Thursday, April 12, 2018

Aristocrats (social group)

A group whose wealth and status is equated with the necessary income to own, ride and travel in carriages pulled by horses. The class is typically hereditary and hold a monopoly on all political power in the region. Aristocrats represent an amplification of the control held by elders and chieftains in tribes. The aristocrats monopolize political power in towns and cities, and in the regions at large, so that the highest ranks of authority, land ownership and wealth are withheld from the general populace. As a group, they typically form an oligarchy in the regions in which they dwell.

Unlike manor lords of a feudalistic culture, aristocrats are dependent upon the populations of towns and cities, as it is the size and number of their tribes that have given them power (being the richest and eldest of a large clan guarantees their wealth). They are rarely to be found in villages. In larger settlements, however, their number creates the assembly that holds both local and regional power (one of their number being the regional monarch, typically hereditary), the highest functionaries within a region and the leaders of soldiers. Few aristocrats are traders.

Encounters with aristocrats depend greatly upon the status of the player characters. If the characters are merely ordinary adventurers passing through an area, there is little reason for an aristocrat to deign to speak with them. On the other hand, if the characters have obtained notoriety, or if the characters have established themselves in the region as landholders and persons of importance, then they will likely find themselves directly acquainted with aristocrats of the highest stature.

Once again, I don't prefer to use non-player characters to introduce adventures as set pieces in my world - therefore, the overused trope of having an aristocrat come forward, explain some problem to the characters and then expect the characters to solve it, is not included below. Rather, I try to give three tiers of communication, based on the players' importance to any aristocrats that might be in the
area. Further elaborations can be built from any of these scenarios.

Confronting Strangers

Upon arriving in an area or making themselves known to a community, a well-armed and demonstratively unique party of adventurers brings attention to the locals. Several details may come to life: a) the party is made up of a mosaic of different races, some of which are highly unusual for the region; b) the weapons carried by the party are heavy and numerous, while it will be obvious to everyone that plate mail and war animals of various kinds will indicate considerable wealth; c) the players spend a great deal of money, more than a gold coin for every man, woman and child in the community; d) the players act in a way that distinguishes their lack of respect for local laws or customs; e) there is evidence of wounds, blood on clothing, the dirt that speaks of a wilderness expedition that defines the party as potential outlaws, fugitives or at least persons of desperate nature; f) the party has brought in some questionable items (dead creatures, monster eggs, notably rare items of every stripe) that they wish to sell.

Using the DM's prerogative, it may be appropriate to have a member of the aristocrats - with a small cadre that outnumbers the party by at least 25% - approach and confront the characters regarding their origin, their purpose for being in the area and their immediate intentions for the future. This aristocrat may be a local constable, a town elder, a knight, a baron or any of a dozen other important functionaries. The aristocrat will want satisfactory answers for these questions that accomplishes the following:
  • Ensures that the community is SAFE from the party.
  • Gives clear and unambiguous details regarding anything about the party's behavior or appearance the aristocrat wishes to ask.
  • Indicates that the party respects the local authority, that is, the aristocrat speaking to them.
  • Shows the party's generosity in trusting the aristocrat to be part of whatever their forward plans might be.

Failure to do any of this will justify the aristocrat acting in whatever unilateral manner the aristocrat sees fit. Parties will very often fail to recognize that in this place, the aristocrat has power, respect and the absolute loyalty of up to one hundred persons within shouting distance. Moreover, the aristocrat that approaches will be 6th to 8th level and be supported by at least two henchmen that are one and two levels removed from the aristocrat's level. Parties that don't behave appropriately will get spanked, and hard. This will probably not mean a jail sentence, but rather a severe fine (everything they own) and a short trip to the edge of the community. This, or the party will be forced to fight to the death against people who are capable of defending their homes and know the lay of the land (making practical flight extraordinarily unlikely). Note that while the party may have horses they can ride to safety, aristocrats are known for owning horses (and presumably, in a D&D world, a wide variety of other animals).

Alternately, impressing the aristocrat on the counts above will likely gain their help and friendship (assuming the party's purpose isn't nefarious). This will potentially mean an invitation to dinner, important information, offers of help and allies, special benefits promised upon success of the players' actions, a friend who will speak positively about the party to other persons and thus expand the party's wealth and status in the region. If the players will be generous to the aristocrat, the aristocrat will be generous to them.

Obviously, there is a small chance that the aristocrat that approaches the party will be the actual enemy of the party that the party is seeking. Such situations are special and must be managed depending on the circumstances of the adventure.

Meeting Allies or Famous Characters

Occasionally, player characters will be sent to speak with aristocrats of various statures, often carrying a token of good will or even a letter of introduction. Once an aristocrat meets a party under such circumstances, it will be presumed from the outset that the party does not represent a danger to the community and that the party's intentions are friendly. However, the aristocrat will still be free judge if the party respects and trusts the aristocrat with information - failing this, the aristocrat will withdraw support and may take steps to have the party confronted by some other person of authority or power (depending on the circumstance).

In such circumstances, the aristocrat will desire most to see the players through to success in their activities on account of the person or body that recommended the aristocrat to the party in the first place. If it happens that the characters lied about their association with the aristocrat' friend or associate recommending them, and this comes to light, there will be dreadful consequences. If the players live up to the recommendation, however, once again there is great likelihood that the aristocrat will be a very good friend to the party in the future.

If it happens that the characters are famous in their own right, and this fame becomes known to the aristocrat, the fame itself will act as a sort of "free-standing recommendation" without the need of a specific person to encourage the aristocrat to trust and act faithfully to the party. As ever, it must be acknowledged that the party had better live up to their reputation or this help will quickly and irrevocably evaporate. People do not like being fooled and played.

Convening With Equals

Where the characters have established that they themselves are aristocrat, then there will be rules limiting the amount of power than another aristocrat has. aristocrats, of course, exist in a hierarchy - but even if a king has an issue with a lesser member of the elite, there cannot be open discord between aristocrats within a given region. Thus, any difficulties between various members of the upper classes must be resolved through competition, a court of approval of some kind (in which an aristocrat' status can be removed) or through subversive action (that cannot be traced to the aristocrat responsible).

Individual aristocrat will always help in circumstances where both aristocrat have something to gain - regardless of personal feeling or emotion. While there may exist hatred between members of a region's oligarchy or ruling members, this hatred can often be overlooked for mutual gain - and then dealt with later through extortion, manipulation, falsified evidence or assassination. A region full of deceit and mistrust can nevertheless pull together against an enemy.

The player characters will be put in situations where they will have to decide which factions in a region to support, which moments are best to take action and which are best to let others do it; and ultimately how to make friends and influence people. This must be done one at a time - but take note, an aristocrat being rude or even directly insulting to an aristocrat will not result in an outright opposition or physical attack. More likely, it will result in a smile - one that is more disturbing than an enemy aristocrat drawing a sword.


Note that the above describes situations in which an aristocrat of personal power or interest approaches the party. Encounters with persons of specific function within a region, who have specific agendas, are also covered on the page describing functionaries (many of whom will also be aristocrat).

See Encounters

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