Politics and money.
Wait! Before you head for the hills, because those two words tend to incite some rather violent reactions… today we’re only talking about the FANTASY versions of those topics. You get to make them up!
When you are considering your world, you will want to figure out how and where these things fit into the fabric of the realm you are creating. Who is in power? What kind of government exists in your land(s)? Are there multiple countries in play? Do they all have the same type of government? Do the leaders of these multiple governments get along?
There are a lot of fun questions to think about and answer when you are writing a new story world. In fantasy, we often see monarchies, but that is not the exclusive type of government in fantasy. I’ve seen quite a few other types represented in the stories I’ve read, everything from nomadic desert tribes to kings to the full-on creation of a sort of a cross between a parliament and a republic to evil dictators.
In the Minstrel’s Song, I went pretty basic with this one. I had a bunch of island countries, and every one of them was its own kingdom. The islands were far enough apart that they did not interact a ton (there is some trade between some of the islands, but others don’t even know the rest exist). Later on in the series, the politics got a little more complex as the nations were forced to work together, but for the most part, the politics were pretty simple.
In the Turrim Archive, on the other hand, the politics are far more central to the story, since you have six separate nations sharing a single continent. On one half of the world, you have Telmondir: three nations that have banded together and formed a Council, comprised of elected officials from each nation, who work together and represent their people as the heads of state. They share a single military force and trade without restriction across borders. On the other side of the continent is the Igyeum, three nations that spent centuries under the rule of warring chieftains, but a single ruler has risen to power and subdued that half of the world through military might. There is an uneasy truce between Telmondir and the Igyeum, but the Council knows the peace could end at any moment and are working to prepare for it. This leads to a lot of tension and some interesting political interactions as we start the story.
It has also been quite a growing experience for me, writing more political intrigue and interactions into this series. I’ve had to think very differently whenever the story called for events dealing with the various political entities. There has been a lot of research into different types of government systems, as well. Writing political motivations and intrigue just does not come easily for me, and has definitely stretched me as a writer!
In Revelod, since it’s such a big world, there are a lot of interesting ways we can play with the political structure of the various continents.
Here’s the map of Revelod again for reference
The Eldoran Commonwealth
The Council of Eldoran is made up of 5 individuals: the King of Eldoran, the High Mage of the Arcanium, the Lord General of Revelod, the Archon, and the Citizen.
The Citizen is the Prime Minister of the People’s Hall, a Parliament made up of representatives of the different states/provinces of Eldoran.
The Archon is the Highest Judge in Eldoran. The Lord General of Revelod is the Supreme Commander of the Revelod Army appointed by the King. The High Mage of the Arcanium is a representative of the Arcanium Order, the educational and magical organization of Eldoran. And finally, the King is the hereditary monarch of Eldoran. He represents the Lord’s Council and the Aristocracy of Revelod.
The Tundarin Empire
The Tundaran Empire functions as a Hereditary Empire, that has been ruled by a several dynasties for the past 1000 years. Cultural Layers are firmly adhered to and structured as such:
Aristocracy – Hereditary Peoples, of many races, though not all
Merchant Lords – Financially established merchants who can rise and fall within this class, including fall from it. These are unable to ascend to the Aristocracy without familial ties (usually marriage).
Citizenry – This is the common class of people throughout the Empire.
Slaves – Persons owned by any of the classes above them Most often Aristocracy and Merchants, though a few citizens have slaves in their keep. Slavery can span anything from dregs of society to entire family lines bought in servitude to a Aristocratic house or Merchant Lord guild or company. Some slaves have more power and influence than aristocrats or merchant lords.
Nine tribal/nomadic communities make their home on Seyberron. The wild lands are roamed by these tribes and are governed by the peaceful if tenuous relationships between the chieftains and their families.
The Sovereign Territories
This is an archipelago, and each island has its own nation/kingdom as follows:
The Orc Nation of Votar – Loose association of Goblinoid City States
A continent sized region populated by Goblinoid Tribes. There are several regions that are controlled by Warlords and the borders are constantly moving based on warlord control. Areas are effectively defined by regional names only. Formal political boundaries are not recognized.
Tathamor Dominion – Human Mix Kingdom
Mixed Kingdom heavily reliant on trade. Ruling council operates the most of the functions within the kingdom. There are cities and provinces that operate within the kingdom. Constantly at war with Votar.
Rekar – Elvish / Gnomish Equatorial Jungle Island
Wilderness continent heavily covered in Tropical forrests. Many settlements can be found around the coast, but there are hidden realms within the interior.
Haedrus Spire – Arid Mountain Island home of the Titans
This is the cultural homeland of all Titans. Their holy site stands at the middle of the island on the highest peak. It is capped with a monument to the Titon Lords who blessed the ancestral Titans to defeat the giants who invaded their land. The Titan culture is one of no aristocracy caste system. The only power resides at the individual communities, however there is an order that guides the culture as clerics to the Titons.
Itascan – Elven Stronghold of a Temperate Forest
This island is shrouded in mystery. Surrounded by a large evergreen forrest there are two primary mountain peaks on the island nation. One peak is a light tan golden color, while the other is a dark gray blue rock. There are two factions of Elves represented in this stronghold, the Light Elves and Dark Elves. They each reside within their respective territories and both lead to a vast maze under the island that stretches far beyond the coasts of the Itascan island.
Currency & Commerce
Once you’ve answered some or all of the questions about how your world is governed, this could be a good time to turn your attention to how things will get paid for.
Hehe, sorry, Aladdin GIFS are just working for me today.
We talked a little bit about currency when I posted about Middle Earth earlier this month and pointed out that Tolkien didn’t create a specific currency for his world. But I’d like to talk about it a little bit more, for anyone who didn’t join us in the comments. (Also, I did some more digging, and Tolkien DID come up with some currency names: in one of the Appendices we learn that Gondor used silver coins called Castars, and a smaller coin called a tharni, and the Shire had a system of copper and silver pennies (which I believe we do see come up at the Prancing Pony when/after they purchase Bill the pony), but again, he does not go into detail on this at all in the books, rather making general references to “coins of little worth” or the descriptions of the vast amounts of gold and wealth within Erebor.
As George Bailey famously says of money in It’s a Wonderful Life (can we count this as fantasy since an angel comes down and we see an alternate reality? No? Okay then), “It comes in pretty handy down here, bub.”
And yet, not many fantasy books include it. As Sarah and I were discussing, some of that probably stems from the fact that, while money is extremely important for us in our everyday lives, most of our favorite fantasy characters are either royalty (and therefore have plenty of money to pay for whatever they need so it’s not important to tell us exactly what that money is called), or they’re dirt poor and spending all their time questing through the wilderness-y areas of the world where they aren’t exactly going to market to purchase things (and therefore money just doesn’t come up).
I did find a list of fictional currencies, and I thought it was interesting how few of them there were. (I have no idea how exhaustive this list is, but it was the only one I could find with titles I recognized on it).
Mistborn (which we also talked about earlier this month) uses a system of imperials and clips.
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series has the Ankh-Morpork dollar, as well as several other regional currencies.
Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle uses crowns.
The Chronicles of Narnia uses crescents.
Harry Potter (the wizarding world side) uses bronze Knuts, silver Sickles, and gold Galleons (and I love the names, but I just now realized that basically this is just the standard D&D system of currency with fancy titles)
The Wheel of Time uses the penny, mark, and crown.
And of course, Star Wars has credits. (shush, Star Wars is fantasy).
Those were the names I recognized. I’m sure there are others… I’m sure. None of them are coming to mind, though. But it struck me that this is a thing that seems to often get left out of most world creations. So, it’s up to you. Does money play an important role in your story? Will your characters need it? Does your world have actual currency, or does it work on a trade/barter system?
My own Minstrel’s Song series has a fairly elaborate currency system in the country of Aom-igh, though it barely comes into the books at all:
Stater – just a copper coin, small and round with a circular hole in the middle used to buy trivial things such as single drinks
Silver Stater – a silver coin, round and smooth-edged, with a square hole in the center, worth approximately 10 staters
Silver Ryal – a silver circular coin banded with gold worth approximately 5 silver staters
Gold Stater – a golden coin, circular in shape worth approx. 5 silver ryals
Gold Ryal – a golden coin roughly circular in shape with a wavy edge like the petals of a flower and a hole stamped in the center worth approx 10 gold staters
Rose Ryal – a coin made of rose-gold, roughly circular in shape with a wavy edge like the petals of a flower edged with silver worth approx 5 gold ryals
Pretty sure that all made it into approximately two lines of the book. Hehe. So… a lot depends on what you want to pour your time into. And remember one of the guidelines we learned about earlier in the month. Spend your time where it will most affect the plot and characters of the story. If you don’t need a currency system, don’t create one! But if you do, know that you’ll be one of the few, and perhaps that will be a detail that will help allow your readers to really immerse themselves in your world and make it come alive around them as they read.
Perhaps more important than currency, then, is the idea of commerce in your world. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to have the GDP of each of your countries hammered out, but it does mean that you should have some idea of how trade happens from one place to another. If you are writing in a small-scale world, how does your character acquire the things they need? Do they barter? Do they trade? Is there a currency?
If your scope is a bit larger, how does trade happen between villages? Do the villagers of one town trust those of the neighboring town and accept coins from them, or do they regard their neighbors with suspicion and only accept things in trade?
Going to the national or global scale, how is trade handled between nations? Is the currency of Rohan good in Gondor? Is there a global currency, or do your nations weigh money differently?
If you’re looking for a resource that will give you a quick run-down on the evolution of currency throughout history and a better grasp on how countries interact, I highly recommend the book Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? It is one of those books I read with my kids for school this past year to help teach them a sort of intro to economics, and then it kind of revolutionized the way I look at my own fantasy worlds now when it comes to creating commerce between countries and how I think about currency when I consider creating it for my fantasy realms. I love it when I learn stuff about writing and world building when I’m least expecting it!
Can you think of any other fantasy books you’ve read that described a specific and unique currency system? What about politics? What types of interesting governments have you encountered in the fantasy realms you’ve traversed? Are you enjoying Fantasy Month? What are you reading this month for fun? Are these posts making you think differently about what you’re reading? If you’re an author, are they helping you as you think about world building?
Make sure to come back tomorrow as we will be discussing technology in fantasy, and that is sure to be a fascinating conversation!