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Secret Empires

In the gloom of twilight, in the shadowed byways and hidden bowers of man’s domain, are played out the secret policies and agendas of the Princes of the Night. Design and intent obscure these empires from the view of the ‘normal’ Nations and their goals of world Empire and eternal glory. No, the work of the Secret Empires is to control the hearts and minds of the world populace to ends known only to their innermost cabals and councils. If you’re lucky you will never make the acquaintance of any of the Hidden Masters. Unless, of course, you are one of the Illuminated Ones...

If your GM deems it meet, then certain sly and vicious players may run Secret Empires and strive for the ultimate control of the world, all shrouded in secret and mystery. Secret Empires, or Cults (as they are sometimes termed), have most of the normal stats of an ‘Open’ Nation. They have Leaders, they control (in their own diabolical way) regions and cities, they perform actions and they strive to improve their lot. There are, however, some small differences.

Secret Empire control status rates of Agro production or consumption are very low, but still present. Even a Secret Empire must pay Agro to support troop units, ships, hidden cities and their fortifications. Unless suffering from famine or a shortage of Infrastructure they always tax at the maximum rate. Secret Empires are always considered to have a Census active and do not have to pay for it. Secret Empires do, however, have to maintain sufficient Infrastructure to control their domains, but those domains can be much more dispersed than the domains of normal Nations.

Secret Empire Control Statuses

Secret Empires propagate themselves and acquire influence, wealth and followers by spreading a spider web of control through the cities and regions of the ‘Open’ Nations. A Secret Empire can have one of four control Statuses in regards to a region or city:

A Secret Empire can establish…

  • A Cultic Cell (cc)
  • A Cultic Lodge (cl)
  • A Cultic Temple (ct)
  • A Cultic Stronghold (cs)

The Cell

A Cultic Cell is a collection of adherents of the Secret Empire and can exist in either a region or city. It provides a springboard for further influence and expansion. It provides a small portion of the region/city revenues (both GP and PWB) to the Secret Empire/Cult. A Cultic Cell can be established by either an Cult Intel Operation or a Cult Leader Action (Form Cultic Cell).

The Lodge

A Cultic Lodge is a formalized group of Cultists who have established themselves in some moderate positions of power, have found others of their kind, have some facilities and capabilities available to them through their contacts and own position. A Cultic Lodge provides a larger portion of the regional/city revenues to the Cult. It also serves as a base from which to perform Cultic Intel Activities. Some internal cultic resources are required to support each Lodge, so it counts against the Size of the Secret Empire. A Cult Leader performing a successful Create Cultic Lodge action can create a Cultic Lodge from a Cultic Cell.

The Temple

A Cultic Temple is a stronghold of the Cult, indicating that it has achieved pervasive influence in the region or city and its sinuous tendrils have wormed their way deep into the fabric of local society. The Prelates and Hierarchs of the Temple will hold positions of great power and responsibility in the region or city. A Temple provides a great portion of the regional or city revenue to the cult, serves as a base for Cult Intel Activities, and provides men and women to swell the ranks of the Cult. As a result a Temple counts heavily in figuring the Size of the Secret Empire. A Cult Leader performing a successful Consecrate Cultic Temple action can form a Cultic Temple from a Cultic Lodge.

The Stronghold

The Cultic Stronghold is the center of the twining web of the Secret Empire. It is the wellspring from which all power, influence and effect of the Cult rises. Here are found the sacred ceremonial chambers, the hidden training facilities, the residence and sanctum of the Grand Master and his circle of Illuminated Ones. Here lie the libraries filled with the wisdom of the ancients, the treasures of lost lands and the wonders of the world of Shadows. Each Secret Empire can have but one Stronghold at a time.

If necessary, a new Stronghold can be created from an extant Cultic Temple by the Shadow Emperor (King) performing a successful Raise Cultic Stronghold action. This action may be performed even when there is already a Cultic Stronghold in existence. However, once the new Stronghold is complete, the old one becomes a Cultic Temple.

Destruction of the Stronghold

Should the enemy discover it and destroy or capture the Stronghold the Secret Empire will loose one-half of its Bureaucracy, Infrastructure and Intel Ratings. The University of the Secret Empire, should one have been established, will also be found in this sanctuary of sanctuaries.

Table 11-1. Secret Empire Control Statuses

Control Status Intel Base? Control Code Taxation Multiple Count Control? NFP Cost
Cell No cc 0.2 Yes No 5gp
Lodge Yes cl 0.3 Yes No 10gp/2nfp
Temple Yes ct 0.4 Yes Yes 30gp/5nfp
Stronghold Yes cs 0.5 Yes Yes 100gp/10nfp

The Secret Empire Control Web

Unlike a normal Nation, which must trace lines of control through adjacent controlled regions and sea zones, the Secret Empire is much more flexible, but the consequences of failure are much more severe. The Secret Empire traces a chain of administrative control through its sites to create a Control Web. If any site is isolated from the others, it may degrade one level, eventually to be rendered useless or revolt outright.

Action Range is the critical stat in maintaining control over a far-flung Secret Empire. The CCR (BL + Admin) defines how extensive the effective Control Web is, defining the maximum number of (AR) Action Point links. Thus the effective Line of Control is not infinite.

It is possible that a Secret Empire will have sites/regions/cities that can trace a Line of Communication to the Stronghold but are outside the effective Control Web and so are liable to revolt or degrade.

  • Each Temple must be within (AR) Action Points of the Stronghold, or another Temple or regions or cities controlled by the Cult at Tributary or better able to trace an unbroken line of control to the Stronghold.
  • Each region or city controlled at Tributary or better by the Secret Empire must be within (AR) Action Points of the Stronghold - or a Temple, a Cultic Leader acting as a “Temple” or regions or cities controlled at Tributary or better by the Secret Empire able to trace an unbroken line of control to the Stronghold.
  • Each Lodge must be within (AR) Action Points of the Stronghold, or to a Cultic Leader acting as a “Temple”, or a Temple or regions or cities controlled by the Cult at Tributary or better able to trace an unbroken line of control to the Stronghold.
  • Each Cell must be within (AR) Action Points of the Stronghold, or to a Cultic Leader acting as a “Temple”, or a Lodge, Temple or regions or cities controlled by the Cult at Tributary or better able to trace an unbroken line of control to the to the Stronghold.

Cells, Lodges or Temples that cannot trace a line of control to the Stronghold (or to a Cultic Leader acting as a Temple) are isolated and may degrade a level per turn and eventually disappear.Each Temple must be within (AR) Action Points of the Stronghold, a Temple or a region or city controlled by the Cult at Tributary or better.

The Stronghold also counts as a Lodge for the formation and support of Cells and a Temple for the formation and support of Lodges. A Temple also counts as a Lodge for the formation and support of Cells.

If, in tracing Action Range, there are insufficient Action Points to pay the terrain cost of a given region Action Range cannot be traced into that region. You do not have to pay an extra 1 AP to enter a City in the region.

Example: a cult with an Action Range of two has a Temple in Edessa and a Cell in Vaspurikan. The Action Point cost is four (2 for the type two mountains + 2 for the wilderness region). The CT is not able to trace the Control Web into Vaspurikan. The CC will degrade.

Cultic Leaders can go wherever they please and will not revolt if out of range of the Stronghold. However, remember that your enemies could subvert them. Once a Cultic Leader creates a Control Status, it must be within the effective Web of the Secret Empire, or any Cultic Leader at the location at the end of the turn will be checked for revolt. If they revolt they may attempt to establish their own own cult in the location and take control of other sites within Action Range of themselves, if those locations are also outside the effective Control Web. If the Cultic Leader does not revolt the site will degrade.

When a Secret Empire Leader revolts under other circumstances they may set up their own version of the cult with whatever resources are to hand.

If a Cultic Leader sets up their own Secret Empire then the parent cult loses 1 BL and 1 Infra to the rebel.

Cultic Leader Acting as a Temple

A Cultic King, Prince or Lieutenant may act as a Temple for control purposes when they are performing an Administrate action. In essence this enables them to form Cultic Cells extending from the Control Web of the normal structure if necessary. Only Secret Empires can do this.

They must must be within (AR) Action Points of the Stronghold, or another Temple or regions or cities controlled by the Cult at Tributary or better able to trace an unbroken effective line of control to the Stronghold.

When Administering in this fashion the Cultic Leader can anchor a collection of Lodges and Cells in a remote area. The Administering Leader cannot do anything else and does not act as a Temple for tax purposes. You could ‘chain’ multiple Cultic Leaders in this fashion acting as “Temples” to connect a remotely located set of Lodges and Cells back to the Stronghold.

Example: Lets say there is a secret empire in the Valley of Mexico and it has its cultic stronghold there. Also, lets say that it has 0 tech points and is Stone Working, tech level 1. Can this secret empire build cells, lodges, etc, outside of the Valley? I believe the range is TL/2 which is 1/2=0.5 rounded up to 1. Terrain modifiers of type-1 mountains is 1 and type-2 mountains is 2. So, I would assume that it could never build anything out the valley until it reached tech level 3 (3/2=1.5 rounded up to 2) because of the terrain modification.

Answer: They could send a Leader over the mountains and have that Leader camp out in a province and Administrate, which means he acts as a Temple for Control Web purposes. Then they could build a network of Lodges and Cells out from him. Of course the Leader will just have to camp there until he dies, but them's the breaks. And when he dies, the network of Lodges and Cells are outside the effective Control Web and may degrade or revolt, unless another Cultic Leader arrives to Administrate

Control Status Increase Limits

A given Cultic location can only increase one level of control in a turn. A Cell, therefore, can only become a Lodge. A Lodge, a Temple and so on.

Movement of Cult Leaders

Cult Leaders treat all regions where the cult has a control status (CC or better) and any region with the same language as the Secret Empire as controlled for movement purposes.

Secret Empire Actions

Secret Empires can conduct all of the normal Intel and Leader Actions with their Leaders and Espionage structure. In addition, however, they can also perform the following special Cultic actions. In performing these actions the most important Leader rating is 'Charisma'. Multiple Cultic Leaders may also combine their efforts, with one Leader acting as the principal and contributing his full Charisma and any additional Leaders contributing one-half of their Charisma.

Please note that an Action may fail for any number of reasons. If the Action fails, then the Gold and NFP spent in the attempt are lost. The GM may or may not inform you of the reasons why an action fails. Sometimes even the best efforts are simply not enough.

All Cultic Actions can have their chances of success improved by spending extra Action Points on the Action(s).


Table 11-2. Summary of Cultic Actions

Action Code Action Cost Odds
Attempt Ceremony ac 4 AP Varies
Consecrate Cultic Temple cct 10 AP Medium
Create Cultic Lodge ccl 6 AP Medium
Form Cultic Cell fcc 3 AP or 1 Intel Op High
Investigate Location il 2 AP or 1 Intel Op Medium
Move Cultic Cell/Lodge ml 5 AP High
Raise Cultic Stronghold rcs 20 King AP Medium
Subvert Cultic Cell scc 5 AP or 1 Intel Op Low

Form Cultic Cell

Code FCC

Cost (3 Leader actions or 1 Intel Operation) and 5 GP per attempt.

Results Attempting to form a Cultic Cell costs 5 GP in addition to the Leader or Intel Actions. This action may be attempted in any region or city that is within Action Range (AR) AP of a supporting Cultic Lodge or Cult Leader performing an Administrate action. If successful, a new Cultic Cell will be created in the location.

Cultic Cells may coexist with the Cells, Lodges and Temples of other Secret Empires. A Cell cannot coexist with the Stronghold of another Secret Empire either in a region or city. Such a competitor must be destroyed before a Cell can be created. Creating a Cell is more difficult in regions that are of a different religion or language than that of your Secret Empire.

Create Cultic Lodge

Code CCL

Cost 6 Leader Actions and 2 NFP and 10 GP per attempt

Results Attempting to create a Lodge from a Cell costs 2 NFP and 10 GP to build in addition to the expenditure of the Leader actions. It can only be attempted in a region or city that already contains a Cell. It can only be created in a region or city that is within (Action Range) AP of a supporting Temple or the Stronghold.

A Lodge can coexist with the Cells and Lodges of other Secret Empires. A Lodge cannot coexist with the Temple or Stronghold of another Secret Empire. Any competitors like Temples or Strongholds must be destroyed before a Lodge can be created in a city. Creating a Lodge is more difficult in regions that are of a different religion or language than your Secret Empire.

Consecrate Cultic Temple

Code CCT

Cost 10 Leader Actions and 5 NFP and 30 GP per attempt.

Results Attempting to consecrate a Temple from a Lodge costs 5 NFP and 30 GP to achieve in addition to the expenditure of the Leader Actions. It can only be attempted in a region or city that already contains a Lodge that is within (Action Range) AP of the Stronghold or another Temple.

A Temple cannot coexist with the Lodge, Temple or Stronghold of another Secret Empire. Such competitors must be destroyed before attempting to consecrate a Temple. A Temple may coexist with the Cell of another Secret Empire. Creating a Temple is more difficult in regions that are of a different religion or language than your Secret Empire.

Raise Cultic Stronghold

Code RCS

Cost 20 King Actions and 10 NFP and 100 GP per attempt.

Results Raising a new Stronghold from a Temple costs 10 NFP and 100 GP to achieve in addition to the expenditure of the Actions by the King (Shadow Emperor). It may be attempted in any region or city that the King is in. In this case the religion and/or language of the region do not matter. Obviously a Stronghold cannot be created in a region or city containing any Cells, Lodges, Temples or Strongholds of another Secret Empire.

The Shadow Emperor can attempt to raise a Stronghold in any region containing a control status on the same turn that the Cult’s original Stronghold has been destroyed. Otherwise it must be raised from an existing Temple and the old Stronghold degraded to a Temple in the same turn.

Note that moving the Stronghold is subject to the same restrictions as an Open Nation moving its capital.

Investigate Location

Code IL

Cost: 2 Leader Actions or 1 Intel Action

Results This Action is used to try and find out if a region or city contains the Cell, Lodge, Temple or Stronghold of another Secret Empire. It may also be used to search for certain items, people or things.

Subvert Cultic Cell

Code SCC

Cost 5 Leader Actions or 1 Intel Action

Results If the Cell of another Secret Empire is discovered, this action can be used in an attempt to suborn the Cell to your Empire. If successful, the Cell becomes one of yours and repudiates its former allegiance. Remember that a Lodge, Temple must still support the Cell at the end of the turn or Stronghold within (Action Range) regions or sea zones or it will be destroyed.

Attack Cultic Location

See the SE Variant of Destroy Location.

Move Cultic Cell or Lodge

Code ML

Cost 5 Leader Actions + Movement Cost

Results An established Cell or Lodge can be moved by a Cult Leader by expending 5 Actions to get everything packed up and then the usual Leader movement cost to reach the new location. Of course, a Cell or Lodge that has been moved must still be supported at the end of the turn or will be destroyed.

Failure to successfully move the Cell or Lodge results in a Cell being destroyed, or a Lodge becoming a Cell. The status remains in the original location.

Attempt Ceremony

Code AC

Cost 4 Leader Actions

Results On occasion a Secret Empire may come into possession of certain books or artifacts that require some special ceremony or ritual to use. In this case, the AC action is used to attempt to invoke or inspire the presumed powers of such an object. The consequences for failure are, without doubt, extreme.

The War of Shadows

You will have noted from the actions above that the Secret Empires do not coexist well with one another. Indeed, the various and sundry Secret Empires detest one another most vehemently. They grapple constantly for the souls and minds of humanity and know that there will, in the end, only be one victor.

As a result, Secret Empires are not allowed to cooperate with one another in any way. They cannot trade locations, gold or NFP. They cannot cooperate with one another on Actions or campaigns. In short, the only social intercourse that they engage in is by knife, garrote, poison and the swift attack of fell creatures.

Claiming The Assumption

Once a Secret Empire has grown truly mighty, such that all the hierophants of the age tremble at the hearing of its name, and all signs and portents swing unerringly to the rising Sun. That is, when a Secret Empire player decides to go for the gusto, a properly prepared and situated Secret Empire can attempt to seize control of an ‘Open’ nation or nations.

This is the Assumption of the Kingdom. To attempt it, the following conditions must be met:

  1. The Secret Empire must have at least a Lodge in every city within the nation that will be Assumed.
  2. The Secret Empire must have a Temple in at least half of the cities within the nation.
  3. The Secret Empire must have at least a Cell in every region in the nation.
  4. To trigger the Assumption the Secret Empire must successfully murder the reigning Ruler (King, Emperor, etc.) of the nation being Assumed and proclaim the Shadow Emperor king in his place.

After these conditions are met the Assumption is attempted, and depending on how well the Secret Empire has prepared (with infiltrations and other diabolical plots), the GM will consult the stars and planets, peering into the vastness of infinity and determine whether the attempt is successful or not.

If completely successful the Assuming Secret Empire will entirely replace the Assumed Nation, replacing the Assumed nation's Government stats with its own, and gaining the AQRs and so forth of the Assumed nation. The Assumed nation’s religious and Intel structures, however, are lost.

If completely successful this event will be presented as a Dynastic Failure or Civil War in the Newsfax, one that has run its course within the auspices of a single turn. The combined Assumed/Secret Empire still retains the capabilities and powers of the Secret Empire as well as now gaining the capabilities and powers of the Assumed Nation.

If not completely successful then Civil War ensues and the Secret Empire loses its special status, becoming just another of the mundane empires scrabbling in the dirt for a few shekels and hoping for a paragraph in some future history text. The Cells, Lodges, Temples and Strongholds of the Secret Empire are converted into regional control and troops and bloody-handed mayhem ensues.

Table 11-3. Cultic Resource Conversion

Each... Becomes...
Cell 1 Infantry unit
Lodge 1 Cavalry unit and the region or city becomes a Feudal Ally of the now ‘Open’ Nation.
Temple 1 Cavalry, 2 Infantry and the region or city becomes Friendly to the now ‘Open’ Nation.
Stronghold 5 Cavalry units and the region or city become the Homeland of the now ‘Open’ Nation.

Secret Empires and Trade

Secret Empires may not Trade with other Nations. However, they may use Merchant Fleets to provide Internal Trade income (smugglers!) or as Fishing Fleets. These fleets do not compete with Open Nations.

Secret Underground or Hidden Cities

Secret Empires can build secret or “hidden” cities in regions that are ‘uncontrolled’ by any open position. The city is Friendly to the cult and will provide it with Intrinsic Industrial Capacity.

To build such a city the Secret Empire must march the GP and NFP to the location veiled by a Conceal Fact whilst the construction occurs. Such a city must be within (AR) Action Points of the Stronghold, or a Temple or regions or cities controlled by the Cult at Tributary or better able to trace an unbroken line of control to the Stronghold.

If the city is “hidden” merely by being out of the way it may be discovered when the region is no longer ‘uncontrolled’ or by the passage of armies.

It is less easy to detect if built underground. This costs twice the normal GP and NFP of the equivalent city build or expansion.

Secret Empire: The Assassins of Alamut

Arabic hashshash, plural hashshashin, in Middle Eastern and Asian history, any member of the Nizari Isma'ilites, a religiopolitical Islamic sect dating from the 11th to the 13th century and known, in its early years, for murdering its enemies as a religious duty. The Arabic name means "hashish smoker," referring to the Assassins' alleged practice of taking hashish to induce ecstatic visions of paradise before setting out to face martyrdom. The historical existence of this practice, however, is doubtful. The stories that were told by Marco Polo and other travelers about the gardens of paradise into which the drugged devotees were introduced to receive a foretaste of eternal bliss are not confirmed by any known Isma’ilite source.

After the death of the Fatimid caliph al-Mustansir in AD 1094, Hasan-e Sabbah and some Iranian allies captured the hill fortress of Alamut near Kazvin, Iran. From this centre, by the end of the 11th century, Hasan, as grand master or Leader of the sect, commanded a network of strongholds all over Iran and Iraq, a corps of devoted terrorists, and an unknown number of agents in enemy camps and cities, who claimed many victims among the generals and statesmen of the 'Abbasid caliphate, as well as some caliphs.

Their jihad or crusade was to remove Sunni power and replace it with a Shi'ite Leader. The victory of Shi'ism would bring a golden age under a messianic figure called the Hidden Imam. Their sect was contemplative and esoteric (not unlike the Ninjas of Japan). Their political agenda was ruthlessly logical and their creed was discipline and loyalty to their sheikh, the 'Old Man of the Mountain'. The Crusaders, who courted them for political reasons, regarded their courage as exemplary.

At the beginning of the 12th century Assassin activities were extended to Syria. From Masyaf, the major castle in the an-Nusayriyah Mountains, the Syrian grand master Rashid ad-Din as-Sinan, the legendary shaykh al-jabal, ruled virtually independently of Assassin headquarters at Alamut. Assassin power came to an end as the Mongols under Hülegü captured Assassin castles in Iran one by one until in 1256 Alamut itself fell. The Syrian castles were gradually subjugated by the Mamluk sultan Baybars I and placed under Mamluk governors. Henceforth the sect stagnated as a minor heresy. Its followers are still to be found in Syria, Iran, and Central Asia, with the largest group in India and Pakistan, where they are known as Khojas and owe allegiance to the Aga Khan. The term "assassin" was brought by the crusaders from Syria to Europe, where it acquired its present meaning of one who murders a politically important person either for hire or from fanatical motives.

Suggested Reading

Though there is a wealth of information concerning the historical secret societies (or the purported ones, anyway) here are a few helpful books to give you some insight into the designer's conception:

  • The Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson
  • Last Call and Declare by Tim Powers
  • At The Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
  • The Nine Unknown or Om: The Secret of Ahbor Valley by Talbot Mundy (out of print and very hard to find)
  • A History of Secret Societies by Arkon Daraul.
  • The Templars by Edward Burman.
  • The Encylopedia Cthuliana by Daniel Harms.
  • The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam by Bernard Lewis.
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Lords of the Earth 6th Edition
© 2016 Thomas Harlan
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