Thursday, March 19, 2015

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

My last post was about feudalism in general. A generic overview simplifying a complex subject. This is useful if socio-economic-political element are not a big part of your campaign but you still need a dash of medieval to mix in with your adventures.

My preference is to flesh out the details of culture and society as I find this leads to more opportunities for adventure and act as a source of complications for the characters.

For example in the Monday Night Game, the players have received a number of clues about an evil force led by an ancient dragon named Pan Caulderax. But this is happening in the midst of a civil war within the lands controlled by City-State. The party is finding it a challenge to focus on what they discovered so far.

Several elements have to come together to make a successful campaign. Setting, and locations are important. But what makes it comes alive are the NPCs the referees run. And there are two main factors why a NPC acts the way he or she does, personality and culture. The culture aspect of a NPC behavior is why detailing history helps a RPG campaign. It explains in part, along with personality, the NPCs motivations, his goals, and why he does what he does.

The end result of this is not to hand a piece of paper to the players and ask them to read it. But to guide you, the referee, in how to roleplay the various NPCs as the players interact with the setting as their characters.

I think some will find something useful for their own games as I write these posts and my players will better understand why the NPCs act the way they do in the Majestic Wilderlands.

What made real-life feudalism so complex is that the people adapted it to different regions with unique conditions and histories. I also adapted feudalism to the conditions of City-State and the Majestic Wilderlands. But do so I had to answer the question of what where the conditions of City-State the Majestic Wilderlands.

First thing you need to remember I didn't do this overnight. Starting around 1980, the foundation grew bit by bit until the early 90s which was when I wrote my first summary.

It began with Judges Guild's Wilderlands of High Fantasy. In the Wilderlands City-State has a history with being founded by the barbarian tribesman of Altanis to the south. The impression you get from the original that there is a bit of clash of culture between the sophisticated inhabitants of City-State and the those that remained tribesman. This got vastly altered in my Majestic Wilderlands to point where there is no barbarians in Altanis. However the culture clash remained.

The first two things that got added was the Tharians and Mitra versus Set. Tharian came from the city-state histories from the Judges Guild's magazine Pegasus. I misspelled the name writing down Tharian rather than Tharbrian. The one detail that remain consistent was they were horse barbarians invading from the west.

Mitra versus Set came from reading Conan stories and more importantly the conflict outlined in Judges Guild's the Dark Tower written by Jennel Jaquays. The whole setup of Set vs. Mitra in the module was great along with the Lions of Mitra and the Sons of Set. I continued Dark Tower's portrayal of Mitra as a lawful good deity of honor and justice. But Set changed from being Dark Tower's Chaotic Evil demonic deity to a lawful evil god of war, and order.

To explain the conflict between Set and Mitra I came up with the idea of the Ghinorians. A human culture who believe they were the chosen people of Mitra. Whose version of the Church of Mitra functioned pretty much like the Catholic Church did in our own history. The conflict with Set came about from their early history when they were enslaved to a culture dominated by Set. Mitra liberated the Ghinorian and they considered themselves her chosen people ever since. The City-State back story shifted from being founded by barbarian Altainians to being founded by Ghinorians who were conquered by the Tharian horselords.

Next are the Elessarians. I always liked AD&D Druids. Because my family Irish I was also interested in Celtic history and culture. So I wanted to come up with a celticish culture that that explained the existence of Druid. I developed the Elessarians along with the Trehaen an organization of Druids. To fit them into the history I was developing I made them the original human inhabitants of the area. They swept the orcs out of the region and founded the first human settlements.

I wanted to keep some of Judges Guild's original background so I made the Dragon Empire an alliance between the Elessarians with their druids, and the Ghinorians with the Church of Mitra. The Tharian Horselords took advantage of a long past civil war and invaded. Eventually conquering City-State and becoming the rulers of the regions. From this starting point the details you read in my Majestic Wilderlands supplement were developed.

This is the broad background on which I developed the details of City-State feudalism. Because there are three culture making up the present-day City-State the resulting feudal society is not simple. But it does give ample opportunities for conflict as you will see in the next post.

1 comment:

Mystic Scholar said...

I prefer a "defined" world, a reason things work as they do, why people react the way they do.

I like your approach, it mirrors my own.