Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Road to Empire, Part 1

The following post is the first excerpt from the War Journal of Gardner Sean, a man who rose from obscurity in feudal China to become Emperor, and unite the land under one ruler.

Well, okay, it's actually proof of my card-holding Geek status, because last year I was playing a lot of Romance of the Three Kingdoms IX, a strategy game by Koei, which is a historical simulation of the Three Kingdoms period of ancient China, a beautiful and brutal piece of history.

It's a flash of my geek card because I took notes on all the big events in my campaign, and also created characters named after a few friends, my girlfriend, and some Bollywood actresses.  And then I took the notes and fleshed them out into an epic tale of a man who was forced from his home by a barbarian tribe, made of himself a leader, then an emperor.  I did it for the sole purpose of trying to jump start my writing, and it was a lot more fun than I anticipated, so I thought I would share it in installments.  I even made some helpful maps.  Later, there may be a brief video.  I hope you enjoy it!

The Road to Empire, Part 1

Southern China
190 AD
The uncivilized Shan Yue tribe has sacked Hui Ji, expelling the citizens.  I fought them, bravely I suppose, winning a number of followers as the people fled the city, and have set up an estate in nearby Wu.  A few reliable friends form my innermost circle.  Word of my deeds had gotten to Wu ahead of me, and fearing the might of Shan Yue, the people asked for my protection.  I organize the town with the aid of my trusted lieutenants, and begin recruiting an army.

I send a detachment of officers to nearby Mo Ling, knowing that it is unclaimed by any warlord and could be a powerful center of commerce if developed.  My little corner of China has doubled very quickly.  I spend nearly two years increasing trade and agriculture, and fortifying the defences of my cities.  I try to recruit promising new officers to my cause with little success.  My reputation is non-existent…few outside of the local area have heard of me, and those with any skill seek employment from the great generals and warlords like Dong Zhuo, Cao Cao and Sun Jian. 

191 AD
With money flowing more freely from the mercantile city of Mo Ling, I begin to build an army and draw up plans for expansion, because to stand still in China is to beg for someone to conquer you.  Wu and Mo Ling sit on an east-pointing peninsula at the mouth of the Yangzte River.  To head west to the mainland, I would have to go through the ruins of Hui Ji and past the powerful Shan Yue tribe—not an option when I am puny in comparison.  Across the mouth of the Yangzte however are lands controlled by Liu Biao.  He is clearly stronger than I, but the closest of his cities, Shou Chun, is poorly defended.  While Shan Yue tribe is a difficult hurdle for me, they also create a natural barrier to any force approaching me from the west.  In effect, I am far enough from Shan Yue that they do not attack, but they also create a shield for me to the west.  My little peninsula is a safe haven!  I need only worry about naval attacks from across the Yangzte or from the sea. 

The rest of China is in turmoil.  Dong Zhuo is wreaking havoc as a coalition forms to bring him down, headed by Cao Cao.  When an emissary arrives to enlist me in the coalition, I refuse.  Joining would mean that I could not move forward with my assault on Shou Chun because it would ally me with Liu Biao.  I would lose what little reputation I have in proceeding with an attack on a fellow coalition member, and I do not want to wait another year for the coalition to dissolve. 

My generals Breaux Kevin and Daj Kirender lead my first military campaign, and I make my first enemy.  Under their brilliant leadership Shou Chun falls under my control so easily that I turn my army west and attack Lu Jiang, which has had its garrison depleted by Liu Biao to attack Dong Zhuo in the north.  I halt here as Liu Biao sends reinforcements to Jiang Xia.  I also don’t have enough men to hold any more territory than I have just taken.  Best not to bite off more than I can chew, and I’ve already accomplished more than originally intended.    With Wu as my capital, Mo Ling as my economy, Shou Chun as my fortress, and Lu Jiang as my breadbasket, I settle down to consolidate my territory, now 4 cities strong.

192 AD
Liu Biao has been mostly apathetic towards me since I stole land from him, because the chaos in the north has occupied him.  The coalition eventually falls apart without accomplishing their objective, and Liu Biao attempts to retake Lu Jiang.  I repel his attack and rebuild the orchards and rice fields.  Caution sets in.  I feel as though I do not have the strength to defend my two northern cities because the melee in the north is so close to them.  Were I caught in the middle, I would perish quickly.  So I attempt to protect myself through good relations and offer gifts to other rulers.  I befriend Yuan Shao, who has defeated both Cao Cao and Liu Bei and is slugging it out with Dong Zhuo.  And beyond belief...Liu Biao warms and becomes a friend.  As I start to feel comfortable, Dong Zhuo dies and Lu Bu takes his place. 

194 AD
I live in peace with my neighbors, growing my population, bettering my cities, establishing a reputation as a benevolent and tolerant leader, promoting cultural affairs and beating thugs away from my people.  Sun Jian emerges in the west, a monsoon of destruction, and soon controls a third of all of China.  A coalition forms to overthrow him, with Yuan Shao at its head.  This time when the emissary comes I eagerly join up for the opportunity to better my relations with the members, knowing that I will never send a single soldier or piece of gold to support the distant effort.  The year-long coalition against Sun Jian fails just like that against Dong Zhuo, but it does succeed in reducing him to less of a threat.

195 AD
I realize that my reputation has become strong through the land, but as Emperor Xian calls upon other generals of great repute, granting them titles and power, I have yet to meet him.  I set out to find a way to increase my power.

My advisors form a council to deliberate and conclude that any warlord who has been granted a title by the Emperor controls at least one defined region of China in its entirety.  Some regions have as many as 7 cities, and my realm consists only of 4 cities spanning incomplete parts of 2 regions.  I send agents across the land.

It comes to my attention that Gongsun Zan has withdrawn to a single city, though he has an extraordinarily large army.  His city, Beihei, is the only one in its region.  Controlling Beihei may put me on the path to advancement.  So I prepare an expedition, and sit to wait for an opportunity…

Just as I am about to launch a seaborne attack on Beihei, word comes to me that Sun Jian has been driven back to Yong An and is nearly defenceless, the city poorly fortified.  Though the coalition failed, the warfare against him never stopped.  He has a wealth of incredible talent following him, and is one of the great generals of the age.  I consider asking him to surrender to me, but I know it will be fruitless.  He is too proud and I am of little influence.  I know that time is short, that his neighbors, depleted in their containment of Sun Jian, will soon resume their attacks and Sun will fall.  I also know that Gongsun Zan has sent half his military might to the north to attack Yuan Shao, leaving Beihei with a smaller than expected garrison, though still a major obstacle.  But Beihei is also vulnerable to the predators around it. 

I need Sun Jian’s abilities and influence, but I also need Beihei for the recognition it will give.  Choosing one course over the other means that the road NOT taken will be lost to me.  Yong An and Beihei are in complete opposite directions.  There isn’t time to take one, and then the other.  This is going to be a decisive moment for me, and I change my mind multiple times from one choice to the other and back again.

I make a radical decision, ignoring my Sun Tzu teachings, deeming the reward worth the risk.

I decide to split my forces.

I send over half my troops (about 90K men) under generals Breaux Kevin and Vang Qaishi to the stronghold of Beihei—well fortified, I slightly outnumber the enemy who remain in the city.  Gongsun Zan has accompanied over 100K soldiers to the north

I send another 40K men under Daj Kirender and Vang Lu to Yong An.    I don’t plan on holding distant Yong An, knowing I will be recalling those troops immediately, and bringing home a slew of new officers.

This leaves only about 30K troops to guard my 4 home cities...they are woefully underdefended.  My ministers begin drafting new soldiers aggressively to supplement the home guard.  Training can wait, it’s numbers I need to keep my now-friendly neighbors from getting too greedy.

Both forces depart from nearby ports on the Yangzte and will cover most of the 2 month voyage on the water.  The morale of the troops will suffer from so long in the ships.

In late July I hear that Huang Quan has dispatched an army to Yong An.  They are traveling on foot through mountains.  It looks like Daj Kirender will get there first, but it will be close.

Breaux Kevin makes landfall near Beihei and begins a siege of the city.  My scouts tell me that when Gongsun Zan got word that he was under attack, he disengaged from Yuan Shao, turned his army around and began marching back to Beihei.  If the city doesn’t fall before he can cross the Yellow river, then Breaux’s mission will fail.  The expertise of the generals attacking Beihei is far greater than that of the enemy and Gongsun’s officers fall in duels, the morale in the city is dropping like a stone in a pond.  But their reinforcements are not far away and the clock is ticking.

Daj Kirender reaches Yong An a week before Huang Quan, and after a brief battle he flies my standard above the palace before the other ruler even comes within sight of the city.  My relations with Huang are strong, and he turns his army back. 

A case is made to Sun Jian that I have saved his life—the lords all around him have blood-feuds with him and would likely execute or imprison him.  I outline my plan for unifying China, tell him that I want him in my service, and that if he refuses…I will let him go.  Sun Jian and many of his generals, including the great Zhou Yu, are convinced to join my cause.

Meanwhile, Gongsun Zan has closed the gap, and his army is crossing the Yellow River.  Breaux Kevin sends a detachment under Gan Ning to harry and slow Gongsun’s advance.  He succeeds in the delaying tactic but his unit is small and soon overwhelmed.  And then, the gamble pays off and Beihei falls!  Breaux Kevin enters the city and Gongsun Zan is left with an army—but nowhere to quarter them, no food to supply them, and no money to pay them.  Unlike Sun Jian, Gongsun Zan refuses to enlist with me.  I free him, true to my word, and attempt a number more times to convince him without success.  Eventually, he disappears from Beihei, but I know not where.  Many of his generals don’t suffer from the same overweening pride, and eagerly give me their service, if not their loyalty.

195 AD
A month after my double-victory has given me great renown, Emperor Xian visits me at Shou Chun, and grants me the title of Governor.  Bristling with this new-found power, I prepare a military build-up that would put the previous one to shame. 

Liu Biao breaks our truce and attempts to set my ambitions back, but his plans are too confident and I turn the tables, taking Xia Pi and other central China cities from him.  After a few months of losing ground he retreats west to Xiang Yang to lick his wounds.  Yuan Shao has renewed his offensive against Lu Bu in the north and Lu Bu is losing.  Though Yuan Shao is friendly with me, he fortifies Ande Port, on the other side of the Yellow River from Beihei in response to the growing army in my city, as assurance that his capital of Ping Yuan is protected.  There is mutual respect, and no hostility. 

Ma Teng and Huang Quan continue to be the dominant rulers in the West, slowly eating up their competitors.  Taishi Ci and his meagre force eventually exist as an inexplicable island between the two western powers and Liu Biao.  

For the next 10 months I rebuild what I have conquered.

To be continued.....

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