From the Glorantha Sourcebook:
The peace and prosperity which the Goddess had promised when she rose to the sky now lay upon all like a rich, plush cloak. No hostile enemies bothered the borders, no virulent rebellion quelled on the interior, and no foolish demigods interfered with the emperor’s taxes.
But the peace was not without its changes. Where war and aggression could not be directed outwards against external foes, it was instead directed inward like a fine scalpel, to cut away the evil rot within the empire. Those who were not fit to rule were removed, often with the harsh and brutal cutting of the sword as well as the scalpel.
Imperial law strictly forbids war between noble houses. As a result, conflicts between noble houses (especially over control of a satrapy) are waged through internal assassination and clandestine warfare called “Dart Competitions”. The name comes from the ancient sport which has been popular since the First Wane among the Lunar nobility. When Gargron of Karresh used a poisoned dart and a “drunken misthrow” to eliminate a rival for a powerful administrative position in 1/49 (1296 ST), the practice began. It soon had spread and developed into a very sophisticated form of private warfare, popular among the ruling nobility.
Dart Competitions are struggles waged by assassination, sabotage, disinformation, and economic warfare. The Imperial court officially turns a blind eye to these activities, but sometimes encourages them or even takes part, if commoners and imperial properties are not harmed in the least.
Development of the Dart Competitions were along several lines of interest, but all included the imperial nobility itself as targets and agents. There are public events, sometimes with champions of noble clans fighting each other, or with the nobles themselves fighting, or with trained agents fighting the nobility. These affairs are very popular with the common people of the Empire, even though the formality and ritual combat often went on for hours or days before any blood was shed.
Much deadlier were the “secret games.” Again, the imperial nobility were the targets of these contests. The most secret magical agents were used, although cruder methods (such as hiring Harrek the Berserk) were occasionally used.
The legitimated violence of the Dart Competitions provides a controlled means of venting the volatile pressures of internal intrigue. Rather than resorting to open war—which would ravage regions, interrupt trade, divert tax revenue, and demand an imperial response—they allow grudges to be settled and pecking orders established by more discriminating means. Moreover, Dart Competitions hone the survival skills of the Lunar elite and develop cadres of specialist assassins and combatants whose abilities may be of value to the Empire. Dart Competitions have also wiped out several less fortunate noble houses. The Red Emperor is known to have been killed once in a Dart Competition.
Lavish amounts of money are spent on buying, raising, or otherwise preparing special agents for the Dart Competitions. During the Sixth Wane, when peace prevailed through the empire, some satraps spent up to 85% of their entire military budget on their Dart Competitors. Some of these persons grew quite famous during their own lifetime, even in the colorful and jaded Lunar courts.
The beauty of these expensive competitions was that they were the sole means available for the powerful and often volatile Lunar sorcerers to vent their madness on worthy targets: each other. Rather than spending all the money to raise armies of soldiers to fight for the whims of the rulers, the rulers instead hired very special and elite forces to wage private war at public expense, but not at public destruction. Thus, although a noble clan might fall from power through the bloody grudges of another, the trade of the satrapy would pass unhindered, and the cities would not be sieged or the fields burnt.
The Red Emperor had begotten a special demon whose province it was to punish any individual and their clan who might wage a Dart Competition against an inferior target, or to punish a noble who used some means other than the Dart Competition against each other. This demon was sometimes referred to as the “Tax Demon” since it interfered with the nobles only if the Emperor’s taxes were ever interfered with.
In the long internal peace following the Nights of Horror, Dart Competitions grew in significance and importance.
In 5/46 (1509), the Rastari-ining clan seized rule of the Karasal Satrapy from the decadent Eledre-jen, who had ruled since the Third Wane.
In 5/50 (1513), a Dart Competition in Sylila conducted by the Virishi against the Hwarin-ony clan proved so destructive that the Red Emperor unleashed the first Tax Demons to destroy the Virishi.
In 6/3 (1520), the Molari-sor took Oraya Satrapy, replacing the crippled house of the Eel-ariash, who nonetheless kept control of the cult of their demigoddess ancestor.
In 6/10 (1527), the Jenet-aror clan of First Blessed was forced to abdicate the satrapy as the result of a Dart Competition. An incarnation of the Red Goddess called the “Flower Poem” was summoned at a special ceremony and took a new lover, founding the Taran-il dynasty. Two years later, the Red Emperor himself was assassinated as part of a failed attempt by the Jenet-aror to return to power. Upon his return, the Red Emperor executed the last members of the Jenet-aror for treason.
In 6/26 (1543), the Eel-ariash took over Oronin after exterminating two of the three clans that make the wondrous Moon Boats in a particularly vicious Dart Competition, as well as causing great damage throughout the satrapy and beyond. The Red Emperor sent Tax Demons against them, but Eel-ariash proved immune to them. They defied the Emperor and embarrassed him in law, so the Emperor ultimately gave them their regalia of office, although he begrudged them many honors and blessings.
In 6/31 (1548), the Wylua-oor took Darjiin, in a Dart Competition widely believed to be backed by the Red Emperor.
In 6/44 (1561), the Hwarin-ony clan of Sylilla was destroyed in a Dart Competition that ranged throughout the Lunar Provinces. As a result, the Errio-unit clan were recognized as the satraps of Sylila. The satrapy largely abandoned the traditions of the old Orlanthi hill culture and became a fully assimilated part of the Lunar Heartlands. The ambitious Errio-unit dynasty, ambitious and eager to establish relationships with neighboring tribes, spread their influence through diplomacy, bribery, subversion, and conquest.
In 7/4 (1575), the Yanoriao-ilart overthrew the Eel-ariash in the Doblian satrapy. The Eel-ariash long had enjoyed the support of the Red Emperor, however, soon after their victory, the Yanoriao-ilart were chartered by the new mask of the Emperor as satraps, and the Emperor was known to have been pleased with the result. This is widely considered the low point in the fortunes of the Eel-ariash clan.
A more recent Dart Competition between the Wyua-oor and Yanoriao-ilart clans unleashed the demigod Harrek the Berserk.
In 7/36 (1607), to everyone’s horror, Harrek the Berserk killed the Red Emperor and then fled to the dark forests of Fronela.