Hidden City: Ivory

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"Control is an illusion that only the blind can be free of." The run begins on the Day of the Early Tiger in the first Month of the Bear in the thirteenth Year of the Magpie since the Regency Council was formed.

The run takes place in the Hidden City.

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Initial Investigations

The party, staying at the Green Table Inn in Bronze, takes stock of their mission to the Hidden City. They have an appointment with Regent Ishii Makato tomorrow, in the Obsidian District, and while they have some black market obsidian passes, Merit is worried that his forging will not be up to snuff to pass the Obsidian guards. Hana hires Fen-Xi for a day to purchase an obsidian key and assorted passes.


Grasshopper sketches a... set of cards, which no one is quite sure what to make of. Is that a sentient mound of dirt? Or an octopus?

The group considers, also, what they should tell the Regent about why they are here. Well, they should probably at least cover the basics about the Queen being tragified over the death of Master Long Shen, and the court being in turmoil.

Merit sends some guys out to ask after who is in town - he gets a report including Precious Jade and her new minions, Autumn Rose, Ando, four of the Marked (but it's not clear which ones), the most attractive member of the Dragon Army, Fen-Xi, the Black Pearl, some of Li Merit's agents, some urchins, and Ishii Makato. Cai Wen declares himself on top of finding the attractive soldier, no matter who or where she is.

Hana has Fen-Xi buy two more bronze keys, for Grasshopper (since the Bureaucrat confiscated his (labeled) key when Shuyan had it) and Kasumi. Fen-Xi notes that it's somewhat aberrant to buy two non-iron keys of the same type at the same time ostensibly for the same person (Hana).

Cai Wen and Min Feng wander around the Bronze district (home to soldiers) asking about who the most notable Dragon Army people currently in town are. They hear about Commandant Shifu, who runs the Dragon Army recruitment office and is considered to be one of the most hated people in the city. Captain Jun Xi is the commander of the Imperial Guard in Jade. Corporal Yanling is the newest member of the Jade Guard, as requested by the Imperial Concubine. That last sounds most likely to be the Most Attractive Soldier - though surely if she had already been recruited as a minion of Precious Jade she wouldn't have been listed separately, would she? It's not really clear how Merit's informants categorize their people. It also seems clear that the Obsidian Warlord is not in town, or he would have appeared in this new list.

The Beautiful Regent

It doesn't seem that there's much else to do in investigation, so a quiet night is spent, and the group heads to Obsidian in the morning. As the group leaves Brass, Grasshopper gives Pooky Tako a monkey treat and takes a drop of blood for the monocle, and puts another in his pocket meaningfully, and tries to tell the monkey to follow them. Unfortunately, the monkey wanders off to look for hidden people, and does not follow.

Passing through the high Jade Garden, Merit and Zhi-Hao bicker amicably about whether it's as nice as the Gardens of Harmonious Contemplation. Merit will hear no argument which casts his home gardens in shadow, while Zhi-Hao is willing to compare and contrast more equitably.

Cai Wen suspects that one of the trees in the high garden has a babe hiding behind it - which suggests that she's not as good at hiding as the rest of the soldiers that the group suspects are somewhere around. Her sword is the only one that Master Deng notices, as well.

"I wish to go flirt with the tree." -Cai Wen

The soldier is definitely his moll, but she's on duty right now. She's also definitely not the expected 15-success soldier that Jade guards normally are. She says she gets off duty at sunset, and Cai Wen gives her a couple of brass passes to come and meet him.

While in Jade, Min Feng sends a message to her brother saying she's on her way to see the Regent from the Isle of Beauty, and she'll try to arrange something for him.

The group heads into Ivory from Jade, with Hana holding the ivory key. The ivory district is opulent, but less busy than any of the other districts the party has been in except for the Jade garden. The party finds its way to the Regency buildings, and the antechamber for the Beautiful Regent. There are a number of people waiting here for the Regent's time. When Master Deng shows the officials the letter the Prince has written, that bumps the group up a few places, and they are told that the Regent will be with them as soon as possible. Some of the other people in line grumble about being passed, and then when an official comes to take everyone's names, there is some disapproval that one of the petitioners has left after waiting for a scant three days.

Cai Wen chats with the other petitioners, and determines that the Regent sees one person (or group) before lunch, and another person (or group) before dinner. So it could be a while, even bumped up. However, it seems like it could be possible to battle the other petitioners in status combat to get in earlier, if the group is impatient.

"Takanata's art said to not hurry."
"Well, we've already not-hurried, that was three runs ago."

When the first appointment of the day opens, Hana engages the person going in in status combat to try to jump the line. She ties, though, so she doesn't usurp his place in line to get in.

The group waits, sending the "bodyguards" to get lunch. Near the Regent's palace, there are a number of establishments which sell exotic boxed food to bring back to the important people waiting in line. Grasshopper gets two for everyone, and while Merit grumbles about the cost, but when it turns out that they are cooked by someone who was rolling 14 successes, he stops complaining.

When the afternoon appointment rolls around, Hana wins the status contest to line-jump and go in. There is one seat for everyone (as if the servants are paying attention). Regent Ishii asks in what way the group was hoping to be of service, and Master Deng introduces himself and his companions, and presents the letter from Ti Jun for his uncle.

The Regent asks how the Court is doing, and if their Majesties are well. Everyone nervously looks at each other, and Zhi-Hao says that the court in flux. They are sad to report that his sister is despondent, due to the death of her long-term friend Master Long, assassinated during a recent art exhibit.

The Regent interrupts - before they go any further, he too has heard the rumor they might be alluding to, and knowing the honor of his sister and his family, they are not true. The party doesn't argue with that, but Merit says that nevertheless, the Queen is in a state of despondency, and her son is concerned for her.

Ah. Well... then they would like his advice on how to cheer her up? No, the Prince requests that he return to the Isle of Beauty. That seems to strike the Regent as somewhat surprising, and he reads the letter again, wondering if it is a forgery.

"This is a touching sentiment, but as you should know, having arrived here, no one who comes to the city is permitted to return to the Isle of Beauty." -the Regent

Merit flashes him a hand sign for a spy signal (which he either doesn't get or chooses to not acknowledge) and says that Ping Shen-Sho has returned to the Isle of Beauty, and the policy has been reversed. Spy or no spy, the Regent recognizes the name, and is definitely surprised.

He says that the possibility of returning is most incredibly tempting, but this is a terrible time. Everyone wonders - is the Regency in trouble? No, no, he says - just the stability of the influence base he has been building for His Majesty, such that it would be precarious to leave right now. If there was someone who could be trusted by His Majesty to remain in the Hidden City while he was gone, or if it was possible to build some stability into the structure he has been working on - the trouble is that he has no actual criminal contacts. Merit points out that he has been a grey operative for some time, and the court ninja is here (the Regent is also a little surprised that there is a court ninja). And Shuyan (who shows her Jade key) has the great fortune that the Imperial Concubine has been very kind to her. Still, it's very complicated...

Cai Wen spearheads the persuasion attempt - they are all great friends of the Beautiful Kingdom, and very competent, and totally at his disposal in sorting out his infrastructure problems. As it turns out, Regents are immune to the bribery mechanic, but 17 successes is in fact sufficient to persuade him.

Regent Ishii's pre-game Illumineaucracy structure
"What do you actually know about the influence mechanic?" -Regent Ishii
"Very little, though I apparently have four points of influence." -Merit

The Regent explains the Illumineaucracy mechanic, and shows them his current power structure. There is one round per month, but for any round that he is not here, his power structure will lose groups from the bottom. The options are to pad out the lower structure with more groups, or to use a criminal group, which can attack to control a group above it, to form the whole thing into a closed circle.

The party thinks that the closed circle plan sounds more efficient. Any given group can only control other groups which consume resources that they produce, so that limits what groups can fit between the things at the bottom of the Regent's structure and the top.

"So groups that eat people would be good. Let's not worry too much about the terminology there."

The Regent himself has a shtick which lets him control groups without being a group on the board. He also has eighteen spare status in case that's needed for rolls.

Min Feng also asks him about a personal matter - her brother wishes to give something to the Regency Council, but he's hopelessly bad at bureaucracy. He does think he needs to talk to the Regent from the Taiga, though. Regent Ishii offers +5 status for the appointment line, or +5 status for his persuasion roll after he get in. Min Feng sends another message to her brother, letting him know.

If they need to check in with Regent Ishii again, they can skip the appointment process by meeting him at home at night, in Obsidian. He gives the party two Obsidian passes for that purpose.

Mechanic Hunting

Off the group goes, making Gather Information rolls to try and learn about potential candidates for recruitment, criminal or otherwise. They end up finding a bunch of groups, and Merit, Cai Wen, and Zhi-Hao start trying to construct an ideal group circle.

There are more groups in the Hidden City total, but the current "board" mostly includes criminal groups and groups that the party has influence on, plus the Regent's groups, and other’s he’s been scouting.

Regent Ishii's groups
  • River Tax Collectors
  • Butterfly Guard
  • Crane Guard
  • Magpie Guard
  • Road Repair Crew
  • Golden Artists
  • Gold Bureaucracy
Party-influenced groups
  • The Si Fan
  • House of Silent Discretion
  • Copper Bureaucracy
  • Copper Black Market
Criminal Groups
  • River Smugglers
  • Bronze Urchins
  • Silver Black Market
  • Gold Black Market
  • Obsidian Assassins
  • Inner Ring Fences
  • Legbreakers
  • Spider Guard
  • Fox Guard
  • Bronze Bureaucracy
  • Obsidian Bureaucracy
  • Imperial Treasury
  • Dragon Army Recruitment Office

People seek out their contacts, to see if they can be of any use. (Many people learn about the existence of groups listed above, via individual expeditions to different places, but the summary is more useful in the end.)

Cai Wen sets up a date with Yanling, and asks about gambling houses in the Silver district. She admits she's only been recently posted to the Hidden City and isn't familiar with all the places to go. She's also somewhat at a disadvantage because her company looks down on her.

Shuyan meets with Precious Jade, who is interested in Yanling being trained up and recruited to the Si Fan - she can provide influence to Shuyan and Min Feng for that.

Min Feng spends some time listening to rumors in the Obsidian district. She overhears a couple of nobles discussing the fact that “the Bureaucrat” is trying to take over the Imperial Archives. The Archives are in someone else's power structure, but it isn't immediately obvious whose. Min Feng also visits Silent Aria, a newly found House of Silence contact in the Gold district. She can provide Authority on groups with "Gold" in their name, and also on groups with summer Cycle spirits in their names, as she has been gaining influence on the Summer regents. Grasshopper looks for Pooky Tako, but while he confirms that the view from where the monkey is looks like Brass, he can't figure out exactly where he is, and fails to climb a building to try and look around from higher up. From the high Jade Garden, though, he sees some roofs that look like they might have been ransacked by a monkey.

Min Feng gets a letter from her brother - he's passed around a lot of bribes, but has an appointment the following day with the Regent from the Taiga. He'll use the +5 persuasion, and seems to be confident that he can get in (though Min Feng thinks he's underestimating the difficulty of waiting in line). She decides to shepherd him through the process personally, and brings him up to Jade with Shuyan and Grasshopper (as bodyguard) and then down into Ivory. The Taiga Regent sees three people (or groups) a day, so it's a little quicker than Regent Ishii's line. Eventually he succeeds in getting an agreement from the Taiga Regent to support his bid for Dukehood back home. He'll present his gift at the next Regency Council meeting, though that means he needs an obsidian and an ivory pass. Min Feng thinks she'll be able to give him a spare ivory pass, so for the moment the pair head back to Silver.

Shuyan and Grasshopper finally manage to retrieve Pooky Tako from the roof where he was hiding - Grasshopper scolds the monkey for not returning properly.

That evening, various people train Yanling in the skills they have a lot of. Those with teaching skill find it easier, but being a sufficient expert also helps.

  • 9 High Society (Min Feng)
  • 10 Leadership/Dragon Army (Zhi-Hao)
  • 11 Knife Throwing (Shuyan)
  • 12 Dodge (Kasumi)
  • 13 Running (Grasshopper)
  • 14 Seduction (Cai Wen)
"You're getting 14 seduction successes and you're wasting it on a training montage?" -Grasshopper
"It's never wasted!" -Cai Wen

And, in fact, 14 successes of seduction brings the evening to a close.

More Mechanic Hunting

The next day, Shuyan and Min Feng win some influence on the Si Fan for Yanling's training, with some bonus influence for having taught her seduction.

Shuyan and Hana (guarded by Grasshopper) go to Jade again, so that Hana can send a message to Ando. Apparently the Imperial Messengers know where Ando is, even if Hana doesn't. Anyway, the message says that Hana is staying in Brass, and she would be interested in meeting with him. Later that afternoon, Ando bumps into her on the street, and invites her to tea.

"So... perhaps your cabal/social club has becoming too infiltrated by the Si Fan, and you were hoping somewhere there was something to join to counteract the influence?" -Ando
"Indeed, was I thinking that?" -Hana

Hana thinks that her career goals so far have been more in the undead-smiting department, rather than the spy department. Ando wonders if she is thinking about joining the Dragon Army, but no, not that either. Hana says she doesn’t want to conflict with other party members, and Ando admits he thought that was how their social club worked. Hana replies that they don't openly seek to be at war with each other because that's tedious. Anyhow, she hopes that the Si Fan are not troubling him unduly? He says they are not, though he does think they are required to trouble him on a regular basis. In any event, if she is not interested in a long-term antagonism with the Si Fan, he has a more transient offer - he will trade authority in various bureaucracies for the influence points on the Si Fan. Hana says that that's an interesting offer, but she'll have to consult with wiser people (i.e the rest of the party) before making a commitment. When she confers with Merit and the others, they think that's a very useful offer, though, as the Si Fan influence doesn't do the party much good, but authority is useful in taking over other groups. The trick will be to do this without making the Si Fan particularly grumpy with Shuyan and Min Feng - they think that the Si Fan expects them to have other loyalties; their "no betrayal" rule means they probably shouldn't keep shoveling influence over to Ando on a long-term basis, but if the party does it once, it probably won't be too bad.

Cai Wen checks with the Butterfly Guard - is there a favor they can do in exchange for influence? The guard indicates that there is a "nest of troublesome dogs" that could be cleaned up in exchange for a favor. The fighters, who have been languishing around somewhat, perk up their ears.

Grasshopper hooks up with the urchins in Pewter and buys lunch for a bunch of them. They're particularly interested in being taken to an all-you-can-eat buffet in Copper in exchange for an influence, but Merit deems the Pewter urchins not helpful for the minimal circular structure, so he tells Grasshopper not to spend any resources on that plan.

Shuyan goes to the Imperial Treasury to try to find out what they want. A fancy dinner (and seduction roll) with a Treasury employee later, she picks up that they're controlled by the Imperial Mint (where the tael are minted), and the thing that they'd provide an influence for is a chance to look at particularly unusual magic items. Min Feng loans them her tael sword for a while, and the party gets an influence.

The Legbreakers, which appear to be the one true group for the minimal circular structure, will give people influence in exchange for, of course, breaking people's legs. Legbreaking is defined as "take them to half hit points or below, but don't kill them." Deng, Kasumi, and Shuyan (all disguised), set out to break the legs of the two targets they've been given. Grasshopper suspects Yoshi wouldn't approve, and stays behind. It turns out that the two targets have guards, which makes it a slightly less trivial mission, and Zhi-Hao chops one of the targets a bit overenthusiastically, but he's not dying, so it counts as a victory.

Yanling gets some more training, as well:

  • 15 Longbow (Grasshopper)
  • 16 Bluff (Cai Wen)
  • 17 Blades (Zhi-Hao)

More Favors

Shuyan sends a message to Autumn Rose, asking her to meet Min Feng at the Green Table inn in Brass. When a return message arrives indicating that Min Feng and Shuyan are welcome to visit Autumn Rose at her estate in Gold, it seems that a bound of etiquette has been overstepped. The party buys a gold key, and Min Feng heads up to Gold to talk to Autumn Rose, and asks if she could be of any assistance to them in the mechanic, and if they could be of assistance to her in return. That's closer to polite, so Autumn Rose notes that it has come to her attention that the party spends a great deal of time with a well known courtesan with a chosen name of Black Pearl. If they could provide Autumn Rose with her true name, she can add or subtract a word from one of the cards in play (for the purposes of the mechanic, that is. She can't permanently turn "the Magpie Guard" into "the Magpie", whatever that means).

"That's too complicated a favor to contemplate!" -Hana

Min Feng wonders if the Black Pearl is a particular nemesis of Autumn Rose - the latter says no, but she is definitely becoming an up and coming player in the City. Her "stage name" is being spoken in many places of power, but having her true name would be useful. Min Feng says they will think about that particular bargain, but the group generally decides that it's a high price for an uncertain benefit.

Hana chats with Fen-Xi - does he have any advice or suggestions on the mechanic? He says that he can only help with Bureaucracy groups, and it will depend on their level, but if he succeeds in the roll, he can raise or lower one of a group's stats by 1.

Hana also chats with the Black Pearl - she has a lot of influence on the House of Silent Discretion, which she would be willing to use on their behalf in exchange for a month's vacation for Fen-Xi after they are married. This leads to a digression in which it becomes clear that the GMs were confused about what being on retainer means, though since the players all thought they were negotiating one thing and the GMs thought something else, we'll go with the player version.

"Money is pretty much worthless." -Merit, spending two tael of a group in the mechanic
"Can I have two tael to put in the funnel?" -Grasshopper
"NO!" -Merit

Grasshopper looks for an injured creature, and finds a magpie that has been injured, probably by a cat. He treats the bite with some salve, and Shuyan helps find some bugs for it to eat.

Then, it's time for another round of legbreaking! Zhi-Hao has had to leave, so Kasumi and Grasshopper take up the second mission.

"If we're sneaky enough, Yoshi will never know." -Grasshopper

The party gets another influence with the Legbreakers, but Merit gets a warning that his people are doing shoddy work - the first time, they did too much damage, and the second time, they did not quite enough.

"There's an art to legbreaking, and you need more practice." -Mike

Also that night, people train Yanling a bit more, so she gets up to 17.

The Imperial Treasury is part of the perfect minimal structure, so the party concentrates on how to get it. A scandal (which can be arranged by the House of Silent Discretion) might drop their obstruction by 1, but since Shuyan's "boyfriend" is pretty high status, it would probably cost a karma to pull off, so they don't do that.

Plan Minimal Perfect Structure is put into effect - Silent Aria creates a Gold authority for Min Feng, the group sells four Si Fan influence to Ando, and the Regent's structure expands to the Imperial Treasury and then the Legbreakers, which circle around to control the Magpie Guard.

Regent Ishii is excited by the Imperial Treasury - it has no suckage! The party tries to hint to him that it does have some invisible suckage (i.e. "Marked"), but he still thinks that it's a pretty good group. Min Feng asks if he knows who controls the Imperial Archives, or the Civil Courts of the Inner Ring (She’s determined on her own that the Courts control the Archives, but who controls the courts?) He thinks they're soon to be controlled by the Mayor's faction, but will have to wait until the Mayor gets another turn or two, but he doesn’t know who controls them now.

Since there's still one Obsidian pass left, Min Feng passes that and an Ivory pass to her brother, so he can go to his Regency Council appointment.

So the Regent’s power structure is secure, Min Feng’s brother is finished with his difficulties, and all debts seem to be paid. Could it be... the party can finally leave the Hidden City?

The Regent's Illumineaucracy structure at the end of the run
Some other cards that were on the board but didn't join the structure