Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Of Overlords, Kings and Barons, Building a Feudal Setting Part 7

Continuing a series of posts detailing how I developed the feudal system of the City-State in my Majestic Wilderlands campaign.

In the last six posts we covered the general ideas of incorporating feudalism into your campaign. Looked at the nobles, the peasants, the military, the towns, and the religions. Now on too how I implemented these ideas for my Majestic Wilderlands specifically the City-State of the Invincible Overlord.

The City-State is ruled by the Overlord. His full title is Overlord of All Tharians and of the City-State. This popular title is the Invincible Overlord of the City-State. For the past hundred years the Overlords of All Tharians have involved an unbroken string of military successes. This is partly due to the genius of Lucius the Great and party due to the fact that all of the larger realms in the region have broken up into successor states. For much of that time the only serious rival to the Overlords was the Empire of Viridstan. It was the threat of conquest by the Viridians that led the to the Tharian Confederation and the crowning of Lucius' father, Halius, as the first Overlord of All Tharians. The father-son team of Halius and Lucius the Great were so effective at stalemating the Viridian that the Emperors of Viridstan gave up on expanding to the east for two generation. And by the time they were ready again the empire was in the midst of the conflicts that would lead it own descent into civil war.

The Overlord's power rest on his being the Overlord of All Tharians. The Tharians are horse nomads who invaded the region 400 years ago. They are a clan based culture with the clans being on the large size with hundreds of members all related to a founder or a group of related founders. They have a strict honor code and the ownership of horses is the defining mark of status. They believe in a god of the skies called the High Lord and the Lady of Plenty they call Dannu. However their worship is focused on the Lars. The Tharians believe that High Lord and the Lady of Plenty gathers all of the clan's ancestors into a senate to advise the living members of the clans and to aid them with supernatural powers. That senate is called the Lars. The clerics in charge of proper veneration of the Lars are known as mystics.

There are two other prominent characteristics of Tharian society. They have a thriving merchant class that originated in the buying and selling of horses. They are known as Bondbuyers. Last there are the Beggars. Those who have dishonored themselves, committed crimes that made them outlaws, or lost all of their horses. Over the last 400 years they have developed into a underclass that wanders from place to place in the region. They engage in a lot of smuggling, and trade in information including blackmail.

The Tharians swept into the region taking advantage of the collapse of the Dragon Empire 400 years ago. The heart of the Dragon Empire was an alliance between the Ghinorians, the chosen people of the goddess Mitra and the Elessarians whose religion was centered around the druids of the Trehaen.  Some of the Ghinorians and the Elessarians were able to retain their independence and establish independent realms but the rest were conquered and enslaved as peasants for the Tharians.

The Ghinorians believe themselves to be the chosen people of Mitra the goddess of Honor and Justice. In their early history this belief strengthened their identity as a nation separate from the surrounding tribes of their homeland. Later this was altered into that they were to serve as heralds and example so all people can learn of Mitra and follow her ways. This crusading ideal propelled the formation of a Ghinorian Empire and expanded it into the largest empire in the history of the Wilderlands. This expansion led to the Ghinorian to plant colonies throughout the Wilderlands included Caelam which will be known as the City-State of the Invincible Overlord a thousand years later.

The Elessarians are the original human inhabitants of the region. Before them, the region was dominated by Orcs with a enclave of demi-human realms in the northeast. The Elessarians swept in and drove out the Orcs. Within several generations they established petty kingdoms. Like the Tharians, the Elessarians are a clan based society. However their clans were much smallered and centered around an extended family. Later the clans incorporated the idea of businesses, military companies, and served the origin of the traditional structure of a D&D adventuring party.

After driving out the Orcs, the Elessarian developed friendly contact with the demi-human cultures. So friendly that the outside of the clan, they adopted elements of Elven culture wholesale. This led to the rise of the Trehaen and their druids. And led to the strict separation of military, religious, and judicial responsibilities.

This background is important for me because in actual play the realm ruled by the Invincible Overlord of All Tharians and of the City-State is fusion of these three cultures. And the fusion is not yet complete and has resulted in a complex clash of cultures which serves as an excellent source of adventures.

So why three cultures and why these three cultures?

You have to remember that the Majestic Wilderlands was developed over thirty years. And is still being developed even in the campaign I am running right now on Mondays. There are only a few times in this where I start with a blank piece of paper and develop a complete background from scratch. Instead what usually happens is that the players do something or ask about something I don't have notes for. The first stop is to look at the original Judges Guild material to see what it has to say. Usually is it is not much and what there is a bunch of names and their personalities. So then I look at anything I written that is related. With that in hand I draft the new bit of background and incorporate it into the campaign.

Tharian came out of Judges Guild from a series of articles in the last issues of Pegasus. I misspelled the name, in the articles they were the Tharbrians. In the articles the Tharbrians occupied the same regions the Tharians dominate in the Majestic Wilderlands. The idea of the Tharians conquering City-State, their clan structure, Lucius the Great, all came from Mayfair's version of City-State. About the only thing I liked about that not City-State product. (Note: the Mayfair CSIO adventures were very good).

The Tharians are there because they are an original element of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy. Fleshed out over the years with various details that I liked. Some details original some are adapted.

The Ghinorians came about because I really like Jenell Jaquay's Dark Tower. I like the conflict between Mitra vs. Set, and I like the details like Lions of Mitra and Sons of Set. I also like Harn products from Columbia Games for their quality, consistency, and attention to detail. This led to an appreciation for real medieval culture.

With the Ghinorians I killed two birds with one stone. They were the means that I introduced the Mitra vs. Set conflict to my campaigns, and they also are the most medieval of all the cultures I created for my campaign. The major difference being that they don't have true serfdom rather tenant farmers tied to the land through debt peonage. Because of the Ghinorian's faith in Mitra they abhor slavery although some would say the debt peonage system of tenant farmers amounts to the same thing.

The Elessarian in contrast were developed keep the default culture of D&D fantasy within my setting. Like most referees I started out with the core books, in my case ADnD 1st edition, and just went along with the default. And DnD default is not the highly class-conscious socially stratified medieval culture of our own history that Harn depicts. There is social status but wealth and accomplishments (in terms of levels) play a bigger role in determining it. There also the multi-cultural all the default races get along aspect as well. Elvish dominated Elessarian Culture reflects that default with a few twists like the Trehaen, the small clans, and separation of authority.

Within the Majestic Wilderlands, this was the situation that Lucius the Great faced when he became Overlord after his father, Halius died. He had to weld a realm together out of a land dominated by three very different cultures. Do it in a way that he and his successor could continue to rule. Next we will dive in what Lucius the Great, the Invincible Overlord of All Tharians and of the City-State did to achieve this.


Scott Anderson said...

The community at a Ruins of Murkhill would benefit greatly from seeing this. Actually, tons of folks would.

Are you planning to release these essays in a collected form?

Robert Conley said...

Sounds like a good idea I will organize them into a PDF that people can download.