The continuing a series of posts detailing how I developed the feudal system of the City-State in my Majestic Wilderlands campaign.
I debated about how to order the posts in this series. I think it would best to give you the finished structure and then following up with the history and the why.
The realm controlled by City-State is more of a confederation than a kingdom or empire. The Overlords rule over a realm consisting of three major cultures each with their own laws and traditions; Tharians, Elessarians, and Ghinorians.
The Tharian Horselords are a clan based society with each clan prizing their independence and authority. But after the conquest they had enemies on all sides and most of the clans choose to unite in a confederation to defend themselves. The clans appointed a Overlord to adjudicate disputes between them. And appointed a Clanute (now known as the Senate) to adjudicate disputes between the clans and the Overlord. This structure was flexible enough to incorporate Ghinorian noble houses and the smaller clans of the Elessarians.
The basic foundation of Tharian society is the clan. Tharian clans can have a number of members in the hundreds or thousands consisting of everybody who can trace descent from the founder. Prior to the formation of the confederation, a hundred years ago, the Tharians conquered the territories they controlled. They turned the native Elessarian and Ghinorian population into serfs.
The Elessarians invaded the region two thousand years ago driving the orc tribes into the mountains and wastelands. They established the first widespread human civilization in the City-State Region. Pre-dated everybody else except for the Elves, Dwarves, and their allies. The Elessarians are organized in clans as well but much smaller than the Tharians. They are about the size of an extended family and focused on a single occupation. There are military clans, religious clans, merchant clans, and crafting clans. The Trehean (i.e. druids) are the keepers of the Law. Elessarian nobles are more military officers with little in the way of legal authority.
The Ghinorians entered into the region a thousand years ago as part of the expansion of the far flung Ghinorian Empire. Caelam (City-State's original name) was a colony of that empire. When the Ghinorian Empire collapsed, Caelam was left to find for itself. Eventually the Ghinorians of Caelam allied with the Elessarian and formed the Dragon Empire. The collapse of the Dragon Empire and the Tharian invasions left the economy in ruins leading to the rise of manoralism along with feudalism.
The Ghinorian realms that remained independent did not make serfs of the peasantry, largely because of the influence of the Church of Mitra and its views on slavery. Instead a system of sharecropping and debt peonage grew in its place to keep the peasants tied to the land. Ghinorian noble titles originated in the various imperial offices. Titles that became hereditary rights over the decades. A quirk of their culture is that their highest ruler is a Prince not a King. Even when the empire was flourishing their ruler was known as the Imperial Prince of Ghinor.
The structure of the confederation was largely the work of Lucius the Great. First working under his father, Halius the first Overlord, and then under his own authority when he reigned as the second Overlord. The full title is the Overlord of All Tharians and of the City-State. The title in theory is elective but in practice hereditary.
The Overlord has two major duties. First to defend the clans of the confederation from any external and internal threat. And to estabilsh courts where he can adjudicate disputes between the members of different clans.
The Senate is an assembly of representatives from the various "clans" who are members of the Confederation. At first clans meant a Tharian style clan, but as the confederation expanded the definition became looser to encompass how the Ghinorians and Elessarians organized themselves. The present day Senate comprises of 50 senators. Five senators from "clans" in each of the five major regions of City-Stae (Bernost, Laknost, Gaenost, Halnar, and Dearthmead). 15 senators from small but important clans, and 10 senators sent by various guilds and religous institutions. The traditional Tharian clan holds the lion share of the seats. Also allies of the Overlord are invited to sent a Senator. Currently there are four, one each from Thunderhold, Sotur, Viridistan, and Modron.
The Senate doesn't rule or legislate, it functions as a succession council for the title of the Overlord and as a supreme court for any dispute between the Overlords and a member of the Confederation. Each clan of the confederation is sovereign and responsible for justice between their membership. After each session the Senate establishes Shield Courts throughout the five regions of City-State. These Shield Courts are the first forum where the first attempt to resolve a dispute is made. From the Shield Courts the losing party can appeal to the full Senate.
The exception to this is the City-State and the Overlord's marches. These are the Overlord's personal territories and any legal dispute is handled by the Overlord's system of justice and has no recourse to the Senate. Although as a matter of political necessity the Overlord allows clan members get help from their clan leaders. The average adventurer or commoner rarely if ever gets involved in a Senate or Shield Court trial.
The head of major "clans" are granted the title of duke. In 4460 BCCC the current present of my Majestic Wilderland campaign there are seven dukes. the Duke of Laknost, the Duke of Bernost, the Duke of Gaenost, the Duke of Halnar, the Duke of Dearthmead, the Duke of New Caelam, and the Duke of Rhyl. In 4436 BCCC, the date of the supplement, New Caelam, and Rhyl did not exist as titles. In Halnar, Dearthmead, Rhyl, and New Caelam the title is a formal office as well. For the three Tharian Dukes (Laknost, Bernost, and Gaenost) is a symbol of authority as head of their clans but is not a formal office in of itself.
Below the dukes are the barons. Among the Tharians it marks the individual as a head of a small but important clans with major holdings. Among the Elessarians is an office holding military command, and legal enforcement powers. For the Ghinorians, Baron is a title associated with lands and legal authority over that territory. Regardless of culture a baron typically holds a keep.
Between the rank of duke and baron are the counts. In the case of Tharians they are the wealthiest and most powerful clan in a small region. The Elessarians use Count as a command rank in charge of a castle and a small region. The Ghinorian it is a title associated with a small region and a castle. Usually the defining difference between a baron and a count is the fact that the count is wealthy and powerful enough to own and maintain a castle. Like dukes, counts can have barons serving them directly.
Finally there are the knights. In Tharian clans they are individuals of importance noted for their fighting ability and granted authority and responsibility. In Elessarian society a Knight is a command rank officer and with honorable service the holder is allow to use it for life. For the Ghinorian it is a status symbol marking the individual as being committed to the defense of the land and the Ghinorian people. It makes the person eligible for a variety of privileges and offices among them the right to hold an estate if one available.
Parallel to this are the Overlord's personal territories. The first is Bulwark the home of the Overlord's clan. The Overlord is not only leader of the confederation but also of his clan and has the same rights as any clan lord when it comes to matters within his family and the lands they own.
As part of the office, the Overlord controls two dozen keeps and several castles scattered around the five regions of City-State. These were granted to act as homes for the Overlord's courts and as bases for levies to defend specific regions.
In addition to Bulwark and the Overlord's keeps are the Overlord's personal territories won by the right of Conquest. The first was the City-State itself, then the Northern March, by 4460 several marches have been established; Northern, Eastern, and Southern Marches. Also the Prydon March, Southern Reaches March, and the Dearthwood March have been established. In 4436 BCCC start date of the supplement, the Southern Reaches March does not yet exist.
The Overlords do not appoints dukes and counts to rule over the marches. He does appoint barons and grants them the right to build keeps. In the place of dukes and count the Overlord has established a series of appointed offices. In charge of the entire march is the Sheriff. Magistrates are appointed in charges of keeps that the Overlord personally owns. Finally for the individual manor or estates he appoints bailiffs to manage the manor in the same manner as a resident knight.
As a general note, bailiffs are widely used by all higher nobles like barons, count, and dukes to manage estates and manors they personally own. Unlike a formal grant, being bailiff is an salaried office. The estate's owner can dismiss the bailiff for whatever reason. And when the bailiff dies the manor is not passed down to the bailiff's heirs. Socially the bailiff position is viewed as a stepping stone to bigger and better things for second sons and newly knighted commoners.
The Overlord retains the sovereign right administer justice within the marches as part of the same prerogative enjoyed by the other clans of the confederation. Only in the Overlord case it is on a much vaster scale.
So what does all of this detail mean in terms of the campaign? In general the player characters come in semi-regular contact with magistrates, bailiffs, and knights.
As far as the law goes, there are two types of situation that the character will face while adventuring in the lands of the City-State. The first is that they are in City-State or one of the marches. In this case the courts they will be dealing with are run by the Overlord. Like all medieval courts there is plenty of bias and corruption, however in general the Overlord wants people to PEACEFULLY do business in his territories. So the Overlord's courts really don't care which clan or noble house you belong but they do care about your social status (commoner, merchant, nobles, etc)
However if the character run into trouble in a clan or noble house's territory it is a completely different picture. They really don't like trouble being caused by outsiders and are very biased in favor of the locals. One the other hand if a character has an "in" because of their background or how the campaign developed, the character may enjoy a limited legal immunity. Think of the worst stereotypes of small town justice and you won't be far off on what happens when the character run into legal trouble in these areas.
The exact form that justice takes varies on where the infraction takes places. The Overlord has courts setup pretty much like how most referee would do courts in a bog-standard D&D campaign. There are judges who listen to testimony and their judgment is absolute. If knights and city guard will be sent after a character if an arrest needs to be made.
Lucius the Great used a lot of Ghinorian legal procedure in setting up his courts. There differences despite similar setups. Under the Overlord, corruption is rampant as giving bribes and granting favors are not considered morally wrong. One of the things a clan chief to establish or keep his position is grant his followers lots and lost of gift. So gift in general are treated as a sign of respect. Overlord's justice is about fixing things so that the peace is restored. Not about what is right and wrong.
For the Ghinorian, the belief that they are to be examples of Mitra's teachings make their legal proceeding a lot more about the morals of the situation and what right and wrong.
The Elessarian have a completely different legal proceeding involving the druid of the Trehaen. However they have the same focus on determine what is right and wrong as the Ghinorians do. Also their nobles only have law enforcement powers. The Elessarian nobles do not make laws or run trials.
More differences from the Ghinorians is that Elessarian use a common law system of precedents while the Ghinorians use a formal code of law defined by decrees from the Princes and the Church. The Tharians rely on a haphazard system of customs, decrees by clan chiefs, and proclamation made by the clan as a whole. Their priests, the Mystics of the Lars, are supposed to memorize it and recite what relevant during a trial. The Overlord uses decrees that are entered into a Code of Law first written down by Lucius the Great.
In the management of a campaign, the players rarely, if ever, run into the details of all this. It a guide for me for when they players deal with a knight, or any number other number of low ranking officials that they could run into. Some of the higher level details will come into play later in the campaign as the character establish themselves.
Also while it is seemly complex with four parallel social structures and legal systems during a campaign it boils to two things, do the players run into the locals who are biased in favor of their own, or do they run into the Overlord's minion with their broader outlook and attitude. Also as these cultures cover rather large areas, the main region of most campaigns take place in an area dominated by one culture. For example the current group is in the March of Dearthwood which is controlled by the Overlord.
The few time when the players have characters become rulers they fall into one of two broad categories. Either they rule by decree with few checks on their powers. Or they rule by consensus. Rule by consensus happens when only one PC is able to hold a title but the entire adventuring party played a major role in securing that title. In both cases the players will mine my campaign background for law codes but generally chafe at any other type of restriction (other than consensus if that applies).
When Tim Shorts established the Duchy of New Caelam, it took a lot of roleplaying to get him accept some of the conditions of joining as a Duke of City-State. After he conquered half of the Elessarian Kingdom of Antil, he refused to work with the druids of Trehaen until they accepted his absolute authority. Even then he still had to break them as an organization before he was satisfied that he had peace.
Finally chafing at having to grant keeps and lands to the Overlord from the Duchy of New Caelam, Tim and Dwayne, as Draco-lindus and William Endril, organized an expedition to conquer a land on the other side of the Trident Gulf. They formed an army not only out of their own resources but added in those of their allied nobles in City-State. After the conquest they claimed the same rights as the Overlord did when he established his marches. The conquered territory was parceled out to all those involved and a separate Senate from City-State was setup to handle any dispute between the allies.
Next post I will detail the bureaucracy that has been established to help the Overlord manage all this.