Who Rules the Lunar Empire?
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MOONSON is an absolute ruler within the Empire; ruling beneath him are his appointed Satraps, Sultans, Governors, and others. All power is ultimately awarded by Moonson, and can be revoked at his pleasure. If Moonson chose, he could shut down government departments, close ancient temples, or condemn office-holders to death and disgrace. These things don't happen all that often, and are remarkable when they do. Although Moonson is a God, there are limits on his power, knowledge and willingness to act:
THE EMPEROR'S PROXIES each think that they are the Emperor, unless Moonson himself is telling one of them otherwise. When an Emperor dies, the Proxies assume one of their Proxies has died, and that they must continue ruling; they then see "rival" Proxies as false claimants to be put down. I prefer to think of the Proxy Wars as a Horrible Mistake between equally-loyal, equally-Lunar factions, myself. Note that Moonson Argenteus is not known to have active Proxies, though again this could be a good campaign twist.
(Note that most people in the Empire don't know what's happening in the highest Imperial circles, including some of the people in those circles. The interregnal period between recognised Masks of Moonson is thus terribly confusing for people used to doing what Moonson tells them to. And when confusing things happen, we get good game stuff out of it).
THE IMPERIAL HOUSEHOLD (which is run by the Imperial Chamberlain) controls access to Moonson, and therefore has a degree of power and influence. Remember that when Moonson wants something done, he tells someone who tells someone who orders someone to do that something. And the reason he wants something done is that someone was able to tell him something. It is therefore very important to consider his sources of information. (And, currently, Argenteus' rather laid-back attitude to the nitty-gritty everyday business of rule).
GREAT SISTER counts as a member of the Imperial Household, I suppose, although she despises her brother and is usually resident in her city of Graclodont. (She considers his current mask the most ineffectual she has seen. Remember that Great Sister hasn't changed since the Fifth Wane, so she saw the dynamic post-Sheng empire at its best under Magnificus, and has lived through the decline into decadence ever since). She has adoring worshippers and a private army, so don't mess with her.
THE IMPERIAL SENATE advises Moonson, but its powers are highly circumscribed. It is more a talking-shop and supreme court than an executive parliament. NB: I think the Senate had more power under Takenegi [i.e. Moonson of the First through Third Wanes] than under any previous Yelmic Emperor: this way, the "old Republicans" strain of thought -- cf. "I, Claudius" and Lindsay Davies' "Falco" books for examples -- can be more vibrant in the contemporary Empire.
THE SULTANS meet as a collegiate body in the Court of the Silver Gate. Moonson is a member of this group (as Sultan of Silver Shadow), but seldom attends. This is not a "House of Lords" (or some such -- the Senate is nearer to this): the Sultans all possess great wealth and private armies, and their collective influence (if they can agree on an agenda) is considerable. Nowadays, Issaries' authors probably have to pretend that nobody has ever called the Satraps of the Lunar Empire "Sultans": let's pity them.
THE PRESIDIUM: when a Mask of Moonson is uninterested in mundane affairs (as e.g. under Argenteus), rule may be wielded in his absence by an executive council of those who have direct control over the military, economic and spiritual power of the empire. This Presidium is not a formal institution, and its existence is symptomatic of the Empire's decadence. A more involved and interventionist Moonson would take on himself many of the responsibilities currently handled by others.
In our games, the members of the Presidium (and their power bases) were:
THE ARMY does not run the Empire, but its generals can have great influence. The "Proxy Wars" of the early Seventh Wane show that in times of turmoil the Army is always loyal to the true Mask of Moonson (translation for cynics: that the "True Mask of Moonson" is the one the Army backs!). The Army (including the Field School of the Lunar College of Magic) is directed by the Imperial Warlord, Bellex Maximus; Moonson Argenteus is the titular commander-in-chief, of course, and could order Bellex around if he wanted to.
THE ECONOMY of the Empire is directed by the Red Dancer of Power, who controls (inter alia) the collection of Tribute, the awarding of Imperial Monopolies, and the work of the Imperial Revenue Service. Luckily, she is completely round the twist and has an innate understanding of the economic cycle. There are lots of very fat and wealthy people in the Empire, who can buy anything they want. Including power, natch, so lots of them are Senators or Nobles nowadays.
THE SECRET SERVICES (in our games, the Black Army and Blue Army, plus the Spoken Word; David Gadbois suggested several in an old Codex article; traditionally, the "Blue Moon Assassins" and other branches of the emperor's secret police) have absolutely no political power or influence. Why, that would be quite unthinkable! They are all utterly loyal to the interests of the state (not their political masters' more narrow interests), and have no interest in shaping policy. Of course not! The very thought!
THE NOBLES of the Empire provide many or most of the Senators, Satraps, Sultans, Governors, Judges, Generals, etc., though others can rise to these roles on merit. This is less common now than in the Fifth and Sixth Wanes, again a symptom of decadence.
LOCAL POTENTATES: there are lots of local nobles, khans, cults, tribes, councils and dynasties, centrally-appointed magistrates and roving investigators from Glamour, military governors, and the like. But let's not go into those. Some are local and regional (e.g. the Buserian Temple is huge in Yuthuppa, but it isn't one of the "rulers of the Lunar Empire"; likewise Shargash in Alkoth, or Pavis in Pavis); others will ultimately derive their power from rulers of the Empire proper (e.g. our Red Tribunes are agents of the Imperial Cult, deriving their authority from the Imperial Senate, the Household, and ultimately from Moonson himself; a soldier is a member of the Lunar Army and can trace his authority back through his officers to the commander-in-chief).
THE ALLIES are not part of the Empire, and are not ruled directly by Moonson. Their relations with the Empire are determined by treaties and personal relations between the rulers. (This includes the Thrice Blessed, the Char-Un, the Sable Riders of the Hungry Plateau, as well as more minor or temporary allies like the Red Earth Alliance or the Praxian Oases and Sables).
THE REDLANDS and ARROLIA are not even allies of the Empire, but they contain Lunar societies of Pelorian origin so it's probably worth making this completely clear. They pay no taxes to Moonson, but their religion shares common roots and there are often religious links between the disparate groups (e.g. Redlander priests studying in Torang; Arrolian tribute sent to Great Sister for the Goddess).
THE GODS: Cultic figures like the Egi, the Red Goddess, the Seven Mothers, etc. do not have any role in the day-to-day running of the Empire. To put it another way, the Lunar Empire is directly ruled by its gods to about the same extent that the Yelmic Empire before it was. (That is to say, not noticeably except in extreme, miraculous and temporary circumstances). The Emperor is that aspect of Divinity which directly concerns itself in the running of the Empire. Therefore, almost by definition, no other entities of the Pantheon routinely play a part in this vitally important task.
The gods do not provide information or resources to Moonson except through the normal operation of their cultic functions. (Examples: Moonson may have a prophetic dream, but this must be interpreted in the mundane world. Senators worship the Egi, and hope thereby to be able more perfectly to emulate and advise their Emperor. The powers of the gods are made manifest through their cults' and devotees' actions, not through gross and regular displays of divine power. The High Priests of the cults worshipped within the Empire represent their deities to the public and to the Imperial Court).
Manifestations of divine beings are miraculous, not routine -- the examples which spring to mind are (1) Moonson himself, divine ruler of the Empire; (2) the Twin Stars who may return to save the empire in its hour of greatest need; (3) the various Inspirations of Moonson; (4) a handful of special cases (the Red Dancer of Power, Great Sister...); and that's about it. The Empire is ruled from the city of Glamour, not from the surface of the Red Moon.
THE EMPEROR'S CULT is written up in Tales #16. Each new Mask is a theological revelation. And there are some very irritated (and partly rehabilitated) ex-priests of the imperial cult whose sacred treatises about Masks that turned out to be proxies or false emperors are now considered heretical texts.
A note on hero cults of the imperial cult -- we've speculated that the ancestral shrines to Moonson Imperator maintained by various Sultans' households are (of course) shrines to the particular Mask which was their Ancestor, and perhaps this shapes the powers and outlooks of those Sultans and Nobles. (E.g. descendents of Ignifer may get zippy war or command magics, unavailable nowadays through worship of Argenteus). One for the mix?
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