High Fantasy 101
Retz is a region stretching from the eastern edge of the elves’ great forest, Starálfur, to the western edge of the Totenwald (see map). The north is bordered by the Zwergbergen, the mountains in which the dwarven cites are carved. Much of the hilly countryside has been cleared of trees to make room for farms, including some well-known vineyards in the south. The climate in Retz is temperate, although the winter can sometimes be bitter. Near the elves’ forest, temperatures and weather tend to be milder; along the Totenwald, which extends across the eastern border into the Zwergbergen, winds can be biting and storms sudden.
A human named Gurvand is king of the entire region, but his control is mostly at the indulgence of his vassals, each of whom is a wealthy, landed noble ruling many square miles of territory. Within their own lands, the seven dukes of Retz might as well be kings. Some are petty tyrants, and their agents are free to levy taxes capriciously on anyone using the roads. Some dukes, especially Alan Wrybeard, who rules Hawksete in the southwest, are more humane in their attitude toward the world outside the nobility. On a more local level, counts are landed nobles owing fealty to a duke. Some regions are contested or not claimed by any duke; in these places, counts might assert their own authority as equal to that of dukes in their own duchies, or might bow to whatever more powerful noble rides through the town first. In many regions, the only land-owner who ever sees the region is a knight or a side branch of some overfertile count’s family; these petty nobles are often especially tied to the well-being of those living on their holdings. Despite their capriciousness and occasional tyranny, the knighthood usually lives up to their duty to protect their holdings from the innumerable threats that crawl out of the mountains and forests.
The seven duchies predate Retz itself. Some centuries after the fall of the Lesarch Empire, human political power had mostly congealed into the seven kingdoms of Hawksete, Neustria, Magonsgate, Ostland, Dornica, Nechton and Getreidfelt. The people of Magonsgate were the most recent immigrants, having swept in from the North in search of better cropland and a situation less conducive to giant, man-eating monsters. Forming an alliance with Neustria and Ostland, the men of Magonsgate moved south and made war on Hawksete (then Herston), Nechton and Dornica (then Arnulfing). An alliance with Getreidfelt sealed the victory, and the king of Magonsgate created himself king of the newly bound lands, which he named Retz. He created the position of Duke for each of the seven former countries, leaving loyal nobles in command of each region.
For many regions, the conquest meant a new trade language, new crops, new styles of clothing and weaponry. Magonsgate made chain mail the new standard, where the southern nations had used mostly scale mail, and the intermingling of the old tongue with that of Magonsgate’s northern language created what is now the common tongue. It uses Magonsgate’s alphabet but retains many of the old tongue’s words. Most proper names with a “th” or hard “ch”, like “Gothtan”, are holdovers. In most of the northern duchies, anything associated with the old tongue is looked on with some derision; in the south, it can be a point of pride.
Politics & Conflicts Today
Today, nobles have two main sources of income: taxes and ransoms. The most profitable pursuit for most nobles is to capture some wealthy noble and charge his family for his safe return. The duke of Neustria, Ebroin, spends most of his time making war against the margins of Hawksete and Magonsgate to capture counts and their heirs. The King still rules from Magonsgate, but within their own lands, the dukes do as they please unless constrained directly. Most conflict within Retz is between nobles, not with outside forces; after war between houses, the rest of the battles in Retz are mostly against some beast or nonhuman attacker. Greenskins have tunneled through most of the hills at one time or another, and larger bands of orcs sometimes range across the north or camp in less populated regions.
A bureaucratic class is beginning to emerge in larger cities, where nobles have appointed advisers or servants to attend to the mundane business of their holdings while the knights are off making war. Many population centers are administered by stewards or mayors, most appointed directly by the local ruling noble, some elected. The position is in many cases inherited from the original appointee by his heirs, but it is not a peerage; it is a contract held entirely at the whim of the city’s lord. A king is his land; a bureaucrat merely keeps the land in order.