What We Know of The Great Game [spoilers]

Obviously we all know the Neath is a place of Mysteries. What transpired before the Fifth City? How did the Neath Fall, exactly? What IS the correspondence. But whether by design or no, a much less discussed mystery is the Great Game. What countries take part? Why? What is the deal with the Teeth? Since previous threads for sharing notes on the Correspondence and the Fallen Cities were productive, I thought it would be profitable to start one for what we know of the Great Game, and various conspiracy theories. Obviously spoilers are fair…Game. I’ll begin:

*The Game is played between the Masters of the Bazaar, the Surface Cities, and other factions. From the information presented in the Cheese-monger storyline, the Surface Cities seem to have a keen interest in obtaining leverage over the Bazaar, for obvious reasons. Russia, and France seem to be the chief players other than the Bazaar. America and Germany seem conspicuously absent of discussion.

*We don’t know how many of Britain’s colonies and possession remain loyal, or at least, under control. They’ve expanded along the Neath, however, into a place called the Carnelian Coast. And of course to the Tomb-Colonies.

*The Great Game’s namesake is the series of conflicts arising in Central Asia, chiefly between Britain and Russia. The battleground, as it were, was mostly Afghanistan and the outlying areas. According to Wikipedia, Britain’s initial interest was in preventing the Russia invasion of India. I believe this is important in terms of the Neath because of the language in one of the sidebar texts. Paraphrased, it went something like this: Once, the Surface Cities played the Game in Central Asia; now, their battleground is the Neath. Does this mean that despite the hubris of the Crown, the Neath is considered just as vulnerable to manipulation as Afghanistan? And is London a buffer against some other more dangerous threat to the Surface powers, like Afghanistan was?

*Paris seems important, and not just for the cultural resonance.

*The Game itself seems more Cold War era intrigue than open War like the actual Great Game entailed.

  • The Foreign Office and the Teeth seem to do some state-sanctioned spywork, and probably are located in Wilmot’s End for a reason.

*Wilmot’s End is simultaneously a strange sort of safe zone and a chessboard for the Game.
edited by friendshipranger on 1/28/2013

The greatest achievement of The Great Game, is that it managed to convince people, not just any people but Watchful Dangerous Shadowy Persuasive people, it exists at all.
edited by Abraham Bounty on 1/28/2013

I think the only concrete info I ever had from the Great Game was that an unnamed Surface Power was planning on using a currency minted in Hell itself (though quite how this would aid their economy, I have no clue). That, and spies use tunnels to go to and fro the Neath

[Warning, Silver Tree spoilers below!]

Well, it’s possible that the mention of the Great Game being played in Central Asia is actually a reference to the events that led up to Karakorum’s Fall? There are more than a few implications–and a couple outright mentions–that the sculptor William is working for more than one European power during The Silver Tree. The Interpreter also has some sort of agenda too but I was never quite able to figure out what it was. (I didn’t choose her ending though.)

Another thing to consider is that Third City was (we’re pretty sure) in North America, which would be unknown to most of the rest of the world until well after the time of its Fall. So it would make more sense that the Great Game is something that originated on the Surface and came to the Neath with the Fall of the Fourth City.

re: Surface Cities–I think Surface Powers/Countries would be a more accurate description. Despite London’s Fall, it is still (in theory) the seat of the British Empire. The various European states trying to maneuver for power and influence is not all that new. The Bazaar and the Master just add a new element to it.

re: America/Germany – If I’m remembering my history right, the US is mostly focused on westward expansion in North America during this time period. Its involvement in world politics (that isn’t related to North American territory rights) doesn’t really pick up until around WWI. Germany is also mostly concerned with domestic affairs at this point since it is trying to transition from a collection city-states and small baronies into a unified nation-state. I don’t think it really had the resources to be meddling around with international affairs. OTOH, Britain, France and Russia are all pretty well-established monarchies (with empire-building ambitions), so they can devote more of their attention to trying to backstab one another. :)

What we know is that the Masters have successfully marketed the Bazaar as something desirable (it got our characters to willingly descend after all). That combined with the fact that there will inevitably be a sixth city suggests to me that The Game in it’s current Neathy form might revolve around trying to influence which city that will be. Having your currency minted with Hell’s metals might then be seen as a way to enlist the devils into helping you obtain that honor.

Well, for one thing minting currency out of nevercold brass makes it easy to prove the purity of the currency! Having a reputation for minting reliably pure currency can definitely be an advantage, especially since the gold standard is still quite widespread. Not entirely sure what the advantages of establishing a brass standard would be…

I forgot about the fourth city thing, and that is fascinating. I’m not sure the relevant time periods match up though. There’s at least a few centuries either way, and I’m, not even sure how long the Bazaar was between cities, or what year the Third City was ruined. Still, that seems like a good hypothesis. Perhaps then the question of manipulating the choice of cities, or at least, the behavior of the Masters is a valid one. You can hardly blame them; on hardly wants to risk the Masters interfering on the Surface, or unleashing any number of the Horrors of the Neath onto the Surface.

If indeed the Game is concerned with the choosing of the homes of the Bazaar, though that begs the question: does the Surface see the Bazaar a gift, or a cosmic-horror hot potato?

On a side note, The Hell Angle is interesting. Maybe the interests from the Surface also are concerned with gaining the favour of Hell. It certainly seems profitable. Hell has a theoretically (I mean, how could Hell run out of materials, it’s a cosmic dimension/universe of torment and suffering) virtual unlimited base of resources for chemicals, and metals. Resources absolutely critical to a burgeoning industrial economy in that era. Hydrogen? Brass? If there’s steel on offer, Hell would rival America for the sheer logistical and support value (which played a pivotal part in wartime production capability in WWI~WWII) geopolitical. In certain respects, the Neath bears a lot in common with China, in regards to it’s vast proximity/access to new resources, and the number of powers seeking to carve out access. And the British Empire now has over these export resources. The joys of mercantilism strike back. And of course we have no idea how much the Soul Trade plays above. I’m sure both the Empire and Hell both profit off this confusion.

Well, the Fourth City Fell in 1254 (this is a canon fact), which is before Christopher Columbus’s voyage. There was some Viking contact/settlements in Greenland and Vinland (likely modern-day Newfoundland), but that was relatively minor and on the completely opposite side of the continent besides. So it’s pretty safe bet to say that the Third City would have been completely unknown in Europe and Asia, which means that any previous knowledge/interaction with the Bazaar would have been from the era of the Second City.

[Warning: pretty massive Silver Tree spoilers from here on out.]

As far as the Surface’s perception of the Bazaar, William certainly didn’t want to see the Bazaar take his (adopted?) home city of Budapest. I don’t know if that was a commonly held opinion or not, but there you go.

And the Masters were definitely personally involved on the Surface during the selection of the Fourth City. I’m not sure which Master the Cloaked Emissary was, but it was almost certainly a Master. (I’m guessing Mr Wines, given its fondness for airag.) Considering how much of a botch-up the Fourth City turned out to be in terms of its love story (which was engineered by William to direct the Masters’ attention away from Budapest), the Masters may have decided that it was better to work through intermediaries on the Surface from then on.