

On occasion, an Imperial Governor would decide that his own title (King, Price, Baron, what have you) was his true calling, and the territory would rise up and declare itself truly independent of the Empire — a sovereign nation. Inevitably, the Empire would crush these rebellions underfoot, and install a new Governor — because no territory was ever lacking in an opposition group hungry for power.

And so it went, until The Secession Wars. It was then that one of the larger territories rebelled and broke away, and, as had happened so many times before, was brought under the focus of Imperial attention. Yet this time, several other territories saw this as their opportunity — while the Empire was busy putting down the rebellion in the first territory, it was reasoned that forces would be unable to respond quickly enough to others. A cascade of rebellions began, as more and more of the Periphery followed the lead of these first acts. Before long, the Empire was faced with nearly the entire Periphery in rebellion, with alliances forming between various break-away states for mutual defense and aid.

The Imperial forces had the power — industrial might; training; technology, etc. The Periphery had the numbers, however. There was simply too wide a front to effectively fight. Too many territories to occupy and pacify. Too much ground to cover.

Yes, it might have worked.

Might have, of course, if not for human nature, and specifically the nature of power to corrupt. For as easily as alliances are made, they are also broken. Treachery has its own rewards, after all. The Periphery was unable to maintain a unified defense against the Empire. Issues of self-interest trampled reason. Alliances crumbled as individual territories made opportunistic decisions, and old bad blood boiled over — arguments over resources and spoils of war.

The Empire moved methodically, taking its time. Concentrating its efforts on territories that had been isolated from others through their own actions, from the actions of their neighbors, or (in many cases) through the actions of Imperial spies who sowed mistrust throughout the Periphery. One by one, they crushed the rebelling territories, before turning their attentions to the next.

It was a long war, and hard-fought. The August Throne was in no hurry, however. The Secession Wars ended with the inevitability of a coming winter.

The new world was created. Peace and prosperity for all. For those who had lost everything in the war, there was no place for them. They headed West, to start new lives. For warriors, even those who had fought on the winning side, there was no place for them, either. Steeped in too much blood, and possessed of a skill and trade that was no longer desired, they also headed West.

Beyond the Periphery lie the Frontier. Settlements began to blossom. Yet even here the flower of civilization asked too much tending, and so men and women pushed further West.

Beyond the Frontier. Into the Far West.

——

There you have it.

Expect another installment much sooner than it took for this one to appear. As always, feel free to comment or question.

Musical Inspirado:

Clint Bajakian – “Outlaws (Theme from the LucasArts game)”

and

Jay Chou – “藍色風暴 (Lan Se Feng Bao – Blue Storm)”

18 Replies to “Far West: The Empire and the Secession Wars”

  1. Re: Indigenous population.

    Perhaps something along the lines of genus locii, clans of spirits or demons (a la wuxia) who had claimed some of the Far West already?

    Also, though I don’t really shop for RPGs, if this backstory were condensed onto the back of a novel, I’d definintely be interested and at the very least picking it up for further perusal. It’s very intreguing.

  2. I’m with everflame, a novel of this could rock. Especially if told from the perspective of some young mandarin ordered to traverse the kingdom and head into the far west on some inscrutable errand for the Emperor. Perhaps to make contact with the indigenous population. Perhaps they had lore that the kingdom needs now, but in the beginings of the Empire, they were all driven west.

    I am all but salivating.

  3. I’m wary of the genus locii thing for two reasons:

    1) I’m purposefully trying to avoid magic in this setting (beyond crazy over-the-top kung fu),

    and, perhaps more importantly

    2) I’m not comfortable with equating indigenous peoples with being inhuman, even metaphorically.

    Regarding your comment about a novel….

    Believe me, I’ve considered it. Add it to the seemingly unending list of potential novels!

  4. From my read, I’d say you’d be fine without an indigenous population. Like you said, spaghetti westerns don’t use them, and with a history like that, indians would only clutter things.

    Of course, that’s just my two cents, but still.

  5. Something that almost immediately occured to me, was the notion that a type of samurai might fill the role of a traditionalist in a wuxia-style, having been on the losing side of the war ( or perhaps even having migrated west beforehand, much like Trappers were embedded into the western United states before serious expansion began).

    I think that might give you a neat subculture to work with.

  6. I hate to post a semi-anonymous “me too”, but I’m finding this background setting very exciting. I’d buy the book :) But I’m also looking forward to seeing what you do with the FATE system to make this sing.

    It occurs to me that the art – and specifically the costume and set design (for want of better expressions) – is going to be critical to establishing the setting in a game manual. Without wishing to push you in a direction you’re not ready to go yet, would you consider posting your thoughts on art in a future entry?

    Dave

  7. Ah! But within the Wuxia setting alone you have crazy magickal possibilities:

    1) Geomancy. (which could be wedded to steampunk in all sorts of viscera curdling ways. Why not a machine that vibrates the earth just so to create a certain type of beneficial or baneful Chi. Machine breaks down or goes berserk, hijinks ensue.

    2) Alchemy/Chemistry (Kind of hard to tell where one leaves off and another begins. I would imagine that there are several senior mandarins who regularly pay to have their chi altered so that they can go on living. If you don’t already have a copy, you might consider getting a copy of Mystic China for Paladium. It’s section on the various types of alchemical immortals alone is worth the price of admission.

    3) Chinese Astrology and other forms of divination. (Which is so melded into asian culture and is so different from western forms that it’s like porn to me.

    4) Ghostbusting and demon hunting (which are a whole sub-class of the Wuxia genre and are proven to work within the western framework as well.)

    Then again, i can see why you might shy away from this in the original setting materials. Why not save it for a future supplement? Are you planning on making Far West OGL as well like SOTC is? Cause it sounds like something i could groove on writing for.

  8. In addition, if you crib one thing from the movie “Wild Wild West” (Which is a terrible movie, but fun if you don’t expect much from it.) you should crib the word “Mechanology” Which Kenneth Branaugh’s Loveless uses at various points in the film. It’s such a steampunk word.

  9. The more your Far West resembles the Old West, historical confusion and comparison will arise. I wouldn’t go with spirit or demon idea, because it would send a wrong idea given the comparison with the historical setting. I think no indigenous population is the best bet.

  10. There are several distinct varieties of wuxia — I’m going for the (for lack of a better word) realistic type. Think Crouching Tiger,Iron Monkey, Hero or House of Flying Daggers, rather than Chinese Ghost Story, Shaolin vs Evil Dead, Weapons of the Gods or Kung Fu Cult Master. More like the novels of Jin Yong than the comic books of Tony Wong, if you get what I mean.

    One of the reasons I’m making this choice is because I want to draw a clear difference between Far West and Deadlands.

    So, it’s a conscious effort to avoid magic.

    Regarding your last point: The rules of Far West will be Open (since they’re based on Open rules), but the setting will be not. (Especially given that I may end up exploring the possibility of fiction in the setting).

  11. I’m purposefully avoiding Japanese influences, for a few reasons.

    One, because gamers already have a habit of conflating all things Asian as if they are one homogenous ‘genre’, and I want to dispel that. My inspirational focus is China and wuxia, not Japan and chambara.

    Two, from a marketing standpoint, I don’t want to draw any confusion between what I’m doing and Steampunk Musha. They’ve got the Japanese thing covered.

  12. And besides, the whole ‘xia’ culture that the wuxia genre is based off covers the whole ‘lone wanderer’ thing far better than ronin ever would, if you ask me.

  13. I get a “Firefly” feel to it as well (without the sci-fi stuff of course). Was any part of this project influenced by that wonderful series?

    As I re-read that introduction the theme song started playing in my head. :)

  14. No, no inspiration from “Firefly”, beyond the fact that Whedon used the actual Civil War as his model, which is the same thing I’ve done here.

  15. I agree that the “indigenous peoples” as “savages out there” thing is pretty much impossible.

    However, in Barry Hughhart’s stories, mythical China was always swallowing up “barbarian” tribes and forcing them to play by it’s rules; do you remember the King of Chao in “Story of the Stone” and the antagonists in “Eight Skilled Gentlemen”? A concept like that could be fun to play – “natives” torn between the desire to conform and the burning need for revenge on the empire (and possessing their original cultures kung-fu secrets).

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