October 2012



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Thorn-bush Knights & Exiled Nobility

By T.S. Luikart

The majority of the Empire’s territories are highly stratified places where members of the Ancestral Nobility, Chartered Houses, and Imperial Bureaucracy hold sway over the common citizenry–though exactly which group has the most power varies from place to place. Citizens that wish to start a business or advance into a career viewed as being “above” their social station almost certainly need a patron of some sort or they will not be able to get the appropriate permits and ritualized blessings needed to proceed. Folks without a great deal of money to start can’t even afford the proper bribes, which is one of the many ways the Empire keeps its citizens in line.

Westerners believe that a title acquired without effort is worth exactly what was paid for it – which is to say: nothing. Titles that can be bought with anything but blood don’t impress them much either. In fact, many titles make Westerners somewhat suspicious, as a fair number of them are somewhat unfamiliar  to their ears, leaving them to wonder just how legitimate they are and if they truly mean anything at all. Some wit eventually dubbed folks who claimed titles they didn’t recognize as  “thorn-bush knights” and the name stuck. This casual indifference to aristocracy is frequently a cause for culture shock to folks from the East where position and social rank determine, well, just about everything, at least insofar as one’s opportunities in life. For others, it’s one of the main reasons why they lit out West in the first place.

When a member of the nobility is first exiled to the Far West, or rarely, deliberately chooses to travel there, a surprising number of them seem to start out with the notion that they’ll just have to make do with less, but otherwise, their lives will change little. They expect that other folk will still wait on them hand and foot, pay them greater deference, different laws will govern their behavior, etc. The majority that manage to survive get disabused of these notions right quick. Nobles descended from martial lines, that is, Noble Houses famed for their warriors, tend to do better in the rough West than those from merchant lines, but swift adaptability (and a genial attitude) to their new environments is generally the key to thriving.

Exiled nobles that manage to accept their changing circumstances find they still have some unique advantages in the Far West. Good manners are frequently essential in the West and most nobles have forgotten more about proper etiquette than any Westerner will ever learn. Nobles invariably have a better formal education than their Western counterparts as well. Finally, nobles carry the air of the exotic about them. Despite the fact that most Westerners would never publically proclaim to be impressed or intimidated by an exile’s title, there is a trace of power in descending from a noble line that cannot be easily dismissed. Exiled or not, nobles have families with power back East and their reach can be long, indeed.

Nobles are trained to deal with complicated societal interactions, so they tend to do better in urban environments. The bulk of those new to the Far West head to Kalsi straightaway and if they don’t choose to stay, eventually travel further west along the Gan Meros till they reach a settlement beside the Shining Mirror that suits them. So many have made this journey over time that Westerners will tease non-Castalan speakers by telling them that “Gan Meros” means “Noble’s Road” (actual translation, “Big/Impressive River”). Enough nobles have settled in Sedoa that there are actually several factions of expatriates with a good deal of power in the West’s wickedest city. Some even maintain connections with their “old families” back East.

While many nobles accept that their days of real power are likely gone, others utterly reject the notion, especially if they were exiled West because they were caught in the midst of a coup or some other maneuver for supremacy within their House. Such nobles are near invariably highly ambitious and immediately begin clawing their way back into a position of power or influence in the West. Those that make it are not to be trifled with. Gaol Thol the infamous Tarkun of the Iron Cliffs who was exiled West with “a rusty gun and a half-dead horse” now commands thousands of warriors and lays claim to all the land within ten leagues of his mighty fortress.

In addition to actual nobles are the many imposters that pick a title for their own reasons. Legion are the small time bandits that lay claim to nobility, hoping it adds a mysterious air to their pilfering. Others believe a noble title will help justify their desires as they seize power or territory. A few just like the ring of a good title – after all the Baron of Black Glass has a better ring to it than “that murderous bandit”. Finally, a few that walk the Dust Road claim noble sounding titles of their own. The Prince of Flame has never specified exactly what he’s a prince of, most folks reckon it’s better not to ask.

We’ll leave you with another art preview from the RPG:


One Comment

  1. Ben says:

    This art’s just damn cool! It’s got this flair that just screams, “Into the Far West!”.

    OK, get back to work! We needs the game! 😉

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