The Heart of Darkness


Mar 4, 2007
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In the Heart of Darkness, players take control of a major world power during the 19th century, guiding it through alternating periods of long-term development and short crises. They will guide their nation through a century of immense change: industrialization, war, and revolution at home, and conquest and exploitation abroad.

Time advances in turns, with players submitting orders for each turn and the moderator processing the orders and drafting an update on the results. Players are responsible for submitting simple spending orders every turn, in addition to optional participation in crises and world-building.

After the initial start, there will be two types of turns:

  • Development Turns represent multi-year turns in which long-term investments are made in your nation and society. Players receive action points to influence their development during this period. Action Points are assigned based on the relative strength of the nation at the start of the turn.
  • Crises are short, immediate conflicts between two or more Great Powers. Players receive line up on one side of the crisis or another. They are expected to wheel and negotiate an outcome to the crisis, or, reject negotiation and settle it with blood.
Turn Zero

For Turn Zero, I’m looking for 5-8 Great Powers. There will be several rounds of development, beginning with initial pitches and then more detailed descriptions of the nations, shared lore, and initial spending.

Spoiler Initial Pitch :

Polity Name:
Territorial Claims:

In your initial pitch, you are asked to target a date of approximately 1820, with no major historical divergences before 1750.

Because of the time period, there will be a strong bias towards certain concepts.
  • Great Powers are expected to emerge from certain regions.
    • It’s almost certain that Great Powers will emerge from Britain, France, and Russia.
    • Other European powers, such as Spain, Italy, Germany, or the Balkans, will have a strong preference.
      • There can be multiple German or Italian powers due to historical disunity.
    • There is potential for non-European powers in East Asia, India, or the Americas.
    • It would be a hard sell for an African power.
  • Great Powers will have a clear line of descent from the pre-existing political structure and be able to justify any changes.
    • Major changes will require commitments to make commensurate investments in Revolution and Reform, below.
For the first round, players should keep the following questions in mind, in order of priority, that I'll be weighing your applications with:
  • Plausibility, does this nation fit well within the confines of the game and setting?
  • Capacity, does this nation have the sufficient resources and political structure to act as a Great Power?
  • Quality, is this Great Power well-written and interesting?
  • Integration, can this nation easily interact with the other Great Powers?
  • Mutual Exclusivity, does it overlap with another Great Power that fits my requirements better?
After the initial pitch, players will be selected to populate the world and asked to reconcile their histories into a common setting. There will be a few rounds of selections, dependent on different applications, until the roster is fully populated. They will also receive initial spending, between 4 and 9 points, which they will use to provide some hard statistics for their nation. These hard statistics are expected to align with your initial pitch: a maritime power without colonialism would be a difficult sell.

Spoiler Starting Spending Options :

  • Expansionism
    • Expansionism affects the starting size of your nation’s core territory in the game. It’s not just physical conquest, but political integration. A larger metropole is a powerful reserve of strength that is difficult for other players to materially damage.
  • Colonialism
    • Colonialism represents existing imperial adventures outside your core territory at the start of the game. While poorly integrated, they are a valuable source of raw resources and influence.
  • Spheres of Influence
    • Spheres of influence represent political control over nominally independent states, providing diplomatic capital and security for your nation. Spheres of influence will require maintenance, but will provide more influence over foreign affairs.
  • Revolution and Reform
    • Revolution and Reform represents efforts to sweep away the old order: aristocracy, guilds, and other feudal structures and create a more powerful and dynamic society by focusing on internal improvement. Successful reform at home can mitigate strain from other factors like industrialization and militarization.
Polity Name: Sublime State of Iran
Color: Red
Territorial Claims: Iran, Caucasus
Summary: Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar is not assassinated, and lives long enough to see 10 more years of life (Dies 1807 instead of 1797). This divergence sees the sickly Shah place much more emphasis in grooming an heir as his death so obviously draws nearer, leading to a peaceful transition to Fath-Ali Shah Qajar. Agha Mohammed Shah sees to finishing the conquest of Georgia. Russia still invades what is now Iran after the death of the Shah (around 1808), but a much more prepared Fath-Ali Shah Qajar sees to the successful repelling of the enemy forces. The Shah industrializes in preparation for further hostilities with Russia, leading to the tribal cavalry having a lotta guns. Shah monopolizes/nationalizes all gunpowder imports and production so as to retain more power.
Interest post
Polity Name: French Republic (Not the Second French Republic! We just restored the First!)
Color: Blue
Territorial Claims: France in 1789 with Alsace and the Low Countries as sister-republics (Potentially northwestern Italy also being a sister-republic.)

Jacobins manage to wrestle power from an incompetent French Directory during one of its chaotic coups; Napoleon dies during the Italian campaign; the French Republic ends the French Revolutionary Wars around 1797-8; focus on internal development with the looted Italian/Swiss/Dutch gold. More moderate than the Jacobins, more revolutionary than Napoleon.

Polity Name: Kingdom of Italy
Colour: Green/olive green
Territorial claims: Northern Italy until Rome.

The sister-republic project of the French revolutionaries is a lot more egalitarian and less a sloppy excuse to loot everything not nailed down in Italy; this produces a robust, popular Italian nationalism that diverges eventually from French republicanism; post-Napoleonic/Revolutionary wars have a much more coherent view of themselves as Italians; this leads to multiple uprisings, until the powers-that-be "reunify" Italy in the name of stability, but that only exacerbates the problem as the Savoyards are unable to deal with the constitutional monarchy. or something like that.
Polity Name: Föderation Deutscher Republiken (Federation of German Republics)

Colour: Gold

Territorial Claims: Basically all of Western Germany, plus Thuringia and the Western half of Saxony-Anhalt. Also most of Austria, save for area directly around Vienna.
Has also a sister Republic in what was the United Netherlands before (they had their own Revolution) and a Sister Republic in Jutland, although the Danish Kingdom still exsists on Sealand.

When one would have asked where the German revolution would start, nobody would have said Mannheim. But the Bavarian exchange made that possible. When Prince-Elector Karl Theodor of the House Wittelsbach exchanged Bavaria for the Autrian low countries and the titel of "King of Burgundy" it caused quite an uproar. In Bavaria it caused and uprising the Austrians proved barely able to contain. In Mannheim, which within two years had been twice abandoned by "their" first elector now king, the political climate in "Karl Theodors City" started to turn sour. The garrison of the fortress was underpayed and the citizienry disgusted with the way the now "King" demanded to be treated.
The final spark that lit the Powder Keg however was Karl Theodors wife or to be more precise the fact that he divorced her. This unmeasurable disrespect against the Woman who had stayed with "her Pfälzer", when the "King" had abandoned them, cause the situation to escalate. When the garrison refused orders and in the end joined the mob marching on the Palace, the "King" quickly fled his capital towards Belgium and Mannheim fell. And Mannheims spark fell on nation that was ready. After the first shock of this unimaginable thing had disappeared, more and more crowns began, many of the tiny princedoms and statelets overthrown by their angry population. It took a whole year for Austria to gather forces to put this situation down. And than, they failed.

At Karlsruhe, the Austrian army was annihilated and the Revolution truly began. A Revolutionary Congress was held in the Fortress of Mannheim and a Republic, a Republic of the German People was declared on the 1st of November, 1781. What followed was war, decades of war.
While the smaller princes fell, Prussia and Austria did not and a long, bloody war was fought over the Heart of Europe, one which at one point or another drew in every major power of the continent. Russian soldiers saved Vienna and remain to this day the only thing that give the House of Habsburg even a hint of control over it decaying Empire. Prussia fared better, but with every year the Republic solidified and stabalized and as its armies gained experience, Prussias advantages melted.
The deciding battle would happen in 1800, when the Prussian General Blucher, outnumbered 3:1, managed to repel the Great Republican March onto Berlin.
After that, the war slowly died down, all sides burned out and exhausted and in 1803, the Treaty of Dresden was signed.

In it, the HRE and any claims or rights based upon it were abolished, all parties recognized their current borders, for the moment and the fighting ended. And while the Republic had to face internal conflicts, it established itself as a Great Power in the centre of Europe, only constrained by the wall of enemies surrounding it. But walls are there to be broken.
Polity Name: The United Confederation
Color: White
Territorial Claims: Britain, Canada, North America
Summary: John Wilkes' imprisonment in the Tower of London leads to a popular revolt on the island, succeeding in deposing the old parliment and king. Britain is now war weary and in a bit of turmoil over how to rule. Canadians seize this opportunity to successfully petition to become a technically independent state, allied to Britain and her territories, self governed but superseded in times Britain deems a crisis. Americans also repeat this process. In fact, most territories do to a greater or lesser extent. "Embassies" of britain loyal ambassadors attend most meetings in the self-governed nations.
Polity Name: Great Qing
Color: Orange
Territorial Claims: RL Qing borders + Vietnam


1. In 1787, Lê Chiêu Thống, the last ruler of the Vietnamese Lê dynasty, fled from Vietnam and formally requested to be restored to his throne in Thăng Long (present-day Hanoi). The Qianlong Emperor agreed and sent a large army into Vietnam, under the Mongol general Tögs-Ochiryn, to remove the Tây Sơn (peasant rebels who had captured all of Vietnam). Tögs-Ochiryn managed to conquer much of the north of the country. The tropical conditions though and the irregular attacks by Vietnamese peasants forced the Qing army to retreat. Almost 20,000 men had perished. A second invasion was launched in 1789 that also ended in disaster.

Finally, in 1791, a third invasion was launched under general Huang Dao. This time, it was a combined land and naval invasion. The number of land troops mobilized reached 160,000. By 1792, Vietnam had been pacified. Instead of restoring Lê Chiêu Thống, Qianlong chose to annex Vietnam into the Qing Dynasty. After hundreds of years of independence, Vietnam was finally once again a Chinese dominion. Lê Chiêu Thống was strangled and three revolts in 1793, 1795 and 1799 were brutally put down. Widespread massacres were followed by Chinese colonization of the region, as Qianlong found a chance to solve social problems caused by an ever increasing population.

2. After the death of the Qianlong Emperor in the beginning of February 1799, the Jiaqing Emperor took control of the government and prosecuted Heshen, a favorite official of his father. Heshen was charged with corruption and abuse of power, stripped of his titles, had his property confiscated, and ordered to commit suicide. But the damage Heshen had done was widespread; the treasury was empty and social discontent high. The large-scale White Lotus (1796–1804) and Miao (1795–1806) rebellions shook the empire and showed its weakness.

In order to restore sound finances, confidence in the dynasty and centralized control, the Jiaqing Emperor appointed a reformist scholar named Guo Jing as Chancellor of the Grand Council, Qing's top governmental body. Guo Jing was the first Han Chinese appointed to that post, in an institution dominated by the Manchus. Such was Jiaqing's desperation. His trust in Guo Jing wasn't misplaced. He reformed the tax system, instituting new taxes on rich merchants and big landowners. He enacted a broad land redistributing program to give farm to tenants and landless peasants, much to the dismay of many large landowners. Regional revolts by the dissatisfied gentry were crushed. Guo Jing used the revenue from the increased taxation to invest in much needed infrastructure updates, such as new canals and roads.

3. The Daoguang Emperor has been ruling from 1811. His reign saw significant reforms in the military. Daoguang had to face early in his reign Muslim Uyghur revolts in Xinjiang. By the end of 1813, the former Qing cities of Kashgar, Yarkand, Khotan, and Yangihissar had all fallen to the rebels.

Reform of the military became a top priority. By the 19th century the Eight Banners, the once mighty armies of Qing, had declined in numbers and efficiency and the defense of the empire was based on regional armies. Daoguang abolished the Banners and formalized the provincial militaries (such as the Xiang Army of Hunan). Those armies, which recruited troops from local villagers who had familial and local ties to each other, were far more efficient. The resources spared from the abolishment of the Banners allowed increased pay for both officers and soldiers, leading subsequently to increased discipline.

This "New Army" reconquered Xinjiang in 1819, putting down the Uyghur revolt. At the same time, Daoguang, after witnessing the astonishing colonial expansion of European powers in Southeast Asia, began seriously contemplating the 'Western Problem'. In 1820, the new 'Office for Barbarian Affairs' was created; thus the first Chinese diplomatic corps were established. Qing China would follow a carrot and stick approach towards the West, allowing Westerners greater entry into the Chinese market than before but coming down hard on illegal opium trade.
Polity Name: United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and Algarves
Color: Bright Green
Territorial Claims: Portugal and Brazil, however much of the rest of South America you think reasonable
Summary: The wars between the old monarchies and the upstart Republican states forced the Portuguese monarchy to flee to the colonies, per real history, but with the Republican states continual survival the pressure to return was much less. As such Brazil remained the center of Portuguese power well into the 19th century. With the collapse of Spanish control in the America's accompanying the Republican Wars, Portugal-Brazil began snagging loose colonies and consolidating their preeminence in the southern Americas. Intermittent warfare with both Republican states and the Spanish monarchy have led to Portugal itself being largely abandoned by the nobles who could make the shift and a heavy militarization of the continental territory. The kingdom of the Algarves is de-facto controlled by the Spanish, though the United Kingdom still claims ownership.
Polity Name: Anahuac, or Spain
Colour: cream, white with a hint of yellow
Territorial Claims: three variants, see second paragraph of the summary below

Basic premise is Jesuit post-independent Mexico or a Jesuit takeover of the Spanish Empire, in either case with the Bourbons swapped out for Alfonso Moctezuma (descendant of the original Montezuma and holder of the Spanish title "Duke of Moctezuma"). PoD in the Treaty of Madrid (1750): Spain doesn't give Portugal the Jesuit-Guarani reductions. This averts the Guarani War, the Jesuits don't get on the radar of European monarchies, aren't banned as in OTL, and instead build their strength, especially in the Spanish Empire. In an unrelated PoD, the 1774-1775 papal conclave picks a pope who goes a rogue and stirs hostility with Spain (maybe he starts destabilizing wars in Italy). One way or another, Spain gets really messed up in the late 1700s (e.g. invaded by a foreign power, bogged down in a costly war) and this kicks of revolutions in the Americas. Due to active hostility between the Papacy and Spain, the rogue Pope orders the Jesuits to seize Spain by force, and, being entrenched across the Empire in this timeline, and being the most well-resourced, disciplined, and organized power bloc in the Spanish Empire, they do a pretty good job.

There are three variants on this submission. The first (and my preferred one) is the Jesuits lead revolutions in the Americas, establishing two or three Jesuit kingdoms, the biggest of which (and the one that would be a Great Power) is the Kingdom of Anahuac (i.e. Mexico), controlling everything from French Louisiana down to Panama, where they put a Jesuit-educated Alfonso Moctezuma on the throne, surrounding by Jesuit advisors and ministers (with Jesuit-supported Tupac Amaru II leading a revolt in Peru, and Jesuits from Guarani taking over Argentina, to create three sister Catholic kingdoms). The second option is to do a Portugal-Brazil situation with Spain and Mexico, where the Jesuits oust the Bourbons and put Alfonso Moctezuma at the helm of the Spanish Empire, which loses Peru, Colombia, Argentina etc. in the revolutions but keeps New Spain. Final option is a triple kingdom, with Jesuits and indigenous populations in-charge of Anahuac, Inca Peru, and Spain, which reunify into a three kingdom Catholic Empire or something like that.
Polity Name: The French Republic
Color: French Blue
Territorial Claims: OTL France + colonies. No sister republics or anything like that.
  • Napoleon dies from a stray bullet shortly before 18 Brumair
  • Other plotters attempt 18 Brumaire but lacking a popular figurehead the Jacobins manage to seize power agai
  • The Jacobins, trying to avoid another Thermidorian Reaction, are careful not to centralise too much power around one guy and don’t do anything too whacky (like trying to establish a religion).
Polity Name: The Holy Russian Empire

Color: Red

Territorial Claims: Russia 1815 (including Poland) + some portion of the Austrian Empire 1815, perhaps just hungary and part of Austria.

Summary: Broadly speaking, this is a reactionary dynastic state formed in response to a Europe that is more successfully revolutionary than OTL. Monarchs respond to greater threat by forming a dynastic union under the Habsburg-Romanovs.

Paul, the crown prince of Russia, contracts a severe case of typhus in 1771 and dies. Catherine, the Russian Tsarina, decides to marry her court favourite and general, Grigory Potemkin. They rule jointly, and instill an enlightened absolutist perspective in their daughter, Elizabeth Grigorevna Romanova. Catherine declares Elizabeth her heir and arranges her marriage to Archduk Joseph of Austria. As revolution breaks out across Europe, Elizabeth II and Prince Joseph take the throne. When Prince Joseph's brother Francis abdicated the position of Holy Roman Emperor, Prince Joseph declared himself Emperor. He and Elizabeth proclaim a dual monarchy, modeled after the co-rulership of Isabella and Ferdinand (or Catherine and Potemkin), and together they rally the ancient nobles of Europe against the godless republicans (to some degree of success, I'm flexible). They style themselves the leading light of enlightened absolutism and dominate eastern europe.
Ok, I'll go for three wild possibilities and let the GM select. I'll be a less prolific player than before, but maybe I can withstand the chill tempo of today's forum games.
P.S. I promised to be less prolific. Haha. Reading my history book of a submission, I think some things never change. I can't write short.

1. Third Burmese Empire (Konbaung Dynasty). Color: dark green. Claims: modern Mynanmar + most of today's northern and central Thailand.
Just as historically occurred, the Konbaung Dynasty rises from a humble village chief Alaungpaya in 1752. As OTL, he fights against the freshly restored Neo-Ramanic State of the Hanthawaddy dynasty, taking it down and replacing with his own Alompra or "Hunter" lineage. His descendants expand the realm even more, eventually invading and conquering most of northern Siam. The Third Burmese Empire's trajectory changes in 1776, when prince Signu Min is crowned and demobilizes the army bogged down in the treasury-draining campaign. The first non-military-minded Konbaung ruler, Signu Min consolidates the patchwork state his great grandfather had conquered. An arbitrary and soft ruler, he ends up heading for a fateful pilgrimage and being dethroned by his previously exiled cousin Prince of Phaung, Maung Maung. Unlike OTL, Maung Maung catches a wind of a quickly slapped together plot by his militarist uncle Prince of Badon, and when he uncle rushes the second coup, Maung Maung and his guards catch him and execute. This prevents the second stage of the Konbaung expansion under who will become known OTL as King Bodawpaya. The slowdown doesn't weaken the dynasty, as Phaungkhaza Maung Maung proves to be a capable meritocrat with a good sense of balance between expansionism and organic work. He starts a series of reforms and a military westernization campaign that OTL took until King Mindon to enact (far too late for forcing back the British), and due to his prolonged reign, the later, more militarily-minded kings would concentrate the Third Empire's reformed warmachine not on a westward expansion into the British-held Manipur and Assam, but into the lands of the still standing Thonburi Kingdom of Siam, evading the conflict with the British altogether. With that, by the 1820s, the Third Burmese Empire is a dynamic, prosperous, and surprisingly centralized kingdom, starting to spread its wings in Indochina.

2. High Collegiate of Transvolga and the Urals. Color: greyish green. Claims: The Don and Volga river valleys, the Urals, and Siberia all the way to the Amur river.
As per OTL, Yemelyan Pugachev raises the flag of one of the most successful peasant rebellions against the Tsarist rule in the Russian history in 1773. He claims to be the escaping true Tsar, ex-husband of Catherine the Great, Piotr III. Savvy, but illiterate, he manages to build a surprisingly complex and well-functioning bureaucracy and army structure when the rebellion picks up steam, mimicking the intricate structure of the true Tsarist state (as OTL). His fortunes get saved by an ill-executed assault of the city of Kazan in July 1774. His troops fail to infiltrate the city and get called out to the camp. This divergency prevents a night of drunken celebration, so when General Michelson's royalist reinforcements from Ufa approach the Arsk Field, Pugachev's irregulars are disciplined and well-rested. Michelson's defeat eliminates the only big Tsarist army in Tataria and Bashkortostan, essentially granting the rebels control over the industrial towns of the Urals. Panicking, Catherine the Great ends up redirecting her best general Pyotr Rumyantsev against Pugachev, and the "soldiers' general" ends up saving Rostov against Pugachev's offensive. Pugachev is killed in the battle by a stray cannonball, seemingly beheading the rebellion. This, counterintuitively, reverses the fortunes once again, as Rumyantsev gets "triumphantly retired" by Catherine II's known favorite courtier, the ever-corrupted sychophant-in-chief Prince Potyomkin. The latter hopes to get fame and influence by mopping up the headless rebellion while it's still worth the Tsarina's grace, but what he fails to understand is that Pugachev's High Collegiate actually functions much better without the self-aggrandizing, illiterate ex-ensign to lead it. Putting away all intrigues for the sake of survival, the Colleagues (most of them ex-officers of the Imperial Army or ethnic nobles with political capital in the diverse region) reorganize the army, properly discipline it, and staff with the newly freed, but highly motivated ex-serfs. The de-industrialization of the Urals (started as a campaign of freeing factory serfs) is reversed for the sake of winning the war, and soon Prince Potyomkin repeats the fate of his historical doppelganger Marcus Lucinius Crass by blundering in a Carrhae-like battle in the Upper Don steppe. This reignites the rebellion in Ukraine and Central Russia, but the still firm Tsarist regime drowns the minor rebellions in the sea of blood, eventually alienating itself from the commoners and transitioning to a proper Baltic German dynasty. With the (open) Ottoman and (secret) Swedish financial help, the High Collegiate survives a renewed counteroffensive by the reinstated Rumyantsev, albeit at the cost of losing any hopes of reaching Moscow or even its vicinity. With the rebellion seemingly unending and the support among the fellow monarchic regimes of Europe notably lukewarm, the "enlightened despot" Catherine II ends up cutting her losses and securing a shameful armistice shortly before succumbing to palace coup that bring a hysterical Prussophile Paul I to power. The Romanov Empire remains in control of its core European territories, but forever transforms into a truly syncretic Germanized state ruling over the illiterate and alien Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarussian population. Meanwhile, the High Collegiate, equally claiming "all the Russias" as its core, rules over the Volga-Don breadbasket, the industrial heart of the Urals, and the vast tracts of Siberia as a much less enlightened and more diplomatically isolated precursor of the Jacobin revolutionary state.

3. Tây Sơn Dynasty of Dai Viet. Color: yellow. Claims: Today's Vietnam and Laos, the island of Hainan, southern parts of Guangxi, plus part plus some islands in the Malacca region.
Originating from the Tây Sơn ("western mountains"), the historically accurate dynasty is founded by three brothers rebelling against the Nguyễn lords of the North. Strategically-minded bandits, they form an army of unprecedented complexity and operational know-how for that historical region. Just as OTL, the Tây Sơn Dynasty leads a series of brilliant campaigns against the northern Nguyễn lords and the Trịnh lords of the south, until eventually conquering them all and uniting the entire Vietnam. Just as OTL, they become targets of a Qing invasion, fighting it off and building an impressive warfleet in the process. The dynasty's most long-lived ruler, Nguyễn Huệ, conquers parts of the Siamese Thonburi Kingdom and secures his line of inheritance, while preparing an invasion of the notoriously disloyal southern provinces of the Qing Empire, expanding the spy network and reinforcing his fleet with the avidly anti-Manchu Chinese privateers. He doesn't die as early as he did OTL, and his invasion goes according to the plan, eventually hitting the wall of Chinese unending resources, but not before de-facto securing the Miao and Min lands. Just as OTL, the Nguyễn lords attempt to return after Nguyễn Huệ's eventual demise with the help of French adventurists, but this time the Tây Sơn heir apparent is better prepared for his duty, upending the Nguyễn dynasty's unlikely resurrection. Besides, the Tây Sơn conquests in Southern China attract the attention of the British (TBD: Americans/Dutch), who greedily eye for an entrepôt into the vast Chinese market and are happy to prop the Tây Sơn against any enemies for a while. Still economically backward, the dynasty is firm and dynamic, and its highly centralized military and fleet are rapidly modernizing, leaving possibilities open for a full westernization of the Vietnamese society and economy.
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