Havaleh – money transfer and banking across the Third Horizon

Copyright Martin Grip/Free League Publishing

Here, where we live on old Al-Ardah, we have become used to the convenience of modern banking. The recent covid related changes have encouraged an accelerated adoption of contactless technologies, a little like the money-tags in the Third Horizon. But our world is small, the distances tiny and complex transactions don’t take long to travel. Now, most of us carry a computer in our pockets that can send money to a friend on the other side of the world, seemingly instantaneously. 

Each world in the Third Horizon may have networks and transfer technologies that are just as quick. I am sure it takes moments to transfer money from Coriolis itself to the Monolith on Kua for example. But when the start talking about transfers across systems, or between systems, the speed to light becomes an issue. Money can not break the laws of physics. Instantaneous communication of data is just not possible. So the modern banking systems that we think of today just aren’t up to the job.

However, the Third Horizon has access to a tried and tested alternative. One that started in 8th century India when communications along the Silk Road were just as slow as would be across the Third Horizon.

Havaleh basically works like this: it is the day of settlement, and your group must facilitate their regular payment on their ship loan, but they are three portals away from their generous benefactor. All they need to do is find a local Havaledah or money broker, give them the birr, and the details of who it is intended for. If their creditor needs the money on that day,. they will visit their local Havaledah, who will give them the sum, on trust that the group’s will have paid another Havaledah somewhere in the horizon and effectively, they are owed the money by that Havaledah. Trust is an important factor here, and there is very little paperwork involved. Indeed the word “havaleh” is synonymous with the word “trust” in many languages. It is considered somewhat rude (but not entirely unacceptable) to even ask for a receipt when you make your deposit with a Havaledah. 

Sometimes however, there does need to be some security and passing of authentication between different Havaledahs. The first level of security is to chose your havaledah from your trusted network. All firstcome factions maintain their own havaledah networks, and among the Zenethians, only the Consortium and Hegemony mistrust the very concept of havaleh. All the faction networks are interoperable, and money can be exchanged between them. The largest and most used, especially for inter-faction exchange is that of the Syndicate. Indeed, there are those that say that without its havaleh network the Syndicate would be nothing more than local criminal gangs and crime lords, and thus the Syndicate IS is havaleh network. The consortium tries to maintain what it calls “a civilised banking system” via the Bulletin’s communication technology but to do any real business it resorts to havaleh, and is the Syndicate’s biggest customer. The Zenithian Hegemony however generally does not use havaleh, and its propagandists like to talk about the way it enables crime, tax evasion and political unrest. 

The second level of security is a complex system of verbal code-poetry that havaledahs use to authenticate their own communication. While generally the system works on trust, sometimes one may have to resort to a distant havaledah one has not worked with before, so send someone to a havaledah they don’t know – and of course that havaledah is unlikely to hand out money to someone who comes in off the street. So, sometimes, a creditor will be a given a code-phrase to use to identify themselves as the legitimate recipient of the money. By necessity, given the slow speed of travel between systems, such phrases are exchanged among havalehs in advance, and usually they are two-part cyphers, to ensure that if a transmission of codes is intercepted, it can’t be used on its own to defraud the havaleh for whom it is intended. Traditionally, the two parts of the cypher are sung, not written down, and for generations families of talented song-poets have served the havaledah community as code couriers called angadias.

What happens when it goes wrong? When the intended recipient doesn’t get their money? Well, first of all, the recipient always gets their money. The debt is between two havaledahs. And the havaledahs don’t cheat each other, not even when two different factions are involved. So they work together to see where “failure of communication” (as it is euphemistically known) occurred. They will likely enlist investigators to help. The nature of these investigators varies by faction. The Free League and the Nomads use private invetsigators, but most of the firstcome factions have their own investigative systems. The Syndicate is unusual, they use their own angadias, who possess not only beautiful soprano voices, but the tools and authorisation to collect the debt by any means necessary. The very least anyone who is caught cheating the havaleh system can expect is ostracisation, loss of faction standing and previous friends and allies turning their backs to them. Of course they are no longer able to use the havaleh network to move birr, and for most sensible  people this is deterrent enough.

Debtors are rarely killed, its more difficult to get your money back from dead people, but that does not mean and anyone who owes birr to the Syndicate can relax on the Day of Settlement.

A date standard for the Third Horizon

Art by John Salquist
Inspired by the article below, John Salquist and I created a beautiful calendar which is available in PDF format from the Free League Workshop.

In any space-travel setting, there are going to be local calendars based on local orbits. A 24 hour day means little if your world spins around in nine hours, or 37.74 hours. We know as well that in the Long Night, when the third horizon cultures rejected portal travel and turned in on themselves, local calendars would have become even more entrenched. We are not entirely sure how long the Long Night lasted, and that’s partly because for some systems it may have been one hundred years, for others it might have felt like 300, or even, for one to two, something like one long year. 

But with the coming of the Zenith, and the Consortium’s design to rebuild communication and trade across the Horizon, a shared standard was required. That standard would, of course, have been based on the movement of the planet that the Zenithians decided was their new home. On page 232 of the core book, we are told that the Coriolis Cycle is based on the time taken for the planet Kua to orbit it’s star, and on page 248, we discover that is 336 days, so Kua’s year is slightly short than ours on old Al-Ardha. But remarkably Kua’s day is exactly the same length as ours, 24 hours!* We are also told that each year or Coriolis Cycle (CC), is divided into nine months or Segments as they are called, each one named for one of the icons. Each segment is 37 days long. So that accounts for 333 days. The three remaining days are annual holidays: The Founding; the Cyclade and the Pilgrimaria. 

So we know the length of the year, and the length of the months, we know the hours of the day, but not the days of the week. 37 is a prime number, which means that its only divisible by itself and one. So it does not quickly suggest how long a week might be… but if we go with the 37th day being an “extended rest” which the core book mentions, then 36 is divisible, not by seven, but by six and nine.

So this calendar works on a nine day week, or Novena. The word Novena comes from the latin, not middle eastern tradition, but it means “nine days of devotion” so it feels like a good fit for the theme. Nine days of course reflect the nine icons. But rather than name the days, as well as the segments, after the Icons I was inspired by the four transformations mentioned in Mercy of the Icons. The four transformations are represented by four things that are important to many Firstcome cultures, which I am sure the Zenithians would adopt without necessarily realising what they mean. So rather than name the days, in this calendar the weeks are named – the Novena of Grain, the Novena of Water, the Novena of Light and the Novena of Incense and they days numbered, so you might say “the second day of water, segment of the Deckhand”, or write “2 water Deckhand” or abbreviate it “2wDec.” In notation the Segments are capitalised because they are Icons and the novenas are often written in lower case because they are mundane.

Given that our day of rest on old Al-Ardha is actually a day of worship in a monotheistic culture, I don’t think the idea of an “extended rest” quite works. Instead the extra day in every segment “the day of settlement” or “the day of accounting”, when ship loan payments are made, and other bills are paid, no matter when during the segment they they were incurred. Maybe it is a day when no trade takes place and no work (other than accounting) is done, because people are rushing around paying what’s owed. Maybe its also a day when darker debts are repaid. Perhaps its a day when those who have crossed powerful people hide in fear – a day for assassinations.

For the calendar we created, I also wrote nine short parables, and attributed them to the mysterious Storyteller of Dabaran:

No one really knows if Fadma al Kamath, the Storyteller of Dabaran ever really existed. The collection of parables and homilies which is attributed to her, may not even have been written by one person. They are it seems, somewhat impolite about every system’s culture other than that of Dabaran which is held always in high praise. This alone suggests that the stories come from one place, if not one writer. There are versions the parables in pre-Zenithian literature, but the translations included in this calendar appear to be more modern as some of them refer to Zenithian institutions.

*There is some discrepancy on this detail. It is clear that the day on Coriolis lasts 24 hours (four six hour shifts), but according to planetary data, Kua’s day is 26 hours. Perhaps this is why most business is conducted in “shifts” rather than hours.

#RPGaDay2020 – Light

This is an easy one. As you recall, this year we are not creating new brief podcasts for #RPGaDay, but rather talking the opportunity to celebrate particular episodes of our almost three years of production. Todays episode is one from May 2019. I like it because it has an article it in that helps GMs and players better understand a “faction” that are poorly described in the core book, without spoiling the campaign. Lets shine a light on We are the Light of Peace.

#RPGaDay2020 – Shade

I was struggling to think of what to post today, until I realised that the 8th of every month is (on Twitter at least) #PodRevDay when listeners are encouraged to leave reviews of podcasts. “Aha!” I thought “The perfect opportunity to let our listeners throw SHADE at us.”

So, while we set out to use this year’s RPGaDay to showcase our best episodes, today I thought I could cast a curator’s eye over our worst episodes. Now, of course a proper curator does not make value judgements. But though I am (something like) a proper curator in my professional life, I will pick what I consider to be our worst episode, and link to it, not from our website but from Podchaser, the cross platform Podcast Review site.

https://www.podchaser.com/podcasts/effekt-660320/episodes/a-known-mistake-is-better-than-27554770

The content isn’t dreadful for this episode, it was our first Actual Play, and we used a Blue Snowball on Omni to record it. But we learned a lesson about our usual habits of eating during play, and especially a lesson about Pringles.

I will only consider this exercise a success if we get five reviews for this episode. They don’t need to be GOOD reviews though. So get reviewing!

#RPGaDay2020 – Couple

I am cheating with this one but with good reason. Day seven’s topic is couple, and I have been playing with a couple of brothers pretty much since I first touched a polyhedral. Actually Tony is the one I really like. In the year above me at school he was part of crowd that welcomed young un’s like me into the “War-games” club, which at that time was exclusively playing AD&D and Traveller.

Dave was the annoying little brother that turned up a few years later, when the club met at my house every Saturday. I didn’t like him then and I don’t now, but he is my co-host, so don’t tell him. 🙂

Anyhow, Tony and Dave are one half of the “home group” I now play semi-regularly with even though Andy and I, the other half, live a few hours drive diametrically opposite each other with Dave and Tony in between. Long story short, COVID has disrupted our face to face group and Andy does not play online. So I said we should start playing the Coriolis campaign with Tony and Dave playing a couple of noirish detectives. It’s gone really well. I was finishing editing todays episode, Quassar, earlier this morning, and I thought it would be a perfect episode to show the two of them working together.

So here it is:

#RPGaDay2020 – Thread

Yesterday, I mentioned how the support of our Patrons had enabled us to launch a second stream, just for Actual Play episodes. Before then we used to intersperse our magazine shows with weekly episodes of the games that our home group ran. The thread of each story interwoven with our chat shows.

One of the more emotionally involving stories was Song to the Siren, the first part of which we re-present here:

The first episode of Song to the Siren

#RPGaDay2020 – Beginning

For the last couple of years my co-host Dave and I have produced a daily podcast for #RPGaDay. But we are not going to do that this year. Instead, in a blatant piece of self-promotion we are going to reflect on our last three years of producing the Effekt podcast, and highlight some of our previous episodes. You might consider it a “best of” selection depending on your definition of “best.”

Today’s theme is about Beginnings, we are going to share our very first episode. But first I was to tell you a little story that has particular resonance today of all days. I phoned Dave whilst on a walk to suggest the idea of creating this podcast, about Coriolis, a role playing game by the up and coming Swedish company, Free League, and he enthusiastically agreed. “And then we can maybe go to Sweden an interview theme and they can get to know us, and then we can write for them” he said. I replied “Maybe” in that tone that meant “No, that is only going to happen in your widest dreams.” And what happened next? We went to Sweden to interview them, they got to know us, and they asked us to write an adventure which ended up in the Alien RPG core book, and that book just last night, won the “Oscar” of the RPG world. The “Ennie” for Best Game. Not bad for our first attempt.

“Maybe” indeed.

Anyhow, here’s where its all began.

A Ministry of Truth – the Order of the Pariah

The Order of the Pariah are my favourite faction, but not for the reasons you might expect. I think most players read about the Order of the Pariah, their religious fervour, militaristic outlook, animate armors and Monastery Cruisers, and picture Games Workshops’ Space Marines in their head. And frankly that’s not a bad shorthand, but I like to think of them as more nuanced.

Is this what the Enterprise looks like in the Third Horizon?
Image ©️Martin Grip/Free League

The Order of the Pariah are the Third Horizon’s first freedom fighters, leading the uprising against the First Horizon, and their agents, the Sacrifice of Nazareem. And of course when independence was won, and the portals closed, it was the Order that carried on the fight, seeking out the vestiges of the Nazareem’s Sacrifice while the other factions thought the war was won. In doing so, they are more true to their origins than the other first come factions, who were “fortune seekers, religious dissidents and rebels” from the First and Second Horizons. So, unlike the 40k Space Marines, the Order not only don’t have imperial ambitions, they seem more willing to isolate than to spread their creed. So what is behind their lack of missionary zeal? Having defeated the forces of the First Horizon in the Portal Wars, why did they not use their military might to spread the word of the Pariah across the third Horizon and cast out the false Icons? Do they not want converts? Indeed you have to be born of Zalos to live on Zalos – offworlders are restricted to the moon, Karrmerruk, the City of Foreigners. Are they as racist at the Zenithian Hegemony?

Their activities on Coriolis would suggest not. Apart from the famous Sanatorium, they run a network of soup kitchens and other poverty relief charities. Anyone (or at least anyone with the grades) is free to study at their Medical Academy. And yes, they become neophytes of the order while they train, but are free to seek work for other factions when they graduate. The Academy, and the charitable work of the Samiritans seems at odds with the reputation they earned during the portal wars. And their scientific advances, including biotechnology and antimatter propulsion suggest they they are not by any means dogmatic primitivists.

I like to think of the monasteries as places learning, the the sword of the judge, or the Sickle of the Martyr, is equivalent to Occams Razor. If you have read Anathem by Neal Stephenson, you have an idea of how I imagine the monasteries of concentric circles of learning… Here too is kept the memory of the all the Third Horizon knows about the old enemies, Al Ardha and the First and Second Horizon.

In the cities, the plebeian population worship the Judge/Pariah of course – what choice do they have? But their jobs are like any others, the industries servicing the great monasteries at each city centre. To truly become an adherent of the faith your must enter and monastery and learn. Monks are the equivalent of stationaries and their priests, prophets and elders are Privileged. There is no inheritance of title or estate. Everything is given to the Order when you die, but poverty is reduced to almost zero.

So I argue that their reputation as religious zealots that cry heresy at every new thing is in fact carefully crafted. Not for nothing do they consider the Foundation their biggest rival. Within the Zalosian monasteries are repositories of truth and knowledge. Knowledge which the Foundation wants, and which, given their isolationist stance, the Order believes no one should have. Yes, a fierce war rages against the “Heretics” of Zahardan, or Zalos-B, but the rest of the Horizon knows little about it. What is the nature of their Heresy? Personally I like to think that the population of Zahardan are even stricter religious zealots than those on Zalos A, but the Nomad Federation speak darkly of a war crime committed against one of their clans on that planet (core book p211), so it seems that Zahardans are at least less isolationist than the Order of the Pariah. Perhaps they do want to proselytise, to recruit new followers and to kill those who don’t covert… perhaps they are more dogmatic, less pragmatic than the Order of the Pariah. And the true Order are the misunderstood good guys – friends of all Firstcome genuine seekers of truth.

And therein lies a way to play some of the concepts that you might not quickly associate with the Order – as an Operative or Data Spider, you could be a spy on the Foundation, checking up on what they have found out, and how close they are to the hidden truth. As scientis, you could be a priest-researcher looking for evidence of portal builder technology in all the secret places of the Horizon. As a Negotiator you could be a diplomat, steering the other factions away from a Truth they could not stand to know.

Think about it, Zalosian Monastery ships, heavily armed scientific vessels. Remind you of anything? Its crazy I know, but I am going to say it – if you want to play the Crew of the Starship Enterprise in Coriolis… maybe they should come from Zalos.

The Free League: the ennui of perfection

In the last post I wrote about the Consortium, one of the few factions that we had not shined the spotlight on,in the podcast, because as Dave memorably admitted on the Patron discord he’s “not very interested in them.” I agreed in the last episode that the Consortium was indeed quite boring, but The Free League has a different problem.The Free League’s problem is that they are the perfect player faction. Too perfect.

©️Fria Ligan

What every crew wants is freedom … freedom to go where they want. Freedom to do what they want. Freedom to make profit on jobs, legal and illegal. Freedom to leave a system when a deal goes wrong and they are wanted for murder. Freedom to find a new planet full of rubes they can double-cross. And Freedom to move on again when it turns out the local crime-lord wants them dead. Freedom, essentially, to live like space RPGers have lived since the first Traveller player rolled 2d6 and wrote their stats in hexadecimal…

And if you are going to be a happy crew of malcontents trading their way from system to system, the Free League is the perfect support network. At least from a gamers’ perspective, if not the characters. They are strong when the players really need help, and weak when the GM wants to take the crutch away. They are connected right across the Horizon, if the players need a job or a contact, yet not so consistent that the GM can’t surprise the players once in a while. If I were a GM taking a virgin group of players on, I would probably recommend that they choose a Free League patron to get them started. And the beauty of the Free League, is I could likely offer them a Nemisis from the same faction, to show that everything ain’t black and white. Indeed if a GM said to me “I have never run a space game at all, what are my players likely to want?” I would probably reply that they should start with a short Free League based campaign. They are a perfect set of training wheels for crews and GMs.

So what’s the problem? How come it’s taken so long to write about them? The problem is that there is no challenge for the GM. An experienced GM will be excited if their players choose to be religious zealots, or secret assassins, each would be a new challenge. But if they want to be Free Leaguers, again, where can a GM find the novelty?
One of the great things about the third horizon is that everything contains its own contradiction. So let’s go to the source material and see if we can find the hidden side of the Free League…

The first thing to remember is that the Free League are a Zenithian, not a Firstcome faction. They are listed alongside the Syndicate as one of the smallest Zenithian Factions ( p 188) and yet … and yet … on page 194 it says “counting official members, the Free League is the Horizon’s largest faction.” This is an interesting contradiction. It speaks I think of a membership not wholly affiliated to the cause of the faction. People join like they join the AA, or the triple A, or whatever your local roadside recovery insurance service is where you live. Thus being a member of this large organisation can help get your ship repaired on a distant backwater planet. But on Coriolis, the seat of power, there are too few powerful members to do much politically. And get this, tucked away in the timeline on page 249 is this little gem: in cc 14 “The Free League faction is founded as a partner to the Consortium.” Partners? Or lapdogs? Free? Or simply another arm of the Consortium? Extending their reach into the smaller markets that the Companies of the consortium are not yet interested in?

On the other hand, are they a Union? It only costs Br100/cycle to join. The Stevedors of Coriolis and the Net exert some power through the free league. Is the Free League getting ready to be the workers champion, and turn against the Consortium as the growth of that faction stutters and begins to fail. Will the Free League become a monster that Comsortium can no longer control? Will they one day be accused or being a terrorist organisation? After all, the Syndicate too, exert power through the Free League. Though the highest placed factionary Jesibel Niales is on to them, and working to curb their influence.

Finally, there is one little hook I really like and that’s the mention of “the Free League’s News Division.” (On page 21) Last time I talked about how the Bulletin, controlled by the Consortium was not the organisation that players wanting to be hard hitting reporters should join. The Free League might offer an outlet for independent journalists eager to seek out the truth rather than regurgitate propaganda.

Beyond Boring: The Consortium

Listener and Patron Nicjar set us an interesting challenge. He has been going though our blogs cataloging all our Coriolis related articles. And he pointed out that we have not done an article on all the Factions in the Third Horizon. I said that I remembered mentioning to Dave that we still had some to to do, but that he had assured me we had done them all. Dave replied that we had done them all… all the interesting ones at least.

The Council of Factions, dominated by the Consortium ©️Free League

And he was right. The only two we had not done (properly) were the Free League and the Consortium. Dave does argue that he covered them in his piece on trade, but not in the depth that we covered most of the others. So I took it upon myself to deal with the Consortium. And immediately regretted it. Because the Consortium are so damn boring.
And they are boring because they are so pervasive. They are the Third Horizon. They are the government, the administration, the bureaucrats. They are the winners, the glue that bound the horizon together and made Coriolis its centre.


As it says on page 190 of the core book, “the Consortium and the Coriolis station are one – so closely tied together that most people in the Horizon can’t tell them apart.” That’s the problem, and not just on Coriolis station. Asking me to get excited about the consortium is like asking a fish to get excited about water.


But let’s give it a go. The Consortium is created from and largely controlled by families from the Zenith. Not the ones who became the Zenithian Hegemony though. These families are known as the Neo-Zenithians, more willling to work alongside and integrate with the Firstcome. So they are not racists, which is good. And good guys are never boring, are they?


Being less interested in bloodlines than their Hegemonic rivals, the Consortium claim to wield power though corporations, rather than dynasties. Though of course the same family names crop up again and again as directors of and major shareholders in the corporations. But here is a pop quiz for you: name four Consortium affiliated corporations. Go on.

Don’t worry, take all the time you need.



You can’t can you?

Well let me help. There is the Parr bio-sculpted food company, and the weapons manufacturers Xoar, Dayal, Tilides, Vulcanor, and Parr-Nestara? Ringing any bells?

Exeter? They offer cruises and tourism, apparently. Advanced manufacturing and research is the purview of those household names Celer-Delekta and Nyala. Alkarra make spaceships, but does any PC group actually fly an Alkarra spacecraft? And if they do, do they even care? Oh, and let’s not forget the first name in gravitics, Nomo!

One could maybe build an adventure around industrial espionage, or illegal research, but none of these companies are Weyland Yutani, let’s face it.

Actually there are three Consortium Corporations your players have heard of, but only one feels like an actual corporation, and that’s The Bulletin, the Horizon-wide communications and media company. The other two are the Foundation which I guess is a corporation in the old fashioned sense, like any university, but with its public interest education a research mission, it does not quite feel like a company. The other even has a word in its name that suggests it isn’t a corporation at all, but rather a quasi-governmental organisation, and that’s the Colonial Agency.

What’s important about these three corporations is that they each have a seat on the Council of Factions, ensuring the Consortium’s heavy influence on that body, but also, possibly making them almost factions in their own right.

Playable factions? I am not sure. While it’s interesting the think that the Faction Standing talent might make you a mover and shaker in the Bulletin, Foundation or the Agency. It’s only the latter two that, to my mind, hold any potential fun for players. While you might enjoy the concept of a investigative journalist reporting for the Bulletin, who should remember that the Bulletin is a mouthpiece of the establishment. A media organisation that does not speak thrush to power as the fourth estate should, but lies to the people on behalf of the Council. And no you are not going to crush it from the inside, because it controls not must the message but the means of communication, the relay stations and probes that communicate across portals. No, any journalism campaign has god to be about underground publications and pirate channels … not being the media lap-dogs of the state. At a push … it might be fun to play a team whose job it is to cover up for mysterious incidents, and make up mundane stories that explain away strange happenings… but it would be a push. And, that seems to better suit the Colonial Agency, really…

A Foundation campaign or adventure might be fun… investigating portal builder archeology like a space Indiana Jones, but the agents of the Hegemony fill in for the Nazis could work.

And then there is the Colonial Agency … who many Firstcome might consider to be as bad as the Zenithian Hegemony anyhow. If you want to play colonists, making a life for themselves in a hostile environment, and learning to get along with the natives (and importantly – you really don’t want to play the Alien RPG), then the agency might be the way to go. Or you could play the Agency as a sort of mixed up Starfleet in a Star Trek style mission to explore strange new worlds. The only problem is there are not many new worlds left to explore.

Which brings us I think to the best opportunity for role playing in the consortium. That lies in the phrase at the top of the core books’ entry on the Consortium: “Expansion is life”.

The secret of making the the Consortium interesting lies in it’s antithesis. Expansion is slowing to a halt. If the Consortium can no longer grow, it faces an inevitable decline into entropy and death. There is a great group concept in the idea that the PC s are the good guys, defending the Consortium and everything it has built from the forces of evil, which includes pretty much everyone else: uppity Firstcome, Hegemonic Nazis, religious fundamentalists from Zalos, piratical Free Leaguers and Nomads. Never mind spoilers from beyond the horizon!

If the players can get invested in the idea that the a Consortium is a force for good, excusing the occasional mistakes that the Colonial Agency has made on the way, if they can appreciate the Horizon as we know it is a delicate construction of the a Consortium, which could crumble at any moment, if not for their diligent efforts, then at last, the Consortium becomes … interesting.