Sketching Out States in Fantasy: Two Cases from Avlis
As promised here are two cases from Avlis of magic equipped societies. I will begin with a (moderately) short description of each state, then compare the place of magic and its political economy. This post is meant as a sketch, with further development and detail to be presented based on comments received. If there are points that are unclear, or things that I’ve missed feel free to point them out.
So let’s step through the portal…
The Fourth Kurathene Empire
Aristocrats, Mages, Merchants and Priests
The Fourth Kurathene Empire is a multi-national state located in the northwestern corner of the continent of Negaria. It stretches from the banks of the Methran River basin in the south through the heartland of the old Kurathene Empire.
Kurathene society is organized by a social class system based on a territorial aristocracy first established by Joral Kuras nearly two thousand years prior. The aristocracy began as a mix of traditional manorial landowners dating from before the Empire and military officers granted land-holdings after the unification of the Empire first in the early 1st century. Over the years the distinction between the two systems of nobility have largely vanished, and modern Kurathene aristocrats and gentry are largely pulled from families that have held on to their holdings over the intervening centuries.
Open-field systems of farming remain the predominant method of land use, with landholders owning tracts of land divided among tenant farmers. The system came about primarily as an adaptation of the three-field crop rotation system used by the more hive-minded Dracon. The use of rare and expensive farming tools such as ox-teams and magically enhanced farming tools helped cement open field farming as the predominant land-use style in western Kurathene.
Because the territories of the Fourth Empire were the coastal regions of the old Empire, coastal trade remains an important part of the Imperial economy. As access to inland territories and their raw resources has become more difficult, the Empire’s economy has become increasingly reliant upon foreign trade for metals. The concentration of population into coastal cities have helped spur urbanization. About a quarter of the Empire’s population lives in urban centers of ten thousand or more.
The wealth flowing out from the cities has helped to create a system of wealth based patronage that attracts artisans and mages from across the continent looking for sponsors. They often compete for resources with the established churches, who maintain a following through a combination of religion, tradition and community engagement. The strongest faiths within the Empire are those of Toran, Senath, Mikon and Hurine.
Much of the Empire’s infrastructure dates from the time of Joral Kuras and are often the result of centralized military planning. Enchanted road systems, navigation canals with fixed currents and wind sources, magically tended forests of hardwood trees and great artificial lakes and rivers are just a handful of the things created during the Golden Age of the Empire.
The modern Kurathene state has several organizations dedicated to maintaining these creations. The first is the Imperial Corps of War Mages, a centralized cadre of mages given extensive training in everything from engineering to alchemy and battlefield casting. As the premier organization of arcane magic in the Empire, it recruits from the most promising students and provides an avenue for substantial prestige for noble or gentry families with a history of arcane magic in their bloodlines. Public schools operated by the orders of magic are used to find the most promising applicants who are sponsored for entry in academies of higher learning. As a consequence the Empire enjoys a much higher literacy rate than other states in Negaria although at considerable expense.
While more informal, the Lords Spiritual of the Chamber of Lords are assigned the task of coordinating the recruitment of both clerics and holy warriors within their regional district. Often the seminaries of the major regional churches are located within the same campus, in order to increase access to instruction on the use of deific magic. Commoners tend to be chosen out of the same public schools as mages, while noble families with strong traditional ties to churches will send second or third sons into the clergy.
Overall the Fourth Empire is a prosperous state, though like most others there is a substantial gap in wealth between the rural tenant farmers and the landowners. There are also substantial regional disparities based on whether the territory had been part of the Imperial successor state or had been part of an independent principality until recent times.
Glories of Mageocracy
Tabayelle is a continent located on the opposite side of Negaria upon the world of Avlis. The continent was settled by a group of one thousand mages who thought that coexistence with divine spellcasters was unbearable. Using a combination of volunteer settlers and slaves to bolster their numbers, eleven thousand settlers created the first cities on Tabayelle. The cities were built without much regard to geographic proximity, as teleportation spells were used to move settlers to areas with rich arable land and easy access to staples such as water and lumber. Each city was built around a central mage spire which had a portal linking it to the rest of the city-states.
The first generations of mages made extensive use of alchemical fertility enhancers to help increase population, while making use of enchantment magics for social conditioning of following generations. Constructs and summoned elementals made up large portions of manual labor, taking over tasks that were ordinarily done by beasts of labor and unskilled peasantry. This combination of factors led to rapid growth and the establishment of additional spire cities, all based on geographic access to resources.
As a result the settlement of Tabayelle is extensive but scattered. Of the roughly thousand spire cities created by the mage orders, no two cities are within one hundred miles of another. The urban centers of the cities tend to be dense, hive-like constructs made of stone or concrete, with high-rises common within a walled enclosure. Outside of the city there are extensive rural pasture fields tended to by automated constructs that are often many generations old. The size of the field will differ depending on the scale of the city.
Within the walls of a spire city, chained elementals are used to control the climate, keeping the city’s confines comfortable all year round. Illusionists ply their trade to create entertainment for the masses, while every citizen is provided a basic stipend of food provided by golems. Artisans exist to satisfy the needs of the more affluent, often working within generational halls. Most people spend their entire lives within a single spire-city, as geographic separation and access restrictions to the portal network that links the great spires keeps them within their city of birth.
Attainment in magic is directly related to the amount of influence an individual has within Tabayelle society. Because most paths of magic were available to all citizens through the education system, early families had an incentive to produce a large number of children with the hope that one or two might show an aptitude for magic. Wealthier families on the other hand would often focus their resources on preserving their abilities through subsequent generations, using an extensive system of alchemy, magic and magical artifacts to enhance the abilities of their offspring.
After the first thousand years population pressures forced most cities to create policies to curb growth. Some insisted upon alchemical sterilization of “undesirable” populations, while others implemented (but rarely enforced) a two or three child policy for all families. The heavy-handed enforcement of sterilization sometimes led to revolts, but the isolation of the spire cities kept these incidents from spreading beyond a single city. For the most part cities began to shunt excess population into subordinate colonies on a new continent, built to more mundane principles as an outlet for both population growth and as a repository for the criminal class.
The reliance on magic was the eventual downfall of Tabayelle, when the god Andrinor claimed the wellspring of Arcane power in 1950 OD. When in fit of pique the new god cut access to magic from the world, the magic that kept Tabayellan society together failed. Outsiders broke free of their binds, golems shut down, the protections that kept the mage class in control stopped working. The mage spires fell within weeks of this failure, but that, as they say, is another story entirely….
Comparing the States
Both the Kurathene Empire and the mage-spires of Tabayelle are magic heavy societies. The use of magic is implicitly responsible for allowing their forms of social organization to exist. In Kurathene magic was used to build the infrastructure needed to maintain a large empire, while in Tabayelle the entire way of life was shaped by the use of arcane magic.
That’s where most of the similarities end.
The Kurathene Empire has a non-magic oriented aristocracy buttressed by generations of accumulated wealth, social standing, cultural authority and of course the possession of magic swords that signify high office. Further this aristocracy can turn to a wider array of spellcasting sources: ranging from hedge casters like bards and holy warriors to divine casters like clerics and druids and finally to mages (wizards and sorcerers). The diffusion of power sources makes it difficult for a single type of spellcaster to gather absolute power, and the trading of wealth or social prestige for magic assistance helps to keep spellcasters on the second tier of society.
In Tabayelle, the oligarchy is based on magical ability. While there were certainly families who were able to cement their hold on the upper echelons of magedom through resource concentration, they could not keep a stranglehold on arcane magic. The lack of non-mages as a spellcasting class allows the mage class to hold a monopoly on wealth and hard power. Specialization also helps to narrow which types of mages hold the most power in Tabayelle. The most promising spellcasters are raised as generalists, but most of middling proficiency are shunted off into specialist roles where they can exercise influence in a limited sphere. Illusionists might make great entertainers, but poor pedagogues as they’re unable to wield enchantment spells well.
Then there’s the character of the states they’ve crafted. The Kurathene Empire is a geographically contiguous state, with traditional borders and geostrategic concerns. While the modern Empire is more of a thalassocracy with an emphasis on ports and urban centers, the population is still largely living on rural pasture and works the land. Local culture and identity are important, and the multi-national character of Kurathene can be seen in the many ethnic groups that consider themselves a distinct nation within the wider Empire.
Tabayelle on the other hand has no geostrategic logic. The spire cities are located not by proximity or access to other parts of the country, but based on where they can find the best pasture land, timber, fresh water sources and minerals. The use of magic for menial labor means that most of the population is concentrated within the cities, and the isolation imposed through geographic separation means only those with access to magical means of travel have access to trade and interaction between cities. The mageocracy, with its ability to travel between cities at whim and move about where it pleases has an identity of its own, while most citizens of the spire cities are tied to their cities.
The next post will focus on comparing the military uses of magic between the two states. Stay tuned!