Today’s article contains another Kingdom write-up from my Shards Of Divinity Campaign. My players will be examining this one carefully for any additional nuggets of additional information that I include because this particular group are tied up in their current in-game situation. They think they know who’s responsible and have a working theory – are they right or wrong? Only time will tell – but they might get some additional hints from the content below…
Metagame Origins & Status
When I was creating the Kingdoms for the Shards Of Divinity campaign, I wanted to ensure that each Kingdom had a rival or counter-balancing influence. If things are more-or-less stable, politically, the environment permits the PCs to be the instruments of change within the campaign, inadvertently (or quite deliberately) promoting or provoking one faction over another.
I was also careful in delineating the origins of the Kingdoms, because again they had emerged from a stable political situation – a group of city-states in an isolated valley now remembered as Paradise. Each of these city-states was to be the origin of a Kingdom or other significant population within the Shared Kingdoms after a thousand years of Post-paradise Human History.
Finally, I wanted to seed the political scene with opportunities for roleplay and adventure. Each of the Kingdoms should present a different flavor and different set of circumstances from which an adventure can be derived.
Some of the members of the Shared Kingdoms better fulfill one or two of these criteria, but in the Causa Domasura, I think I hit the nail squarely on the head in all three departments. Based very directly on the civilization of the Ancient Greeks – with lots of other sources thrown in as seasoning – the results are a group that is always trying something new, that has a distinctly different attitude to most things. They might miss a lot – and that knocks their world-view askew – but if anyone’s going to breed a new bunch of bug-eyed monsters, this is them. Science and Reasoning without conscience, guided by the personal philosophy of each individual researcher – there’s no scope for adventure in that, surely? (Says the GM with a far-too-innocent smirk)…
I drew on a number of divergent resources in creating the Causa Domasura. Everything from the mad scientists of uncounted B-grade Horror and SF Movies of the 50s and 60s, to the West Wing, and historically, early American society (post- War Of Independence). There are also a few ideas from David Eddings’ Mallorean trilogy, from some of the Alien societies in Babylon 5, and the occasional sneaking subtext from the Unseen University of Terry Pratchett’s Diskworld. Like any good writer, I’ll steal ideas from anywhere I find them, file off the serial numbers, and claim them as my own – after throwing them together in new and interesting combinations. : )
One of the city-states of Paradise valued learning above all else. They dismissed the priests and the Gods as misunderstood natural phenomena, and built a city-state on the premise of scholarship and philosophy. They claim that it was the city-state of their forebears whose experiments invented steel weapons, but their history (written many years after the fact, and with the cataclysm in between) claim that they employed it purely defensively, and that it was the jealousy and ambition of another city-state that led to the theft of the technology and its use in an attempt to conquer Paradise. They also claim to have invented Magic independently (while conceding that the Elves helped with some of the more difficult implications of the theory).
A society of experimenters
It’s important to note the points of distinction between the Causa Domasura and Bher Yuralvus (which was the focus of the previous article in this series). Bher Yuralvus are scholars and record-keepers. They believe implicitly that if it is in writing, it contains at least a grain of truth, and when two sources conflict, learned debate is the way to resolve the dispute – identifying that grain of truth, identifying the misunderstandings that have led to a misinterpretation, and writing concordances and references to document these resolutions. The principles apon which the Causa Domasura operate are entirely different, and can be summed up:
- Develop a theory;
- Experiment to test that theory;
- Learn something new from the test;
- Use that something new to develop a new theory.
Some of their experiments and theories have yielded valuable innovations. While it is not recorded, the concept of the Shared Kingdoms as a working political relationship is almost certainly something that the Causa Domasura came up with, back when they (and everything else) was part of the Galliamic Empire. Their own internal structure is a hodge-podge of contradictory theories, a mish-mash of elements from this political theory and that, but somehow it seems to work reasonably well – at least as well as the government of any of the other Kingdoms. But if you don’t like the current form of government, just wait a generation and they’ll be trying something new.
That being said, the Causa Domasura is quite happy to employ the collected data from Bher Yuralvus, and Bher Yuralvus is happy to add the published books and writings of the Causa Domasura to their collection. The two exist in a practical symbiosis, and often align the same way in political debates. A key tactical consideration for other Kingdoms is how to separate the two on a policy issue should one of them oppose a measure and the other be more receptive.
It’s impossible to consider the internal structure of the Causa Domasura without first considering the philosophical foundations apon which the entire “Kingdom” has been erected. This philosophy values intellectual capability over learning, learning over skill, skill over experience, experience over service, and service over everything else.
While the forms of governmental structures within the “Kingdom” change from time to time, this philosophy is the common uniting thread that ties them all together.
The current yield of governmental structure that has resulted is a combination of a unique Caste System and Republican Meritocracy dominated by Mages, with Democratic underpinnings.
The Caste System
The Caste system employed by the Causa Domasura permits lateral movement under direction of superiors and vertical movement by achievement. It thereby recognizes that the majority of citizens don’t have the ability to move beyond the social status inherited from their forebears while acknowledging that talent, and genius, can flower anywhere.
- At the lowermost rung are the Slaves, whose capacities for self-governance are so limited that they need someone to make the decisions for them, care for them, shelter them, and ensure that they are fed. In return for giving up any real independence, they are wrapped in cotton wool and cared for like children.
- The 2nd tier contains the military, police forces, slave masters, and other purely service-oriented occupations.
- The lower levels of the third tier overlaps the upper levels of the second, containing bureaucrats, civil servants, merchants, and so on. These are service occupations that require some capacity for judgment.
- The fourth tier contains the lower elite – any form of expert, teachers, and apprentices.
- The fifth tier is reserved for the true elite – administrators, researchers, mages who have completed their apprenticeship, and implementers of government policy.
- Finally, the Sixth tier is occupied by the Senate, who set government policy, and the Head of state, the Legatus.
The Republican Meritocracy – in theory
Individuals who are willing to serve in the various governmental positions are assessed to derive an order of merit based on intellect, achievement, and scholarship.
Positions are ranked in terms of difficulty and authority and filled from the top down with the most suitable eligible candidate.
Positions, willingness to serve, and suitability are all reassessed every 5 years. Should an individual die in office, the most recent order of merit is used to determine their successor.
Hereditary rank in the Republic has been completely eliminated, at least in theory. Service is rewarded both directly in remuneration, indirectly in services provided at government expense, and in the accumulation of tax credits against future taxation.
The flaws in the political model
In practice, this model of government has three major problems: (1) the examinations must be set and marked by people who are qualified to do so, but anyone who is that qualified should be a candidate; (2) the cost of the periodic examinations and reviews is substantial, and mandates an extremely high taxation rate; and (3) those with means (after the high taxation) can always afford the best education and preparation.
The combination of these problems and the tax credits system has produced an unofficial caste system which only superficially resembles the official system. While, in theory, it is possible for a plumber to become the head of state, in practice he never has a chance. The peerage consists of those with the opportunity to become peers.
Nevertheless, it is possible for a citizen to petition the administrator of whatever social fraction he is part of for a transfer into another social fraction, and to be tested for suitability (at his own expense); and it is also possible to rise through the ranks on merit. A plumber might not be able to go all the way to the top in one generation, but a plumber’s family can rise to dominance over multiple generations.
The Practical Solutions
The problem of suitable testing materials is partially solved by having all those already serving in official positions contribute one question each year to the official examinations. These are then sealed until the death of the serving individual, at which point they join a pool of questions for testing suitability for a position of that rank. A small number of these questions is then chosen at random for the assessment. That means that a question can be hundreds of years out of date (which might favor historians but no-one else) or might be reasonably contemporary or timeless. While imperfect, this seems satisfactory to those in charge, and is a reasonably functional compromise.
The Popular Vote
The administrators of the Causa Domusora recognize that their testing methodologies are not going to be universally accurate, and hence for the most important positions, the uppermost group of eligible candidates are then subjected to a popular vote for election to the governing body, The Senate. It is the senate’s role, led by the Legatus, to administer the Republic as a whole and to appoint other positions according to the order of merit. The republic does not support the concept of 1 man 1 vote, instead awarding individuals a number of votes based apon their (official) tier within the caste. It also restricts the franchise for all sorts of reasons.
Most of those reasons ultimately boil down to indicators of civil responsibility or a lack thereof. Unpaid debts, criminal behavior, holding unpopular philosophies or beliefs, a violation of the philosophic underpinnings of the society, or causing unauthorized trouble between the Causa Domasura and another of the Shared Kingdoms, are all valid reasons for the restriction or removal of the right to vote on the membership of the senate, or the identity of the Legatus.
There are also various mechanisms by which additional votes may be earned, such as years of public service (differentiated by rank), experience in other industries or capacities, (to a lesser extent), a particularly valuable expertise such as spellcraft, or even crass wealth.
Even slaves have the right to vote (assuming they pass all the civil responsibility criteria) – though it takes six of their votes to equal just one vote from a member of the existing Senate – before additional votes possessed are taken into account. Taking such additional votes into account, a past Senator’s opinion may be worth that of 200 or more slaves. Slaves cannot cede the right to vote on their behalf to their overseers; instead, a specialist department within the Bureaucracy who lobbies the Senate for Slave Welfare exercises any votes not actually cast by the Slave himself. It is also worth noting that each decade of service, even as a slave, earns additional votes.
The Political Consequences
While individually, the slaves may have little political power, collectively, the slave lobby can make or break a candidate on most occasions. As a result, political candidates work hard at keeping that lobby on-side.
One of the regular sources of debate and contention is the desire of various factions to elevate their own status within the caste system by achieving recognition of their expertise, and one of the keys to doing so is the development of specialized skillsets amongst the slaves that are employed within the industry. This effectively transfers the voting power of those slaves out of the hands of the Bureau of Slave Welfare and into the control of that faction while elevating the value of those votes, thereby creating a self-sustaining faction within the government that must be catered to. The support of the Bureau in any such endeavor is essential, and can only be obtained if they can be convinced that this is not only in the best interests of the slaves in question, but also in the interests of the Causa Domasura in general.
However, no candidate can champion an improvement in the condition of the slaves at the expense of the welfare of the rest of society without risking a united front against them, something the slave lobby cannot overcome. A delicate balance must be maintained if a candidate is to be successful. The final year of any election cycle is therefore a time of celebration and general wooing of votes, similar to that of the US prior to the rise of mass communications and railroads.
Life as a slave in the Causa Domasura would be completely unrecognizable by anyone who was subjected to that condition in our history. Their enfranchisement, even in a limited capacity, and the resulting power of their collective votes, has ensured that slaves are VERY well cared-for. They are pampered and cared for, and have – over the years – won many rights and privileges. Hours of labor are restricted, mistreatment is forbidden, they receive the finest of medical care, and even earn modest wages for their labor – which they are free to spend on luxuries. The burden of serious decisions and the daily struggle to survive has been taken from their shoulders, and all they have to do is their share of whatever task needs doing. Nor are these tasks overly arduous – slaves have been known to faint dead away at the mention of “hard work”, and then lodge a complaint with the Bureau.
The general solution is to pile more bodies onto whatever task needs doing, employing the maxim that many hands make light work, ensuring that the slave population – and the political power that it confers – remains high. At the same time, the Bureau of Slave Welfare is cognizant of the potential economic consequences of expanding this segment of the population – and the expense in maintenance that it carries – and strives to maintain a balance between slave numbers and conditions that optimizes the best interests of the slave population in the long term.
The existence of the Bureau of Slave Welfare, an administrative body with professional expertise in analyzing the impact on the slaves of any policy proposal, ensures that any attempt to appeal to the slaves directly during an election cycle is received with suspicion – but is essential to any policy that is unpopular with the Bureau. Analysis of a candidate’s lobbying of slaves directly is considered a barometer of their unstated intentions in other, more controversial, policy areas. However, there are always enough candidates for the Senate and the position of Legatus that there will be some – and this is considered essential to restraining the authority of the Bureau to within reasonable boundaries. Should the Bureau’s staff ever stop adequately and fairly representing the interests of the slaves, it will be relatively easy for a candidate to convince the slaves of this, winning their direct support (it’s happened a time or two).
Another faction that does very well out of the political system in the Causa Domasura are the elderly. Between the additional votes for years of service, accumulated wealth, and experience and expertise, they command significant power. This is usually dispersed behind multiple candidates, but occasionally an issue will unite a significant number of them. Self-interest ensures that the issues which most frequently unite them are those relating to aged care.
One of the characteristics of the elderly in general is a natural conservatism, and the awareness that most problems will solve themselves eventually. While some radical theory that becomes the flavor of the day may garner significant support in a single election cycle, enough conservative candidates will be elected that the policy’s implementation will be naturally limited and will be thrown out if it doesn’t work.
This is another major element of the system of checks and balances that act to stabilize the Causa Domasura, constraining their willingness to experiment by imposing practical limits to their experiments in government.
If there is any faction that is marginalized in the Causa Domasura, it’s not the slaves but the young. Prone to headlong rushes into change for its own sake, filled with an excess of zeal and an impatience for change, they are the progressive, radical, and rowdy element of the political scene. Substituting rhetoric and volume for reasoned consideration, they rarely make a direct impact on the policies of the government, but frequently have a substantial indirect impact.
It is quite frequent for prospective members of the Senate to gather a small group of relatively young activists with whom they don’t disagree too profoundly, and who show some glimmer of promise, who they use to generate ideas. A radical agenda, once confined with a proper set of controls, a degree of practicality, and a means of monitoring outcomes, become progressive policies. In return, the youth become trained in the realities of practical politics, gradually becoming fit to pursue their own political careers.
Subterfuge, Intrigue, and Corruption
It should be obvious that one of the major dangers of this system of government is the political candidate who promises one thing while intending to do quite another. Safeguarding against such subterfuge is one of the priorities of the legislation that empowers the Senate and the Legature. Unless a real and pressing need for change is agreed by a three-quarters majority of the senate, the Legate is not permitted to enact any legislation not specifically put forward as a policy position during his candidature. Moreover, while the Legature receives a mandate for carrying out the changes and policies announced during his candidature for office, the Senate defines the scope of that mandate.
Both sides are fully aware that abusing these powers will normally result in a censure at the next election. Proposed changes to the scope and weighting of the franchise are the most contestable policy positions, preventing any attempts at self-perpetuation of a particular group. Furthermore, the Senate consists of those who came closest to winning the position of Legature without actually winning, and has no power to enact change on its own behalf – in other words, the current Legature’s political rivals and enemies.
Achievement of policy reform must be achieved by decree of the Legature – subject to the confirmation that it is within the scope of the Legature’s Mandate by the Senate – or with the support of three-quarters of the Senate. The inevitable result is a hotbed of political intrigue in which favors and support are exchanged constantly in return for support on other policy matters. Coalitions come and go without warning and without notice. This trend is accentuated even more by the banning of any form of overt political party structure or coalitions during elections. All elections are of individuals, and the scale of the majorities required to exceed a mandate is such that anyone attempting to form or permit such overt political alliances will not succeed, and will not be re-elected five years hence.
Bribery is a capital offence. There is a specialist branch of the Bureau of Laws which investigates any suspicion of bribery and who are required and empowered to arrest anyone if the charges can be proven to within a reasonable standard. Such criminal cases are always adjudicated by the next most highly-ranked official or member of the Senate – someone who will directly benefit from a guilty verdict, provided that they can convince the public at the next election of the rightness of their actions – but only after that official or Senator has been vetted by the Bureau of Laws to verify their own innocence in this respect. Arrest by the Bureau of Laws generally results in a pro-forma verdict of guilty.
However, the Lagature and the Senate are both empowered to investigate and prosecute any charges of corruption or abuse of authority by the Bureau of Laws. They all know that if the Bureau exceeds its authority, they might well be next on the chopping block – so they are both vigorous and zealous in this duty. Once again, any reasonable charge levied is followed by an almost pro-forma verdict of guilt – and, once again, the public are the final arbiters when it comes to abuse of this authority.
The same pattern persists throughout the government – a body with certain powers and authority, an enemy or rival charged with the monitoring of that rival, and the ultimate authority vested in those who are only permitted to enact the will of the people.
This approach is also used to control economic management. The government taxes Labor Time (which includes time spent in thought and education, and the labor of slaves) and raw materials (which include the ownership of slaves). All government services, including service as a Senator or Legature, are paid from these taxes. The Senate sets pay rates and tax rates as necessary.
Should the Senate abuse this power, by voting themselves a big pay rise, they will be driving future votes toward a policy of tax reform. Should the government have insufficient funds to provide essential services, they will be driving votes toward candidates who promise a redistribution of funds.
Furthermore, service within the Senate is considered part-time, and remunerated accordingly; Senators are expected to operate their own sources of income but are barred from the most lucrative positions within government service (which have been filled by their less-popular and less-successful rivals). You can have power, or you can be well-paid for government service, but not both.
In practice, this results in political swings as candidates alternately stand for office with adequate funding and live off their savings while in office until they no longer have sufficient funds to be reelected – relegating them to a position with relatively little power but sufficient income to replenish those savings in 5-10 years – if they work hard and save their money.
Political fundraising of any sort is defined as “Soliciting Bribery” – punished by and in the same way as actually accepting a bribe or bribing someone. The only thing that is not forbidden is the provision of services to the public. A lobbyist seeking to curry favor cannot give money directly to the Senator he is courting, but can shore up his popularity amongst that senator’s supporters by providing them additional services or gifts. This is perceived as doing what he was elected to do, i.e. enhancing the lives of the people who elected him. Note that it is not permitted for restrictions on who may use such facilities on any political basis, though caste restrictions can apply.
The consequence is that such “lobbying” is always overt and obvious, and subject to public scrutiny – by both those who voted for a Senator and by those who voted for a rival. Once again, abuse of authority is subject to the approval of the public.
Nobles & Nobility within the Causa Domasura
The Causa Domusora have abandoned the concept of hereditary peerage. The head of state is given the title Legatus. Beneath him or her is the Senate, comprising Senators both male and female. The Senate appoints other positions within the civil hierarchy for a fixed term (currently and traditionally 5 years, though there is a growing movement toward six-year terms). There are currently 62 Senators.
The most senior positions appointed by the Senate are the Praefectus (Prefects) (the term is both singular and plural) who administer a city and the surrounding region. The Praefectus has a wide latitude of civil authority, able to dictate additional taxes (above the general standard set by the Senate), make local additions to the criminal code, instigate public works beyond the mandated minimums decreed by the senate, call tenders for contracts, and so on. Keeping the Praefectus in check to some extent is the requirement that he reside in the region for 5 years after being recalled from office (unless the Senate promotes him).
A second check apon excesses by the local Praefectus is the local Tribune, who serves as a magistrate and dispenses judgment according to the merits of the case and local laws. If he finds a law to be excessive, he can make it moot simply by sentencing offenders to a lesser verdict, or vice versa. He is also entitled to bring excesses to the attention of the Electum.
The Electum is a central body whose members are appointed by the Senate to investigate and (if necessary) prosecute, judge, and punish Praefects who are unsatisfactory in performing their duties. There are currently 24 Members of the Electum.
Beneath the Electum are a number of Bureaus, each of which is controlled by a Septras, and who has a deputy Sestras to assist him, both of whom are appointed by the Senate to control one Caste or Sub-caste. These are effectively Guilds with externally-appointed heads. They have the authority to set costs and pay scales within their Bureaus, both of labor and materials (which include slaves). These also have the responsibility for testing and administering internal rank within a caste or sub-caste, of setting approved standards of workmanship and behavior, and so on. There are 34 Septras at this time.
Monitoring and reviewing the decisions and actions of the Sestras and their civil servant subordinates are the Factras, another central body whose members are appointed by the senate. What the Electum are to the Praefectus, the Factras are to the Sestras – investigators, prosecutors, judges, and juries. There are currently 12 Factras. The Senate, in turn, oversees the activities fo the Electum and Factras, and is able to investigate, prosecute, and punish corruption or misbehavior within the ranks of their overseers.
Beneath all of these and assisting them are a number of civil service positions whose power and authority derive from the master they are appointed to serve. All such positions are assigned based on the order of merit last derived. These civil servants perform the bulk of the actual work of administrating the Republic, and are known collectively as the Civilis Vernula, and individually are given the title Vernulas.
The Legatus is considered to be the equivalent of a King, Senators are Dukes & Duchesses, Tribunes, The Electum, Septras and the Factras are all considered Counts, and a Vernulas is considered to have a rank equivalent to that of a Knight. Since the other kingdoms are uncomfortable with the notion that these come and go with such regularity for a given individual, they often continue to treat a former ‘Noble’ of the Republic at his highest previously-achieved rank, and prefix their previous title with ‘Priori’ (former) to such individuals.
Geographically, the centre of power of the Causa Domasura lies to the Northeast of the Capitas Duodiem, beyond the Therasus Amora (Centre Of Attraction). It is bounded on to the north and west by natural features: Lihume Lapillos (Stony River) to the west, which flows through the valley of Bher Yuralvus from the Montis Nixcumulum (Snowcapped Mountains) which form the Northern boundary. East of Capitas Duodiem, the Via Negotarentur (Trade Road) forms the southern border where the Causa Domasura abuts the northern edge of the Ineodolus Imperascora (Traders & Commerce Empire).
Like the “Kingdom” itself, the Via Negotarentur (pronounced “Neg-Oh-Sha-Rent-Ur”) gradually peters out to the east, becoming little more than a track before vanishing completely into the Levitasvirga Abyssora (The Thunderhell). That region of rolling hills and unpleasant weather forms the southernmost part of the eastern boundary of the Causa Domasura. As one proceeds north, one runs into the marshy swamps of the Gramen Dromubyas (Grassland Marshes); these are quite impassable, and must be circumnavigated either west through the eastern regions of the Causa Domasura or east through the Thunderhell. Eventually, the Gramen Dromubyas gives way and the Thunderhell reunites with the eastern “border” of the Causa Domasura, slowly giving way to the more mountainous region of the Procerus Terrora (The Giantlands). These quickly become more mountainous until they merge with the Montis Nixcumulum, the northern border.
The northern regions of the Causa Domasura are heavily forested; the central, western and southern regions are fertile farmlands, becoming less so as one proceeds east. The Thunderhell is grassland; no trees or brushland can grow in that inhospitable domain save in small huddled clumps scattered here and there. Many small rivers flow north to southeast through the Kingdom, the most easterly of which emerge from the Giantlands, skirt the northern Thunderhell to the west, and then turn east to drain into the Grassland Marshes (which, ultimately, are little more than a flatter, somewhat depressed, region of the Thunderhell). It is believed that the Marshes, in turn, drain into one or more rivers that flow south through the Thunderhell past the Montis Levitasvirgo (Thunder Mountains) that lie beyond the Thunderhell, joined by many more creeks and streams from that font of unpleasantry, before emptying somewhere into the Undus Verdestus (Green Ocean) – but no-one can say for certain, the region remains unexplored.
From A PC Perspective
The Causa Domasura is the place to find an expert on just about anything contemporary or arcane, and the most skilled artisans except in certain specialist fields. If you need a spell cast, this is the place to come.
Remember not to try and bribe anyone and not to offer tips for service. Both are capitol offenses!
Carry plenty of cash, things are quite expensive – and being caught short gives one the choice of hunger or slavery.
Oh, and never be surprised at what might come crawling out from the East or North…
From A GMs Perspective
The Causa Domasura is a fun place for GMs. Almost anything can be justified as an “experiment gone awry”, you have Orcs and Goblins and Gnolls and Giants living in the Thunderhell and Giantlands, and the Marshes are a breeding ground for strange critters at the best of times. Add the potentials for more traditional plotlines involving magic itself and the political intrigues of the Republic and you have ample opportunities for adventure.
When writing up the players briefings, I tried to entice them in that direction by mentioning the practice of slavery without describing what that actually means in the Causa Domasura. They didn’t take the bait; other GMs using the ‘Kingdom’ in isolation may have better luck. Keep the possibility in mind.
Ambitions & Political Relations
The Causa Domasura continually plots to force Bher Yuralvus into their republic. The two are frequent political allies, and (as described above) have an ongoing symbiotic relationship, but it still irks the rulers of a Republic which reveres Knowledge and Expertise that the greatest collected source of knowledge stubbornly insists on its independence.
The other great ambition is to destabilize the Verus Fidesora (People Of True Faith). Religion and Progressive Science have never sat well together; the Verus Fidesora believe that the Causa Domasura lack morality and should be subordinate to them, the Causa Domasura believe the Verus Fidesora to be blinded by dogma and bent on the ideological conquest of the entire Shared Kingdoms – to which the Clerics respond, “Ideological Conversion, not Conquest!”
The Study Of Languages
One of the most controversial theories to emerge from the Causa Domasura concerns the relationships between languages. This theory holds that certain languages are related to each other, sharing vocabulary, syntax, and written forms in common. By measuring the degree of similarity between languages, the historical influence of one culture apon another can be determined. Put these together like a jigsaw and the lost history of the world can be recreated.
That’s the theory…
The Language Relationships Table: The Common Languages
There are 26 spoken languages in Shards Of Divinity, divided into four groups: Common, Unusual, Rare, and Obscure. As mentioned in the previous part of this series, if a character has more ranks in a language than its relatedness relative to the language he is trying to speak, he gains a +1 synergy bonus on his attempts to use the language.
For example, an elf would have Elvish (aka Elven) as his native language. If he was trying to speak Dwarven, he would get +1 if he had 8 ranks in his native language – or if he had 4 ranks in Draconian, Giant, or Terran, or 6 ranks in Trade Tongue or Abyssal or… well, the list goes on. He can qualify for multiple +1 bonuses if he meets multiple targets but only one per row on the chart – so he might get +1 for 4 ranks in Giant, +1 for 6 ranks in Trade Tongue, and +1 for 8 ranks in Elvish.
Twenty-six languages won’t fit all in one reasonable-length table, even though that’s how they were presented in the original house rules. So in this part of the series, I’m going to look at the Common Languages. Note that this table mentions languages that are currently not known to exist in the campaign world.
Following the table are descriptions of the languages and how to simulate them. Where they are appropriate for PCs, I’ve included discussion on the naming of characters – which is the point of the whole series!
|Kingdom||2 ranks||Trade Tongue|
|4 ranks||Old Kingdom, Pious, Gypsy, Halfling|
|6 ranks||City-State, Celestial, Sylvan, Dwarven, Druidic, Gnome|
|8 ranks||Original, Elvish, Aquan, Draconic, Terran, Giant, Orc|
|10 ranks||Abyssal, Draconian, Infernal, Tribal|
|12 ranks||Undercommon, Goblin, Ignan|
|4 ranks||Druidic, Undercommon, Sylvan, Aquan|
|6 ranks||Draconian, Gypsy, Old Kingdom, Celestial, Orc, Original|
|8 ranks||Halfling, Abyssal, Dwarven, City-State, Gnome, Giant, Terran|
|10 ranks||Trade Tongue, Kingdom, Infernal, Tribal, Goblin, Ignan, Pious|
|Dwarven||4 ranks||Draconian, Giant, Terran|
|6 ranks||Trade Tongue, Abyssal, Draconic, Infernal, Undercommon, Ignan|
|8 ranks||Gnome, Tribal, Orc, Gypsy, Old Kingdom, Celestial, Elvish|
|10 ranks||Kingdom, Sylvan, Goblin, City-State, Original, Gnoll|
|12 ranks||Halfling, Druidic, Pious, Aquan|
|2 ranks||City-State, Celestial|
|4 ranks||Original, Draconic|
|6 ranks||Kingdom, Gypsy, Abyssal, Infernal|
|8 ranks||Trade Tongue, Sylvan, Orc, Old Kingdom, Elvish, Draconian|
|10 ranks||Druidic, Terran, Gnoll, Halfling, Undercommon, Dwarven|
|12 ranks||Aquan, Ignan, Goblin, Tribal, Gnome|
|Trade Tongue||2 ranks||Old Kingdom, Gypsy|
|4 ranks||City-state, Kingdom, Sylvan, Dwarven|
|6 ranks||Original, Elvish, Druidic|
|8 ranks||Halfling, Aquan, Draconic, Draconian, Terran, Tribal, Gnome, Pious, Giant|
|10 ranks||Undercommon, Orc, Goblin|
|12 ranks||Gnoll, Abyssal, Celestial, Ignan|
Language Descriptions & Notes: The Common Languages
The following language descriptions frequently mention rendering text using particular fonts that I have in my collection. Some of these may have unrestricted licenses, some may be free only for non-commercial use, and a few may even have come with collections or software that is only available to paying customers. In the seventh section on Languages,, I’ll include a brief sample of text rendered into each language and displayed using the relevant font. For now, all that really needs to be noted is that I have chosen fonts that ‘look right’ for the language as I envisaged it for this campaign.
Similarly, a number of modified modern languages have been used as a shortcut for simulating the various fantasy tongues. The goal was not to create a genuine language, not even to be consistent, but simply to create an appropriately non-English “sound” with the right sort of accents and noises. I hope no speaker of any named language takes offense – or undue compliment – from the use of their native tongue. Such usage says nothing about the language itself, and even less about the people who actually use it; at most it is a commentary on the sounds and flow of syllables that result to English-speaking ears.
Some of the languages fall into multiple categories. While it might be redundant, each language description is included in all relevant categories.
Also known as common. Despite the name, this is not the usual Lingua Franca used for cross-cultural communications. Written Form: uses Roman characters.
Also known as Elven. Has three dialects, the skill conveys capacity in all three. Quenya is conversational Elvish, and the written form used by elves to pen quick notes. Sindarin is formal language, used for addressing Nobility, making official reports, diplomacy, etc. Naldori is a language used only for singing and for religious services. To the untrained ear, these are identical languages, differing more in manner and tone than in pronunciation. Sindarin is respectful, while Naldori is lilting and almost soporific.
- The elvish alphabet contains no equivalent letters to ‘c’, ‘ch’, ‘g’, ‘p’, ‘q’, ‘t’ (but does have ‘th’), ‘v’, ‘x’, and ‘z’. Use ‘s’ for ‘tt’ and ‘fl’ for ‘j’. Any ‘s’ followed by a consonant is doubled unless it is followed by a double consonant.
- Otherwise as per PHB.
- For inspiration, use French translations of what you want the name to mean and replace or remove letters that elvish doesn’t have. Use ‘Fe’ for ‘The’ and remove all spaces between words. Then tweak the result for a flowing pronunciation.
Written Form: Translate as per the Naming notes above. Then reformat using the Elvish fonts Tengwar Cursive, Tengwar Sindarin, and Tengwar Sindarin respectively.
Also known as Dwarf.
- Dwarvish names emphasize A’s, K’s and Z’s. Replace all R’s with H’s.
- The syllable “Kha” often figures prominently and means ‘deep’ or ‘strong’ or ‘valuable’ or ‘important’ depending on the phrasing and pronunciation, much of which is inaudible to the human ear.
- Replace all S’s with Z’s.
- Otherwise as per PHB.
- For inspiration, use German, Hungarian or Russian translations of what you want the name to mean and replace or remove consonants as above.
Written Form: Translate as per the language notes above. Then reformat using a Dwarven Runes font.
Also known as ‘Divine Speech’. Used exclusively for the conducting of human religious services and ceremonies, the way churches used to use Latin. It derives from one of the City-State languages (described separately below), making it the most ancient human tongue still in regular use. As such, it uses a lot of generic terms for more recent innovations; it has no descriptive terms or proper names for different non-human species, for example. Instead, it has a number of terms for describing an individual’s state of Grace, from “Irredeemable” through to “Most Holy”, which are applied to whole classes of non-human. “Heretics” might be Orcs or Elves or Fey or Wizards.
Pious is used for all formal church doctrines and holy books, and this blanket terminology shapes theological attitudes to non-human species. For example, the title ‘Paladin’ literally translates as Protector or Defender. As such, anyone who takes up arms to defend a Church may be blessed as a paladin by the church, and treated in the same way as would a Paladin, giving rise to such phrasing as ‘The Paladin then gathered to him paladins to oppose the heretic’.
This sample phrase also shows other aspects of Pious deriving from it’s age: (1) a stilted, almost pretentious, phraseology; and (2) collective nouns are used only for the subject, not the object; ‘The Heretic’ might be one or it might be a besieging army. The next phrase in this story might well be ‘And the Heretic were layed low by the holy might of the paladin.” Sentences tend to be short and declarative, with full stops used where commas might be expected. It is also normal practice to number each statement.
Note that this language is not taught to non-priests, though many laymen will gradually pick up phrases here and there. To render text into Pious, translate into Greek without font change, then add or subtract vowels as necessary to permit a smooth flow.
Pious is considered a Common tongue for Human Clerics and Priests, a Rare language for other humans, and an Obscure language for non-humans.
Written form: display translated text using a Greek language or appropriate mathematical Symbols Font.
This human language is an evolution of Gypsy, described separately elsewhere, and is the most common lingua franca outside of the Shared Kingdoms. It has an extremely restrictive format, designed by discarding unnecessary terms and objects of reference. Every statement comes in three parts, which roughly translate as “You have,” “I/We have,” and “You/I/We could,”. The declarative mode is always used for the first two parts, which are statements of fact, and are always in the past tense; the third part is always tentative and suggestive in mode and always in the future tense. “We could” is always a proposal of action; the language has no terms for “I accept” or “I refuse”; these are indicated by one party performing an action proposed by the other. For example, consider the following exchange:
“You have many fine furs. I have nine silver coins. We could profit from an exchange.” (The speaker wants to buy a fur coat or cloak and offers 9 sp).
“You have nine coins. I have newly-tanned sable. You could earn more coins.” (The furrier rejects the offer, demanding a higher price).
“You have furs that have not yet fully cured. I have 2 golden coins. I could go to a different stall.” (The buyer counters the furriers arguement for a higher price, increases slightly the value of his offer and shifts the medium of exchange to gold, which is often more desirable, and threatens to go to a competitor – in other words, ‘take it or leave it’).
“You have a good eye. I have a fine family. We could share wine to celebrate an exchange.” (The seller accepts the bargain, to be sealed by a sip – less than a teaspoonful – of wine from a common mug.)
Notice that flattering the other side is inherently part of the exchange, but that the terms are very simple and could be quickly translated by either party with absolutely no knowledge of the other’s language, using signs and gestures.
Trade tongue is inherently diplomatic in nature, having expressly discarded everything that is not needed for the act of bargaining and simplifying what is left. It adds and subtracts words with every bargain and conversation, restricting itself to only those terms that are relevant to a particular negotiation.
A more highly-developed form of trade tongue in which whole paragraphs are dedicated to each of the three elements is the language of modern treaties and Diplomacy, capable of everything from ‘we demand your unconditional surrender or we invade’ to mutual defenses. When treaties are signed/accepted, they are rendered into the formal language of each party outlining their understanding of what the terms mean, but the actual treaty remains the common document in trade tongue. It is felt that this practice prevents either side from subverting the intent of a document through verbal trickery while leaving specifics loose enough to accommodate changes of circumstance.
Trade Tongue is also the primary mechanism by which terms and phrases from other languages enter Kingdom, as labels for new products and concepts.
Trade Tongue is best rendered by first writing the statements in the specified form and then translating only proper nouns into local languages, leaving everything else in plain English.
Creating RPG Languages The Modern Way
So now the big secret has been revealed! The easiest way to create an alien language is two-fold: Use a real language and apply a series of rules to it to create a consistent variation. Then use an appropriate font for the written form to make it LOOK alien.
Literal translations using the same rules make non-human character names easy and consistent.
No doubt readers can see the connection between the approach employed by my language generator and the techniques demonstrated above. And yet, without examples, it’s an incredibly difficult process to explain. Which is what lead to the current series of articles in the first place.
From this point in the series onwards, I’ll be concluding each article with a few tips on how to choose a language on which to model your artificial tongue, and how to come up with the rules – at least until I run out of tips to share! We’ll start with that in the next part. For now, I’ll leave you to get your heads around the concept itself.
In the next part of this series I’ll detail the Congressus Feyunctusora, the United Association Of Fey; Examine the Unusual Languages in Shards of Divinity; and share the first couple of tips on how to choose a real language on which to base your artificial construct.
But I like to interrupt series from time to time with an article that might be of value to people who might not be getting anything useful out of that series. It may be a day late (officially) but I have an article for this month’s Blog Carnival on adventuring in an Established Setting that I’d like to run…
- The Non-Human Languages Generator
- The Shared Kingdoms: A Premise from the Shards Of Divinity campaign
- Bher Yuralvus, The Home Of The Endless Library
- Causa Domasura, The Home Of Reason
- Therassus Amora, The Centre Of Attraction
- The Ineodolus Imperascora (The Traders And Commerce Empire)
- The Longex Dextora (The Hinterlands)