The Mountains of Morpheus
Rulership in Drau-Mura
“Aren’t there supposed to be laws against this sort of thing?” “No.”
How is power consolidated, organized, and distributed in a quasi-medieval fantasy setting like Drau-Mura? Who is “in charge” of a political territory, and who pushes back? Who gets to raise an army, collect taxes, punish criminals, coerce labor, control markets, and distribute rights to access mines and forests and waterways? These questions may often bore adventurers, but more often necessitate their concern. And to the frustration of many, these questions all depend on time and space. The forms of power are always on the move, always being contested.
Let’s explore some possibilities:
Feudal warrior aristocracy: This is by far the most common form of rulership in Drau-Mura. Power is concentrated in noble houses with a tradition of martial combat and military leadership, and they effectively make up the state as organized in a feudal hierarchy, from lowly lord to overlord to king. Authority is invested in lords, but in reality power is distributed across families and advisors. Authority is also hereditary. Rulership is treated as both a moral duty and a matter of survival: Society needs its strong, sword-bearing leaders to survive, yet each lord must be ready to defend herself from the depradtions of another. Many lords, overlords, and kings have no qualm styling themselves as warlords or even tyrants.
These Game of Thrones-, King-Arthur-style elites ground their idea of rulership upon a rock-solid notion of land as territory, with boundaries that must be kept by force and vicious enemies beyond them. (Such enemies can be rival nobles of another kingdom, rival nobles of the same kingdom, barbarian tribes, pirates, or supernatural beings.) They are entirely used to the notion of conquering land and defending it, with whatever moral or theological justification (if any) they can muster. They tend to recognize their peers as allies or enemies or potential threats, with little room for the in-between. They are often seriously committed to values of personal honor, loyalty, and servitude: not necessarily because they are decent people but because they recognize the usefulness of provable political resoluteness. A warrior-aristocrat would expect unquestioning obedience from her personal attendant, but by the same token would feel beholden to ensure his prosperity and “job security.” Likewise, marriage and family are considered highly important because of the implicit trust: A lord would prefer a moderately competent brother at her side to some excellent hot-shot who she has known for less than a year.
Feudal warrior aristocracy is violent. Warlord aristocrats keep themselves busy preparing for conquest — or for a pre-emptive strike against a would-be conqueror. Their activity inevitably leads to pillaged towns, burned farmsteads, war refugees, fuzzy borders, and general war atrocities. Warlords are also used to treating the ruled brutally: if lethal violence can be used to keep a rival lord’s soldiers at bay, then surely it is the proper solution for dissenting peasants who refuse their corvee, or a petty thief.
Feudal warrior aristocracy is very cautious of arcane magic and the supernatural, generally regarding them as heterogeneous to politics. If a warlord aristocrat has character levels, she is most likely to be a Barbarian, Fighter, or Paladin. Basically, these aristocrats consider a case of magic as either a resource to be used, or a threat to be neutralized — and given the ability of magic to confuse the mind and sow destruction, they are considerably more likely to interpret the unknown or unpredictable as a threat. (Some overlords in the Azna kingdoms permit their vassals to torture to death not only any magician who has used illusions to impersonate them, but also the magician’s children.) This said, lords usually have a magician in their employ: it is just one who is trusted to be responsible. (Again, a weak sorcerer who is your little brother is preferable to the mysterious Merlin who just shows up one day.) Lords tend to trust divine magicians, such as druids and clerics, much more as they tend to take their vows of service more seriously. In any case, these lords view magic as an instrument, often to prevent the abuse of magic. A nobleman who more than dabbled in magic would be considered … well, not taboo, but gauche, sinister, effete, and physically and socially inept. A nobleman who swore off magic completely, however, would be considered unreasonable.
Young aristocrats of this aristocracy take up adventuring and mercenary work: sometimes for the thrill, not so often for the money, but to win a better reputation through martial prowess. After all, it adds a lot to a warlord’s legitimacy when he can say he personally slew bandits threatening the good common folk … or even better, a monster. Some aristocrats attempt to stage these exploits, and others die barely understanding the folly of charging a dragon.
The feudal warrior aristocracy is the predominant mode of rulership, and has been for a very long time. It enjoys a great deal of legitimacy even in the eyes of the people it kills.
Feudal arcane aristocracy: Feudal arcane aristocracy resembles feudal warrior aristocracy. The key difference is that its leaders are sorcerers and wizards, and less often warlocks. The underlying logic is that magic is a weapon: therefore, noble-born magicians — and particularly arcane magicians — should be treated just like noble-born warriors and knights.
Many among the feudal arcane aristocracy take its ideas further with an optimistic, futuristic imaginary: If mages were in charge, they could organize and apply their magic to change society, and potentially the world. Its aristocrats speak of surmounting disease and infirmity, nature being compelled to do man’s bidding, and transporting goods and people vast distances through portals and tamed dragons. Certainly, the magic to implement this on a large (or even small) scale doesn’t exist yet, but it can be developed. Others scoff at this pipe dream … and some fear that if mages attained more power, the world would change for the worse, and quickly. In this way, rulership is treated as a duty and a moral survival, but also an opportunity to make social progress.
Arcane aristocrats take marriage and familial loyalty more seriously than their warrior counterparts. (Or, they would were it possible.) Magic, particularly among sorcerers, is often seen as an important hereditary birthright, and cannot be wasted on un-arranged love.
Feudal arcane aristocracy is mistrusted, especially by peasants who have little direct power over magic. It is mainly in Kala Anar that it has legitimacy. In Kala Anar, the aristocrats are split between feudal warriors and feudal sorcerers, and it is this contest that will shape the future of its society.
Aristocracy guided by religion: Sometimes, noblemen wonder what it would be like if clerics, paladins, and druids merged with the aristocracy itself. Then, they chuckle because it isn’t going to happen. A priest can be influential, but Drau-Mura tradition would generally consider her role to be a ruler’s advisor and conscience. Aristocrats would be aghast as anyone else at the prospect of having their mortal, political power subordinate to someone claims to speak for the divine. No … let priests deal with affairs of the next world and aristocrats with this one. (That said, many if not most lords are sincere believers in one faith or another — just in a way that allows them to rule as they like.)
That said, there is a difference between an advisor whom a lord cannot easily dismiss and an advisor whom a lord can. Many priests, especially Ashoumites, attempt to build their church’s power and popularity, so that it can have some influence over the ruling elite. Canny lords seek out the endorsement of a prominent bishop, preacher, or mystic. Some play Ashoum and the Old Faith against each other. (“I truly want to help you build this church, but you must ally with me in protecting our people against Old Faith extremists.”)
Centralized monarchy: Feudal aristocracy implies monarchy, as each noble owes fealty to some more powerful figure, except for the sovereign who sits at the top. But in reality, feudal lords enjoy considerable autonomy in their power: so long as they’ve seriously pledged to protect the sovereign, they may rule their fiefdoms as they see fit. Naturally, this leads to an enormous degree of legal inconsistency across Drau-Mura. The rules not only change from place to place, but the lord’s word and not his rules are final. (“Yes, there is an antecedent for the criminal to be punished. But this is a special case ….”)
Centralized monarchy thus lives by much of the principles of feudal warrior aristocracy, but emphasizes the investment of a Prince, or other monarchical figure, with absolute authority. Many see a better prospect for justice and order through this centralization, especially if the monarch pronounces and adheres to a static, written law. Many philosophers, priests, and aristocrats argue for the necessity of some kind of centralized governing document that both empowers the monarch and strictly defines her duties. Others see centralized monarchy as tyranny with a human face. Such centralizing documents have been attempted throughout much of Drau-Mura, with the exception of the Eastern Tribes. They have usually been annulled — after all, laws are so confining, and the world has so many exigencies …
Nevertheless, a stable centralized monarchy has come to define the Azna city-state of Cayellia, and it seems to be emerging (with great contest) in Kala Anar.
Populist juridical theocracy: It’s not as if people insist that priests shouldn’t be in charge, or that the aristocracy itself needs to be demolished. Peasants in Drau-Mura have been saying this, especially the latter, for a very long time. There are many dissatisfied people — some of them even of high-born origin! — who have argued that the whole system of knights, lords, and war must be destroyed before it destroys Drau-Mura. They propose governance by law rather than the whim of lord: a sort of fantasy version of sharia law.
Ashoumite juridical theocracy has emerged as a possible alternative to feudal aristocracy. Put succinctly, aristocrats and their officials would retain some of their power and wealth but submit to tribunals of religious judges. Judges would be responsible for interpreting a body of Ashoumite law called asheira, and hold men and women accountable to it. Markets and urban centers would also be governed by officials appointed by aristocrats, tribunals, priests, and the public. This would thus install checks and balances in the state, between nobleman and judge and bureaucrat, preventing the unstable tyrannies that have shed so much innocent blood.
There are numerous problems with juridical theocracy: Obviously, feudal lords and kings do not smile upon the proposition that their power must be curbed by bookish elders who haven’t proved their prowess in battle. Furthermore, there is intense disagreement about asheira among its proponents: Is it divine itself, or merely an interpretation of God’s word? Who is fit to interpret the law: only priests, or any educated person? And there are hundreds of debates over matters of crime, war, sex, and other innumerable details of society. What is certain that asheira makes limited distinction by social class: the crimes of a lord’s son would (theoretically) be treated as those of a farmer’s. For this reason, it is quite popular from below.
Ashoum’s rise over the last two hundred years has been indisputable. Many priests, scholars, peasants, bandits, and even lords believe that it is a matter of time before Ashoumite thinkers develop a body of law, and Ashoumites persuade Drau-Mura to adopt it. Their enemies frame them as fanatics who seek to convert all nonbelievers to their religion, and they are not completely wrong in their slander. Juridical theocracy is in its infancy in terms of implementation as well; only a few lords have bowed to asheira, and they are scattered across the land. Nevertheless, the believers are confident: Is not God on their side?