Feudal Domains in Aversill
Fallen Aversill is composed of hundreds of feudal territories which were ruled, at one time, by the Aversilian aristocracy. For the most part, that aristocracy has fallen apart. Starfell might be ruled by a Duke but, as there is no king of Aversill any longer, the surviving noble is the undisputed leader of his or her domain. Not all sovereign territories are made equal however. Some of the cities of Fallen Aversill never became more than townships and the Duke himself (or Viscount, Baron, Marquees, etc.) may live in a central fortress some distance away from their territory. Some common problems exist, however, between all varieties of Feudal areas, and these problems generally shape the attitudes of the feudal lords themselves.
First, whatever the feudal citadel, whether it is urban or rural, it is likely to be surrounded by a series of human habitation which are, more or less, isolated from one another and which are, unsafe, in that isolation. At one time, when there was a central military authority in Western Allusia, the woods between two farm villages might have wolves, but the things a peasant might find in the forest would be fairly mundane (by D and D standards). Now, there is little to keep the wood’s safe and it is the best that most lords can manage just to keep the civilized areas safe. The spaces between can be dangerous enough to impede a lord’s capacity to control their domain. Except for the most powerful of the lords in Fallen Aversill, a city’s compliment of knights might be around half a dozen, and the lord is expected with this retinue to control production, raise armies from the citizenry, protect the citizenry from invaders and criminals, and observe the right of the churches to perform their holy duty.
The aristocracy capably divides their attention across their problematic domains by making use of lower level bureaucratic functionaries. This commonly includes a reeve or steward who acts as the lord when no member of the aristocracy is present, a sheriff who enforces the laws of the land, wardens who roam the byways looking for trespassers in the fiefdom, clerks who are responsible for keeping the court records, an almoner responsible for representing the general welfare of the commoners, and an exciser who is responsible for collecting taxes.
Numerous other non-noble titles exist as well but are not common to all fiefdoms. For instance, some domains might have royal hunters or even rat catchers. It is not uncommon for a lord to hire on a witch hunter or a gravesman to make sure that funerals are properly observed, though these positions are generally part of a church’s repertoire of personnel.
The end result of this allocation is that a group of villages might, for instance, never see their lord or his knights, but might often see their attendant warden or sheriff. By spreading authority in this way, it is possible for a lord to control a domain no matter how large or secluded it might be. Unfortunately, this kind of control is not without its drawbacks.
It has been known to happen that a noble’s representatives, standing in for the noble and acting as an intermediary between the commoner and the court, will become the court in effect. A duke might be hated, for instance, in a specific village not because the duke, himself, is cruel but because the sheriff of that particular area is crueler than necessary. Thus, the functionaries become the fiefdom.
It is often the case that, because of the isolation of individual villages, a functionary is expected by a lord to handle problems well beyond his or her level of competence. Unfortunately, a lord may also be unwilling to expend the necessary resources to solve the problem. In fact, many lords, or their immediate underlings, would rather not hear about trouble in their domains; they would rather their problems just get solved by the officers they have put in charge. This chain of command may work for many problems, but when a single sheriff is expected to deal with hobgoblin raiding parties without the help of the duke’s men, he may find his capacity as a royal representative sorely tested. In many of these cases, the manpower is made up with professional mercenaries and adventurers. Peasant brute squads occasionally work as well.
Were it that these problems only cropped up occasionally. Unfortunately, the same isolation that requires the regent to trust in an army of underlings also makes the things lurking between the isolated villages more horrible. Thus, where knights and soldiers are in short supply, adventurers tend to end up as the unsung heroes of Fallen Aversill’s aristocracy.
Strife Between the Fiefs
The fiefs in Fallen Aversill are normally as isolated from each other as the villages, hamlets, towns, and cities of the fief itself. When they abut, however, there is, in general, no higher authority to keep the two fiefs from waging hostilities against each other and, as a result, most neighboring fiefs are unfriendly towards one another except when it comes time to address a common foe.
Because functionaries have to occasionally rely on adventurers to solve their problems, they are more likely to be friendly to adventurers than would a noble or a commoner. In fact, the more self-reliant a functionary is expected to be, the friendlier they will probably be towards adventuring type. After all, if it were your job to collect taxes from a family that you were convinced were werewolves, you would probably want armed guards for that task as well.
Note, this means that the functionaries represent an entirely different attitude from that of the commoners with whom they stand over and from the nobles whom they are beneath.
That being said, the more crooked or capable the functionary, the less likely they are to want interference in their operation. The rat catcher who’s good at his job doesn’t want amateurs in his sewer. Of course, the rat catcher taking bribes from wererats doesn’t want amateurs in his sewer either.
Except for the most empowered, the nobility of Aversill are a generally skittish group. They maintain their domains through guile, craftiness, and a network of people required to do their jobs. They do not, generally, enjoy having a squad of armed forces, not under their thumb, stepping in and solving problems that their people expect them to solve. A duke is a duke because, to a certain extent, when a dragon shows up, the duke’s soldiers will take it out. If adventurers kill the dragon, it challenges the duke’s power over his people.
Whatever else defines the interaction between characters and the nobility, reputation and the appearance of being in control will always be a factor. At the same time, a reasonable noble will realize that a threatened domain needs to be protected. Six knights and a very small retinue of soldiers can only handle so much, and whether or not it risks admitting defeat by soliciting help from a wandering troupe of mercenaries, a good noble would rather lose face than lose the domain.
Peasants will have varying attitudes towards an adventuring group, often related to reactions to the races within the group. A human village will not react kindly to adventuring elves. They may be frightened by a player character minotaur. On the other hand, peasants live in a world where wars happen between soldiers and where nobles are far distant.
The problem with approaching peasants, in general, isn’t that the peasants will attack or run screaming; it’s that the deep proventialism of the feudal system makes them all but useless. They are born, live, and die within a 2 square mile area. Whether they are disposed to follow the characters around gawking, or hide in their cottages is probably unimportant in the grand scheme of things.