Great Khan Enthroned

Great Khan Enthroned

Thursday, April 7, 2011

F is for-

Feudalism, which is the assumed default governmental form in most D&D settings. We usually add in it's associated economic system of Manorialism, if we give any thought to economics at all. The problem is most people get Feudalism dead wrong. They think the king is some Louis XIV type and everyone is running around doing his bidding. That's called absolute monarchy. Feudal monarchies are about decentralization of power. In a feudal system the king is likely to be, at best, first among equals. Sure, every now and again a strong king comes along and makes the nobles toe the line, but under a feudal system only those nobles directly in fealty to the king have ANY ties to him. For example a duke may be in fealty to the king, but the duke's men aren't; they owe their allegiance to the duke alone, if the duke decides to rebel against the king they are obliged to follow the duke; they don't owe the king anything. Follow this down the line of the duke's vassals who have vassals of their own. Now there are significant legal and moral obligations to those above you and below you, which is why feudalism works, but you can see how easy it might be to gum up the works.

I suppose I should point out that I am using the western European/English model for feudalism here. Feudalism works much the same way elsewhere, but some cultures have more or less rules for their particular versions. The Japanese system, for instance, only allows a vassal to have one lord; in England or France you could have as many as you could handle- often with quite humorous results*.

F is for Frodia, the "other" nation in my Garnia campaign. Frodia has an interesting history with regard to it's existence. I originally designed it to make use of EGG's other governmental types from the DMG. I wanted a magocracy in my fantasy world because it sounded cool and couldn't exist in the real world. My initial Garnian pantheon of gods included "Frodal- God of Magic" and the Oligarchic Theocratic Magocracy of Frodia was born. I initially envisioned Frodia as a very much "other" kind of a place and they were the counterpoint and rival of the standard warrior culture of the Garnians. Kind of like REH's Stygia, a small but extremely powerful group of wizard priests holding dominion. The people of Frodia were of the same ethnic stock as the Garnians, ie. Celts, but the area where they settled after the conquest of the Elven empire was where the Elves had their centers of sorcery and they had fallen into worship of Frodal, a god of indeterminate origin; and split off from the kingdom of Garnia fairly early in history.

Then I handed it over to Darryl C. for fleshing out while I worked on Garnia, the primary campaign setting area. To say Darryl took it in a different direction would be a vast understatement. He made Frodal a much nicer god than I had originally designed him to be by changing his alignment to NG; the idea being that wizardry should be used for the betterment of the nation. He used magic as a replacement for technology and made mages commonplace. There were wizards in charge of a variety of public works. There were wizards as the officer corps of the Frodian military (and most of the NCOs) and entire commando units of wizards. He pretty much brought Frodia up to a mid-1980's level of development using magic as a direct replacement for technology.

Obviously the bulk of that had to be scrapped. We fought for a bit over the details, but I got him to bring Frodia back to the early medieval tech level I had in mind, he got to keep the benevolent wizard god and a nation ruled by a cabal of arch-mages and high priests of that god. Garnia and Frodia became locked into a struggle for supremacy. Both have vast swathes of fertile land and navigable rivers for ease of transport. Frodia concentrates on trade and being magically powerful and hires a lot of mercenaries** .

F is for Fighters. Just read this.

F is for Feuds. Feuds and feuding are pretty important cultural things to the Celts and thus part of the background of the culture in my Garnia campaign. Feuds have started wars in Garnia, which has a VERY decentralized proto-feudal government. Celtic anarchy FTW.

F is for France. That's right, France. France gets a bad rap here in the US, particularly over the last couple of decades, as weak and cowardly. That is an exact quote from my mother-in-law. The French are weak and cowardly, and that's why she doesn't like them. Here in the US the French have become so despised that in politics being compared to the French in anyway is damaging to your career or policy position. We were so furious over the fact that the French did not give full throated support to our invasion of Iraq that there was a concerted effort to rename French Fries "Freedom Fries". Failing to support the US in it's decision to invade another country is just more proof of their inherent cowardice right?

Wrong. Not just wrong but WAY wrong. First the French are descended from the ancient Gauls, a people so incredibly scary and warlike they made the Romans wet their togas and spend centuries of concerted (although sporadic) effort to ultimately defeat***. The Gauls who loved war and collected heads. Cowards? I don't think so.

OK, you say they were defeated by the Romans. That is true, indisputably. They became largely Romanized and were absorbed into their empire, fine. The world's first western super-power? That Roman empire? What makes them weak and cowardly, the fact that they were defeated and absorbed into the toughest empire on earth? Or the fact that they went on to be a significant asset militarily to that empire? I guess we'd all like to think that if our native land was defeated we would fight on forever to the death to regain our freedom, but world history would seem to indicate otherwise.

OK, the Romans ultimately lost too, and those Gauls got yet another master****- the Franks. The Franks were so bad-ass and warlike that the Romans used to hire them as mercenaries to keep the other Germans in line. The Franks, who under the leadership of Charles Martel, ultimately saved Europe from becoming another part of the Muslim world*****. The Franks, who gave their name to France. The Franks that spawned Charlemagne, who was THE model of Christian kingship throughout the middle ages and became emperor of a resurrected Roman empire. Charlemagne who was probably the greatest European conqueror since, maybe, Julius Caesar.

OK, everyone gets lucky once in a while, maybe Charlemagne broke a national stereotype, or it developed after his death. No. Through good dynasties and bad the French set the standard for being warlike super bad-asses. From the age of Charlemagne through the age of Napoleon they were pretty much the tough country that all the other European countries wished they could be. That's over a 1000 year run, how many other nations can say they have a millennium of ass kicking under their belt? The French had a world spanning empire, just like the British, and they mostly did it first. The word for bad-ass white man (or white devil) in pretty much every non-European language is usually some derivation of the word Frenchman. Rudyard Kipling, once said about the French: "Their business is war, and they do their business.".

I think it's possible that we Americans picked up our dislike of the French from our immediate progenitors, the British, who had legitimate grievances towards the French. The English were conquered by the French in 1066 and had their culture largely destroyed as a result. English readers might feel like pointing out here that it was the Normans******, not the French that defeated the English, I will point out that Normandy is in France, get over it. 30 percent of the English language comes from French. Then they tried to out French the French through their use of feudal laws and inheritance which led to the Hundred Years War, and that didn't turn out so good for the English either. They had a pretty big victory in snatching French north America in Canada, but that still hasn't absorbed into the Anglo-sphere. We Americans just bought the rest of French north America, back when we were friends and it has absorbed into our culture a lot better as a result.

Honestly, I think the American dislike of France stems from our shame at not being able to achieve our independence from Great Britain without their help. When Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown roughly half of the army opposing him was French, and a French naval blockade kept the British forces from receiving resupply or reinforcements.

We Americans always bring up two things about the French. First that we saved their asses during WW1, which isn't true, but we like to say it anyway. We were Johnny-come-lately's to that war, it was pretty much all over but the crying when US forces entered battle. The second is that they got their asses handed to the by the Germans in WW2; all I have to say about that is that the German's pretty much kicked everyone's asses in the early days of WW2, their opponents were ready for a WW1 rematch, not all new WW2 stuff. The British are damned lucky there was a channel in the way and they had the world's greatest navy, otherwise they'd have suffered the same fate as the French. I mean, the British army had already been pretty soundly defeated in the field too. The French for their part, after the surrender by their government, continued to fight on as the Resistance, the Maquis and the Free French Forces.

Some might mention that the French suffered more defeats during the decolonization period following WW2, particularly their humiliating defeat in Viet Nam; but most won't go there because we Americans suffer the same stigma of defeat at the hands of the same enemy. I figure nations are like people, every tough guy gets beat sometimes, you can't win every fight. Sometimes they are just legitimately tougher than you, sometimes circumstances just work against you; it doesn't make you a pansy if you lose a fight.

Now I am going to ruin all this history by revealing that I may have an ulterior motive in defending the French martial reputation, I am half French by ancestry on my mother's side. On my father's side I am of Scottish Highland and English descent. I bring this up to point out that my mother's people are much more likely to beat your ass if you piss them off. That's right, they are 100% French and bellicose as all get out. They tolerate no insult. I guess it's possible that all the hardcore bad-ass Frenchmen moved to north America, but it doesn't seem likely.

This concludes my rant about France.

*This would be from my medieval historian's perspective, I am pretty sure people involved at the time didn't find these legal and ethical quandaries to be particularly amusing. I am thinking of several examples from the Hundred Years War, where various lords were enfeoffed by both the English and the French and had to decide which obligation took precedence and whether or not to meet their obligations to one side or both in the conflict. I like it when the do both. Hilarity ensues.

**Notably they have the Wodanish kingdom to the south, a very Saxon kingdom of horse lords. Believe it or not, I only realized that they were a carbon copy of the Rohirrim when I saw the Peter Jackson movies. I will cover them in greater detail when we get to the letter W.

***How effective this extermination of Gaulish culture really was is still debated by scholars, but I feel I should note here that one of the successor states to the western Roman empire was the Gaulish empire, albeit briefly.

****Actually they got several new masters from a variety of Germanic tribes, but to save time and space all of those Germanic conquerors get consolidated under the rulership of the Franks.

*****There is a lot of debate about how concerted the Muslim attack into France was, and the fact that they were at the end of a very long supply line; but ultimately it was like Ayn Jalut was for the Mongols, it shattered the myth of Muslim invincibility.

******The Normans of 1066 were certainly descended, fairly recently, from the Vikings, sure; but the Normans that conquered England were a damned sight more French after a century plus in Normandy than the Normans in England would ever become English. Anglo-Saxon English culture adapted to it's Frenchifying and became the English culture of today. Embrace your hybrid vigor, it built the British empire, something the Anglo-Saxons never would have gotten around to doing.