Thursday 13 April 2017

The Thirteen Ministries

Safa-Gerey Khan of Kazan Khanate:

From their offices high up in the King's Tower, the eight Lesser Ministers and the five Greater Ministers oversee the government of the Wicked City, such as it is. The primary concern of the Lesser Ministers is scheming to engineer their promotion to the ranks of the Greater Ministers. The primary concern of the Greater Ministers is keeping the Lesser Ministers firmly in their place. A shocking amount of gold, blood, and twisted ingenuity has been expended in the name of these two objectives over the years.

In the great hierarchy of abuse which makes up the social order of the Wicked City, the thirteen ministers are very, very close to the top; but this position makes their own vulnerability harder rather than easier to bear. How utterly unfair - how unbearably unjust - that they, who possess so much wealth and power and status that they can ruin the lives of lesser men with a mere gesture of their languid hands, should be as powerless as anyone else in the face of the secret police! And yet this is so: the thirteen ministers exist in the shadow of the fourteenth ministry, the Ministry of Information, whose workings they are not privy to and whose edicts they are not expected to question, only to obey. If the endless status games played by the thirteen ministers often seem almost incomprehensible in their cruelty and pettiness, it may be because their true purpose is not to reallocate actual power between them, but to distract their players from the fact that true control over the city does not rest with any of them, and never really did. They behave like vindictive gods among men to protect themselves from the knowledge of their own vulnerability. Their offices are decorated like palaces and defended like fortresses, but they know that none of that will count for anything if the secret police decide to pay them a call.

Ottoman Woman by Abdullah Buhari, 18th century, Istanbul University Library:

They hold meetings in a great chamber on the thirty-first floor of the King's Tower, around a huge table with fourteen chairs. At this table the thirteen ministers debate, snipe, harangue, insult, plot, scheme, declaim, manipulate, flirt, and rage at each other from their gilded thrones, while the masked representative of the Ministry of Information - always code-named Captain Six, even though it is obviously a different person each time - watches them impassively, seated in silence upon a simple wooden stool. Normally their meetings are fantastically unproductive, as each minister pushes their own pet projects and personal agendas into the teeth of the rest; but, from time to time, Captain Six will rise to his or her feet and modestly suggest a course of action. Then the thirteen ministers will all go very quiet and agree to do that, instead.

The thirteen ministers hate and fear Captain Six more than anything in the world. It is the only thing they have in common. They hate the fact that the secret police can't even be bothered to send the same person to each meeting. They hate the fact that none of them are brave enough to object to it. They have nightmares about that bland, featureless mask.

Portrait of Karabed Artin Paşa Davityan (1830-1901), Ottoman diplomat and official from an Armenian family.  Named ‘Dadyan Paşa’ in Turkish sources.  He was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs from 1876 until 1901.:

The five greater ministries are these: Trade, War, Diplomacy, Finance, and Religion.

The eight lesser ministries are these: Words, Heavens, Civil Order, Fortifications, Agriculture, Roads, Technology, and Industry.

These are their functions.

- The Ministry of Trade oversees the dealings of the city's great merchant houses, ensuring that a suitable cut of their take is redirected to the government's coffers, and that a sufficient number of the caravans of the Great Road continue to come to the Wicked City, however guiltily and furtively, to buy and sell those goods which can be traded nowhere else. The current minister is Shining Firuza, an elderly and embittered woman whose chief interest is in adding to her collection of antique ceramics. When she was younger she had a reputation as a fearsome black magician, but she has long since become disillusioned with sorcery, and her terrible grimoires now do little except gather dust upon her secret shelves.

- The Ministry of War has responsibility for the organisation and supply of the King's Men and the First Brigade, and deals with the defence of the city and the pacification of the surrounding countryside. The current minister is Uruslan the Benevolent, a cruel, limping old soldier who takes an obvious sadistic glee in doling out corporeal punishments to his inferiors. He is secretly a bone witch, and the fossilised dinosaur egg bound over his heart is the only thing which keeps his crippled body alive.

- The Ministry of Diplomacy is responsible for relations with foreign powers, which in practise means handling the vast networks of spies, informers, and secret agents that the Wicked City has embedded in every state for several hundred miles. The current minister is The Most Merciful Shahnoza, whose head is encrusted with so many layers of networked logician implants that she has to be accompanied everywhere by servants who help her to support the enormous weight of her giant mechanical brain.

- The Ministry of Finance deals with the collection of taxes, and the funding of all the other departments. Because none of the other ministries can function without money, this is generally viewed as the most powerful of the Thirteen Ministries (although, for precisely this reason, most of the other ministries have set up their own systems of extortion to provide them with revenue streams independent of the Ministry of Finance). The current minister is Farrukh the Glorious, a devious weasel of a man who spends most of his leisure time indulging in horrible combinations of mind-altering narcotics provided by the serpent folk.

- The Ministry of Religion is responsible for the maintenance of the Wicked City's awesomely corrupt state religion, which is now little more than a hollowed-out shell of what it once was. In practise this means that it maintains the city's temples and religious hierarchies, and squeezes money out of the population in the form of 'offerings'. The current minister is Her Supreme Holiness Umida, a brutally pragmatic woman who is only interested in religion insofar as it offers possibilities for personal self-enrichment. She has a healthy respect for its ability to inspire loyalty and dread, however, and demands actual worship from her unfortunate subordinates, insisting that she alone can interpret the will of heaven.

Turkish Lady, 1870s. via carolathhabsburg's tumblr.:

- The Ministry of Words is responsible for the regulation of printing, education, and theatrical performance in the city. (This also means that it provides the licences for the schools of the Mindblade Orders.) Its main activities are censorship and squeezing money out of people in exchange for licenses of various kinds - to print, to teach, to perform, and so on. The current minister is The Most Wise Durdona, whose veneer of high culture and profound emotional sensitivity conceals her shocking and amoral heartlessness. She plots to replace Shahnoza as Minister of Diplomacy.

- The Ministry of the Heavens is responsible for the city's observatories, and for the regular compilation and analysis of astrological predictions and horoscopes. For no very logical reason, it is also responsible for the Cloud Castle and the Air Corps. The current minister is Alisher the Just, a young man of exceptional physical beauty and limitless personal ambition, who craves power for its own sake and will break any number of lives to attain it. He schemes to replace Farrukh as Minister of Finance, and he has begun to worship the Wicked King in secret in the hope that this will help him to achieve his goals.

- The Ministry of Civil Order is responsible for maintaining civic order in the Wicked City and its dominions. In practise, this means maintaining the city's statue network and overseeing its fantastically unjust legal system, which exists mostly as a way of collecting additional revenues in the form of legal fees, bribes, and fines.The current minister is Gulnora the Radiant, a coarse and low-minded woman whose chief interests are in food, drink, and sex, and who is seldom seen without a handsome young Murder Harlot on her arm. She aspires, in a vague sort of way, to replace Umida as Minister of Religion.

- The Ministry of Fortifications is responsible for maintaining the vast ring of crumbling walls, towers, and forts which circle the Wicked City, as well as the various watchtowers and border forts which the city maintains out in the hinterlands. The current minister is Aziz the Magnificent, a weaver of labyrinthine conspiracies, who plots with infinite patience to remove and replace Uruslan as Minister of War.

Engraving by unknown artist for Eugene Schuyler’s Turkistan: Notes of a Journey in Russian Turkistan, Khkand, Bukhara, and Kudja  1876, Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington:

- The Ministry of Agriculture oversees the operation of the city's farmlands, and the endless, thankless task of repairing their continually-crumbling irrigation networks. The current minister is Yulduz the Compassionate, a murderous psychopath with a room full of guns and a hair-trigger temper, who has been murdering her way up the ranks for her whole adult life and sees no reason to stop now. She currently has her sights on the Minister of Finance, Farrukh.

- The Ministry of Roads is responsible for keeping the streets of the Wicked City clear for traffic, and maintaining the roads which connect the city to the outside world. The ministry also maintains the network of messengers who carry communications back and forth across the city-state, and is responsible for keeping the roads clear of thieves and bandits, or at least ensuring that their numbers are kept down to a tolerable level. The current minister is Jamshed the Valiant, a paranoid wreck of a man who plots ruthlessly for his own advancement - not because he has any actual desire for power, but because he is convinced that only when he reaches the very top will he finally be safe. He makes heavy use of Maimed assistants, whose Cruel ears and eyes allow them to gather the information he needs to stay ahead, while also reinforcing his paranoid belief that the world is a relentlessly horrible place full of people who want him dead. He aims to displace Firuza as Minister of Trade as the next step in his ascent.

- The Ministry of Technology is responsible for the maintenance of the various clockwork automata upon which the city's economy relies, from the clockwork digging machines which excavate the irrigation channels in the fields, to the warehouses full of clockwork soldiers which stand in long, dusty rows, waiting to be wound up if the city ever comes under attack. The minister also acts as a kind of liaison between the city's government and its populations of Brass Men and Steel Aspirants, and has responsibility for the Clankers. The current minister is Sezim the Brilliant, a woman of great intelligence and charisma who uses her natural talents to coast through life in a careless and haphazard fashion, confident that she will always be able to find someone else to take the fall if things go wrong. (So far, she has always been proven correct.) She aspires to replace Shahnoza as Minister of Diplomacy, but hasn't really gotten around to doing anything about it.

- The Ministry of Industry deals with permits for the city's many foundries and furnaces, and with the operation of the coal mines up in the hills which feed their insatiable appetite for fuel. In practise, this means that most of the ministry's work is taken up with maintaining order and discipline among the army of slaves who work in the city's mines, and stamping out the regular escapes and rebellions among them. The current minister is Rostam the Charitable, a pallid, joyless workaholic who never seems to eat or sleep. He is a dogged advocate of the merits of necro-mechanical clockworking, which he insists is the magitechnology of the future, and his offices are full of zombies with weird clockwork prostheses which he keeps around as proofs of concept. Spiteful rumours accuse him of indulging in bizarre and outlandish sexual perversions behind closed doors, probably involving all those clockwork zombies. He plots to replace Firuza as Minister of Trade.

Ottoman woman:

(A note on levels: most of the ministers are mid-level Tricksters. Firuza is a high-level Scholar with access to all kinds of horrible black magic, although she doesn't much like using it. Uruslan is a mid-level Fighter with a terrible Constitution score, and powerful magic weapons made from fossilised dinosaur bones. Shahnoza and Rostam are mid-level Scholars, though Shahnoza's logician implants allow her to effectively function as a human computer. Yulduz is a very high-level fighter who owns some of the finest guns ever made in the Wicked City, and is easily the most personally dangerous of the ministers in a straight fight. Specifics should be adjusted to suit individual campaigns.)


  1. What are some ways these characters or ministries might be dealt by parties with without resorting to slaughter?

    1. Well, these are pretty horrible people even by the standards of the Wicked City (which is why they're in charge of it), so actual redemption is likely to be a long shot. But they're also greedy and fearful, which should make them easy to manipulate: it wouldn't be that hard to turn the lesser ministers against the greater ministers, or the lesser and greater ministers against the secret police.

      They all despise one another, and they all hate and fear the secret police, so getting half of them onboard for a coup attempt in which they betray the other half shouldn't be all that difficult if you can persuade them that it has a good chance of success. And while some of them are just ghastly people (Uruslan, Yulduz), others don't have to be: Jamshed just wants to be safe, Sezim just wants to be given wealth and power without having to work for it, Firuza just wants to be left alone with her antique ceramics, and so on. They're never going to be *nice*, but they're people that PCs could potentially work with for the greater good!