Cruelty and our Brief

I wanted to discuss a bit of trouble I’m having with the Varushkan brief, and I’ll try to keep this OC but correct me if I trip up.

The Varushkans have been set up to be hard, uncompromising and iron fisted - so far so medieval. One of the key pieces of the brief, however, mentions that we are “not sadistic, bloodthirsty or cruel” and to quote, “the real monsters lie outside their walls.”

The Iron Helms, though, even before the Black Plateau woke up, were responsible for “agonising death”, “prisoners torn apart by dogs” and impaling. If there were any room for argument with contemporary morality - the army is explicitly designated 'Cruel’.

The IC discussion is if cruelty is acceptable within the Empire, and that’s something best left to the field, but my question is; are we now in conflict here with our brief? Do we need to be careful that though some of us might support a cruel army, none of us are ourselves cruel?

Now it might be that change is in the air – and that’s ok I guess – but we sign up to nations based on these prewritten briefs. Imagine you join Varushka safe in the knowledge that this is not a cruel nation? Could be a bit of a shocker to hear the defence of what is explicitly called cruel in OC langauge.

There’s so much more to unpack on this topic, and I’m not looking for answers, I guess I’m asking if we should be collectively aware that we’re sailing close to the wind?

I was going to put this on the Facebook, but I figured this is the better place as the audience is a little smaller…

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I don’t play in Varushka, but in Dawn, And from my POV, the Varushkans have been brutally pragmatic, as cruel and nasty as they need to be, and no worse than our opponents. Given that the traditional opponent of Dawn is the Druj, this is a pretty low bar.

But even so, Varushka looks to be getting nastier and nastier (in downtimes, you’re lovely folk on the field). Still better than our foes, and still very much “hard bastards, but OUR hard bastards”… but yeah. Getting closer and closer to the edge. And often leaving me remembering a proverb from… actually I don’t remember.

“The danger of grappling with the beast is that you will become it.”

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Raising the 3rd Varushkan army (i.e.The Iron Helms) was passed at the 379YE Autumn Equinox Senate session,(subject to other requirements taking place beforehand), despite knowing the previous history of the army “The Iron Helms are renowned for their cruelty, employing merciless strategy against those they face in war.”. (from the Varushkan brief). The army was disbanded not for ‘cruelty’ reasons but as part of budget reforms of Empress Mariika.

It must be assumed that the Senate knew what they were letting themselves in for - a merciless army who do whatever it takes to achieve the goals set out for it. It is all very well for people to throw their arms up and complain about it now, but this is what they voted for. And I think the valid point is ‘against those they face in war’, any of this ‘supposed’ cruelty has not been turned inwards towards the Empire.

Oh, and as to the Black Plateau - (From Winds of War 381YE Summer):

"There is perhaps one note of caution, sounded by the Urizen watchers who keep Screed under careful scrutiny. The bloodshed, the violence, and the anger that has washed across Spiral these last few seasons has begun to rouse the Black Plateau again. Dawnish soldiers and Wintermark warriors alike hear its echoes in their dreams as they fight on the southern borders of Cinion. What influence the Black Plateau may have on the battles in Spiral is uncertain at best - even the Grendel seem to give it a wide berth - but some of the watchers are concerned that continued violence may see some unpredictable magical emanation in the near future. " well before the Iron Helms got there :wink:

I think that the proverb is Zulu in nature (or perhaps South African)?

I’ve hopefully stuck to already published information. Happy to discuss this but only on the field :slightly_smiling_face: (Konstantin Orlov, The Remnants of Morozno)

Thanks @Misha, but I think you’ve missed the point a little. I know the background of the Iron Helms, and their use, raising etc are totally a matter for discussion in the field.

My point is that we as players are briefed that Varushkans are absolutely not cruel. But we now seem to be on course to embracing this as a defining part of our national character. Now change is fine, I just want to talk about if we should be aware that this change is happening. For example, I’m not totally sure i would have signed up to an openly cruel nation.

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I think the difference is being ‘cruel’ or choosing ‘Cruel’ as an army. I agree that per se Varushkan aren’t not cruel in them (our) selves but the Iron Helms have choosen ‘Cruel’ as their default army quality. They could choose (albeit this is a bit of a stretch) to go to ‘Conquering’ or ‘Daring’ as their army quality. Some people are happy that we have an army ruthless enough so an opposing army thinks very carefully about attacking them and some people are not.

“Cruel” as the army descriptor is shorthand for “uses brutal and distasteful tactics for psychological warfare purposes”. It does not mean cruelty for cruelty’s sake.

The Iron Helms may well be going beyond this with the influence of the Black Plateau, and that is an issue that we as Varushkans need to look at, and may well for a significant part of next weekend’s play for us.

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It’s worth bearing in mind that the Cruel army, the Iron helms has been part of the Varuskan brief from the start. The Cruelty is definitely intended by part of PD (occasionally there are outright contradictions in the national brief, the Dawnish Seneschal page used to talk about honour for instance.)

"Not Evil. The Varushkans can be authoritarian, uncompromising and intolerant but they are law-abiding, not sadistic, bloodthirsty or cruel. Their rule is hard but the real monsters lie outside their walls."

So stepping away from the ‘Empire is Evil viewpoint’ which in modern terms.

I would say Varuska is a nation of harsh necessities, of making difficult choices to survive, of brutal pragmatism. But that doesn’t mean they are sadistic, that they enjoy it. They may take Pride in their ability to survive in a harsh land, but that doesn’t mean they take pleasure from what they do.

So yes the Iron Helms may hear their opponents apart with Dogs, horrifically torture them and continue to pursue their foe even into their Nightmares, but it is all in service of a goal. Not for it’s own sake, their brutality saves lives, and defeats their enemies.

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This is mostly rationalising the support of cruelty as not itself being cruel - which is fine, and a legitimate response. Thanks, it’s the kind of discussion I wanted.

I don’t agree, but I think it’s a fair position to occupy.

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I think this possible change (real or perceived) would be something that characters would talk about IC and be aware is happening.
Some may declare there’s no change, some may say it looks like it from the outside but it merely perception of non-Varushkan folk, some may say there is change and it’s a good thing, some that there is change and it’s a bad thing and many other variants, but I don’t think it’s something to be avoided IC.

@LauraH yes, this is how the dynamic has manifested, and I’m not opposed to that. Certainly IC it needs to be leant into for all the rich rp it brings and how it fits the rest of the setting.

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As some people have touched on, there is a difference between harsh, brutal behaviour that serves a purpose and simply torturing puppies for fun. Varushka is a place where sometimes you have to let one die to save fifty. A place that realises that war is not a game in which everyone is going to go down the pub later. Will crucifying your enemies scare them so they run away and stop attacking you? It absolutely will. It’s merciless, ruthless, and yes cruel… but its not any of those things for its own sake. That’s Varuhska.

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@Andy_Raff somewhat facetious but I do understand what you mean, I don’t think anyone was under illusions about what Varushka is like. However, you’re putting qualifiers on the cruelty which aren’t in the wiki’s outright rejection of it. But these are old briefs, designed to be general introductions not deep musings in ethics etc so they can only go so far into the character thus it’s not reasonable to hold them up as some kind of gospel.

It may be that the nation’s new direction of embracing cruelty is not for me, which is fine, Empire has a rich world with plenty of places to go and find the game I want. I need to decide if I’m up for a game of opposing the cruelty or going with the flow (a lot of my interactions lately have put me in the position of defending torture, mutilation and killing POWs).

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Anywhere on here remember the time the official, wiki’d Landskeeper brief changed from “Marcher Mages who dominate nature, avoid curses and are seeking their former power” to “Any Marcher who supports the traditions and the nation, avoids house politics, oh, and they don’t mind using curses”. At the time of that shift I’d made a long-term relationship with a house and was very outspoken about disliking curses. Had to basically re-brief my character.

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It’s interesting that the one of Varuska’s 5 things includes ‘Often the only choice is the lesser of two evils.’ and is followed by “Varuskans are not evil”, on the same page. I think to a degree you may have narrowed in on one word a little too heavily, the ‘outright rejection of cruelty’ is one word in a entry about don’t be evil. (Bear in mind the Iron Helms as a historic army date back a long time.)

If you look at cruelty in that dichotomy, Varuskans shouldn’t be inherently cruel, but they will do cruel deeds if the alternative is worse. I think it’s the regard for the second which makes it more Varuskan. Varuskan cruelty is harsh choices, not lets always be cruel.

I think some of the field attitude to cruelty may have actually gone beyond that.

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This puts it well. Varushkan actions may be cruel, but Varushkans themselves are merely pragmatic.

Also, it’s easy to get tripped because of all the focus given to the Iron Helms and the fact that their quality is named Cruel. What I think is true to say is that players are leaning into the fact that Varushka is more willing to perform what you might call cruel actions, or you might call pragmatic or ruthless, depending on how charitable you want to be. The issue can get very semantic, when Cruelty has become the catch-all, instantly-recognizable term on the field and in the OOC space for that kind of behaviour.

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Thanks both ^^ very thoughtful responses!

The Varushkans do what is necessary. Was it necessary to unleash the Iron Helms and their cabalists on Spiral, or was it convenient? Is it necessary to use these tactics, or does it simply make victory easier?

Lots of IC discussion there, of course, and OC it can be argued that they go beyond the point of the lesser of two evils. And once you start doing these things, it becomes easier to justify horrific actions. For some people, the moral event horizon might have been passed, and for some there might be some future event that goes beyond what people are willing to accept.

Just because Varushkans do what is necessary to save the vale doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t question that necessity- the Wise know all knowledge is incomplete. Consider the cost. Is it the logical pragmatic mind that crushed three Grendel armies, intent on taking the whole Empire as slaves; or is it the cruel self-righteous egotism that caused the Black Plateau to wake up?

They are IC topics we should stay away from here I think.

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I entirely agree, but it’s a lot of interesting stuff!

Absolutely raise it at the game. You are not the only one to notice or feel that some varushkans (typically those that don’t come to Anvil) might be getting a bit too into being the baddie.

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