Riots & Rebellions

Revolutions can be an essential part of your narrative. Your story could begin with a coup, as happens in Brian McClellan’s Promise of Blood, or the story could lead into it with factions coming together and tension rising as the plot progresses. The revolution may also be in the distant or recent past, and can be the reason your setting is on the path that it is. Revolutionary rhetoric can shape your the worldview of your characters and their motivations. Fears of another rebellion or factions who feel like the last one didn’t go far enough can be great sources on conflict within a setting.

Breaking Point

One thing that you will have to decide quickly is what circumstances provided that catalyst for your revolt. At what point did things get so bad that the people decided that they had no choice but to rise up? Were there negotiations leading up to the revolt, and did one side not agree to terms or did someone decide that the terms agreed upon were not enough? Finally, was the revolt planned? A well-coordinated coup might be planned over months or years, or fighting might break out almost spontaneously and force both sides to prepare for a conflict they hadn’t yet prepared for.

This breaking point should also tie into the demographics of the rebellion and its scope. Coal miners rioting against decreased wages or worsening conditions will have a very different set of concerns than noble landowners trying to get out of paying the taxes they owe to the king. This sets up different ends goals for the conflict and the scope of change they want to see. The coal miners want a change in working conditions, while the nobles want a change in leadership.

  • While protesting increased bread prices, someone throws a rock at the troops called in to keep the crowds under control. The troops respond by attempting to disperse the crowds and several people die. The rioters now shift their focus to occupying neighborhoods and government buildings.
  • After losing yet another election, the leader of the opposition realizes that the ruling party never meant for fair elections in the first place.
  • Not wanting to risk their lives in what they see as another pointless attack, soldiers at the front stage a mutiny. The war-effort is now at risk of failing if the government cannot reach an agreement with the mutineers.
  • In order to pay his debts, the local lord raised the tithes owed to him by his estate’s serfs. Life is already hard on these serfs and they know that this increase will leave them close to starvation.
  • Wanting expanded civil rights and a constitution to limit the powers of the king, the people go out to the streets to protest, effectively shutting down the capital and trapping the king in his palace.

Leadership

Leadership of an uprising is important because it determines the public face of the movement and its objectives. Establishing clear lines of communication and being able to efficiently utilize resources in the face of what is likely a much better equipped adversary will have a huge role to play in a rebellion’s success or failure. A charismatic leader can attract more recruits and convince potential allies to take the movement seriously.

Forming coalitions that result in multiple leaders may give the rebellion the strength it needs to be successful, but several factions united only in their desire to see the old king overthrown will likely cause problems down the line if the leadership is divided between moderate and radical ideologies.

  • After deciding that the kingdom needs a new ruler, the rebellious nobles gather to elect one of their own to lead. They pick one who had blood ties to the throne, giving their movement some appearance of legitimacy.
  • Hearing of riots in the capital, the leader of opposition returns from their years of exile to lead the revolution. They find that new rivals for control of the movement have risen to prominence in their absence.
  • Realizing that they lack the resources to win the war on their own, the leaders of the opposition make an alliance with a group of disgruntled army officers who bring their troops and expertise to the side of the rebels.
  • The rioters succeeded in overwhelming the local garrisons and now have control over the city but lack a clear path forward. Several prominent citizens step forward with competing visions for the revolution.
  • Deciding that victory now is more important than ideals, the leaders of the rebellion invite a foreign ruler to join the conflict. Some in the movement worry that this new player is not as sympathetic to their cause as they claim to be.

Response

Once the rebellion begins, the existing government will have to decide on its response. For a monarch there are essentially four basic actions they can take; concede, abdicate, suppress, or do nothing and hope it goes away. There are pros and cons to each of these responses and what action the monarch takes will depend on how secure they feel in their position.

  • Unsure of the army’s loyalty, the king’s advisers convince him to abdicate in favor of a relative who they believe will be able to rule more effectively.
  • After several weeks of protest, the king relents and agrees to grant the people a constitution and a representative legislature.
  • Realizing that the rioting is confined only to the capital, the king calls in the army to put down the uprising. After several days of fighting in the streets the city is left in ruins and rebels are either captured or scattered.
  • Not wanting to shed his own people’s blood, but also not willing to give up his authority, the king gives contradictory orders to his troops and his stance on the matter seems to change from one day to the next. This allows the protesters time to coordinator their efforts and strengthen their position.
  • Unable to rally a force large enough to put down the rebellion, the king looks for foreign allies willing to lend their armies to the defense of the regime.

Aftermath

So the war has been won, or the riots put down, or a constitution granted…what next? If the rebels win they’ll have to form a new government and prove its legitimacy, if the king granted a constitution they will have to grow accustomed to the new limits on their authority. Have the results of the uprising led to a bright future for the country, or set it up for another crisis in a few years?

  • Although they have been granted a constitution and a legislative body, reformers soon realize that the assembly has been designed to serve in an advisory role and its actual powers have been limited. Discontent begins to build again.
  • After brutally suppressing the rebellion the government cracks down on the underground newspapers and secret meetings that led to the revolts in the first place.
  • After several weeks of fighting the leaders of the peasant rebellion have all been killed or captured. For the rest its a return to life as normal, although the lord now realizes the danger to himself that comes with raising taxes and lowers them to their pre-revolt levels.
  • With the help of several nobles the rebellion was won, now the elites who assisted in this victory expect to receive their rewards. As titles and lands are handed out to them, the people begin to wonder what exactly they had been fighting for.
  • The opposition party has overthrown the king and seized power. They come into government expecting to make broad reforms but soon realize that the country is deeply in debt to foreign creditors. Lacking confidence in the new government’s ability make payments, these creditors attempt to collect what they are owed before the new regime goes bankrupt.
  • Fearing a disruption to the established balance of power, neighboring nations move to contain the rebellion, putting forth a distant cousin of the deposed king as the new heir. Worn out from the fighting, the revolutionaries are now forced to prepare for a new conflict.
  • Now that the war is over the provisional government must decide when to hold elections. Some within the council want to hold elections immediately before their rivals have a chance to gather support. Opposition to this results in a deadlock, and some begin to lose faith in the new government.

Map of Olsecheny

I’ve decided that it’s about time I shared the map of where my current WIP takes place; the island of Olsecheny.

Rocky, cold, and barren, the island was claimed in the early days of Danic colonialism, but with an apparent lack of natural resources it was mostly ignored by surveyors who would at most land to hunt game for the ship’s cook. It was only when Prince Breton, the youngest son of the Danic King, was made governor of Rahl that the island began to take on any importance.

Breton, who was known for his melancholic moods, found a sense of peace in the island and soon he was spending his summers there, governing Rahl by proxy. He first established the town of Breton’s Landing and engaged in trade with the natives for furs as a way of justifying its existence, but most of his time was spent exploring the island with a small retinue. It was during these journeys that the Prince created some of his most famous poetic works. It was also during this time that he built up a favorable relationship with the native Ouro and married the daughter of one of their chieftains.

Things took a turn for the worse when his father died and his older brother Atias II was crowned King of Danica. Atias II had a long-standing grudge against Breton and began demanding a more ruthless exploitation of the island’s resources. He justified this by claiming that Breton’s was spending far extravagantly on what was essentially a royal hunting lodge, but in truth the cost of maintain Breton’s Landing was little more than a footnote in the royal budget. Atias II just hated his brother.

Breton resisted the inflow of colonists to the island. Atias began using the island as a penal colony, and danic hunters increasingly clashed with the Ouro. When gold was discovered in the island’s central highlands, Atias II decided it was time to push the Ouro out completely. This action was viewed negatively not only by Breton’s supporters but by a significant portion of the Danic nobility. The Ouro were technically one of the Ten Tribes of Danica and pushing them off of their land was seen as a flagrant violation of the National Compact. But in the end Attias II got his way. Breton resigned in protest and went into exile in Olsecheny’s highlands where he eventually died.

Today, the island is one of the few remnants of Danica’s former empire. While the gold mines continue to turn out a modest profit, national pride is the main reason for keeping it. It’s defense is overseen by a mixed assortment of local militia fighters and soldiers who have fallen out of favor back home in Danica as well as a squadron of olish ships who patrol the region in exchange for use of the coaling facilities at Olsecheny.

Designing Your Monarchy

Monarchs are a central feature of nearly all fantasy. No matter what there is bound to be a king or queen found running around somewhere. Monarchs may occupy the role as both hero and villain in fantasy, and in flintlock fantasy their overthrow may be a central theme.  Knowing which form of government your monarch functions in will give you more options to flesh out your setting and create conflicts to move the story forward.

Feudal Lords

Since many stories take place in their world’s version of the Middle Ages we might as well start with the system of governance that was popular in Western Europe during that time. In these systems the king wont be much more then a wealthy landowner. It’s important here to remember that being king doesn’t necessarily mean anything. What the king is able to do will be limited by their ability to raise funds and convince noble landholders to follow them. You might also see a lack of well-defined borders, and lords of one country may be free to make their own treaties with lords of another.

Robb Stark struggling to keep the support of the Karstarks is a good example there being no guarantee that the king’s orders will be followed.

Autocrats

More powerful than a simple feudal king. An autocrat, at least in theory, wields absolute power. Nobles serve at their pleasure and their authority is backed up by the strength of their armies. All monarchies are beholden to the whims of the ruler, but in an autocratic regime where there are even fewer limits on the ruler’s power, the government will be especially vulnerable to the mood swings and fancies of its ruler.

We can expect these upheavals to be most evident shortly after a new ruler has come to throne and begins replacing their predecessors advisers with their own. If they had any ill-will towards their parents, this would become obvious as they begin to do away with the institutions built by their parents.

For a real life example you can look to the Russian Tsars. They were autocrats with many different styles of rule. Some even believe in enlightenment principles but excused their failure to enact them by claiming that they would never work in Russia.

Elected Kings

The election may be a one time occurrence or a regular affair. A one-time election may happen following the death of the previous monarch. If no satisfactory heir is available to nobility may opt to chose one for themselves. This happens in Adalbert Stiftler’s Witiko and is also how the Romanov dynasty came to power in Russia. In other lands such as the Holy Roman Empire, electing a ruler was more routine. Elections could be bought by paying off electors or otherwise convincing them to vote for a particular candidate. By manipulating this system a single family can stay in power for generations even if the position in not actually hereditary.

Constitutional Monarchs

At one point these rulers were likely autocrats or feudal lords, but since then their power has been greatly diminished. Constitutional monarchs have had their power limited by the imposition of constitution which outlines their rights and those of their subjects. Who wrote this constitution and the conditions under which it was written will ultimately determine the content. A constitution written to preempt an uprising will be far less generous than one pried from the king. What’s most important about these types of monarchies is not necessarily who the government gives a voice to, but who it does not.

Suffrage may be extended to the entire population or only select parts of it, but for our uses it easiest to assume that voting power lies in the hands of the wealthy landowners, nobility, or possibly members of the priesthood. At first the power of these voters and the limitations placed on the monarch may be relatively small. Parliament for example began as a way for the king to raise taxed from the nobility. But what this does is force the monarch to negotiate with the nobility when they need funds, and may be forced to make concessions in order to get their support.

Divine Will

Many rulers in our own history have claimed that their power is granted to them by gods, claimed relation to a god, or claimed to be a god. But in many fantasy settings it’s not out of the realm of possibly that you’ll find deities walking alongside your characters. A civilization ruled by an immortal demigod or an actual deity is going to have a very different political structure than any we’ve seen. How well will a revolution go if the monarch can call down hellfire to smite their rivals?

Usurpers

Every so often someone comes along and decides that they would make a better king than whoever currently sits on the throne. This person may or may not have a strong claim to the throne through family ties and will have come to power by exploiting a succession crisis or and incidence of weak leadership on the part of their predecessor. Once they’ve seized the throne the big question is whether they will be able to keep it. An usurper may seek to marry someone related to the previous ruler in order to legitimize their claim to the throne and generally look for ways to assert their legitimacy. Upon their death the legitimacy of their heir’s claim to power may also be in question.

This Weekend’s Book Haul

I have a weakness for books.

I’ve starting telling people that reading is not a main hobby of mine, instead I say its buying books. It’s not that I don’t read them. I do. Eventually. I just buy them faster than I can ever seem to read them.

There is just something incredibly soothing about being in a book store, and if I have money in my pocket then it can be hard to stop myself from taking at least one home with me.

I am excited about all of these books, but the ones I am most looking forward to reading are The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I originally read both for the first time in middle school, but I have been wanting to re-read The Lord of the Rings and decided to get a more premium edition to go with the Earthsea Omnibus that I got in October. Then, when my mother saw what I had bought she decided to gift me her illustrated edition of The Hobbit. Which to me seems fitting since it was originally because of her recommendation that I first read these books all those years ago.

Now all that’s left for my collection is a new copy of Dune. Anyone know where I can get a nicely bound version of the book?

WIP Map of Ancorda

The picture now occupying the banner space of this website is a new map of my Sprawling Iron setting that I made using wonderdraft. If you think it looks a little like North America you’d be right. The setting is inspired by 19th century USA and incorporates a heavy dose of fantasy elements.

Ancorda is the main country of this setting and is analogous to the United States. The current year of this map is 835. It is a time when the country is expanding westward and facing a number of the challenges associated with governing these vast new expanses of territory. There are gold rush towns, seedy ports, train heists, and more than a few mystical threats to be found by travelers heading west.

Politically the country is dominated by old aristocratic families who own vast estates on the east coast. These families are descended from the original noble patrons (mostly the younger children and outcasts of established old world families) that came over when the continent was first being colonized. Technically, the power that they wield in the modern day is not due to any noble privileges. Instead, during the founding of the country they were able to tie voting rights to land ownership, and these people own a lot of land which gives them a disproportionate level of representation. As the process of industrialization increases many of these families have turned their estates into manufacturing centers. Besides making them rich, this has allowed them to increase their influence over the population by becoming some of the largest employers of the urban populations.

A number of ancient ruins can be found throughout the country. Most settlers assume the natives to be primitive and simple people. In reality the continent has seen the rise and fall of several empires that at their height would have rivaled the nations of the Old World, and there are still holdouts from these civilizations throughout the country.

Many dangers can be found in this world, from menacing wildlife and bandits, to ancient relics, angry spirits, foreign invaders, and the beginnings of a civil war in the making.

The World Building Potential of Old Warships

Lately I’ve been interested in the history of warships, and by lately I mean the past year. More specifically, I’ve been interested in the ironclads and pre-dreadnoughts that nations were building in the late 1800s.

Most people reading this probably know about the USS Monitor. During the Civil War, the American government hired John Ericsson to build a ship that would be a match for the South’s new ironclad; the CSS Virginia. The Monitor represented a major advance in ship design, and its construction resulted in forty patentable inventions.1

Photo of the USS Monitor at Sea. Image Courtesy of Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Monitor#/media/File:USS_Monitor_at_sea.jpg)

The Monitor was just one of many designs that were tried during this era, and the sheer variety in designs is what I find so fascinating. It was a time of great technological advancement, and designers were looking to both the past and future when building these ships. This hybridization of new and old ideas can be seen in the inclusion of rams on many pre-dreadnaught warships, which went on to encourage new innovations in damage control onboard ships. 2

The French Cruiser Dupuy de Lome. Image Courtesy of Wikipedia (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/Dupuis_de_Lome-Bougault.jpg)

Finally, there were ships like the Mikasa, Japan’s flagship at the battle of Tsushima in 1905, that more closely resembled what think of when we imagine a battleship. For a time she was the most advanced warship in the world, but that title was soon lost with the coming of the new dreadnought battleships.3

If you want to read more about these ships, Wikipedia has a wealth of information on the many ships of this era. For me though, that wasn’t enough. Whenever I start to develop an interest in something I start looking for books on it. I’ve referenced the three books I’ve found on the topic so far, and if you’re interested in reading them I’ve cited them at the bottom of this post.

So what use are these ships to world building? First off, many ships of this era have a unique aesthetic that can help set the tone of your setting. Seemingly anachronistic designs lend themselves well to steampunk settings, or to periods in which your world is undergoing rapid technological advancement.

I have also found that outlining a nation’s warships helps me wrap my mind around where its priorities lie, and how it’s going to interact with its neighbors. The reason for this is that warships are expensive, and their presence is an easy way for countries to show off their military and industrial might. If your country should find itself in possession of a large colonial empire, it’s going to need a large and modern navy to protect all of its territory. On the other hand, a fleet of older warships might help to showcase a country’s lack of resources, or otherwise help to illustrate the outdated thinking of its leaders.

From a story telling perspective warships have a huge potential for adventure. A good ship could take your characters around the world and back. Encounters between old and new warships can show the reader what sort of changers are occurring in your world.

Researching historical designs will help you get an idea of what these ships is capable of. This information can come in handy if your character’s ship runs into trouble. What the ship can and cannot do are going to determine whether your characters will be able to stand and fight, attempt a retreat, or find a way around the obstacle.

What sort of research have you done to build your worlds? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

  1. Warships of the World to 1900 by Lincoln p. Paine p. 108-110
  2. An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Battleships: From 1860 to the First World War by Peter Hore p. 38.
  3. Battle at Sea: 3,000 Years of Naval Warfare by R.G. Grant p.252