Fealty, Family, Oaths & the Unsworn

Brittanis cultures are loosely based on historical feudalism. Each culture has its own take, but the basics are the same.

Fealty

The swearing of fealty takes the form of an oath made by a vassal, or subordinate, to his lord (in Brittanis, this is a gender neutral term). "Fealty" also refers to the duties incumbent upon a vassal that are owed to the lord, which consist of service and aid. One part of the oath of fealty typically includes swearing to always remain faithful to the lord. The oath of fealty usually takes place after the act of homage, when, by the symbolic act of kneeling before the lord (or a lord’s explicitly empowered representative, like an Emissary) and placing his hands between the hands of the lord, the vassal became the “woman” or “man” (or elf, or dwarf, as it were) of the lord. This is why the oath of fealty is often referred to as “taking the knee.” Usually, the lord also promises to provide for the vassal in some form, usually through the granting of gifts and/or a stipend. As a vassal increases in ability and/or service, gifts or grants of land within a lord’s holdings are not uncommon. Typically the oath takes place upon a religious or culturally significant object such as a holy book or relic, often contained within an altar, thus binding the oath-taker before the gods and Brittanis. Historical feudalism was incredibly exploitative; lords had the weapons and could run roughshod over their vassals with no repercussions. Those same lords had no oversight or accountability; so long as the taxes kept coming in, most kings really didn’t care how much the peasants got abused. This is not the case in Brittanis. Oaths sworn before the gods and the Deep Magic are powerful things. The land hears; the land knows; the Deep Magic responds. The oath a Lord takes to provide for and protect their vassal is a binding one, as is the oath of service and loyalty in return from that vassal. Legends tell of dire curses visited on those on both sides of fealty who violate the oaths they have taken as part of the cultural system of Brittanis. Everyone knows a legend, tale, or story told round the fireside of a Lord or vassal who betrays their oath and pays a dire price for their disloyalty. The social structure of the world revolves around two things: A powerful Lord is responsible for your actions, and you are committed to answering their commands. These two simple facts bind the whole world together. If a murder is committed, it matters not only who wielded the knife and who was the victim, but who the Lords of the two involved were as well. The person wielding the knife has sworn oaths to their Lord, so not only are they breaking the law, but they may be breaking an oath to their Lord as well; at the very least they are betraying the trust their Lord placed in them to represent the Lord well in all situations, and the Lord will likely have something to say about that. Likewise, the Lord of the murdered person likely has something to say about their vassal’s demise, considering the Lord has a responsibility and investment in that vassal. These two facts-- the reciprocal responsibility of Lord and vassal-- bind Brittanis together in a way that brings order and some sense of stability to a dark and terrifying world. Without that structure, there is anarchy, fear, chaos and entropy. This is what makes the Unsworn--those without oath, Lord or place in the world-- so terrifying;  they represent what the world would be like without those social structures in place. They represent loss, and chaos and fear and social disturbance. Imagine in our modern world your reaction to a person who deliberately choses not to adhere to any of the laws or customs of the world we live in. At the very least, you know to be wary of such a person.

How Does This Affect My Character:

 
  • Fealty is the political system that rules Brittanis. You have never known anything else, and it is the accepted social norm for your character.
  • You understand that your actions reflect upon your House and your Lord at all times, both positive and negative. Your successes increase the House’s glory and standing; your failures reflect on the House, too.  
   

Family Loyalty

The physical logistics of each individual person swearing to a lord in person would be monstrous; every time a person came of age, married, etc would require an expensive and dangerous trip by thousands of people every year. When monsters and dark magic are very real things, that becomes a burden too great to bear for a political system. Custom demands that when children are named (a different length of time for each race and culture, but generally before their first birthday), they receive a blessing that brings them into the political fold of the House they are born into. Having received this blessing is referred to as family loyalty. This is the kind of loyalty the vast majority of people of all races live and die under in Brittanis. This is considered just as binding as any other form of oath. This blessing comes from a Sworn representative of their House; whatever political figure rules their immediate lives. Those living out on the frontiers may receive the blessing from a parent. For the smallfolk this usually consists of a village elder, Sheriff or mayor of a town; those born to nobility may have the blessing bestowed directly by the Lord, and some Houses have a custom of delaying a child’s naming till a summer holiday where families travel to name their children in the Lord’s presence and receive the House induction immediately after. If a religious figure bestows the blessing, it is always one sworn to the House itself already. Family loyalty can often be transferred without the knowledge or consent of those farther down the chain of fealty: if a Lord takes his House and swears fealty to a different Lord, all of his vassals with family loyalty to him transfer as well. A perfect example of this is when Duke Gorlois of Costayne took the knee to King Uther of Albion. The rightful King of Kernow had died, leaving two Dukes with no oaths to each other in charge of the broken kingdom of Kernow. Neither tried to assert dominance over the other and take the throne of Kernow, so Duke Gorlois was left to fend for himself in the east while Duke Alain Brandroy fought in the West. Gorlois had sworn to House Costayne as a whole, and everyone who had sworn either to Gorlois directly or to one of Gorlois’ vassals had their oaths intact; Gorlois himself, however, had no Lord of his own and his House was being whittled away month by month to the Fomorian invasion. At Y Seeth Perry 108 AR, Gorlois attended King Uther’s feast rather unexpectedly and took the measure of the King of Albion. In exchange for a promise of troops, weapons, and reinforcements against the Fomor, Gorlois took the knee to King Uther and became King Uther’s vassal. In that moment where Gorlois swore fealty, ALL of Gorlois’ vassals immediately had their family loyalty transferred to Uther (and by extension, Albion) because their chain of loyalty transferred all the way up through Gorlois, and a Lord’s actions affect every single person below them in the chain of fealty. Suddenly Albion’s interests became Costayne’s interests, and the welfare of House Costayne became very important to King Uther as well, for oaths now bound the two men and peoples together in mutual loyalty.

Cultural Notes:

  • Many cultures (Gael’Dar, Norn, some tribes of Khemri and clans of Brynn) practice fosterage of children under the age of adulthood, where a child is sent to live and learn with another family and lives as a member of that family for a period of several years. In the case that these families are sworn to different Lords, a new blessing ceremony is performed for the child, bringing them under their foster parent’s family loyalty, and back again when they return to their original family, even if they have passed the age of majority.
  • Free Dwarves living in human settlements typically band together in a walled enclave of their own; regardless of their actual names and lineages, these dwarves usually have family loyalty to their enclave.
  • Khemri family loyalty usually applies to the caravan they were born to, regardless of what mishmash of tribes comprise it, or how that mishmash changes over time.  Caravans usually have descriptive names for this reason, such as Wind Horse, Setting Sun, Sea Spray, etc. 

How Does This Affect My Character:

    • Barring exceedingly uncommon circumstances (born into slavery, for example), you were blessed into family loyalty into a House somewhere along the line. You may not still be associated with that House, but you started under someone’s banner.
    • In game terms, family loyalty is enough for a Hero to gain the Allegiance skills associated with their House.
    • Most characters born into the House they begin play from will have family loyalty to that House. This is the best and easiest option for most characters to start play under.
    • Example: Steve decides that his character Arden the Battlemage was born into the smallfolk of House Ambrosius, and that’s where he begins play. Arden walks into Cornerstone able to say, “Yes, I am sworn to House Ambrosius,” because he has family loyalty to them. If asked who he is sworn to, Arden can name House Ambrosius with no issue.
       

Oaths of Loyalty

Family loyalty is the most common form of oath, even though a child is too young by far to understand what’s happening. Unfortunate as that might seem, it’s the reality of the world: the vast majority are born, live, love, and die under the same Lord’s banner. Especially in the upper ranks of politics and power, however, family loyalty is not the only form of loyalty that exists. Once a person reaches the age of adulthood or majority recognized within their culture, they have the ability to forego family loyalty and make a choice of who to swear allegiance to. Swearing an Oath of Loyalty out of family loyalty is not considered oathbreaking by the Deep Magic or by culture; it is an expression of free will and personal choice. Many tales are told of those foolish and brash enough to make an Oath of Loyalty out of angst or spite or rage, however; those tales usually do not end well for the oath-taker. There is no official cultural social stigma associated with taking an Oath of Loyalty; individuals, however, may object and/or have their feelings hurt by the act and react accordingly to their natures. An Oath of Loyalty can take one of two forms, either a pledge or a vow.
    • A PLEDGE is when a person leaves their family loyalty and swears an oath for a year and a day to a different Lord; they are considered to fall under the family loyalty of that House until the pledge expires by both culture, and the Deep Magic. For all intents and purposes, for a year and a day they ARE a vassal to that Lord. Typically, at the end of the Pledge a person will either take a full Vow, or revert to their original family loyalty. Note that while family loyalty is always to a House, a pledge or vow is typically (though not always) sworn directly to an individual person.
      • Oaths of Service are a special kind of Pledge, usually administered by a Lord trying to actively recruit someone and accompanied by gifts or other contractual arrangements.
      • Most betrothal or pre-nuptial arrangements fall into the category of pledges, since one spouse or the other could be changing Lords. There is no gender bias in Brittanis that determines which spouse leaves their family to live with the other; it’s discussed and decided individually (though families tend to have strong opinions in most cases).   
      • It is considered culturally poor form for a person to swear a pledge to different Lords in succession. Significant social stigma is attached to this.
      • A pledge must be made to and accepted by an official representative of the Lord or House, and the Oath must be accepted by that person (or in some extreme cases, by the Deep Magic itself).   
      • Example: Arden the battlemage (see above) has fought and bled beside House Blackwood on many occasions. He decides as a part of his character’s story that he wishes to become a member of that House. Because Arden is only covered by family loyalty to House Ambrosius, he qualifies for a pledge and requests such from House Blackwood. When he takes the Blackwood pledge, Arden immediately LOSES the House Ambrosius Allegiance skills and puts the House Blackwood skills on his sheet instead. For a year and a day (see pledge expiration scheduling above), Arden is considered a member of Blackwood in all ways. If Arden had purchased 2 levels of the first Ambrosius Allegiance skill, he would have 2 levels of his new Blackwood Allegiance skill, and so on.  
    • A VOW is a permanent change of loyalty from one Lord to another. Once spoken, it can typically only be removed only by the Lord who administered it, or by that Lord’s death. Gorlois had family loyalty to Costayne, and had sworn an Oath of Loyalty to the former King of Kernow. When that King died, Gorlois’ oath to the king expired as well, leaving Gorlois with his family loyalty only; Gorlois then swore a second Oath of Loyalty to King Uther of Albion. 
      • The only exception to the “only one Oath of Loyalty” rule is a marriage vow. A person can have family loyalty and marriage vows, or an Oath of Loyalty and marriage vows.
      • If a marriage vow and an Oath of Loyalty conflict, one vow or the other is considered to have primacy, both culturally and by the Deep Magic; which vow has primacy is usually determined at the time the second vow is taken, whichever that might be.
        • The Deep Magic is known to have discernment when someone tries to “loophole” an oath of this kind, whether by swearing a different Oath of Loyalty or different marriage vow.
      • A person with family loyalty to a House may swear a Vow of Loyalty to “lock in” their allegiance to a particular House or Lord. This is very common practice among the Heroes.
      • Example: Arden the battlemage (see above) has completed his pledge to House Blackwood and petitions to take their Vow. Lady Blackwood agrees, and the House welcomes a new, permanent member of House Blackwood. If Arden’s oath is sworn to the House, it lives past Lady Blackwood; if Arden swears to her directly, his oath dies with her.
   

Cultural Notes:

  • Elves of both varieties and Free Dwarves often take vows to human Lords or Houses; in these cases, the vows are specifically worded to last a specific number of years because those races live much longer. 10 and 20 years are the most common duration of nonhuman vows. A nonhuman swearing an open-ended vow is considered a huge mark of trust and loyalty, because they are effectively swearing either until the Lord’s death no matter how long that is, or to all the Lord’s descendants if the vow is taken to a House.
  • Some Briton Houses have clauses that allow a member to petition for a release from their vow; this is uncommon but not unheard of. Even if the clause exists, the Lord must still actively release the petitioner from the vow.
  • Khemri are the only exception to the stigma attached to multiple pledges in succession. It is not uncommon for a Khemri to follow the Broken Road for years, swearing a pledge to one caravan and then moving along once their pledge is fulfilled to another caravan and another pledge, and returning eventually to their original family loyalty.  
  • Human marriage ceremonies are often administered by a priest, binding the two spouses together by mutual oaths, one to the other. This means that a divorce is each spouse allowing the other a release from marriage vows. Needless to say, these situations can get exceedingly messy and can be the stuff of which tragedies are made of. Clergy of Liriel, Aureus, and Eldrea know of a ritual that can externally absolve marriage vows, but are typically loathe to use it except in extreme circumstances, and maintain good communication with each other when a petition for such arises.
  • When a spouse dies, the surviving spouse knows their marriage oath is broken. Again, this can be the stuff of legend, myth, and tragedy.
  • In the case of abandonment, incapacitation, or missing spouse, 3 years must typically pass before an “un-marriage” rite can be performed and the vow absolved by clergy of Aureus, Liriel, or Eldrea.  This is considered a different circumstance from the Divorce Rite. 
  • Some Brynn clans and Briton families retain the option of refusing a vow after a pledge has expired, and use the year of the pledge as a time to evaluate a candidate for full membership (Brynn) or for the candidate to see if they wish to put their full power behind a House (Briton). If the pledge expires and the vow is not accepted by either party, the pledger reverts to their family loyalty and continues on with no stigma attached.

How Does This Affect My Character:

  • A Hero can start out their first event pledged to a House, but the pledge must have been made within the last 30 days in game (meaning they have at least 11 months under the current pledge remaining). In game terms, a pledge expires at the closest event AFTER the year and a day expires. If the year and a day expires during a scheduled event, it does so “live” during the event at dawn.
  • A player wishing to make a pledge or vow while in game cannot have a current Oath of Loyalty in place, and must notify staff with appropriate lead time. When in doubt, ask early.
 

The Unsworn

“Unsworn” is a word that sends shudders down the spine; it represents the unraveling of the social order at the seams, the fraying of the tapestry that holds life together and makes sense of the world. Oaths and fealty are what hold the world together; the Unsworn represent that which would tear it apart. Technically there are three kinds of Unsworn, but by and large they are all lumped under the same terrifying word. There are basically 3 kinds of Unsworn:
  • The Lost are those whose family loyalty, pledges, or vows have been broken by no fault of their own. Those whose Lord dies without an heir and have no family loyalty to support them is the most common example of this. Usually this only applies to those who have no oaths binding them at all-- a Lord whose King dies would not be Lost because he is still bound by the oaths of those who are sworn to him. To be Lost is to be adrift in the social structures of the world without a place to belong in the cycle of life and the bonds of society. Typically the Lost are in search of a new Lord or House as soon as their family loyalty, pledge or vow is broken.
  • Seekers are those who still bear family loyalty to their place of birth, but look elsewhere for a new Lord or House to swear to. This is different from the Arden example above, because the Seeker actively leaves their place of family loyalty and pursues finding another, rather than honestly fulfilling their family loyalty as normal and discovering a different Lord or House fits them better in the process. Becoming a Seeker can happen for a variety of reasons, most of which involve a great deal of family conflict in a character’s past.
    • Regardless of the reason, a Seeker is looked at askance and often treated with suspicion and even fear, for they bend the social bonds nearly to the breaking point. Many Seekers only fulfill their family loyalty in the most nominal manner while in search of a new Lord or House, and some go even farther than that, staining their family loyalty with dark deeds as they push the boundaries of culture, custom, and oaths. Some Seekers do not act this way, but the overwhelming number who do have stained the word for all the rest.
    • Seekers differ from the Lost in that they pursue a new Allegiance of their own volition and not the whims of fate or battle; they differ from the Unsworn in that they do actively seek a new Lord or House to take the knee to.
  • Unsworn occupy the lowest rung of the social ladder in Brittanis. They are those who actively abandon or ignore their family loyalty in favor of being bound by no Lord or House. These are the mercenaries, sellswords, and free-lances of the world, and only the most desperate or corrupt would accept their service for coin alone without an oath to accompany it. These are the beggars, thieves and criminals of the world, operation outside the structures of society with no oversight and usually deliberately outside the rule of law as well. The Unsworn are to be feared, for their loyalty can be bought at a moment’s notice or without any warning. There is no telling what they may or may not do, because they exist outside the bonds of loyalty and service and society.

Cultural Notes:

  • There are many of The Lost in Brittanis currently. Between the Fomorians in the east, the Silurians in the south, and the Theocracy of Malagant in the southeast, the number of folk displaced and made refugee across Brittanis is staggering. Some Lords have opened the doors of their House to accept those who would take the knee, but others have slammed them shut, claiming that traitors, spies, or malcontents may travel among those fleeing the destruction of their homeland.
  • Nearly all Free Dwarf enclaves and Khemri caravans across central Brittanis have opened their doors to those fleeing the south, accepting any who would aid them regardless of race or creed, accepting them with a blessing under a kind of extended family loyalty.
  • The Brynn of the heartlands and north have accepted those of their own who flee, but typically require a pledge or vow when integrating refugees into the new clan. In these cases, The Lost are usually allowed to wear their previous tartan so long as the new clan’s tartan is also represented outwardly as well, and so long as the new clan’s tartan is more prominently and obviously displayed.
    • Typically, this is done as the Brynn is transitioning from their old clan to their new clan, and eventually the old clan’s tartan will go away entirely.
  • Free Dwarves have a tradition of cultural exile; those who commit great crimes or are otherwise banished from the clan’s enclaves can forsake their original clan name and deliberately become Unsworn, taking the name Grimstone in exchange. These exiled dwarves typically form themselves into units and hire out as mercenaries to those who can pay their exorbitant fee. The money these dwarf companies make, however, disappears. It is unknown where the tremendous profits that the Grimstone generate end up.
    • Some individual Grimstone seek out a wealthy patron and swear them a pledge (typically an Oath of Service) as a way of bypassing the stigma associated with being Unsworn.

How Does This Affect My Character:

  • Players who choose to play their Heroes as The Lost should be actively searching out a House to belong to; this is not to be used as a way to bypass the Allegiance system. Being Lost is not a positive thing, it is a mark of great tragedy and loss.
  • NEW PLAYERS TO BRITTANIS ARE HIGHLY DISCOURAGED FROM PLAYING SEEKERS AND UNSWORN. These are realities of the game world and those who choose to walk that road are putting themselves at significant social and mechanical disadvantage. Nobody’s going to pull punches if you are making these choices actively and intentionally. Even experienced players should be very clear what they are getting themselves into if they choose to play Seekers or Unsworn.
    • IF A NEW PLAYER ANNOUNCES THEMSELVES AS ANY VARIETY OF UNSWORN BY WORD, DEED, OR APPEARANCE, CHECK WITH THEM OOG FIRST BEFORE BEGINNING ANY NEGATIVE ROLEPLAY. It’s okay to call, “Clarification, are you intending to play The Lost/Seeker/Unsworn?” before proceeding with any of the negative roleplay associated with these categories of character. If they look like they don’t understand, or are uncertain, or just don’t know what you’re talking about,  DO NOT ENGAGE and politely send them to a Staff member or to Monster Camp so we can get it sorted out. Again, IF A PLAYER DOES NOT ACTIVELY EXPRESS THAT THEY ARE PLAYING ONE OF THE UNSWORN, DO NOT ENGAGE. Give them the chance to figure out the social structures of our game, and make sure that’s what they intend to be playing.
    • Especially for new players--regardless of LARP experience outside Brittanis-- a positive experience is what we’re looking to provide. Making actively sure that a person intends to play one of the varieties of Unsworn is CRITICAL before engaging them in the kind of negative roleplay that can result.
    • That being said, once that confirmation is acquired, play on. NPC Unsworn are briefed as to what they’ll be facing when they go into play; they will also be occurring far more frequently now that this brief is live. Just make sure the person you’re about to unload on knows what they’ve gotten into, what’s likely coming, and they have made the choice on purpose before pulling the trigger (figuratively).