Thieves & Kings
Home and Hearth
City and Countryside :
Government : The most common form of government in the Dominions, is the feudal monarchy, with a plutocratic monarchy common in Iberia and most trade-dominated societies. In either case, a hereditary monarch, king, or other ruler holds the authority to make and enact laws, dispense justice, and manage foreign affairs. The lesser nobility often possess a great deal of independent authority, and the monarchy must solicit their support to maintain their position, whether that be through marriage, tax concessions or greater rights. While such weak monarchies are common, some strong dominions do exist, namely the Kingdoms of Brak and Phaedra. Among the mercantile nations, merchant-princes deal closely with the life’s blood of their city-states, and must carefully tread their way through the politics of the urban realms to ensure their continued prosperity. Powerful merchants are often quicker to deal with their monarchs through assassination, trade embargo, or coup, rather than diplomatically struggle for a few new concessions. Direct confrontation is rare.
Rural Life : Most commoners are free if somewhat poor, protected by the laws of the land, and allowed to choose whatever trade or vocation they have a talent for. They live in small houses of wood, sod, or field stones, and raise staple crops on a few dozen acres of their own land. They live within a mile or so of a small village, where they can trade grain, vegetables, fruit, livestock, cheese and eggs for locally manufactured goods such as spun cloth, tools and worked leather. Some years are lean, but the lands are usually rich and pleasant, rarely knowing drought or famine. Noble lords protect the locals from bandits, brigands, and monsters. Such nobles are minor in the feudal hierarchy, and often appoint a village constable to gather taxes and maintain a watch against unexpected attack. Within a few day’s ride is an overlord, whose demesne includes several such communities, and a major fortification manned by several dozen soldiers.
City Life : Typical townsfolk are skilled craftsmen. Larger communities include unskilled laborers and small merchants, but most urban folk work with their hands to make trade goods, including metal smiths, leather workers, potters, clothiers, and many other artisans. Typically living in a wood or stone house, shingled with wood or slate, and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with its neighbors. Prosperous city-dwellers might include a small plot of land for a garden, a stable or their own well. Most, however share their lodgings in apartments, usually on the upper levels of shops or townhouses. Tradesmen are typically free, but are restricted to joining registered guilds to ensure training and quality of workmanship. Most guild tradesmen remain journeymen, lacking sufficient capital to establish a workshop. Some, however, will bond themselves to nobles or other merchants, to obtain a master’s certificate.
Urban dwellers purchase food from the local market, which means that they are stuck with whatever will fit within their budget. A prosperous man can work hard and comfortably feed his family, but in lean times the poor laborers must make do with stale bread and thin soup for a season. Every town depends on a ring of outlying villages and farmlands to supply it with food on a daily basis. Most possess a collection of granaries against need, and local grocers and salters stock non-perishable food for winter and the lean times. Cities are usually protected by a wall, patrolled by local watches, and garrisoned by the local troops of the nobility. While bandits and rampaging monsters don’t usually bother city dwellers, thieves, cutthroats and confidence men are just as dangerous. Every large community has its section of town that people simply don’t travel in at night.
Wealth & Privilege : Wealth is directly proportioned to the status of the individual; a prosperous craftsman or skilled artisan might annually be able to earn a few hundred gold pieces, but most commoners (90% of the population), whether farmer or tradesman, are lucky to have more than forty or fifty silvers to their name. The nobility, however, are born to wealth and privilege, enjoying many protections under the law, and able to access sources of political power beyond the scope of simple coins or possessions.
The typical noble is a minor lord whose lands span a few miles, ruling over a few hundred commoners in the local monarch’s name. They collect taxes from the farmers and craftsmen in their demesne, and are vastly more powerful and wealthy than even the best merchant. With this wealth comes the responsibilities of law-keeping and good order of their lands. They can be called upon in the feudal levy, must protect their charges from banditry and rampaging monsters, often hiring adventurers to fulfill this need.
Class & Station :
The enlightened feudal system that has developed over the past few centuries of strife and warfare, is supported by the class system that exists in society. It supports independent warbands in isolated realms, and ensures protection of the greater portion of society.
The Peasantry : Common farmers and simple laborers, these folk provide the base upon which society is formed. The power of all higher classes; noble, merchant, priest, and monarch resides with these people. In the established realms, most people are free to do as they like, and owe no special allegiance to their overlords beyond obeying his laws and paying their taxes. In the newer realms ( Shem ) or more enlightened lands ( Phaedra ), these people own their lands and are called “Freeholders”, often having a relationship with their noble lords similar to that owed by their own lords to the monarchy. In some colonies, they owe fealty directly to the crown’s reeve, and have no minor lord.
Tradesfolk & Merchants : Often noted for their ties to the various crafts guilds, the “middle class” tends to be disunited, except in matters related to trade, and often bow to the local Hall ofto regulate relations with the monarchy and nobles. Some wealthier merchants have been known to purchase patents of nobility, and establish themselves as such, even “ruling” realms of coin that can stretch for hundreds of miles across national boundaries.
Clergy : Existing alongside the feudal nobility, the clergy parallels the feudal government, with its acolytes and priests similar to lords, its high priests of a temple similar to barons, and the most powerful equal to the higher nobility of a realm. No priest would acknowledge a king as their ruler; that is a position only the avatar or direct presence of a god can claim. The rivalry between faiths is what dilutes their power. Since there are numerous gods, and each fulfills a specific niche in society (ie- Light, Community, Agriculture, Nature, etc.), there are few gods that can claim more than a few hundred direct followers in any given realm.
Low Nobility : Descended from the ancient clans who gained their position by force of arms in the service of their liege lords, the lower nobles are the backbone of every realm. It is their sons and daughters who provide the bulk of the soldiers for the realm, and it is they who administer the monarch’s justice and collect his taxes. The low nobles are expected to try any local cases of crime short of murder or treason. They claim the monarch’s taxes of food and gold generated by the locals, and may levy additional taxes for their own purposes, provided they do not interfere with the crown’s tithes. They also see to the local defense of their charges, and maintain the prosperity of the locals.
Prosperous realms are seeing the rise of “merchant-princes”, wealthy commoners who are able to purchase their positions through the establishment of large industries or far-flung trade realms. Most, however, have to earn their titles through the ancient method by force of arms. Such nobles include knights, lords and baronets.
High Nobility : Frequently related by blood or marriage to the ruling family of a given realm, these nobles are frequently landed and command fiefs that could be considered small kingdoms in their own right. High nobles hear the disputes lower courts are unable to settle, and dispense justice for all but the most heinous of crimes. They collect taxes from their own demesne, similar to the low nobility, and are required to maintain military forces to patrol their own lands. The high councils of a kingdom or realm are often accounted to such a status, even without the lands or title. Barons, dukes and princes can be considered high nobility.
Clans and Families
As a rule, adventurers rarely choose to begin a family while they actively pursue a career – liches, raging dragons and goblin hordes tend to make widows and orphans. For the majority of the population, however, the family and the clan are the center of everything. Parents carefully train their children in the trades they follow, and secure their property for the day they can pass it onto their young. While some societies follow rigid traditions of gender conduct (Westwind’s amazon culture, and the strongly patriarchal orders of FairHaven), the majority of the population is enlightened and free in its bias.
Marriage : In practically every society, marriage ceremonies are celebrated with feast, song, dance, and stories. The exact customs vary from culture to culture, but in most human societies, marriage is an excuse to put aside work and celebrate the beginning of a new life. Among nobles, arranged marriages are common, but few marry against their will. Many see the ancient Ninnellen tradition of “Shearing” as a means to avoid an unwanted marriage. Divorce is rare, and it’s not unusual in some cultures to have more than one spouse, though the demands on one’s time and income can regulate this matter.
Children : Considered a blessing and a treasure, large families are quite common. The close attention of clerics, healers, and divine magicks have granted a high birthrate in most realms. In rural areas, responsibilities and tasks come to children early. In the urban areas, the clan trades are similarly trained at an early age. By the age of eight or ten, most children are well on their way towards the trained knowledge of their clan. Nobles and wealthy merchants are able to educate their children quite well, and enjoy a significant amount of leisure time, with reading, playing games or dancing being common pastimes among them.
Learning in the formal sense is rare. Only the wealthy or highborn can receive any real education, but even so, most people are basically literate and understand the value in the written word. Most learn to read and write from either their parents or local priests. Very few schools exist. The few that do, are generally Bardic or Herald’s Colleges, or serve as Mage’s schools; both expensive, exclusive and often only concentrating on true academics. Most young nobles or merchant scions acquire an education from personal tutors or clan bards. True scholarly pursuit is the preserve of sages, scribes, clerics and wizards. The non-human races of Argoth are the exception, organizing formal studies for their young, and encouraging their citizens to study whatever they can, wherever they may. The High Elven among the Norn academies are renowned for their education in history and art.
Old Age : Commoners work until the day they die, unless they have strong and dependable children who can take over the family enterprise and care for the clan’s needs. A life without work is only an option among the wealthy, or those few adventurers who make it to middle age and enjoy their wealth in peace. The blessings of the gods also allow a fairly happy old age, and few elders suffer disabling illness or extended infirmity, until just prior to death.
Formal schooling is the exception rather than the rule in Argoth. Only children of wealthy or highborn parents receive any real education. Even so, most “civilized” citizens are literate and understand the value and the potential power of the written word.
Most people learn to read and write from their parents, the bards of Ohmar – Lord of all Songs, or formal religious studies under clerics of either Larani – The Celestial Paladin or Nolom – The Shining One. Very few formal schools exist. Those that do are expensive, exclusive, private schools or academies that spend as much time teaching riding, courtly manners, and swordplay as they do true academic matters. Most young nobles or merchant scions acquire their education from personal tutors, bards, heralds, and noble servants retained for that purpose by their parents.
A city of any size is probably protected by a city wall, patrolled by a city watch and garrisoned by a small army of soldiers of the local monarch. Rampaging monsters and bloodthirsty bandits don’t trouble the average city-dweller, but they rub elbows every day with rogues, thieves, cutthroats. Even the most thoroughly policed cities have neighborhoods where anybody with a whit of common sense doesn’t set foot.
Any heroic adventurers break many of the rules and norms associated with the feudal hierarchy. She is often the champion of the common folk, yet granted access to the highest halls of power as an agent of her lord or king. Generations of good-hearted adventurers have helped make Argoth a safer and better place to live, and any ruler knows that the best way to solve a sticky problem often involves finding the right adventurer for the job.
By definition, adventurers are well-armed and magically capable beings that are incredibly dangerous to their enemies… and not always healthy to be around, even for their friends. Lords and merchants tread carefully around adventurers and take steps to defend themselves against a powerful adventurer who suddenly develops a crusading zeal or an appetite for power – typically by retaining skillful and well-paid bodyguards to discourage sudden violence.
Adventurer Companies : Groups of adventurers sometimes form communal associations that share treasure, responsibility, and risk. Adventuring companies stand a better chance of receiving official recognition and licenses from kingdoms, confederations, and other principalities that prefer formalized relations with responsible adventuring groups to unlicensed freebooting by random adventurers. In rare cases, adventuring companies can receive exclusive rights to specific areas, making it legal for them to “discourage” their competition.
Chartered adventurers are considered officers of the realm which they serve, with powers of arrest and protection against the interference of local lords guaranteed by the terms of their charter. For example, most strangers entering a city might be required to surrender or at least peacebond their weapons, but chartered adventuring companies are allowed to retain their arms and armor as long as they remain on their good behavior.
Adventurers in Society : Most residents of the Shem, Iberia and the western kingdoms, are well-disposed towards adventurers of good heart. They know that adventurers live daily with risks that they themselves would never face. The common folk eagerly seek news from travelers regarding great deeds and distant happenings, hoping to glean a hint of what the future might hold for them as well.
An adventurer willing to ally himself with a lord whose attitudes and views coincide with his own gains a powerful patron and a place and views coincide with his own gains a powerful patron and a place in society commensurate with the influence and station of his patron. Adventurers inclined to threaten or intimidate the local ruler simply invite trouble. Those who abuse their power are thought of as nothing more than powerful bandits, while adventurers who use their powers to help others are blessed as heroes. Adventurers are exceptional people, but they live within societies of everyday people living commonplace lives.
Common language and culture define a state just as much as borders, cities and government. Each major non-human race speaks its own language, and humans in their own nature have created dozens of their own, due to their widespread nature, making communication often chancy as languages drift over time.While hundreds of regional dialects exist, Common serves to overcome all but the most isolated and obscure languages in the world.
The oldest languages spoken are non-human in origin. Draconic, the speech of dragons, is probably the oldest of all. Giant, Elven, and Dwarven are also ancient tongues. The oldest known human languages date back three- or four-thousand years, coming from their own regional roots; mostly Coranik, Boranik, Diramoan, Molkurian, Ivinian, and Hepekerian, though the centuries of intermingling and trade have diluted them somewhat. As the entire world has yet to be explored, there are likely even more languages to be discovered.
The Common Tongue : All speaking peoples, including the humans of various lands, possess a native tongue. All humans and non-humans speak Common as their second language. Common has grown from a pidgin of Boranik, but is far less complex and expressive. Nuances of speech, naming and phrasing are better conveyed with the older languages, meaning that many place names retain their actual language origins, since Common is essentially little more than a trade language.
The great advantage of Common, of course, is its prevalence. Everybody in Argoth speaks Common well enough to get by in any but the most complex conversations. Even in remote areas, just about everybody knows enough Common to speak it, however badly. They might need to pantomime in a pinch, but they can make themselves understood. Natives of widely separated areas are likely to regard each other’s accents as silly or even strange, but they still understand each other.
Alphabets : The human and humanoid languages of Argoth make use of six sets of symbols for writing; Boranic for human symbology; Sindar, a script invented by the elves; Dethek, runes created by the dwarves; Draconic, the alphabet of the dragons; Celestial, imported long ago through contact with good folk from the outer planes; and Infernal, imported through outsiders of a hellish bent.
The scribe who originated the symbols used in Boranic has since lost his name to history. The direct ancestor of the Common tongue, Boranic is something of a lost or dead tongue today, only spoken in temples or found in ancient libraries of lore. Its alphabet, however, survives as the alphabet of Common and many other tongues.
Sindar is the “moon” elven alphabet. Adopted by the high elves, and other elven peoples thousands of years ago. Its beautiful weaving script flows over jewelry, monuments, and ancient magic.
Dethek is the dwarven runic script. Dwarves seldom write on that which can perish easily. They inscribe their runes on metal plates or carve in stone. Aside from spaces between words and slashes between sentences, punctuation is largely ignored. If any part of the script is painted for contrast or emphasis, names of beings and places are picked out in red while the rest of the text is colored black or left unadorned as grooves.
The three remaining scripts, Draconic, Celestial and Infernal, are beautiful yet alien, since they were designed to serve the needs of beings with thought patterns very different from those of humanoids. However, humans with ancient and strong cultural ties to dragons (and their magicks) or beings from far-off planes have occasionally adapted them to transcribe human tongues in addition to the languages they originally served.
Living Languages : Scholars from Phaedra recognize over eighty distinct and active languages across Kethira, not including the thousands of dialects of Common such as the sing-song variants spoken in Azeryan and around the Venarian Sea. Secret languages, such as the druid’s hidden speech are not included in this total, either.
Adventurers speak the language of their birth, plus Common. Druids also speak Druidic, and thieves know Thieves’ Cant. Learning new tongues is a part of downtime, and takes dedicated effort and time to accomplish.
Dead Languages : Scholars and researchers of the obscure can name a number of “dead” languages. Often the antecedents of one or more languages, the original is different enough that it is almost incomprehensible to one fluent in the modern tongue. None of them have been a spoken, living language in hundreds, if not thousands of years, and it is doubtful anyone in the world knows their proper pronunciation. These languages include; Aragrakh, old, high draconic (Draconic); Hulgorn, archaic orc (Dethek); Seldruin, archaic high elven (Sindar); Boranic, ancient Common (Boranic).
These dead languages are recognizable to anyone who can read the script they are based on, but the words are gibberish unless the character can learn the language through some means. It is possible to decipher a dead language, if the basic script is known, with a successful (DC 25) Intelligence (Investigation) check. The exception to this is reading Boranic, which still has some words in common use, and so it becomes simpler with a DC 20 roll required instead.