Welcome to The Imperium.
The Imperium is a near-future totalitarian state in which a Triumvirate wields absolute power. The Senate (ostensibly freely elected from the Cantons, but in practice a rubber stamp for the Citizens of the capital) selects the Triumvirate. Each member of the Triumvirate serves a six-year term. There is no limit to the number of terms a triumvir may serve. The rulers’ understanding of life in Ancient Imperial Rome dictates almost every aspect of life in the Imperium. Including, of course, the Games.
The Imperium came into being 40 years ago, in the wake of a devastating civil war which toppled the existing democracy. The victors in that conflict established the current political structure and redrew all the boundaries in the country, centralizing power. They suppressed the opposition and consolidated their control.
The Eternal City, founded at the end of the war, is the Capital of the Imperium. Twelve Cantons surround it, all subservient to it. Each Canton is responsible for a particular type of production and is under the protection of one of the Roman Gods. Canton 5, for example, is the domain of Vulcan, responsible for manufacturing and heavy industry while Canton 10 is under the aegis of Ceres and responsible for agriculture. The Cantons are not equal in size or prestige. Neptune’s Canton, Canton 3, has low status and, being located along a long stretch of coastline, is devoted to fishing, while Canton 1 is small and urban. Under the care of Jupiter, it trains teachers, politicians, and administrators.
Travel between Cantons requires a permit from the Eternal City, and these are difficult to come by. A native of a Canton cannot just get themselves transferred elsewhere though, rarely, an extraordinary individual receives an invitation to move to a Canton better suited to their talents, or even to the Eternal City to serve the government directly. Most Cantons contain enclaves inhabited by members of a ‘foreign’ Canton. Residents of Canton 4, for example, manage and work a lucrative mine in Canton 10. Educational trips, vacations for the privileged in the designated tourist districts of Venus in Canton 12, and illicit penetration of the less well guarded borders allow for some limited intermingling of Canton dwellers. That said, the majority of people in the Imperium will never leave their home Canton.
The Eternal City
The Eternal City exists as an island enclave within Canton 1, but its status as a governmental district is enshrined in the constitution and sets it apart from the rest of the Imperium. Technically, the term “citizen” refers to any resident of the Imperium, no matter where they reside. But in practice, it virtually always refers to those living in the Eternal City. Some even refuse to use the term for those invited from elsewhere. Only families have lived in the Eternal City since its establishment have an inherited right to reside in there; all other residents have been invited, and either granted a temporary visa or, in rare instances, rewarded with permanent residency. All victors in the Triumphal Games receive permanent residency as part of their spoils.
The capital of the Imperium has a reputation as a place of civility and refinement. The architecture is modern, tasteful, and elegant. Ostentatious displays of wealth are for the crass mercantile arrays of Canton 7 or the lurid nightlife of the entertainment districts of Canton 12. Citizens signal their wealth and status through the use of rich natural materials and elegant design; dresses in sumptuous silk and cashmere, furniture of mahogany and sandalwood, tables set with crystal and bone china.
In contrast, fashion is the sphere where many Citizens choose to express themselves. Especially among the media elites and others prone to self-promotion, clothes are a way to stand out, attract attention, and make a statement. Anachronism is all the rage, with period dresses in modern prints, haute couture paired with powdered wigs, and classic three-piece suits accented with neon fingernails. It’s not universal — in general, the more powerful you are, the less need you feel to advertise it — but virtually all choose to dress well.
Canton 1: Jupiter – The Fortunate Canton
Jupiter’s Canton is small in area but great in influence. Its primary function is administration, and indirectly overseeing the other Cantons. Paperwork and records from all over the Imperium go to Jupiter for processing. Jupiter imports nearly all its food, energy, and minerals from the other Cantons, but it exports something more valuable: It exports expertise. Some natives of the Canton end up taking up teaching or judicial posts in other Cantons. There is no expectation that they will undertake a long tours of duty outside Canton 1, but some form relationships and gain permission to raise families in less fortunate Cantons, much to the horror of their friends and family back home.
The Eternal City is an enclave fully encircled by The Fortunate Canton. From the penthouses of Jupiter, on a clear day, there is a view of the rooftop gardens of the Eternal City. From most apartments, however, the view is of the windows, walls, and balconies of the apartment block next door. The apartments themselves are large and pleasantly appointed. Many from this Canton put value on time and resources spent to make their living spaces more beautiful though even here few can reach the luxury of the Eternal City itself. Most residents aspire to make the leap to the Capital, but those who make it are few and far between.
Canton 1 is known for its Academy where pupils train for the Triumphal Games. Each year they undertake competitive examinations, including both theoretical and practical elements. They enroll in pairs, and the top two become the Triumphs for Jupiter. Their families regard this as a consummate honor. The method has met with some success, as, over the years Jupiter has produced more than its fair share of victors.
In the Imperium, natives of Canton 1 have a reputation for being somewhat snobbish and needing to ‘get over themselves’. Conversely, there is a belief some of them are real party animals.
Canton 2: Juno – The Artisans’ Canton
Juno’s Canton occupies a large, sprawling urban area and produces textiles. In a way this is a Canton of contrasts – the industrial areas that produce synthetics are a far cry from the quarter where mulberry trees grow for silk production. Ceres’ Canton provides a lot of animal fiber and by-products come in from Vulcan for use in the production of synthetic fabrics. Nearly all natives of the Artisans’ Canton work in the textile industry, processing the raw materials or weaving them into fabrics that are either made up in the Canton or exported in bulk to other parts of the Imperium.
Most buildings are low and sprawling, with factories and workshops where fiber is spun, woven, and sewn. Most residents prefer to live away from the workshops and factories arrange transport from hubs around most housing areas so that people can get to and from work. Textile production is labor intensive, and the factories are noisy, but though hard and often stressful, the work is not dangerous, and most denizens live comfortably, though few are rich by Imperium standards.
Local decisions on matters the Eternal City does not dictate, are in the hands of a council of Elders. Many of the Elders have grandchildren in the Canton, which, they say, makes them think a lot about the future. There is, however, no age restriction to becoming a member of the council. The council is not precisely elected, but members are put forward by each housing area. The council commands great respect in the Canton and it is they who select the Triumphs each year, in consultation with the areas they represent. In the Imperium the Weavers have a reputation for being calm and industrious. Some see this as a weakness, others see it as a strength. They are also known for their tendency to become jealous.
Canton 3: Neptune – The Mariners Canton
Neptune’s Canton stretches for many miles along the coast. It’s a fairly narrow strip – possible for a fit person to walk from East to West in a morning. The landscape is rural and the people who live here live hand to mouth, scraping a living from day to day. Nearly all are reliant upon the sea for sustenance. There is a great demand for sea food in the Eternal City (not to mention the richer Cantons) so only the damaged and rougher fish are available to feed the masses. Imports from other Cantons are beyond many people’s means though some hunt meagre game along the sand dunes. It’s a hard life in Canton 3 and some starve to death, though many more drown at sea. Fishing is a dangerous business.
Although the Canton is relatively large it is under-resourced and cannot support a large population. The people live in clusters of cottages. Most families own at least one boat and communities will rally round to ensure that these are in good repair. While there is some resentment of the ‘easy life’ lived by those in more prosperous Cantons, the Fishers are fiercely independent and do not take well to attempts to regulate or order their lives. Each family decides on its own direction in life.
The Mariners choose their Triumphs by lot. The running of the lottery rotates between the established families of the Canton, and any dispute about this usually results in a collective decision to invite an administrator from Jupiter’s Canton to adjudicate.
In the Imperium as a whole thinks of the Fishers as rough folk without any manners. Some think they are stupid; others credit them with an excess of low cunning. All agree that they are fiercely independent.
Canton 4: Pluto – The Diggers’ Canton
The diggers Canton is relatively large and a great deal of it is rural. Clusters of housing rise up around any mineral deposits the Fortunate believe are worth exploiting. Most of the Diggers work as miners though, as in all the Cantons, some denizens make a humble living by providing needful services, like selling food and repairing tools. Thing is, as any Digger will tell you, you can’t eat coal or silver, not even gold. Though to be honest, there are no gold mines within Pluto’s Canton. There are some which function as Pluto’s enclaves in other Cantons. No one (apart from the Fortunate in charge of administering such things and whoever it is in the Eternal City who controls them) is sure just how many gold mines exist in the Imperium though most concede there must be at least one.
There is a lot of empty space in this Canton where there are no mines. These spaces are frequently contaminated with slag heaps and industrial waste and, in theory, these areas are inaccessible. In practice many risk the hazards of these uninhabited areas in the hope of bagging some game or uncontaminated berries or roots to supplement their meagre diet. Hunters and gatherers of good repute can sell their hauls to trusted customers. This, however, is against the rules and a portion of hunters end up in jail.
There are lots of things that can land you in jail in the Diggers Canton. Hunting, trying to form a Union, pointing out the holes in safety procedures within the mines, back talking a supervisor, criticizing the triumvirate. The list is almost endless. Over time, Pluto’s expertise with incarceration led to the construction of a number of prisons for the whole of the Imperium in their abandoned mines, which gives the Administrators a large pool to draw on when selecting convicted prisoners to represent the Canton as Triumphs. Any who survive will have their sentence commuted. The Administrators have to walk a careful line between picking those convicted of serious crimes who are well motivated but less likely to be popular with the rest of the Diggers and petty criminals who may be well loved by their fellow Diggers.
In the Imperium the Diggers have a reputation for being hardy souls, hardworking and rarely complaining though quick to anger if they are subjected to any form of injustice. Some regard the Canton as a hotbed of rebels, though their harsh existence tends to crush any serious uprising.
Canton 5: Vulcan – The Canton of the Hammer
Canton 5 is urban. It would, according to the Triumvirate, be a waste of valuable space to let them sprawl any further than necessary. The vast majority of the Smiths work in the factories which produce almost all the manufactured goods used throughout the imperium: Trains, furniture, pre-packed meals, and televisions. There are exceptions, of course, the Weavers in Canton 2 make fabric and the expertise to make very delicate components are exists only in Canton 6. Assembly lines are the order of the day in the Hammer Canton. Each worker has a quota they must achieve, a part they need to play in the overall process.
Achieving one’s quota is no easy matter and the Smiths tend to spend their leisure time resting and recovering from their daily toils. Few have time for extra-curricular activities though some procure left over materials from their workstations and use them at home to create models of daily life and works of art. Needless to say, the Administrators do not approve of this activity. Those who achieve or even exceed their quotas and have the right attitude are promoted to the position of foreman, from whence it is possible to rise to supervisor. Some exceptionally talented supervisors, those who produce high output from their workers, can even be re-located to Canton 1 where their leadership qualities are encouraged and enhanced.
The supervisors, in consultation with the Administrators for the Canton, select their Triumphs from among those who repeatedly fall behind on their quotas. Complaints that this often falls on the blameless, those who were sick or trapped waiting for supplies, are frequent.
The stereotypical Smith has a reputation for being unimaginative, for following a routine and, sadly, for being lazy. It is widely believed that many of them are talented with their hands.
Canton 6: Minerva – The Canton of Invention
Canton 6 is a small, urban Canton dedicated to research of all kinds. Needless to say, the Inventors value intelligence and, more importantly, the ability to think both logically and outside the box over all other qualities. That said, a community that concentrates entirely on brain work cannot sustain itself, so a moderate number of thinkers, inventers and researchers are supported by those who carry out the practical and physical work that enables them to survive.
The Inventors tend to be somewhat inward looking as they are privy to all kinds of data that would make trouble for the Triumvirate were it to be more widely released, though many residents would argue that the ‘masses’ would fail to understand the significance of the raw data. Only the Administrators and most trusted of the Wrights have access to the final and near-final results of the research upon which they all work so diligently. As well as research, the Canton is responsible for the production of advanced and delicate components unsuited to the cruder methods of the Hammers.
Each Wright works closely with their team and everyone from analysts, through data input clerks, to cleaners and porters has respect as their tasks known to be equally essential for the survival of the community. Housing is functional and comfortable. The Wrights like their community spaces and often several family units will share cooking facilities, taking it in turns to prepare a meal for the entire team.
The Canton chooses its Triumphs through discussion and community consensus. The criteria they use vary from year to year. Sometimes they use the games to get rid of undesirables, sometimes they put in those they believe will enhance the Canton’s reputation.
The Inventors have a reputation for being clever and inventive, though physically not especially hardy. Many believe that they have their “heads in the clouds” caring more about theory than they do about practical matters. Even so, there are few who believe they are willingly sharing everything they have learned.
Canton 7: Mercury – The Messenger Canton
This is a wealthy, urban Canton that resembles an extended commercial district. People move busily from place to place and it’s clear, even from a cursory glance, that few here are short of the means to keep themselves and their families in comfort. They live in pleasant villas, often with small gardens. Even the less wealthy denizens – those who cook and wash and clean for the wealthier Silvers – live in decent quarters and do not lack for food or drink.
You might be wondering how goods from one Canton get to another, or even from the Canton to the Eternal City. There is, of course, a transport network, mainly trains, and one of the guilds from Mercury’s Canton operates these. They work on the logistics of getting goods from Canton to Canton in a timely manner and also issue the permits to those from the Cantons who need to travel from one place to another. Mercury also rules over trade and, whilst the profits go almost exclusively to the Eternal City the Messengers are responsible for working out official pricing for commodities that pass from Canton to Canton. They also work on fixing levels of taxation and other financially orientated administrative tasks. The Messengers work very closely with Canton 1 and, through Canton 1, the Eternal City.
The Messengers organize themselves into Guilds, each Guild having a specialty in the fiscal or transport field. Examples are the Transport Guild, the Bankers Guild, the Speculators Guild who bet on the relative success of various Corporations, and the Money Lenders Guild (this last does not have the full approval of the Triumvirate but seems impossible to suppress).
Each year, the Guild-Masters meet for a grand dinner in the course of which, the two worst-performing Guilds are nominated to put forward a Triumph for the games.
The Messengers have a reputation for being canny with money and resources. Most believe that they can organize pretty well anything for you… for a price. Many in the Imperium consider them corrupt and prone to double dealing. Rare is the Silver who doesn’t know how to drive a hard bargain.
Canton 8: Mars – The Squaddie Canton
Canton 8 provides the soldiers for the Imperium’s army. The Squaddies provide bodyguards, police, and enforcers to the other Cantons and to be deployed where needed. The vast majority, however, are part of the Imperium’s standing army. Without external threats, no one outside the Eternal City is very sure why the Standing Army is needed, but the Eternal City insists that it is, and the Triumvirate keep Mars’ Canton well supplied with life’s necessities though few luxuries make it to this rural area.
Squaddies of fighting age live in sprawling military camps and conduct exercises all over the stunningly beautiful countryside. Merit alone determines who rises through the ranks and the top brass frequently receive invitations to the Eternal City to advise the Triumvirate on matters of war. Many Gamekeepers employ high ranking Squaddies to advise them on challenges with which to face the Triumphs.
Life in Mars’ Canton is highly regulated which most residents consider a fair enough price to pay for having their needs met by the Imperium. Many soldiers like to spend their free time hiking or hunting and fishing in the beautiful countryside. Any game or fish resulting from this activity is taken back to camp and shared with friends and family in the communal mess halls.
Every year, the Generals will select promising soldiers to volunteer as Triumphs. In exchange, as well as honor and glory, the Canton undertakes to make generous payouts to the Triumphs’ families, relieving them from the need to work for a living and allowing them to relax in rural luxury for the rest of their lives. Due to the rigorous military training, Canton 8 has produced more than its fair share of Triumphs.
In the Imperium, many are under the impression that the Squaddies are military machines, ruthlessly efficient and fighting fit at all times. Many also believe that they lack creativity and, if not given orders, have serious problems thinking things through.
Canton 9: Apollo – The Shining Canton
Apollo’s Canton produces energy. Distribution of power to the various Cantons is a collaborative effort between Mercury and Apollo. Well, theoretically collaborative, truth to tell, it’s a difficult relationship as the Shining Canton is not as wealthy as the Messengers. Canton 9 is a sprawling, mainly rural area, though the coal-fired plants that run down the West border ruin the bucolic feel. Coal is in short supply in the Imperium, so nuclear reactors, solar energy and wind farms generate most of the energy.
This Canton is an area full of contrasts with people undertaking quite different tasks and running different risks. This has given rise to a number of separate communities with different lifestyles. To the outsider, Apollo’s Canton does not always seem like a single entity.
The Shining ones would disagree with this assessment. Most Brights can play a musical instrument, or paint, or compose poetry. They come together at seasonal festivals to celebrate these and, whilst they cannot compete with the Cabaret of Venus for entertainment value, some documentary makers have filmed the Shiners’ crude attempts to entertain each other. There are those in the Eternal City who value the ‘highbrow’ output of Canton 9 very highly, and some have received invitations to the Eternal City as personal musicians or poets to the Triumvirate.
For the most part, this is a relatively prosperous Canton, some overseers and popular artists have wealth comparable to a native of Canton 1 or 6. Some of those who work in the plants find it difficult to make ends meet. Most, however, by virtue of hard work, are able to make a decent enough life for themselves and their families.
The Oracle, a spiritual leader chosen every decade by lot, chooses the Triumphs each year. The Oracle watches for signs and portents and announces the names at the seasonal festival preceding the games. The Oracle is supposed to be incorruptible. Rumor has it that this is not always the case.
Canton 10: Ceres – The Peasant Canton
Ceres’ Canton is rural. The inhabitants make their livings growing food for the agricultural corporations. It’s backbreaking work and notoriously poorly paid. Every worker may retain a portion of what they produce, and the internal economy of Ceres’ Canton runs mostly on barter with coin paid in wages used exclusively for what cannot be bred, grown, or gathered from the wild. Not that much wild remains between the intensive farming enterprises.
Life for the peasants is ruled by the seasons; there is a time to sow and a time to reap. Factors beyond human control can wreck crops and mysterious diseases can decimate herds. Every time this happens, families find themselves without the means to sustain themselves and their paymasters in the Eternal City are disinclined to charity. Maybe it is this uncertainty, maybe it is their closeness to nature, but the peasants are more superstitious than most inhabitants of the Imperium, setting great store by lucky charms and mysterious seasonal rituals at which outsiders are unwelcome. Spies from Cantons 1, 7 and 8 have made a number of attempts to attend these events undercover. None have ever been able to make a reliable report back to base.
The peasants have a strong tradition of volunteering for the games. The Victor (there has only ever been one) reads out the names of the fallen at every harvest festival and the community, as a whole, looks out for the bereaved families.
In the Imperium, Croppers are regarded as hale and hearty, simple, honest, and down to earth. Many believe them to be naïve and easily fooled and over-awed by the greater sophistication of city folk. It’s best never to rely on these stereotypes – conmen have lost out badly that way.
Canton 11: Diana – The Dryad Canton
Diana’s Canton is full of forests. The Fletchers provide the Imperium with lumber and, to a lesser extent, game, furs, and feathers. There are strict lumber quotas set by the corporations in the Eternal City but game and furs, when available, can be sold to the highest bidder. Few people in Canton 11 can be described as wealthy. Some skilled hunters make a decent living; the rest struggle to feed their families. It can be difficult to decide whether to eat the rabbit you’ve just trapped for dinner or to sell it to a Messenger. The decision will depend on how hungry you are and how far you are from the Merchant’s enclave. The sad fact is that those who live furthest from the enclaves of richer Cantons tend to grind out a meagre existence.
Away from the foreign Canton enclaves there are few towns, often nothing you would even describe as a village. Some Dryads live in wooden huts but, when a family is finding it difficult to supply their quota of lumber, they dismantle their huts and live under canvas or the open sky.
The forest itself is carefully managed and part of the reason for the lack of permanent settlements is that, as each area is cleared of trees, it is replanted, and the Dryads move into the denser forest in order to harvest it. Diana’s Canton covers a large area.
Selection for the games is by means of a contest. Eligible participants get head start before skilled trackers go after them. The first two caught become Triumphs. The half dozen who stay free the longest get to be the trackers the following year.
Amongst inhabitants of the Imperium, the Dryads are believed to be resourceful and imaginative, able to come up with novel solutions to more or less any problem. They can also be rather over-imaginative, taking flights of fancy and blowing matters up out of all proportion.
Canton 12: Venus – The Cabaret
Venus’ Canton is small and urban. The Pipers make a decent living providing entertainment for the Imperium. Major stars regularly gain permission to reside in the Eternal City, where they remain until their popularity fails. Although this is not one of the most populous Cantons, it’s obvious that not every resident of the Cabaret can be a star. Most work in support positions, as cameramen, lighting technicians, members of the backing orchestra, makers of costumes and scenery.
Much of the land area of the Canton consists of resorts and entertainment districts, available to the richest members of the Imperium on vacation, with the workers who make it possible relegated to crowded lodging behind the scenes. Sometimes residents of other Cantons are rewarded with a vacation in the Canton of Venus and, whilst not on a par with an invitation to reside within the Eternal City, it is a privilege worth working for. The members of the Cabaret dress to impress, even when they aren’t at work. To an outsider, the Cabaret can seem somewhat surreal, and Canton 12 is exceptional in that the residents mingle with those from all the other Cantons — at least, the wealthy and the privileged.
Most families live in neatly appointed apartments—appearance is important —decorated with posters of the latest production and furnished with oversized television screens. Many take their Art very seriously and practice diligently as they understand this to be the best route to success, and rare is the bartender or boom operator who doesn’t have a scheme to make it big.
A selection committee nominates Triumph candidates. The nominees take part in a talent contest. The committee makes recommendations based on their performance, but the Cabaret as a whole takes the final decision. Each resident has one vote, cast in secret. This can make the process feel like a kind of debauched election, with the candidates doing their best not to win.
The Cabaret are greatly admired throughout the Imperium, at least as long as their popularity lasts, after that they are swiftly forgotten. They are considered to be extraordinarily talented, each in their own field but vain, self-obsessed and with a tendency to fixate on trivia.