Worldbuilding

Succession and Inheritance in Deusetats

So, in my Primer on Politics for Writers, I said:

If you make the [inheritance] systems any more complex than that, you risk (a) spending all your time explaining it, or (b) confusing readers over something that doesn’t drive the plot anyway. Trust me, I know this from personal experience. :)

In some ways, when I said “from personal experience” here, I was thinking of the succession rules in Deusetats, which are based on real-world cultures, but not the ones that are called easily to mind. Although for me as writer it’s a fun challenge to think about how this pivots the political landscape, I’m aware that for readers it is sometimes a little difficult to track. I think/hope the story reads fine even if you’re not 100% across the details, and think/hope also that watching the characters navigate the twisted roads to power might inspire readers to get more interested in politics generally, but I am also aware that it might be a bit hard to track. So, I have written this post to provide more info to those that want it, in the hope that it is not necessary to enjoying the story. 🙂

Read more…

Great gods, lesser gods, and those who dwell above and below,” the captain breathed. “Please, come in and be welcome to Mullrose Castle. I will take you to the baron.

Philomena

(There is something of a trick to developing an ascending scale of oaths in a fantasy kingdom. I quite like, “Great gods,” etc.)

I was looking for your series of articles “A Primer on Politics for Writers” and couldn’t find it. Could you possibly repost those or maybe send a pdf to me? I LOVED them and wish I could read them again. Thanks!

Hello kind anon! Funny you should mention that! They were on my website and I, uh, forgot to renew it and forgot my login details and aaaaaaaanyway long story short they’re now here: http://www.sennalily.com/a-primer-on-politics-for-writers-the-game/ . The rest of the website is in a state, but the Primer is all functioning as far as I can tell. One day I’ll even write the final post! 😀

A lot of plots can be constituted around a) a Vizier who wants to be Sultan (Jafar. I’m talking about Jafar.) or b) other nobles who envy the power of the favourite over the monarch and think that they could inappropriately influence the monarch better.

A Primer on Politics for Writers – The Players

(From a worldbuilding guide for people who want to do politics in their novel and don’t want it to be silly.)

A Primer on Politics for Writers: the Players (Part 1)

Previously: the Game, the Board (domestic), the Board (international).

Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. – Epicetus

So, you know that politics is all about the getting and keeping of power, and that the pursuit of said power will be influenced by a whole lot of existing structures and systems. So, who are the players in this game?

The Players

I’m going to assume you’re not complete idiots, and that I don’t need to go into detail about the kinds of people who populate your world. The more interesting question is how they navigate through it. So, take a deep breath, because we’re about to go through the world’s quickest summary of groups who may seek and exercise (political) power.

Following which, we will talk about how these people navigate the various power structures.

Read more…

Hi! I was just reviewing your Primer on Politics, having remembered it from Nano. Its very useful; most worldbuilding resources are somewhat general, providing more prompts than information, and so finding specific information on politics that isn’t /too/ technical is invaluable. Do you have any plans to continue the series at some point? Thanks!

cael-illus:

sennalily:

Ahaha, I’m glad you liked the primer! I haven’t abandoned it — in fact, prompted by your ask I went and had a look at the next section, which I started drafting, and it has… so many headings with so little under them. So it’s a bit of a way off! But you’ve prompted me to resume plugging away at it. 🙂

Also if you have any specific things you want to know about or questions you want to ask, please do! 🙂 I am full of useless knowledge and opinions on political systems.

Oh, awesome! I look forward to the expansion 😀

I did have a couple questions in mind actually! I don’t know if they’ll fit in with the section you are writing, but perhaps they will at least prompt some stuff.

Namely, right now I am curious about systems of government which mix elements of different systems- like having a monarch with limited power balanced against a council or senate, for instance. It seems that history still seems to categorize these sorts of setups under one name, for the most part? (But then again I don’t often hear, say, The UK’s government summed up under a single label…) I’m also not sure if having higher offices appointed by very different means than local governments (ie, meritocracy and appointments by the ruler on top, and more of a republic at local levels) would be too confusing for readers to easily grasp, or unrealistic in function.

I’m also curious about how these arrangements tend to come about, whether the power of any monarch or absolute ruler is ever given up or has allowed limitations simply of their own volition as reformation, or if historically this is only done when they are pressured to due to unrest, overthrow, etc.

Thanks again for any insights you can provide! 🙂

Sorry in advance for the essay, and for telling you things you probably already know.

So what you’re talking about with “mixed” models can generally be defined as a constitutional monarchy – there’s a monarch, but the monarch has agreed to honour a constitution (written or unwritten), and recognise the rights and/or supremacy of a representative body. Most government systems these days are some combination of the more black-and-white analytical categories we talk about – this comes about basically as a result of path dependence. Basically, the cost of changing the institution wholesale is too great, so successive reformers tinker around the edges, with the occasional disruptive change, and we end up where we’ve ended up.

Off the top of my extremely Anglocentric head (I did have a good think about it) I’m not aware of any monarchs who have completely voluntarily handed over power to the people because they thought it was the right thing to do. There are, however, many who have read the signs and cooperated in the reduction of their power and prerogative, probably arising from a combination of conviction and pragmatism.

The signs are, generally, the shifting of economic power from the aristocracy (who have a pretty good deal under an absolute monarchy) to the middle classes/merchant class/bourgeoisie, who have a rubbish deal under absolute monarchy but are now rich enough to buy lots of guns and horse. As per part 1, once economic power gets out of step with political power, something has to give.

Generally, if you look at Europe, and, to the extent I’m aware of (and to the extent that this process wasn’t interrupted or distorted by European colonialism) in Asia, there are two paths monarchies tend to go down once the people start getting Ideas About Freedom.

1. The monarch (and the upper class generally) reads the signs, agrees to respect the rights of a representative body of the people, and accepts a more limited role for itself. The end point of this is some sort of constitutional monarchy, as in England, most of north-Western Europe, Japan, Thailand, etc. Powers of the monarch vary in constitutional monarchies, but they tend to ratchet (i.e. they either stay the same or decrease).

2. The monarch (and upper class generally) does not read the signs, and vigorously resists the prospect of losing any of their power. And then you end up with France, the USA, Greece, Russia, China etc. They skip straight over the constitutional monarchy and go to some form of rule by the people, often with a detour via extreme bloodshed.

A good example of this which is solidly in my Anglocentric brain is the Glorious Revolution of 1688, where King James II of England was stubbornly not reading the signs, annoying everybody by being terrible at politics, and refusing to recognise the rights and powers of Parliament (despite the fact that his father was beheaded for doing literally the exact same thing). Parliament forced James II into exile, and invited Mary Stuart, James II’s daughter, and her husband William of Orange, to rule instead. They agreed to the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty and became rules of England, and nobody really missed James II at all (except, tragically, some highland Scots).

Re: the confusingness issue, my view is that it’s good to keep the institutions as simple as possible, and only change from the sort of comfortable archetypes (absolute monarchy, oligarchy, parliamentary democracy etc) where it is necessary for the story. But the College of Cardinals was electing the Pope, the Holy Roman Emperor was selected by the electors, and a lot of merchants’ guilds (and pirate ships) etc chose leaders by ballot long before most nations had figured out functioning democracy, so as long as you-the-writer understand how the situation came about, it’s probably fine. 

Just a note though — election, meritocracy and appointment by leader are three different concepts: election is selection by ballot, meritocracy is selection of the “best” based on some rule (e.g. score on an entrance exam) and patronage is selection by the leader based on whatever rule the leader cares to use. 🙂

Hope there’s something useful in that (long, long) response! Sorry I blah’ed on for so long. I got going. *G* Let me know if you’d like any other info~.

Hi! I was just reviewing your Primer on Politics, having remembered it from Nano. Its very useful; most worldbuilding resources are somewhat general, providing more prompts than information, and so finding specific information on politics that isn’t /too/ technical is invaluable. Do you have any plans to continue the series at some point? Thanks!

Ahaha, I’m glad you liked the primer! I haven’t abandoned it — in fact, prompted by your ask I went and had a look at the next section, which I started drafting, and it has… so many headings with so little under them. So it’s a bit of a way off! But you’ve prompted me to resume plugging away at it. 🙂

Also if you have any specific things you want to know about or questions you want to ask, please do! 🙂 I am full of useless knowledge and opinions on political systems.

A Primer on Politics for Writers

So I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy novels lately and beefing about the lack of nuance in the way that characters navigate the political systems of the world, and the way that politics and power are used in the plot.

Then I thought to myself: self, you are a political scientist by training, a public policy wonk by trade, and an amateur historian and writer of political fantasy. Of course you are going to beef about that stuff; but more importantly, maybe you could produce something that would be of use to other writers dipping their toes into these muddy waters.

So, in the hope of providing something useful, and to service my obsession, let’s talk about ~*politics*~.

Man is by nature a political animal. – Aristotle

What is politics? Politics is a game of the getting and keeping of political power, played out in different ways, on different boards, by different players, over the long centuries of human existence.

Politics is not a game. It is an earnest business. – Winston Churchill

Your dissenting opinion is noted, Mr Churchill. Let’s get on with the metaphor. In this post I am going to talk about the game, which is to get and keep political power. In particular, I’m going to look at the sources of political power, and how these may manifest in your story. Subsequent posts will deal with the board (i.e. the political structures, diplomacy and what not) and the players.

I am going to travel quite widely across my experience of contemporary politics, history and fantasy world-building in the hope of producing something that is useful across a range of genres, but also because the basics of this game really don’t change regardless of the setting.

( Read More )

rookiehelps:

Link Suggestions — Jobs During the Medieval Period

What did people do: in a Medieval City? from Shawn Vincent

  • A lengthy list of jobs during the medieval period. It’s divided into: government, military, criminal, religious, merchants, entertainers, farmers, scholars, sailors, regular folk, craftsmen, services and other jobs. Scrolling is made easy by clicking on each type of jobs. 

List Of Medieval European Professions from The Arcana Wiki

  • Another lengthy job list. It’s also divided into categories: agriculture, aquaculture, aquaculture, craftsman, criminal, entertainer, government, merchant, military, religion, sailor, scholar, service industry, and unemployed. Categories are also further sub-divided. For example, the military category breaks into soldier, siege engineer, officer, and camp follower. It lists many specific jobs at every category. It’s organized in a timetable and also offers links to similar categories.

Medieval People Titles, Positions, Trades & Classes from Lake Springfield Christian Assembly Camp and Retreat Center

  • Although a lengthy list, it’s a bit harder to look through categories as it’s a PDF file and doesn’t offer links to categories. It does include categories previous links didn’t look through. It includes titles and short descriptions of the following categories: royalty, clergy, nobility, tradesmen, merchants, castle workers, entertainers, military, and peasantry. It can be useful for those who want to include nobility and royalty alongside lower job classes.

A List of Occupations from Roots Web

  • An alphabetized and complete list of medieval jobs. It’s not divided into categories, so looking for a specific job can be difficult. Nonetheless, it’s offers jobs that aren’t found on previous links. Each job comes with a short description but doesn’t offer links to similar jobs. 

100 Medieval Careers from A Butterfly Dreaming

  • This list is shorter than the others but neatly divides jobs by social class. The 100 jobs are divided into learned, lesser nobility, professionals, the working class, martial, scoundrels and the underclass, and entertainers. This can be helpful for those who want a more hierarchal medieval roleplay that includes people from different social backgrounds. It offers a good amount of jobs that aren’t repetitive, so this list is the one to look through if you need help with medieval jobs.

On a semi-related note to my last post…

I am starting to think that once I eventually finish A Primer on Politics for Writers, I should perhaps start on A Primer on Economics for Writers… (with the third in the series being A Primer on History for Writers, maybe? :p)