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The Crucible Campaign: Travelling In the Commonwealth: Breaking Even

The Arden Federation

"Now every gambler knows that the secret to surviving
Is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep.
Cause every hand's a winner, and every hand's a loser,
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep."

And when he'd finished speaking, he turned back towards the window
Crushed out his cigarette and faded off to sleep
And somewhere in the darkness.. the gambler he broke even!
But in his final words I found an ace that I could keep.

Kenny Rogers, "The Gambler"


Arden/Arden (Spinward Marches 1011)

Political Organization

Undivided federation without internal political subdivisions. Presided over by a governor and a bicameral legislature.


Arden Federations consists of Querion Subsector (Spinward Marches E), the spinward and Spinward Main worlds of Vilis Subsector (Spinward Marches F), and the trailing worlds of Fessor Subsector (Foreven H). It also includes the Entropic Worlds, the worlds of Junction, Stern-Stern, Nonym and Zamine/Daryen (SM 0122, 0223, 0321 and 0421), and the worlds of Tizon, Hrunting, Mjolnir and Gungnir/Sword Worlds (SM 0921, 0922, 1121 and 1221).


A golden crossroads shaped in the pattern of an Egyptian Ankh, under a blazing golden sun, all set on a green field. Arden merchant ships adorn themselves with an ankh with a falcon/eagle perched upon it, or an ankh with a bird's eye peering through the loop. Federation colors are gold and green.


Heavily mixed human populations of Imperial, Sword World and Zhodani humans with small populations of pureblooded Darrians and Zhodani predominate. Vargr are found on Rushu/Querion (SM 0215) and Droyne on Izhedriel/Querion (0412). Minor races include the exotic Tashaki of Retinae/Querion (SM 0416) and the Saurians of Saurus/Vilis (SM 1320). Rumors of alien life on Zeta 2/Vilis (SM 0919) appear to be apocryphal.


The first habitation in this region appears around -600,000 with the deliberate seeding of non-native life on Retinae/Querion. The Ancients explored the region around -300,000, but do appear to have created many permanent settlements. The first recorded human expeditions were staged out of the original Darrian Confederation around -1400, and Zhodani traders explored it around -1000. The first settlements were from the Sword Worlds, with the largest of these being established at Tanoose/Vilis (SM 1118) and Vilis/Vilis (SM 1119). Imperial scouts explored the region by IY 100, and the first settlers arrived around 350. The lack of opposing powers allowed for the Third Imperium's quick assimilation of Sword World colonies and Darrian trade outposts, and by 500 was almost entirely indistinguishable from mainstream Imperial subsectors. The rising tensions between the Imperials and the Zhodani culminated in a series of Frontier Wars from 589 onwards. The first two conflicts saw the Imperial border devolve to trailing, and the latter war saw major invasions of Vilis subsector by Sword World forces. The Third Frontier War cost the Imperium all of Querion and much of Vilis subsectors, and the high population world of Arden became an independent entrepot between the two powers. For the remainder of the Imperial period the region became an unclaimed borderland that gave reign to various levels of official and corporate intrigue.

On Arden an elite organization calling itself the Arden Society, an oligarchy of businessmen and other prominent citizens, took political control of the world and built the Federation of Arden around its infrastructure. By the end of the Fourth Frontier War, the FOA had control over eight other systems in Vilis and Jewell subsectors. Its government took full advantage of its neutrality to attract various kinds of extralegal and underworld activities. Imperial and Zhodani spies and diplomats intermingled with crime bosses, Vargr corsairs and various mercenary organizations. During the Frontier Wars and for most of the Imperial Civil War, Arden hosted negotiators from both the Domain of Deneb and the Zhodani Consulate as part of their ongoing attempts to defuse conflict or negotiate for mutual interest. After the Collapse, the Zhodani and the new Regency dealt directly with each other, but Arden was able to keep its underground economy going by its refusal to sign the Spinward States Accords, enabling the creation of a safe zone for the Vargr Pack and other criminal organizations during the Dark Years period.

During the Regency period, many former Imperial corporations wanting to subvert business reforms and/or the Quarantine used Arden as a base for their external subsidiaries. These firms, known as Minotaurs, eventually branched out on their own into other worlds of former Demilitarized Zone. The most prominent of these were former Tukera holdings that made Thanber/Querion (SM 0717) their base, and grew in size and power to the point they could challenge Arden's monopoly on underworld control. Backed by the Enterprise crime cartel of Foreven Sector, the so called "TCP" bloc eventually launched covert trade wars in the DMZ and Foreven beginning in the late 1180s. These Brushfire Wars were mainly for commercial supremacy, in anticipation of the reopening of the Regency Frontier. These conflicts were mainly fought through planetary and mercenary proxies, for limited objectives under strict rules of engagement. But after the Zhodani Exodus began in 1200, swarms of refugees overwhelmed planetary governments with their needs for food and shelter, and the warring armies took to harassing and even murdering the Zhodani Proles in an effort to contain the problem. Having crossed the line, and with planetary governments very vulnerable, fighting escalated out of control, in a three way conflict between Arden, Thanber and the Zhodani.

Regency forces intervened in the fighting in 1204, stopping attacks upon refugees by local militias and their mercenary allies. They had less luck with terrorists operating from both Arden and Zhdant, and the continuing "bloodbath" incensed Consular Zhodani. This led to a further escalation of intervention, and by 1209 the Regency Navy had virtually placed the region and some adjacent parts of the Consulate under their direct occupation. This soon led to the first expeditions into the Consulate's Iadr Nsobl Province proper, as punitive expeditions tracked and attacked the bases of the growing Dawn Heralder cult. Relations between the Consulate central government and the Regency broke down during this period, and Arden resumed its role as a middleman in contact between them, despite the fact that it was their commandos that were helping create the crisis in the first place. In pursuit of a goal of destabilizing both the Regency and Consulate, the Arden Society even managed to sign a truce with the Minotaurs in 1212, and they coordinated their operations with Tukera and other companies in an effort to deepen the conflict for their mutual benefit.

After the assassination of Regent Caranda in 1219, Lemat Arthurian became Regent for Caranda's daughter Reyna. A politician whose strongest support came from those Lunion-based corporations with Minotaurs, Arthurian was quite comfortable in their company, and had repaid their favors with judicious legislation. As Regent he went further on their behalf, weakening laws meant to control their operations in the Regency, and filled the government with corporate cronies, some of whom were previously under investigation for criminal activities. One of his most tragic acts of political prestidigitation was a secret covenant signed with Arden in 1221 which gradually curtailed the actions of terrorists operating out of the Federation. This enabled the Black Regent to claim a "victory", via military means, over the terrorist threat, and sucessfully deluded the Regency government and military with this phony accomplishment. This enabled him to escalate intervention into Zhodani territory without having to provide sufficient proof for his policies.

As tensions escalated between the Regency and its Zhodani adversaries, the Zhodani Consulate made one last attempt in NE 31 (IY 1231) to create peace with the Heralders and other rebel factions. The Supreme Council, using Arden as mediators, attempted to triangulate the Regency and the rebels. The government offered a package of major reforms, including a downgrading of the nobility in favor of a Regency style democratic government. By engaging the Regency, they hoped to reassert their authority as the legitimately recognised government of the Consulate as leverage over the disorganised rebels. Arthurian was appraised of these negotiations by his allies on Arden, and gradually marginalized the Consulate's bargaining position with aggressive military moves in Ziafrplians Sector. In these maneuvers, he hoped to expose the Consulate's underlying weakness to the Heralders, and pit them against each other in a war of grinding attrition. As the Supreme Council became weaker, the Regency Navy moved deeper into the Consulate.

But this created two unfavorable outcomes for the Regency. Arthurian undermined the Supreme Council, which still had enough authority and prestige to effect an end to the Zhodani Civil War, creating a gradual power vacuum that was filled by more aggressive factions, just as he had intended. But instead of bringing about an escalation of the Civil War, the Supreme Council and its remaining officials virtually capitulated to their enemies out of outrage at Arthurian's duplicity, damning the Regent and his country in their eyes, while giving the full measure of its military and remaining economy to the schismatics. And it deluded Arthurian and his commanders into thinking that the war would be won as soon as it had started, that they would face no coherent resistance from either the Council or the rebels. So it was a rather rude shock for the Regency Navy when it ran into unified and coordinated resistance at Zarontse in NE 33. The only positive outcome of this subterfuge is that it put the Heralders in charge of the war, and their mismanagement of resources and strategy, and their bloody purges of the other factions, ruined the Consulate and its war effort. But it also left a shattered void in the Consulate that was both avoidable, and of more harm to the future.

The Supreme Council let it be known to its new allies that it was the Minotaurs, Arden and their various Sword World and DMZ allies that were responsible for this dishonor. The Regency was to be purged of these criminal elements by their invading armies and fleets, and this trash disposed of with extreme prejudice. Vengeful Zhodani forces, led by Dawn Heralder shock troops, harried and drove the battered Regency forces from the Consulate after their ambush in Tienspevnekr, pausing only to murder collaborating Zhodani in Iadr Nsobl. The Regency forces managed an effective defense line at Cronor in NE 34, forestalling the Zhodani advance for about six months before being forced to abandon the line for another deeper in the Regency proper. The DMZ worlds and Arden were abandoned to the mercies of the Zhodani, as disgusted admirals and field commanders refused to sanctify them by sacrificing their soldiers and spacers for decades of deceit. The various Minotaur worlds fell quickly, and Zhodani troops committed horrible atrocities against their elites, massacring and destroying them in exorcistical fury. Arden fell after a brief siege, and its military and government surrendered after a Zhodani ruse, with the survivors to be completely destroyed in a six month campaign of murder and torture. Subsequently the DH and Consular troops that participated in these campaigns carried out a vicious conquest of the Darrians and Sword Worlders in violation of the Supreme Council's orders, and the war descended into the ritual slaughter of the innocent by murderous gangs of fanatical soldiers.

By NE 37 the Zhodani campaign had burned itself out, the victim of demoralization and failing supply lines. The new Commonwealth of Deneb's resurgent forces cut off and destroyed the main Zhodani forces in Mora, Rhylanor and Lunion subsectors, and had launched a couteroffensive into Vilis and Jewell subsectors. Local garrisons fought it out on Vilis and Tanoose, though Arden was abandoned after brief fleet skirmishes. On every world between Arden and Fessor, Commonwealth forces were greeted with devastation. The bloody massacres in Lunion subsector were dwarfed by the deaths of billions of civilians from starvation and disease in the overcrowded transit camps they were placed by the vengeful Zhodani garrisons. On some worlds the entire civil society had collapsed into banditry. Compounding this misery were diehard DH units that had gone to ground, taking entire populations hostage with their infiltration of the camps. Special Operation troops eliminated most of these in three years of carefully planned operations, but the remainder took nearly a decade to root out with militia units specially raised from the local population to identify and destroy their cells. One of these militias, the Entropy Corps, later gave its name and crucial personnel to the Brotherhood's internal enforcement arm.

A decade of reconstruction followed the nominal end of the war in NE 42. By NE 48 the last identifiable Dawn Heralder cells were destroyed, and local sovereignty was gradually restored. In NE 53 the new Arden Federation was admitted to the Commonwealth as a member federation. The state remains somewhat fragmentary, and local politics have been overriden by bureaucratic and planetary military factions at times. The Zhodani worlds of Querion Subsector acceded to the new Federation in a referendum in NE 55.


Arden was a region long known for its dramatic shifts in fortunes well before the founding of the Regency. The ping-pong politics of the Imperium and Consulate made its people reluctant to presume that others would have their best interests at heart. The deal to living was in knowing how to crease the seam between these two giants to their own best interests. The existence of manipulative governments like the Arden Society and various corporate fiefdoms were intended solely to push these states away from their fragile domains. By deft maneuvering, they were able to pit the two states against each other for centuries, trusting in the opposing leadership's own self interest to keep the peace, and appealing to their best/worst nature when the shadow of conflict loomed over them. But their neutrality depended in large part upon each state's relative restraint: as long as the conflicts between the Imperium and the Consulate were in the long run committed to preserving the status quo, Arden and its neighbors had plenty of space in which to maneuver.

But that changed after the Collapse. When the new Regency of Deneb found a fruitful middle ground with their Consulate ally, these middleman worlds became obsolete both politically and economically. Only Arden's refusal to sign the Spinward Accords prevented what would have most likely been economic collapse and eventual absorption into the Regency. All of this seemed to be in her best interest. But by refusing to acknowledge the new fact of national reconciliation, Arden altered the moral equilibrium within their part of the Spinward Marches. The original goal of staving off a military takeover by either side was now replaced with a cynical emphasis of retaining the extralegal economy that sustained them. And as a result Arden public society split between the needs of national survival, and the barter and crony economy of its upper classes. Eventually this infected most of Vilis and Querion subsectors, as the easy profits of smuggling goods past the Quarantine were more attractive than toiling away in more tiresome vocations. Local government became more oppressive on both sides of the Imperial frontier, partially to maintain law and order, and partially to prevent excessive competition from challenging the monopolies of corrupt elites. These elites gambled upon the Crucible War, and in the end became a victim of their own greed. The Zhodani enacted a terrible vengeance when they crashed through the region in pursuit of their enemies. Because of overconfidence, the upper elites were taken unawares and annihilated by Dawn Heralder rage.

The surviving members of the FOA and neighboring regions are undaunted by this holocaust. Indeed they see it as the righteous outcome of the old order's egocentrism, and abandonment of their people and culture. Any self-respecting Ardenian will tell you that the most illustrious illusion isn't worth one tenth as much as a few seconds of hard experience. These are a people of hardened self-reliance who care little for such metaphysical fripperies. They delight in the calculated risk, which means that they are the Commoners most given to all-or-nothing absolutism. They can be as bewilderingly conservative as Strongholders or Islanders, but their traditionalism can be contradictory and often in flux. The cathedral of their society is the casino, or more specifically the game of chance within. They are taught an appreciation of knowing which way the wind blows: they are not doctrinaire ideologues, they are simply more careful in stormy weather. They must be convinced of the merits of change before they'll make the leap of faith, but it is an irrevocable decision when they do. The heart of their culture revolves around resilience and risk. The peaks and valleys of fortune are taken with equal aplomb, as these do not last forever.

This fatalistic attitude of no tomorrow partially explains the demise of Arden's political culture. Ardenians are even more committed to their survival than ever before, but they are less apt to go off on their own. The long term view, of the survival of the community beyond the circumstances of the moment, has taken root. However, self reliance is still the main stress of their civilization, the success of which depends greatly in how the local Federation government and free society is able to reinvest back within their community. Persons are expected to work, contribute freely to the common good, and reap the benefits of their community. But parasitism is not tolerated, and the Federation government has developed some quasi-authoritarian tendencies in order to enforce its rules. Though life is just a borderland between the cradle and the grave, the authorities are more determined to ensure that its people live out to a peaceful end.

Ardenians tend to live in cohesive groups dictated mainly by geographic proximity. The Sleeper War following the Crucible, combined with the need for quick and efficient distribution of aid, made organizing people a matter of utmost expedience. The loose family structures of prewar period was replaced by the close ties of the refugee camps and surviving neighborhoods. The old self-reliance has become a swaddling of community ties. Planetary police and military units are often recruited from the same community, and everyone looks out for everyone else. Local politics at the grassroots level tends to be a mixture of inner city machines vying for turf, versus the elitist party structures still maintained by the ruling class. The latter's desire for progressive political instutions untainted by cronyism and parochial ties still has a long way to go, but at least a cohesive culture has emerged. Individual members tend to proudly declare their community and family ties through loud and ostentatious clothing and headgear, and there are severe social penalties for the faux pas of wearing clothing or symbols that do not belong to oneself.

Family structures are still evolving. The emergence of extended families that jump traditional racial lines between the Imperials, Zhodani and Sword Worlders have created an uproar. Local Imperial culture tended to denigrate standing family ties, Zhodani tended to prefer tightly knit nuclear families, and the Sword Worlders preferred extended clan structures. All of these have been sandwiched together in the postwar communities, with the community itself becoming the most stable structure. Generally children are kept isolated in their communities until mid-adolescence, and are gradually exposed to the outside universe through apprenticeships or compulsory community service. Most communities have trading collectives or communally owned businesses that are intended for both supporting the community and youth education. Nepotism and community bias are not uncommon, and community elders can usually find work for all of their charges.

Worlds of Arden Federation

This federation took as much heavy damage from the Crucible War as its neighbors in High Zhdant. Less damage was inflicted upon habitations, but business districts, starports and heavy industry were razed in either the fighting or during the Zho vengeance campaign that followed. In spite of three decades of reconstruction, the majority of them still bear impermeable scars of the conflict. Wreckage has been cleared, but in many cases the construction of new permanent replacement structures have been forestalled by the immediate needs of housing displaced persons and newly arrived refugees. Ardenian cities have become rabbit warrens of temporary or short term housing, small shops and factories, and home farms, lurking the shadows of the towering manors of the wealthy and powerful. In these erstwhile slums coexists a community of mainly Zhodani and mixed race humans, while the predominantly Imperial culture elites live in the towers.

This isn't to say that the lower classes harbor much resentment towards the people in the clouds. Work is abundant for people willing and able, even though wages are low, and the community of connections that has been created has slowly superseded the prewar economy. Birthrates are higher down on the ground, and the largest minority is predominantly mixed Zhodani-Imperials. On Arden and Vilis, a patois of Zhodani and other human languages is more useful than Galanglic. The outlets for work and enterprise has slowly created a new middle class that has severed itself from the delusions of the prewar population, and is increasingly challenging the political monopoly of the "remnants". The upper classes have remained true to their culture by reconciling themselves with their eventual replacement, and have forged a strong covenant with the newcomers, offering ample educational and economic incentives in exchange for keeping some of their privileges. Though government paternalism is relatively common in Post-Crucible Commonwealth, nowhere is its transactional nature more starkly represented than here.

Politically the elites have maintained their power through a visible police presence that rivals Sabinar or the Islands. The postwar militias have been transformed into heavily armed paramilitary organizations that ruthlessly keep the peace. Because of the agreements between them, both the elite and the middle class vigilantly patrol for the kinds of outside agitators that threaten to reproduce the atrocities of the dark years following the war. The local Brotherhoods are perhaps the least sympathetic branch in the Commonwealth, and their numbers include many veteran military psions and enforcers to give them heft. And despite the sprawling slums, most cities are carefully divided into wards segregated by gates and guards, and civilians are willing to act as informants. Lawbreakers are severely punished, though the courts are still unable to deter the private street justice meted out by the locals. On less heavily populated worlds, the line between public and private justice disappears alltogether.

Library Data

Short for Demilitarized Zone. This was the former area of neutral space between the Third Imperium and the Zhodani Consulate. This region was mainly the result of the armistice that ended the Third Frontier War (IY 979-986). About twenty worlds, all of them formerly of the Imperium, were made independent following Styryx's concessions. Unlike other worlds surrendered after the previous two wars, the Zhodani Consulate made no attempt to absorb them, in light of their well established cultures. As a result these worlds became an entrepot between the two larger states, and a region of intrigue and skullduggery.
Enigmatic intelligent alien race "native" to Retinae/Querion (SM 0416). Retinae is a violently seismic world, with volcanoes spewing high amounts of radioactively charged ash and gas into the atmosphere. No native life ever developed here on its own, but around IY -600,000 an unknown alien species seeded the world with its current ecosystem. These lifeforms rely upon high radiation levels to support their biological systems, which is unprecedented in the annals of xenobiology. The Tashaki are silicon based lifeforms who communicate by producing colored flashes of lights through silicon "retinal" nodes located in their skin. These can be translated by computer, and communication with them is relatively easy. The race appears to rely upon a communal intelligence, as they do not differentiate themselves as individuals, or separate genders. When first contacted in IY 377, they were still locked in a primitive pre-industrial period, and an Imperial Research Station was eventually established to study them. Over the last three centuries they've taken greater notice of their neighbors technological prowess, and have slowly advanced to post-industrial levels. The Tashaki are ruled by a committee of charismatic "Divine Lords" whose power seems to reside in its manner to communicate to the rest of the species.