The politics of Caldera are complex, seedy, and corrupt. Gather two million people together in a cramped city and people will seize power over other people. Politics concerns itself rights, privileges, and benefits. These are the commodities that are traded by people or groups in power. To understand Caldera’s politics, you need first to understand its people, their traditions, and the power structures.
- Tarisians (nomadic elven horse traders) settle Aefex for protection.
- Tarisians rule by council.
- Neighboring dwarven city-state conquers city, renames it Boirnhemme.
- Dwarves place it under a governor and the laws of The Hundred Stone Tablets.
- Dwarves also brought a family-vocation system.
- Governor became a hereditary monarchy, and became abusive.
- Elite families rose up and forced the creation of a ruling senate.
- Governorship weakened, became a senate-appointed position.
- Human king conquered Boirnhemme, renamed it Caldera.
- King needed senate families, shared power with them, enjoyed a golden age.
- Died without designating an heir. His children tore each other apart till his teenage daughter won.
- City became corrupt as families fought for power.
- City crossed a crucial size threshold and social structures began to fall apart.
Caldera has been conquered several times. Each time, a different group took over and imposed its own culture and laws on the city’s people. Each time, the native people struggled to keep their own culture and laws alive, and had a great deal of success at this. Thus Caldera is a hodge-podge of ideas from different cultures, and the government is a meld of ideas from different times and different people.
The Tarisians (the founders of Caldera) were nomadic elven horse traders. They valued freedom and mobility and only settled down in the Caldera crater for protection from the increasingly violent city-states that were expanding their empires. Their city Aefex was ruled by a council of elders, not a god-king or emperor like their neighbors. Even as Aefex grew into a huge, fortified mercantile city, this council remained.
When the dwarves successfully invaded Aefex, they put the city under their written code of laws, The Hundred Stone Tablets. They put a dwarven governor at the head of the city, but left the council in charge of operating the city. The governor had supreme veto power, but for political reasons, rarely used it. The dwarves also brought their family system, which neatly categorized different vocations and duties into distinct family units.
The city prospered this way for thousands of years, growing to enormous size under the dwarven watch, but the power of the council dwindled until they were no more than public works officials. All power rested in the hands of the governor, who was like a king here. His power even passed down through generations via the original governor’s bloodline. The governor’s ties to nearby city-state empires was a formality that was officially cut (and no other city was powerful enough to do anything about it). The governorship became more and more abusive.
Eventually, the powerful families of the city rose up and demanded representation and control of their city. The governor then was a weak man, Yarius IV, who caved to the pressures of the elite (and escaped with his life). The noble classes instituted a senate, comprised of one delegate from each powerful family (both dwarves and some elves). These became the Korinia, or “crowned,” who ruled the city as a group. The governorship remained for a while as a sort of vestigial monarch with few powers, but those powers eroded over the decades that followed. The senate eventually reigned supreme.
When Ulthix II, King of Rhothes (a human empire), conquered Aefex (then called Boirnhemme by the dwarves), he needed the support of the senatorial families, who controlled commerce and every other aspect of the city. Though he desperately wanted to banish the senate and rule the city with no equal, he ceded much power back to the elite families and found ways to make them even more wealthy and powerful through trading agreements and arranged marriages with powerful families in other large cities. This cemented his power for the rest of his life.
During the 30-year reign of Ulthix II, the city (now named Caldera) flourished. This was a period of peace, economic growth, and intellectual curiosity… a golden age of learning and wisdom. There are some notable blemishes on this record. Ulthix’s people brought institutionalized slavery to the city. They also codified the thousands of dwarven and elven families into various taxation strata, and these became today’s castes, which are often used to subjugate the poor.
Ulthix II died without designating an heir, and his eight children (aged between 12 and 30) engaged in the worst kind of murder and betrayal imaginable in an attempt to secure the throne. The 15-year-old daughter, Vinala, had powerful allies—really, members of the Korinia caste who thought they could use her as a puppet monarch. She killed off most of her siblings and took the crown. Over the next five years, entire Korinia families were beheaded by Queen Vinala, who obviously understood when people were manipulating her. The city continued to grow under Vinala, but the elite families vied for the power trickling down off the throne.
Over the next 500 years, Caldera grew in size and power, but it also fell apart internally. The city crossed some kind of crucial threshold. There were too many people forced to live too close together. The city was basically too large and too populous to govern effectively under the existing system, and no one at the top wanted to change things. The upper echelons of the government were concerned mainly with their own wealth and power and the lower castes were pressured to work harder and longer.
That’s where the city is today. It’s ripe for revolution, really, but the elite families keep an iron fist around the necks of the lower classes.
Power Structure Summary
- Caste Arima is comprised of the Korinia (“crowned” ruling class) and Quaros (“horsed” military class), all of which come from eight of the original ruling families.
- Arima exclusively comprises the senate.
- Korinia owns the wealth, and the means of production.
- Quaros controls the military.
- Caste Benevor controls all the merchants and craftsmen.
- They’re like organized crime families or guilds.
- They work within the law, or at least within the Arima power structure.
- A criminal underworld works outside the law.
- Caste Servilla (the common people) are powerful only when they’re a mob.
- They have one legitimate means of dissent: a Tribune of the People.
- Caste Kura consists of families of priests, scholars, and mages.
- They control the magic of the city.
- Kura members mostly have individual power, but family power is growing.
Caldera’s Power Structures
Today, political power rests in five main groups: traditional ruling families, the military families, the merchant families, the criminal underworld, and the will of the masses. There were 64 original senators, representing the 64 elite families who opposed Yarius IV. Most of those families have dwindled away without heirs, combined through marriage, been executed by angry monarchs, left the city entirely, or lost their noble titles somehow. Eight elite families remain, though there are many distinct branches of each family.
The eight elite families and their branches occupy Caste Arima. Some are considered Korinia (“crowned” members eligible for senatorial positions) and the rest are Quaros (“horsed” members eligible for high officer positions in the military). There is some fluidity between the Korinia and Quaros, and each elite family has branches in both caste groups.
Korinia holds almost all the “deep” wealth in the city. They own the land. They own land in other cities. They own buildings, and giant mercantile companies, and fleets of ships. In short, they control the means of making money, and they will never let go of it willingly. These families uniquely hold the ability to enter the senate, the body that makes all the laws of the city. This group tends to be very financially conservative: they hate change because things are good. New laws further strengthen their existing positions and make them more money. New laws further subjugate the lower castes and protect elite interests. They create these laws without pretext or embarrassment, for they believe themselves to be the inheritors of the city to which all things are owed.
Quaros holds all the military power in the city. The military is less a vehicle for expanding an empire, and more a means to secure the city, prevent hostile take-over, and protect city interests such as trade routes. Caldera will send armies to protect allied cities when doing so is beneficial. The group’s main political power is supporting Korinia’s right to rule. This creates an obvious tension between Quaros and Korinia, but the groups have so many blood ties that infighting is usually avoided. Besides, the Arima Code starts with Blood is heavier than gold, an edict that has held Korinia and Quaros together for centuries (perhaps millennia, since the phrase is probably dwarven in origin).
Even though Arima holds the ultimate means of production, the Benevor caste holds all of the mercantile power, all of the craft. The makers and sellers of Benevor are also focused into powerful families, which much resemble modern-day organized crime families. They carefully guard their craft secrets and trade contracts and violently strike out against other families that encroach upon their territory. Contrasted with the peace of Arima, Benevor families are constantly fighting one another. Arima plays on this, helping sow disagreements between families to keep them from getting powerful enough to challenge the senate. The families of this caste seek to forge alliances with senators that will gain their families favor and positions of power in the city. They seek new laws that will help them gain monopolies of trade. Ultimately, many seek to rise up to rule the city themselves, but such talk is dangerous.
The criminal underworld has always existed but only in the last 50 years has it become a real power in the city. There are numerous secret groups that fight for power. These groups differ from the Benevor families in several crucial ways. First, they’re not organized around blood ties. Second, where Benevor operates largely within the law (or at least with the blessing of the Korinia to break the law), the criminal underworld has no care for Calderian law and violates it in the worst ways: arson, consorting with demons, murder of senators, and so on.
The fifth main group of power, much overlooked by the other groups, is the common people. While individual members of the Servilla (unskilled laborer) caste have almost no rights, the other castes greatly fear the mob. Riotous groups must have a great deal of power, for whenever the Servilla grab stones and torches and march in the streets, the Quaros crush them down under their heel. While the Servilla want more rights and control over their lives, most believe they belong in that life, though a few dream wildly of complete freedom from the oppression of the upper castes. The right leader could organize the mob into a dangerous army, if that leader can overcome the caste’s sense of servility and anti-violence. Of course, the slaves of the city, who are not considered a part of Caste Servilla, don’t share the caste’s ideals, and occasionally rebel until they’re crushed under the city’s boot. Recently the senate recognized a new office, the Tribune of the People, who interdicts in matters important to the populace. The senate feels that this concession serves as a steam valve that lets off popular pressure.
There is one final group that is growing in strength: Caste Kura, the mages and priests. Caldera is a city steeped in magic, though much of that power is not well understood or harnessed. As the learned class of the city gathers more information about the mystic power that permeates everything in Caldera, they become more powerful. Traditionally, most of this power has been individual in nature. Strong wizards and priests forge personal alliances with other powerful groups and thus firm their positions in the city. Lately, the families of the Kura caste have been growing in political power, manipulating things with backroom deals, espionage and blackmail, and as usual, bribery. Kura internally struggles with a drive for political power versus a drive for magical power.
- The Senate rules everything.
- Senators are chosen by Arima family heads.
- The Gauntlet of Beads (a course of service in four different magisterial posts) determines senate eligibility.
- The Exen Praema is an executive governor, reporting to the senate.
- The Praema has four Exen who oversee Coins, Architects, Walls, and Police.
- The Exens have Devens who govern neighborhood wards.
- There are two official courts, plus a Holy Court.
- The High Court tries crimes against the city and against senators.
- The Low Court tries crimes against everyone else.
- People are expected to bring criminals to justice. Police don’t do this.
- The Tribune of the People is elected once a year to protect common people.
- The Tribune is resurrected if he dies during service.
- The Tribune can veto anyone but the senate and the Exen Praema.
- There are countless levels of bureaucracy at every strata of government.
- Life is made difficult by taxes, permits, stamps, and the like.
The city is governed by a senate of 64 members, chosen by the heads of the eight families of the Arima. Often a family will trade one of its eight senate seats for a year or two in exchange for favors. By tradition, one makes himself eligible for the senate by serving in four different magisterial posts. This service is called the Gauntlet of Beads, for the ornately carved beads that signify various offices. There are many different posts to choose from, but each senatorial candidate tries to serve in at least one military post, one political post, and one religious post.
This governor, called the Exen Praema, executes the will of the senate and answers to no one else. He or she manages four lower Exens (Overseer of Coins, Overseer of Architects, Overseer of Walls, and Overseer of Police) and they manage their areas by dividing responsibilities into city wards, each run by a Deven (of Coins, of Architects, of Walls, or of Police), which is a glorified manager.
There is a High Court that deals with crimes against the city (including crimes against members of Caste Arima) and a Low Court that deals with every other crime. While there is a police force, its main duty is protecting the city from arson, monsters, dangerous magic, and other city-affecting problems. They also serve as guards for the elite. They do not investigate crime, protect citizens from everyday threats, or make many arrests. In Caldera, if someone wrongs you, you have the right to avenge the crime, an eye for an eye. If you wish to inflict a punishment more severe than the crime they perpetrated, you have the right to arrest them yourself and take them to a court for judgment. The law empowers people to seek vengeance for crimes committed against family members or legal wards (such as are made in business agreements, like a bodyguard signing on to protect an armory). As you might expect, Caldera is a violent and dangerous place, but not so terrible that people cannot go about their lives most of the time. There’s also a Holy Court, run by priests, that tries crimes of magic and punishes sins of morality.
In recent times, due to pressure from striking workers and rebelling Servilla and Benevor members, the senate recognizes an elected Tribune of the People. This person is elected once a year by popular vote (no easy feat in a crowded city of two million people!). The tribune is invested with the Magic of Caldera, which prevents his death (rather, resurrects him within a few days) during his service. The political function of the office is to protect the interest of common (non-Arima) people by intervening in legal matters on their behalf. A tribune may veto the ruling of any official except the Exen Praema or a direct senatorial decree. This veto power, combined with the tribune’s invulnerability (at least until his or her term ends), protects the people from the worst excesses, though one tribune can only do so much for the city’s two million citizens.
There are countless layers of bureaucracy between a common person and the upper levels of government. Daily life is plagued with taxes, tolls, papers, permits, stamps, and seals. This makes doing anything ten times more complicated, but it fills the pockets of myriad tax collectors, clerks, and magistrates. Ultimately, this fills the coffers of the city’s treasury (some of that money makes it all the way to the vaults!).