Friday, July 12, 2013

The Societies of Unda Vosari!

What kind of lives do people live outside of the main story? This was something that popped up earlier while randomly wandering through Unda Vosari files in a forgotten folder on my hard drive. Questions naturally formed and ultimately, they deserved answers. What kingdoms trade with what other kingdoms and what goods do they produce? Why are they willing to trade them with certain kingdoms and what do they get in return? What lifestyles exist in the Unda Vosari setting and how do they live day-to-day and how are they relevant to traders and adventurers?

The large majority of the first Unda Vosari novel takes place on the seas and in ports. Often, I'd wondered to myself what life was like outside those ports, where the large majority of the money came from trade, and I had to actually sit down and figure out what each kingdom had to offer before I could figure out who was trading what to whom, which would tell me who inhabited each kingdom and what their lives would be like. Of course, I'd always had a general idea but when it came down to it, it wasn't fleshed out enough for my liking until tonight. I finally sat down and figured out what life was like for the world.

DeMunt is the largest of the kingdoms and one of the two oldest of the six. Given their location north of the mountains on the largest continent in the kingdoms, it's natural that they, along with Cormel, are responsible for the majority of mining operations and would likely be the richest kingdoms (producing more gold and jewels than the other four kingdoms). Both kingdoms have ties with the dwarves in the mountains (as much as one can be affiliated with the loosely-gathered dwarven clans) and have offered both land- and sea-based protection in exchange for the right to mine and harvest the mountains.

DeMunt has had a long-standing rivalry with Rosnet, the other of the two original kingdoms, and the large majority of their goods are put towards their military (giving them the strongest land-based military of the six kingdoms). Because of that, Cormel is the most prosperous of the kingdoms, followed by DeMunt. Cormel is also second in naval might only to Rosnet. With DeMunt focusing on defending the land, Cormel has offered assistance defending the seas to DeMunt in exchange for both monetary and military compensation.

South of Cormel is Vilio. With a decidedly unique style (a mix of Persian and Asian, to paint a broad stroke), Vilio has a very eclectic community that offers both art and martial prowess (being a hub for those who can use and wield chi effectively as well as those who can create art unlike the rest of the world). Fighters from all over the world seek out monasteries in Vilio for combat training, just as bards and historians head to Vilio for their wealth of knowledge, art, stories and legends. Due to that influence over the cultural aspect of the kingdoms, Vilio has strong financial ties to the other kingdoms.

West of Cormel and Vilio are the kingdoms of Cederlord, on the southern edge of the kingdoms, and Octavia, in the center of the kingdoms. Cederlord is home to the elves and the more natural magic, as well as the largest wood-producing kingdom of them all. Their mastery of nature-based and divine-based magic affords them a lot of unique opportunities when dealing with the other kingdoms as they are predominantly the most successful of the kingdoms when it comes to controlling animals, tending to the wounded, dealing with spirits and wielding the elements. As such, their need is almost always in demand.

Octavia, the newest of the kingdoms, is home of the most skilled and successful of the arcane mages as well as the more craft-oriented professions. Rivaling Cederlord with magical prowess, the craftspeople of Octavia are known for creating the strongest and sturdiest of tools, weapons and armor which lends the mages of Octavia better quality goods to enchant and infuse with spells far more powerful than most mages outside of Octavia are capable of casting. This affinity for crafting and casting has forced the other kingdoms into trade with Octavia, a more "socially conscious" kingdom than one would expect. However, their skill has bred contempt and corruption within their ranks, and Octavia is just as well known for their nefarious and dubious behavior when dealing with outsiders.

Finally, that brings us to Rosnet, the second of the two original kingdoms. With their own forest in the north, and their long-standing traditions of seeking perfection, their ability to craft entire fleets of near-perfect sea-vessels has given them the well-known reputation of being the mightiest force on the seas. Their mages, while far from perfect, have managed to gain and keep a strong foothold in both the natural and arcane practices, with regards to war, and are well-equipped to handle whatever crafting needs to be done within their kingdom. However, their haughty demeanor and strong sense of self-reliance has given them an almost xenophobic lifestyle, and they are reluctant to, if downright opposed to, trade involving the other five kingdoms.

Once I'd figured out the above, I had to figure out what life was like on a day-to-day basis.

DeMunt, for example, being predominantly mining and military, would have strong trade routes between its cities and less likely to suffer from attacks by bandits. However, given the size (and age) of the kingdom, there are likely a large number of untraveled routes plagued by disillusioned military, bandits and vagabonds. Shipments of ore and jewels along the coast are well protected by the naval fleets of DeMunt and Cormel but land-based shipments are more likely to be attacked. Despite the military might, there simply isn't enough military to go around, so the larger land-based caravans are more likely to be targeted. Unfortunately, land-based routes can move more goods and are considered a necessary evil (especially considering the naval advantage Rosnet has over DeMunt). Cities themselves, at least inside, are generally secure. Sure, there are thieves and beggers (who generally keep to the back alleys and less-traveled trade routes), but the military presence ensures that trouble is kept to a minimum. Each city is given a watch that generally patrols the major routes into, out of and through the city and that's generally enough to keep the various laborers, traders and craftsmen content. On the outskirts of any given city, generally within a few hours travel, there are a number of small, temporary settlements ranging from a single tent and a couple of horses to entire clusters of caravans protected by bodyguards. Most of the time, these are due to either an inability (due to being too poor or being wanted by the law) or an unwillingness (due to feeling uncomfortable in large cities or not wanting to spend money) to stay in town.

Cormel is a much smaller kingdom and less populated, but equally as wealthy, affording them many more opportunities to distribute wealth among the craftsmen, laborers and traders. Their abundance of gold also allows them to trade more freely with the other kingdoms, and as such, Cormel is widely considered the more glamorous and prestigious of the kingdoms to live in. Crime is far lower than the other kingdoms (although not unheard of, since their wealth naturally brings an outside criminal element along with the gold from the other kingdoms) but the military from DeMunt (as well as the various heroes and adventurers from other kingdoms) keep the criminal element in check far better than DeMunt and Vilio. Trade is generally done with small groups of wagons (smaller than an average caravan) carrying a higher-quality good (generally from Octavia), but more often than not, these people will find sanctuary in the inns and taverns of the bustling cities instead of opting to remain on the open road. Of course, outsiders from DeMunt or Vilio are known to set up camps outside the cities for various reasons (either an inability or unwillingness to stay in the towns, just as in DeMunt, although it is less likely that natives will be unable to pay for a room). Curiously, cities in Cormel do have a city watch but the majority of the crime is both committed by and handled by adventurers (both native to and visiting Cormel).

Vilio is the smallest of the kingdoms, as far as land goes. Trade in Vilio is generally kept small, as the various wares they provide are generally more exotic and more expensive than the other kingdoms, and as such, many traders are unwilling to bring large amounts of goods all at once. Outside the cities, monasteries dot the landscape, offering both sanctuary and danger. However, the number of adventurers and mercenaries is large, given the number of monks that hail from Vilio, and there is a surprisingly large underground black market. That said, there is next to no provided security outside of the cities, and off of the established trade routes, it is hard to know whether or not that caravan up the road is going to be friend or foe.

Cederlord offers a unique lifestyle. Predominantly composed of elves, the various cities of Cederlord are all but entirely surrounded by forests and inhabited, to some degree or another, by a plethora of archers, rangers, druids and clerics of all faiths. Off the established trade routes, crime is all but unheard of in Cederlord, simply because the natives of the kingdom watch out for their own with frightening ferocity. Despite the dismemberment of the kingdom itself, resulting in a series of independent city-states, the cities still consider themselves one kingdom without a governing body, and as such will still fight and die to protect themselves from outside threats. With the growing scarcity of elves due to the long-standing invasion by Rosnet and Octavia, the inhabitants of Cederlord have always remained united against threats both internal and external. Even inside the wooden cities, crime is all but unheard of. Cormel and Vilio have the strongest ties to Cederlord and likewise seek to aid and protect the kingdom and the highly valued druids and clerics, as well as keep the trade of wood coming from Cederlord. In fact, it isn't unheard of for Cormel and Vilio to actively pursue criminals from those kingdoms (as well as any other) should they commit crimes in Cederlord.

Octavia, as the newest of the kingdoms, was created by disenchanted and disillusioned craftspeople from DeMunt, Cormel and Vilio. As such, they tend to be more brutish and angry in demeanor and their cities reflect that. Bandits and thieves run rampant in the cities and extortion may as well be the regional past-time. Corruption exists everywhere from the highest of the nobility and royalty to the lowest of the traders and merchants. Curiously, despite seemingly being at war with everybody, including themselves, they provide a unified front against outsiders. A common phrase among the inhabitants of Octavia is "I against my brother, my brother and I against my cousin, my cousin and I against strangers" and indeed, that is the very foundation of the kingdom. From the outside, this seems counter-productive but from within, the constant strife with each other strengthens the kingdom as a whole and enables them to survive when surrounded on all sides by potential (and often constant) enemies. Travel along the established trade routes is relatively safe on the condition one isn't opposed to paying hefty "tolls" to travel safely and life outside the city is harsh for those who have no gold or goods with which to barter. Of course, those who do not are generally the ones making life unpleasant for those who do and this is taken to the extreme for outsiders. For inhabitants of the kingdom, gold is constantly flowing in due to the quality (both mundane and magical) of the goods and services provided by Octavia. For outsiders, however, Octavia is a den of vice and greed, and the benefit of security and law only seems to extend to the natives. Outside the cities, sprawling expanses of plains are taken up by packs of roaming bandits, well-armed caravans escorted by thugs and bodyguards and large, shifting settlements of makeshift tents and houses, all put up and taken down as whim and necessity dictates.

Finally, Rosnet is the most stable, reclusive and hostile of the kingdoms, with regards to outsiders. Whereas Octavia strengthens itself with internal strife and turmoil, Rosnet has all but solidified itself against all threats, internal and external. A society built on regime and war, the streets and trade routes, and indeed, even the wilderness of the kingdom, are well-policed from within. One of the few kingdoms to openly partake in the slave trade, all other crime is all but unheard of simply out of fear of harsh penalties and an abundance of civilians (both free and slave) willing to collect on bounties. Worth mentioning is the fact that part of the longevity and durability comes from their slave trade - instead of training and practicing and honing a particular skill or craft, the inhabitants of Rosnet have found it much easier to simply force those who have already honed their preferred skill or craft to continue doing their skill or craft, the alternative being certain death (or worse - the ability for magic to keep a human body alive, or bring it back from the dead, as well as inflict inhuman amounts of pain on both mind and body, in addition to more mundane methods of coercion, tend to convince even the most staunch and resolved individuals to cooperate). With all of this common knowledge, it is completely unsurprising that Rosnet has few willing allies, Octavia among them, but Rosnet seems content to play the part of villain since their kingdom has enough security and stability (as well as the ability to renew their ranks through slavery) to do so openly and freely. Outside of Rosnet, the only kingdoms known to tolerate slavery (regardless of how condoned it is in general society) are Octavia and DeMunt, although DeMunt doesn't tolerate it so much as turn a blind eye.

The majority of the kingdoms have a very simple structure.

  • Nobility generally exerts sway over (or is swayed by) the royalty.
  • Craftspeople are given orders by the nobility.
  • Merchants sell their goods for a price determined by the nobility.
  • Prices for goods (which is influenced by the nobility) are based on supply and demand.
  • Taxes are collected by the royalty which, in turns, pays for basic services like protection and travel.
  • Traders ensure goods that are needed from outside sources are bought and sold for fair prices.
  • Common laborers dictate what is needed depending on lifestyle and what they're hired to do.

Common laborers are the ones digging in the mines, tending the fields, harvesting the woods and making the food. Craftspeople include those using the materials gathered by the laborers to create weapons, armor, clothing, ships, jewelry and tools for the laborers. Merchants are those who buy and sell within a given kingdom, generally on a local or regional level whereas traders are those who buy and sell larger quantities on a more global scale (with other kingdoms, generally, but this can include larger kingdoms like DeMunt or independent city-states like Cederlord). Nobles are the ones with money and land. As such, the nobles influence what is made (by ordering what land and resources are used to create what) and can indirectly influence how a region thrives or fails based on their own decisions. Of course, the royalty would like to see a given area flourish so there is no small amount of politics included in the interactions between royalty and nobility. Some kingdoms (Cormel and DeMunt, primarily) have guilds that agree to and set prices for the various goods (food, clothing, jewelry, weapons, armor, masonry, tools and luxuries) and those guilds answer to (and are generally comprised of) the nobles and richer, more skilled and well-renowned craftspeople.

Naturally, there are a few "vanity" guilds, generally one or two for each major profession and societal roles. Generally, fighters, monks, psions and barbarians tend to stick to their own, since they're the more confrontational of the classes. On the other end of the spectrum, the various spell-casters (druids, shaman, priests, clerics and paladins) do their best to avoid physical confrontation. In some of the larger cities, nobles have formed their own guilds, and in almost every city, bards, minstrels, assassins and rogues each have at least some unified front with which to fence stolen goods and swap legends, stories and warnings. To top it all off, some of the individual professions (smiths of various goods, masons and bankers) have begun coordinating not only on local or regional levels but attempting to form a guild that operates across kingdoms).

This isn't all there is to it, but it is, naturally, a great place to start. Unda Vosari: Confrontations (the second novel) will explore all of this a bit more at points... whenever it gets around to getting released.

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