Monday, March 16, 2015

Mayberry or Notthingham? Shooting the Sheriff in Medieval times

In the latest 5e campaign session with the Monday they shot the Sheriff. Douglas Cole over Gaming Ballistics has the detailed blow by blow. I appreciate the detailed writes up he does as I have been lagging on posting mine.

The after game discussion brought an interesting detail. Apparently I didn't adequately convey the importance of a medieval sheriff. So some of the players, Mark the Paladin, and Keyar the Elven Ranger were acting like they were talking to Andy Griffith of Mayberry rather than Robin Hood's Sheriff of Notthingham. I figure would us this post to explain how the various feudal ranks work especially in the Majestic Wilderlands.

Feudalism means different things at different times. What I used is based on Columbia Game's Harn which reflect the feudalism of 12th century England. That time period is a good one on which to develop and adapt a generic feudal system. The legacy of the Conquest by William the Conqueror along with the pre-existing Anglo Saxon legal system meant that England of this time period had a particularly tidy feudal system compared to its other European neighbors.

Feudalism rest on the fact that land is power. The collapse of the economy in the wake of the fall of the Roman Empire meant that the only realistic place to invest in was land. To raise what they needed the early medieval kings made numerous land grants in return for military troops and annual tributes of resources.

Various regions developed variants, some (like North Italy) didn't develop much of a system. Eventually the whole thing evolved into a bastard feudalism where titles were important but the grants were prized more for the money they produced rather just the physical holding of land.

Overlord - Typically called a king, in feudalism this person is the ultimate source of power and land. Everybody's deed, titles, and charters can be traced back to some decree or writ the feudal overlord granted.

Duke This person holds a large slice of territory spanning an entire region. Much of his land is divided into smaller holdings granted to his followers.

Earl/Count This person holds a large slice of territory smaller than a duchy. Many dukes have vassals that are count as well as the Overlord.

Baron This is the smallest feudal lord with vassals. Typically has enough land to grant to support multiple knights. Overlords, Dukes, and Counts have barons.

Knight This point of the whole system is to give a guy enough acres to control so that he can equip himself with chain or plate armor, a sword, shield, and a warhorse. Along with 2 to 4 footman. This can range from 1,500 to 4,500 acres depending on how good the land is.

Even in 12th century England feudalism can be messy. One problem is the great vassal revolting against their king. For example the wars against King John that resulted in the Magna Carta. To combat the the Overlord do two things.  Own land outright in their name. And appoint ministers to enforce the Overlord's law in the territories of his vassals.

In the early middle ages some Overlords were always on the move. Visiting each of their estate and vassal in a years to deal with problems personally. As kingdoms grew and the economy reestablished itself this became too complex for one man to handle. So the overlords appointed ministers to handle things.

Sheriffs, these officers are the equivalent of a Duke or Count. They do two jobs, one they act as a chief administrator of a large number of the overlord's estates in a region. Two they administer the overlord's justice for a large area.

Bailiffs, Baliffs are in charge of a single estate, about the same size as what a Knight would get. Anywhere from 1,500 to 4,500 depending on the quality of the land.

Justice. The reason a feudal overlord needs personal ministers is that when two of his vassal have a dispute it is his responsibility to adjudicate the controversy. If the territory is large enough then he needs to delegate that to a representative. I.E. the sheriff. Since a king has only dukes but counts, barons, and knight serving him directly. This can come up quite often. Plus there are individual commoners not subject to a feudal lord and have the right to appeal to the king's justice as well. These became known as freemen.

I hope this was informative and useful to developing your own ideas about feudal society.


Simon said...

Problem with feudalism in the Wilderlands is the low population density. Land is the thing of value when land is scarce and there are more than enough people to farm all the land; in that condition feudalism will develop - especially if there is a shortage of cash. Where land is plentiful and people scarce, then people are the thing of value - as in America (until recently) and to a large extent as in the pre-feudal world, where slavery was common because adult humans had substantial labour value.
So I tend to run my Wilderlands more like the Classical world, with little feudalism.

Ruprecht said...

Follow up to S-mon's comment. The plague in the 1300s cut the peasant population down and the result was the end of serfdom and the rise of free peasants.