Cultural traits - Gongazins get gyped!

I think my players’ world makes the most sense as a Gonzagin world. But the Gonzagins get all of TWO empire character traits in the book, less than anybody except the Theocracy:

Austere: In seeming direct reaction to their Darikahn brethren,
the Gonzagin prefer an austere style to their clothing and ceremony.
Simple architectural shapes and monochrome colors in dress are preferred
even in court.
Cniht: Cnihts are Gonzagin who identify with the old guard of
Gonzagin nobility-even if they are not nobles themselves-and use this
identification to justify the Gonzagin pretensions to the Hanrilke

Fine as far as they go, but not enough variety.

So guess what I did?

Yes, I did.

New Gonzagin cultural traits:

Conventionally Pious: These Gonzagins believe firmly in the Mundus Humanitas as a bulwark of respectable society, considering both the Dunedin and Cormoran zeal for holy war on the one hand, and the Darikhan Emperor’s persecution of the Church on the other, to be equally uncouth.

Seething: Austere fashions, old-guard nobles, respectable piety – for some Gonzagins, it’s all a bit too much. Such people are always ready to boil over at the everyday repressions of their stifling culture.

Hey Sydney,

why don’t you invent a sub-section of the Gonzagin Empire, some sort of “province” within that sprawling empire. People in this newly-defined province can choose from the normal Gonzagin traits, or the two new traits – the things that knit them together and define their “province” and set them apart from the larger whole, if only slightly.

By doing this you establish a precedent for future use (always important!), and you maintain the appearance of “expanding” or “fleshing-out” Chris’s setting canon, without the appearance of “redefining” it.

I’m going to pretend Sydney just said, “My players are having a hard time with parsing the detail of character creation, so I just told them to all take the Austere trait for their Empire. I didn’t want to further complicate their lives with traits or descriptions they couldn’t easily access in the book or the BE pdf.”

Heh. Yes, Luke, on sober (by my standards) reflection, I do see that “my players are overwhelmed by choices!” and “here are some more choices!” are not exactly consistent responses to the same group. But while “here are 200 lifepaths and 50 skills, choose 5-8 lifepaths and 10-30 skills, go!” is overwhelming, “here are two cultural traits, you have to choose one or the other” is a bit underwhelming.

As for canonicity – Johnstone, I see your point. As a practical matter, though, I don’t really see much difference between “here are additional cultural traits if you want to play in Province X” and “here are additional cultural traits if you want to use Sydney’s homebrew stuff.”

And as for due reverence for canon, I actually went to the lengths of going through Chris’ website, the PDF, and both graphic novels and copying & pasting (or retyping by hand) all the passages that referred to any aspect of the setting into a subject-indexed notes file. The idea that the Gonzagins’ attitude towards the Mundas Humanitas lies between the anti-clericalism of the Darikhan on the one hand and the crusading zeal of the Dunedin or Cormorans on the other is, to me, an almost inescapable deduction from the text. If the Gonzagins were against the Church, it wouldn’t be backing them in the Civil War. But if they were fanatical in their devotion to the Church, there’d be a passage about “The Gonzagin Crusades” instead of “The Dunedin Crusades.” If the Gonzagins were deely divided over religion, there’d be a passage about how they, like the Cormorans, are riven by sectarian strife, or at least a mention of religious differences between the two factions in the Gonzagin Civil War.

And if the Gonzagin mainstream is defined by “Austere” and “Cniht” (even without adding “Conventionally Pious”), it’s a fairly buttoned-up culture, which in turn implies logically that there should be at least some rebelliousness and resentment, just as some people in Emperor-centric Darikhan are “Turncoats” and some people in faith-centric Kudus are “Atheists.”

Sure, yeah, maybe. But honestly, who fucking cares? Your players certainly don’t. They don’t give a fuck about their “Stinky Cheese” empire. Which hints, to me, that neither should you be wasting your energy on this and perhaps focusing on making sure that the characters have the proper phase skills as listed on page 107.

Also, don’t start in the Infil. You said it yourself that your players think a 6 session game is too long. Well your game for this phase is going to go for 9. So I think it’s safe to assume that your players will have had their fill by the end of the phase and that you won’t be carrying through all 3 phases. For folks who aren’t geeked about the setting and the mechanics, Infil is too esoteric. Let them play out a down home Usurpation and have some fun with it.


We started in the Gozangin Empire and we could not make heads nor tails of what it was supposed to be “about”. We couldn’t pull any interesting detail out of the history, and we couldn’t even pronounce “cniht” (wtf?), so we pretty much ignored the free Empire character trait thing the first time around.

Yeah, go Usurpation! Maybe use the Infil dispo to inform you as to who “won” the virtual first phase?


We’ll talk phases one more time, definitely.

Here’s the thing: No, they don’t give a [very bad word] about which Empire they’re in. Which is precisely why they’ll be annoyed if I say, “Due to this setting constraint you don’t really care about, you have to choose one of these two things to be true about your character’s personality – oh, and one of them is ‘austere’” (these people’s characters are NOT typically austere).

So I’ll just give 'em a couple more choices. Easy. In fact, it’s taking longer to defend my ideas on the forum than to write them up in the first place – though it’s still less than an hour of my time all told.

As for ease of reference, I’m not going to make people consult the book or the PDF every time they forget what a trait does; I figure that copying & pasting an individual cheat sheet for each character’s traits and skills is a minimal investment of my time and well within the boundaries of “fair use.”

In general, Luke, you’re right about these players. They don’t really care about the setting at all. But they care a lot about this world they’ve created together – about the situation implicit in the combination of setting, the factions etc., and the characters. That’s the genius of your World Burner rules.

I still have to explain to my players that character traits are options, not obligations. Hell, many/most of the character traits that came with my starting characters got voted off by the end of the game.


I’m not seeing a particularly restrictive society present in Gonzagin space. Cniht is wide open for interpretation - one can focus on either the belief that the Gonzagin nobility has a right to the Hanrilke throne, or the character’s identification with the nobility. Attacking the Darikahn Empire (or any rival empire, really), orating against Gonzagins who have the ‘wrong’ opinion of who should receive the throne, manufacturing hardware to replenish the Gonzagin military, or teaching schoolchildren about the villainous Darikahns (or, again, rival claimant of your choice) fits with the trait. And many more things that I haven’t thought of.

Austere isn’t a severe restriction either - it just means one’s character goes with the local fashion, which happens to not be flashy. Possibly the character does this out of a desire to reject Darikahn culture. Basically, there doesn’t seem to be much to seethe against. There’s no actual prohibition against wearing out-of-fashion clothing or having oneself hailed by trumpets.

As for Conventionally Pious, it reads to me as an affirmation that the character won’t go on a holy war or raze the Church. This isn’t particularly necessary, as the same basic idea is conveyed by the absence of religious fervor in a character’s BITs.

If a player does wish to seethe about something or go on a crusade for religious moderation, he/she can always write a belief about it, but neither seems to be a cultural thing. And as Paul said, a player who wants to be unconstrained by Gonzagin culture can just wait to have the mandated trait voted off.

All the above comes with the caveat that I only bought the book a week ago, so it’s entirely possible I have missed something important. And if you actually want to change things up and have the Gonzagin Empire be a hotbed of counterculture, ignore my naysaying and throw Seething in.

You have to be French: you know, “Run away, you English cnihts! You mother smells of elderberries!”

On a mechanical level, I see your point, but “I have no BITs on topic X one way or another” is different from “I have a character trait about preferring moderation when it comes to X” which in turn is very different from “I have a Belief about preferring moderation when it comes to X.” It’s the difference between “this just doesn’t matter to me at all” vs. “this matters enough to get the occasional persona point” vs. “this is so important it’s going to take up one of my three precious Belief slots.”