The Let's Play Archive


by TheGreatEvilKing

Part 53: Act 2 Postmortem: This Was Never Going To Work

Act 2 Postmortem: This Was Never Going To Work
Or: The Status Quo is Bad

In the Act 1 postmortem we discussed how the Kyrosian Empire was a clusterfuck of ambitious men - and the occasional woman - fighting each other for who gets to lord over their respective scrap heap. This was brought further into focus in Act 2, when Graven Ashe and Nerat decided that instead of submitting their grievances to Tunon and letting him adjudicate it via Kyros' law, they were going to just kind of awkwardly throw the law into the garbage can and start a civil war. It's tempting to compare the events of Act 1 to something like Abraham Lincoln suspending habeus corpus during the Civil War - the legions were in an emergency situation, and surely the Empire doesn't normally run like this, right? The supposed benefit of having someone like Kyros is that instead of bickering about crises and doing nothing like those idiots in Congress, Kyros can just use her awesome dictator powers and get things done.

In practice, this doesn't really work.

The Weakness of the Law

The player does not encounter Tunon until Act 2. We don't have too many hints that he's anything other than a strict but fair judge. He checks in on the Fatebinder to inquire about their safety, he approves when you faithfully execute the laws, and we end Act 1 on this ominous note:

The game has, up to this point, been very clear that Tunon is not a man to cross. If you check the Reputation tab it tells you that even the Archons fear Tunon's wrath, and we initially get respect from the Voices of Nerat and Graven Ashe because we bear Tunon's words and can execute the law on his behalf. Sure, they're willing to throw Kyros' law in the toilet under extreme circumstances when isolated from the rest of the Empire, but now that Tunon can reach them, all hell is going to break loose, right?

Oh shit! They broke Kyros' Peace! Tunon even admits it! We even tell him that the Voices of Nerat murdered Graven Ashe's son, and Tunon replies it's "no small act of war" and then sends Cleopatra on her merry way without resolving anything.

Then the meeting ends, and we are told to "dispense justice to both sides of this civil war." No sentence is announced, Bleden Mark is not dispatched to bring in Ashe and Nerat for interrogation by Tunon, more Kyrosian armies do not march across the border to disarm the Disfavored and Chorus until the dispute can be sorted out, and Tunon indicates that he's not happy with the civil war but he's just not going to do anything about it. Even on the paths where he charges you to investigate the Archons, it's clear that a ridiculous amount of evidence is needed to convict one under Kyros' law, and if you ask him he explains you're not likely to get both. Why?

In Tunon's Court posted:

: Kyros' laws are made to serve the masses, not the individual

We actually gain favor from Tunon for saying that, because that's the truth! The laws are in place not to constrain the powerful like Graven Ashe or the Voices of Nerat, but to constrain people lower on the totem pole like Lady Lucretia or the regular citizens of the Empire.

Blood Mulch is a regular guy. He has a few privileges under Magician's Folly, sure, but if we had something on him - real or fabricated - we could kill him then and there and Tunon would clap. The average person on the street is terrified of a Fatebinder's judgment, and for good reason!

This is further compounded by Tunon's sincerely held belief that the existing laws as laid down by Kyros are the ultimate good and thus true justice can only be achieved by faithfully executing them, and that despite the laws being a contradictory mess designed to be shaped into a weapon to crush upstarts they provide moral guidance that lesser minds cannot possibly understand.

The great irony is that Tunon could not have gotten this position without his nearly-unwavering devotion to the laws of Kyros, and thus this blinds him to how things really work in the empire. The Archons are elevated so they can use their power for the benefit of all, and this blinds him to the reality that out of the six Archons who crossed the border, four of the six betrayed Kyros. There is no legal recourse to stop the civil war, so it must continue and is retroactively declared the will of the Overlord. A less deluded Archon could have traded favors to march in another army or two to suppress the warring parties, but Tunon only knows the law, so Ashe and Nerat get off scot-free.

This culminates in the legal disaster at Lethian's Crossing, where the Fatebinder is caught in a classic catch-22: violate the proscription against venturing into the Oldwalls, a crime even Archons can be convicted for, or allow Raetommon's rebellion to fester which is also another crime Tunon takes very seriously. While the game has the player go into the Oldwalls by themselves, it neatly disproves the idea that Kyros has left the perfect system of laws that apply wisely to all circumstances.

The Weakness of Kyros

I've been harping all game on how weak Cleopatra's position is because we don't have any followers who can do things like fight off Scarlet Chorus invaders or defend Lethian's Crossing. Kyros has the opposite problem - she has to do all her work through her followers, and aside from Tunon, they're a gang of malcontents, sadists, and the power-hungry kept in line by the promise of power for success and the promise of execution for failure. I'm going to be cribbing heavily from The Dictator's Handbook for this section, but it's basically selectorate theory. Now, it's been a while since I sat down and read the book, but here's the basic premise:

The Dictator's Handbook posted:

First, politics is about getting and keeping political power. It is not about the general welfare of "We, the people." Second, political survival is best assured by depending on few people to attain and retain office. That means dictators, dependent on a few cronies, are in a far better position to stay in office for decades, often dying in their sleep, then are democrats. Third, when the small group of cronies knows that there is a large pool of people waiting on the sidelines to replace them in the queue for gorging at the public trough, then the top leadership has great discretion over how revenue is spent and how much to tax. All that tax revenue opens the door to kleptocracy from many leaders, and public spirited programs from a very few.

This may not seem like weakness at first glance. Kyros is locking everyone out of ultimate power except himself, he only needs a few cronies to run things (the Archons), and all the Archons know they're replaceable. The problem is that ultimately Kyros is dependent on the Archons to maintain power and completely loses power if she decides these Archons are more trouble than they're worth. She can replace some of the Archons quite easily, but his power structure demands that the Archons are kept weak and divided or convinced that they won't get a better deal elsewhere. We have seen - briefly- that if the Archons act in unison they can overrule Kyros behind the scenes:

It's not just implied here, Bleden Mark states that "we" offered Graven Ashe amnesty to bring him in line. No individual Archon can stand against Kyros, because there are a bunch of people who would love to become Archons or rise in the Archon hierarchy to loot more money and slaves, but the Archons as a whole have the ability to get Kyros to compromise on certain things. This - despite the Overlord's rhetoric about being all powerful and causing the crops to bloom - means that practically Kyros has to take every action while thinking about the ability to pay his Archons. It sure would be nice to build that hospital, but the Archons won't shut up about how cool it would be to have a new casino run by attractive ladies, and what the Archons want the Archons get.

It's not just the Archons either! Ashe talks a good game about how his soldiers fight for honor and the pride of the North and whatnot, but at the end of the day, he's in the same bind - he needs to provide loot for his commanders, who need the loot to pay their troops to stay loyal, and on and on down the chain until the lowest Disfavored soldier gets the least but still more than the average peasant. Service to the cause is rewarded by being able to rise in the Disfavored ranks and capture more money and sex slaves, and you stay in the system because it's a better deal than you'd otherwise get and you can move up to a point. Ashe wants you to be willing to move up in case he needs to fire, say, Radix Ironcore, but by keeping you down your attention's focused on reaching the Iron Guard instead of going truly nuts and trying to take out Ashe. The Scarlet Chorus truly embody this philosophy, with the reward for infighting being the ability to lead more men and steal loot, and people hopping between gangs because they want more money and power.

Teodor is a commander, so he gets the right to take camp slaves. The end result is that the regular people suffer because they have no input - and thus can't ask for a share of the cash - but ultimately, Kyros is incentivized to play this game and empower all of these terrible people because she has no other choice. Even his mighty Edicts require a Fatebinder to proclaim them. Sure, Kyros can lead the armies that have conquered the known world for over 400 years, but ultimately those armies are reliant on Kyros' ability to pay them and during that time there were no real challengers who could perhaps offer the Archons a better deal. The carrot is being able to loot the Empire and be mostly immune to the law, and the stick is being blasted away by Edicts. As long as no one can offer the Archons a better deal, the system holds.

Oops! By doing this, the Fatebinder isn't just challenging the popular ideology that Kyros is the immortal all powerful god who demands obedience and is the only person who wields the power of the Edict, but opening the door for everyone from Teodor the lowly Disfavored commander to the vaguely mentioned Archon of Misery to go to their commanders and ask for bigger bribes under threat of defecting to Team Fatebinder. It threatens the system at both the top and the bottom - the Archons can't be as easily replaced if the people lower on the totem pole won't step into their position because Cleopatra will pay them more money, and the Archons themselves can leave to join Cleopatra for more loot in the future or just secede and keep all the tax money they would normally give to Kyros. If left unchallenged, the entire system falls apart under a civil war far more serious than this little scuffle in the Tiers. Remember, the Archons we've seen generally aren't happy about their deal with Kyros. Sirin quit to join our team. Cairn rebelled. Bleden Mark is working on a long con to get us to the point where we can challenge Kyros. Ashe and Nerat are fighting each other. The greatest threat to the Empire isn't the brave men and women fighting Kyros, but the Archons deciding to quit because they want more loot.

Keep this in mind going into the third act of the game.