Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Culture and Religion

It appears that my initial plan to zoom into next step of the Kingdom—the actual play area—has been placed on hold while I focus on some more higher level ideas.  This is fine—it’s still interesting to work on, and will give me plenty of stuff to work with when I actually take the next step.

First, I want to answer some questions that Drew asked a little while ago and the politics and structure of the Kingdom. I’m going to through each of them, and go over some of my own current thoughts.

“Who are the king's subjects within the kingdom? Are there others within the borders over which he has limited jurisdiction (dwarves, forest people, etc)?
The Kings basic subjects are divided into the three classic classes of medieval society—warriors, priests, and peasants.  The warriors and most priests are ethnically Galts, with the Umbrians making up the majority of the peasantry.  They have an agriculture based society, revolving around tightly knit communal villages which have been parceled out to various nobles and knights in a classic feudal structure.  When the nobles talk about the people of their Kingdom, this is what they are referring to. 

Of course, it’s more complicated than that.  Ignoring for a moment the myriad variations among village life, there are key groups that are exceptions to this organization.  First off, most of the cities remain more or less independent and free.  The Galts, due to a combination of ignorance and cultural heritage, have little interest in trade and commerce, and as such the major cities of the realm enjoy a unique position of freedom and independence, often electing their own government and seeing to their own immediate defense.  Of course, none are bastions of democracy and liberty as we would understand it—where republicanism does hold sway, it is the province of adult male guild members, and often only those of certain rank in the “right” guilds.  Others are under the control of either high ranking clerics or particular nobles, but even these cities have far more freedom than the towns and villages of the realm. 

The cities of the islands of the Great Sea are an extreme example of this; in fact they are practically independent states in their own right.  Of course, the cities pay a heavy tax to the king and local powerful nobles for these freedoms, and the islands in particular are required to build, equip, man, and fund the ships of the Kingdom.

The Dwarves maintain their own separate societies, working as highly skilled craftsman and money lenders.  In fact, the Dwarves are the only group officially exempt from the usury laws—a privilege they must pay a hefty tax for.  In theory, the Dwarves independence and privileges are guaranteed by the King, but he is in many cases a distant and preoccupied protector. 

The core areas of the Kingdom would be areas 7 and 8, which follow the “proper” structure mentioned about.  The coast would probably be similar.  But, between these areas are huge stretches of thinly settled land (4,5 & 6).  The forest people of 4 would be more closely tied to the Faririans of the Islands, and under little control of the Galts.  6 is a thinly settled scrub land—full of poor and distant communities, barely under control of any lord.  The Northern Wastes of 5 is populated by small bands of swamp people, who care little for what King claims to rule them, and not worth the effort to wring the meager taxes from. 

The maps a little faint, but hopelly what I'm saying will make more sense with it.


All of these could be brought to heal with dedication and focus, but the King is preoccupied with the chaos that is the Wild Coast.  I’m not sure why this land is so full of brigands—my gut is to go with numerous disputed successions for the local nobles, resulting in near constant civil war, made only worse by the constant raids by the Orcs and Dragons of the Forsaken Mountains.  The King lacks both the military and political might to end this constant conflict, and so he is forced to focus on containing it as best as possible, all the while dealing with more direct threats from the Orcish tribes into the heartland (7).  The rich minerals of the Forsaken Mountains are also far more tempting than the central wastelands for the King and his followers.
What are the freedoms that people have within the kingdom? Slavery doesn't have to be what Americans think of it - we can have people selling themselves to get out of debt (debt-bondage), indentured servitude, and, of course, serfdom. Can a person move from his hometown to a far-off place freely? Can a person choose his profession? Can a woman do the same as a man? 

I covered this a bit under “Predestination”—but in general we’re dealing with the beginnings of a bound labor system.  In theory, each peasant is legally bound to his village, and can only leave with the express permission of his lord.  In reality, the Kingdom lacks the will or the ability to enforce this rule, and many peasants escape to the cities or to the empty scrublands in hope of a better life. 

Building off the last point but more apropos to adventurers: what is the legitimate source of violence? I mean: who can carry weapons and use force? Can anyone carry a sword? Does one have to be the "man" of some particular noble (in my mind, the most interesting option) in order to carry lethal weapons and metal armor? Is this restriction only in cities (again, that's how I would do it)? 
Only a lord’s man can carry a sword or wear armor, though this proscription is honored more in the breach than the observance.  This is particularly true in the frontier areas, where monsters and bandits are common.  Cities, however, generally enforce these rules scrupulously.  If one is not a noble, one cannot bear arms in a city.

One thing I haven’t really gotten into yet is the subject of religion.  I don’t want to go into too much detail, as the World Builder’s Guidebook has a later section dedicated to religion, and since I’m going through it “in order” I want to wait till then.  But there are already a few ideas germinating in my head.

First off, I see religious conflict as being one the major divisive issues in this kingdom, often wrapped up in to matters of race and cultural identity.  If the Free Cities of the Islands ever attempt to throw off the yoke of the Galts, it won’t be be due to actions of the Galician King, but instead the actions of the church. 

In short, here’s my current ill-though out ideas.  To recap, Galicia is comprised of three different human ethnic groups—the Galts, the Umbrians, and the Fairians.  The Fairians were the humans who most identified with and became “elite” under the Elven Empire.  Their very name is a derivation of “Fair Folk” and reflects this connection.  Their culture and faith is very “Elvish” in many ways. 

The Umbrians are the peasants, ground down by both the Elves and the Galts.  Their faith endures, however, and remains the Old Faith—one of Druids and local deities and cults.  It is officially banned, but the Kingdom has no tools available to actually root it out.  So long as the loca l cults don’t cause any issues, they are generally ignored by the nobility and the church.
Finally, there’s the religion of the Galts.  Now, I originally was thinking they should have their own pantheon, but I rather like the idea of them converting to the religion of the elves/Fairians, combining it with their own traditions, than claiming that the Fairians are heretics who need to be brought into the light. 

My thoughts right now is that the Fairian faith was one of ancestor worship combined with distant and uninvolved gods, and a healthy dose of Buddhistesque reincarnation philosophy thrown in for good measure.  The Galts have taken many of these tropes, elevated certain gods even higher (and maybe placed their own ancestral founder as one of them), and attacked the “necromancy” of the Fairians.

The issue I run into, however, is that D&D religion is, by its very nature, extremely chaotic.  The average person is quite likely to change their temple based on which god has the most powerful cleric in the immediate area.  I mean, I know I would be a lot more likely to follow the guy who has shown he can Raise Dead than the guy who can only Cure Light Wounds. 
The solution to this, I believe, is the most dreaded force in the universe—Rule by Committee.  A variety of Temples have been granted special and unique privileges and lands—while they might focus on one particular god, they all acknowledge and support the worship of all the gods.  The high-priests of each temple form the Synod (Elvish (ok, really Latin) for assembly) which overseas faith in the land.  Some of these high priests are appointed by the King, others come from their own temple hierarchies. 

The solution to this, I believe, is the most dreaded force in the universe—Rule by Committee.  A variety of Temples have been granted special and unique privileges and lands; while they might focus on one particular god, they all acknowledge and support the worship of all the gods.  The high-priests of each temple form the Synod (Elvish (ok, really Latin) for assembly) which overseas faith in the land.  Some of these high priests are appointed by the King, others come from their own temple hierarchies.  More so than the King or the Noble, it is the Synod that is behind the banning of the Old Faith, and the conversion of the Fairians to the "proper" Way of the Gods.

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